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Course about Christian spirituality
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Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries

Hadewijch and John of Ruusbroec, their faith and way of thinking


Rozemarijn van Leeuwen
© 1999-2001



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Lecture 3b.  Hadewijch: roads towards God

Topics this hour:
  • Vision VI:  Hadewijch's image of God
  • Vision XI-XII:  the divine darkness
  • Vision I:  the road along the virtues
  • Vision VIII:  the road of the minne, the love



Introduction


Last week after the break we've read and extensively discussed Hadewijch's sixth vision. But reading only one vision out of a complete oeuvre, of course is a bit lean to get a good impression of what Hadewijch is trying to express about her way of believing.

So today we'll read more of her visions. First of all, we'll read a fragment in which she adds a very remarkable description to her image of God.

After that, we'll read two texts about the roads that Hadewijch should have to take according to her visions. In the last lecture about Hadewijch, next week, we will see how Hadewijch tries to integrate these roads into her daily life here on earth and where they ought to lead her.



Hadewijch's image of God


I'll pick up my story where I left it last week: we saw that Hadewijch's sixth vision could be divided into two parts: the vision (with images) and the mystical experience (lived faith without images). Accordingly, that led to two questions about the description of her image of God: what did Hadewijch say about how she saw God; and what did she say about how she experienced God?

Unmistakably, Hadewijch's characteristics of God did all correspond with the characteristics we had already seen in the mystical fragments during the first lecture ('What is mysticism?'). Hadewijch describes God, in the sixth vision, as personal (a human figure, with a face and hands) and non-personal (as a greatness, enclosing everything); and as transcendent (surpassing everything) and at the same time as immanent (present in everything).

Furthermore she describes God as light and she reports receiving self-knowledge and knowledge of God ('insight' in the lower scheme).

     God's 'being':

non-personal, infinity personal, an Other
transcendent immanent
Unity (One-ness) Trinity (Three-ness or: male-female)
rest activity ↴

     God's activity:

light warmth
insight love


During the ghebruken (delightment) in the 6th vision, the mystical unification at the end of the vision, Hadewijch describes God's nature, God's being, as minne, as love. In the scheme of the first lecture, it's put under 'God's activity', but we have to nuance that: for Hadewijch love is an essential feature of God, the being of God, not just something God uses to express himself.

God is light and love, and expresses himself with light/insight and warmth/love. Or, as Ruusbroec states about the light that God pours out in the soul as grace: 'in this light, God gives himself' (Active Life, p. 69). After the next vision we'll read, I will give light and love also as characteristics of God a place in the scheme.

But generally the characteristics in the sixth vision precisely correspond with the mystical image of God that rose up from all the other mystical fragments from that same christian tradition: a personal and non-personal God.

To complete Hadewijch's image of God, we'll now read parts of vision 11 and 12. After the luminous divine figure that was described so far, Hadewijch here introduces a complete unexpected characteristic of God: God's darkness, the divine darkness.

We'll try to understand the meaning of this and where we should place it in above mentioned scheme.



Vision XI-XII:  the divine darkness


We'll read vision XI, v. 1-13, in the Anthology.


I defeatedly lay down, one Christmas night, and I was taken into the spirit. There I saw a whirlpool, deeper than deep, wide and very dark. Within this whirlpool, that was so wide, all things were enclosed, very firm and very compelling.

This darkness illuminated and saw through everything. The depth of the whirlpool was so inscrutable and so high, that no one could reach it. I'll leave aside what it looked like for now, because this is not the time to speak about it.

First of all, I cannot put it into words very well; since it's inexpressible. And secondly I don't have time for it now, because so much more belongs to what I saw. That was the entire power of our Beloved.


Hadewijch, vision XI (v. 1-13).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision XI entire text (M.D. and translation).


So this dark whirlpool ('wieling') is the entire power of the Beloved, of God, Hadewijch says. At first glance, this seems to be a very strange description: a dark whirlpool is not the first thing that comes to mind, as component of imagining God. But still we recognize some of the elements in our scheme: it's an image of the non-personal divinity (in this case called deep, wide, groundless).

So far this non-personal divinity was described as an infinite space and an abyss, some mystics use the image of a sea, and Ruusbroec for example describes an abyss, groundlessness, infinity that is in rest.

Hadewijch here describes a whirlpool. A whirlpool implies motion - and that brings us to the right row in the scheme of 'God's being', containing activity.

This whirlpool is deeper than deep (v. 2-3) and at the same time also very high (v. 8). But really astonishing is Hadewijch's description in line 3: this inscrutable whirlpool is 'dark'. This is a completely new element: in the first lecture we encountered elements like light and fire and warmth - but darkness is the absence of light, and has a negative, dreary sound to it.

But then, from line 6 onward, she says something even more astonishing, miraculous, it says: this darkness 'illuminated and saw through everything': this darkness illuminated everything'. It almost seems impossible now to follow Hadewijch's line of thought. How is it possible that darkness illuminates? I will read the whole fragment in Middle Dutch - you can read along the translation.


