Hadewijch's Life and Teachings

In looking at the places from which people have been coming to my website (I can do that, so can you, at http://www.thoughtsandplaces.org/logs/ ) I found one I had not seen before, a website, mostly in Dutch/Flemish, by Gaston D’Haese, which cites in turn some of my sources for previous things I have written about Hadewijch in particular.

Pages on Gaston’s website of interest to Hadewijch studies are (if you can read Flemish, of course, although the links to my materials are in English):





Besides being an enthusiastic student of Hadewijch’s writings, he is also very much convinced that Hadewijch is the same person we know as Bloemardine, the allegedly heretical prophetess of Brussels. Since it is well attested that Ruisbroec loved Hadewijch’s writings and fought against Bloemardine, this would be such a delicious irony that I just had to look into it for myself.


Now, don’t believe that what you read below settles the issue once and for all. Gaston is tracking down information that may change my mind once more. But for now, I think they were two separate people separated in time by close to a century (OK, more than at least 50 years, maybe close to hundred).


My first act was of course, after having read what Gaston had to say on his site, to go on the internet and see if there is anything on this issue, and then I went to the local university’s library and consulted 5 books, and became re-fascinated with some of Hadewijch’s experiences and teachings, and almost lost sight of the Bloemardine controversy.


However, three of the books I consulted did mention it and dismiss it as wrong. One of them was rather pedantic in its dismissal, but others made a good case for there being almost a century between the two persons (mid-13th century for Hadewijch to mid-14th for Bloemardine).

I sent an email to Gaston with the results of my internet search: It said that I read a book saying the two could not possibly be the same person, because of the different times assigned to their lives and because Ruisbroec was opposed to Bloemardine's writings but loved Hadewijch's writings. But, then I also found this on the internet at

http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.v.cliv.htm which says (I deleted some things that came out as symbols here):


BLOMMAERDINE, HADEWICH or HADEWIJCH: A heretical mystic whose religious activity and writings caused great excitement in Brussels early in the 14th century. Her adherents venerated her as a saint and her writings as divine revelations; her opponents charged her with heretical teaching on the freedom of the spirit, and with mingling religious devotion and sensual passion. During his stay in Brussels (1317-43), Ruysbroeck conducted a strong polemical campaign against her, which, however, did not prevent people from coming after her death to seek the cure of diseases by touching her shroud. The scanty notices which Ruysbroeck's biographer gives of her life and writings have been recently filled out by the scholarly investigations of K. Ruelens and P. Fredericq. They have shown it to be extremely probable that the mystic was identical with the important Flemish poetess Hadewijch (erroneously called "Sister Hadewijch"), whose remains in prose and verse, known only in part heretofore, have been published in full by J. Vercoullie (Ghent, 1877). The principal theme of all these writings is love (Minne) for God. The specimens given by Fredericq display the tempestuous, sometimes actually sensual, passion with which she longs for mystical union with him. In describing her numerous visions the poetess boasts of very intimate relations with Christ and the saints, and claims the gift of prophecy and the power of working miracles. She expresses herself bitterly in regard to the persecutions set on foot by her enemies, the vremden, against herself and her adherents, whom she calls vriende, the nuwen or volmaakten der Minne (perfeti). In one place she gives the number of her then living followers (principally nuns or Beguines) as ninety-seven, of whom twenty-nine were outside the Netherlands. Apparently the domicella Heilwigis dicta Blammardine, the daughter of William Blommaert, a rich and noble citizen of Brussels, who died about 1336, is the same as the mystic and the poetess. It appears that as late as the beginning of the fifteenth century the Inquisition in Brussels was still obliged to proceed against adherents of the heresies promulgated by her, which were not far removed from the views of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.


[I deleted the small-print bibliography here but provided the link above so you can go see it for yourself.]


While I was searching on this topic in English, I also found this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_creation/2006-02-24#HADEWIJCH



Flemish-Netherlandic poet and spiritual writer. Flourished 1st half of the XIII century.

Little or nothing is known of her biography, as no medieval vita seems to have survived. Her work was certainly known to Jan van Ruusbroec and perhaps other Low Countries spiritual figures of the XIV and XV centuries. Soon thereafter, however, the religious movement to which she belonged became suspect, with the result that her manuscript literary remains were never printed. By the XVI century her name was totally forgotten.

It was only in the 1870s that a codex containing her writings was noticed at the Royal Library in Brussels. Three manuscripts, two from the XIV century and one from the XVI, have survived. Only one of these actually gives the name of the author as "Hadewijch van Antwerp", i.e., Hedwig of Antwerp. Hadewijch's Works first appeared in print at Ghent in 1875.

Internal evidence from her writings suggests that she was a Beguine, that is to say, not a nun, but a laywoman, living, without vows, in a beginnage—a working, non-cloistered, religious community, prior to 1244.

