Women Mystics Confront the Modern World: Marie de L'Incarnation (1599-1672) and Madame Guyon (1648-1717)

By Marie-Florine Bruneau | Go to book overview

Chapter One
Female Mysticism
A Historical Perspective

Female Mysticism and the Gregorian Reform

In twelfth- and thirteenth-century Western Europe a charismatic movement known as mysticism 1 emerged within the heart of the Catholic Church. This movement initiated new religious practices as well as new literary and theological traditions. Although historians disagree as to the meaning of mysticism, they do agree that mysticism attracted individuals of both sexes, particularly (if not exclusively) those individuals who had no other source of power. 2 Thus, it is not surprising that women representing all social classes flocked to the mystical movement in great numbers and that they developed a distinctly female mystical tradition. In short, as historians also agree, the movement was both inspired and dominated by women. 3

Mystics claimed a direct union with God, a union not earthly but reserved for the redeemed after resurrection. Female mysticism was characterized by the importance it gave to the female body in the relationship between the individual and the divine, for it was thought that the female body was a privileged means of ac

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