Ic lach op enen kerstnacht tenen male, ende wart op ghenomen inden gheeste. Daer saghic enen overdiepen wiel, ende enen widen, ende overdonker. ende in dien wiel. die soe wiit was. So was alle dinc besloten. so vaste. ende so na bedwonghen.

Dat donkere verlichte. ende dore sach alle dinc. Die ongrondeleke diepheit vanden wiele was so hoghe datter nieman toe en mochte gheraken. Ic late nu varen hoe ghedane hi was. want daer en es nu gheen tijt af te sprekene.

In caent niet wel te worde bringhen. dats een. Want hets onseggheleec. Dander es. dats nu gheen stade en es. want daer vele toe behoert. dat ic daer sach. Dat was die gheheele moghentheit ons liefs.


Hadewijch, vision XI (v. 1-13).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


I defeatedly lay down, one Christmas night, and I was taken into the spirit. There I saw a whirlpool, deeper than deep, wide and very dark. Within this whirlpool, that was so wide, all things were enclosed, very firm and very compelling.

This darkness illuminated and saw through everything. The depth of the whirlpool was so inscrutable and so high, that no one could reach it. I'll leave aside what it looked like for now, because this is not the time to speak about it.

First of all, I cannot put it into words very well; since it's inexpressible. And secondly I don't have time for it now, because so much more belongs to what I saw. That was the entire power of our Beloved.


Hadewijch, vision XI (v. 1-13).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision VI entire text (M.D. and translation).


The fragment really says it, in v. 6: 'dat donkere verlichte alle dinc': 'this darkness illuminated everything'.

Now, first of all you need to know, that Hadewijch uses two different words to refer to darkness, in Middle Dutch: 'deemster' and 'donker' (in Dutch we still have 'duister' and 'donker', both are equally dark). Hadewijch uses the word 'deemster' in the meaning of: the absence of light, the soul is separated from God, and thus in 'deemster' ('duister'), darkness. The word 'donker' she consistently uses to describe an aspect of divinity, of God. She usually combines it with 'deep': deep and dark ('diep en donker'). So 'donker' is a divine darkness from which light comes into existence - so to speak a 'pre-illuminative' darkness.

donker   deemster
pre-illuminative, divine darkness   absence of light and of God

To get more clarity about this subject, I want to continue with a fragment of Hadewijch's 12th vision. For she gives a similar description of her image of God at the beginning of this vision. She describes God as a person, at a disc, and under that disc is again a dark whirlpool (the divine as non-personal). But here she connects the darkness and the light that arises from it, more clearly.

I'll read the beginning of vision 12.


During the mass, on a Three King's Day, I was taken into the spirit and withdrawn from myself. Then I saw a city: big, large, high and decorated with all that is perfect.

In the middle of that city Someone was sitting at a round disc, that constantly exposed and again closed in secrecy. And the one sitting at that disc, was sitting very still. But within the disc, He continuously turned around, with an unimaginable speed. And the gulley in which the disc moved - the disc in which He turned around - was so unheard of deep and so dark (donker), that nothing, not even as horrifying as thinkable, could be compared with that.

One could see that the inner side of the disc, consisted at the top of all sorts of beautiful gemstones, with the colour of purified gold, and at the bottom, where she was very dark and moved so very fast, there she looked like terrible flames, devouring heaven and earth.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 1-18).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision XII entire text (M.D. and translation).


Here it seems that light comes into existance through motion. Where the gulley moves the most powerful, at the bottom, that's where flames arise, light. The light doesn't just come into being somewhere in the darkness, no, it derives from a motion, a force. So in this image the divine darkness is a power, that in case of fast motion, is characterized by light and fire, light and warmth.

So we can add this to the scheme of 'God's being' (on the blackboard): power (above it). God is a power, and that is the 'entire power of our Beloved', Hadewijch says. This power can be at rest and then is characterized with darkness ('donker'), in the left row. And this power can be in motion, active, and then is characterized with light and warmth (in the right row).

     God's being:
power  
non-personal, infinity personal, an Other
transcendent immanent
Unity (One-ness) Trinity (Three-ness or: male-female)
rest activity
darkness light and warmth


These two visions, 11 and 12, always remind me of the beginning of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the jewish story about how God brings forth creation. Here also it developes from dark to light. And the first lines of Genesis literally say:


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the flood/deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said: "Let there be light", and there was light.


Genesis 1:1-3


Depending on the translation, it reads 'flood' or 'deep'; but both words perfectly correspond to the mystical images of a sea and a whirlpool. So in this story there is a flood, or a deep, and all there is, is darkness and emptiness. Then God speaks. And enclosed in his words is the power of creation. As soon as God speaks, comes into motion, as soon as God expresses his will, or activates his will, light comes into being. By speaking, by wanting, by coming into motion, the light comes into existence out of the darkness.

'This darkness illuminated everything', Hadewijch says in the 11th vision. At first glance, this is a confusing, amazing image. But it has an essential, profound meaning for her image of God. This darkness ('donker') is a divine darkness for Hadewijch, that can come into motion as a whirlpool, creating flames, light.


So far Hadewijch's image of God. In the sixth vision this image clearly corresponded with the characterizations we already had put into a scheme. And in the 11th and 12th vision, she adds this remarkable element: the divine darkness from which light can come into being.



