Advice given to tourists in Scotland is equally applicable to contemporary academia: That minute appears to be now. Medieval mystics, most famously Bernard of Clairvaux in his sermons on the Song of Songs, periodically used sexual imagery to describe the indescribable: Among many other possible tropes most notably sufferingerotic language was sometimes "Womens spiritual erotic" in the Middle Ages to approximate, by metaphor, the love of God that far surpassed it.
Bernard was quick to qualify: I try to express with the most suitable words I can muster the ascent of the purified mind to God, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Aided by a strong dose of misogyny, one eighteenth-century journal dismissed the mystical eroticism of medieval nuns as the laments of "unlucky virgins," forced to take up courtship with Christ.
Continuing the tradition, twentieth-century historians psychoanalyzed medieval visions by gleefully collecting the "naughty" passages as grist for the Freudian mill. Four top medievalists exemplify this weather change, offering a more variegated analysis of classic spirituality.
Physical union with Christ [in the sacrament] is described in images of marriage and sexual consummation.
Although scholars have, of course, suggested that such reactions are sublimated sexual desire, it seems inappropriate to speak of "sublimation. In the twelfth century, Hildegard of Bingen actually dressed her nuns as brides when they went forward to receive communion. And Hadewijch and Mechtild of "Womens spiritual erotic," women given voice by the emergence of the vernaculars, found in secular love poetry the vocabulary and the pulsating rhythms to speak of the highest of all loves.
The prolific Harvard art historian Jeffrey F. Hamburger, whose
Womens spiritual erotic have chronicled the visual culture of medieval convents, concurs:. There was, however, nothing inherently transgressive about the use of erotic imagery as a way of expressing ardent spiritual desire.
Sanctified by the Song of Songs, somatic, sensual imagery was taken for granted, in male as in female monasticism. "Womens spiritual erotic" should be wary of reducing female piety to little more than the sublimation of sexual desire, if only because in so doing, we ape one of the marginalizing strategies employed by its least sympathetic medieval and modern critics. The aforementioned scholars are indebted to the accomplished professor emeritus of the University of Chicago Bernard McGinn, who in addition to pointing out that even the fashionable theorist Georges Bataille "distanced himself from those psychologists who tried to give a purely sexual reading of mystical
Womens spiritual erotic writes the following in Mysticism and Language:.
We should be scandalized not so much by the presence of such erotic elements as by their absence. What is involved is not so much the disguising of erotic language.
These scholars appear to understand that "sexual arousal is one expression of a broad range of human appetites medieval mystics would call this range affectus. To reproach mystics with loving God by means of the faculty of sexual love is as though one were to reproach a painter with making pictures by means of colors composed of material substances.
Historians who understand that sex is not everything have set themselves a more complicated task than the "psychoanalysis of visions. Good historiography, however, is no end in its purpose is
Womens spiritual erotic facilitate encounter with medieval mystics, one that we moderns would do well to pursue. That disordered sexuality might find its way into mystical experience, then or now, is not to be denied.