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Nobility and Annihilation in Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls

Joanne Maguire Robinson

Publication Year: 2001

An in-depth examination of the work of this important medieval woman mystic. This first book-length study of Marguerite Porete’s important mystical text, The Mirror of Simple Souls, examines Porete’s esoteric and optimistic doctrine of annihilation—the complete transformative union of the soul into God—in its philosophical and historical contexts. Porete was burned at the stake as a relapsed heretic in 1310. Her theological treatise survived the flames, but it circulated anonymously or under male pseudonyms until 1946, and her message endures as testament to a distinctive form of medieval spirituality. Robinson begins by focusing on traditional speculations regarding the origin, nature, limitations, and destiny of humankind. She then examines Porete’s work in its more immediate historical and literary contexts, focusing on the ways in which Porete conceptualizes and expresses her radical doctrine of annihilation through contemporary metaphors of lineage and nobility.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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CONTENTS

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

This work, which is concerned in part with the lineage of ideas and of people, would not have been possible without the support of mentors, friends, and family. A special thanks to Gene Gallagher at Connecticut College, an outstanding teacher who enticed me into a life of teaching and scholarship, and...

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Introduction

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pp. xi-xvi

Marguerite Porete’s complex and at times discordant Mirror of Simple Souls was received into a world hungry for new spiritual ideas and experiences yet wary of innovation. The enduring popularity of her text, the ways in which she has been classified by medieval and modern observers, and her execution...

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CHAPTER ONE: NOBILITY AS HISTORICAL REALITY AND THEOLOGICAL MOTIF

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pp. 1-25

Most students of western European history are familiar with a trifunctional model of medieval social organization. Commonly associated with modern scholar Georges Duby and found in medieval documents in various forms, this model compartmentalizes medieval society into those...

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CHAPTER TWO: THE “BEGUINE CLERGERESSE” AND HER MIRROR

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pp. 27-48

The execution of Marguerite Porete on June 1, 1310, is the earliest recorded death sentence for mystical heresy in Western Christianity. For Porete, that day was the culmination of years of struggle against authority. Ecclesiastical officials had learned of the suspect doctrines espoused in the...

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CHAPTER THREE: GOD, THE SOUL, AND NO-THINGNESS

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pp. 49-75

These two passages are predicated on the twin notions of presence and absence as expressed in an extended courtly metaphor.2 They echo themes seen in earlier thinkers: the dilemma of the soul, distant from yet ineffably near God; the notion of an image as the binding force between the two; and the particular powers both from within and without the soul that enable a re-union. Yet these...

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CHAPTER FOUR: NOBILITY AND ANNIHILATION

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pp. 77-100

Porete accompanies this extraordinary statement of the power of a single created soul to affect the cosmological scheme with a seemingly contradictory series of statements describing this noble, graced soul as “the height of all evil” and “total wretchedness.” This apparent paradox is the key to Porete’s...

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Conclusion

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pp. 101-107

The Mirror of Simple Souls is a book of a uncommon insight into the possibility of transformative union between God and individual human souls. That insight proved fatal, yet its author’s message endures as testament to a distinctive form of spirituality. This beguine upheld the doctrines she...

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Appendix

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pp. 109-110

Following are three texts related to Marguerite Porete’s condemnation. The first is an account of her questioning and censure, followed by the extant articles from the Paris condemnation. The third is an excerpt of the decree Ad nostrum, which condemned both “Free Spirit” and beguine doctrines. ...

Notes

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pp. 111-159

Bibliography

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pp. 161-174

Index

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pp. 175-178


E-ISBN-13: 9780791490693
E-ISBN-10: 0791490696
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791449677
Print-ISBN-10: 079144967X

Page Count: 194
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Series Editor Byline: David Appelbaum

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Subject Headings

  • Mysticism -- France -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Porete, Marguerite, ca. 1250-1310. Miroir des simples âmes.
  • Contemplation -- History of doctrines -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Women mystics -- France -- History.
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