First an "aside" about names and about heresy and orthodoxy.

Bloemardinne is variously spelled with either one n or two n's (I think the Flemish would be the one 'n' version, and in the subject heading for this page I chose to French version with two n's because it is what most people use.  But I think the one 'n' version is good, so I'll use it.

Bloemardine is a nickname.  Her real name is given by Norman Cohen in his book "The Pursuit of the Milennium" (page 168) as Heilwijch Blomart. Cohen observes that she was probably quite orthodox when she began her community for noble ladies, but her followers radicalized her message.  By contrast, in an article by Geert Warnar (on the internet at: he has her name as Heilwig Bloemaerts.  Given that Warnar is writing in Dutch, I would go with his version.  But he also has Ruisbroec without the k (as did a sign in the forest).  So I changed the header for this page to take off the 'k' but will continue to use it in the text.

So, according to Warnar, Heilwig started her community for pious women in 1307, 36 years before Ruisbroeck created his monastery.  For a long time Ruisbroeck was her neighbor, says Warner, in a manner of speaking.  Warner also says Ruisbroeck was surrounded by the works and people of the mystical culture of the time, had a personal visit from John Tauler, was conversant with Suso's and Eckhart's and Hadewijch's work, and wrote in part to make mysticism seem more grounded in and needing the lower outward forms, rituals and processes of religious life that these others, especially Eckhart and Hadewijch, put too low in importance.

A web site in French by Benoît BEYER de RYKE , located at says Suso, Ruisbroeck and Tauler were all pulled into the combat against the Free Spirit heresy, and that Ruisbroeck was aware of Margaret Porete's work but saw it as false where it suggested that the perfected ones did not have a need for practicing virtues and obeying the church in terms of its prescribed outward practices.  This whole idea of there being perfect ones not being capable of sin, or not being capable of losing the salvation that had been guaranteed them by their experience of unity with God, is not all that different from the Protestant (especially Lutheran, I think) idea that once God has saved you by grace, you cannot fall from that grace ever again.  Is that not a variant on the Free Spirit heresy?  I think so.

It is also a surprising hidden feature in the Mornmon faith, in the book called the Doctrine & Covenants (mostly the revelations of Joseph Smith) section 132 has a statement that those who have been sealed by the holy spirit of promise unto everlasting life cannot ever fall, unless they commit the sin against the Holy Ghost which is commonly interpreted as shedding innocent blood.  Hence the reticence of the Mormon men in the Mountain Meadow wagon-train massacre to take the lives of the women after they had shot all the men in cold blood.  They brought Indians in to do that part of the killing, which they did.  Old Testament style, they left only younger children alive.  They could break any moral law except that one, and still be guaranteed their exalted place in the hereafter.  They just weren't sure if women were or were not 'innocent blood' (since men were in charge of them, another Old Testament ideal that made men always responsible for the behavior of women in their household) and did not want to take a chance!  The Free Spirit heresy in yet another and darker guise!  

So let's get to the Bloemardinne/Ruisbroec discussion: let's talk about the war of words between Bloemardine, the heretical Free Spirit mystic, and Jan van Ruisbroeck, who later became a renowned orthodox mystic and, at that time, served as a canon )parish priest in essence) at the cathedral of St. Michael & St. Gudula in Brussels. Ruisbroeck later became the prior of a monastery he founded in Groenendaal, in the woods outside Brussels, where he wrote many books that led to his becoming one of the best loved mystical writers of Catholicism (he was officially pronounced "blessed," a step just below sainthood, to assure Catholics that he was considered to have lived an exemplary life and his writings are orthodox).  His books are widely read by non-Catholics as well).

Click here to (1) see photos of the church that replaced the one where he worked, and (2) of the woods in which he built his sussessful monastery [no longer standing], where he wrote the books that made him known and respected all over the world.


I like a passage from Ruisbroeck's "The Sparkling Stone."  This book is partly wonderful, and partly gets carried away with itself.  The part I like best is the part that most closely resembles a Free Spirit treatise (my text is taken from (just click on the book title and scroll to the section cited):


It takes a lot of words to bring this back down to assure the reader that in very fact one can never become truly one with God and can never do without obedience to the sacramants and teachings of the church.  But this is as close as the man gets to saying that when one with God there is no sin.  In other books, including this next one, he lashes out at those who say similar things but proclaim independednce from the church because of their revelations of oneness with God.  Ruisbroeck has several books that address this, and his "THE BOOK OF SUPREME TRUTH" has a chapter IV that addresses this very issue, and actually attacks how I feel reality is.  I find it of particular interest that he acknowledges the reality of the revelations of unity with the divine obtained by the Free Spirit types, but says it is a natural revelation from within themselves (by contrast and by implication, his is a supernatural revelation: his is God-based and theirs is self-based) [again taken from, just click on the book title and scroll to chapter IV]:


I cannot help but think that this is about the same sort of language (maybe not as polished and formal) that he used in his tract against Bloemardine.  Those who were impressed with or knew Bloemardine no doubt saw this as uncalled for meanspiritedness, since they saw her as a remarkable revelator and a holy person and not at all given to the licentiousness he reportedly accused her of.  But for me the real point here is that there are remarkable similarities in their teachings (looking at general Free Spirit teachings sympathetically, not at their caricatures made up by their detractors).  A great difference is that the orthodox go way out of their way to accuse the Free Spirits of debauchery and then after they say similar things based on their own revelations the orthodox go to great lengths to involve the church and its sacraments in salvation and make sure that in the end we realize we can forever approach union with God but never achieve it to the point where we are God, two decisive differences with Free Spirit teachings.  

Note the struggle here [Chapter 12 of "THE BOOK OF SUPREME TRUTH"] to first declare union between God and man, like a Free Spirit, and then take it away again in the first few lines of the second paragraph to meet orthodoxy's demands [Chapter 14 assures the reader that all his writings are submitted to the church for approval]: ________________________________________________________________________________


The bottom line for me is that the revelations reported by these two claimants to mystical experience are remarkably similar, once one subtracts out the agendas each has for coloring their accounts.  One colors his account in order to prove the need for the church, whether one had had such a revelation or not.  The other colors her account to declare that after one has experienced unity with God, there is no longer a need for the church. My leanings are definitely toward the Free Spirit side in this argument.  In my own case, had it not been for my religious training's teaching me to listen and feel for the inner intuitive promptings that are revelation, I would perhaps never have come to recognize the fleeting (for me) intimations of unity between something in me and something much, much greater than me. And it is in my readings of the Medieval mystics, both the orthodox (like Ruisbroeck) and not so orthodox (like Sister Katrei, discussed in my essay on the Beguine movement at, that I came to more fully understand the meanings of my own revelations.  Both the orthodox and the heterodox became revelators to me.  We are revelators to one another.

EITHER go back to Tentative statement of Belief

OR go back to the Discussion of the History of the Large Beguinage in Brussels

 Go back to Life in 2005 page.

 Go Home!