Framing the Reading: With a more solid understanding of apostolic poverty and its spiritual uses and implications under our belts, we now turn back to the beguines, specifically to Marguerite Porete. The mystics of the next two sessions, Marguerite, Eckhart, and Schwester Katrei, all emphasize poverty of spirit as well as poverty of body. We will want to explore the implications of this sometimes radical apophatic mysticism. As you read Marguerite, think about how her writing fits into the larger tradition we've been studying. In what ways does Marguerite draw on earlier Christian mystical traditions and in what ways does she strain the boundaries of Christianity as understood in her day? Why did some authorities find her and her work so problematic?

Background: You will undoubtedly have your hands full just getting through the assigned reading, but for some ideas as to how Marguerite's life experience and writing fits into larger issues of gender and mysticism, gender and religious authority, and beguine spirituality, see the important collection of essays in B. McGinn, Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics.

There are a number of useful web sites on Marguerite, including the Marguerite page from the Other Women's Voices project.

Abby Stoner discusses Marguerite in the context of the beguine movement in "Sisters Between: Gender and the Medieval Beguines." There probably is no new ground over what we have already covered, but you may find the orientation interesting and helpful. The article has a bibliography, current through 1993.

And to give you a sense of how authorities conflated the beguine movement with the heresy of the free spirit, here is a translation of the Decree from the Council of Vienne (1311-12) on the beguine heresy:

"We entertain in our heart a deep longing that the catholic faith prosper in our time and that the perverseness of heresy be rooted out of Christian soil. We have therefore heard with great displeasure that an abominable sect of wicked men, commonly called Beghards, and of faithless women, commonly called Beguines, has sprung up in the realm of Germany. This sect, planted by the sower of evil deeds, holds and asserts in its sacrilegious and perverse doctrine the following errors. 1. First, that a person in this present life can acquire a degree of perfection which renders him utterly impeccable and unable to make further progress in grace. For, as they say, if someone could always make further progress, he could become more perfect than Christ. 2. Secondly, that it is not necessary to fast or pray after gaining this degree of perfection, for then the sensitive appetite has been so perfectly subjected to the spirit and to reason that one may freely grant the body whatever pleases it. 3. Thirdly, that those who have reached the said degree of perfection and spirit of liberty, are not subject to human obedience nor obliged to any commandments of the church, for, as they say, where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 4. Fourthly, that a person can gain in this life final beatitude in every degree of perfection that he will obtain in the life of the blessed. 5. Fifthly, that any intellectual nature in itself is naturally blessed, and that the soul does not need the light of glory to elevate it to see God and enjoy him blissfully. 6. Sixthly, that the practice of the virtues belongs to the state of imperfection and the perfect soul is free from virtues. 7. Seventhly, that to kiss a woman is a mortal sin since nature does not incline one to it, but the act of intercourse is not a sin, especially in time of temptation, since it is an inclination of nature. 8. Eighthly, that at the elevation of the body of Jesus Christ, they ought not to rise or show reverence to it; it would be an imperfection for them to come down from the purity and height of their contemplation so far as to think about the ministry or sacrament of the eucharist, or about the passion of Christ as man. With the counterfeit appearance of sanctity they say and do other things also that offend the eyes of the divine majesty' and constitute a grave danger to souls. Since the duty of the office committed to us obliges us to extirpate from the catholic church this detestable sect and the above execrable errors, lest they be further propagated and corrupt the hearts of the faithful, we condemn and utterly reject, with the approval of the sacred council, the sect itself and the errors described above, and we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to hold, approve or defend the errors. We decree that those who act otherwise are to be punished with canonical censure. The diocesans and the inquisitors of heresy for the regions where these Beghards and Beguines live, are to exercise their office with special care concerning them, making inquiries about their life and behaviour and about their beliefs in relation to the articles of faith and the sacraments of the church. They are to impose due punishment on those whom they find guilty, unless there is voluntary abjuration of the above errors and repentance with fitting satisfaction."

for the full text of the Council of Vienne click here