John C. Hirsh

title.none: Waaijman and Blommestijn, eds., Studies in Spirituality (Hirsh)

identifier.other: baj9928.9807.007 98.07.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John C. Hirsh, Georgetown University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Waaijman, Kees and Hein Blommestijn, eds. Studies in Spirituality, vol. 7. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1997. Pp. 319. ISBN: ISBN.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.07.07

Waaijman, Kees and Hein Blommestijn, eds. Studies in Spirituality, vol. 7. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1997. Pp. 319. ISBN: ISBN.

Reviewed by:

John C. Hirsh
Georgetown University

Given the continuing importance of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, in American public and private life, it is probably not surprising that much of the current interest in religious values, attitudes and assumptions present in late medieval Europe has been fueled, and in some cases directed, by American scholarship. For some time now, students of religion in America have developed the concept of an American "Civic Religion," available to orators in the nineteenth century and politicians in the twentieth, which permits public reference to an all-powerful and benevolent God, but not to Christ, and to generally unspecified but ethical modes of behavior, which are, however, largely innocent of anything too specifically theological. This public practice may have contributed to the alacrity with which American scholarship has incorporated and developed new concerns, with gender and class, for example, and with the role of the marginalized, in the examination of medieval religious attitudes.

It may be useful to set this American tradition against the European, rooted in history and philology but also in human experience, and no less sensitive to the implications of the theory and the practice of the life of the spirit, whether in modern or historical contexts. It is this tradition from which Studies in Spirituality springs, but it is a journal which is open to all schools, and represents a progressive and multi- disciplinary concern for what its editors call "a wide spectrum: theoretical questions about spirituality and mysticism; fundamental aspects and phenomena of spiritual transformation; important currents, periods and figures in the different spiritual traditions. The focus will be mainly on Judeo-Christian traditions, although not exclusively. The editorial board has as its aim the elaboration of spirituality as an academic science with a specific object and methodology - a science in continual dialogue with the other sciences that may assist in clarifying questions and problems in spirituality."

Studies in Spirituality is edited from the Titus Brandsma Institute, founded in 1967 as a collaboration between the Catholic University of Nijmegen and the Dutch Province of the Carmelites. It is named for Titus Brandsma (1881-1942), a Carmelite professor of the Philosophy and History of Spirituality, whose special field of interest was the mysticism of the Low Countries. During the Nazi occupation of Holland, Fr. Brandsma worked to defend the freedom of the Catholic Press, with the result that on January 19, 1942, he was arrested by Nazi authorities, and was murdered on July 25 of the same year, by lethal injection, in the concentration camp at Dachau. In 1985 he was beatified by the Vatican as a martyr.

In spite of these powerful associations, I should stress that Studies in Spirituality is, as it represents itself, an international scholarly and scientific journal, dedicated to the careful and objective examination and consideration of usually Western spirituality, both medieval and modern. It is rare for a contributor to note that a particular text is not, for example, "heretical or inconsistent with orthodox Christian teaching," but where the need such a remark is not clearly indicated, it should probably be editorially discouraged, given the scientific character of the publication. Still, it is in the nature of the subject that some consideration of values, attitudes and assumptions should enter into the discourse: the serious study of spirituality is a deeply value-laden occupation. The current editorial policy of Studies in Spirituality states that "English is the preferred language, but articles may also be written in French, German or Spanish." In fact, this is a fairly recent policy, dating only to 1994; in the first three issues of the journal English was one language among the others, and the reason for this shift are not clear. The editors ask that those wishing to contribute an article to the journal, "especially a longer one," should first write to the Secretary, Ineke Wackers, at Studies in Spirituality, Titus Brandsma Institute, Erasmusplein 1, 6525 HT Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The journal is published annually in a volume of "at least 300 pages." The issues now conclude with a section of "Book Notices" which very briefly annotates recent titles in Christian spirituality. This section could usefully be expanded, perhaps to accommodate review articles as well. Apart from the high quality of the great majority of the articles, the editors are also to be congratulated for the physical attractiveness of the issue, and for seeing to it that footnotes appear at the bottom of the page.

