Abigail Greff

Consent and Mystical Marriage in the Late Middle English Prose Life of St. Katherine and John Capgrave’s The Life of St. Katherine

  • Religious studies
  • History

ABSTRACT Many studies of mystical marriage depend upon the assertion that writers and readers agreed upon its desirability and usefulness as a devotional paradigm for medieval women. This article challenges the assumption that mystical marriage held an unambiguously positive meaning for medieval audiences by offering a comparison of two Middle English accounts of St. Katherine of Alexandria’s vita: the prose Life (ca. 1420) and John Capgrave’s The Life of St. Katherine (ca. 1445). It argues that these authors use the motif of mystical marriage to opposing social and religious ends. While the former offers an idealized portrayal of Katherine’s marriage, Capgrave, perhaps responding to the concerns of his lay, female readership, instead uses the same episode to critique the efficacy of bridal imagery as a devotional tool. The article concludes by asserting that Capgrave, through his engagement with contemporary discourses surrounding consent, suggests that the concept of marriage to Christ contains problematic theological implications.

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