Academic journal article Magistra

Spiritual Friendship in the Vita of Beatrice of Nazareth

Academic journal article Magistra

Spiritual Friendship in the Vita of Beatrice of Nazareth

Article excerpt

Friendship is a prominent theme in the vita of Beatrice of Nazareth (c. 1200-1268), a Flemish Cistercian nun. In the Vita Beatricis the reader learns of the powerful role that friendship played in her spiritual formation and in her progress in the spiritual life. The Vita Beatricis, written shortly after Beatrice's death by an anonymous Cistercian monk, was based upon Beatrice's own vernacular journal and upon conversations with those who knew her.

The most prominent theme in the VB is Beatrice's experience of union with God, often described in terms of mystical marriage and Beatrice's embrace in the arms of Christ the Bridegroom. However, the VB also uses language of covenant and union to describe her relationship with certain people, male and female, with whom she shared her spiritual journey. In one case, Beatrice's relationship with a fellow nun was so spiritually intimate that the hagiographer described the women as sharing "one soul and one heart in two bodies" (in duobus corporibus anima una et cot unum).(1)

As will be seen herein, community and spiritual friendship were topics that received special attention from medieval Cistercian writers. Furthermore, recent scholars have begun to examine friendships between mulieres religiosae. This essay will explore the theme of spiritual friendship as presented in the Vita Beatricis. The starting point will be attention to issues of authorship and the relationship of the Latin VB to Beatrice's own Flemish writings. However, the primary focus of this essay will be the exploration of the VB's theme of amicitia spiritualis in its thirteenth century context.(2)

Beatrice and Her Hagiographer

Beatrice was born in the Low Countries, in the town of Tienen, east of Leuven. After her mother's death, her father Bartholomew sent the seven-year-old Beatrice to the neighboring town of Zoutleeuw (Lewis) to reside with a beguine community there.(3) She also studied the liberal arts with teachers in Zoutleeuw in a classroom that included both girls and boys among the students.(4) After a year or so in Zoutleeuw, Beatrice returned home. At the age of ten she was sent to a Cistercian convent at Bloemendaal.

When she was sixteen, she made her religious profession. She was sent by her abbess to the Cistercian community at Rameya in order to learn to copy manuscripts. There she met Ida of Nivelles, who served as Beatrice's spiritual advisor, her mater, ductrix, and nutrix.(5) Ida, like Beatrice, had spent time residing with beguines, having lived with the beguine community in Nivelles for a number of years. Under Ida's tutelage, Beatrice began to receive visions and special consolations.

The following year, after her instruction in manuscript copying, the seventeen-year-old Beatrice was recalled to her community in Bloemendaal, but she remained in contact with Ida through messages and letters. When the Cistercian community at Bloemendaal founded a daughterhouse in Maagdendaal, Beatrice was sent there. In Maagdendaal the bishop consecrated her as a virgin.(6) In 1235 the Maagdendaal community founded the Nazareth convent near Lier. Beatrice was sent to Nazareth, and she served as prioress of this community until her death in 1268.(7)

For several decades of her life, Beatrice kept an autobiographical journal in Old Flemish. Beatrice's hagiographer frequently refers to this journal as "her book" (liber suus) and her "volume" (volumen).(8) She wrote other notes about her life and her spiritual consolations, as well as a treatise on the Seven Manieren van Minne, the "Seven Experiences of Loving." The Old Flemish treatise has survived in three manuscripts from the early fifteenth century,(9) though the vernacular autobiography has been lost. The hagiographer says that he has read Beatrice's liber, and throughout the VB he often specifically refers to the liber, stating that he has learned certain information from Beatrice's book. The author incorporated his Latin paraphrase of the Seven Manieren in the VB. …

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