The Mirror of Annihilated Simple Souls, Marguerite Porete
by M.D. Coverley, University of Texas.
Actually it is an hypertext weave which uses as its departure point
the writing The Mirror of Simple Souls as a launchpad into an
examination of several issues. One of which is the persistence of the
written word, throughout the developement of new media .
More relevant perhaps is the Deb Platt`s Mysticism in the World Religions site`s
section of quotations from Marguerite Poretè`s Mirror of Simple Souls
Other Women`s Voices: Marguerite Poretè – excerpts and a brief biographical
Also, Bonnie Duncan has 14 chapters and introduction from Ellen. L. Babinsky`s
translation of Marguerite Poretè`s Mirror of Simple Souls in its own section on her homepage.
As you may well remember, about a week ago I posted to this
blog some details about the tragedy of the heresy trial against the young
woman Marguerite Porète, whose fervour, bordering if not breaching into
fanaticism (are we in any position to know the type of character her passion
had? I doubt it.), and her endeavour to let the voice speaking to, in and from
her be heard in the minds ,and above all , hearts (she argues none of what
she wrote would be properly understood if received only within the monopoly of reasoning) – of her readers. Like Stephanus, who could not help flying in the face of the self-righteous judges, not only of him, not only of the earliest Christians, but of the entire demographic excluding their choice traditionalist elite, and being filled up with spirit, his self-criticism decreasing and vaporising at the very temperature of that presence – were bound to pay the price, for such words, apparently does not fit; it is received in one way or another, either the powers that be ignore it, pretending they did not hear it, or assured themselves it came from the lips of a madman – or else it is censured with extreme prejudice, which means the free expression of thoughts,ideas,feelings and knowledge has been evaluated to be extremely dangerous. Or with St.Paul who by no means were winning the contest of being the most popular and readily available voice within the entire of Christendom, even then. If we zoom forward we find certain men and women driven out into the desolate wilderness, not only are they fleeing the contagion of a mind and soul closing up on itself, once the Empire overshaddowed the Kingdom, devoured Christ Jesus, and spat out something or somebody else – already in the 4th century. Priscillian of Avila saw it as his lot, after finally being persuated or pressganged into the role of Bishop – to extend and make available methodical study of those scriptures which is, to us, in the 21th century, foundational in understanding the preceding generations, the primitive Christians, understanding of Holy Writ; he sent agents to the Levant and beyond, to extract from its monastic communities the contents of a tradition reduced to pastiche, parody and ignorant clichès in the west due to the arrogance of the foundlings and favourites among the ecclesiastical hierarchies. In some sense he was among the first voices of a kind of reformation, attempted during the Renaissance, then several times afterwards – however, the reward was that the world turned briefly upside down, a rather venomous developement involving trials failed, intervention from St.Martin of Tours, false testimonies given, the exchange of a pope for another pope (or Presiding vicar of Peter) at the behest of the emperor, new trials and the final burning of Saint Priscillian of Avila, along with his ecclesiastical servants (deacons and priests), and several nobles whose property (the motif for this crime) was expropriated and divided between the usurping bishops and the emperor to whom they pledged allegiance. While it also reached a tragic end, he believed, like Marguerite Poretè, that his words, his values and his ideas were worth enough to stand up for, or fall down for.
The Beguines, which loosely Marguerite Poretè were associated with, were not in favour of secrecy; they did not feel it was proper to undermine the confidence and trust which common people had in them, and they believed that if only the clericals and monastics would lend them their ears, they would naturally want to partake of that wealth which they believed themselves to have received by providence and divine mercy. Many of them lived brief lives, especially the vagantive, travelling stars, strangers – which we can count Marguerite Poretè among; their lifestyle, especially representing the female gender adapting such a lifestyle – was reprehensible and considered a threat against societal order. The Houses, with which the Beguines are more traditionally associated – represented rather the sort of institution that from the 4th century were conceded by most as being necessary for the good of those who were widowed (forbidden explicitly of re-marrying, since women sustained themselves from the profits of households owned by their husbands or fathers, they were basically doomed in any other aspect, a widows house and lot was usually expropriated, stolen by either Church or State.), disturbed or suspect of having dreams, visions and suchlike (the most famous of these, Hildegarde of Bingen was sent away by her family briefly after having her first period – the combination of her mystical predelictions and her impassioned and charged personality, let loose upon their village, was too much to bear for her parents; some women were even bricked up in towers where they would be induced to pray for people, while receiving small amounts of food and water deemed appropriate for an ascetic (which, if we think about it, might well be the last thing they were).) or otherwise considered damaged goods and unmarriable. In many cases, if the Houses allowed themselves to be ruled by properly elected ecclesiastics of the Church, usually a Fransiscan Elder, and abided by the rule of that or another order (even though they were mendicants and properly lived under their own rule, even in the sense of personal, unique mystic discipline, much akin to the originals of the entire travesty of monastic communities – the hermits in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North-Africa in the 3rd to 5th centuries CE), wandering preaching mystics, like Marguerite Poretè was another issue altogether.
