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Mystics Quarterly, Vol.12 (1997)

Introduction: Even
 though
 medieval
 women
 mystics
 have
 enjoyed
 increased
 attention
 in
 recent
 scholarly
 discussion,
 a
 topic
 that
 still
 has
 not
 been
 tackled
 is
 the
 possible
 difference
 between
 seeing
 a
 vision
 and
 hearing
 a
 voice
 during
 a
 mystical
 experience
 and
 the
 ramifications
 of
 this
 difference
 in
 the
 context
 of
 medieval
 text
 production
 and
 in
 the
 status
 of
 mystics
 as
 authors.
 When
 a
 mystic
 relates
 a
 mystical
 experience,
 she
 inevitably 
creates
 a
 text
 and
 becomes
 an
 author
.
 In 
the
 Christian
 Middle
 Ages,
 medieval
 text
 creation
 hinged
 on
 authority
 and
 authorization,
 as
 an
 imitation 
of 
the
 creative
 power 
of 
God,
 the 
Master 
Author 
and 
the 
Logos
(Word)
itself,
 and
 thus 
has 
religious
 consequences 
for 
an
aspiring
 author.
Bernard
 McGinn
 points
 to
 this
 logo centrality
 of
 medieval
 writing:
 “Jesus
 the
 preacher
 of
 the
 message
 became
 Jesus
 the
 preached
 message
 and
 soon
 Jesus
 the
 written
 message,
 as
 elements
 of
 his
 preaching
 and
 the
 stories
 about
 him,
 especially
 the
 account
 of
 his
 sacrificial 
death
 and 
rising,
 were
 fixed
 in
 written
 form”
.

Mystics, 
however,
not
 only 
imitate
 the 
creative 
power 
of 
God,
but 
also 
claim 
t o
deliver
 His
 messages.
 Their
 stake
 in
 authorship
 is
 thus
 doubled,
 and
 for
 female
 medieval
 mystics,
 text
 production
 proved
 to
 be
 an
 especially
 ambivalent
 endeavor.
 On
 the
 one
 hand,
 as
 Elizabeth
 Alvilda
 Petroff
 notes,
 the
 “women
 writers
 of
 mystical
 literature
 .
 .
 .
 lacked
 the
 authority,
 and
 the
 authoritative
 language,
 to
 communicate
 spiritual
 truths”
.
 Because
 of
 rampant
 medieval
 misogyny,
 female
 claims
 to
 authorship
 were
 especially
 suspect,
 as
 women
 were
 often
 associated
 with
 evil.
 This
 association
 carried
 over
 from
 antiquity
 and
 found
 fertile
 ground
 in
 the
 minds
 of
 the
 church
 fathers
 who
 villainized
Eve’s
 role
 in 
the 
fall
.
 Thus,
 backed
 by
 the
 Pauline
 rule
 on
 women’s
 ecclesiastical
 silence,
 Jean
 Gerson’s
 pronouncement
 on
 Bridget
 of
 Sweden
 at
 the
 Council
 of
 Constance
 echoes
 the
 accepted
 medieval
 norm:
 “‘All 
words 
and 
works 
of 
women
 must
be
 held 
suspect’”
.
 On
 the
 other
 hand,
 Petroff
 claims,
 “[v]isions
 led
 women
 to
 the
 acquisition
 of
 power
 in
 the
 world
 while
 affirming
 their
 knowledge
 of
 themselves
 as
 women.
 Visions
 were
 a
 socially
 sanctioned
 activity
 that
 freed
 a
 woman
 from
 conventional
 female
 roles
 by
 identifying
 her
 as
 a
 religious
 figure
 .
 .
 .
 [and]
 an
 artist
 “
.
 But
 as
 the
 experiences
 of
 the
 twelfth‐century
 visionary
 Hildegard
 of
 Bingen
 and
 the
 fifteenth‐century 
heroine 
Joan 
of 
Arc 
illustrate,
 not 
all 
women’s
 visions,
 words, 
and
 works 
were
 created 
equally 
suspect 
or 
equally
 acceptable.

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