Studies in Spirituality will genuinely interest and engage anyone concerned with the development and transmission of Western spirituality, to which it makes an important and welcome contribution. Its method is scientific and critical, and from the evidence of now seven volumes, it welcomes contributions of many sorts, with a tilt towards those which are historical and critical. As in the current issue, its articles, apart from the more theoretical ones, often take into account not only the textual evidence for whatever is being treated, but also the religious context to which that text speaks, or against which it is cast. Michael Plattig and Regina Baeumer's, "The Desert Fathers and Spiritual Direction," for example, focuses both on the goals and the effect which spiritual direction was intended to realize, and on the role of the spiritual director. Somewhat more problematically, it also touches upon the "concept of man" involved, though the limitations of empirical evidence somewhat limit the extent of the investigation, at least historically. The issue of spiritual direction itself, however, is both illuminated by the study and seems the purpose for it. Geert Franzenburg's "Basil of Caesarea as a Spiritual Teacher" likewise concerns itself with spiritual direction, stressing a movement in Basil's thinking away from "self-fulfillment" to a more broadly social love of neighbor, and the development of this theme contrasts interestingly with that of Anke Hoenkamp-Bisschops in "The Available Pastor," which appears later in the volume, and which treats pastors' own self-esteem as a necessary condition for any meaningful altruism. Interestingly, Franz Woehrer's study of The Cloud of Unknowing likewise treats the not unfamiliar theme of spiritual direction, which forms a kind of leitmotif in the current volume. Somewhat more historical are Hein Blommestijn's "Liberating Virtue: William of St. Thierry," and Albrecht Classen's particularly able study "Flowing Light of the Godhead," a searching and very useful study of the opposition of Self and God in Mechthild of Magdeburg. This more historical methodology is continued in Mark S. Burrowes' "Yett he Sufferyth with Vs," an examination of Julian of Norwich which stresses the way in which that visionary opened the vocation of asceticism to all, finding in it a means by which Christ entered into human experience and in which, so understood, humans participate in the divine.

The concluding article are largely theoretical and modern. Charles Bernard discusses with very great insight the use of non-formal symbols in mysticism, and particularly the place of negative theology, though without reference to The Cloud, which would have linked to Woehrer's study; Eckard Wolz-Gottwald treats, or at least opens, "The Interculturality of Mysticism," seeking a "third way," beyond or between relativism and absolutism. Modern studies include James Keating, "Karl Rahner: Prayer and Ethics," and Janet K. Ruffing's markedly interesting examination of the experience of contemporary Christian women, which opens with a perceptive quotation from Audre Lorde. Elsewhere, Pierre Loudot treats a specific moment of the Christian Hindu dialogue as formulated by Henri Le Saux; Victoria Kennick Urubshurow writes on Paul Ricoeur; Arthur Versluis on theosophy and gnosticism, and Alois M. Haas on the contemporary relevance of mysticism. The concern throughout for context is present in these studies too, though their focus is somewhat less historical.

There are one or two practices in Studies in Spirituality which seem a little odd, and which in due course the editors may wish to reconsider. As a general rule, it is a very good thing when editors, and particularly chief editors, contribute to the publication which they edit, but I hope it is no discourtesy (indeed it may be something of a relief) to the very distinguished editors of this publication to note that it is no longer usual, at least among Anglo- American publications, for the editors' contributions to appear first in each issue -- or each issue but one -- however useful and interesting those contributions may be, and Kees Waaijmin's thoughtful and considered study of Discernment in the present issue is among the most interesting studies it contains. It is also a little curious to find that each contributor has been instructed to include the year and place of his or her birth in a short author's note which appears at the end of each contribution. If the purpose of this detail is to assure the reader that these articles are the work of seasoned scholars from a variety of places, that insight should perhaps be allowed to emerge from the articles themselves. It might be more useful to have the authors provide a short note on their academic interests, and on the direction of their current research.

But of the overall quality and usefulness of this publication there can be no doubt. Its designation of English as the preferred language of publication will increase its Anglo- American readership, though it may also account for the occasionally unidiomatic expressions which now and then appear. As a whole, however, Studies in Spirituality is a learned, intellectually progressive and well considered publication, which will no doubt add to the rapidly growing interest in medieval spirituality present in English-speaking countries. In many ways it supplies a considered and steadying balance to the rich variety of approaches which the last two or three decades have produced. No university or academic library which lays claim to an interest in Western religion is complete without it.