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This excellent translation is an essential book for those researching late medieval spirituality, religious practices, and devotional exercises; and indeed for anyone teaching undergraduate courses on medieval mysticism. In it, Professor Newman offers us a vivid translation of the works of one of the lesser-studied figures of medieval religious life: Richard Methley OCarm.
It begins with an introduction by Professor Laura Saetveit Miles that is itself a marvel of compression. The life and times of Methley, a summary of scholarship on the texts, their manuscript contexts, and the specific thematic concerns of the author's oeuvre, are deftly and accessibly provided.
Following this are the texts themselves. Each one is a vivid translation of Methley's often rhapsodic and energetic latin. Newman must be commended for choosing to make the translation as accessible as possible. Some may find reason to quibble, citing anachronistic turns of phase (e.g. "Sugar daddy", 21), but I find this to be commendable. It makes the prose so much more lively and engaging, allowing the reader more immediate access to Methley's often complex style. In this respect it is particularly useful for teaching purposes, as undergraduates will find this a much more accessible edition.
Often, especially when teaching medieval mystics, Margery Kempe's highly personal style and tone get the lion's share of attention from undergraduates. With this translation, Methley is no less accessible, and becomes an almost essential companion text. Through this edition, we see the points of contact and departure between two minds intent upon God. In this fine translation, we have a rare glimpse into a report of mystical rapture. There is something beguilingly urgent and immediate to his work, yet at the same time analytical and evaluative. It is in this later regard that comparisons between Methley and Julian of Norwich will be most fruitful.
In a time when medieval studies is under increasing pressures to remain relevant, this kind of book helps enormously in teaching at all levels. The edition itself is helpfully divided into specific texts with footnotes that provide clarification and / or wider context to specific passages.
The edition begins with Methley's The School of Languishing Love, a complex text in which the author reflects upon his spiritual experiences. There is much discussion on affective states, mystical rapture, and even the medicinal aspects of spiritual experience. In it, Methley explores those aspects of the love of God that are the most demanding, articulating the pain and desire, the ache and ecstasy, he feels at the presence and absence of God. The deft translation allows us to appreciate the care and precision of Methley's writing, and offers a keen insight into the practice of contemplation itself. This text is a series of reflections on contemplation from a devout practitioner, and thus a window into how the people of the time thought of and about this particular spiritual exercise. As such it is a very engaging text, useful for all sorts of research into mystical contemplation, literature, and psychology. More broadly, Methley's engagement with different registers - medical, grammatical, and theological - make it a text that showcases the complexity of medieval religious writings. As stated, the translation is lively, and its marginal annotations are a real strength. It is of particular interest for those looking at mystical prayer, as it discusses it in a manner that echos the Cloud of Unknowing and its interest in the so-called seed-syllable prayer.
It is followed by A Devout Prayer on the Name of Jesus and on the Five Wounds. This is a very small text, and it would have been better presented as a parallel translation. Nevertheless it is presented here in clear and faithful manner.
The following text, The Bedroom of the beloved Beloved, is a complex meditation on sleep and wakefulness, love and languishing. It covers these themes with additional range, embracing the associated elements of health and being (60). As ever, the rhapsodic aspects of the text are preserved. A detailed section on prayer and devotion (69-73) recalls the work of Richard Rolle, and offers us a sort of dramatic dialogue of prayer and answer, of petition and pain. Medical matters are never far away, and we see clearly the fascinating analogy of composition and writing as a form of medical treatment. Newmann offers us a profound insight into the mind of Methley, his compositional style, and the rhetorical legitimations thereof.
The Refectory of Salvation is a more sober reflection on the complex, and often conflicting and confected, nature of spiritual arousal. Emotional states overlap and interweave in here in equal measure, offering us a profound account of a mind in rapture. The most arresting image, the heart crushed by love (97), charts a violent movement from sin as a weight to love and excessive desire as a force that shatters as well as saves. The mention of 'synderesis' gets a footnotes here, but no more. Perhaps a sort glossary at the back of key theological terms would have been useful - especially given the ability of this book to reach a student audience.
The final two texts, The Experience of Truth and To Hugh Hermit: An Epistle on Solitary Life Nowadays, round off the volume. The first showcases Methley's thoughts on the tradition and practise of the discretio spirituum. It is acutely self-reflexive, and shows a forensic care and preoccupation with the potential dangers of the spiritual life. Its level of diagnostic self-scrutiny makes it an essential text to read in relation to the discernment of spirits. The last text is, fittingly, a letter on how best to proceed in contemplation. In the mould of some of Rolle's epistles and other such letters about spiritual life, it acts as excellent coda to what is surely an impressive and exciting edition. I recommend it unreservedly.