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Interdisciplinarity in Teaching Medieval Mysticism: the Case of Angela of Foligno

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

Catherine M. Mooney
Weston Jesuit School of Theology


This essay addresses two related challenges facing educators who teach about medieval saints, mystics, and their texts. The first is how to relate to the theologies and spiritualities of people who inhabited cultures radically distinct from the modern and postmodern periods. The second regards the contemporary tendency to evaluate medieval believers in terms of modernist intellectual frameworks, most notably clinical psychological categories. A case study approaching the medieval mystic Angela of Foligno from three disciplinary points of view—clinical psychology, historical theology, and cultural history—illustrates how educators might respond to students' penchant to privilege clinical psychology when considering medieval mystics and saints, and shows not only the complementarity of interdisciplinarity, but also its limitations.

Copyright © The College Theology Society 2007

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1 Ignacio Martín-Baró Fund for Mental Health and Human Rights. Information available from

2 Il libro della Beata Angela da Foligno (Edizione critica), ed. Thier, Ludger and Calufetti, Abele, 2d ed. (Grottaferrata [Rome]: Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, 1985)Google Scholar; Angela of Foligno: Complete Works, trans. Lachance, Paul (New York: Paulist, 1993).Google Scholar All translations are from the Lachance edition.

3 See especially, Complete Works, chaps. 1–3.

4 On Brother A.'s significant control over the Memorial, see Mooney, Catherine M., “The Authorial Role of Brother A. in the Composition of Angela of Foligno's Revelations,” in Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A Religious and Artistic Renaissance, ed. Matter, E. Ann and Coakley, John (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 3463.Google Scholar

5 For the scant medieval references to Angela, see Dalarun, Jacques, “Angèle de Foligno a-t-elle existé?,” in “Alla signorina”: Mélanges offerts à Noëlle de la Blanchardière (Rome: École française de Rome, 1995), 74Google Scholar; idem, “Introduction,” in Angèle de Foligno: Le dossier, ed. Barone, Giulia and Dalarun, Jacques (Rome: École française de Rome, 1999), 3.Google Scholar

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19 Mazzoni, Cristina M., “Feminism, Abjection, Transgression: Angela of Foligno and the Twentieth Century,” Mystics Quarterly 17 (1991): 6465Google Scholar; Meany, Mary Walsh, “Angela of Foligno: Destructuring and Restructuring of Identity,” in Divine Representations: Postmodernism and Spirituality, ed. Astell, Ann W. (New York: Paulist, 1994), 4762.Google Scholar

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29 The classic work, which makes the case too strongly, is Delumeau, Jean, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries, trans. Nicholson, Eric (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990).Google Scholar

30 Canon 21, in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols., ed. Tanner, Norman P. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 1:245Google Scholar; and see Kramer, Susan R., “‘We Speak to God with our Thoughts’: Abelard and the Implications of Private Communication with God,” Church History 69 (2000): 1823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar A possible chronology of Angela's life has been proposed by Ferré, Martin-Jean, “Les principales dates de la vie d'Angèle de Foligno,” Revue d'histoire franciscaine 2 (1925): 2133Google Scholar; and see Dalarun's, critique, “Angèle de Foligno a-t-elle existé?,” in Mélanges offerts à Noëlle de la Blanchardière, 6066.Google Scholar

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33 See DH 856. It is worth noting that this council did not refer to purgatory as a place. A useful work on the history and doctrine of purgatory is Goff, Jacques Le, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Goldhammer, Arthur (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).Google Scholar

34 It bears repeating that Brother A. played an important role in molding Angela's story. Subsequent editions and translations of the Book have sometimes embellished Angela's sinfulness; Mooney, , “The Changing Fortunes of Angela of Foligno,” in History in the Comic Mode, 5667.Google Scholar On men's fashioning of women's stories, see Caroline Bynum, Walker, “Women's Stories, Women's Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner's Theory of Liminality,” in Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1991)Google Scholar; Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Mooney, Catherine M. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Coakley, John W., Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), esp. 111–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35 See, for example, his Testament, The Earlier Rule, and the two versions of his Letter to the Faithful, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1. Thomas of Celano, Bonaventure, and other biographers recount Francis's frequent examples of humility and penance; see Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vols. 1–2.

36 Complete Works, 124.

37 Bynum, , Holy Feast and Holy Fast, 294–96.Google Scholar

38 Lachance, , Complete Works, 5578.Google Scholar It is worth noting that Christ's pain and suffering receive more attention in some modern theologies, such as liberation theologies.

