Reading the Catholic Mystical Corpus in Seventeenth-Century England
Woods, Chance Brandon
As apostates from the English Church, Catholic converts in early modern England embodied opposition. Within the seventeenth-century context, I concentrate here on three particular writers who powerfully exemplified this phenomenon: Sir Toby Matthew (1577- 1655), Richard Crashaw (1612-1649), and Serenus Cressy (1605-1674). These specific converts shared a pronounced interest in mystical writings, especially those authored by the female mystics St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) and Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). The purpose of the present study is, first, to explicate the discursive correlation between the Catholic’s exile (i.e. his bodily dislocation) and his interest in mystical literature, and, second, to underscore the thematic importance of the body within this discursive relationship. My overarching contention is that the cultivation of mystical literature among these convert- writers supplied unique resources for resistance to Protestant negations of bodily religious practice. Mystics like Teresa and Julian claimed in their writings to have experienced divine revelations through affective sensual states of ecstasy and rapture. Matthew, Crashaw, and Cressy all oriented themselves around the mystics’ texts, and their tales of ecstatic devotion, in suggestive ways. Of the many characteristics of mystical literature, I argue that what appealed to these writers most was the prospect of envisioning the body as a locus of divine disclosure.