Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hadewijch of Antwerp's 7th Vision

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a "bequine", a form of lay religious common in the Middle Ages (after which modern lay orders were modelled), who likely lived c. 1250. She wrote about mystical experiences which she received during her reception of the Eucharist, and a deep, even "erotic" relationship with Jesus which she experienced in Communion. I reproduce this vision of hers as it directly relates to my previous post, Way Beyond "Personal Relationship"... Again, potentially not for the faint of heart.

One Pentecost at dawn I had a vision. Matins were being sung in the church and I was there. And my heart and my veins and all my limbs trembled and shuddered with desire. And I was in such a state as I had been so many times before, so passionate and so terribly unnerved that I thought I should not satisfy my Lover and my Lover not fully gratify me, then I would have to desire while dying and die while desiring. At that time I was so terribly unnerved with passionate love and in such pain that I imagined all my limbs breaking one by one and all my veins were separately in tortuous pain. The state of desire in which I then was cannot be expressed by any words or any person that I know. And even that which I could say of it would be incomprehensible to all who hadn't confessed this love by means of acts of passion and who were not known by Love. This much I can say about it: I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savour in the fullest extent--to fulfil his humanity blissfully with mine and to experience mine therein, and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly: to be purely and exclusively and completely virtuous in every virtue. And to that end I wished, inside me, that he would satisfy me with his Godhead in one spirit (1 Cor 6:17) and he shall be all he is without restraint. For above all gifts I could choose, I choose that I may give satisfaction in all great sufferings. For that is what it means to satisfy completely: to grow to being god with God. For it is suffering and pain, sorrow and being in great new grieving, and letting this all come and go without grief, and to taste nothing of it but sweet love and embraces and kisses. Thus I desired that God should be with me so that I should be fulfilled together with him.

When at that time I was in a state of terrible weariness, I saw a great eagle, flying towards me from the altar. And he said to me: "If you wish to become one, then prepare yourself." And I fell to my knees and my heart longed terribly to worship that One Thing in accordance with its true dignity, which is impossible--I know that, God knows that, to my great sadness and burden. And the eagle turned, saying, "Righteous and most powerful Lord, show now the powerful force of your Unity for the consummation with the Oneness of yourself." And he turned back and said to me, "He who has come, comes again, and wherever he never came, there he will not come."

Then he came from the altar, showing himself as a child. And that child had the very same appearance that he had in his first three years. And he turned to me and from the ciborium he took his body in his right hand and in his left hand he took a chalice that seemed to come from the altar, but I know not where it came from. Thereupon he came in the appearance and the clothing of the man he was on that day when he first gave us his body, that appearance of a human being and a man, showing his sweet and beautiful and sorrowful face, and approaching me with the humility of the one who belongs entirely to another. Then he gave himself to me in the form of the sacrament, in the manner to which people are accustomed. Then he gave me to drink from the chalice in the manner and taste to which people are accustomed. Then he came to me himself and took me completely in his arms and pressed me to him. And all my limbs felt his limbs in the full satisfaction that my heart and my humanity desired. Then I was externally completely satisfied to the utmost satiation.

At that time I also had, for a short while, the strength to bear it. But all too soon I lost external sight of the shape of that beautiful man, and I saw him disappear to nothing, so quickly melting away and fusing together that I could not see or observe him outside of me, nor discern him within me. It was to me at that moment as if we were one without distinction. All of this was external, in sight, in taste, in touch, just as people may taste and see and touch receiving the external sacrament, just as a beloved may receive her lover in the full pleasure of seeing and hearing, with the one becoming one with the other. After this I remained in a state of oneness with my Beloved so that I melted into him and ceased to be myself. And I was transformed and absorbed in the spirit, and I had a vision about the following hours.

(From The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism., Bernard McGinn, editor. Modern Library Classics, 2006. pp. 103-104.)


Lorelei said...

This is quite incredible and makes me want to read that book. Only one line bothered me a little, and maybe I'm just misreading it: "And even that which I could say of it would be incomprehensible to all who hadn't confessed this love by means of acts of passion and who were not known by Love." Who is not known by Love? We can all reject that Love, but we're all known by it. The language sounds a bit exclusive. Other than that, wow. I loved the bit about her desiring suffering as well, and turning it into something good. Too often, I don't realize the opportunities I have to sanctify my suffering.

Gregory said...

I think, Lorelei, that the author is referring to those who have entered into that Love fully. Love (that is, God) knows all of us by virtue of His omniscience, and His creation of us all. However, the relationship that we have with God changes when we enter into that love that He has made available to us. We know, and are known, in a more intimate and personal way than before. I think that is what Hadewijch meant. And, to be fair, she had just confessed that she hardly had the words to say what she wanted to say :)