Constant Mews, Monash University

title.none: Studies in Spirituality 4, 5 (Mews)

identifier.other: baj9928.9611.002 96.11.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant Mews, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Studies in Spirituality 4, 5. Nijmegen: The Titus Brandsma Instituut, 1994-5. Pp. 305. $90. ISBN: ISBN 0926-6453.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.11.02

Studies in Spirituality 4, 5. Nijmegen: The Titus Brandsma Instituut, 1994-5. Pp. 305. $90. ISBN: ISBN 0926-6453.

Reviewed by:

Constant Mews, Monash University

Studies in Spirituality is emerging as an established and significant periodical, covering an area of research that has too long flourished in isolation from other disciplines. It regularly contains articles directly of interest to those working in the field of medieval and early modern spiritual writing, and has of late been broadening its sphere of interest to embrace Jewish and Islamic traditions. Volume 4 (1994) contains a number of articles directly relevant to a medievalist: Yasin Ceylan on "Al-Ghazali between Rationalism and Mysticism"; Michael Casey on "Bernard's Biblical Mysticism"; Charles Andre Bernard on "La Conformation au Christ selon saint Bernard"; Ingrid Peterson on "Clare of Assisi's Mysticism of the Poor Crucified"; Elizabeth A. Dreyer on "The Trinitarian Theology of Julian of Norwich"; Domenico Pezzini on "The Vocabulary of Joy in Julian of Norwich"; Vivian Kay Hudson on "Clothing and Adornment Imagery in 'the Scale of Perfection'". In vol. 5 (1995), one may note Hein Blommestijn on "The Art of Loving God: Bernard of Clairvaux" and Albrecht Classen on "Die Mystikerin als Peregrina: Margery Kempe".

This journal picks up on growing critical interest in the literature of spiritual experience, reaching far outside the specialist "in-house" literature identified with individual religious orders and communities. The aim of the editors is to create a dialogue between different disciplinary approaches to the study of spirituality and mysticism. Regularly appearing in the journal have been a series of methodological studies by Kees Waaijman of the nature of spirituality (vol 5, 1995; vol. 3, 1993; vol. 2, 1992; vol. 1,1991), in which it is presented as a process and hermeneutic of transformation. Scholars who specialise in the spiritual literature of a past period can profitably reflect on the implications of considering texts about the journey of the soul in terms of exegetical process, a path of growth in understanding. One is reminded of the Victorine achievement in the twelfth century of reformulating the literature of spiritual growth with concepts familiar to the schools. In vol. 4, there is an interesting study by Hubert J.M. Hermans, a Professor of Personality Psychology at Nijmegen on "Buber on Mysticism, May on Creativity and the Dialogical Nature of Self", putting forward suggestive ideas about the relationship between Buber's thinking on the I-You relation, Rollo May's ideas about the creative process and contemporary thinking about the non-unitary self.

The virtue of bring together carefully considered reflections on Miguel de Unamuno, Simone Weil and Dag Hammarskjold (all studied in vol. 5) alongside studies of Jewish mysticism or medieval spiritual writers is that the reader is forced to appreciate that spiritual writing does have its continuities, over and beyond the shifting philosophical paradigms by which its thought is underpinned. A hermeneutic of transformation can legitimately be applied to a wide range of authors.

The difficulty implicit in a number of articles in the journal relates to the question whether "spirituality" is a useful category on its own, as distinct from theology or religious thought. It is, though, perhaps more useful than "mysticism", a category only formulated in the seventeenth century to identify a private religious life, shared by an inner elite. Central to the editorial line of the journal is the conviction that spirituality and the history of spirituality has been too long separated from theology. The article by Elizabeth Dreyer on Julian of Norwich as trinitarian theologian in vol. 4 (1994), complemented by that of Domenico Pezzini on Julian's vocabulary of joy, provides an excellent illustration of how a so-called mystic can emerge as a serious theologian and original writer, when visionary writing is viewed in this wider context.

Not all articles in past issues of Studies in Spirituality have been free from the tendency to provide exegesis of a medieval writer as panegyric rather than as analysis. In particular, it is essential for the vocabulary and conceptual framework of a spiritual writer to be placed in a broader cultural context, which might be very different from our own. Michael Casey, in an excellent study of Bernard's biblical mysticism, reminds the reader that Bernard approached spirituality terms not of individual experience, but of the normative instruction provided by scripture, above all the Song of Songs. One looks forward to greater comparative studies, placing spiritual thought within frameworks of social orthodoxy. Identifying Bernard, or whomever, as a "spiritual writer" has the danger of glossing over the extent to which he was a member of a distinct social group, a male religious with particular commitments to society and the Church.

The article of Albrecht Classen on Margery Kempe as a pilgrim in vol. 5 (1995) has the great merit of placing this fascinating visionary firmly within the world of foot-loose women pilgrims, whose spiritual imaginings were nourished by a degree of frustration with the settled life of society. The question then rises whether more main-stream spiritual writers can also be interpreted as creating an alternative imaginary space within the constraints of a more structured society. The greater number of articles in Studies in Spirituality tend to adopt the perspective of theology, literature or intellectual history. It is to be hoped that the trend will continue of subjecting individual spiritual writers to wider contextual analysis, including the influence of paradigms of gender and society.

* * * * *

For ordering information:

Ms. Ineke WackersTitus Brandsma Institute Erasmusplein 16525 HT Nijmegen The Netherlands tel. (Neth.31) 24 361 21 62 fax (Neth.31) 24 361 21 51 e-mail