Hadewijch, by Paul Mommaers


Hadewijch of Brabant was a 13th century Christian mystics and leader of a Netherlands beguine community, which is a group of people who live as monastics but do not take any formal vows.

As a mystic, Hadewijch is extremely interesting in her pure but relatively reasoned direct experience of God.

This book, which takes an academic approach to understanding Hadewijch, is dry in tone but exceptionally interesting and insightful in content. It rewards anyone who is able to look past its formal academic style because it clearly examines what it means to be a mystic.

“Firstly, mystical experience is articulated in terms of exceptional perceptivity. The mystic may “see,” “feel,” “taste” God, maybe be “touched” or “taken.” These are all expressions which refer to a form of perception, and therefore mysticism is to be understood as essentially a matter of consciousness. That which remains an object of faith for the non-mystic—“God”—or the conclusion of an argument—“the absolute”—appears to the mystic as “being there.” To this person God is really present, and in an even more tangible way than surrounding people and things. Mystics do not merely have a religious belief or speculative insight, they are gifted with experientia, as Bernard of Clairvaux reiterated.

“Consequently, a mystic is not a superhuman being, nor necessarily a saint—let alone a model by which to live. The mystic is exceptional only in that he or she is affected by a Presence. Mystical texts constantly reaffirm this point. From an objective point of view, mystics do not possess more than other human beings: God dwells in them as in all people. But, in addition, they “know how this is” (Ruusbroec’s expression); they know this indwelling from experience.”

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