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Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

German Languages and Literatures


James Poag, Robert Hegel, Fatemeh Keshavarz, Stephan Schindler, Lynne Tatlock, Gerhild Scholz Williams


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In the image of the bride, the power of Mechthild von Magdeburg's subjective, mystical insight into self and faith meets the meaning of her objective, intellectual understanding of theology, doctrine, and the world around her. This dissertation draws on theological philosophy to establish a theoretical framework from which to analyze Das flieende Licht der Gottheit. It argues that the bride functions not as a metaphor but rather as the work's unifying symbol. It discusses the differences between and cooperation of metaphor and symbol, analyzes theories of symbolism proposed by Rahner, Tillich, Ricoeur, Eliade, and Lonergan, and explores the connection between the "logic of symbols" and the dynamics of desire, which govern Mechthild's understanding of the soul's essence and ability to return to her divine origin. The logic of symbols opens a new perspective on the bride and integrates empirically illogical textual qualities that others have examined separately: Mechthild's switching between third- and first-person self-references, her integration of different temporal levels, her personal participation in salvation history, the basic tensions of her mysticism, her use of paradox, hyperbole, and metaphor, the dynamics propelling the soul from wretchedness into eminence, the wide-ranging connotations of her imagery, and the unifying dynamic essence of God and soul. Such enigmatic qualities typify the logic of symbols explored in this study. Following the theoretical groundwork, I analyze several passages of Das flieende Licht der Gottheit that focus on the bride, drawing in related passages for comparison. The main chapters examined include Mechthild's portrayal of the bride's creation (III.9), her depiction of multiple bridal identities and functions (I.22), and her tensive embrace of bridal identity, which encompasses both divine encounter and abandonment (IV.12). Finally, I discuss Mechthild's integration of protology, eschatology, and mystical union in bridal fulfillment (II.25). The textual analysis allows us to identify the narrative techniques Mechthild employs to enact the all-encompassing dynamics of bridal symbolism within her work. Her symbolic comprehension constitutes a connotative, integrative, teleological dynamic of desire, loving, and knowing, that harmonizes her understanding of self and human existence from its origins, through its trials, to the fulfillment of its potential.


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