Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


The Last of the Beguines (Another Restless Soul) Dies

Marcella Pattyn was “the world’s last Beguine,” as her obituary in The Economist describes her. She died this month at the age of 92.

As you now know, I love reading the obituaries in The Economist. The latest issue features the life of another restless soul: she was the very last “Beguine,” Marcella Pattyn, whose passing wistfully marks the end of a whole way of life.

The Beguines were itinerant communities of women devoted to prayer, work and service that sprang up in Europe during the thirteenth century as an alternative to the two other roles offered women at that time (marriage or a life in orders). Beguines took orders from no one; they were not bound by vows; and their commitment to living a life of freedom in the Spirit was costly, often resulting in persecution and even death. As Pattyn’s obituary puts it, Beguines (unlike nuns) “could leave; they made their own rules, without male guidance; they were encouraged to study and read, and they were expected to earn their keep by working, especially in the booming cloth trade. They existed somewhere between the world and the cloister, in a state of autonomy which was highly unusual for medieval women and highly disturbing to medieval men.”

This idiosyncratic way of life on the margins of society contributed to great works of theology, such as The Mirror of Simple Souls (Marguerite Porete) and The Flowing Light of the Godhead (Mechtild of Magdeburg), which I had the privilege of reading and engaging centuries later in a women’s theology seminar at Emory last spring. So, as I raise my cup of joe this morning to Pattyn, and to Mechtild and Porete before her, I can’t help but feel a little sad to be bidding the Beguines an offiicial “goodbye.” At least some solace comes in knowing that their work will live on.



Previous Posts

Writing Sabbatical—and "The Departure of the Prodigal Son"
I'm sorry: my absenteeism at this intersection can be attributed to a number of things lately, the most pressing of which is my forthcoming book with author and Christian addiction specialist Jonathan Benz. The book (Prodigal Church or a version of it) is now officially under deadline and by April 1

posted 10:55:10am Jan. 26, 2015 | read full post »

Restless Soul Hall of Fame: Sister Corita Kent
Since NPR's recent segment, Sister Corita Kent has come to mind a few times this week as someone who d

posted 10:23:30am Jan. 16, 2015 | read full post »

"I Am Charlie Hebdo"
I struggle to know how to greet you after such a long hiatus from posting here—and in light of how much has happened in the world since Christmas

posted 4:42:48pm Jan. 12, 2015 | read full post »

A Christmas Homily
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. —Luke 2:6,7 The sheer physicality of this picture strikes me this Christmas. The ba

posted 1:54:50pm Dec. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Mental Health Break—Sprawl II
My favorite band these days is Arcade Fire, and I've featured the Canadian indie rock group before at this intersection between God and life. The lead singer studied Kirkegaard in college and their songs, like this one, are often subtle but brilliant critiques of the least aesthetically pleasing thi

posted 12:58:15pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.