Hadewijch – Overwhelmed by Love

From a historical point of view, we do not know much about the 13th century beguine Hadewijch of Antwerp, except the fact that her name designates her birthplace. Fortunately, we have an important testimony of Hadewijch’s historical existence in the words of John of Leuuwen, the cook and disciple of the Dutch mystical writer John Ruysbroec who, a century after her death, wrote:

“We know of a saint and glorious woman called Hadewijch who was an authentic spiritual guide. The doctrine she expresses in her books is correct and inspired by God … but not useful for everyone, for many whose inner eye has not yet been opened by pure and silent love are not able to understand.”

The Words of Hadewijch

One Pentecost at dawn I had a vision. Matins were being sung in the church and I was there. And my heart and my veins and all my limbs trembled and shuddered with desire. And I was in such a state as I had been so many times before, so passionate and so terribly unnerved that I thought I should not satisfy my Lover and my Lover not fully gratify me, then I would have to desire while dying and die while desiring. At that time I was so terribly unnerved with passionate love and in such pain that I imagined all my limbs breaking one by one and all my veins were separately in tortuous pain. The state of desire in which I then was cannot be expressed by any words or any person that I know. And even that which I could say of it would be incomprehensible to all who hadn’t confessed this love by means of acts of passion and who were not known by Love. This much I can say about it: I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savour in the fullest extent–to fulfil his humanity blissfully with mine and to experience mine therein, and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly: to be purely and exclusively and completely virtuous in every virtue. And to that end I wished, inside me, that he would satisfy me with his Godhead in one spirit (1 Cor 6:17) and he shall be all he is without restraint. For above all gifts I could choose, I choose that I may give satisfaction in all great sufferings. For that is what it means to satisfy completely: to grow to being god with God. For it is suffering and pain, sorrow and being in great new grieving, and letting this all come and go without grief, and to taste nothing of it but sweet love and embraces and kisses. Thus I desired that God should be with me so that I should be fulfilled together with him.”
“Where the abyss of his wisdom is, he will teach you what he is, and with what wondrous sweetness the loved one and the Beloved dwell one in the other, and how they penetrate each other in such a way that neither of the two distinguishes himself from the other. But they abide in one another in fruition, mouth in mouth, heart in heart, body in body, and soul in soul, while one sweet divine nature flows through them both and being in each other they are both one and they remain completely one – yes, and remain so forever.” (Letter 9)
“We have not yet become what we are.” (Letter 6)
“Understand the deepest essence of your soul, what ‘soul’ is…
Soul is a being that can be beheld by God and by which again God can be beheld.” (Letter 18)
Give yourself to God to become what He is.” (Letter 2)
“When March begins, we see
All being live again
And all plants spring up
And in a short time turn green.
It is the same with longing,
Particularly that of the true lover (of God).” (PS. 6)
… “They who come to Love’s new school
With new love,
… Love shall cause them to ascend
To Love’s highest mystery.” (PS. 7)
“Lo! the day of love is dawning
When men will never fear pain for Love’s sake.”
“He who wants to remain faithful to Love must enter still living into death.” (PC. 10)
“Love is ever new, it causes the soul at all times to begin out of a new death.” (PS. 14)
“If you wish to follow your being in which God created you, you should valiantly lay hold on the best part – I mean the great totality of God – as your own good.” (Letter 6)
For this, Hadewijch suggests a special technique (Letter 6):
“Love the Divinity not merely with devotion but with unspeakable desiresalways standing before the terrible and marvelous countenance in which Love reveals herself and engulfed all works.
When the soul is engulfed in God, and brought to nought…the soul becomes with Him all that He himself is.” (Letter 19)
“What has happened to me now? I have given away all that I am. I am not mine
Love has engulfed the substance of my spirit.” (PC. 16)
“To be reduced to nothingness in Love
Is the most desirable thing I know.
Fighting Love with longing,
Wholly without heart and without mind.
Thus spoke a soul in the liberty of God: I have understood all diversity in the pure Unity.
…I remained there standing above all things and I looked out above all things into the glory without end.”
“This power of sight has two eyes, love and reasonReason advances toward what God is, by means of what God is notLove sets aside what God is not and rejoices that it fails in what God is.”
“Since I was ten years old I have been overwhelmed by such intense love that I should have died if God had not given me other forms of strength than people ordinarily receive, and if he had not renewed my nature with his own Being.” (Letter 11)