Beguines and Beghards
BEGUINES AND BEGHARDS
The feminine religious movement known as the Beguines and the masculine counterpart, the Beghards, belong to the blossoming and multiplicity of the religious life that, with the vita apostolica as the premise for reform, accompanied urbanization and the increasing articulation of laymen in spiritual matters during the high Middle Ages. The terms "Beguine" and "Beghard" occur persistently in contemporary literature, but they are often used loosely—sometimes as abusive epithets by opponents, through confusion with doctrinal aberrations, sometimes as synonyms for kindred lay movements. Possibly originating with a Catharist tinge (see cathari), beghini continued to denote, in Provence, the apostoli ci, fraticelli, and Franciscan spirituals. In the Rhineland they were identified with the heretical brothers and sisters of the free spirit. However, if their way of life had much in common with that of the penitential associations, hospital orders, and the humiliati of Lombardy, as well as the third orders, it also looked back to recluses, cistercians, and premonstratensians and forward to the devotio moderna. Although Beguinal convents were common in German towns, it was above all in the Low Countries that they prospered. Beghards never achieved the same prominence (see spirituality of the low countries; spirituality, rhenish).
Way of Life. Beguines can best be described as extra-regulars, since they occupied a position midway between monastic and lay status. Although not bound by irrevocable vows, orthodox Beguines, particularly in Flanders, Brabant, and the Diocese of Liège, partook of the instruction and examples of older monachism, chiefly Cîteaux (J. Greven), the canons regular, and eventually the friars. As congregationes beguinarum disciplinatarum, they exemplified popular mysticism, guided by hierarchy and sacrament. They put a premium on geographical stability as long as they owed obedience to local statutes, the superior of the Beguinage, and ecclesiastical authority. In their espousal of the common life they dwelt either in small convents, as in Germany, or in a large, walled enclosure, known as a Beguinage (e.g., in Burges, Ghent). Beguines promised to observe chastity during their sojourn in the community, but they could freely leave to marry or to engage in ordinary lay pursuits. In place of a formal vow of poverty they retained possession of house and property; they emphasized manual work, whether caritative (education, nursing) or industrial (clothand lace-making). Whether in temporary or permanent retreat, they sought to leaven their daily life with religious practices.
History. To underscore their quasi-religious character the women were at first called mulieres religiosae or sanctae, virgines continentes, or dilectae Deo filiae. The fact that the term beguina in its earliest appearance in the north (caesarius of heisterbach in c. 1199 and the Chronica regia of Cologne in 1209) is prejorative suggests that it may be a corruption of "Albigeois" (J. Van Mierlo). Derivation from St. begga may be dismissed as a tradition rooted in regeneration in the 17th century. Although place and date of origin cannot be determined with certainty, Lambert le Bègue (d. 1177), a reforming priest in Liège, organized what might be called proto-Beguines. The Beguinage was one answer to socioeconomic problems—the Frauen frage —relating to widows and unmarried women, but to associate the inmates only with the dispossessed, at least in the beginning of the movement, begs oversimplification (Grundmann). Their infirmary not only served as a hospital, but, as a foundation for the indigent, it supplemented the Holy Ghost Table. However, the Beghards or Bogards, who were often fullers, dyers, and weavers in the Flemish cloth industry, reflect wider recruitment from the lower classes. This is even more true of the vagrants in the Rhineland who, dependent on mendicancy, were wont to shout Brod durch Gott ("Bread for the love of God"). That the feminine religious movement continued to be the object of disparagement is evident from jacques de vitry's vita of mary of oignies (Acta Sanctorum June 4:630–84), written shortly after her death (1213). His is an eloquent description of the spirituality of the coteries at Nivelles and Oignies. In spite of attempts of lateran council IV to curb the proliferation of new orders and to exact submission to an approved rule (c. 13), Jacques obtained from Pope honorius iii in 1216 oral approbation for the mulieres religiosae in France and the empire (tam in regno quam in imperio ), as well as in the Diocese of Liège, to live together under one roof and to exhort each other to perform good works [Ep. 1, ed. R. B. C. Huygens, Lettres (Leiden 1960) 74]. The crusade preacher saw in these women an antidote to the albigenses. Pope Gregory IX's bull Gloriam virginalem (1233) hastened the maturing of the Beguinages. If Jacques was their patron at the papal Curia, closer to home the beguinae clausae could expect protection from the episcopate as well as from the counts of Flanders and the dukes of Brabant. While they enjoyed in Paris the all-encompassing endowment for which King Louis IX was renowned, Rutebeuf included them in his vast indictment of "pseudo-religious."
Beguines continued to be suspected of heretical inclinations, and the brief career of Margaret Porete (d.1310) or Bloemardinne of Brussels (d. 1336) seemed to substantiate the charges. But it was the Beguines and Beghards in Cologne and Strasbourg who gave the gravest concern. After many tentative steps at discipline, Henry II of Virnebourg, Archbishop of Cologne (1306–32), took action against the Beghards in 1307. But it remained for the two Clementine decrees, Cum de quibusdam mulieribus and Ad nostrum qui desideranter, promulgated at the Council of vienne in 1311, together with reenactments by john xxii, to focus attention on the Beguine-Beghard issue and to enlist papal support in the efforts of the episcopate to crush heretical confraternities. Yet clement v had added a saving clause when he exempted the orthodox communities in the West from persecution. In his bull Racio recta non patitur (1318) John XXII acknowledged that many Beguines led a life in obedience beyond reproach and therefore should be tolerated. This statement was supplemented the following year by the bull Sacrosancta romana, which put the beguinae clausae of Brabant, together with their property, under papal protection. The sporadic prosecution of the extraregulars in the Rhineland during the 14th century was thus paralleled by the rehabilitation of those in Belgium and their incorporation into the ecclesiastical fabric through closer identification with approved religious orders, adoption of the Rule of St. augustine, and parochial organization.
Modern Era. After a period of decay the 17th century witnessed a reform that assured the Beguinages fresh vitality. Although hard pressed during the French Revolution, Belgian Beguinages have continued to the present
day to maintain something of the rich heritage of medieval spirituality. Beguine literary figures included the Flemish beatrice of nazareth and the poetess hadewijch (fl. 1240), and the German mechtild of magdeburg. To the Beguines and Beghards in Strasbourg Meister eckhart delivered sermons.
Bibliography: j. greven, Die Anfänge der Beginen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Volksfrömmigkeit und des Ordenswesens im Hochmittelalter (Münster 1912); "Der Ursprung des Beginenwesens," Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 35 (1914) 26–58, 291–318. l. j. m. philippen, De Begijnhoven: Oorsprong, Geschiedenis, Inrichting (Antwerp 1918). j. van mierlo, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 7:426–41, 457–73; Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 1:1341–52. f. vernet, ibid. 1329–41. d. phillips, Beguines in Medieval Strasburg: A Study of the Social Aspect of Beguine Life (Stanford 1941). a. mens, Oorsprong en betekenis van de Nederlandse Begijnen en Begardenbeweging, Vergelijkende Studie: XIIde–XIIIde Studie (Louvain 1947). e. w. mcdonnell, Beguines and Beghards in Medieval Culture, with Special Emphasis on the Belgian Scene (New Brunswick, N.J.1954). r. manselli, Spiritualie Beghini in Provenza (Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo. Studi Storici 31–34; Rome 1959), e.g. neumann, Rheinisches Beginenund Begardenwesen (Meisenheim am Glan 1960). h. grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter (2d ed. Hildesheim 1961). g. koch, Frauenfrage und Ketzertum im Mittelalter (Berlin 1962).
[e. w. mcdonnell]