It is not accurate or appropriate to call Hadewijch a "Dutch" writer. The language she uses is the Brabantine dialect of medieval Flemish, a language related to Dutch but certainly not Holland Dutch. Before the separation of Belgium from Holland in 1830, the duchy of Brabant constituted a single geographical and historical unit. In any case, Hadewijch flourished in Southern Brabant, which today is in Belgium. She evidences a good knowledge of Latin and French and French literature, particularly the Burgundian chivalric tradition, which suggests that she was a well-educated gentlewoman probably belonging to the gentry in and around Brussels.

Her work consists of two kinds of poem: an ode-like stanzaic lied, consisting of four to seven often-rhymed stanzas; and contiguous, romance-like mengeldichten. She also left a collection of prose Visions, relating her mystical experiences, as well as a series of Letters of spiritual counsel.

Hadewijch's principal theme is the concept of Minne ['love' in medieval Flemish] by which she meant the whole, direct, mystical, psychological, existential and literary experience of God on the part of a "touched" human soul. Her pregnant vocabulary, dense variety of literary moods and memorable psychological insights make her, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable and valuable of medieval writers.


[Texts consulted are listed in terms of both primary and secondary published sources and web sites, please follow the link given above to see this extensive list.]


Here is another one NOT supportive of the Bloemardine=Hadewijch thesis (making the wrong timing argument also made in one of the books I read –see below): http://pom.bbaw.de/JDG/browse?id=JRE0471X&year=1928#JBIB0471l75


Der Streit um die Persönlichkeit der visionären Dichterin Hadewych, die Fredericq schon 1896 in der 1335 verstorbenen ketzerischen Sektiererin Heilwigis Bloemardinne wiederzuerkennen glaubte, ist in den letzten Jahren hauptsächlich zwischen Van Mierlo und Nélis ausgefochten worden. In des letzteren Aufsatz von 1925 (78) findet man die bis 1916 zurückreichenden Äußerungen zu dieser Frage verzeichnet. Er hält an der -- unseres Erachtens kaum zulässigen -- Gleichsetzung Hadewychs mit der Bloemardinne fest und stützt sich u. a. auf den von O'Sheridan (79) geführten Angriff gegen die Glaubwürdigkeit der Vita Rusbrochii des Pomerius (Henri van den Bogaerde), der 1431/32 unter dem Eindruck der Verurteilung des Willem van Hindernissen durch den Bischof von Cambrai, Peter von Ailli, schrieb. Van Mierlo (80, 82) erklärt es für ganz ausgeschlossen, daß Bloemardinne die Dichterin Hadewych sein könne, da diese, wie aus verschiedenen Stellen ihrer Schriften hervorgehe, um 1250 geschrieben habe.


[Obviously the numbers refer to a citation list I did not duplicate here, see the link for the details.]


So what it says in a nurtshell is that internal evidence in the Hadewijch writing points to about 1250 for a date, almost a century too early, perhaps. Of course this argument stands or falls on the accuracy of this dating method. I thought it an inaccurate method by definition, but one of the books listed below says that Hadewijch refers to several known contemporaries of hers as if they were saints, but they were not, they were just people she knew and admired and appreciated, and that is how the rather firm ~1250 comes into play.

I find it interesting that there seems to be no knowledge of Hadewijch's birth or death date, and her place of operations is also uncertain, and so she is variously assigned as being from Brabant, Antwerp, and Brussels. She was from a higher class family, since she was educated. She knew the literature and love poetry from the courtly love tradition that flourished all around her, having its roots in southern France’s troubadour poetry and beyond that in Muslim Spain Troubadours were Minnesangers in these northern parts.


What I accuse Ruusbroec of in my website’s last posting regarding his works is to take a genuine spiritual insight (he had his own, but also used Hadewijch's descriptive imagery) and deliberately box it up into an orthodox box into which it fits uncomfortably [in my opinion of course], requiring saying things that make little sense such as that the more separated the trinity is, the stronger is the unity that is God. Huh? Hadewijch stays away from that sort of thing, as does Marguerite Porete, leaving them open to attack as pantheists and as advocating that God is obviously in us, can't be separated from us, ergo we are God. Ruusbroec gets to that point and says we partake of the God-unity but as creatures who can never be equal with the Creator.


Another box of orthodoxy that these lofty (but potentially Free Spirit) ideas are boxed into.


So then, being done with the internet on this issue, I next went into 5 books and sought to tease out anything they might have to say about the Bloemardine=Hadewijch idea. But soon I got re-interested and re-immersed in Hadewijch’s primary message as well, and in the relationship of that primary message with the theology of the Religion of Love, more mundanely expressed in the Minnesang of courtly love, whose language and style was adopted to s large degree by Hadewijch as we will also explore below. I give some really good Hadewijch-quotes below, so keep reading!


BOOK ONE: Ulrike Wiethaus (Ed.), "Maps of Flesh and Light, The Religious Experience of Medieval Women Mystics," (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, 1993).


