RozemarijnOnline




Course
Dutch Mysticism





 • About the teacher
 • Reactions students
 • Literature
 • Texts mystics
 • Additions and faq


























Course about Christian spirituality
in a cultural-historical context



Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries

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


Rozemarijn van Leeuwen
© 1999-2001



 >



Lecture 4b.  Hadewijch: divinisation and bridal mysticism

Topics this hour:
  • The 'lacking' ('ghebreken'): living your earthly life
  • Spiritual growth and the divine within the human being
  • The origin of ideas about divinisation: deification and theosis within theology
  • Bridal visions: Hadewijch as a bride
  • Synopsis: Hadewijch's visions and letters



Introduction


This is third and last hour that we'll read texts written by Hadewijch. The last two lectures, we've read fragments about Hadewijch's image of God and about the roads that she describes that are leading to God (the road along the virtues and the road of the love, the minne).

During this hour I will ask the question: how does Hadewijch try to go these roads of virtues and love, what is the effect on the human being according to her, where do they lead to? And with that we end up at the 'lacking', the 'ghebreken', living life on earth; and at thoughts about spiritual growth and divinisation

'Ghebreken', lacking, means: the separation from God in the sublunary sphere. But Hadewijch does give meaning to such a life in 'ghebreken'. She even has very daring and radical ideas about it. With her opinion about the meaning and the sense of 'lacking', she intergrates her spiritual experiences within life on earth.

It's clear that Hadewijch with her ideas about spiritual growth and divinisation during earthly life, is in line with a way of thinking within theology (theosis or deification) and that she's highly familiar with this (Latin!) theological tradition.

To conclude these three lectures about Hadewijch, we finally will read both of her bridal visions. I'll try to demonstrate that everything substansive we read of Hadewijch so far, logically arises from one another: the roads of the virtues and the minne, spiritual growth and divinisation; and finally the bridal mysticism. In which at last she will stand as a bride in front of God, grown-up and proud ('fier') - decorated with virtues and with perfect minne.



The 'lacking' ('ghebreken'): living your earthly life


To get a better understanding of Hadwijch's line of reasoning, we'll return to the last paragraph of the first vision we read last week, about the orchard of perfect virtues.

An angel shows here the road towards God, that leads along a large number of virtues ('that what is right'). The road along the virtues leads to God - or in other words: to acquire virtues leads to God.

And Hadewijch in the end does meet God: at the end point of the road along the virtues, she describes a mystical unification. But at the same time she realises that she's only at the starting point of her spiritual development. She calls herself 'childlike' and 'immature' ('not yet grown up') and then she states, from verse 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.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 229).

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


This seems contradictory: Hadewijch reports a mystical experience, but at the same time she realises that she still has to cover a long way towards God. She sees the entire road along which the angel has led her, along the virtues, and realises that she doesn't yet live according to them all, that she doesn't yet practises these virtues within her life.

Apparently Hadewijch distinguishes a mystical experience on the one hand (a sudden experience whereby the mystic states that he becomes conscious of the loving presence of God) - and a road of spiritual growth on the other hand (from childlikeness to maturity, a road along the virtues and along the love, by which a human eventually can grow towards God). And this last path she again and again places in the 'lacking' (the 'ghebreken'), during living her life here on earth.

It's an important distinction, I'll write the two Middle Dutch key words she so often uses in her descriptions on the black board:

ghebruken   ghebreken
mystical experience   earthly life
loving presence of God   road of spiritual growth, growing towards God

A few lines later, she further clarifies this. God speaks there and explains to her, that if she wants to experience the ghebruken within the divinity, she has to resemble ('gheliken') Him according to His humanity ('gheliken inder menscheyt': 'being like the humanity').


"Yet I will give you", so He spoke, "a new commandment: If you, who longs to possess everything of Me delightfully (ghebrukene) within the divinity, want to resemble (gheliken) Me in humanity as well, then you have to long to be poor, casted out and despised by all human beings, and in all the sorrows you'll have to find taste that rises above all earthly pleasures. Don't let it make you unhappy in any way, even if they'll be inhumanly heavy to bear.

If you want to strive after the love (minne) like it belongs to your proud (fiere) nature that completely claims Me for yourself, then you will become so estranged from the people, that you will be despised and disdained by all human beings, that you won't know where to find a place to stay, not even for one night. All human beings will let drop and forsake you and no one will be with you in your need and in your misery."


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 250-260).

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


So this part of the vision states: if Hadewijch wants to experience the love of God, the 'ghebruken', the divinity of God; then she has to resemble ('gheliken') God in His humanity (Christ) as well - and that means bearing to be poor, despised and disdained, to feel misery.

She refers here to some specific aspects or episodes in Jesus' life: to be poor (remember the poverty movement); find no shelter (birth Jesus); to be abandoned in need and misery (night before the crucifixion); and to be despised and disdained (during the conviction and crucifixion) - so the suffering of Jesus Christ. If Hadewijch wants to strive proudly (fier) after the love (minne), to claim it; then she has to endure as well to be despised and disdained, in need and misery - so the suffering in the lacking 'ghebreken'. She as much has to live her life on earth.

This road through earthly life, the road along the abandonment, precise that road is the road of spiritual growth, as we will see hereafter. Only through that way, the road through earthly life, a human being can acquire virtues and love, become proud (fier), become mature, and, finally, to resemble ('gheliken') God, become divine. In her songs, Hadewijch expresses the desolation, loneliness, the misery of this road, but at the same time she makes clear that this is a very important road to go, meaningful to her.

We'll read several of Hadewijchs fragments to comprehend more of this. Remember during reading, that Hadewijch sees the human being as created by God, a divine creature (medieval world view, medieval religious doctrine). For Hadewijch the universe, the earth and the human being, were created 6000 years earlier by God - so the human being (although now fallen to sin) isn't detached from God, but stems from God - and moreover the human being is the only creature that is created after the image of God. That basic thought is a very important foundation when it comes to her following, far-reaching thoughts about man.



Spiritual growth and divinisation


I'll start reading the last paragraph of vision II and after that vision III, that together in fact form one whole.


In the past, before that time, I always wanted, with everything I did, to figure out something. For I asked myself and continuously said: What is minne and who is minne? I had been doing that for two years.


Hadewijch, vision II (v. 16-20).

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




After that, on an Easter day, I had gone to God. He innerly enclosed me, in my faculties, and took me into the spirit. And he guided me to the appearance of the Holy Spirit, who is one being with the Father and the Son. From this whole being I received each and every insight and read every verdict on me.

