The Soul as Virgin Wife

Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart

Amy Hollywood

Studies in Spirituality and Theology

The Soul as Virgin Wife presents the first book-length study to give a detailed account of the theological and mystical teachings written by women themselves, especially by those known as beguines, which have been especially neglected. Hollywood explicates the difference between the erotic and imagistic mysticism, arguing that Mechthild, Porete, and Eckhart challenge the sexual ideologies prevalent in their culture and claim a union without distinction between the soul and the divine.

The beguines’ emphasis in the later Middle Ages on spiritual poverty has long been recognized as an important influence on subsequent German and Flemish mystical writers, in particular the great German Dominican preacher and apophatic theologian Meister Eckhart. In The Soul as Virgin Wife, Amy Hollywood presents the first book-length study to give a detailed textual account of these debts. Through an analysis of Magdeburg’s The Flowing Light of the Godhead, Marguerite Porete’s Mirror of Simple Souls, and the Latin commentaries and vernacular sermons of Eckhart, Hollywood uncovers the intricate web of influence and divergence between the beguinal spiritualities and Eckhart.

Reviews

“Amy Hollywood offers to the reader a brilliant and detailed study of Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart on ‘the interrelated themes of body, will, and work and the interplay of pain, visionary imagination, and apophasis.’ In so doing she has produced a complex analysis of the reasons for ‘their desomatizing transformation of female mysticism.’” — Church History

“Hollywood offers such a careful examination of the interpretive problems and historical contexts (her vastly detailed footnotes alone are worth the price of admission), and such a nuanced reading of the gender issues involved, that I felt her quite focused study would have significantly widespread implications.” — Pro Ecclesia

“Since the publication of Caroline Bynum’s pathbreaking study of religious women in medieval Europe, female mystical writing has been all too easily characterized in essentialist and universalizing terms, especially in terms of the primary roles that the body and somatic visionary experience are assumed to have played in such women’s writings. Hollywood sets out to complicate this trend in her detailed study of the theological underpinnings of three mystical writers: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart. She warns critics that women’s visionary experience has too often been characterized through prescriptive works often written by men for women (such as hagiography) rather than through works by women themselves and first suggests that we pay more careful attention to the latter. Second, she urges critics not to universalize the somatic character of women’s writing; her constellation of these three figures shows that while the body was of concern to all three thinkers, for Mechthild it was not central, and for Marguerite Porete and Eckhart it was to be overcome entirely. By bringing together two female mystical writers and one male writer she demonstrates the commonality, rather than the distinction, between many male and female mystical writers’ concerns and the ways in which Eckhart was particularly influenced by beguine (female lay religious) thought. Furthermore, she shows how Eckhart, perhaps because of his privileged position as a male in terms of institutional authority and education, was able to crystallize and extend the thought of his beguine predecessors, producing a utopian theology of union with God more coherent and ultimately with more radical potential than that of Mechthild or Marguerite Porete.” — Speculum

“[Hollywood] offers valuable and insightful discussions of specific aspects in the works of all three mystics. . . . this is a well-researched book. . . .” — Studi Medievali

“[Hollywood’s] study stands out as a scintillating and heuristic contribution to the critical literature surrounding three pivotal figures in the mystical revolution of late medieval Europe.” — Anglican Theological Review

“This book is a ‘marguerite,’ a pearl. It can be read as a major contribution to our understanding of Mechthild, Marguerite, and Eckhart, and also as a major contribution to the study of women’s religion in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As if that were not enough, it is also studded with telling theoretical observations and enlivened by a running dialogue with a large array of current work in critical theory and feminist studies.” — The Journal of Religion

“These two volumes serve not only as excellent biographies of three mystical theologians but also introduce major, albeit often neglected, treatises of thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century spirituality.” — Ecclesiastical History