Vision I:  the road along the virtues


However, visions not exclusively contain descriptions of God. I now will read and comment on two visions, in which Hadewijch both describes a road that leads to God.

This is a very different aspect of these visions. Concerning the sixth vision, and also the eleventh and twelfth, we especially looked into the, you could say, 'mystical' aspect: Hadewijch's description of her image of God and the mystical unification. Now we'll look into the ethical part of the visions, the messages it contains, the urging to certain ethics, an attitude towards life, moral behaviour, effort to grow spiritually. Roads Hadewijch describes to get to God.

We will read vision I in the Anthology. In this first vision, an angel is showing Hadewijch a road through a tree orchard. Every tree has a meaning and the road leads to an unmistakable destination. The vision is too long (380 vss.) to read unabridged, but for several trees we will 'walk along' with Hadewijch.

Most likely this first vision really was the first (or one of the first) visions that Hadewijch wrote down. For she writes that she is still young and at the beginning of her spiritual development. I will read the first paragraphs of the 1st vision.


It happened on a Sunday, the eighth day of Pentecost. Unnoticed, they brought Our-Lord [the host, the sacramental bread] to my bed, because innerly my spirit was so fiercly attracted, that outwardly I couldn't control myself enough to be among the people.

Internally I was longing to be one with God in delight (ghebrukelike). However, I still was too young and too little grown up for that. For I hadn't given it enough effort and I hadn't lived enough for that. Still the number of the days of my life, required to reach such a high dignity, wasn't accomplished. This was demonstrated to me then, and seems still true to me today.

After I received Our-Lord [the host], He received me with Him, in a way that He incorporated me with all my powers, without any attention to all that was foreign to this one thing: to enjoy (ghebrukene) Him in unity.

And I was accompanied to a meadow, a spacious flat land, that was called the grantness of the perfect virtues. I was led to trees that were standing there. And I was told their name and their meaning.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 1-20).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


The most important message in this fragment is the second paragraph (v. 7-13). I'll read it again in Middle Dutch:


Ende dat eyschen dat ic van binnen hadde, dat was om een te sine ghebrukelike met gode. Daer was ic te kinsch toe ende te onghewassen [onvolwassen].
Ic en hadder niet ghenoech toe ghepijnt noch gheleeft int ghetal van soe hogher werdecheit alse daer toe behoerde. Ende als mi daer wel vertoent wart doen, ende mi noch wel scijnt.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 7-13).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


Internally I was longing to be one with God in delight (ghebrukelike). However, I still was too young and too little grown up for that. For I hadn't given it enough effort and I hadn't lived enough for that. Still the number of the days of my life, required to reach such a high dignity, wasn't accomplished. This was demonstrated to me then, and seems still true to me today.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 7-13).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


Hadewijch is longing to be 'ghebrukelike' one with God - similar to the introductory paragraphs in vision VI, last week. But she says here that in fact she is still 'too young/childish and too little grown up' ('te kinsch ende te onghewassen') for that. As a matter of fact she says that she is still at the beginning of her spiritual development, she hasn't grown yet, fully grown, isn't grown up, mature - in the spiritual sense.

Next a Throne Angel leads her through a flat land with many trees, an orchard. And every tree represents a virtue. So this Throne Angel shows Hadewijch a large number of virtues. It's too long to read the whole vision, but we will read four parts of this walk along these trees, these virtues.

By the way, nowadays the word 'virtue' refers to an excellent ethic or moral trait or way of behaving. However, in the Middle Ages our nineteenth-century 'bourgeois virtues' were not known yet (like thriftiness, well-behaviour, industriousness, neatness, etc. - that were all meant to restrain the nineteenth-century townsmen in the poor, growing, working class neighbourhoods, to become good, well-behaved citizens). In the Middle Ages, the term meant more than that. The Dutch word 'deugd' (virtue) was derived from 'deugen' (that what's worthy, good, right), so a virtue ('deugd') simply meant: everything that is right.

I'll continue reading from v. 21 onward: the first tree (that is: the first virtue) in the orchard of the perfect virtues.


The root of the first tree was rotten and very fragile, but the trunk was exceptionally sturdy. And on top of it was a lovely, beautiful flower, so unsettled however, that if a storm would rise, the flower would fall off and wither.

The one that guided me was an angel, one of the Thrones, and they have the gift of distinction. Right that day, I had grown up to his height and I had received that he would guard me and accompany me on all my roads.

And the angel said: "Human, comprehend and understand what this tree is. And I understood, when he showed me that this is the knowledge of ourselves. The rotten root was our fragile nature, the sturdy trunk the eternal soul and the beautiful flower was the beautiful appearance of the human being, that so soon and in a moment perishes.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 21-36).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


I will write all the virtues that are mentioned in this vision, on the blackboard. And the first virtue that the angel shows Hadewijch is: self-knowledge.

This self-knowledge, knowledge of the human being, is an image in which a human exists of three parts: a root, a trunk and a flower. In that way the human being would consist of three distinctive parts: a nature, a soul and a body. This view on man corresponds with the general medieval view on man and view on the world (man is a micro-cosmos, consisting of soul and body). Hadewijch expands this to three parts: nature, soul and body. Later, Ruusbroec will expand this even more precise, we'll get to that later on.