And from that appearance a voice started to sound, so dreadful, that she drowned down everything and could be heard above and beyond. She spoke to me: "Behold this, old one, you cried out for me and asked who I am minne [who the love is that I am], what I am for centuries before mankind existed. Behold and receive and discover my spirit, for I am minne in it.

And when you accomplish me in yourself, pure human in me, by going all the roads of the complete minne, then you will experience enjoyingly ('ghebrukelik') who I am minne. Until that day you will keep on loving. Because I am love, and then you will be love as I am love. You will, no less than I, live a life that is love, all the days till your death, the day that you will become alive. With my unity you receive me and I have received you. Go and live what I am and return and bring me the entire divinity, and experience then 'ghebrukelik' who I am.

And with that I returned into myself and I understood everything I had said before. And I remained looking into my warm-hearted sweet love.


Hadewijch, vision III (v. 1-25).

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


Hadewijch asks two questions: what is minne and who is minne? And last week, reading the sixth vision, we already saw that Hadewijch describes the nature of God, the being of God, as 'minne' (love). Here, in the third vision, God actually gives her two answers: first God lets her feel himself (in v.12): 'receive my spirit, for I am minne in it'. So the first answer is: the spirit, or the being, of God is minne.

Then he orders her to go all the roads of the minne as a pure human being, and with that to accomplish God in herself ('when you accomplish me in yourself') - and because the being of God is minne, this means: to accomplish the divine love within herself. This road of the minne leads to the ghebruken ('then you will experience enjoyingly ('ghebrukelik'). And then in v.16: 'and then you will be love as I am love'.

And what does God say in the last line? In v.21: 'Go and live what I am and return and bring me the entire divinity, and experience then 'ghebrukelik' who I am'. Go and live what I am (so: live out of love), and then return and then bring me the entire divinity. Bring me the entire divinity.

That recalls some of Hadewijch's sentences we came across during the second lecture, while reading vision VI. It's some time ago, but you undoubtedly will remember them: Hadewijch was called there 'god and human being'. I'll read again, from verse 86:


Ic gheleide di god ende mensche weder in die wrede werelt, daer du salt ghesmaken alre doede: des du hier weder coms inden ghehelen name mijns gebrukens daer du in ghedoept best in minne diepheit.


Hadewijch, vision VI (v. 86-88).

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


 


 


I lead you, as god and human, again back into the cruel world. There you will taste all kinds of deaths, until you'll return here, in the whole name of my ghebrukens, in which you are now baptised, in my deepness.


Hadewijch, vision VI (v. 86-88).

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


The word 'death' is used by Hadewijch in the meaning of: the state of being seperated from God. So she has to go through that state of 'being death', in this cruel world, living her life without permanently experiencing God, to return to God.

In all these fragments again and again is emphasised that Hadewijch has to live her earthly life to 'accomplish' those virtues and the minne, to grow spiritually - the road through the 'lacking', the ghebreken.
  • 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 (vis. I).
  • And when you accomplish me in yourself, pure human in me, by going all the roads of the complete minne (...) Go and live what I am and return and bring me the entire divinity, and experience then 'ghebrukelik' who I am (vis. III).
  • I lead you, as god and human, again back into the cruel world (vis. VI)
In this last fragment, Hadewijch herself is called 'god and human'. As 'god and human' she goes back into the cruel world, so she can, through all kinds of deaths, through the 'lacking', the ghebreken, grow towards the ghebruken, to grow as human being towards the divine.

Hadewijch also explains this in her 29th letter.


Although I possess everything in the minne within my eternal being, I do not yet possess it in minne's ghebrukene within my own being. After all I am a human being, and they have to suffer with Christ until the death: for the sake of truthful love one has to experience disgrace amidst all the strangers, until the minne becomes itself, until she has grown up within us through virtues. In that way, minne and human become one.


Hadewijch, letter 29 (v. 87-95).

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


Hadewijch already possesses the minne, the divine, within her eternal being. But she hasn't yet raised that to adulthood with the help of the virtues. When a human being will do that, make sure that the minne can grow up by means of the virtues, then the person becomes one with the minne, identical to the divine.

In her sixth letter Hadewijch phrases it beautifully; first I'll read the fragment in translation and after that in the original Middle Dutch.


He [God] is in the highness of the ghebruken, we are in the lowness of the ghebreken. Namely you and I - we who still have not become what we are, who still have not acquired what we have, who still are so far away from what is ours. We have to let go everything without reservation and exclusively, fearlessly learn the perfect life of the love, that has stirred both of us to her labour.


Hadewijch, letter 6 (v. 29-36).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 6 entire text (M.D. and translation).


Now listen to the wonderful sound of the Middle Dutch:


Want hi es in de hoecheit sijn ghebrukens, ende wi sijn in de diepheit ons ghebreekens. Namelike ghi ende ic, die noch niet worden en sijn dat wi sijn ende noch niet vercreghen en hebben dat wi hebben; Ende dien noch soe verre sijn dat onse es, wi behoeven sonder sparen al omme al te darvene ende enichlike ende ghenendichleke te leerne dat volmaecte leven der minnen, die ons beiden beruert hevet te haren werke.


Hadewijch, letter 6 (v. 29-36).

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


Hadewijch states: 'we still have not become what we are, we still have not acquired what we have'. 'We still are so far away from what is ours, the minne'. In fact she says: the human being already has the minne, the human being has the divine within himself, but he not yet has developed it, let it grow up, accomplished it. And how can a human being bring this about, realise this? By living his earthly life here on earth, by letting the love grow by means of the virtues, by growing up, becoming independent (in Dutch literally: 'self-standing'), by becoming proud, fier.

Ghebreken: living your earthly life, growing spiritually
  • acquire virtues
  • letting the love grow (by means of the virtues)
  • growing up, becoming independent, 'self-standing'
  • becoming proud, fier

No one can teach you this, Hadewijch says, a person needs to do that himself. For example in her 24th letter, we read the last line before:


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).


Hadewijch admits herself: all the things I say about God and man may seem odd and unreligious. But it doesn't wonder her, so she writes in letter 28:


Whoever remained in God for such a long time that he is able to understand such wonders, that is: the way God is in his divinity, often seems, in the eye of pious people who don't know this, unreligious because he is so divinised, wavering because he is so steadfast and unknowing because he knows.

I saw God as God and the human being as human being. And at that moment it didn't wonder me that God was God and the human being was the human being. After that I saw God as man and I saw the human being divinised. And at that moment it didn't wonder me that the human being was beatified within God.


Hadewijch, letter 28 (v. 225-236).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 28 entire text (M.D. and translation).


