Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Book of Margery Kempe

Translated by B. A. Windeatt
Medieval lit, written 1436-38
Considered to be the first English autobiography  

The second autobiography from The Well-Educated Mind is about an English mystic, Margery Kempe.  She married young and, after her first child, had a breakdown.  She asserted that demons taunted her and Jesus visited her, but it wasn't until after thirteen more children that she decided to spice up her spiritual life.  She took a vow of celibacy and went on a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem. 

Margery claimed to be present (in her thoughts) at Christ's birth and death and said she heard Jesus, Mary (His mother), the Apostles and Saints speaking to her.  During communion or upon hearing the Passion of the Christ she had hysterical crying fits.  She was often removed from church for her obvious disruptions, and many doubted her allegations and thought she was possessed by demons. However, there were some who believed her and were kind toward her. She also did good works for others and prayed incessantly for the sins of everyone, especially those who were against her.

This is the story about her sacrifice and suffering for the love of Jesus Christ.

Questions from TWEM:

First stage:  Who is the most important person in the writer's life? 

Jesus was genuinely the most important person in Margery Kempe's life.  Everything she did was for Him and to gain His love, pleasure, and acceptance.

Second stage:  What is the theme that ties the narrative together?

One theme was Margery's continuous effort to be closer to God, and the other was her constant suffering for Christ.   Any persecution was part of her penance, she believed.  

Third stage:  What have you brought away from this story?  Do you agree with what the writer has done?

Ironically, the medieval (Catholic) church did not want Margery teaching about God. They noted that Scripture prohibits women from preaching.  However, she was not preaching from a pulpit in a church; she was talking about God, using Scripture, and doing good works in Jesus' name. Also, Church authorities had a problem with people knowing Scripture, as she quotes the clerics, 

'Ah, sir,' said the clerics, 'here we know that she has a devil in her, for she speaks of the Gospel.'
She was met with detractors, telling her,
'Woman, give up this life that you lead, and go and spin, and card wool, as other women do, and do not suffer so much shame and so much unhappiness.'
The Church was suspicious of anyone doing anything outside of the Church, without its permission or authority.  Margery was rebuked for confessing her sins directly to God and doing penance on her own.

Angels and Demons
Other than that, I do not agree with the writer because her theology is off.  For example, 

1. Margery's prayer for celibacy in marriage is a contradiction.  Scripture says: 
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:  It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor. 7:1-5).
According to Margery, God made her husband suffer in his natural yearning for her.  (Now, in her defense, after fourteen kids, I'd want my own room, too; but I don't think that was her purpose for celibacy.  I think she longed to be singularly intimate with Christ alone.)  

Later, when she must care for her ailing husband, she complains that she almost hates the work because it takes time away from her contemplations of Jesus.  

2. I have a difficult time with visions of, prayer to, conversations with, and worship of Mary.  According to Scripture, Mary says,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:47-48).
Mary refers to God as her Savior because even she knew she needed a Savior.  She was never equal with God.  

3. We cannot talk to the dead.  Mary, the Saints, the Apostles - though believers in Christ - are all dead and cannot hear or talk to the living.  To believe that Margery received revelation from the dead is unbelievable and suspicious.   Scripture says, 
Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. (Lev. 19:31) When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  (Is. 8:19)
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus.  (1 Tim 2:5)
But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers. In the end they will get every bit of punishment their wicked deeds deserve.  (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
In the Bible, when anyone sought to contact the dead, they were always met with disaster, like Saul.  

4. There is no purgatory!  Margery claimed that God or Jesus spoke to her about purgatory; but the debt for sin was paid by Christ, once and for all. There is nowhere in Scripture to support another place for paying your debt.  If purgatory is real, then Christ's sacrifice was not enough.

5. Works! Sacrifices! Suffering!  Poor Margery worked and sacrificed to please God - giving up her marriage, going on a dangerous journey, suffering for the sins of others, making a spectacle of herself instead of exercising restraint and self-control.   She believed her good works, suffering persecution, and sacrificing everything gained her Savior's love and added to her merit.  And yet, after all of that crying and affliction, I get the impression that she was still without peace.  

Christ's death is a free gift for all who repent and trust in Him.  We cannot do anything ourselves to gain favor or merit with God or to earn Jesus' love.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Kempe and her demons


Cleo said...

I like how you focussed on both the positive and negative points that you took away from the book. I'm still struggling through it. In fact, I've misplaced it for the last few days and was happy to do so, but I know I must get back to it. I am so excited to be moving on to Montaigne!

Ruth said...

It was not easy to take the good with the bad. This woman annoyed me.

And you misplaced your book? I'm cracking up. I should have done that.

I am curious about moving on to Montaigne but will wait until everyone (on Goodreads) is done with Kempe. I won't be home until 5th or 6th anyway.

Jillian said...

I've read about half of Montaigne. Very calming for my wild mind! :)

Jillian said...

This book sounds really interesting as a look at the life of a woman back then.

o said...

This is a great post - this book's on my TBR list, and I'm thinking of reading it very soon, so this was a big help! I'm really looking forward to it :)

Ruth said...

All that this woman did on her journey was outside of the common place for women of her time. She was met with resistance from men, women, the Church, and the community, though she never quit.

Also, her story definitely has the feel of Joan of Arc.

Ruth said...

I will be interested to read your take on it.

Cleo said...

Ruth, is there a specific instance where Margery prays to Mary? I've been looking for them, but honestly this book is not exactly riveting so I may have missed them …..

Ruth said...

She definitely hears Mary speaking to her, and I believe on several occasions Kempe asks questions of Mary, and I remember at least one time she asks Mary to pray for her. But I don't have the book with me. When I get home, I'll look up some passages. But the fact that she is communicating with Mary is why I pointed out the "talking to the dead" issue that really bothers me.

Cleo said...

Okay, I just finished and I found where she prays to her at the end. Let me think about this. I have some comments brewing in my head but I need to organize them before putting them into words.

I actually ended up liking this book much more at the end than at the beginning and much more than I ever thought I would. I'll have to compile my review and see if I can explain why. :-Z