Wiethaus does an excellent job describing characters I have tried to find some detailed material on but failed. She blasts Jean Gerson, one of the ones I was trying to read more about, quite thoroughly with many references to his writings blasting mystics, especially women, for seeking ecclesiastical authority by virtue of their revelations. She gives examples of women claiming to have been administered the sacraments by Christ in person and claiming to address the Church to set it straight by similar authority. He even attacks Ruisbroec. Although I thoroughly enjoyed her showing the man to be a misogynist and a self-serving pedant on her pages 24-27, this is not the main reason I wanted to read this book.


But where Wiethaus excites my interest more is on page 41 where she makes this statement about women claiming to be God:


If Marguerite Porete was burned at the stake for self-deification, several orthodox mystics made strikingly similar statements: "My Me is God," wrote Catherine of Genoa; Hadewijch of Brabant wished "To be God with God"; Angela of Foligno wrote that "The Word was made Flesh to make me God." Surely these are not the statements of women who have accepted the traditional religious roles allotted to women. These women claim a virtually divine authority that they frequently exercised.


Wiethaus next launches into an explanation of the self-empowerment of these women which was not a rebellion against the Church, far from it, they sought to defend the Church. But the main reason I wanted to read more on this empowerment is that she links in the idea of pain and suffering as a Medieval tool for obtaining power. I have no real wish to engage in self-torture to obtain spiritual experiences and power, but in the Middle Ages this whole business of torture, pain and suffering had a religious as well as a political meaning, torture was applied to make a mark of authority on an individual in a punishment situation, but it was also self-inflicted to make a mark that symbolized being under God's authority. It is just the way it was at that time, and so even my favorites among the mystics, like Hadewijch, insist on telling us of their many and deep sufferings. It was the key to the acceptance of their authority. Wiethaus goes into this at some length and in some detail over her pages 38 through 59.


I read this material simply to understand what to my sensibilities is exceedingly distasteful and strange. Wiethaus does a very nice job exploring the sufferreing servant, Christ-passion imagery and how its emulation led to some of the self abuse boasted of. One sainted woman actually starved herself to death, just like a Cathar ‘Perfect' one might toward the end of his or her life!.


BOOK TWO: Elizabeth Spearing (Ed.), "Medieval Writings on Female Spirituality," (Penguin Classics, New York, New York, 2002)


1.         Some selected extracts from Hadewijch’s poems.


Poem 28, verse 5, page 62


In high Love's school,

Is learned the madness of love;

For it causes delirium

In a person formerly of good understanding.

To one who at first had misfortune,

It now gives success;

It makes him lord of all the property

Of which Love herself is Lady.

I am convinced of this,

And I will not change my mind.


The property of which the Love is Lady is called "a rich fief" a few verses prior to this one (same page):


The madness of love

Is a rich fief;

Anyone who recognized this

Would not ask Love for anything else:

It can unite opposites

And reverse the paradox.

I am declaring the truth about this:

The madness of love makes bitter what was sweet,

It makes the stranger a kinsman,

And it makes the smallest the proudest.


Poem 34, verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, pages 63-64.


In all seasons new and old,

If one is submissive to Love,

In the hot summer, the cold winter,

He will receive love from Love.

He shall satisfy with full service

            In encountering high Love;

So he speedily becomes love with Love;

            That is bound to happen.


In love no action is lost

That was ever performed for Love's sake;

Love always repays, late or soon;

Love is always the reward of love.

Love knows with love the courtly manners of Love;

            Her receiving is always giving;

Not least she gives by her adroitness

            Many a death in life.


It is very sweet to wander lost in love

Along the desolate ways Love makes us travel.

This remains well hidden from aliens;

But they who serve Love with truth

Shall in love walk with Love

            All round that kingdom where Love is Lady,

And united with her receive all that splendor

            And taste to the full her noble fidelity.


As for the tastes that fidelity gives in Love–

Whoever calls anything else happiness

Has always lived without happiness,

To my way of thinking.

For it is heavenly joy, free

            To the full, devoid of nothing:

"You are all mine, Beloved, and I am all yours"–

            There is no other way of saying it.


I can well keep silent about how it is

With those who have thus become one in love:

Neither to see nor to speak is my part;

For I do not know this in itself,

How the Beloved and the loved soul embrace each other

            And have fruition in giving themselves to each other.

What wonder is it that grief strikes me

            Because this has not yet fallen to my share?


The realm to which Love urges me on,

And the service she commands us to perform,

Is to exercise love and nothing else;

With all the service this entails.

He who truly understands this,

            How to work in every respect with fidelity,

Is the one whom Love completely fetters

            And completely unites to herself in love.


2.         Some selected extracts from her visions.


A couple of sentences from the end of Vision 5, page 70, speaking of "he who sat on the throne in heaven:":


And he took me out of the spirit in that highest fruition of wonder beyond reason; there I had fruition of him as I shall eternally.

The time was short, and when I came to myself he brought me again into the spirit and spoke to me thus: "As you now have fruition of this, you shall have fruition of it eternally."

. . .

                        And I came back into my pain again with great woe.