I'll repeat the last paragraph in Middle Dutch:


Ic sach gode god ende den mensche mensche. Ende doe verwonderde mi niet, dat god god was, ende dat de mensche mensche was. Doen saghic gode mensche, ende ic sach den mensche godlec. Doen verwonderde mi niet dattie mensche verweent was met gode.


Hadewijch, letter 28 (v. 231-236).

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


 


 


I saw God as God and the human being as human being. And at that moment it didn't wonder me that God was God and the human being was the human being. After that I saw God as man and I saw the human being divinised. And at that moment it didn't wonder me that the human being was beatified within God.


Hadewijch, letter 28 (v. 231-236).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 28 entire text (M.D. and translation).


Hadewijch formulates it here as: 'I saw the human being divinised' ('ic sach den mensche godlec'). So in all these sections Hadewijch describes the road a human being can follow to become divine.

This road runs through the 'lacking', the ghebreken, to make it possible to grow from childhood to adulthood, to grow up spiritually. A person can accomplish this spiritual adulthood by acquiring the love (love for one's neighbour and love for God) and by acquiring all the virtues (including self-knowledge, wisdom and patience). In this way the human grows towards God, starts to resemble (gheliken) God and will be able to return to God as 'human and God' ('mens ende gode').

So it's not during a mystical experience that the human being can become divine, but right in that sublunary sphere, where the human being is seperated from God, that's where Hadewijch describes roads that will make the human being independent, 'self-standing', by following the road of acquiring virtues and love, where he can become an adult. Right during that seperation from God, the same thing that Hadewijch complains so much about, seems to be the only place where a person himself can grow.

Hadewijch also describes this road as the imitation of Christ (following the example of Christ). At the end of the first vision Christ says to her:


I want you to imitate me so perfectly in all the virtues in the world, that you won't stay behind me, not at a single point. (...)

In that way one becomes god and remains it for eternity.


Hadewijch, vision I (v. 311).

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


Hadewijch can't be any clearer: 'In that way one becomes god and remains it for eternity'. By practising all the virtues perfectly and by letting the love grow to adulthood, a human being can grow until he is 'god with God'.

Ghebreken: living your earthly life, growing spiritually
  • acquire virtues *
  • letting the love grow (by means of the virtues)
  • growing up, becoming independent, 'self-standing'
  • becoming proud, fier
  • accomplish the divine within oneself
* the virtues: self-knowledge, humility, powerful free will, insight, love for God, wisdom, patience, loyalty, love of one's neighbour, peace, and the experience of God, that 'one begins in faith and completes in love'

When a person has realised the divine within himself (the virtues and the love), when he has covered that long, hard, lonely road to spiritual adulthood, then he can meet God, according to Hadewijch, proudly, fier - with his head held high. I told that already last week, discussing the first vision. There Hadewijch wants to kneel for God, but God says to her: "Stand up, for you have arisen in Me, where you are without beginning, entirely free and not-fallen".

During that first vision Hadewijch realises that she can grow towards God, she can see the road along the virtues and the love, and she realises that if she covers that road, she can face God with her head held high, fier. This concept of pride/'fier-ness', fierheid, is very characteristic for Hadewijch, you won't find that anywhere else during the Middle Ages.

And in the 12th vision something similar happens. There an angel says to Hadewijch:


Try to hold out it and still wait, don't fall down before this appearance. Those who fall down in worship before the appearance, receive grace, but those who remain standing en look through the appearance, they will receive righteousness. They will be enabled to experience the deep abysses, that are envisaged which such a shiver by those who aren't familiar with it.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 36).

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


When I read this, I always have to think back to Hadewijch's statement: "Whoever understands so much of God, may seem unreligious because he is so divinised".

But in this 12th vision, Hadewijch remains standing before the appearance of God and afterwards she looks at the appearance and then the angel, who accompanies her, tells her:


Behold, this is the minne, that you see in the middle of the appearance of God's nature. Never before it was exposed to a creature.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 86).

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


This is one of those examples that indicates Hadewijch as a chosen one - she is the only human being that has gotten so close to the divine minne. As I said before, such paragraphs give Hadewijch authority and confirm her exemplary nature and leadership for her female friends.

Also in the previous vision, vision XI, Hadewijch approaches God fier, proudly ('the full pride of the love' / 'volcomene fierheit vander minnen') and she realises that she has to love the humanity towards the divinity and to see the humanity and the divinity as one reality.


When the moment had come that I would be consoled and that God would let me experience the full pride of the love, then I learned how one has to love the humanity towards the divinity and both, as is right, acknowledge as one reality. That is the most valuable life that ever was lived in God's realm. And this peace God granted me at a convenient time.


Hadewijch, vision XI (v. 176).

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


Eventually the humanity and the divinity are one reality. Hadewijch calls this one of her most valuable insights; the acknowledgement of it gives her peace.

After the human being has achieved this, has grown up, has brought about the virtues and the love, has become divine and dares to face God proudly, 'fier', then Hadewijch describes the meeting of the human being with God as follows (letter 28):


Between God and the beatified soul who has become god with God, a spiritual love reigns. And when God exposes this spiritual love within the soul, then a gentle friendship rises within her. That means: she feels within herself how God is her friend, prior to every sorrow and within every sorrow and through every sorrow.


Hadewijch, letter 28 (v. 121).

English translation by RvL, based on: P. Mommaers, De brieven van Hadewijch (1990).  Letter 28 entire text (M.D. and translation).


This is one of the paragraphs in which she uses the phrase 'god with God' ('god met Gode'): the beatified soul has become god with God.

Thereafter Hadewijch describes God as a friend: an image of mutual affection and equality. More mystics use this image, both during the Middle Ages and the centuries after that. In Germany and Brabant there were groups of 'God's friends' ('godsvrienden'), and possibly also Ruusbroec's little parish in Groenendaal can be considered as one of those. (By the way, the fundamental idea for this can be found in the Bible, because Jesus says: you aren't slaves, but friends (Joh. 15:15)). With this image mystics emphasise an affective and equal relationship between the spiritual full-grown human being and God.

Beside this image, God, the personal God, also is described by Western mystics as Father, or by mystics who assume an androgynous principle within the divinity, as father-mother. This is a well-known image to describe God, used already by Jesus.

In Hadewijch's first vision, we read that she said about this image: 'Father, Son and Holy spirit' are names, 'by which exiles, who are far from the love' try to understand God. Probably she also expresses here, that the image of a father (an unequal relationship: father-child) mainly applies to people who not yet have covered the road of the love and the virtues, and therefore still are not spiritually full-grown, still are immature.

