Draw near to the souls of thy people, O God, that like thy servant Mechthild we may yearn to know thee ever more, just as we are known intimately by thee, who knowest each one of us better than we can know ourselves. All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God now and for ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018.
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MECHTILD OF MAGDEBURG
MYSTIC, c. 1282
Definite biographical information about Mechthild is scarce; what is known of her life comes largely from scattered hints in her work. In 1230 she left her home and “renounced worldly honour and worldly riches”to become a Beguine at Magdeburg. There, like Hadewijch of Antwerp, she seems to have exercised a position of authority in a Beguine community. In Magdeburg she became acquainted with the Dominicans and became a Dominican tertiary. It was her Dominican confessor, Henry of Halle, who encouraged and helped Mechthild to compose The Flowing Light.
Her criticism of church dignitaries, religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. With advancing age, she was not only alone, and the object of much criticism but she also became blind. Around 1272, she joined the Cistercian nunnery at Helfta, who offered her protection and support in the final years of her life, and where she finished writing down the contents of the many divine revelations she had experienced.
Mechthild’s writings are formed of the seven books that constitute Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), which was composed between 1250 and 1280.
What is unusual about her writings is that she composed her work in middle low German at a time when most wisdom literature was composed in Latin. Thus she is remembered as an early proponent and popularizer of German as a language worthy of the divine and holy. Mechthild’s writing is exuberant and emotional: her descriptions of her visions are filled with passion.
While her work was translated into Latin during her lifetime, her work was largely forgotten by the 15th century, but was rediscovered in the late 19th century. Her work has been increasingly studied, both for its academic interest and as a work of devotional literature.
It is unclear when Mechthild died. 1282 is a commonly cited date, but some scholars believe she lived into the 1290s.
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