So the first virtue is: self-knowledge. It's meaningful that especially self-knowledge is the first tree, the first step on this road along the virtues. In this spiritual thought, a human being only is ready to begin this spiritual road, if he takes this first step, to assume that a human consists of a body and a soul, a mortal part and an immortal part.

The image that Hadewijch uses here for the body of the human being, a 'beautiful flower', originates by the way from Psalm 103: 'The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more' (Psalm 103: 15-16).

We'll read on, the road through the orchard along the virtues in the first vision. The second tree represents humility. We'll read the third and fourth tree, that are intertwined, from v. 52 onward.


After that he led me to a place with a tall, big tree with large, broad leaves. And the angel spoke again to me: "You, mighty and strong one, who surmounted the mighty and strong God - since the beginning belonging to Him, who is without beginning - and who will obtain eternity with Him for all eternity, read and understand".

And I read and understood. On every leaf was written: 'I am the power of the perfect will, nothing can escape me'.

And next to it was a tree with many branches. It was large and all it's branches were intertwined with those of the other tree. And the angel spoke again to me: "You, who has insight, led by the reason, by the reason of the great God, read and understand the wise lesson taught by this tree, that grows through the other".

And I saw that every leave read: 'I am the gift of distinction, one cannot do anything without me'.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 52-67).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


After these two, the perfect will and the distinction, Hadewijch sees an exceptionally beautiful tree, representing the love for God. Thereafter she comes across wisdom, patience and loyalty. That takes us over a hundred lines further on, and then I'll continue reading, that is from v. 162 onward.


Then he led me further to the middle of the vast flat land, where we were walking. There was a tree with it's roots upward and the crest downward. That tree had many branches. The lowest branches, that formed the crest, stood for belief, the second for hope; all people begin with these.

And the angel spoke to me: "O mistress, who climbs this tree from beginning to end, up to the deep roots of the incomprehensible God, understand that this is the road that beginners take and that the perfect have to keep taking".

And I understood that this was the tree of the experience of God, that one begins in faith and completes in love.


Hadewijch, vision I, (v. 162-173).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


A beautiful, surprising image, Hadewijch describes here. A tree that is upside down, with it's crest downwards and it's roots upwards. As if this tree is rooted into heaven - or into God Himself. The roots are consequently the 'deep roots of the incomprehensible God'. This tree represents, from bottom to top, faith, hope and love.

This is the last virtue the angel shows Hadewijch: the experience of God, that one begins in faith and completes in love.

I wrote her whole list of virtues on the board, but I will add two more. Because in her 12th vision, Hadewijch repeats all these virtues, but adds two more: the love of one's neighbour and the peace.

So these are the (most important) virtues according to Hadewijch:

    Virtues:
  • self-knowledge
  • humility
  • powerful, perfect will
  • gift of distinction (insight)
  • love for God
  • wisdom
 
  • patience
  • loyalty
  • experience of God (from faith up to love)
  • love of one's neighbour
  • peace

Maybe you'll recognize two of these virtues from the letter we read before the break. In her 29th letter, Hadewijch stated:


Even so I've lived amongst the people, caring for them with all my works. (...) I felt the need of every human being (...). With the love of one's neighbour, I felt that need (...). With the wisdom I felt his mercy.


Hadewijch, letter 29 (v. 61 onward).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 29 entire text (M.D. and translation).


So here we see again two of the virtues: Hadewijch is trying to live out of the love of one's neighbour and wisdom, so apparently she's trying to put into practice what the angel has shown her, to implement it into her life. This also shows that the visions and letters are not free standing groups of texts, but they stem from the same range of ideas.

We'll return to the first vision. The angel has shown Hadewijch all these virtues and she has understood all of them. After that, the angel leads Hadewijch to God. You will recognize several elements from other visions. We'll read from v. 91 onward.


And I turned away from him [the angel] and I saw a cross before me. Similar to crystal, but clearer and whiter. One could see a large grantness through it. And before the cross I saw a seat, resembling a disc, looking brighter than the sun in all her clearest strength.

Below the disc were three pillars. The first one was like burning fire. The second one seemed to be made of the kind of stone that's called topaz. It consists of gold and something like the clearity of the sky and it contains the colours of all stones. The third was amethyst, that has the purple of the rose and the pansy.

And right beneath that disc there was a whirlpool, that was swirling so terrible, and was so horrible to see, that heaven and earth should be beaten by it with astonishment and fear.

(207) The seat, resembling a disc, was eternity. The three pillars were the three names by which exiles, who are far from the love (the minne), understand Him. The pillar like burning fire, is the name of the Holy Spirit. The pillar like topaz, is the name of the Father. The pillar like amethyst, is the name of the Son. The deep whirlpool, that is so terribly dark, that is the hidden storm of the divine delight ('ghebrukelecheit').


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 191-216).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


So the road along the virtues leads to this image of God. First of all, Hadewijch describes what she has seen: a cross, a seat like a disc and three pillars underneath. And in the last paragraph (v. 207 onward), she explains the meaning of what she saw: the disc, the pillars and the whirlpool.