And third of all, especially during the late Middle Ages, God is described as Beloved or as Bridegroom. The soul who is spiritually full-grown, who has become perfect, then is the bride. Mostly it is Christ who is presented as the bridegroom, Christ as God who came to earth and made himself equal to man; whereby that connection, presented as wedding, is made possible. Bernard of Clairvaux in fact was the driving force in spreading this image through Europe (refering to the Song of Songs) and in the centuries after that you'll come across this image around various circles of the poverty-movement.

The courtly love, started as literary ideal in the 12th century, initiated the spreading of the idea of love between a knight and an unreachable or absent noble lady (either as unfulfilled, unachievable love, or preceding a marriage). This new, profane (wordly) ideal of distant love that innerly filled and elevated the person, an inner, spiritual, deeply-felt 'minne', was the background of the rise of a similar spiritual ideal.

The images of a 'friend' and a 'bridegroom' to picture the relationship between the spiritual full-grown human and God, are similar with regard to the type of connection, an affective and equal relationship. The image of a 'father' also refers to a connection and affection, but within an unequal, hierarchic relationship.


        God/Christ presented as:

father / father-mother for spiritual not fully grown human, spiritually child/immature
friend for spiritual full-grown human
beloved / bridegroom for spiritual full-grown human




The origin of ideas about divinisation: deification and theosis within theology


The idea that a human being is able to become divine, 'god with God', is not invented by Hadewijch. With that way of thinking, she is part of a long tradition, dating back (concerning Christianity) to the Church Fathers around the fourth century. This theological idea is called theosis or deification ('divinisation', 'becoming divine'). In Greek-Roman (or even older) myths you actually won't encounter this theme.

It is part of a Christian tradition within the theology, rising from the dual view on man during the Middle Ages: negative and positive. The human being is sinful since the fall, fails, falls short, is inclined to all evil, is imperfect; but created to be the image of God - this discrepancy is then solved by the assumption that it's possible for a human being to grow spiritually, that he can grow towards God, can become divine.

This theological reasoning eventually stems from belief in Genenis (human being is created after God's image); the salvation history of mankind (the turning away from God and tending towards by God); and the classical basic thought of Christianity: the human being is from God and will return to God. The divinisation is the elaboration of that latter part (how can a human being return to God? By becoming divine).

In Western Christianity of course Church Father Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was very important. For example he wrote as a comment on the Bible verse Joh. 1:12: 'If we are created as sons of God, then we are created as gods'. He also quoted the famous statement of Athanasius of Alexandria: 'He became human so we could become gods' (192.1.1).

Then we make a jump to the late Western Middle Ages. For example the 13th-century Italian theologian and scholastic Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote in his main work Summa theologiae: 'The gift of grace surpasses every power in the created nature, because it's nothing less than participation in the Divine Nature (...). Exclusively God divinises through granting taking part of the Divine Nature through a shared resemblance (...)'.

Generally the possibility of theosis, becoming divine, is credited to the transforming effect of the divine grace, or to Christ's deceasing for our sins. Also several Bible verses are used to support this reasoning. The most outspoken one is a verse from the Gospel according to John: 'Jesus answered them: Isn't it written in your law: I have said: you are gods?' (Joh. 10:34).

However the human being always remains distinguishable from God as Creator. For example the Spanish mystic John of the Cross (1542-1591) stated: 'It's true that the natural being of the human being, although it's transformed in this way, still is distinguishable from God's being like it was before' (The ascent of mount Carmel 2,5).

Probably very important to Hadewijch, was the influence of the 12th-century monk William of St.-Thierry (1080-1148). He was born in Liège, the uttermost southern point of the Low Countries, and became good friends with Bernard of Clairvaux. We know for sure that Hadewijch was familiar with William's writings, because she translated a part of his De natura et dignitate amoris ('about the nature and the dignity of love') from Latin to Middle Dutch. He states that when the love for God becomes active within the human being thanks to the grace, that the human being transforms into the object he beholds lovingly; so the soul divinises by this, the human being becomes like God.

As I said at the beginning of this hour, this way of reasoning of course is embedded in the faith and way of thinking of that time. The theological thought that a person can become divine, theosis, is logical if you interpret literally that the human being was created by a god, after their image (according to Genesis), and in principle is a divine creature. Due to the fall of man then the human being became sinful and mortal, but due to the coming, the deceasing and the resurrection of Christ, turning towards God, returning to God, again is possible. Turning towards God and God's grace towards man, then already transforms the human being.

In the case of Hadewijch, the longing for the Minne (orientation towards God) causes that she sees roads towards God in her visions: the road along the virtues and the road of the minne. She integrates these into the lacking, the ghebreken, life on earth; the virtues and the love allow the human being to grow spiritually - until the divine is fully grown within the human being and 'the beatified soul is god with God'. This whole line of thought is in keeping with the existing theological reasoning of the theosis or deification.

Theologians however write theoretical and speculative about this subject, where mystics write visual and personal about it. Repeatedly Hadewijch lets Christ or God Himself speak about this subject (like: 'bring me the entire divinity', vis. III; 'I lead you, as god and human, again back into the cruel world', vis. VI; and 'In that way one becomes god and remains it for eternity', vis. I). In that way the genre of the vision, interpreted as a message through angels from Christ or God themselves, provides her the authority to speak out, as a woman without a degree in theology, about such a radical, controversial theological subject.

Within this line of thought Hadewijch shows an idealistic and ambitious view on man and the fragments we read show an ever more far-reaching, ever higher ideal. The human being is able to grow towards God along the road of the virtues and the minne; is even able to become god ('In that way one becomes god and remains it for eternity'); and finally can become 'god with God'.

Keep on remembering that for Hadewijch the human being was created by God (and is a divine creature) and according to Genesis is the only creature in His image. The human being is, in the medieval way of thinking, the centre and the highlight of creation, that essentially revolves around the human being. So the divine already is ingrained in a human, according to Genesis (and remember Hadewijch's: 'we still have not become what we are', letter 6).



Bridal visions: Hadewijch as a bride


In the last fragment we read, from the letters, we saw that Hadewijch can describe God as a friend or bridegroom. And that will be the last part of Hadewijch that we are going to read: both of her bridal visions. She describes herself as a bride in vision X and XII; we'll start reading vision X and afterwards some paragraphs of vision XII as a closure.

Where in vision I she stated that she was young and immature, in vision X she clearly is fully mature and grown up to the level of becoming the bride of Christ. In this vision she is located in a city. An eagle is flying there (symbol of John the Evangelist) and announces the wedding.

