God's Words, Women's Voices

God's Words, Women's Voices

The Discernment of Spirits in the Writing of Late-Medieval Women Visionaries

Rosalynn Voaden


York Medieval Press



An examination of awareness of the ecclesiastical doctrine of discretio spirituum, the means of testing whether visions were truly of divine origin, in the works of medieval women visionaries from Bridget of Sweden to Joan of Arc.
Awareness of the ecclesiastical doctrine of discretio spirituum (the means of testing whether visions were truly of divine origin) was vital for medieval women visionaries. Visions and prophecy offered medieval women one of the few pathways to the religious and, in some cases, the political life of their time, but were subject to stringent checks due to the combination of women (deceitful by nature) and deceiving visions. However, those women visionaries who conformed could effectively fulfil their divine mandate to communicate their revelations. This book explores discretio spirituum in the works of a number of female visionaries: they include St Bridget of Sweden, who was eager to present her experiences as impeccably orthodox and valid; Margery Kempe, whose ambivalent reception is shown to be due to her inconsistent conformity to the doctrine; and Marguerite Porete and Joan of Arc, whose deaths by burning at the stake demonstrate the severe consequences of their failure to conform, their visions being deemed of demonic origin.

Professor ROSALYNN VOADEN teaches in the Department of English at Arizona State University.


April 1999
216 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9780952973423
Format: Hardback
York Medieval Press
BISAC REL047000, REL033000
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A valuable and welcome contribution to an understanding of some of the imperatives in the religious lives of medieval women and the potential for female empowerment within the discourse of discretio spirituum. NOTES AND QUERIES
The doctrine of discernment of spirits - is this a genuine visionary experience, or a diabolical delusion? - is...the focus of the book, which explores the ways in which it both controlled and authorised the woman visionary... A fascinating and carefully focused study. MYSTICS QUARTERLY

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