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Religious Reform in the Medieval and Early Modern Christian West: Gender Dynamics and Spiritual Renewal

Panel Chair: Danielle Dubois | Tuesday, August 25, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

The thirteenth century was a period of intense religious renewal for the medieval Latin Church. The growing urban population demanded forms of religious life beyond traditional monasticism. Although much has been written about Franciscans and other male orders, the ideals and practices of religious women pursuing the apostolic life is a more recent topic of research (Lester 2011; Stabler-Miller 2014). This panel focuses on the role of individual women and their texts. How did women, often portrayed as marginalized by their contemporaries and by twentieth-century scholars influence the broader religious reform? To what extent did gender dynamics, governed by hostility or cooperation, shape this reform? And how were works initially met with resistance, innovatively repurposed by ecclesiastical leaders in order to meet the spiritual needs of future generations?

Pablo García-Acosta

Making Angela Orthodox: Textual Transformations of the “Memoriale” from Manuscripts to Canonization

The recent canonization of Angela of Foligno (†1308) marks the end of a historical process of acceptance by the papacy of a profoundly controversial text. In this paper we examine how this normalization has been developed: first, we analyze certain fragments of the most reliable branch of transmission of the “Memoriale”, the family of the Assisi Codex, which could have related it with heterodox groups as the Franciscan Spirituals. Secondly, we compare this manuscript transmission with a later metamorphosis of formative and didactic character: on the one hand, the main Northern branch of manuscripts, rewritten and used in the context of the devotio moderna and, on the other, the Spanish translations commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros to evangelize the New World. We will try to demonstrate how, step by step, these different historical texts tried to shape Angela’s book as a more readable tool from the point of view of orthodoxy.

Robert Stauffer

Marguerite Porete in England: The Transmission of the Mirror of Simple Souls across the Channel

Much has been made about how Marguerite Porete’s Mirror might have found its way from France into England. Some have suggested political connections such as the one between Michael Northburgh and Walter de Manny, a soldier who served in Phillippa of Hainaut’s train as she traveled to her marriage to Edward III in 1326. Some point to the commerce of monastics traveling back and forth to establish monasteries and convents in England throughout the fourteenth century, such as the Carthusians and the Bridgettines. Some point to the lay interest in pilgrimages in Europe and the Holy Land in the latter half of the century. This paper will explore, through the example of the transmission of the Mirror, the development of lay readership, the desire among the laity for translation of works of spirituality, and the Church’s resistance to this development throughout the fourteenth century.

Danielle Dubois

Marguerite Porete’s Mirror of Simple Souls: Pastoral Work and Spiritual Transformation

Burned as a heretic in 1310, Marguerite Porete is best remembered for her singular and unorthodox ideas. This paper shows that her thought is better understood as part of the religious reform underway in this period. I argue that her book, The Mirror of Simple Souls, encouraged a spiritual revolution that was aligned with the Church’s general intent. Porete’s teachings on virtue, the Trinity, and the soul demonstrate that her ideas were shaped alongside those of her scholastic male counterparts. Like her clerical contemporaries, she saw religious instruction as the way to spiritual revolution. In this sense, the Mirror should be read as a pastoral work that exhorts the laity to spiritual transformation. Unlike mainstream pastoral works however, Porete shifts the focus from external acts to internal purity. This can be verified, for instance, by her discourse on virtue.


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