Spiritual Director, Martyr, and Author
We possess very little biographical information on the woman who became the victim of the first auto-da-fé--burning at the stake--on record in Paris. Most likely born in Hainaut, a region south of Flanders and Brabant, Marguerite Porete was a member of the Beguine movement, female and male lay followers of the apostolic life who committed themselves to poverty and abstinence in imitation of Christ. A label of contempt and derision bestowed upon them by their many enemies, by the middle of the thirteenth century the word Beguine had come to be applied to a wide variety of individuals, most of whom were women, who lived a religious life outside of the established orders. In 1946 Marguerite Porete was conclusively identified as the author of The Mirror of Simple Souls, a spiritual treatise and handbook designed to assist others in their search for the divine. True to the message contained in that work, and to the Beguine emphasis on personal spirituality, the author lived and died in the conviction that the soul's union with God was attainable in this life without the mediation or direction of ecclesiastical authorities.
Composed sometime between 1296 and 1307, The Mirror of Simple Souls is written in the form of a dialogue between the allegorical figures of love, reason, and the soul. Interspersed with this are verses and examples that comment on the dialogue, the main focus of which is the relation of the human to the divine and the ascent of the soul to God. Seven stages of grace are treated, each leading the soul up to final union with its Maker. In the final state the human soul no longer has needs, desires, or indeed a will separate from God. Fully liberated, the soul is not obliged to answer to mere human authority. Intermediaries on the road to salvation are redundant; masses, penance, prayers, and fasts are so many distractions. It is these purified souls alone who constitute the genuine Holy Church of Christ and, in this condition, may forego the spiritual ministrations of the insti-