Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England

Article excerpt

Wolfgang Riehle, The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014). xvi + 427 pp.; 16 illustrations. ISBN 978-0-8014-5190-6. $35.00.

If one had to select a sentence that evokes the tenor of The Secret Within-. Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England, an intriguing study by Wolfgang Riehle, adapted from his Englische Mystik des Mittelalters, first published by Verlag C. H. Beck in Munich in 2011 and translated by Charity Scott-Stokes, it would be Riehle's statement that we 'tend to take too narrow a view of what was possible in the Middle Ages' (p. 209). Indeed, Riehle portrays the medieval English mystical authors of texts from Ancrene Wisse to The Book of Margery Kempe as confident in their literary responses to their own experiences and the texts that influenced them. Riehle stresses the common ground in these texts: their daring (even radical) mystical outlook (even in Hilton), their reliance on the Pauline writings, and their indebtedness to mystical theology as voiced by the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux and Benedictine, but honorary Cistercian, William of St Thierry, and by the Augustinians Hugh and Richard of St Victor.

Riehle argues his case convincingly exactly because he does not hammer an argument home, but reads both primary and secondary sources attentively and in great detail, carefully weighs the evidence, and formulates his conclusions. These conclusions regularly go against scholarly consensus in Anglo-Saxon academia, and, as such, invite discussion, re-reading of texts, and further research (or refutation). …

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