History ETDs


Donna E. Ray

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Despite the ineffability of the Holy Trinity, not to mention its logical impossibility—that the three persons of the Godhead are also one—many medieval thinkers tried hard to capture its essence and importance. Among the richest and most original medieval images of the Trinity were those produced by women visionaries. This is a comparative study of seven of these women—Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Hackeborn, Gertrude of Helfta, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Brabant, Julian of Norwich, and Christine de Pizan—and their visionary experiences, related through both word and image, of the Holy Trinity. While they were careful to claim doctrinal orthodoxy, these women produced visionary images of the Trinity that were unique, colorful, and diverse: the Holy Trinity might be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it might also include a mother or a sister. It might consist of three kinds of apples on one tree, three properties of stone, three bodily functions, three regal ladies, or a three-fold rainbow. Visionary women readily acknowledged the difficulty of representing the divine in a way that was neither reductionistic nor presumptuous. Juggling a diverse set of images, they skillfully expressed the inexhaustible mystery of God and the complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity. They gave insight as well into the ways that humans, created in the image of God, reflect the relationality, equality, and multiplicity of roles that inhere in Gods threeness. In their devotion to the Holy Trinity in its providential and salvific roles (the 'economic Trinity'), these women provide a powerful counterpoint to medieval academic preoccupation with the structure of God's inner life (the 'immanent Trinity'). In depicting the triune God as independent and exalted yet passionately involved in identity and community formation, these women produced a holistic theology of the Trinity. Thus they have an important place in the historical development of the doctrine of God, for both its theological and social implications. They may provide useful models as well in ongoing interpretations of Trinitarian doctrine.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

McLoughlin, Nancy

Second Committee Member

Obermeier, Anita

Third Committee Member

Slaughter, Jane



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