39 Complete Works, 179.

40 Complete Works, 126.

41 Chenu, Marie-Dominique, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West, trans. Taylor, Jerome and Little, Lester K. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968)Google Scholar; Southern, R.W., Medieval Humanism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1970), 2960.Google Scholar See also Otten, Willemien, From Paradise to Paradigm: A Study of Twelfth-Century Humanism (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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45 Vauchez, André, “Saints admirables et saints imitables: Les fonctions de l'hagiographie ont-elles changé aux derniers siècles du Moyen Âge?” in Les fonctions des saints dans le monde occidentale (IIIe–XIIIe siècle) (Rome: École française de Rome, 1991), 161–72Google Scholar; also in Vauchez, , Saints, prophètes et visionnaires: Le pouvoir surnaturel au Moyen Age (Paris: Albin Michel, 1999).Google Scholar

46 There are clear indications that Angela's sanctity was not universally accepted and that she had detractors; e.g. Complete Works, 150; Ubertino of Casale, Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu (Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1961), 5.Google Scholar

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48 Ubertino of Casale, Arbor vitae, 5.Google Scholar On Ubertino, see Burr, David, The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001)Google Scholar, passim.

49 Complete Works, 123.

50 Delooz, Pierre, Sociologie et canonisations (Liège: Faculté de Droit, 1969), 7Google Scholar; see also idem, “Toward a Sociological Study of Canonized Sainthood in the Catholic Church,” in Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore, and History, ed. Wilson, Stephen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 189216, esp. 194.Google Scholar

51 Kleinberg, Aviad, Prophets in their Own Country: Living Saints and the Making of Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), chap. 2.Google Scholar

52 Thompson, Augustine, Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes: 1125–01325 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Park, 2005), 179–81.Google Scholar Bishops held their ground in papal canonizations, on the other hand, constituting over a third of all saints through the thirteenth century and then beginning to fall off somewhat in the fourteenth century; Vauchez, André, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, trans. Birrell, Jean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 256–60.Google Scholar

53 Of twenty-three women saints in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Tuscany and Umbria for whom there are relatively early sources, six, including Angela, had married, and another unmarried woman had taken a lover; see Mooney, Catherine M., “Nuns, Tertiaries, and Quasi-Religious: The Religious Identities of Late Medieval Holy Women,” Medieval Feminist Forum 42 (2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

54 On the living saints of communal Italy, see Donald Weinstein and Bell, Rudolph M., Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000–1700 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), 169–79Google Scholar; see also Kleinberg, Prophets in their Own Country, esp. chap. 1. On lay saints in Italy, see Vauchez, André, The Laity in the Middle Ages: Religious Beliefs and Devotional Practices, ed. Bornstein, Daniel E.; trans. Schneider, Margery J. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), 5172Google Scholar; idem, Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, 199–212.

55 Mooney, , “The Authorial Role of Brother A.,” in Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy, 3463.Google Scholar

56 Mooney, Catherine M., “Voice, Gender, and the Portrayal of Sanctity,” in Gendered Voices, 115Google Scholar; see also chaps. 2–6, 8–9 for specific case studies of female saints and their male advocates, as well as Coakley, Women, Men, and Spiritual Power.

57 Complete Works, 201. On terminology for the spiritual Franciscans, see Burr, , Spiritual Franciscans, vii–x.Google Scholar

58 E.g., Vauchez, , Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages, 76Google Scholar, who also suggests that Angela's modest social origins might have contributed to this failure since the papacy tended to favor higher status lay saints such a kings and princes (266). Burr, , Spiritual Franciscans, 334–46Google Scholar, presents a nuanced discussion of scholarly views and evidence regarding Angela's proximity to the spirituals. See also Brufani, Stefano, “Angela da Foligno e gli Spirituali,” in Angela da Foligno terziara francescana, ed. Menestò, Enrico (Spoleto: Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo, 1992), pp. 83104Google Scholar; Guarnieri, Romana, “Santa Angela? Angela, Ubertino e lo spiritualismo francescano: Prime ipotesi sulla Peroratio,” in Angèle de Foligno: Le dossier, 203265.Google Scholar

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60 Lachance, , Complete Works, 5578Google Scholar; Lachance also notes the trinitarian aspect of Angela's spirituality.

61 Meany, , “Angela of Foligno: Destructuring and Restructuring of Identity,” in Divine Representations, 4762.Google Scholar

62 Weinstein, and Bell, , Saints and Society, 220, 228–29.Google Scholar

63 Caciola, Nancy, “Mystics, Demoniacs, and the Physiology of Spirit Possession in Medieval Europe,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 42 (2000): 268306CrossRefGoogle Scholar, stresses the preponderant role of hagiographers in promoting women mystics who, she contends, may have had relatively small followings among ordinary Christians.

64 For examples of cultural psychological approaches that shed light on the social origins, development, and meaning of mental suffering, see Kleinman, Arthur, The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition (New York: Basic Books, 1988)Google Scholar; and Swartz, Leslie, Culture and Mental Health: A Southern African View (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1998).Google Scholar

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