Medieval Redemptive Suffering: Female Mystical Expressions of Pain and Pleasure and Medieval Society’s Influence on Mystical Spirituality

By Sharmain van Blommestein.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 22, 2014 $US5.00

In the 12th Century, Western Christianity made a huge shift in its traditional roots and its ascetic tendencies towards the body and sexuality. This shift is characterized by Bernard McGinn in The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism, as the “new mysticism” of the Middle Ages. The shift had, as one of its main characteristics, a leaning towards an “affective spirituality” which incorporated a spirituality that was very emotional, sensual, maternal, and erotic, as opposed to traditional spirituality, which was more intellectual and speculative. According to McGinn, male and female mystics both used the language of the new mysticism. At the core of this affective spirituality, medieval female mystics centered around the practice of Imitatio Christi, which focused on the body and suffering via Christ’s suffering. Medieval female mystical believers found spiritual benefits from voluntarily administering physical pain through emotional and corporeal suffering via the Passion of Christ. For them, pain represented a reward in heaven that is measured by the intensity of the suffering and violence of their worship; pain reinforces the marriage bond between Christ and the believer. Moreover, spiritual marriage is grounded and expressed in the secular husband and wife relationship, which is not gained without “noble” suffering. This paper will explore these ideas via the Pain in Imitatio Christi; Suffering in Love and Painful Death; Marital Imagery and Desire; and Medieval Society’s Influence on Mystical Spirituality. Furthermore, what is significant is that the connection between spiritual marriage and the secular husband and wife relationship might suggest that pain and violent suffering reinforce and/or represent cultural attitudes about marital relationships and love (secular or spiritual), and the interplay between religion and medieval society, which is not gained without redemptive suffering.

Keywords: Redemptive Pain, Redemptive Suffering, Love, Marriage, Spiritual Love, Spiritual Marriage, Passion of Christ, Mysticism, Gender and Sexuality

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, August 2014, pp.39-53. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 22, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 589.015KB)).

Dr. Sharmain van Blommestein

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English and Communication, SUNY, Potsdam, New York, USA

Dr. Sharmain van Blommestein is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English and Communication; and the Interim Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at SUNY Potsdam. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Florida and specializes in medieval/early modern literature, feminist theory, and women’s and gender studies topics via British and American literary studies. Her research formulates a cultural and political context for the relationship/parallel between medieval/early modern and contemporary issues on ideologies of the gendered body; the semiotic body; and the body/skin as book. She examines the cultural significations of, and the semiotic prescriptions deployed in, “writing” on, and reading of, the body/skin as an act of agency. These research interests also connect to topics pertaining to medieval medicine and the social approach to health and healing; the female body and prostitution; menstruation and reproduction; women and religious women; and disease from ancient to modern. Her present research involves partly writing/editing two encyclopedias: Women’s Reproductive Lives: An Encyclopedia of Health, History, and Popular Culture; and Gynecology and Reproduction in Medieval/Renaissance Culture.