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Bibliotherapy

A Little Antoinette Bourignon Sampler: Part 1- Introductory texts

Posthumous portrait of Antoinette Bourignon, engraved by Batterby & Son for the ‘Light of the World’ 1786 abridged edition, edited by Joseph Whittingham Salmon for the Society for Promotion of the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem (a.k.a. The Swedenborgian Society) in London, printed by R. Hindmarsh. The portrait’s artwork was originally made by Pierre Poiret.

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Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is part 1 of planned series devoted to Antoinette Bourignon de la Porte to honor her memory and bring back an echo of her singular voice with here an excerpt in part I chapter 1 from ‘The Light of the World‘, perhaps the most influential of the published accounts about her.

The preceding introduction is composed of two parts: the first part gives us a historical, religious & philosophical context to the life of Antoinette Bourignon and is taken from Serge Hutin’s precious work, ‘Les Disciples Anglais de Jacob Boehme‘, published by Editions Denoël in 1960, excerpted from page 26 to 29. The second part of the introduction gives us another scholar’s opinion about Antoinette Bourignon’s relevance to the field of ideas of our contemporary society, and is taken from Marthe van der Does, in her seminal, ‘Antoinette Bourignon, sa vie & son oeuvre‘, published in 1974 by the Holland University Press. Excerpted from page 208 of the book’s concluding chapter.

Part 2 of this planned sampler series will bring foundational texts that will delineate what a distinct and peculiar voice Antoinette Bourignon has, originating from a time when women were not free, of their bodies, of their emotions and of their minds. She is more than ever relevant in our epoch, as we are witnessing dire regressions on basic human rights alongside a complete blindness to ethics and kindness, the violent and corrupt being systematically praised and rewarded.

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Pierre Poiret Naudé (15 April 1646 – 21 May 1719) was a prominent French mystic and a Christian philosopher. He was born in Metz and died in Rijnsburg. Illustration from Roth-Scholtz’s “Icones virorum omnium ordinum eruditione meritorum, etc,.” (Nuremberg, 1725).

Introduction-Part 1-Serge Hutin in 1960

With Pierre Poiret and Mademoiselle Bourignon, we leave ‘proper boehmism per se‘. The influence of the quietist movement had been upon these two persons stronger than that of Jacob Boehme’s theosophy. But, we could not not mention them due to the great diffusion of their books in Great Britain, and especially among Jacob Boehme’s English disciples.

Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) born in Metz, was  a Calvinist pastor who had been enthusiastic very early about the philosophy of Rene Descartes. He held his ministry in Heidelberg in 1668 and then in Deux-Ponts in 1672. The reading of books from Tauler, Thomas a Kempis, and especially of Antoinette Bourignon converted him to mysticism. Chased away from the Palatinate by war, he took refuge in Amsterdam where he stayed a few months in 1676. He then left for Hamburg to actually meet Antoinette Bourignon, where he stayed with her and her entourage for eight years, submerged in the study of the mystical and theosophical authors. Persecuted by the local ecclesiastic authorities, he was obliged to settle in Holland, in Reynsburg (near Leiden), where he would die many years later in 1719.

Pierre Poiret is especially remembered for having edited the complete works of Madame Guyon and of Antoinette Bourignon, his two great inspirations. But if he was mainly influenced by quietism, he had been reading Jacob Boehme a lot. His influence was to be great all throughout Europe and he will be read assiduously by the ‘Philadelphians’ (Jane Lead, John Pordage, Thomas Bromley, Richard Roach, Francis Lee, etc…) and William Law.

If his greatest claim to fame lies in his revelation to the religious public of two important mystical figures of the XVII th century, he was, himself, quite an original theosopher, whose system-a great fresco of the Creation, of the Fall, and of the Redemption of the World-isn’t short of greatness.

Antoinette Bourignon, born in Lille, was first a devoted Catholic; but she was convinced to be directly illuminated by God and that she was ‘the light of the World‘, sent to reform the temporal and spiritual realities. She started to share her personal intuitions: Condemning all external religious organizations, she ended by accepting nothing but the internal illumination of the soul.

Antoinette Bourignon superimpose to the Boehmist theosophy her own experiences of a clear quietist nature and some original speculations. Due to her negation of the trinitarian dogma, she announces Swedenborg: alike him, she sees in God, not three persons, but one Unique person endowed with three ‘operations’, of three successive manifestations. Her theory of the birth of the world is borrowed from Jacob Boehme.

Antoinette Bourignon eagerly develops the Boehmist notion of Adam original Androgyny state:

There was in his belly a vessel where small eggs were born, and another vessel full of a liquor that were making the eggs fertile. And when Man was heated by the love of his God, his desire that there would be with him other creatures to praise, to love and to adore His great majesty together, would spread this love for God upon these eggs with unconceivable delights: And an egg being fertilized would come out and another perfect man would be born. This is how there will be a holy and immortal generation much unlike the generation sin has initiated by the mean of a woman, who was formed by God from the side of Adam where the eggs were and that women still have, according to the new discoveries of anatomy.’

