The soul as the bride of Christ: humility in Mechthild von Magdeburg's Ein Vliessendes Lieht der Gotheit
Romann, Deborah Quann
Master of Arts
Mechthild von Magdeburg’s Ein Vliessendes Lieht der Gotheit establishes the necessity of practicing humility as the only method to attain eternal life. Through humility one might hope to achieve an elevated level of temporal worthiness which could culminate in mystical union. In the exercise of humility, one imitates Christ; by imitation, the soul grows in resemblance to the Divine, thereby further enhancing its worthiness. The theme of humility will be treated, comparing Mechthild's work with St. Bernard’s The Steps of Humility and with Augustinian doctrine regarding the denial of self. Humility is the necessary pre-requisite for becoming the bride of the Trinity. The allegorical significance of terming the soul "the bride of the Trinity" shall be examined, paralleling Mechthild’s use of metaphor in describing the nuptial bond to that of St. Bernard. Bernard, as well as Mechthild, based the concept of the spiritual marriage of the soul to the Triune God on the Song of Songs, that book in the Old Testament which underlines the necessity of the bride’s acquiescence to the will of the Divine King and her humility in accepting the rectitude of His actions and will. The bride must equal the King; she must be a fit match for Him, resembling Him in every manner. Yet, in resembling Christ, the corporeal manifestation of the Triune God, she must assume the same attitude in relation to Him that He did in relation to God the Father -- that of humble servant. In the spiritual marriage, therefore, equality is attained by the soul’s development of a self-concept which defines it as unequal. Mechthild did not know Latin; she was therefore reliant upon confessors for biblical and doctrinal information. Because we lack any information as to what writings she may have been exposed to via her Dominican confessors, Augustine and Bernard have been selected as comparative sources for the following reasons: St, Augustine exerted the most predominant influence upon Christian doctrine in the Middle Ages; St. Bernard catalyzed a Renaissance of European mysticism which began in the twelfth century, a mysticism marked by intense contemplation of the humanity of Christ which was a form of devotion practiced by Mechthild.