Some sentences from the middle of Vision 7, pages 72 and 73:


On that day my mind was best so fearfully and so painfully by desirous love that all my separate limbs threatened to break and all my veins were in travail. The longing in which I then was cannot be expressed by any language or any person I know; and everything I could say about it would be unheard-of to all those who never apprehended Love as something to work for or desire, and whom Love had never acknowledged as hers. I can say this about it: I desired to have full fruition of my beloved, and to understand and taste him to the full. I desired the his Humanity should to the fullest extent be one in fruition with my humanity, and that mine then should hold its stand and be strong enough to enter into perfection until I content him, who is perfection itself, by purity and unity, and in all things to content him fully in every virtue. To that end I wished he might content me interiorly with his Godhead, in one spirit, and that for me he should be all that he is, without withholding anything from me. For above all the gifts that I ever longed for, I chose this gift: that I should give satisfaction in all great sufferings. For that is the most perfect satisfaction: to grow up in order to be God with God. For this demands suffering, pain, and misery, and living in great new grief of soul: but so let everything come and go without grief, and in this way to experience nothing else but sweet love, embraces, and kisses. In this sense I desired that God give himself to me, so that I might content him.


She is then visited by an eagle, which makes her greatly fear, and then by Jesus in several forms, as a toddler and then as a man, and he gives her himself in the form of the sacrament. But then he answers her desire fully:


After that he came himself to me, took me entirely in his arms, and pressed me to him; and all my members felt his in full felicity, in accordance with the desire of my heart and my humanity. So I was outwardly satisfied and fully transported. Also, then, for a short while, I had the strength to bear this; but soon, after a short time, I lost that manly beauty outwardly in the sight of his form. I saw him completely come to nought and so fade and all at once dissolve that I could no longer recognize or perceive him outside me. Then it was to me as if we were one without difference. It was thus: outwardly, to see, taste, and feel, as one can outwardly taste, see, and feel in the reception of the outward Sacrament. So can the Beloved, with the loved one, each wholly receive the other in all full satisfaction of the sight, the hearing, and the passing away of the one in the other.

After that I remained in a passing away in my Beloved, so that I wholly melted away in him and nothing any longer remained to me of myself; and I was changed and taken up in the spirit, and there it was shown me concerning such hours.


Finally, in Vision 11, page 74, she corrects the idea one may have that this experience is all sweetness and quietude:


In this wonderful way I belong to God alone in pure love . . . . But in striving for this I have never experienced Love in nay sort of way as repose; on the contrary, I found Love a heavy burden and disgrace. For I was a human creature, and Love is terrible and implacable, devouring and burning without regard for anything. The soul is contained in one little rivulet; her depth is quickly filled up; her dikes quickly burst. Thus with rapidity the Godhead has engulfed human nature wholly in itself.


BOOK THREE: Louis Bouyer, "Women Mystics, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein," Translated by Anne Englund Nash (Ignatius Press, San Fancisco, 1993).


Bouyer's introduction makes clear that Hadewijch predates Eckhart and her highly personal experiences inspired that man to step onto the mystical path (pp. 18-19). In terms of a date for Hadewijch's writings: "In fact there can no longer be any question of placing her later than the first half of the thirteenth century." But it gets complicated, because an unknown person, presumably a student of hers, called Hadewijch II by scholars, added material to the Hadewijch collection with a much richer intellectual flavor. Ruisbroec was aware of the entire Hadewijch collection and never seems to have realized it was the work of two persons. His follower John Leeuwen, praises the entire Hadewijch collection without showing he knew there were two authors with differing approaches and philosophies, one very much based in experience, the other much more intellectually oriented.


Bouyer continues (page 20) to show from internal evidence that she was a Beguine, and there is evidence of her feeling attacked because of her visions and because of her station as a Beguine. Bouyer suggests some see more than this in her writing about her sufferings and receiving criticism by men, some speculate that she had to withdraw to a "pious hospital" for refuge, others suggest she may have been executed like her sister in spirit, Marguerite Porete. Bouyer makes an interesting remark about the inquisitor who caused marguerite to be burnt, saying she was: . . ."burned by an Inquisitor who had himself passed from heresy to an orthodoxy that was all the more suspicious."


Hadewijch is described by Bouyer (page 21) in these superlative words:


But she is distinguished by both the highly traditional and the powerfully original character of her teaching, in which the constant balance is no less striking than the depth, all bearing the indelible mark of a dazzling intelligence united to the freshest sensitivity. The wholly personal charm that comes through a literary form that is as spontaneous as it can be scholarly makes her expression entirely her own. Undoubtedly a saint, a great woman who is at the same time a great mind, but first of all a being with a unique transparency, such is this Hadewijch, who might have remained unknown but who could never have been confused with any other, not even her disciple, who was nevertheless scarcely less gifted in all respects but much more intellectual, with the limits that implies.


Bouyer observes that she uses the "imagery and vocabulary of courtly love literature" as a model for her own writings (page 22). Bouyer is quick to point out that her fanciful imagery and style is not to be taken as seriously as it may appear, that she is "the first to smile at such fantasies" of being in the highest heaven, etc., but she was very serious about "the true experience of divine love."


