Monday, June 16, 2014

Marguerite Porete

By José Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El blog de José Arregi
June 10, 2014

On Sunday June 1st, I recalled with emotion the memory of Saint Marguerite Porete, a holy woman whom no pope has beatified or canonized yet. We know almost nothing of her life but what little we know reveals an extraordinary woman, at a crucial time in Europe in which the hierarchy of the Catholic Church failed to understand the signs of the times and ended up losing the path of God and the world, which it has not yet rediscovered. Marguerite Porete found it and followed it to the end, despite everything, with great determination and fortitude.

The crusades against Islam were yielding to the crusade against heretics. Emperors with aspirations to papacy and popes with imperial aspirations fought among each other, each one clinging more to power and the past. Groups and movements towards returning to the Gospel of Jesus proliferated -- poor men and women, itinerants and brothers, non-canonical and outside monastery walls. A mystical women's theology in the vernacular made its way against male clerical scholastic theology, which was written in Latin: Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Beatrice of Nazareth, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, Angela of Foligno, Marguerite d'Oingt...

In the cities of Holland, Germany and Flanders, the "Beguines" multiplied, women who wanted to live a deep spiritual life that was both contemplative and active outside the established framework of religious life, free from walled convents and rules approved by male clerical authority. The Council of Vienne condemned the movement in 1312.

Marguerite Porete belonged to that movement. A native of the Hainaut region (Belgium), she was a woman of deep mystical experience, vast theological education, and brilliant literary gifts. She wrote a book in Old French titled The Mirror of Simple Souls, in the form of a dialogue between Lady Soul, Lady Love (God) and Reason, and other personifications such as "Holy Spirit" and "Saint Church the Small" (the hierarchical Church). It captivated many people, men and women, whether simple or educated.

It was theology in the feminine, taught by a woman. And she taught -- what boldness and danger! -- a mystical path to radical freedom, "the just freedom of pure Love." She taught that every human being can love Love to the point of not wanting anything more than God's love, to the point of "being of God and in God", being one with God, to the point of being "less than nothing" in order to be nothing less than God. She taught that "Love and these Souls are one and the same thing and not two, since that would imply discord, but they are a single thing and so they are concord." She taught that for those who have reached this stripped down plenitude, all forms are excessive -- morality and laws, dogmas and theology. Everything we think about is excessive, and even "the Gospels and Scriptures" to the extent they are texts and word, are unnecessary.

Those of us who still haven't reached this complete nakedness, says Lady Soul, continue to seek God "in the monasteries through prayers, in created paradises, in the words of men and in the Scriptures," or we think that God "is found subject to His sacraments and His works." On the other hand, the Soul that only loves, says Love, "is free, more free, very free, sublimely free at its root, in its trunk, in all its branches and in all the fruits of its branches." It no longer "seeks God through penance, or through any sacrament of the Holy Church, or through thoughts, words, or deeds." And, "if it doesn't want to, it doesn't answer to anyone who isn't of its lineage." How risky!

In 3006, the book was condemned and burned in the public square of Valenciennes in Marguerite's presence, and she was prohibited from preaching or writing her ideas under penalty of excommunication. She continued teaching what she had experienced and making copies of the book, the mirror of her soul. In 3008, she was arrested. She refused to appear before the General Inquisitor or take the oath of rigor or answer any charges. The Inquisitor excommunicated her and jailed her until she made a retraction. She didn't make a retraction.

On Monday, June 1, 1310, she was burned alive in a bonfire in front of the Paris city hall. "And then the country of freedom appeared," as she had written in her book.

Thought is no longer of worth to me,
nor work, nor speech.
Love draws me so high
(thought is no longer of worth to me)
with her divine gaze,
that I have no intent.
Thought is no longer of worth to me,
nor work nor speech...

Lover, you have grasped me in your love,
to give me your great treasure,
that is, the gift of your own self,
which is divine goodness.
heart cannot express this,
but willing pure nothingness purifies [the heart],
which makes me climb so high,
by union in concordance,
which I ought never to reveal...

Truth declares to my heart
that I am loved by One alone,
and she says that it is without return
that He has given me His love.
This gift kills my thought
by the delight of His love,
which delight lifts me and transforms me throughout union
Into eternal joy of the being of divine Love...

And Divine Love tells me that she has entered within me,
and so she can do whatever she wills,
such strength she has given me,
from One Lover whom I possess in love
to whom I am betrothed,
who wills that He loves,
and for this I will love Him...

I have said that I will love Him.
I lie, for I am not.
it is He alone who loves me:
He is, and I am not;
and nothing more is necessary to me
than what he wills,
and that He is worthy.
He is fullness,
and by this am I impregnated.
This is the divine seed and Loyal Love...


(excerpts from Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls, ch. 122)

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