He says that the bride has grown up in the 'foreign land', the 'land of darkness' (so: on earth). The city represents her free consciousness (or free conscience), the ornaments are her virtues, around the city is her diligence (hard work) and the bride is her soul.

Then a voice says: 'Behold, this is my bride'. Hadewijchs minne is perfect and she has experienced God both as God and as human being. Then Hadewijch receives a mystical experience (im-mediate, without medium in-between, without images), in ghebrukene (in delight, experiencing God or the divine love).


During the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist, around Christmas time, I was taken into the spirit. There I saw a city that was put in readiness, as new as Jerusalem - that was her name and that was the way she looked like. One was decorating her with all kinds of new ornaments, unspeakably beautiful.

(...)

(v. 11) And in the middle of that exalted city an eagle flew, who shouted with a powerful voice: "You all, lords and commanders, here you will learn the everlasting nature of your blessedness". And once again he flew through the city and shouted: "The moment is near. You all who are alive, unite yourselves with her who lives out of the life".

And for a third time he shouted: "You who are dead, come to the light and to the life, and you all who are not ready but yet not too naked to attend our wedding, come and share in our abundance, and acknowledge the bride who has known all needs, both heavenly and earthly, through and through, due to the minne. She was visited so through and through by the need in the foreign land, that I will show her now how she has grown up in the land of darkness. And she will be great, will behold her rest and the voice of the ruler will fully belong to her.

(v. 26) Thereafter an evangelist appeared who said: "You are here now and one will see the blessedness of your outcastness. The city that you see here so decorated, that is your free consciousness. The beautiful ornaments here, that are your numerous virtues, that you have lived through, through and through. Around the city is your fiery diligence, stronger than all sorrow, that never has left you. Your hidden virtues, always practised with new earnestness, are the ornaments that adorn the city. Your beatified soul is the bride in the city.

(...)

(v. 48) Then I heard a voice, shouting out very loud: "Peace with you all, new peace and every new happiness. Behold here, this is my bride. She completed all Your works with perfect minne. Her minne is so strong, that each and everyone will grow up due to it". And He said: "Now behold, bride and mother, you only could experience me as God and human being. See how the ones that are invited to be eunuch with respect to all quietness on earth, are becoming what you are for them all: no one ever has deemed the wordly poison tasteless like you did; no one has suffered so inhumanely much amongst the people. You will suffer through everything until the very end, strengthened by what I am, and we will remain one. Now enjoy me, delight that I am thanks to the power of your victory. And those who will be satisfied will draw eternal life out of you".

(v. 62) And the voice enclosed me with wonderfulness unheard of. I fell into Him and my spirit failed to see and hear more. For the duration of half an hour I found myself in that delightment (ghebrukene). But then the night had already ended and I returned into myself, complaining lamentingly about my repudiation, something I already was doing whole winter long.

(...)


Hadewijch, vision X (v. 1-34, 48-70).

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


The fact that Hadewijch is portrayed in this vision as bride of Christ, is the end of a development - it's not were you would start, as the beginning of a religious path.

You will remember that Hadewijch states in her first vision: "I still was too young and too little grown up for that". In the sixth vision she mentions that she was 19 years old. In this tenth vision, one of the last ones she wrote down, she is the bride of Christ - clearly an image of maturity. It states that she has 'grown up in the land of darkness' (so on earth). Obviously Hadewijch's vision book shows in this way a well organised development. Hadewijch begins young and immature, she grows within the lacking, the ghebreken, and finally is the (grown-up) bride of Christ. This indicates a (spiritual) development through the visions.

We've also seen that Hadewijch first is accompanied by a Throne Angel (vision I, v. 23, in which she states: 'right that day, I had grown up to his height') and later on she is guided by a Seraphine (vision XIII), part of the highest choir of angels. That as well indicates growth, an ascend through the angelic choirs, always closer to God. The choirs of angels, that completely fill the space between earth and Empyrean, appear not only to be passing on messages from God to man, but also seem to function as steps, degrees in development, levels, that indicate the rise of the human being towards God.

We don't know when the visions were written down (only that it must have been around 1240, as I told last week), but it's possible that they display a period of several or even dozens of years. In that case the development, the rise, the growth from immaturity to maturity in the visions, could be a reflection of the development that Hadewijch went through in her life, in her thinking, in her faith.


In this tenth vision, to finish it, we see again two important foundations on which Hadewijch bases her texts: the Bible and the spirituality of the Cistercians, or the Bernardine spirituality.

First there are some striking similarities to images from the Revelation in the New Testament, I refered to on account of other visions before. The eagle is the symbol of John the Evangelist (Matthew is represented by a winged human; Marc by a lion; and Luke by a bull). The 'new Jerusalem' will be, according to Revelation 21-22, the final residence of the christians.

'At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (...) Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures.' Revelation 4:2/6.

'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.' Revelation 21:2.


Secondly, Hadewijch's bridal visions correspond to the 12th-century spirituality of the ideal of poverty. Especially the Bernardine spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux: emphasising the humanity of Christ, an inward oriented faith and affectively experiencing faith.

The ideal of the latter one is portrayed by Bernard as a spiritual wedding between Christ as bridegroom and the perfect soul as bride.


I will repeat the most important bridal passage of this tenth vision in Hadewijch's own words, the Diets. You can read along in English.


Doe hoerdic alsoe lude i. stemme roepende: vrede si u allen nuwe ende alle nuwe blijscap; Siet hier, dit es mine bruut, die heeft dore gaen alle uwe ambachte metter volmaecter minnen, Wies minne es soe sterc daerse bi alle dus wassen.

Ende hi seide: sich hier, bruut ende moeder, die heves mi alse allene god ende mensche connen leven. (...) Du salt al ute doghen ten inde met dat ic ben ende wi selen i. bliven. Nu ghebruke mijns dat ic ben, metter cracht dijns verwinnens ende die ghesade selen eweleke leven ute di.


Ende die stemme omvinc mi met enen onghehoerden wondere, ende ic viel in heme, ende mi gebrac des geests meer te siene ende te hoerne. Ende ic lach in dien ghebrukene ene halve ure, mer hier was de nacht al over, ende ic quam weder iammerleke claghende mine ellende, alse ic al desen winter hebbe ghedaen.


Hadewijch, vision X (v. 48-65).

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


 


 


Then I heard a voice, shouting out very loud: "Peace with you all, new peace and every new happiness. Behold here, this is my bride. She completed all Your works with perfect minne. Her minne is so strong, that each and everyone will grow up due to it".

