“The Cruelest of All Mothers”: Marie de l’Incarnation, Motherhood, and Christian Discipleship
Abstract

In 1631, Marie de l’Incarnation entered the Ursuline monastery in Tours, France, leaving behind her eleven-year-old son Claude to pursue the religious life. This article examines the role Marie’s abandonment of Claude played in the relationship between mother and son as reflected in Marie’s own writings and Claude’s biography of his mother. Marie and Claude understood the abandonment as a sacrifice wrought in imitation of Christ, in obedience to God and Gospel, and in empathy with Mary. A close reading of Marie’s own writings, however, reveals that Marie remained troubled by the suspicion that her decision had been deeply misguided. Dunn suggests that Marie’s unconventional decision to abandon her son was fostered by an insidious theological tradition of marginalizing and devaluing—even actively maligning—biological motherhood as incompatible with Christian discipleship.


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