Contextualizing spiritual authority in "The Book of Margery Kempe"

Mary Lynn Morse, Marquette University

Abstract

The Book of Margery Kempe is primarily, and most importantly, a manual of spiritual instruction mediated through the body and voice of an illiterate female mystic. Excluded by her gender and her illiteracy from the ecclesiastical traditions of auctoritas , Margery Kempe largely relies upon visual and oral learning and her female experience to create her own parallel auctoritas in her spiritual autobiography. Kempe's text centralizes female maternal, sexual, and social experience as its mystical locus and validates that experience as a corollary to her spiritual teaching. Through its contextualization of prevalent themes in affective mysticism, of the iconographic and textual motifs of affective piety, and of the influences of late medieval heterodoxies, The Book of Margery Kempe translates Kempe's mysticism into spiritual instruction and presents Kempe as a spiritual auctor . Margery Kempe's tears, visions, and locutions mark her as a mystical medium for God's message of contrition and conversion. The textual and iconographic traditions of affective piety become Kempe's textual metaphors, mnemonic devices, and corporeal links. The process of seeing and hearing books read to her, Kempe's primary venue of oral learning, substitutes for the authority of literacy in her Book . An examination of the influences of late medieval heterodoxies demonstrates how Lollardy functions in Kempe's narrative as a signifier of opposition and as an assertion of Kempe's spiritual authority. Throughout The Book of Margery Kempe , Kempe's behavior often seems to mark her as socially and/or religiously deviant, but her apparent deviance furthers what she perceives as her life's purpose--to serve as God's mystical medium and to dedicate herself to bringing others to God through that medium. The contextualizing of spiritual authority in The Book of Margery Kempe creates a compelling voice for the mystic as transformer of the female human experience into spiritual instruction.

Recommended Citation

Morse, Mary Lynn, "Contextualizing spiritual authority in "The Book of Margery Kempe"" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9945507.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9945507

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