The seat or disc (v. 207), that we've already encountered in Hadewijch's descriptions of God, represents eternity.

The three pillars (v. 208-213) represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And her explanation is rather bold, radical: the three Persons are 'names by which exiles, who are far from the love' (the minne), try to understand God. These exiles probably are the scholars and theologians of her time, who write about God as Trinity (three-oneness), Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Obviously, this image of a Trinity falls short, from Hadewijch's point of view - this is an image used by someone who is 'far away from God'. Maybe, in Hadewijch's eyes, because these exiles haven't yet followed the road of the love, they're spiritually immature and are not fully grown children, regarding God as a Father. In the eight vision (we'll read this next this hour) Hadewijch also deems theologians of her time to fail.

Last of all, she more extensively explains the meaning of the whirlpool, the 'wieling' (we already know from vision XI and XII). In those visions, we saw that in the darkness ('donker') fire/light came into existence due to the fastest motion. In this paragraph Hadewijch explains the source of this motion: this storm is the divine delight (godleke ghebrukelecheit), the delight internally within God, de experience of love inside the divinity. Hadewijch here uses the word ghebruken (the intens and loving experience of the divine love) not to express the unification of a soul and God, but to indicate the divine delight, the divine love in God itself.

So Hadewijch explains here that this whirlpool, the 'hidden storm', is the 'godleke ghebrukelecheit', the 'delight within God'. So God gets into motion due to the interaction between the divine Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), or, as other mystics would say, due to the interaction between the male and female God, or the masculine and feminine in God. Out of this interaction, the power of creation arises, and light and warmth, insight and love arise.

In the next passage (from v. 229 onward), something very strange is happening. The description of the actual mystical experience begins. God, 'my Beloved', Hadewijch says, lets understand and feel Himself. We know that aspect of the mystical experience: God lets feel His being and presence.

But something very strange happens, lets read this fragment from v. 229 onward.


And my Beloved gave Himself to me, in a way that I could understand and feel Him. But when I saw Him, I fell down before His feet. After all, I saw the road by which I had been led towards Him and I understood that I still had to do very much to live like that.

And He spoke to me: "Stand up, for you have arisen in Me, where you are without beginning, entirely free and not-fallen".


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 229-235).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision I entire text (M.D. and translation).


So far for now. God doesn't want Hadewijch to kneel down: stand up, you are within me without beginning, completely free and not fallen. Later Hadewijch will call this: 'fierheid', meaning something like pride, high-spiritedness, vigorousness, in the sense of consciousness of one's own dignity, self-worth, no need for humility or being humble. If a person becomes spiritually full-grown, due to virtues and love for God and one's neighbour, then they are able to approach God, literally, with their head held high.

But Hadewijch describes this as a long road, that takes a lot of work. 'I saw the road by which I had been led towards Him' (so the road along the virtues, the angel had showed her: self-knowledge, humility, the powerful perfect will, the gift of distinction, love for God, wisdom, patience, loyalty and finally the experience of God, that starts in faith and is completed in love); 'I saw the road by which I had been led towards Him and I understood that I still had to do very much to live like that'.

So Hadewijch does receive a mystical experience, in v. 229, but she realises at the same time that she still has a long way to go, that she hasn't yet grown towards God.

When you look at this vision with an overall view, it's clear what Hadewijch tries to makes clear with this visionary image. The angel shows her all the virtues, and the road along these virtues leads to God. But Hadewijch realises that she hasn't yet mastered these virtues, not yet owns them, has not yet internally developed them. And she is well aware of how long that road towards God is, how much effort that will require. And then the first lines of the vision become understandable: 'I still was too young and too little grown up to be one with God in delight. For I hadn't given it enough effort and I hadn't lived enough for that'.



Vision VIII: the road of the minne, the love


In the first vision, we read just now, an angel shows Hadewijch a road along virtues, and that road leads to God. There is another vision that shows roads towards God, five roads, in this case. We now will read the most important parts of that vision, the eighth vision.

In vision VIII Hadewijch meets, while she is 'in den gheeste', 'in the spirit' (in one of the spheres of the angels), a man who was engaged in theological issues and gave religious instruction to the people during his life. Hadewijch calls him a 'kimpe', a combatant, a champion - someone who was involved in theological discussions.

This man, this kimpe, shows Hadewijch five roads that lead to God. Four of those roads he explains to her, but the fifth he can't explain. Due to this episode, Hadewijch clearly criticizes the shortcomings of 13th-century clergymen, which also demonstrates the background of her view on faith.

I'll read three fragments of the eighth vision. Beginning at the top.


I saw a mountain that was high and broad and looked inexpressably beautiful. Five roads climbed up that majestic mountain and they all led to the highest place that was up there. But they were going high, higher and even more high and once again even higher, in a way that the mountain itself was the highest and entire road and it also was the being itself that sat right on the top.

And I was taken there and was led up on that mountain. There I saw an appearance of eternal delight (ghebrukenisse), where all those roads come to an end and where all who accomplish those roads become one.