The matrix was torn from Adam during the re-distribution, following the Fall, of the primitive androgyn. These consideration are bound with a rather original Christology: the Word was begotten by Adam when he was still in his hermaphrodite state of innocence. Jesus’ task was to teach humanity the means through which it can recover God’s favor, and be restored in its perfect condition that of before the Fall.

In order to be saved, we ought to completely detach ourselves from all the earthly things, to be aware that they are impermanent and that only God remains, as our being is immerged into Him; the only required qualification to preach Truth then must be the perfect union of the soul with God.

Antoinette Bourignon describes also the birth, after the end of our world, of the New Jerusalem, celestial dwelling of the Just; and she shows how after the Judgement, the earth will be transformed in an infernal prison, in which the individual wills of the damned will engage in a merciless struggle; but divine mercy will triumph ultimately and the outcasts will be freed.

We have seen how, Gichtel, Khulmann, Poiret and Antoinette Bourignon tend, in diverse ways, to ‘out-grow’ Boehme’s theosophy: thanks to personal illuminations, they complete and even outmatch those of the ‘Teutonic Philosopher’; they bear the influence of  doctrines such as Quietism in particular, that are external to Boehmism; they break with the Church and establish ‘separatist’ groups; they teach a rather exalted chiliasm…We will find again this infidelity to the Boehmist ideal with John Pordage, Mrs Lead and the other English ‘Philadelphians’.

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Introduction-Part 2- Marthe van der Does in 1974

‘We believe that a modern revalorisation of the place and status of Antoinette Bourignon in the literary and religious history is necessary. To many critics in the past have judged her unfairly, with biased intentions, in deforming her defects or her singular ideas, such as the origin of Adam and the future of Humanity, without having  taken the care to carefully read her work that does put her into a privileged place among the mystics of her time. Contrary to what her critics may have thought, her person and her works have not been erased by the trial of time, because in 1966, she could raise the attention of a Dutch scholar, Willem (Wim) Pieter Cornelis Knuttel in his ‘Catalogus van de Pamfletten-Verzameling berustende in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek’, The Hague: 1889-1920, in which he quotes Antoinette Bourignon and her fulfilled prophecy about Bruxelles’ great 1695 fire, fifteen years after her death. Another great scholar, Leszek Kolakowski, in 1969 devotes an entire chapter of which the importance we believe is quite significant, and most recently,  J.C. Riewald who was interested in her indirectly, quoted one of her most distinctive aspect of her doctrine that she summarizes like this: ‘I advise and I still do to all Christians who are eager to become true  disciples of Jesus-Christ to leave all of their works and trades, so to no labor anymore for perishable meat and for all things impermanent‘. And she rightly observes that it has been a tragedy for Antoinette Bourignon to meet so few people who would have been welcoming her teaching and her works, instead of long lasting persecution.

Some of her works can still today herald her ideas perfectly. Not that she cannot conquer a large following, that she did very well, but her popularity will always stay limited to a particular and discreet audience. Nevertheless, her works can still awake deep echoes in those people, nowadays, who are hungry of religious freedom, like Antoinette Bourignon was during her time.’

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Sampler begins:

Original 1696 first complete English translation of the ‘Light of the World’.

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‘Where are  the Christians?

Let us go to the country where the Christians live!’

said by Antoinette Bourignon as a young child.

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Via-Hygeia note: The whole book is given as Mister Christian de Cort’s report of his many meetings with Antoinette Bourignon; so he is telling the story from his point of view. Christian de Cort was a priest, pastor of St. John’s at Mechlin, superior of the fathers of the oratory there, and director of Noorestrands, a peninsula and former island in North Frisia on the North Sea coast of Germany.

Excerpt from Part I-Chapter 1

Of God dealing with A. B. particularly how he instructed her immediately from her infancy; the opposition of men; of Christian perfection, and of the deplorable state of Christians.

As we advanced in our journey, still travelling towards the Sun rising, being already more than half way, we perceived at a distance, one walking before us; not knowing at first who it was, because of the distance, we remarked only that it was a person alone, who desired no Company, but retired aside as soon as anybody approached, and hid herself, until mending our pace had come nearer: and when we beheld this person, we perceived she was a Maid, who appeared young enough; and though she was simply apparelled, she had notwithstanding a grave and majestick Mien (Via-Hygeia note: 1. her demeanor, her appearance. 2. her face). We saw in her face the marks and the joy of a serene and contented soul. Her gate (Via-Hygeia note: her walk) was always of an equal pace, neither slow nor hasty: her looks gave both joy and fear: she did not refuse to speak to us in our language, though it was not natural to her; and having asked her whither  (Via-Hygeia note: where, to what place) she was going? She said: ‘In Pilgrimage for penitence for her own sins, and those of others.’ And having asked her, from whence she came? She said: ‘From afar: for she had travelled many years; and was harrassed by the way, and discoloured by the Sun.’

