Pursuing Partnership: Women Missing in Recorded Church History – Week 7

Women Missing in Church History: Filling Out the Historical Record – Week 7
Beguines and Mystics
Based on Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski/Stasson

(Used by permission: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021)

A Taste of Chapter 5: Beguines and Mystics
By Rebecca Hopkins  www.rebeccahopkins.org

Life was finally looking up in medieval Europe.

In the 11th to 13th centuries, farming was getting easier. Invasions had gone down. Towns were growing wealthier.[1]

But the disparity between the rich and poor was growing. And many Christian women wanted a way to serve the poor, escape the trappings of wealth and live together in communities of both rich and poor.[2]

So, some of them formed communities of women called beguines. It was the only female-created movement that was completely separate from male leadership. And it was focused on serving and suffering with others with the goal of becoming more like Christ.[3]

University professor Leanne Dzubinski and historian Anneke Stasson have unearthed little-known women to show their influence in the church and missions throughout history. They tell about the beguines in chapter 5 of their book, “Women in the Mission of the Church.”

“Rich women were willing to surrender their status and move in with poor women and women who had formerly worked as prostitutes,” the authors wrote. “The surrounding townspeople not only supported these communities but actually celebrated these women…Even more remarkable, the church establishment didn’t immediately forbid this organic spirituality.”[4]

These women valued the poor, believing God considered them special. They focused on both spiritual and physical ailments. They became examples to others. And they wrote devotional materials in the common language of Latin—the first such religious literature for lay people. [5]

One thing that separated them from nuns was that they were not cloistered in a convent, but moved in their communities. Eventually, though, some monks and priests changed that. They criticized beguines for not following typical standards for religious communities, including having too much freedom to move in society. And they resented the beguine’s spiritual influence. [6]

The forced claustration gave the women more resources such as buildings and funds and protection from being burned at the stake as heretics. But it didn’t allow the women to remain in poverty themselves—which was important to them.[7]

As these communities of women were losing their authority and freedom, some of them had mystical visions of Christ that ultimately shaped how the church understood the humanity of Jesus. The community also began to seek their advice, giving their community an alternate way to connect with God than through male priests.[8]

“Mysticism in this period was a predominantly female phenomenon and became an important avenue for women’s religious leadership,” the authors wrote. “It enabled women to serve as counselors, teachers, mediators and theologians. Moreover, the theological shift in emphasis from Christ’s kingship to his bodily humanity was stimulated in large part by women’s visions of the Eucharist, the Christ child and the man Jesus.”[9]

[1] Leanne Dzubinski, Anneke Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 108.

[2] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 108-109.

[3] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 107.

[4] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 108.

[5] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 109-111.

[6] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 111-112.

[7] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 113.

[8] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 114-117.

[9] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 122.