Maria Maddalena De' Pazzi: Selected Revelations

Article excerpt

Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi: Selected Revelations. Edited by Armando Maggi. The Classics of Western Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist Press, 2000. ix + 368 pp. $39.95 (paper).

Once again Paulist Press has made available an extraordinary primary text in the series, The Classics of Western Spirituality. The Selected Revelations of Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi represents a unique form of women's mystical writing from the seventeenth century. As the editor Armando Maggi points out, these texts are not from the pen of Renaissance mystic Maria Maddalena herself, but are transcriptions by the nuns of Maddalena's community of her orality during episodes of mystical union. As such they represent a community writing effort. Maria Maddalena (1566-1607), a nun in a strictly observant enclosed community in Florence, Italy, far from writing her own revelations, strongly disapproved of the nuns' records of her prayer and was apt to destroy them if she discovered them. However, the nuns, recognizing something of the significance of her experiences and of the unique intimacy of her relationship with God, persisted.

Maggi has selected from three principal writings for this book, "The Dialogues," "The Probation," and "The Forty Days," all of which center on the experiences of mystic love between Maddalena and the Divine. Maggi's introduction to these texts is as intellectually stimulating as it is elucidating of the writings themselves. The texts, translated from the original seventeenth century Italian, are a layered mixture of commentary, one-sided conversation, utterances, voiced prayers and silences. The commentary within the text is provided by the nun transcribers who observed Maddalena at prayer. They recorded her orality in all its forms and added other layers by writing in a description of how she appeared to them during these episodes, thus, in a sense, providing flesh to her words. Although they seem to have constructed what they thought was happening to Maddalena from what they could hear and see, they could not actually verify their interpretations. An example from "The Dialogues" illustrates their construction: "And at this point Jesus showed her that he was sprinkling his blood over these souls, as she had asked him to. …


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