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Nobility And Annihilation in Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls.

By Joanne Maguire Robinson. SUNY Series in Western Esoteric Traditions. Albany: State University of New York, 2001. Pp. xvi + 178. $17.95.

Robinson offers an important perspective to the growing literature on Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls. She argues lucidly that Porete's speculative treatise is based on "an explicitly nongendered classification of souls into noble and non-noble, a hierarchy based on a God-given inborn spiritual status" (xii). An excellent overview of the rich complexity of the notion of nobility in the medieval context ushers the reader into the discussion. Her distinction between nobility of lineage and nobility of merit helps the reader to understand the multivalence of the term nobility which undergirds her brilliant analysis of its role in Porete's text.

This analysis proceeds throughout the discussion, but it is most fully developed in chapter 4. Nobility of lineage, "rooted in virtual existence in God," is the key to the core identity of the soul in Porete's treatise. This core identity of the soul's precreated virtual existence constitutes the God-given character of the nobility of the soul (103) which is the soul's capacity for annihilation of the will. The election of the soul in this God-given capacity is "confirmed in annihilation, the proof on earth that a soul has attained the repose and peace of eternal existence in the Trinity" (77). In this sentence R. points to a doctrine of election in the Mirror, but she does not pursue it. The idea of election in Porete's treatise poses some intriguing possibilities for further study.

This book's brevity is a testimony to R.'s clarity and precision--the text alone comes to 107 pages, followed by excellent endnotes, appendixes (the texts of condemnation), and a substantial bibliography. The book should be very satisfying for Porete scholars and might also serve the uninitiated as an excellent entry into the writing of an "outstanding thinker" (104).
Austin Presbyterian Theological
Seminary, Austin, Tex.
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Author:Babinsky, Ellen L.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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