Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 6854
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Classen , Albrecht.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Literary Treatment of the Ineffable: Mechthild von Magdeburg, Margaret Ebner, Agnes Blannbekin
  • Source: Studies in Spirituality 8, ( 1998): Pages 162 - 187.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Blannbekin, Agnes, Mystic Ebner, Margaretha, Dominican Nun and Mystic Ineffable Mechthild von Magdeburg, Mystic Mystics Visions Women in Religion
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 13- 14
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
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  • Abstract: German philologists have long accepted the observation that thirteenth and fourteenth-centuries German mystics, particularly women mystics, made considerable contributions to the development of the German language by creating a wide range of hitherto unknown abstract terms to express the ineffable. However, the texts in which they report their visions and revelations have until now not been adequately described as literary documents, because mysticism has remained a primarily relgious and historical phenomenon. In its essence, indeed, this is a very valid approach. Nevertheless, in the present paper I argue that mystical accounts also have to be viewed as literary creations of the highest caliber. As a first step I analyze what medieval poets and theologians had to say about the basic nature of literature, the most important of them defended the epistemological message contained in poetic texts. Both Gottfried von Strassburg and Dante Alighieri, for example, utilized their masterworks to express the ineffable both in erotic and philosophical terms. The next step is to examine the visionary accounts of Mechthild of Magdeburg, Margaret Eber and Agnes Blannbekin, all of whom represent a very distinct literary approach to their mystical experiences. Mystical literature is never characterized by the same structural elements as secular literature, but instead combines many different features, genres, and styles because the authors struggle to build bridges between the world of the divine (ineffable) and the world of their earthly readers. At times the mystics inform us that they have no words avaliable to express their experiences, at times they sing poetically the most beautiful songs of praise of the Godhead. The comparison with some of the greatest texts of secular medieval literature reveals that the mystics, through their divine inspiration, also achieved an enormous poetic accomplishment by composing powerful poetic visions of great literary beauty and astounding epistemological lucidity in their effort to formulate images of the ineffable. Ultimately, mystical accounts reach out for the final human experience and successfully translate them into literary terms. Whereas Gottfried von Strassburg, for instance, talks about the 'community of noble hearts' (Tristan), Mechthild describes a nuptial union with God in highly erotic terms, and thus makes the transcendental communicable to worldly readers. [Reproduced with permission of the Titus Brandsma Institute (The Netherlands). Copies of "Studies in Spirituality" can be ordered from the publisher: Peeters Publishers, Bondgenotenlaan 153, B-3000 Louvain (www.peeters-leuven.be).]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Arizona
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1998.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 09266453