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Course
Dutch Mysticism





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Course about Christian spirituality
in a cultural-historical context



Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries

Hadewijch and John of Ruusbroec, their faith and way of thinking


Rozemarijn van Leeuwen
© 1999-2001



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About this course  Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries


The mystical writings of Hadewijch (13th century) and John of Ruusbroec (14th century) can rightfully be referred to as highlights of Dutch literature and Western spirituality. In this course these medieval religious texts will be read and explained from a cultural-historical context.

The visions, letters and treatises of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec give us an insight in their view on life, in their view on man and in their image of God. They both write, based on a personally lived faith and a surprising vision on religion, about key subjects like love, virtues, spiritual growth and the possibility of meeting God.

To understand their way of thinking, their belief, their ideals and used images, this course will thoroughly pay attention to the medieval faith and way of thinking. Especially the medieval cosmology and the associated idea of a micro-cosmos give meaning to visionary and mystical images and shed light on the thinking and believing of medieval mystics like Hadewijch and Ruusbroec.

Other cultural-historical topics that will be depicted as background include: the medieval culture and literature, the medieval view on man and world view, the ideal of poverty and the movement of the beguines, the position of women within church and society, the inquisition and the biography of Hadewijch and Ruusbroec. As comparison we also will read fragments of christian mystics like Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Ávila, Bernard of Clairvaux, Simone Weil and others.



Follow the whole course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries online:

    first lesson hour (cultural-historical background) second lesson hour (reading texts)
  1 The Middle Ages What is mysticism?
  2 The medieval world view Hadewijch: vision and mysticism
  3 Hadewijch: glimpse of her life Hadewijch: roads towards God
  4 Women in the Middle Ages Hadewijch: bridal mysticism
  5 Ruusbroec: course of his life Ruusbroec: Active Life
  6 The horrible 14th century Ruusbroec: Inward Life
  7 Image and resemblance of God Ruusbroec: To meet Him



original Dutch course


The translated course about Hadewijch and Ruusbroec
has been published online in 2021-2022
including medieval fragments, pictures and additions.




hildegard visions miniature 1 scivias

Miniature of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). She's writing down the visions that she's seeing (depicted as flames into her head) on a wax tablet. Volmar, the monk at the right side, later copies these in a parchment manuscript.

(First miniature in the Scivias)




Layout and approach of the course Medieval Dutch Mysticism


The course Medieval Dutch Mysticism consists of seven lectures: the first is an introduction, three are about Hadewijch and three about Ruusbroec. In the hour before the break, we will explore the cultural-historical context in which these medieval mystical texts arose and functioned. In the hour after the break we will read and clarify some of the medieval writings of Hadewijch and John of Ruusbroec.

The approach of the course is cultural-historical. The texts will be read as historical texts, which have meaning within the medieval world view; wich assignable evolve out of religious convictions and ideals of that time; and which have functioned in the circumstances of their time. Of course we also extensively will pay attention to the religious content: what did Hadewijch and Ruusbroec try to express, what is their view on man, their view on God?

But this is not a course about religious questions - the question is: what was the value of the content for the public at that time? In short: we'll read these mystical texts from their cultural-historical context.

This course is constructed in a 'cumulative' way: concepts in the earlier lessons are more and more worked out in later lessons and the conclusions in the last lecture stem from reasonings that started in the first few lectures. After all, it was designed as a coherent course and not with loose internet pages in mind. So the line of thought as a whole will be (especially for those who aren't familiar with medieval mysticism) easier to follow from beginning to end, than by randomly browsing around.



Level of the course


This course was written for the second or third year in university.

Due to an easy introduction, the first lesson, the course can be taken without any foreknowledge of the Middle Ages or of mysticism.



Original Dutch course


•  This page in Dutch: Cursus Middeleeuwse mystiek, Hadewijch en Ruusbroec.



hadewijch poems first strophical poem

Hadewijch, first strophical poem
(Codex Gent UB 941, ca. 1350).
-click to magnify-




Follow the whole course Medieval Dutch Mysticism in the Low Countries online:

    first lesson hour (cultural-historical background) second lesson hour (reading texts)
  1 The Middle Ages What is mysticism?
  2 The medieval world view Hadewijch: vision and mysticism
  3 Hadewijch: glimpse of her life Hadewijch: roads towards God
  4 Women in the Middle Ages Hadewijch: bridal mysticism
  5 Ruusbroec: course of his life Ruusbroec: Active Life
  6 The horrible 14th century Ruusbroec: Inward Life
  7 Image and resemblance of God Ruusbroec: To meet Him




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