Someone guided me upwards and showed himself to me. And when I arrived at the top, he said to me: "Behold how I am a victor, mighty before that truthful appearance that sees through everything and shines through the perfect services. It teaches full science of God and insight and in abundance it pours out everything one could ever enjoy in the complete rich taste of knowledge. You can recognise that I am a conqueror, see how I wear the decorations of someone who surmounts everything and has the right to speak about what everything is and about everything that serves heaven, hell and earth.

These road I climbed, as high as possible, and I guide you. I'm a reliable witness for the four roads. But God will show you the fifth, which is yours. He has sent you this one and sends it to you".


Hadewijch, vision VIII (v. 1-22).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision VIII entire text (M.D. and translation).


So Hadewijch sees a mountain with five roads that all go up the mountain. On top of this mountain is God, as an appearance of delight (ghebrukenisse), but the whole mountain also is God (v. 5: 'it [the mountain] also was the being itself'). And the fifth road is the mountain itself ('that the mountain itself was the highest and entire road'). So across this mountain four roads lead upwards, the mountain itself is God's being, and the fifth, highest, road is the complete mountain itself.

A man, who later introduces himself as the kimpe, the combatant, the conqueror, guides her along these roads all the way to the top. There he finds the 'full science of God' and 'insight' and 'the complete rich taste of knowledge'. It's meaningful that he mentions nothing but descriptions of an intellectual approach: science of God, insight and knowledge.

I can guide you, he goes on, along these four roads all to the top. But God Himself will show you the fifth road (which exists of the complete mountain, the being of God). And so God does, we'll continue reading from v. 23 onward.


After that he showed me more of that inexpressable beautiful appearance. It looked like a large, fiery flood, wider and deeper than the see. And then I heard a powerful voice speaking to me from the flood: "Come, and be the highest road yourself, alive, as the ones who follow it perfectly, who pass by those long hours with short hours.

Your constant feeling of lacking the love (minne), has brought you on the highest road towards the delightful unification (ghebruken) with me. I've ached for that since the beginning of the world and you have paid for it many times with painful yearning - and you still will. This absense of that what one is longing for above all, and touching Me while I remain ungraspable, that is the short hour surpassing all the long hours.

This is also the road that leads to my nature and that I followed towards Myself and that I took when I went out from Myself. Along that road I went from my Father to you and yours and I came back from you and yours to my Father. With Myself I also sent you away in this hour and you have to hand it on, like me, to yours".


Hadewijch, vision VIII (from v. 23).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision VIII entire text (M.D. and translation).


Hadewijch sees God as an inexpressable beautiful appearance and as a flood, wider and deeper than the sea (a personal and a non-personal God). And the voice from that flood tells her something very remarkable: "Come, and be the highest road yourself".

This is the road of constantly lacking the love, the road of the never ending love, never being satisfied in the minne, the love - and then God says to Hadewijch: you must not follow that road, you have to be that road. At the same time, this road is the complete mountain, the complete being of God (and the being of God is love, as we have seen) - and she has to be this road, this mountain, this being, this divine love. So to speak become the divine love, or the divine, or a godly being; to be a divine being.

Beware: also the other four roads (the intellectual roads of science, insight and knowledge of God) lead all the way to the top, all the way to God. But the roads are high, higher and even higher, and the fifth road is the highest road. Moreover, this is the road the kimpe cannot follow, but Hadewijch does take this road. The road of love is characteristic for her, is especially carried out by her.

Hadewijch treads upon this road of always lacking love, the never ending love - and that, God says, is what He has been aching for 'since the beginning of the world'. So this vision emphasises the immense importance of the love for God - God is depicted here as someone who is longing for the love of humans. Later we will find, when reading Ruusbroec, that mutual love between a human and God is a core element, a fundamental principle of mysticism of the Low Countries.

In her letters, when discussing the idea of 'being the love', Hadewijch refers to Moses' commandment about love (Deut. 6) and Jezus' directive about love (Mat. 22). In her 12th letter she rather literally quotes from Deuteronomy: 'and God said to Moses: you have to love your lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your powers. After he had said this, he said: this words you never shall forget, neither sleeping nor awake (...)'. And some lines ahead she takes this even further than both bible verses do: 'This he commanded Moses and in the gospels, to be in this way the 'Minne', the Love, completely' (letter 12).

Let's return to the eighth vision, because in the next paragraph God again makes a remarkable statement: along this road (the road of ceaseless love) I went from my Father to the human being, and from the human being back to my Father. So according to this vision: the coming of Christ to earth took place along the road of love, God's tending towards man, was an act of love.

We will skip some lines and continue from v. 96. Hadewijch picks up her dialogue with the kimpe.


And I returned to the presence of the spirit that brought me there. I asked him: "Lord combatant (kimpe), how is it possible that you're allowed to wear those decorations that are yours, and teaches them to me, but that you don't lead me all the way?" And he told me who he was.

Then he said to me: "I give a testimony to you of these four roads. I show them all the way, I recognise them as mine and I'm able to cope with their duration. But the faithful God gave the fifth road to you. You received it at a place where I'm not present. Because when I lived as a human being, I had too little affection in the love - I followed the sharp advice of the mind. And thus I couldn't be activated to love, which can create such a great one-ness, as you know it. I've done the honourable mankind a great wrong, because I kept her out of the affection".

