Violent Lovesickness: Richard of St Victor, Beatrice of Nazareth, Hadewijch, and Angela of Foligno
Stevens, Travis Allen
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AbstractThis dissertation examines four medieval Christian texts that describe the love between the soul and Christ in violent terms and demonstrates how images of violence, such as wounding, striking, and beating, illustrate the reciprocal suffering of the Christian who is lovesick for Christ and of Christ, lovesick for the soul. These texts challenge the normative account of suffering in Christian theology as always rooted in sin and uncover an underappreciated historical moment when Christian thinkers conceptualize suffering as intrinsic to loving God. Through my readings of Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), Beatrice of Nazareth (d. 1268), Hadewijch (d. 13th c.), and Angela of Foligno (d. 1310), I trace the emergence of this alternative vision of suffering as well as its waning and merging into more normative theologies of sin. In calling attention to this little known strand of theology, I draw on the history of medicine to analyze how “violent love,” as Richard of St Victor calls it, harnesses the concept of lovesickness, in order to show how specific, historical constructions of the body inform and produce an incarnational theology that defines the relation of humanity to an embodied Christ. Such a Christian notion of desire that is embodied in both the Christian and in Christ, lovesick for one another, offers an alternate history of Christianity’s fraught relations to bodies, gender, and desire.
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