And He said: "Now behold, bride and mother, you only could experience me as God and human being. (...) You will suffer through everything until the very end, strengthened by what I am, and we will remain one. Now enjoy me, delight that I am thanks to the power of your victory. And those who will be satisfied will draw eternal life out of you".

And the voice enclosed me with wonderfulness unheard of. I fell into Him and my spirit fell short to see and hear more. For the duration of half an hour I found myself in that delightment (ghebrukene). But then the night had already ended and I returned into myself, complaining lamentingly about my repudiation, something I already was doing whole winter long.


Hadewijch, vision X (v. 48-65).

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




The ideal is achieved


The tenth and twelfth vision, the two bridal visions, together make up the culmination and the conclusion of Hadewijch's teachings, her vision book, her journey along the roads towards God.

All her previous reasonings, ideals: the road along the virtues, the road of the minne, and the road through the lacking, the ghebreken (divinisation), all come together and end here in the image of Hadewijch as a bride. In the tenth vision, Hadewijch 'has grown up in the land of darkness'. The city is her consciousness, her virtues decorate the city and her minne is called 'perfect'.

Those perfect minne and perfect virtues also are explicitly mentioned in her other bridal vision, vision XII. The bride is escorted by virtues, that lead her to her Beloved, the mighty, great God.


Dit waren al doechde ende volleiden .i. bruut te haren lieve, ende hadde hare scone ghedient ende haddense soe fier ghehouden, dat sise tameleken voltonen mochten vore den moghenden groten god, diese te brude ontfaen soude.



Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 46-48).

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


 


 


These were all virtues that brought a bride all the way to her Beloved. They had served her fine and ensured that she remained so proud (fier), that they could present her without reservations, suitable as she was, to the mighty, great God who would accept her as bride.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 46-48).

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


Again Hadewijch mentions all the virtues and explains each of them (faith, hope, loyalty, love of one's neighbour, longing, humility, distinction (insight), power, reason, wisdom, peace and patience).

She explicitly states that this image of virtues, the company that escorts her, is intended as an 'image', an allegory ('in ghelikenessen gheseghet', v. 122). Of course these virtues don't exist outside herself; she acquired them, developed them in herself.

And beside the virtues, she as bride is accompanied by the love, the minne.


Dus quam se in die stat met deser gheselscap gheleidt tuschen tgebruken van minnen ende tgebod van doechden.



Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 128).

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


 


 


Thus she arrived with this company in this city, accompanied by the delight (gebruken) in minne on one side and the recognition of the virtues on the other side.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 128).

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


Again we find here a confirmation that Hadewijch is led to God by the love (minne) and the virtues (as we've seen before: the road of the minne and the road along the virtues both led to God).

She understands that she herself is the bride, she remains proud, proudly standing straight before the appearance of God and experiences the mystical unification.


Ende doese dus gheleidt waert ten hoghen zetele daer ic af seide vore, Doe seide die aer die te mi sprac: Nu dore sich daenscijn ende werde gherechte bruut des groets brudegoems ende sich di selven dus. Ende mettien sach ic mi selven ontfaen .i. vanden ghenen die daer sat in dien wiel op die lopende scive, ende daer werdic .i. mede in sekerheiden der enecheit.

(...)

Doe ghi opstont ende doersaghet, doe saech di u selven volcomeleke met ons gherechte bruut ghezeghelt metter minnen. (...) In die diepheit sach. ic mi verswolgen; daer ontfinc ic sekerheit met diere vormen ontfaen te sine in mijn lief ende mijn lief also in mi.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 132-slot).

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


 


 


And when she then was led to the high seat where I already spoke about, the eagle that spoke to me said: "Now see through the appearance and become the just bride of the great Bridegroom and see that you are that yourself". And at once I saw myself absorbed by the One who sat there on the disc that moved in that whirlpool. And I was united with Him in certainty of unity.

(...)

When you stood up and looked through the appearance, you saw yourself - perfect as we - as the just bride, marked by the minne. (...) I saw myself gulped down in the deepness. There I received the certainty that I was absorbed in that appearance in my Beloved and my Beloved also in me.


Hadewijch, vision XII (v. 132-slot).

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


This bridal image is the culmination and the conclusion of her road. Hadewijch has grown up in the 'land of darkness', on earth, she has gone that road through the lacking, the ghebreken (the road of divinisation), she has perfected her virtues, she has perfected her love, her minne. She has integrated her visionairy ideals in her life on earth. She no longer is 'young and immature', as she was at the beginning of her book of visions, but she has spiritually grown, has become a grown-up, grown towards God and proud, fier. And that is the reason why she now is able to stand before God as a bride, with perfect virtues and in perfect minne.

In her visions, letters and songs, Hadewijch constantly is rooted in the way of thinking and believing of her time. But on that foundation she has built an oeuvre that is full of images, vivacious, personal, appealing. In all of her works she ceaslessly strives for what she regards as the highest goal, de minne, and after a lot of battles, abandonment and hardships in these bridal visions finally reaches her ideal: to be the bride 'of the great Bridegroom' - to be 'in my Beloved and my Beloved also in me'.



Asked questions


Today the question was asked, that Hadewijch's ideal seems to be quite 'achievable': a human being has to aquire some virtues (to do 'what is right') and consciously start to feel love for his neighbour and for God - and then he already becomes divine, becomes 'god with God'. But then we have to revisit the medieval world view, which is linear: the human being has one life, according to christian faith, and during this span of about 60, 70 years, of course heaven has to be achievable (unlike Buddhist concepts, according to which it can takes many, many lifespans to become enlightened).

I agree that nowadays, we wouldn't judge so positive on an ideal that states that a human being as to become equal to a god, that urges for 'extreme perfection' (what could lead to things like a negative self image and burn out). The conviction 'you are bad and inclined to sin' and you only are good when you 'have grown spiritually and have become similar to the divine' - that seems to me from the perspective of nowadays psychological insights not a very positive message to din into a child's mind. Indeed for all people of good will, who simply are doing their best, the message 'you are good the way you are' would result in more self-confidence and a positive self image.

But if you choose to belief in 'spiritual growth', then you have to take a negative view on man as the starting point: the human being is sinful, evil and imperfect (as people thought during the Middle Ages). Especially since the Enlightenment, and for example humanism, also positive views on man do exist (like the 'tabula rasa': a child is a blank slate), in which one assumes that a human being in principle is inclined to goodness, to cooperation and humaneness. The goal then is not 'to be equal to a god', but to be yourself.

