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Medieval English Mystics General Background. Middle Ages (400-1500) Early Middle Ages: 400-1100 Late Middle Ages: 1100-1500 Anglo-Saxon England: ca. 450-1066.

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Presentation on theme: "Medieval English Mystics General Background. Middle Ages (400-1500) Early Middle Ages: 400-1100 Late Middle Ages: 1100-1500 Anglo-Saxon England: ca. 450-1066."— Presentation transcript:

1 Medieval English Mystics General Background

2 Middle Ages ( ) Early Middle Ages: Late Middle Ages: Anglo-Saxon England: ca (Norman Conquest)

3 The Medieval English Church Pope/papal legate Archbishops (Metropolitan Bishops): Canterbury, York (N. England) Diocesan Bishops (diocese/see) ~ 20 Parish priests Secular clergy: priests living in the world, not under a rule; no vows, can possess property, under authority of a bishop Regular clergy: clergy living under a rule; either monastic or regular canons

4 Monasticism Monks/nuns: members of a religious community living under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience Some monks were priests; recited Divine Office daily Some were not priests (lay brothers) Monastic orders: Benedictine (reformed into Cistercian, Trappist); Carthusian

5 Friars Members of a mendicant (begging) order, under a rule but heavily involved in community Dominicans (1216: “Black Friars”) Franciscans (1209: “Grey Friars”) Carmelites (1155: “White Friars”) Augustinians (1244: “Austin Friars”) Canons Secular Canons: community belonging to a cathedral (bishop) or collegiate church (no bishop) Regular Canons: lived together under a semi-monastic rule, shared property

6 Terminology (see Nicholas Watson, “The Middle English Mystics” and Denise N. Baker, “Mystical and Devotional Literature”) Mystical: ME mystike “figurative; secret” – 14 th /15 th c.: symbolic/figurative meaning of the Bible “mystick theology” 1639; “mystic”/”mysticism” 18 th century Contemplative: spiritual practices of professed religious (via activa/via contemplativa) Heightened consciousness of God: union, presence, ecstasy, deification Devotional: “an object or practice that stirs a religious emotion of awe, reverence, or piety” (Baker 423) – between liturgical and contemplative; individuals or groups: defined by objects, not forms; pilgrimages, relics, art, literature Visionary: dreams, otherworlds, prophecies, punishments (many genres) Feminism / cultural studies / literary studies

7 Two Types of Mystical Theology Affirmative (cataphatic) theology: connects God's unity to the world; can understand God through sensible things, use imagery Negative (apophatic) theology: knowing by not knowing God is transcendent, infinite: darkens our reasoning powers, but this leads to loving union Paradox: closer you come to union with God, the more blinding God becomes to human reasoning nature of God becomes more immediately present. Awe and wonder temper human intellect

8 Major Figures in Mystical Theology (Pseudo-)Dionysius the Areopagite (ca. 500 CE) Influenced by Neoplatonism Mystical Theology: negates all language about God; radical transcendence of divinity cannot be known mystical union comes from unknowing (agnōsia) Negative theology: God can’t be named adequately even in negative terms - God is prior to all affirmation and negation divine nature is beyond all knowledge and speech union with God can only occur in the cloud and darkness of unknowing Ecstasy: go out from intellect to its hidden source in the divine nature itself return to the God "beyond being"

9 Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury Orationes sive Meditationes: “affective spirituality” (outside liturgy) Ascetic, intellectual; but added to by others Became more emotional: Passion meditations Suffering human Jesus: passion -> compassion “affective piety”

10 Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) Sermones super Canticum Canticorum: erotic mysticism Union with God is possible in this life Humbling of Christ Book of experience/book of the Bible Imitatio Christi

11 Victorine Spirituality Abbey of St Victor, Paris Fl. 12 th c. - regular canons (rule of St Augustine) Hugh of St Victor (d. 1141) Attempt to order stages of asceticism/prayer/m ysticism Made Dionysius mainstream

12 Victorine Spirituality (II) Hugh’s Noah’s ark treatises: mandala (right) represents cosmos, salvation history, mystic's inward journey to divine union Richard of St Victor (d. 1173): applied psychological method to mystical experience, integrated intellect into contemplation, influenced Bonaventure, Cloud of Unknowing


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