The Mystical Writings Of Madeleine du Bois de Fontaines (1578-1637)
by Sister Jean Evans
Sisters of Mercy
Madeleine du Bois de Fontaines (1578-1637) was the first French prioress of the Teresian Carmelites in France. During a period of over thirty years as a Carmelite nun, Mère Madeleine de Saint-Joseph served as mistress of novices and was elected prioress for two terms in the Carmel of the Incarnation, Faubourg St. Jacques in Paris. She established and was elected prioress of a second Parisian Carmel at the rue Chapon, was foundress and prioress in the Carmel in Lyon, and for a brief period of time lived in the Carmelite community in Tours.
Madeleine de Saint-Joseph's contribution to the development of Carmelite life and French spirituality was a significant one due to many factors. Among these were: her leadership of the Carmelite community in Paris; her association with Pierre de Bérulle; her influence on the members of the French aristocracy; and her deftness at spiritual direction.
Within the corpus of her writings, there is significant evidence of what may be called theistic mystical experience. An analysis of the writings of Madeleine de Saint-Joseph also indicates mystical practice and doctrine that Mère Madeleine developed during the course of her life.
The study presents a survey of relevant literature written by or about Madeleine de Saint-Joseph. Secondly, it explores the notions of mystical consciousness, knowledge, experience, offers a working definition of mysticism, relating these to Lonergan's cognition theory and work on religious experience; and to the feminist critique of philosophy of religion. Thirdly, the study contextualises the life and work of Madeleine du Bois de Fontaines within sixteenth and seventeenth century French civil and ecclesiastical society. Fourthly, it determines by theological, phenomenological, and philosophical analysis that certain selected texts exhibit indicators of theistic mystical experience and that Mère Madeleine de Saint-Joseph is a true mystic. Finally, it presents the mystical doctrine and teachings of Madeleine de Saint-Joseph within a theological context. It is hoped that this study recognises the valuable contribution to mystical literature of this relatively unknown and unrecognised woman.