And he said: "Return into your body [into your matter] and let your labours blossom. The blows of disgrace hang over your head. You will return as a person who overcomes everything, because you overcame everything here.


Hadewijch, vision VIII (v. 96-110).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).  Vision VIII entire text (M.D. and translation).


The kimpe admits that during his life on earth, he approached faith exclusively in a theoretical, rational way. In retrospect he disapproves of this, and even says that he did mankind a great injustice, by not teaching them to approach faith in an affective way. So in this paragraph, theologians are blamed for a shortcoming. It's obvious the text criticises a narrow, exclusively intellectual approach by priests.

With this criticism, this fragment demonstrates an important background of Hadewijch's spirituality. It shows a claer preference towards the fundamental ideas of the 12th-century ideal of poverty, the poverty movement, the Cistercians (the Bernardine spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux). One of the main points of this is to approach faith in a personal and affective way.

The text is openly outspoken critical towards the church, and we have seen that it can be dangerous to deviate too much from the doctrines of the church. But Hadewijch refers here to the words of the kimpe, who is in fact criticising himself, and to the authority of God Himself. So Hadewijch uses the authority that was attributed to a visionary or mystical text in the Middle Ages, to challenge theological ideals of principles of the church of her time.

Several times the question is asked whether visions and mystical experiences are 'real', whether there is reason to believe that they truly happened. And as you can see here, apart from that question, visions and mystical text have an importance in their time. It gives a very small opportunity for women and laymen to get involved in shaping the content of faith (like the image of God or the importance of love as road to God), by refering to another authority than a theological study, namely the authority of an angel, a saint, Christ or God Himself.

Earlier we've seen that visions and mysticism were (or could be) interpreted as 'real' and 'true' by medieval contemporaries and by mystics themselves, as messages from angels or from God. So even a holy, exalted truth. Therefore they could have influence and in that way they have functioned in their time, in the societal and religious circumstances of the late Middle Ages, in their cultural-historical context.

Hadewijch's authority is firmly emphasised in the last sentence we just read: 'You will return as a person who overcomes everything, because you overcame everything here' ('du al verwonnen heves'). In this vision the theologian is explicitly called a kimpe, a theological combatant. But he has to admit that Hadewijch is the one who has overcome him, who has conquered 'everything'. She clearly is depicted here as the winner, who not only can tread the intellectual roads towards God, but also covers the road of the love.


On account of this last fragment, I want to get back for just a moment to the search for the historical identity of Hadewijch. Because in the last verses of her very last visionary text, vision XIV, this theme of Hadewijch as a combatant, as a victor, emerges again.


"You who are the strongest in every battle, you who has overcome everything, you have opened the closed wholeness. It was never opened by someone who didn't experience, in labour and in the agony of minne, how I am both God and man. And because you, brave one, are so brave and won't bow, that's why you are called 'the bravest' and that is why you deserve it to know Me completely".


Hadewijch, vision XIV (v. 150-end).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De visioenen van Hadewijch (1979).


Here again we see a confirmation of Hadewijch as a chosen one, her high rise and with that her rightful leadership. She fully knows God, according to these last verses of the vision book, she is 'the bravest one', she is 'the strongest in every battle'. Like she also is the victor over the kimpe, the combatant - in a religious sense.

With all of this her name Hadewijch, 'female warrior' or 'fight of all fights', I already mentioned before the break, seems to be meaningful within her works and therefore possibly not coincidental. The fact that she ends her visionary oeuvre with a paragraph about 'battle' and 'victory' shows that the theme of a religious battle was probably important enough to base her name on it. This kind of fragments could be an indication that her name is a chosen, religious name (and not a given name that is retrievable in archives).



Letter 24: virtues and minne


In this lesson hour we've read two visions in which Hadewijch describes a road or roads towards God. In the first vision an angel guides her along a whole number of virtues and that road leads to God. And in the eighth vision God Himself shows her the fifth road and she doesn't have to cover that road, but to be it: the road of the never ending love, minne - and also that road leads to God.

How do these two roads relate to each other, acquiring virtues to end up with God, and being love to end up with God?

In a short line in letter 24, Hadewijch explains her view on the connection between virtues and love:


Want menne mach niemene minnen leren, Mer dese doechde volleiden den mensche ter minnen.


Hadewijch, letter 24 (v. 110-111).

speaker music play middle dutch   play Middle Dutch  /  or click here


 


 


Because one can't teach the minne to anyone, but these virtues lead a person all the way to the minne.


Hadewijch, letter 24 (v. 110-111).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 24 entire text (M.D. and translation).


In a poetic way Hadewijch says that a person doesn't learn the minne from another person or through studying, but a person comes closer to the love due to acquiring virtues. So according to this letter, the increase of virtues is related to the reachableness of love. Acquiring virtues leads a person to the love.


These two visions about roads that lead to God, both clearly show the ethical, moral background of Hadewijch's view on the meaning of spriritual experiences and what this urges a person to do.

