Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200- 1500

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200- 1500

Article excerpt

The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200- 1500. By Dyan Elliott. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, Pp. 480. $59.95 cloth.)

At what point do the gendered antipodes of medieval Christian identity, from virginal bride of Christ to fornicating devil's concubine, converge within the same body? In The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200-1500, Dyan Elliott charts the evolution, permutations, and subsequent devolution of the Christian metaphor of spiritual marriage from late antiquity to the late Middle Ages. As in her previous monographs (Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (1993); Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages, (1999); and Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages, (2004), Elliott once again examines the entanglements between religion, gender, and sexuality in the medieval west. Though inspired by Caroline Walker Bynum's championing of holy heroines, Elliott tells a grim tale of female spirituality. By excavating the bride of Christ trope she unveils how the misogynist, repressive, or ambivalent strategies of clerics were complicit in both elevating women's spiritual status and, finally, staging their damnation. Elliott emphasizes that in this latter configuration of Christian history the nuptial metaphor collapsed fatefully into matter: "a land where dreams (or visions) literally come true is also an environment that can foster nightmares" (4).

Chapters 1-5 trace the development of spiritual marriage from late antiquity to the High Middle Ages. Early Christian female luminaries flouted Roman domestic conventions in an effort to transcend their gendered identity. Reacting against this egalitarian, androgynous motif, Tertullian proposed the idea of the consecrated virgin as sponsa Christi, in which holy women don the veil and transfer their submission from an earthly to heavenly sphere of existence: "It is in this context that the sexed body emerged as the benchmark of difference in his writings, a difference he projected into the afterlife (26). In the High Middle Ages, marriage is characterized by an "age of affect." Elliott reads Abelard's spiritualization of Heloise in terms of "his focus on individual intention as the sole determinant for assessing sin and merit [which] would have enormous implications for human sexuality, going a long way to redress the plight of the 'virginally challenged'" (125). …

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