There isnt many articles on the Beguines ordinarly available on the internet, most of those available are repetitions of others, usually drawn from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911, with all that entails.
One of the few original articles, is The Beguines: Feminine Piety Derailed, by
Marygrace Peters, O.P. (in the online magazine Spirituality Today).
It should be noted that Marygrace Peters is a novice of the feminine order of the Dominicans, but also, considering the dissonance between medieval Catholic society and our modern society, even in Catholic ecclesiasticalinstutitions – our author has received an education, she is self-sustained, she is independent, opinionated – and writes papers, books and even conducts lectures on Church History. Like Rufus M.Jones remarked once , I feel compelled to remark to just as the Church is indebted to Heretics, so are Marygrace Peters – for her freedom, privileges and that which basically, as a believing Christian and Catholic, made her who she is today.
Some of M.Peters observations:
“The Beguine movement was born in a twelfth-century Europe that was a bubbling cauldron of diverse and colliding energies, fired by an immense mixture of conflicting concerns. As feudalism declined, a new class of people arose in urban communities. These merchants and tradespeople of the towns appeared during the transition from a gift economy, in which goods and services were exchanged, to the market economy, in which things were expected to have an assigned value.
The sharp contrast between wealth and poverty became more striking in the towns, as the ranks of urban poor swelled. Many reveled in the new opportunities for acquiring fortune and for indulging consumption. Still others were repelled, seeing in these opportunities the lure of Satan. These latter often felt impelled to renounce all property, power and privilege. Such craving for renunciation cut across all class distinctions, so as to include even the merchants who derived the most material benefit from these new conditions, like Francis of Assisi, or Peter Waldo, founder of the Waldensians, a group later deemed heretical by the church. Peasants, too, whose poverty was unavoidable, sought a more extreme destitution which they understood as meritorious in the eyes of God.
Central to the preaching of these voluntary poor was the return to the vita apostolica, the hallmarks of which were poverty, humility, charity, a life lived as a witness to the faith, that is, which was in accord with the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12). They had an acute sensitivity to the dynamics of gospel spirituality and the primitive church, especially as it was described in the Gospel of Luke (10:1-10). Often they were condemned as heretics. Early in the thirteenth century the mendicant orders arose, whose male membership led active lives in conformity to those ideals espoused by supporters of the vita apostolica. While these wandering preachers won the devotion of the urban masses, and vast numbers of laity joined them as Dominican and Franciscan tertiaries, midway through the century they lost much of their primitive fervor, and their prestige slackened.
Beguine spiritual heritage is replete with emphasis on intense devotion to the humanity and passion of Christ, especially as revealed in the eucharist. The reception of the eucharist was regarded as the culmination of a mystical marriage between the soul of the Beguine and Christ, the heavenly bridegroom (Bowie 27). In Holy Feast, Holy Fast, Caroline Walker Bynum has given considerable attention to the significance of food as central to the contemplative and ascetic spirituality, as well as the charitable activities of pious women in the medieval period (115-129). Bynum’s descriptions demonstrate that the Beguine spirituality is quite representative of the period. Popular accounts of the lives of Marie d’Oignies, Beatrice of Nazareth, and other Beguines described them as submitting themselves to intense mortification and asceticism with regard to food, a deprivation that often resulted in illness and led to unusual stigmata-like bleeding. Prolonged fasts served to unite the Beguine with the suffering Christ and to produce states of ecstasy accompanied by mystical visions. The Beguine’s ascetic imitation of Christ’s sufferings was seen as a way of substituting for the suffering of others for the salvation of the world. Her body, sustained by holy food alone, was given over to become sustenance for others, just as the broken body of the suffering Christ had been handed over in redemptive death. “
This is the impression we get of some of the Beguine sisters and their acute theology; it is centered around an intense experience of being broken out of
a mold which sustained alienation from one`s true self, even one`s will and living being – it is directly associating all longings, all insticts as being directed towards the husband, the bridegroom, the answer, the redeemer – whose redemption is immediately and crucially neccessary. This might well be the type of meaning Marguerite Poretè in her writing says the theologians cannot grasp.
The theologian, because he reasons, and subjects himself to historical presedence and all kinds of regulations, rules and canons – and his immediate superiors looking over his shoulder or lurking in backrows of the conservatory – cannot afford to think specifically, except in a general way – everything he speaks of as true is objectively true through the qualification of what informs his conscience as being right, according to presedence, we might even say – legislation. Marguerite Poretè was different from the generalization above and it might well be that it is only attentative to those Beguines who were not corporally executed or punished or incarcerated for their teachings….
A citation from Mysticism in World religions:
“To you little ones who in desire and will take prey for your nourishment, desire that you be such as (the liberated soul) is. For whoever desires the lesser part and desires not the greater part … allows himself to fall, and so it appears that he is always hungry.
Those who live in perpetual desire … think and believe that there is no better state than the state of desire where they dwell and wish to dwell. Thus they perish on the way because they are satisfied by what desire and will give to them.
(p. 132) “