Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Richard Kieckhefer's "The Mystical Presence of Christ"

Richard Kieckhefer is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies with a joint appointment in the Department of History at Northwestern University. His books include Unquiet Souls, Magic in the Middle Ages, Theology in Stone, and European Witch Trials.

Kieckhefer applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Mystical Presence of Christ: The Exceptional and the Ordinary in Late Medieval Religion, reported the following:
It would never have occurred to me, but page 99 of my book actually does showcase several key themes in my book. The medieval figure highlighted on that page is Dorothea of Montau, and of the many individuals discussed in the book she is the one who comes up most often. She is featured prominently in several chapters, and then there is an entire chapter about her toward the end of the book. She is particularly useful for the connection between ordinary and exceptional experience: the accounts of her life depict her as interacting with a rather imperious Christ in the most ordinary of domestic and devotional settings, but also as enraptured and indeed tormented by Christ as a ferocious bridegroom. Page 99 furthermore opens up the fluid boundary between intuition and perception, which is crucial for the book. And one reads on that page about the importance for Dorothea of Christ’s divine nature. Historians have long assumed that late medieval Christians were fully absorbed in the humanity of Christ, but readers familiar with pages 1 to 98 will know that my book argues for the salience of Christ’s divine nature.

Just out of curiosity, I opened my book at random to a few others pages, to see if they would pass the “test” as well. Page 180 talks about Margery Kempe, another key figure, and discusses her experience of Christ’s Passion. A reader who began with that page might think of my book as arguing an all too familiar understanding of late medieval religion. Page 241 discusses the German “sister books” and the role of devotional art. That section is important, but again it does not really get at the key themes in my book. Page 286 brings us back to Dorothea of Montau and to her relationship with her confessor and hagiographer. Such female-male relations are crucial for an understanding of late medieval piety, and I do have some new things to say on the subject, but again I would not say that this page gets at the heart of my book.

So there we have it. There may still be other pages that work as well as page 99, but that page works better than the others I looked at.
Learn more about The Mystical Presence of Christ at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue