Self-Knowledge, Abnegation, and Ful llment in Medieval Mysticism

In Ursula Renz (ed.), Self-Knowledge. Oxford University Press. pp. 131-145 (2016)
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Self-knowledge is a persistent—and paradoxical—theme in medieval mysticism, which portrays our ultimate goal as union with the divine. Union with God is often taken to involve a cognitive and/or volitional merging that requires the loss of a sense of self as distinct from the divine. Yet affective mysticism—which emphasizes the passion of the incarnate Christ and portrays physical and emotional mystical experiences as inherently valuable—was in fact the dominant tradition in the later Middle Ages. An examination of both the affective and apophatic traditions demonstrates that, in addition to constituting a necessary stage on the path toward union with the divine, self-knowledge in medieval mysticism was seen not just as something to be transcended, but (particularly in the works of female mystics) as a means of overcoming alienation from embodied existence.
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