Getting back to his discussion of courtly love imagery, on page 22 Bouyer suggests that: . . . "the characteristic tests of courtly love are introduced as an expression of the detachment, disinterestedness, abnegation without which love, in us as well as in her, would never be worthy of that wholly divine love that preceded it, arouses it and will fulfill it in consummated union." I haven't a clue as to what is meant by this. In the Hadewijch I read I see total interest, desire, longing, and active service and suffering engaged in all for a taste of love. So there, we disagree.


I really wanted to read Bouyer's book to see what he had to say about the relationship between the thought/writings of Hadewijch and Ruisbroec. On page 71 his section-title says it all: "Ruusbroec: Heir and Illuminator of the Hadewigian Tradition." And that is exactly what his first page of that section says. Boyer makes clear that Ruusbroec was not from an aristocratic family like Hadewijch had been. But it is his writings that kept her ideas alive until manuscripts of her writings were discovered in the late nineteenth century.


I like Bouyer's put-down of the Parisian cleric-scholar Jean Gerson who criticized Ruusbroec:


Jean Gerson, whose own spiritual heritage, although immensely influential, enclosed as it is in a wholly modern psychologism, is very modest in its assets, was to criticize him with a wholly professorial pedantry, believing him to be the victim of an erroneous metaphysics. In fact, Ruusbroec himself did not have intellectual aims, but his theological thought, as little pretentious as it is, is more flexible than that of his Parisian schoolmaster. As for his spirituality, it is one of the greatest contemplative ones known to the Christian tradition. One could scarcely say as much of the pedant who was at least deluding himself a bit about his capacity to catch him out.


Bouyer next describes Ruusbroec's life including the environment of heresy (Free Spirit in particular) he matured in, and in that context says the following about his attacks on Bloemardine (a nickname based on her surname), whose actual first name is Hedwig, or Hadewijch, and in telling this story takes a swipe at the scholar who said that our Hadewijch (of Antwerp, Brabant, or Brussels, we really don't know) was Bloemardine.


We learn in particular that he was worried about the influence exercised in Brussels by a woman named Bloemardine. Let us note that one scholar has been found (we always have, in this field, too, people inclined to the strangest suppositions)to think, not only despite the dates but without a shadow of probability, that this name designated . . . Hadewijch herself!


He next illustrates the extremes to which deluded Free Spirits will go by bad-mouthing my all-time favorite Sister Catherine:


One famous treatise, seeking to claim Meister Eckhart's doctrine as its authority, which puts a Sister Catherine on stage giving advice to her director, is perhaps all the more instructive as no moral laxity is declared in it but only an indifference to all forms of traditional worship as well as of ascetical life. The good sister, who easily declares: "Father, rejoice: from now on, ?I am God!" and who has promptly dropped all belief in hell as in paradise, judging the Resurrection to be superfluous, is only a pious crazy who takes herself to be a saint. Examples of this kind have never been wanting in the Church, but, in this period, they abounded!


Bouyer suggests over several pages that Ruusbroec's contribution to the religious tradition of Hadewijch is colored and motivated by his need to fend off the Free Spirit menace. It was this pastoral concern that "pressured the young priest into taking up his pen so soon." (Page 76) His first treatise, aimed at preserving "the most pious faithful" from Bloemardine and the Free Spirit heresy, is called "The Kingdom of Lovers." (Page 73)


His "Spiritual Espousals," said to be his masterpiece, was written before his move to Groenendaal according to Bouyer [but not according to another source, see below]. He wrote some of his other well-known pieces at Groendaal, such as "The Book of the Sparkling Stone" and "The Book of Ultimate Truth."


BOOK FOUR: John Giles Milhaven, "Hadewijch and Her Sisters, Other Ways of Loving and Knowing," State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1993).


Milhaven does not address the likelihood of Hadewijch being Bloemardine. Does not even consider it. But what Milhaven does that is of interest to me is make a theological study of Hadewijch's works in which he makes some interesting observations on her very unique contributions to the description of the core mystical experience, and as an aside he also mentions the milieu of courtly love in which she lived her life.


Page 44 is where he mentions courtly love twice, first in relation to Bernard and his contemporary theologians:


The intellectual struggle with which Bernard and twelfth-century theologians influenced by him were never finished came about because they wanted to be guided by analogy with something different from teaching, sculpting, and ruling. They were convinced that the courting and lovemaking by human lovers made an excellent image of the love and lovemaking of God and the soul. To what extent were they influenced by the songs of courtly love and to what extent were those songs and their writing influenced by a new evolving experience of the time and culture? Perhaps, again, theology strove to grasp in concepts the mind of the time.

A giant standing on the shoulders of dwarfs, Hadewijch rose on the thought of preceding theologians and saw beyond their intellectual struggle. She thought out a unified, consistent kind of causality that is verified in erotic experience. . . . a range of human embodied experiences which include far more than the sexual but for which the sexual is an apt paradigm.


