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The 
Privileging
 of 
Visio
 over
 Vox 
in
 the 
Mystical
 Experiences
 of
 Hildegard 
of 
Bingen 
and
 Joan
 of
 Arc

The 
Privileging
 of 
Visio
 over
 Vox 
in
 the 
Mystical
 Experiences
 of
 Hildegard 
of 
Bingen 
and
 Joan
 of
 Arc

By Anita
 Obermeier
 and
 Rebecca 
Kennison

Mystics
 Quarterly
, Vol. 23
 (1997)

Introduction: Even
 though
 medieval
 women
 mystics
 have
 enjoyed
 increased
 attention
 in
 recent
 scholarly
 discussion, 
a
 topic
 that
 still
 has
 not
 been
 tackled
 is
 the
 possible
 difference
 between
 seeing
 a
 vision
 and
 hearing
 a
 voice
 during
 a
 mystical
 experience
 and
 the
 ramifications
 of
 this
 difference 
in
 the
 context 
of
 medieval
 text 
production
 and 
in
 the
 status
 of
 mystics
 as
 authors.
 When
 a
 mystic
 relates
 a
 mystical
 experience,
 she
 inevitably
 creates
 a 
text 
and
 becomes
 an 
author
. 
In 
the 
Christian
 Middle
 Ages,
 medieval
 text
 creation
 hinged
 on authority
 and
 authorization,
 as
 an
 imitation 
of
 the 
creative
 power 
of 
God,
 the 
Master 
Author 
and 
the 
Logos 
(Word) 
itself,
 and
 thus 
has
 religious
 consequences
 for 
an 
aspiring 
author
. 
Bernard
 McGinn
 points
 to
 this
 logo centrality
 of
 medieval
 writing:
 “Jesus
 the
 preacher
 of
 the
 message
 became
 Jesus
 the 
preached
 message 
and
soon
 Jesus 
the 
written 
message,
 as
 elements
 of
 his
 preaching
 and
 the
 stories
 about
 him,
 especially
 the
 account
 of
 his
 sacrificial 
death
 and 
rising,
 were 
fixed
 in 
written 
form”.

Mystics, 
however,
 not 
only 
imitate 
the 
creative
 power 
of 
God,
 but 
also 
claim
 to 
deliver
 His
 messages.
 Their
 stake
 in
 authorship
 is
 thus
 doubled,
 and
 for
 female
 medieval
 mystics,
 text 
production 
proved
 to
 be
 an 
especially 
ambivalent
 endeavor.
 On
 the
 one
 hand,
 as
 Elizabeth 
Alvilda
 Petroff
 notes,
 the 
“women
 writers
 of 
mystical 
literature . . .
 lacked 
the 
authority, 
and 
the
 authoritative
 language,
 to 
communicate
 spiritual 
truths”. 
Because
 of 
rampant
 medieval 
misogyny,
 female
 claims
 to
 authorship 
were
 especially 
suspect, 
as 
women
 were 
often 
associated
 with 
evil. 
This 
association
 carried
 over
 from
 antiquity 
and
 found
 fertile 
ground 
in
 the 
minds 
of
 the 
church
 fathers
 who
 villainized 
Eve’s 
role 
in
 the 
fall
.

Thus,
 backed
 by
 the
 Pauline
 rule
 on
 women’s
 ecclesiastical
 silence,
 Jean
 Gerson’s
 pronouncement
 on
 Bridget
 of
 Sweden
 at
 the
 Council
 of
 Constance
 echoes
 the
 accepted
 medieval
 norm:
 “All
 words 
and 
works 
of 
women 
must
be 
held 
suspect”
.
 On 
the 
other 
hand,
 Petroff 
claims,
 “[v]isions 
led 
women
 to 
the 
acquisition 
of
power 
in
 the
 world
 while
 affirming
 their
 knowledge
 of
 themselves
 as
 women.
 Visions
 were
 a
 socially
 sanctioned
 activity
 that
 freed
 a
 woman
 from
 conventional
 female
 roles
 by
 identifying
 her
 as
 a
 religious
 figure
 .
 .
 .
 [and]
 an
 artist
”.
 But
 as
 the
 experiences
 of
 the
 twelfth‐century
 visionary
 Hildegard
 of
 Bingen
 and
 the
 fifteenth‐ century
 heroine
 Joan 
of 
Arc 
illustrate, 
not 
all 
women’s
visions,
 words,
 and
 works 
were
 created 
equally 
suspect
 or 
equally 
acceptable.

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