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Sacrifice and Delight in the Mystical Theologies of Anna Maria van Schurman and Madame Jeanne Guyon.

Sacrifice and Delight in the Mystical Theologies of Anna Maria van Schurman and Madame Jeanne Guyon. By Bo Karen Lee. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2014. Pp. xi + 250. $29.

Lee has written a lucid, critical, and theologically sophisticated overview and rehabilitation of the thought and spirituality of two neglected mystics. Both Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717), a somewhat known and controversial Roman Catholic, and Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), a virtually unknown and provocative Dutch Calvinist, argued that mystical annihilation through radical self-abnegation--emphases their contemporaries found pathological and L. deems problematic--is not only the path to finding one's true self but also the secret to the deepest possible delight in God. In L.'s view, what makes these figures unique is the way by which they coupled self-denial with pleasure and as ultimately life-giving. Both had become God's apostolic brides.

Schurman enjoyed the distinction of being Europe's first female university student and the most renowned woman theologian of the 17th-century Netherlands. Because of her rejection of the sterile academic theology of Protestant Scholasticism (which she had mastered and continued to use against opponents) and of her joining the Labadist cult to focus on true theology, that is, a deeply felt experiential knowledge of Christ and God, she fell into disfavor in Calvinist circles, yet remained influential, especially among German Pietists and beyond.

Guyon was neither a trained academician nor a lover of books but had certainly imbibed from mystical authors respected in her day. However, she claimed that her teachings flowed from the illumination of the Holy Spirit alone. Her writings attempted to teach everyone, without distinction, the true way of knowing God, with an emphasis on self-annihilation as the key to intimate prayer. L. correctly understands that her language is erratic, extreme, and difficult to digest. For example, her commentary on the Song of Songs focused on becoming a dead bride to be loved by the bloody bridegroom of death--for which she was charged with teaching spiritual necrophilia. Condemned by the Catholic Church and jailed in the Bastille before being exiled, she nevertheless maintained a loyal following and remained influential, especially in non-Catholic circles.

Especially impressive are the perceptive questions L. asks of these figures. One example: Did Guyon ascribe more to the bride of Christ than the tradition does to Christ himself? Confusing, however, is the imprecise use of the terms "pleasure," "joy," "bliss," "intimacy," "delights," and "happiness" by both L. and the two mystics. Yet L.'s translations of two Schuman letters to Jacob Johann Schutz (one of the founders of Lutheran Pietism), selections from her important work, Eukleria, excellent illustrative quotations, and meaty footnotes are all useful. I look forward to L.'s forthcoming translation of a series of unpublished letters between Schurman and Pierre Poiret, a prominent French mystic, with whom Guyon also corresponded.

DOI: 10.1177/0040563915619978

Harvey D. Egan, S.J.

Boston College

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Author:Egan, Harvey D.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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