Milhaven continues his discussion, and ends up making this contrast between Bernard and Hadewijch:


. . . Consciously or unconsciously, Bernard in the early twelfth century led bands of the tradition on in his articulating the growing sense of Christians that the best of human life lay, not in the summit of something like intellectual contemplation, but in ecstasy of something like embodied, mutual love.

Hadewijch, as I keep arguing, went consciously or unconsciously beyond Bernard. She refused to reduce the best in life, divine or human, to self-sufficiency overflowing in pure giving to others. She stayed true not only to the Song of Songs and songs of courtly love but also to her own experience of love. God, being Love, must need others. Divine Love must include its desire and hunger for others, which only others could content and satisfy. It was a fact of experience: the best love, supreme love, was not completely satisfied with self-love giving selflessly to others.


Hadewijch's view of the "supreme human union with God" has much in common with descriptions of this same experience by other Christian theologians like Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius and Bernard (pages 10 - 14) but she departs from their descriptions in a very important way. Milhaven shows that her descriptions of being in the spirit raised to meet God has precedent, her description of being infused with a special knowing, an infusing of intelligence, and even being dropped into an abyss of love all have precedents. God being primarily Love, it is so that when we are thus joined to and made one with Love, we are one with God, in a sense we are God, though temporarily. This too has precedent among earlier mystically inclined theologians.


Milhaven saves the new addition given us by Hadewijch for a new chapter. Page 15 begins this discussion and it goes on for a while. Apparently Hadewijch's claim to have had an experience in the body rather than in the spirit is new. As I read this, I was not convinced. After all, she said she couldn't possibly describe her becoming love in Love in human language, so taking her literally is not something I want to do. When I read her account of being physically embraced by God and in turn physically embracing him, I also read of the fact that she saw God, Love, dissolve into her and she could no longer tell herself from Love or Love from herself while in this state. She dis use language that suggested that as Milhaven says: "Hadewijch experienced herself as physically embracing her Beloved." He cites her as saying she experienced God in her Letter 9 "with what wondrous sweetness the loved one and the Beloved dwell in one another, and how they...abide in one another in fruition, mouth in mouth, heart in heart, body in body, and soul in soul." But this does nothing to convince me she is being literal, and Milhaven acknowledges that she also mentions this experience being out of body and even out of her spirit, but seldom so.


Another unique aspect of Hadewijch's description is more impressive, to me. Milhaven suggests that this is also unique (page 17):


That both Hadewijch and the God-Man melt into each other and in their union neither of the two distinguishes himself or herself from the other is uncommon–to my knowledge unprecedented–in mystical report and theological thought before or during Hadewijch's time.


Milhaven says more about this and then turns to the topic of pantheism which could be implied in taking this all a bit too literally:


In saying what she says, Hadewijch is not pantheistic. Though in their ecstatic awareness, "neither of the two distinguishes himself from the other," Hadewijch maintains that her Beloved and she maintain their distinct selves.


Where Hadewijch then departs from others who have gone before her is in claiming this union includes "experiencing her Beloved as God as well as Man." Milhaven suggests this and the "temporary equalizing" that it implies are new and unique aspects of the mystical experience of union with God.


But it is several chapters later where Milhaven gets to an aspect of her revelations that is both unique and of some interest to me, her claim that God is influenced by the longing of the lover for her Beloved, because God, Love, needs and desires our love. Milhaven wraps up a long discussion of this aspect with these words on page 63:


Divine Love is moved by, cannot resist, the sweet violent longing of the lover to be with Love. This is why unfaith also doubts its own love; it believes that if it desired enough, love could not stay away. This is what makes the voice of unfaith sweetly overpowering to Divine Love: it expresses the extreme longing of the human being to be with Love.


Milhaven has spent several pages developing this Hadewijchian idea of unfaith, and it reminds me very much of the opening of other dimensions of knowing and feeling I have described elsewhere as the core of the theology behind the Religion of Love (the ideal behind courtly love which often failed to live up to the ideal). The way Milhaven describes this dynamic in Hadewijch is:


Hadewijch cries to Love, "I don't believe you! You don't love me!" Love hears a desperation, that rides a fiercer and fiercer longing for Love. "I want you so much!" Hadewijch's desire is so violent that it has left behind humility and reasonable faith and burst into itself alone, pure desire and intensity of passion. The Other cannot resist it.


Milhaven suspects the reader may be trying to compare this with their own daily experience with the banal and melodramatic and sentimental love-related things of our lives, or as they are reflected in the poems and songs of courtly love in Hadewijch’s time, but he cautions us to listen more carefully because Hadewijch says that what she explains using language of this sort is "the most worthwhile, worthy, meaningful, satisfying reality in human life."


Milhaven goes on to explain this difficult concept of unfaith, which I see as a vacuum, a void, that she opens with her unbridled desire for Love. Others have come close to noting the necessity of such extreme desire to bring one into this state of union, but they describe it as a desire implanted in us by Love, by God. Where Hadewijch differs from them is in claiming it is our own desire that calls to God, and God hears. She claims it is out of our own freedom that we create this desire, this longing that sets aside all other thoughts and emotions, even faith and knowledge, and creates this attractive force that even Love cannot or will not resist because Love needs our love just as we need its Love. It is certainly a new insight, one worthy of contemplation. Even emulation.


