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“In Mei Memoriam Facietis”: Remembering Ritual and Refiguring “Woman” in Gertrud the Great of Helfta’s Exercitia Spiritualia

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Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Tropes from the Bible and liturgical rites pepper the seven meditations comprising the Teachings of Spiritual Exercises (Documenta spiritualium exercitionum or simply Exercitia spiritualia) of Gertrud the Great, the thirteenth-century visionary of the Benedictine-Cistercian abbey of Helfta.1 With the memory of such ritual activity, Gertrud intends to continually renew her readers’ attention to the activity of the grace of God present from baptism up to preparation for death. In this way, Gertrud’s Exercitia serves as a fine example of the literary historian Mary Carruthers’s work on the role of memory in the medieval, rhetorical construction of identity.2

Keywords

Human Person Female Voice Gender Behavior Male Persona Female Persona 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Much scholarship has noted the liturgical quality of Gertrud’s writings. See Hilda Graef, “From Other Lands: St. Gertrude, Mystical Flowering of the Liturgy,” Orate Fratres 20 (1945–46): 171–74;Google Scholar
  2. Jean Leclercq, “Liturgy and Mental Prayer in the Life of Saint Gertrude,” Sponsa Regis 32, no. 1 (September 1960): 1–5;Google Scholar
  3. Maria Teresa Porcile Santiso, “Saint Gertrude and the Liturgy,” Liturgy 26, no. 3 (1992): 53–84;Google Scholar
  4. Cypriano Vagaggini, “The Example of a Mystic: St. Gertrude and Liturgical Spirituality,” in Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy: A General Treatise on the Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Leonard J. Doyle and W. A. Jurgens (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 740–803.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Indeed, the English translators of the Exercitia say that Gertrud’s “exquisite style and accomplished use of rhetoric can not be mistaken for that of anyone else.” Gertrud Jaron Lewis, “Introduction,” in Gertrud the Great of Helfta: Spiritual Exercises, trans. Gertrud J. Lewis and Jack Lewis (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1989), 5 [1–18].Google Scholar
  6. For Carruthers’s work on the rhetorical construction of identity, see the introduction to this volume. In general, see Mary J. Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 34 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  7. See also Carruthers’s related work in Mary J. Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd ed., Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 70 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Mary Carruthers and Jan M. Ziolkowski, eds., The Medieval Craft of Memory: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Gertrud parenthetically remarks that readers outside of the religious state of life should make the appropriation to their own life circumstances. St. Gertrud the Great of Helfta, Œuvres spirituelles I: Les exercices, trans. and ed. Jacques Hourlier and Albert Schmitt, Sources Chrétiennes 127 (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1967), 3.21, p. 94.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    On the medieval history of the consecratory formula, see Francis J. Wengier, The Eucharist-Sacrifice (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Co., 1955), 173–85.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Indeed, only about 50 years prior to Gertrud’s birth, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) officially used the term “transubstantiation” for the first time to define the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. “One indeed is the universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved, in which the priest himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread (changed) into his body by the divine power of transubstantiation, and the wine into the blood [transsubstantiatis pane in corpus et in sanguinem potestate diuina], so that to accomplish the mystery of unity we ourselves receive from his (nature) what he himself received from ours.” Quoted in Michael O’Carroll, Corpus Christi: An Encyclopedia of the Eucharist (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier Books, 1988), 196.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    Gertrud the Great of Helfta, The Herald of God’s Loving Kindness, Books One and Two, trans. Alexandra Barratt (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1991), 155;Google Scholar
  13. St. Gertrud the Great of Helfta, Œuvres spirituelles, Le héraut, livres I–II, 2.20.14, trans. Pierre Doyère (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1968), 113: “Tua tractabilissima suavitas … promisit, dicens: ‘Ne haec causeris accede et suscipe pacti mei firmamentum.’ Et statim parvitas mea conspexit te quasi utrisque minibus expandere arcam illam divinae fidelitatis atque infallibilis veritatis, scilicet deificatum Cor tuum … dextram meam imponere, et sic apertuaram contrhens manyu mea inclusa dixisti: ‘Ecce dona tibi collat me tibi illibata servaturm promitto.’”Google Scholar
  14. 31.
    Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 223.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    Caroline Walker Bynum, “Women Mystics in the Thirteenth Century: The Case of the Nuns of Helfta,” in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 252–53 [170–262].Google Scholar
  16. 39.
    On this association in medieval theories of science and medicine, see Vern L. Bullough, “Medieval, Medical and Scientific Views of Women,” Viator 4 (1973): 485–501;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture, Cambridge History of Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  18. Danielle Jacquart and Claude Alexandre Thomasset, Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  19. On the theory within medieval theology and religious writing, see Caroline Walker Bynum, “… And Women His Humanity: Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages,” in Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols, ed. Caroline Walker Bynum, Steven Harrell, and Paula Richman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), 280 [257–89].Google Scholar
  20. 47.
    Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991).Google Scholar
  21. See also Laurie Finke, Feminist Theory, Women’s Writing, Reading Women Writing (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992);Google Scholar
  22. Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury, eds., Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, New Cultural Studies. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  23. Ulrike Wiethaus, Maps of Flesh and Light: The Religious Experience of Medieval Women Mystics, 1st ed. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  24. Grace Jantzen, Power, Gender, and Christian Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995);Google Scholar
  25. Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature, Middle Ages Series (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ingrid Bennewitz and Ingrid Kasten, eds., Genderdiskurse und Körperbilder im Mittelatler: eine Bilanzierung nach Butler und Laquer (Muenster: LIT Verlag, 2002);Google Scholar
  27. Sarah Kay and Miri Rubin, eds., Framing Medieval Bodies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  28. 53.
    As I have argued elsewhere, Gertrud’s writings affirm the possibility that woman, qua woman, could attain a particularly direct body-soul union with Christ in Eucharistic communion and thereby participate in and represent Christ’s body here on earth. See Ella Johnson, “Bodily Language in the Spiritual Exercises of Gertrud the Great of Helfta,” Magistra 14, no. 1 (2008): 79–107.Google Scholar

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© Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Brad Herzog 2012

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