Academic journal article Magistra

Deconstructing Dualisms: The Unifying Nature of Emotional and Physical Suffering in Angela of Foligno's Memorial

Academic journal article Magistra

Deconstructing Dualisms: The Unifying Nature of Emotional and Physical Suffering in Angela of Foligno's Memorial

Article excerpt

In short, concerning the sufferings of the body, I heard her [Angela] say that there was not one part of her body which had not suffered horribly. Concerning the torments of the soul which demons afflicted upon her, she found herself incapable of finding any other comparison than that of a man hanged by the neck ... swinging in the empty air.

Sasha Snowden

Graduate Theological Union

Berkeley, California

Angela of Foligno's confessor describes Angela's experience of suffering as total. Not a single part of Angela's body was saved from suffering, and her soul experienced nothing but pain and isolation in the midst of her sufferings. It becomes clear quite quickly that Angela's spiritual journey, as it is presented in her Memorial, is fundamentally related to her experiences of suffering. As such, in an analysis of this thirteenth century mystic and penitent it is necessary to first consider the role that suffering played in her journey.

This paper argues that Angela of Foligno employed suffering as a tool that functioned to facilitate her eventual union with God. Neither strictly physical nor entirely emotional, suffering functioned to unify Angela with God, specifically because it aligned her bodily experience of God with her emotional experience, thus allowing Angela to conform to God in her entirety. In other words, suffering was the tool that facilitated the union of Angela's own being, both body and soul, so that her entire being might then unite with God.

The theoretical framework that undergirds this analysis is rooted in the history of emotions, a facet of historical inquiry that seeks to understand the evolution of emotions and the degree to which emotional expression is rooted in one's historical and cultural context.2 This will be used to explore Angela's use of the emotion of suffering and, in particular, the ways in which Angela practiced or performed the emotion of suffering. Ultimately, Angela's understanding and use of suffering as a unitive tool are rooted in two aspects of her identity, namely her role as a female mystic and a penitent.

Brief Biography Of Angela

Most of what is known of Angela's life is derived from her spiritual autobiography, her Memorial.3 Sometimes referred to as a piece of "autohagiography," her Memorial is the result of a collaboration between Angela and a Franciscan friar, referred to as Brother A, or Brother Amaldo.4 While it is likely that Angela was able to read, she could not write.5 As a result, Angela dictated her experiences to Brother A while he recorded them, often skipping over some of her words or re-ordering them.6 Angela's spiritual journey became, at the hands of Brother A, a systematic ascent complete with distinct stages: it begins with an initial twenty steps and is followed by seven supplementary steps.7 While the Memorial that Brother A records is replete with important information about Angela's spiritual life, both before and after her conversion, readers must remember that this text is a mediated text; the Memorial is Angela's experience as Brother A records it.8

Nevertheless, the Memorial is the only source of biographical information there is for Angela. In her text, the reader learns that Angela lived in Foligno, Italy, an Umbrian commune only miles from Assisi, and was likely born in 1248, twenty-two years after the death of St. Francis.9 Angela's Memorial reveals that she was a wife and a mother as well as a caretaker to her own mother.10 Raised in an affluent family, Angela was wealthy enough to enjoy an indulgent lifestyle, which she apparently took full advantage of until her conversion.11 This indulgent lifestyle lasted, it is suspected, until about 1285 when she began her extensive and progressive conversion.12 For some unknown reason, Angela became expertly aware of her sins at this point and began to seek consolation and forgiveness.

Though unwilling to confess all of her sins at first, Angela soon prayed to St. …

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