BOOK FIVE: E. Colledge (Translator, Ed.), "Mediaeval Netherlands Religious Literature," (Sythof, Leyden, 1965).


This final book in this series of books I consulted to help me understand Hadewijch better is one in which not her poems or visions, but her letters are excerpted. I believe the excerpts I gave above from her poems and visions tell all I wish to tell here, so I will just excerpt a few paragraphs from the introductory part of this book.


Colledge is correct when on page 9 he suggests that modern readers may not identify with Hadewijch's attitude toward people with problems, she felt her duty was to intercede with God on their behalf, the clergy had the job of assisting those in need more directly, and were better equipped for such work. Her work was striving for union with God. Colledge also makes note of her sufferings, suggesting she is much like Mechthild of Magdeburg where attention to the suffering entailed in the process of becoming one with God is concerned. This is not to take away from her contribution to mysticism, but it was just the way things were.


On page 10 Colledge draws attention to her stating matter-of-factly that some sisters opposed her as well as "false brethren." Colledge suggests some of her imagery and claims were shocking then as now, and that "we need not be scandalized if we will understand how profoundly her thought has been influenced, and how her language reflects the philosophy and the literary forms of courtly love, of Minne."


Colledge reminds us of the popularity and respect given to the songwriters and singers of courtly love in that time and place, and that:


. . . in such spiritual writers as Hadewijch we have further testimony that before the fourteenth century, when there appeared that strong reaction in the Netherlands . . . against the poetry of courtly love as blasphemous Venus-worship with which no god-fearing man should have to do, the analogies between the Christian's love of God and the humble, patient, unrewarded, penitential service, which Minne demanded of those whom she has enslaved, had been perceived and assimilated so completely that no discord or paradox was seen.


On page 11 Colledge discusses this idea more fully, exploring the likeness between courtly love and Hadewijch's description of the lover seeking the Beloved through love's service:


. . . the analogy is something of this nature: I am bound to the service of the love of God just as any earthly knight knowingly and willingly enslaves himself to the service of that ideal love which is embodied in his lady. She will reward him or prolong his servitude and sufferings, as seems good to her, and he must always be her faithful servant, to death, in sorrow as in joy, as so must I with God. It is only the base peasant who thinks that the longings of love merit a prompt satisfaction; and if I demand from God happiness and consolation as the return here on earth for my service in His love, I too should be base, peasant-like, a villein knowing nothing of fine amour.


Colledge suggests that her view amounted to a Christianized Minne. He praises her work using words like practicality, down-to-earth, justness of touch, shrewdness and good feeling, etc.


After discussing Hadewijch, Colledge moves on to Ruisbroec. He begins that man's story by saying that (page 12) he represents "the second generation, as it were, of Dutch mystical writers."


Like others cited in this essay, Colledge also mentions the Free Spirit heresy and how it caused Ruisbroec (which he spells Ruysbroek) to write against its local leader, Bloemardinne (pages12-13):


. . . many heretics ... lived and taught in the Netherlands, of whom we remember chiefly the Brethren f the Free Spirit and their mysterious leader, the Brussels prophetess ‘Bloemardinne.' (There was at one time a theory, first put out in the fifteenth century by Pomerius, that ‘Bloemardinne' was a pseudonym of Hadewijch, but this was a rank injustice to one of the very greatest of medieval European spiritual writers, who could only permit herself her extravagances of language and thought because she was fortified in her unimpeachable orthodoxy; and no one today would seriously advance this theory.) We know little of Bloemardinne and her writings, except by implication: Ruysbroek, already a middle-aged man who had served St. Gudule in Brussels for many years of holy obscurity, first entered public life when he undertook a great and, it would seem, successful preaching campaign against her; and when, soon after, he retired to the ‘desert' of Groenendael where in 1351 he took religious vows and founded a house of Augustinian canons and began to write, his earliest works, notably The Spiritual Espousals, are deeply concerned with contrasting false mysticism with true.


Colledge goes on to say that Ruisbroec "greatly reverenced" Hadewijch. Obviously you do not write tracts against someone you greatly reverence, and the argument about the timing for Hadewijch's works, and the fact that the version of her works consulted by Ruisbroec included the material added by her disciple, called Hadewijch II by scholars, it seems extremely unlikely she was also at the same time Ruisbroec's contemporary and spouting doctrine that Ruisbroec found very offensive rather than praiseworthy.


So, for me, for now, the issue of Bloemardine (of Brussels) and Hadewijch (of Antwerp, Brussels, or Brabant, who knows) is settled, they are not the same person, their lives may not even have overlapped. But it is likely that Bloemardine was familiar with her works as Ruisbroec was, and perhaps her playing loose with the imagery in those works caused the Hadewijch-admiring Ruisbroec to come out of his shell and attack her as a false mystic. Who really knows?


