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: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/warn007snee01/warn007snee01_0001.htm) 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 http://www.ulb.ac.be/philo/rmblf/eckhart.html 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.
NOW ON TO THE SUBJECT AT HAND:
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 http://www.tphta.ws/TPH_JRUY.HTM (just click on the book title and scroll to the section cited):
CHAPTER III: THROUGH THREE THINGS A MAN BECOMES GOD-SEEING
Further, you must know that if this ghostly man would now become a God-seeing man, he needs must have three other things. The first is the feeling that the foundation of his being is abysmal, and he should possess it in this manner; the second is that his inward exercise should be wayless; the third is that his indwelling should be a divine fruition.
Now understand, you who would live in the spirit, for I am speaking to no one else. The union with God which a spiritual man feels, when the union is revealed to the spirit as being abysmal -- that is, measureless depth, measureless height, measureless length and measureless breadth -- in this manifestation the spirit perceives that through love it has plunged itself into the depth and has ascended into the height and escaped into the length; and it feels itself to be wandering in the breadth, and to dwell in a knowledge which is ignorance. And through this intimate feeling of union, it feels itself to be melting into the Unity; and, through dying to all things, into the life of God. And there it feels itself to be one life with God. And this is the foundation, and the first point, of the God-seeing life.
And from this there arises the second point, which is an exercise above reason and without condition: for the Divine Unity, of which every God-seeing spirit has entered into possession in love, eternally draws and invites the Divine Persons and all loving spirits into its self. And this inward drawing is felt by each lover, more or less, according to the measure of his love and the manner of his exercise. And whosoever yields himself to this indrawing, and keeps himself therein, cannot fall into mortal sin. But the God-seeing man who has forsaken self and all things, and does not feel himself drawn away because he no longer possesses anything as his own, but stands empty of all, he can always enter, naked and unencumbered with images, into the inmost part of his spirit. There he finds revealed an Eternal Light, and in this light, he feels the eternal demand of the Divine Unity; and he feels himself to be an eternal fire of love, which craves above all else to be one with God. The more he yields to this indrawing or demand, the more he feels it. And the more he feels it, the more he craves to be one with God; for it urges him to pay the debt which is demanded of him by God. This eternal demand of the Divine Unity kindles within the spirit an eternal fire of love; and though the spirit incessantly pays the debt, an eternal burning continues within it.
For, in the transformation within the Unity, all spirits fail in their own activity, and feel nothing else but a burning up of themselves in the simple Unity of God. This simple Unity of God none can feel or possess save he who maintains himself in the immeasurable radiance, and in the love which is above reason and wayless. In this transcendent state the spirit feels in itself the eternal fire of love; and in this fire of love it finds neither beginning nor end, and it feels itself one with this fire of love. The spirit for ever continues to burn in itself, for its love is eternal; and it feels itself ever more and more to be burnt up in love, for it is drawn and transformed into the Unity of God, where the spirit burns in love. If it observes itself, it finds a distinction and an otherness between itself and God; but where it is burnt up it is undifferentiated and without distinction, and therefore it feels nothing but unity; for the flame of the Love of God consumes and devours all that it can enfold in its Self.
And thus you may see that the indrawing Unity of God is nought else than the fathomless Love, which lovingly draws inward, in eternal fruition, the Father and the Son and all that lives in Them. And in this Love we shall burn and be burnt up without end, throughout eternity; for herein lies the blessedness of all spirits. And therefore we must all found our lives upon a fathomless abyss; that we may eternally plunge into Love, and sink down in the fathomless Depth. And with that same Love, we shall ascend, and transcend ourselves, in the incomprehensible Height. And in that Love which is wayless, we shall wander and stray, and it shall lead us and lose us in the immeasurable Breadth of the Love of God. And herein we shall flee forth and flee out of ourselves, into the unknown raptures of the Goodness and Riches of God. And therein we shall melt and be melted away, and shall eternally wander and sojourn within the Glory of God. Behold! by each of these images, I show forth to God-seeing men their being and their exercise, but none else can understand them. For the contemplative life cannot be taught. But where the Eternal Truth reveals Itself within the spirit all that is needful is taught and learnt.