Whether a phenomenon as 'spiritual growth' really exists, is, as far as I know, never determined in scientific research - seniors in nursings homes aren't all better persons than people in their twenties. The human being, like every other living being on this planet, is equiped with a wide range of qualities (from being capable of intensive care for their own offspring, to being able of to strike out to a competitor), which are all important for survival. Every living being can of course choose social friendly behaviour (what is easier when not hungry or under attack) - but even on a high age he still can strike out sharply. Of any other animal on this planet, who has a friendly nature, but on occasion pushes away a congener that walks in his way, we never will say that he 'urgently needs to grow a bit spiritually' - no, it's just natural behaviour, he can manifest from the beginning to the end of his life. Every human being can choose, every day, for 'virtuous' and 'loving' behaviour - but always remains capable of rage or of lashing out. So it's not that we can determine spiritual 'growth', but behaviour, character, circumstances, how one approaches life.

Also the question 'where does spiritual growth end?' seems to me a good one to reflect on. Of course there is a border to more and more improve a positive quality. Someone who becomes increasingly more friendly, in the end doesn't become the super-most friendliest, but a bootlicker; someone who becomes extreme patient, ultimately becomes passive; and someone who's never assertive anymore to others, becomes a person who let others walk all over him. So indeed: all those medieval principles - like the ideal to become 'perfect', the demand to become divine, the suggestion that the human being is evil and has to grow sprirituelly - we nowadays can put a lot of questionmarks to that, from a more positive view on man.

So again this shows, as I stated at the beginning of this hour, that you have to put these ideals in the context of their time, the thinking and believing of that time, how these ideals functioned in their time. The ideal that a human being would have to grow, stems from the medieval view on man of sinfulness and imperfection. Also the ideal to become a bride of Christ, only existed within a certain context during a specific time - it clearly was intensely and in all earnesty experienced during this short specific tradition (12th, 13th and 14th century). These ideals stem from and function within the medieval cosmology, the view on man, the human being created after God's image according to Genenis, the narrative of the salvation history, the whole medieval way of thinking and believing; and so they are time-based and faith-based.

Always ask yourself, with any text, any image, any religious conviction: where does this idea, this image come from? From which underlying convictions stems a religious doctrine? When and by whom is a dogma invented and implemented, and why? Why did people, in that specific time, under those specific circumstances, value a specific way of thinking? The more you meanwhile are aware of your own (spiritual) convictions and dare to read de-mythologising, the more clearer you'll be able to see the text, the origin and the context.


The other question was: isn't God imagened rather 'small' and human, just as a kind of virtuous, loving man?

Yes, but then you have to keep remembering, that medieval mystics always describe God in two ways: as a personal God (an Other, in action through insight/love, light/warmth) and as a non-personal God (infinite, surpassing everything, a sea, a whirlpool), who can be in rest, but can start moving and then is able to create. Such images, in fact, are part of many religions and are often nature images (a mountain, a sea, a river, a sun, light, fire) - we already find these images in nature religions, in which impressive elements in the environment of the believers (a mountain, a river, the sun), were considered to be holy and were believed to be the source of life (sea, earth, sun).

These impressive non-personal images overcome the problem that God is nothing more than a kind of great man. Because these non-personal descriptions can be awe-inspiring, all-surpassing and impressive, we've seen that in Hadewijch's visions - and the human being is after the image of the personal God, not of the creative force, that non-personal God.



Conclusion reading Hadewijch's works


These last three lesson hours we familiarised ourselves with the 13th-century Brabantian Hadewijch: the world she lived in, her thinking, her believing and the mystical texts she wrote. What are the most important things we learned along the way?

First of all the background of the world she lived in, her way of thinking, her way of believing. Her visionary images, her spirituality, her mystical line of thought and her way of living are rooted in and stem from the ideals of the poverty-movement and the early beguines; the Bernardine spirituality; the Bible and the medievel catholic theology; en the medieval cosmology.

Some examples:
  • The cosmology: she mentions medieval choirs of angels, along which she seems to climb up towards God (Throne Angel, Seraphin); and the cosmology is the stage of her visions and mysticism:
    • planetary spheres - angels - vision
    • Empyrean - God - mysticism/ghebruken
    • earth - human being - lacking/ghebreken
  • Ideals movement of poverty / beguines: carrying out Christ's message yourself; devotion and freedom; studying, teaching, giving guidance, writing
  • Bernardine spirituality: spiritualisation of faith, deeply experienced love, knowledge of God by experiencing God, ideal of spiritual wedding
  • Bible/theology: images from the Bible book Revelation; theological doctrine of deification (divinisation).


Secondly, I hope that you have seen the cohesion, the connection between the thematic chosen fragments that we read last week and this week. In my opinion, they can't be considered as seperate subjects - they result from one another.

First we saw that Hadewijch describes two roads that lead to God: to acquire virtues and love. In the last two visions we saw the final destination: she is standing before Christ (or God) as spiritual full-grown bride. But it seems to me, that the step in-between can't be skipped: by following these roads, the human being divinises, becomes god with God.

To reach the ideal of bridal mysticism, a human being not only has to become a little more virtuous and loving - but the soul of the mystic has to transform from a human to a divine soul. So how difficult it may be for us, nowadays readers, to make sense of these little fragments, scattered through her work, about these radical idea of theosis, divinisation, it seems to me that this is a indispensable, crucial step to reach her ideal of bridal mysticism.

The three topics are one coherent line of thought about spiritual growth, growing towards God and the medieval mystical ideal of the deified human being as bride.
  • follow the road of virtues and love (minne)
  • divinisation/deification, becoming god with God
  • spiritual mature bride of Christ

One could argue that 'becoming god with God' and 'becoming bride of Christ' basically have the same meaning.



And then last of all my third and final remark about Hadewijch's writings. Usually her work is counted to the bridal mysticism. And rightfully so, as we've seen in these last two visions (X and XII). At the same time, it seems to me that this label falls short. Out of her 14 visions, in only two bridal images are described - that means that the other 12 (and the vast majority of her letters and songs) are about something else.

Although we've only been able to read a limited part of her writings, I hope that nonetheless you got an impression what that is about. She writes about virtues and love, roads towards God, angels, kimpes and female friends, ghebruken and ghebreken, pride and divinisation. And only one word returns in each and every text - and that word is minne.

This love, this minne, this courtly love-adventure, eventually can result in a bridal image - but the key topic, the thread in the content, the center of her writings always is the minne itself - that innerly felt, spiritual, elevating love, the being of God, the being of the human being. It's not without reason that her body of work frequently is summarised with a very short quotation from her letters: 'The minne is all' ('De minne es al', letter 25).

