Albrecht Classen

title.none: Hubrath, Schreiben und Erinnern (Classen)

identifier.other: baj9928.9904.017 99.04.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Hubrath, Margarete. Schreiben und Erinnern. Zur "memoria" im Liber Specialis Gratiae Mechthilds von Hakeborn. Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, Zurich: Ferdinand Schoeningh, 1996. Pp. 149. $48.00. ISBN: 3-506-73945-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.04.17

Hubrath, Margarete. Schreiben und Erinnern. Zur "memoria" im Liber Specialis Gratiae Mechthilds von Hakeborn. Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, Zurich: Ferdinand Schoeningh, 1996. Pp. 149. $48.00. ISBN: 3-506-73945-X.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

Among the many medieval German women mystics, Mechthild of Magdeburg has probably received the most attention by medieval scholarship. Her fellow sisters in the convent of Helfta, Gertrud the Great and Mechthild of Hackeborn, on the other hand, although they proved to be highly learned and also deeply mystically inspired, have not attracted the same interest (see Gertrud J. Lewis' Bibliographie zur deutschen Frauenmystik, here not consulted). There are no good reasons for this strange neglect, hence Margarete Hubrath's renewed effort with Mechthild's liber specialis gratiae represents a good start in this direction. The present study was originally submitted as her doctoral thesis to the University of Bonn in 1993, but does not seem to have been revised for publication. This explains the limited extent of Hubrath's investigation and her hesitation to go beyond the well-trodden path of mystical scholarship. Hubrath is particularly interested in the function of Mechthild of Hakeborn's (here always spelled without the 'c') liber as a product of communal memorization, which would make it a literary creation similar to the Middle English Ancrene Wisse and many of the fourteenth-century southwestern German Dominican "Schwesternbuecher" or "sister-books." The various contributors to Mechthild's work -- Hubrath assumes that it was the result of a collaborative effort -- were primarily concerned to preserve the experience of a mystically influenced fellow sister. Nevertheless, the individual scribes clearly identified themselves and addressed the audience in idiosyncratic fashion. In this way the liber fulfilled two purposes, to be a spiritual biography and a communal document of mystical quality. Insofar as the daily life in the convent, the activities of the Abbess Gertrud the Great, and other aspects were also considered, the text proved to be a kind of convent chronicle, with Mechthild as the spiritual center.

Hubrath is particularly interested in the transfer of the oral transmission into written form as the various comments by the scribes about themselves indicate; they obviously kept their audience in mind and edited the text accordingly.

The author identifies "memoria" in its manifold meanings as a crucial function of the liber. To illuminate this point she traces the art of memorizing far back to antiquity, but does not essentially go beyond the current research by scholars such as M. Carruthers (The Book of Memory, 1990) and Frances Yates (The Art of Memory, 1966, here quoted from the German translation Gedaechtnis und Erinnern, 2nd ed. 1992). Hubrath analyzes the particular role of memory for the identification of the mystical images and their interpretation, pointing out the individual signs contained in Mechthild's text which must be recognized and read again.

Unfortunately, the term 'memory' in its traditional meaning here seems to be infused with more philosophical significance than the text actually carries. Of course, Mechthild's book served as a vehicle for the future community to remember her mystical visions. But then any book, any written text conforms to the idea of serving memory, whereas Hubrath argues that 'memory' fulfilled a particularly spiritual and religious function within the monastic community. This would be true to some extent, but it would also be erroneous to overemphasize the act of memorizing as a good Christian would have to consider the future as well for his or her salvation. Especially the attempt to relate the text's memory function to the rhetorical "ars memoriae" inappropriately diverts from the mystical experience. The mystic discards all time limitations, hence neither needs the past nor the future, but instead lives in the immediate presence of the Godhead. The readers of mystical texts are invited to share this experience, whereas the concept of 'memory' builds a distance and historicizes the mystical visions expressed in the written text which would be tantamount to transmogrifying its religious meaning to a past event.

In the fourth chapter the author explores the imagery of Christ's passion which the mystic tries to imitate, whether this be in the form of "memoria passionis" (105) or in the form of ascetic exercises as a gift of the loving soul to God (111). Finally, in the fifth chapter, Hubrath turns to the significant intertextual relationship between Mechthild's liber and the New Testament, which, however, seems to be quite a common feature of many mystical texts, especially when they were composed by learned authors in Latin.

Overall, Hubrath has developed a detailed and convincing interpretation of Mechthild's liber focusing on the various aspects of writing and memory, to quote from the book title. The term 'memory,' as used here, however, does not do very much to enhance our understanding of Mechthild's work, whereas the idea of the visionary's account being the product of a communal process finds solid confirmation in the text.