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 http://www.tphta.ws/TPH_JRUY.HTM, just click on the book title and scroll to chapter IV]:
Behold, such folk, by means of a onefold simplification and a natural tendency, are turned in upon the bareness of their own being; and therefore they think eternal life is and shall be nought else but an enduring state of beatitude, without distinction in order in holiness or in reward. Yea, all such are so deep in error that they say that the Persons shall pass away into the Godhead, and that nought else shall remain in eternity than the essential substance of the Godhead; and that all blessed spirits shall be so simply absorbed with God in the Essential Blessedness that nothing shall remain beside it, neither willing nor working, nor the discerning knowledge of any creature whatsoever. Behold, these men have gone astray into the vacant and blind simplicity of their own being, and they seek for blessedness in bare nature; for they are so simply and so idly united with the bare essence of their souls, and with that wherein God always is, that they have neither zeal, nor cleaving to God, neither from without, nor from within. For in the highest part into which they have entered, they feel nothing but the simplicity of their own proper being, depending upon the Being of God. And the onefold simplicity which they there possess, they take to be God, because they find a natural rest therein. And so they think themselves to be God in their simple ground; for they lack true faith, hope and charity. And, because of the naked emptiness which they feel and possess, they say that they are without knowledge and without love, and are exempt from the virtues. And so they endeavour to live without heeding their conscience, what wickedness soever they commit. And they are careless of the sacraments, and of all virtues, and of all the practices of Holy Church, and believe that they have no need of them: for they fancy in their folly that they have passed beyond all these things, but imperfect men, they say, have need of them. And some men have become so accustomed to and deep-rooted in this simplification that they would know and heed as little of all the works which God has wrought, and all that Scripture teaches, as though not one line had ever been written; for they believe themselves to have found and to possess that for the sake of which all Scriptures have been made, namely, the blind essential rest which they feel. But in fact they have lost God and all the ways which may lead to Him; for they have no more inwardness, nor more devotion, nor holy practices, than a dead beast has. ________________________________________________________________________________
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]: ________________________________________________________________________________
OF THE HIGHEST UNION, WITHOUT DIFFERENCE OR DISTINCTION
And after this there follows the union without distinction. For you must apprehend the Love of God not only as an outpouring with all good, and as drawing back again into the Unity; but it is also, above all distinction, an essential fruition in the bare Essence of the Godhead. And in consequence of this enlightened men have found within themselves an essential contemplation which is above reason and without reason, and a fruitive tendency which pierces through every condition and all being, and through which they immerse themselves in a wayless abyss of fathomless beatitude, where the Trinity of the Divine Persons possess Their Nature in the essential Unity. Behold, this beatitude is so onefold and so wayless that in it every essential gazing, tendency, and creaturely distinction cease and pass away. For by this fruition, all uplifted spirits are melted and noughted in the Essence of God, Which is the superessence of all essence. There they fall from themselves into a solitude and an ignorance which are fathomless; there all light is turned to darkness; there the three Persons give place to the Essential Unity, and abide without distinction in fruition of essential blessedness. This blessedness is essential to God, and superessential to all creatures; for no created essence can become one with God's Essence and pass away from its own substance. For so the creature would become God, which is impossible; for the Divine Essence can neither wax nor wane, nor can anything be added to It or taken from It. Yet all loving spirits are one fruition and one blessedness with God without distinction; for that beatific state, which is the fruition of God and of all His beloved, is so simple and onefold that therein neither Father, nor Son, nor Holy Ghost, is distinct according to the Persons, neither is any creature. But all enlightened spirits are here lifted up above themselves into a wayless fruition, which is an abundance beyond all the fulness that any creature has ever received or shall ever receive. For there all uplifted spirits are, in their superessence, one fruition and one beatitude with God without distinction; and there this beatitude is so onefold that no distinction can enter into it. And this was prayed for by Christ when He besought His Father in heaven that all His beloved might be made perfect in one, even as He is one with the Father through the Holy Ghost: even so He prayed and besought that He in us and we in Him and His heavenly Father might be one in fruition through the Holy Ghost. And this I think the most loving prayer which Christ ever made for our blessedness.
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 http://www.thoughtsandplaces.org/WIZZK.HTML), 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.