Gender, Kabbalah and the Catholic Reformation, a study of the mystical theology of Guillaume Postel, 1510-1581

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Petry, Yvonne
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The sixteenth century produced an array of remarkable religious figures, but few were more unusual and less orthodox than Guil aume Postel. He would suffer for the originality of his message: he was declared insane by the Venetian Inquisition, imprisoned for heresy, and spent the last eighteen years of his life under virtual house arrest in Paris. While various components of his theology were considered heretical, his most surprising claim was that a female messiah had arrived on earth. In 1547, Postel had met a pious Italian woman, named Joanna, whom he called the New Eve and considered as his own spiritual mother. His prophetic message, that she had personally ushered in a new age of political and religious harmony, was the apex of a complex system of thought which integrated aspects of mystical Judaism with Christianity. Postel is generally viewed as a marginal figure, whose unconventional religious views preclude comparison with his contemporaries. However, this study analyzes his thought within two contexts. The first is that of Jewish mysticism; such an analysis reveals that in spite of Postel's reliance on Kabbalah, his purpose was the defense of Catholic dogma. While his theology was heterodox, it contained elements which served to justify those Catholic doctrines which were under attack in the sixteenth century: free will, celibacy, the Eucharist, and the Virgin Mary. This conservative element in Postel's thought is reinforced through an examination of his notions of gender within the context of the sixteenth-century debate over the nature of Woman, the querelle des femmes. While others began questioning the view that women were categorically inferior to men, Postel used it as the starting point of his mystical theology. In terms of both his religious views and philosophical assumptions, Postel can be seen as trying to perpetuate the late-medieval world view which was breaking down during the volatile period in which he lived. His thought has relevance not only for an understanding of Jewish-Christian interaction in the Renaissance, but also for Reformation controversy and for gender studies in the early modern period.