Angela of Foligno, Bl.
ANGELA OF FOLIGNO, BL.
Mystic; b. Foligno, Italy, c. 1248; d. Jan. 4, 1309. Almost nothing is known about the details and external circumstances of Angela's life. Except for the date of her death, virtually all the information we have about her must be deduced or inferred from her Book. The first part of this Book, the Memorial, was dictated to a Franciscan friar whom we only know as Bro. A. He was to serve as Angela's confessor, scribe, and protagonist of her communications from God. Bro. A. not only translated into Latin what Angela dictated to him in her Umbrian dialect (she was unlettered), but also, and in spite of repeated affirmations to the contrary he, and perhaps other unnamed scribes or subsequent copyists, organized and reworked the text. The Memorial contains the thirty steps, told by Angela to Bro. A. and her companion (referred to as M.), that delineate the itinerary of her passionate love affair with the "suffering God-man," how she was transformed and led into the deep abysses of the Trinitarian life. The second part of the Book, the Instructions, portions likely redacted by Bro. A., but mostly by anonymous disciples, shows us Angela's role as a spiritual mother. It contains her teachings in the form of letters, exhortations, summaries of her spirituality, further visionary accounts, a testament, and an epilogue.
From the scant information that can be gleaned from her Book about the external context of her life, we do know that before her conversion Angela was a married woman with children and lived a well-to-do and, likely, a conventional life—even if in her eyes it was a very sinful one. What triggered her mid-life conversion in about 1285 is unknown. Certainly, it was aided by a dream in which St. Francis appeared to her. The Poverello was to become her spiritual guide, appearing to her several times and even, at one point, making the stunning declaration: "You are the only one born of me."
The first nineteen steps of the Memorial describe Angela's entrance into the way of penance, a season of purification through suffering. Set ablaze by the fire and intensity of Christ's love as revealed to her through increasingly vivid and focused visions of his passion and crucifixion, her one desire was to grow in amorous response by aligning her life with his, and, following the example of her model St. Francis, stripping herself of all her possessions and taking steps to become truly poor. Very early on in her conversion, her mother, husband, and sons died, which she experienced as a relief. During this period, covering about six years, "Christ's faithful one" (as she is habitually referred to) also entered the Third Order of St. Francis and made a pilgrimage to Assisi during which she experienced a numinous and decisive experience of God.
The final eleven steps, condensed into seven socalled supplementary ones because of Bro. A.'s inability to accurately distinguish them from one another, describe the deepening of Angela's perception and mystical ("from within") experience of Christ's passion. A number of stunning Eucharistic visions are also recorded, one in which she sees the world "as pregnant with God." Even more striking and indicative of the mystical heights which Angela had attained are the formless visions in which she perceived the attributes of God such as his beauty and goodness. What elevates Angela, to the ranks of the greatest mystics of the Christian Tradition, however, is what takes place in the final steps of the Memorial. The sixth supplementary step describes the "horrible darkness" of sharing in Christ's abandonment on the cross, and the seventh describes her almost simultaneous propulsion to the summit of her spiritual journey—the great apophatic visions of God in, with, and beyond the divine darkness (via negativa ) and her "in abyssation" in the depths of the Trinitarian life. As the oft-quoted locution from one of the Instruction XXIII declares: "God's love for her had not been a hoax." The Memorial contains some of the most excessive and volcanic pages in all of Christian mystical literature.
Likely because of its role in the internecine quarrel taking place at the time between the Franciscan Spirituals, of which she was set up as a champion, and those referred to as belonging to the Community, Angela's Book was initially viewed with suspicion and went underground. The only early mention occurs in the prologue to Ubertino of Casale's Arbor vitae crucifixae Jesu. This early eclipse notwithstanding, down through the ages various editions of the Book surfaced, merited the esteem, and served as inspiration to an impressive number of saints, spiritual writers, theologians, and thinkers both inside and outside ecclesiastical circles. In the fifteenth century, for instance, Angela's writings enjoyed considerable success in the circles linked to the Observant Franciscans. It is likely that a translation of her Book ordered by Cardinal Francis Ximenes, an Observant Franciscan, found its way into the hands of St. Teresa of Avila, who uses Angela's language to describe the trials of the sixth mansion in her Interior Castle.
In the seventeenth century, others who were influenced and refer to Angela include St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, Pope Benedict XIV, Fenelon, Bossuet, and Jean Jacques Olier. In the late nineteenth century, the brilliant, even if faulty, translation of the French philosopher Ernest Hello—Le livre desvisions et instructions de la bienheureuse Angèle de Foligno —catapulted Angela's Book (75,000 copies, ten editions) into the consciousness of contemporary French culture. The novelist George Bernanos, the poet-philosopher George Bataille, and the visionary theologian Teilhard de Chardin, as well as prominent French feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray, quote her in their writings. Furthermore a new, even if contested, critical edition, translations in all the major languages, a number of scientific congresses held in Italy, a flurry of anthologies, biographies, articles, and references in various publications have placed Angela at the forefront of contemporary interest in mysticism. Angela was beatified on July 11, 1701 and her feast day is celebrated on January 4. Although often referred to as a saint, Angela has never been canonized. A commission is currently working on this project.
Feast: Jan. 4.
Bibliography: g. barone and j. dalarun, ed., Angèle de Foligno: Le Dossier. (Rome, 1999). l. thier and a. calufetti, ed., Il libro della beata Angela da Foligno. (Grottaferrata, 1986). p. lachance, o. f. m., ed. and tr., Angela of Foligno: Complete Works. (New York, 1993). s. andreoli and f. santi, "Bibliografia sulla Beata Angela da Foligno," (Fondazione Ezio Francescini, Florence, 2001).