The roads towards God aren't at all about that Hadewijch should kneel, pray, worship, turn inward, meditate, rattle off Hail Mary's, attend masses, buy indulgences, seek loneliness or remain in a piously state of mind all day. Nothing like that at all.

No, the roads in these images urge Hadewijch, and her contemporary public, to choose an ethical way, to become more and more virtuous (that what is right), to let their love grow, and to do so during their life on earth, amidst other people. Hadewijch literally says: "I understood that I still had to do very much to live like that"; and the kimpe says to her: "Return and let your labours blossom".

Last week, with the medieval world view and view on man, we've seen that within chistianity there was a view on man strongly saturated with sin and imperfection. In the core the human was created by God, but since the sinful fall of man, humans were sinful, inclined to all evil and imperfect.

Here Hadewijch reveals an idealistic and optimistic view on man: yes, a human being is imperfect, but is capable to become a better person, to acquire 'that what is right', to learn to be the minne ceaselessly, to grow beyond their own selves, to grow spiritually.

Till so far reading Hadewijch today. Next week we will see how Hadewijch tries to integrate the roads towards God in her life on earth. We then will find ourselves in the middle of the ghebreken (the 'lacking'), that other so important pole in her writings.



Recapitulation


During this lesson hour we've read several fragments of Hadewijch's visions. First of all Hadewijch's image of God, as we found it last week, was expanded. Then we read two visions that demonstrate roads that lead to that God she describes.

•  Hadewijch describes God, according to other christian mystics, as personal and non-personal, transcendent and as immanent, as light/insight and warmth/love.

•  She adds a remarkable new element to this image: the divine darkness (donker). This is a pre-illuminative darkness from which light and fire come into existence. The light arises through motion, a power. This motion arise due to interaction between the divine Persons, the delight (ghebruken) within God Himself, a inner divine love.

•  We can add to the scheme, based on vision XI and XII, that God is a force, a power. While in rest it is characterised by darkness (donker), in motion it creates light and warmth (insight and love).

     God's 'being':
power  
non-personal, infinity personal, an Other
transcendent immanent
Unity (One-ness) Trinity (Three-ness or: male-female)
rest activity
darkness light and warmth


•  In the first vision, about the road along the virtues, Hadewijch states that she is still young and immature.

•  This road towards God leads her along a number of virtues: self-knowledge, humility, the powerful perfect will, the gift of distinction, love for God, wisdom, patience, loyalty and finally the experience of God, that 'starts in faith and is completed in love'.

•  If a person takes this road, and grows spiritually due to virtues and love, then he can meet God with his head held high, proud, 'fier'.

•  So Hadewijch distinguishes on the one hand the mystical experience (that suddenly happens to a mystic) and on the other hand growing towards God due to virtues and love.

•  The first vision explicitly describes Hadewijch's view on man. The tree of self-knowledge shows that a human being consists of three parts: nature, soul and body.

•  The eight vision, about the road of the minne (love), clarifies that she doesn't have to go that road, the fifth road of neverending love, the being of God Himself, but to be it.

•  The four intellectual roads (science, insight and knowledge of God) also lead all the way to God. But the road along the virtues and the road of the minne are especially carried out by Hadewijch.

•  Criticising the intellectual kimpe and describing love as the highest road towards God, connects Hadewijch to the 12th-century spirituality of the ideal of poverty.

•  The road along the virtues and the road of the minne are related: for the virtues lead the human being to the love, the minne.



Next week


Next time we'll read several of Hadewijch's texts in which she tries to implement these roads of virtues and love into her daily life.

That brings us to the phenomenon of the ghebreken (the 'lacking'), growing spiritually, growing towards God. With these ideas Hadewijch integrates the visionary roads towards God into her daily, earthly life and moreover: she follows a theological line of thought from the schooled, Latin tradition.

See you next week!



Background information


The course Medieval Mysticism in the Low Countries consists of seven lectures. The mystical writings of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec will be read and understood from their cultural-historical context.

•  About this course Medieval Mysticism in the Low Countries: content and layout.

•  Background literature about the Middle Ages, Hadewijch, Ruusbroec and medieval mysticism.

•  About the teacher Rozemarijn van Leeuwen.

•  Read the reactions or leave a comment.

•  Texts of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec: fragments in Middle Dutch and nowadays Dutch.



Original Dutch course


•  Lecture 3/7b in Dutch: Hadewijch: wegen naar God.



Copyright


©  Above lecture is part of the course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries, by Rozemarijn van Leeuwen (1999-2001).

It's not permitted to copy this text digital or in print and/or to publish it.



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Follow the whole course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries online:

    first lesson hour (cultural-historical background) second lesson hour (reading texts)
  1 The Middle Ages What is mysticism?
  2 The medieval world view Hadewijch: vision and mysticism
  3 Hadewijch: glimpse of her life Hadewijch: roads towards God  ↑
  4 Women in the Middle Ages Hadewijch: bridal mysticism
  5 Ruusbroec: course of his life Ruusbroec: Active Life
  6 The horrible 14th century Ruusbroec: Inward Life
  7 Image and resemblance of God Ruusbroec: To meet Him




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