We asked, what she designed by so long and troublesome voyages, dangerous for a Maid alone; remonstrating to her that there were many other means to do penitence in her own Country without being in danger of hunger, thirst, un-happy encounters, and many other inconveniencies, which may fall out in travelling alone; and that at least she ought to take some company. To which she answered: ‘That she was obliged to travel alone, for she had found nobody that would accompany her: and that many had indeed gone along with her for some time, but upon the first temptation, hunger, or incommodity, they had stayed behind, not knowing how to endure penitence, because they had too much love for themselves, and too little affection to seek God; esteeming their ease more, than the contentment there is in the loving and following of Him: for this cause they had left her.

And as for the Dangers, God preserved her; she having past through many dangers without being hurt; that her confidence was in Him alone, Who has all power in heaven and earth; that He never forsakes them who put their confidence in Him; that she reckoned it a happiness to suffer hunger, thirst, and other troublesome things; since Christ has chosen such sufferings to give us an example, and to the end we might follow him; and that she had no other intention in this undertaking but to abandon the world, to deny herself, and to imitate Jesus-Christ; which she could not so well do in her own Country, since the care of temporal wealth, the love of friends, and the pleasures there are in being honoured and esteemed, are all things which withdraw from God, and hinder the resignation of ourselves to Him; that penitences chosen after our mode are full of self-love; but that those which God permits to befall us are pure; that the length of the way was not troublesome to her, for she had no desire of ever staying in one fixed place, because there she found too many distractions by the importunity of the conversation of men, who would have disturbed her inward respose; and that she desired very much to live unknown.’

We admired all this answer, for it seemed not to proceed from human sense, since Nature takes no part in so pious a resolution, and one must live supernaturally to despise ease, friends, and honours, and to love sufferings and fatigues, and flee the conversation of men: seeing they are all sociable Creatures, delighting themselves among equals, and rejoycing to converse with their like. It gave us sentiment of confusion, saying one to another, what confusion shall we have in the day of Judgment; when simple Girls do such things to please God, and we, amidst all our Learning and Studies, are so far removed from such sentiment!

Truly this Child will condemn us. We resolved to accompany her and to examine her more narrowly, seing there was something peculiar in her, above the spirit and capacity of the female sex; for her discourse were firm, constant, and full of judgement, and of divine wisdom, though no way artificial nor polite, but simple and true, and in every thing admirable.

We asked her, if it was therefore necessary that every one should leave their Country to be saved? To which she answered: ‘No; for God is to be found every where, and in all places: that those who are not wedded to any thing have no need of doing it; but as for her, the removing from her native Country served her as a powerful means to love God alone; since before her withdrawing from it, her affection was et upon her City, her House, her Parents, her Friends, as all appertaining to her; but that having done violence to her nature to abandon them, she had acquired a great liberty of spirit to flie unto God. But for other persons, who feel no affection to those things which belong to them, they may indeed work out their salvation in every place; saying that every one ought to examine themselves  in this matter, as in all others, and to remove or void all things which hinder them from resigning themselves wholly to God, without doing of which there is no salvation.’

1696

Original

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To be continued…

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German edition of the ‘Treatise of the Solid Virtue’, in two parts printed by Peter Arents in Amsterdam in 1679.

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Die berühmte Gottes gelernte Fräulein Antoinette Bourignon,

welche 22. voll. Theologica geschrieben.’

The famous God-learned Mademoiselle Antoinette Bourignon,

who wrote 22 volumes of theological works.

A later portrait of Antoinette Bourignon (1616-1680). German engraving designed by Nicolaus Häublin (1666-1687)and printed by Andreas Luppius (1654-1731) in 1680/85.From the collections of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum. Lower text in German:’Wer zucht und Gottes furcht inwohlen tugend liechte, wer demuth ohne falsch will abgewildet sehn. Hier kommt ein engel bild demselben zu gesichte. Der Fraulein Antoinette Bourignon ruhm wird hier und dortbestehn. ‘ its English translation: ‘Whoever loves discipline and the fear of God in good virtue, whoever has humility without falsehood, wants to see himself driven to the wild. Here comes an image of an angel of the same kind; the fame of Miss Antoinette Bourignon will exist here and there.

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Coming soon:

A Little Antoinette Bourignon Sampler

Part 2- Foundational Texts

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More about Antoinette Bourignon: http://emlo-portal.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/collections/?catalogue=antoinette-bourignon 🌿 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoinette_Bourignon 🌿And more about Pierre Poiret: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Poiret 🌿More about Marthe van der Does: 🌿And more about Serge Hutin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Hutin
A Little Antoinette Bourignon Sampler: Part 1- Introductory texts

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