Can God Speak in the Vernacular? On Beatrice of Nazareth’s Flemish Exposition of the Love for God

  • Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


It has taken a long time for scholars—historians, literary historians, and theologians alike—to acknowledge that the texts, mostly vitae, composed by or about religious women of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries could, or rather should, be viewed as theological treatises. These texts, particularly the ones written in the vernacular, have generally been considered literature of an extremely personal character, revealing strongly subjective, emotional, and often pathological affinities. This conviction was characteristic of the German scholars studying the so-called Frauenfrage, who saw the treatises as either biographies or autobiographies.1 This method of reading texts concerning religious women, that is, reading them as literal transcriptions of more or less exotic lifestyles, can be found even today in the analyses of some historians, pious monks, and psychiatrists.2 It is also evident that scholars, whether feminist or traditional in their “scientific objectivity,” have really tried to answer their own questions (the former by tending to concentrate on the negative stereotyping of women’s sexuality and lack of power, and the latter by tending to use a particular male religiosity as a model for assessing texts),3 instead of letting the texts speak out of their true setting. This setting is the cloister as a community of professional Christians who both transmit and transform their Christian tradition of faith, a setting that includes béguines and anchoresses all of whom, whether integrated in a formal order or not, practiced their beliefs and their theology as professionals.


Thirteenth Century Religious Movement Religious Woman Theological Reflection Divine Love 
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  1. 7.
    See also Andrew Weeks, German Mysticism from Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 3–39.Google Scholar
  2. 30.
    See, for instance, Stephanus Axters, Geschiedenis van de Vroomheid in de Ned-erlanden. 1 (Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1950).Google Scholar
  3. 34.
    This is assumed by Van Mierlo, “Beatrice de Nazareth,” Dictionnaire de spiritualité 1 (Paris: Gabriel Beauchesnne, 1936): 1312Google Scholar

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© Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Duncan Robertson, and Nancy Bradley Warren 2002

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  • Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen

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