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German Mysticism and the Politics of Culture


Ulrike Wiethaus

Probing deeply into texts by and about prominent Christian mystics, religious authors, and saints, German Mysticism and the Politics of Culture challenges the reader to rethink the medieval past as a contemporary presence. This «presence of the past» shapes memory of place, valorizes the trope of ecstatic sexual union as death, and continues the religious marginalization of female voice and authority. The chapters focus on the works and lives of Hadewijch, Marie d’Oignies, Dionysius of Ryckel, Heinrich Seuse, Margarete Ebner, St. Elisabeth, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, and the stigmatic Therese Neumann. Part One of the volume examines the dynamics of cultural memory and forgetting as they relate to issues of sexuality, female authority, and national politics; Part Two explores themes of love and death, erasure and displacement. Medieval Christian mysticism, the author argues, cannot be narrated as a story of great cultural accomplishment but, rather, as a fundamentally agonistic scenario shaped by actors whose impact still affects us today.
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Chapter 3. Masculinity

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“It is the quiet shore of contemplation that I set aside for myself, as I lay bare, under the cunning, orderly surface of civilizations, the nurturing horror that they attend to pushing aside by purifying, systematizing, and thinking.” Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror

“The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” Liberace (1919–1987)

Denys of Ryckel, born in either 1402 or 1403, studied in Cologne, and spent the rest of his life in the Carthusian hermitage at Roermond, named Bethlehem Mariae. He left his hermitage, in ruins today, on only two occasions in almost fifty years. Denys experienced frequent ecstasies, visions, and revelations and became known as the doctor ecstaticus of the Carthusian Order.161 He died in 1471, leaving behind a copious body of writing and coveted corporal relics. His studies, combining neoplatonic and thomistic schemata, covered mystical subjects such as contemplation, prayer, and meditation. Several decades after his death, his literary output was edited and printed by the Cologne Carthusian house, the largest Carthusian monastery in Germany, whose highly educated members devoted their efforts to disseminating mystical texts and traditions. Through these editorial and publishing efforts, Denys became so ← 45 | 46 → widely known and respected that the Bollandists bestowed upon him the epithet, ‘Qui Dionysium legit, nihil non legit’ (“To read Dionysius is to read everything”).162 In subsequent centuries, his reputation suffered the ebb and flow of scholarly and ecclesiastical interests in Christian mysticism. His writings experienced a revival...

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