It seems to me that a better label than 'bridal mysticism' or 'wedding-mysticism' or 'nuptial mysticism', would be 'love-mysticism' - or even better: 'minne-mysticism'.


In v. 63 of the tenth vision Hadewijch then concludes 'ende mi ghebrac des gheests meer te siene ende te hoorne': my spirit fell short to see and hear more. And my spirit falls short to tell you more about Hadewijch. And with that, our (limited and too short) acquaintance with Hadewijch's visions, letters and songs comes to an end.

To complete this lecture I'll pass around a synopsis (a hand-out) with a point by point summary of what we've learned these last weeks about Hadewijchs view on man and image of God.



Recapitulation of this lecture


This last lecture was on the subject of the meaning of the lacking/ghebreken: why has a mystic, or every human being, evidently just to live his/her earthly life on this earth?

•  The human being is able, according to Hadewijch, to grow towards God due to the road of the virtues and the road of the love (minne). During earthly life, the human being can acquire virtues and love, bring them to adulthood.

•  When a human being acquires virtues and love, matures, becomes a grown-up, independent/autonomic ('self-standing'), then eventually he can start to become similar to (gheliken) God.

•  Hadewijch regards the human being to be divine (den mensche godlec). In her visions she herself is called 'god and human', when she achieves the divine minne within herself, she can bring God the 'whole divinity'.

•  It's put even stronger: practice the virtues perfectly and let the love grow towards adulthood: 'in this way one becomes god and remains it for ever'. Then the human being can become 'god with God' and meet God with their head held high, proud, fier.

•  Although the human being can become 'god with God', a human never becomes God - there is an eternal distinction between the human and God as creator. God always remains that divine Other.

•  Regarding the grown-up soul God is described as friend or bridegroom. This indicates connection and an affective, personal and equal relationship.

•  The most important foundations on which Hadewijch builds her mysticism, also include the Bernardine spirituality:
  • the medieval cosmology
  • the Roman-Catholic faith
  • the jewish-christian Bible
  • the 12th-century Bernardine spirituality



Synopsis and overview  (hand-out):
Hadewijch's visions and letters



These last three weeks we've read quite a number of fragments from Hadewijch's visions, letters and strophic songs. By reading these fragments in thematic groups, I tried to obtain some understanding of her view on man and her image of God.

Hadewijch didn't write down a well-marked, elaborated doctrine - but Jan van Leeuwen calls her not only a 'holy, glorious woman', but also a 'true teacher' ('heylich glorieus wijf' and 'ghewareghe lereesse').

What did Hadewijch, as leader of a group of beguines, try to teach her female friends? Which insights did she try to put down on parchment? I'll summarise the most important things we've come across.


Visions and mystical experiences

•  In Hadewijch's texts one can distinguish three kinds of religious experiences: the sudden mystical experience that happens to a mystic out of the blue; the vision, an experience with images; and the 'fully grown' mystical experience (after growing towards God by means of virtues and love, becoming similar to God).

•  During her visions and mystical experiences Hadewijch states that she is 'taken into a spirit' ('opgenomen in enen gheeste'), taken into one of the spheres of angels (she describes this as a spiritual, out of body experience). The mystical experiences take place 'outside the spirit' ('buten den gheeste'): outside the angelic spheres, in the Emperean, residence of God.

•  The three components of the vision correspond to the three parts of the medieval cosmos: the vision takes place in the spheres of the angels (ether, 'sight and insight'); the mystical experience takes place in the Emperean (uncreated divine, delight/ghebruken); and afterwards she returns 'in herself', in the matter, in her body (earth, lacking/ghebreken). In this way the medieval cosmology is the stage on which Hadewijch's visions take place.

•  Hadewijch describes the mystical experience with the word ghebruken (enjoyment, delightment: the intense, loving experience of the divine love). This in opposition with the ghebreken (lacking: the separation of God in the sublunar sphere; loneliness, longing, living your earthly life).

•  In the first vision Hadewijch is 'young and immature' and she is escorted by a Throne Angel (the third highest choir of angels). In the tenth vision Hadewijch is the bride of Christ. And in the thirteenth vision Hadewijch is escorted by a Seraphin (the highest choir of angels). This seems to indicate a grow towards adulthood, a development through the visions.


Hadewijch's image of God

•  Hadewijch describes God in paradoxes: transcendent and immanent, non-personal and personal. She regards the ecclesiastical image of the trinity as far from the minne.

•  The being and nature of God is minne, love.

•  God is a source of insight: self-knowledge and knowledge of God.

•  God is a power (a whirlpool). In rest characterised by darkness, in activity characterised by light and fire (light and warmth). The source of this movement is the divine delightment (ghebruken), the ghebruken within God. Out of this movement rises the power of creation, light and warmth.


Hadewijch's view on man

•  The human being exists, according to Hadewijch, of three parts: a nature, a soul and a body (so an eternal and a mortal part). The eternal soul is robust, like the trunk of a tree, the body is short-lived, like a flower.

•  The road towards God leads along acquiring virtues (that 'what is right') and love, minne (love for one's neighbour and love for God).

•  The word 'minne' (of memini, remembering, thought, spirit, consciousness) refers to a spiritual, internal love - for a mostly absent beloved - that innerly is filling and exalting the human being. This minne is the core of Hadewijch's body of work: 'The minne is all'.

•  When the human being follows this road along the virtues and the road of the minne, then he/she can meet God with his head held high, standing up, not kneeling, proud, fier.

•  During the lacking/ghebreken, living one's earthly life, following the road along virtues and of minne, the human being can grow towards God, bring up the divine within himself to adulthood (bring up the minne to adulthood by means of the virtues), start to become similar to God (gheliken), become divine, become 'god with God'.
(By the way: not 'become God', because God, the creator, always remains that Other).

•  Hadewijch describes the relationship between the (spiritually fully-grown or beatified) human being and God both as 'friendship' and with the image of 'bride and bridegroom'. These are both images of connection, affection and equality.



Final advice: read the whole body of works


Of course three lectures are way too short to become completely familiar and to fully understand Hadewijch's body of works and way of thinking. We only could read fragmentary through her writings.

So I recommend you to use the next two weeks to read her visions and letters as a whole; to listen to Hadewijch's own voice, as it speaks from the texts.



Next week


Next time, so in two weeks, we'll start the introduction to Jan van Ruusbroec.

Have a good holiday and I'll see you in two weeks!



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 4/7b in Dutch: Hadewijch: vergoddelijking en bruidsmystiek.



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.



∗         ∗         ∗




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




 >