But getting back to Hadewijch, Colledge suggests that in the selected letters he translated for his book, number 17 is the more interesting one. The content is similar to one of her visions cited above, but I will cite Colledge's translation of Letter 17 (I am excerpting from his pages 76-77), in part here:


For in the delight of Love there never was, there never can be any other act than that delight alone, in which delight it is that the unique omnipotent Divinity is Love.

What God forbade to me, as I have said, was upon earth to love anything else than Him; I was to have no regard for anything but Love, and so to give myself to the service of Love that everything which is foreign to Love might be hated and avoided by me, that I in my delight in Love should no longer feel any inclination towards good, no longer do any particular work for Love, no longer feel compassion for Love or long to protect it, but always, unceasingly, to live in the delight of Love. But when we feel that delight sink and dwindle in us, then are we bound and allowed to do these three things which at other times are forbidden.

Whilst we seek for Love and serve Love, we may do all things to the honor of love, for during this time we are human and necessitous. Then we may well perform every kind of work, and give, serve, and feel pity, for at such times we lack everything, we need everything. But when in the delight of Love we are united with God we then become God, sharing His power and His justice; and then will and work and power are alike just, and these are the three Persons in One God.

All this was forbidden to me on the feast of the Ascension, four years ago, by God the Father Himself, at the moment when His Son became flesh upon the altar. And at His coming he kissed me, and in this sign it was shown to me that I was one with Him, and so I came with Him before His Father; and the Father received Him in me and me in Him. And in this unity into which I had been brought and in which I had been illumined, I understood God's being and comprehended it more clearly than men may say, or think, or see any earthly thing which is so comprehensible.

This seems indeed a wonderful thing. But even though I say that it seems wonderful, I know very well that there is nothing for you to wonder at. For the kingdom of this earth cannot understand heavenly things; for people can reason about everything upon earth and find language enough for it, but I can find neither language nor reason for this. I may be able to reason as well as any other, but still I can find no language for what I have said to you, for I know there are no words for it.


The letter starts before my excerpt and ends after it, get the book to read the whole thing, but this section makes several points that, if a bit more exaggerated, fit very well into the Free Spirit camp: becoming one with God, becoming God, means no other works are necessary (while in that state is Hadewijch's careful caveat, the Free Spirits simply declared they were always in that state, hence there was no longer any use to doing anything except that dictated by Love, or love, who could tell the difference between the two when one lived in a state of Love and ones love was simply part of the Divine in which one lived?). So this language is very compatible with Sister Catherine, bad-mouthed above, but whose Free Spirit heretical notions I really enjoy and appreciate.


Catherine basically said that when in a state of Love, all the observances of the Church and all things that can be described in words fall away, none matter anymore. That is also what Hadewijch said. Catherine also said that God is a word and does not describe the reality she has experienced, that is also what Hadewijch said just above, in essence. The only difference between the two as far as I can see is that Hadewijch said these moments of God-being are short lived, hence one does all the observances and works when not in this blessed state. Catherine, on the other hand, says she was, after many temporary moments such as described by Hadewijch, finally permanently confirmed in that state of being one with God, being God! So the difference between the blessedness of Hadewijch and the heresy of Catherine is a matter of degree and nuance, not an obvious or very clear distinction at all.

We do not know enough about Hadewijch to definitively assign her a location (Antwerp, Brussels, Brabant). She was lost to the world for centuries. Ruisbroec told us about her and built on her imagery and experiences, her mystical scaffolding, and had them confirmed in his own experience. Just a little ways down the road, Marguerite Porete was burned alive for disobedience, for going back on a promise to cease and desist allegedly given under oath, but the reason for that order for her to stop writing and teaching in the first place was her claim to have become aware that she is God, in the same way that Hadewijch and others, as we have seen above, made that very same claim. Hadewijch complains about some of her Beguine sisters who criticize her work, and especially against ‘false brethren' –no doubt meaning clergy– who criticized her mystical writings and teachings and suggested they were heretical. But she probably survived these attacks, although as we saw above there is room for believing as some do that she may not have. Perhaps that would go a long way to explaining why her works were lost for so long, suppression. But we really do not know. What we can safely conjecture, however, is that if she had lived just a few miles to the south in Marguerite's neighborhood, she would most likely have suffered Marguerite's fate. Her calling her clerical detractors ‘insect brains' shows she lacked proper respect for authority. Somehow, Hadewijch's ‘false brethren' seems much more polite and respectful, doesn't it?


And with this I end my inquiry into several things about Hadewijch's message, and I am quite satisfied that, largely because of timing, Hadewijch (of Antwerp, Brussels, or Brabant) is not Hedwig Blommaert (a.k.a. Bloemardine or Bloemardinne of Brussels, the so-called false prophetess of Brussels of whose message we really know nothing except what her accusers have said, which is not reliable evidence– but because of her aristocratic family station in life, and the fact her father founded a hospital for Brussels at his own expense, she lived to a ripe old age untouched by the flames of the ‘insect brains' –can you tell I really like that imagery?).


That’s all. For now.

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