Angela of Foligno (1248 – 1309), was a Christian mystic who wrote extensively about her mystical revelations. She was a Franciscan tertiary and was known as “Mistress of Theologians”. She was noted not only for her spiritual writings, but also for founding a religious community which refused to accept becoming an enclosed religious order that it might continue her vision of caring for those in need.
She was born a wealthy non-Christian, married young, and had several children. She lived wild, adulterously, and sacrilegiously for a while. Following a vision in 1285, she had a conversion. After the death of her mother, husband, and children, she became a Franciscan tertiary, and led a group of other tertiaries. Noted for her charity, patience and humility. Visionary, mystic, and mystical writer Book of Divine Consolations of the Blessed Angela of Foligno, Book of Visions and Instructions).
Considered a “great medieval mystic,” she is said to have received mystical revelations, which she dictated to a scribe in the late 1200s. These accounts are contained in a compilation of two works, usually published under the title Il Libro della Beata Angela da Foligno.
Angela recorded the history of her conversion in her “Book of Visions and Instructions”. She dictated in her Umbrian dialect an account of her spiritual progress, known as the Memoriale, which was transcribed in Latin by a man known as “Brother A.” This work was probably begun in 1292. Brother A. remained with her until 1296 while she completed the higher and more difficult final ten stages, but since it proved impossible for him to understand these fully, he condensed them into seven ‘supplementary stages’ whose description takes up the larger portion of the Memorial. The text was finished by 1298, and submitted to Cardinal James of Colonna and eight Franciscans, who gave it their approval. It seems that Brother A. revised it shortly after, in 1299-1300.
Between around 1296 and her death in early 1309, the fame of Angela’s sanctity gathered around her a number of other tertiaries, both men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of Sisters, who added to the Rule of the Third Order a commitment to a common life without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.
The final version of the Book appends a series of 36 Instructions to the Memorial. These reflect Angela’s teaching during this period. These teachings are rather more conventional in tone and have differences in vocabulary and emphasis from the Memorial – which may reflect redaction by several hands. Nevertheless, the Instructions seem to reflect Angela’s teaching, albeit at some remove.
“No one can be saved without divine light. Divine light causes us to begin and to make progress, and it leads us to the summit of perfection. Therefore if you want to begin and to receive this divine light, pray. If you have begun to make progress, pray. And if you have reached the summit of perfection, and want to be super-illumined so as to remain in that state, pray. If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want charity, pray. If you want poverty, pray. If you want obedience, pray. If you want chastity, pray. If you want humility, pray. If you want meekness, pray. If you want fortitude, pray. If you want any virtue, pray.”
At Christmas, 1308, Angela told her companions she would die shortly. A few days later Christ appeared to her, promising to come personally to take her to heaven. She died in her sleep on January 3, 1309. Angela died surrounded by her community of disciples. Her remains repose in the Church of St. Francis at Foligno. Many people attributed miracles to her, which were accomplished at her tomb.
Excerpts from her writings:
“Once my soul was elevated, and I saw the light, the beauty, and the fullness that is in God in a way that I had never seen before in so great a manner.
I did not see love there. I then lost the love which was mine, and was made non-love. Afterward, I saw him in a darkness, and in a darkness precisely because the good that he is, is far too great to be conceived or understood. Indeed, anything conceivable or understandable does not attain this good or even come near it.
My soul was then granted a most certain faith, a secure and most firm hope, a continual security about God that took away all my fear. In this good, which is seen in the darkness, I recollected myself totally. I was made so sure of God that in no way can I ever entertain any doubts about him or of my possession of him.
The All Good was all the more certain and superior to everything the more it was seen in darkness and most secret. This is why I see the All Good accompanied with darkness: because it surpasses every good. All else in comparison is but darkness. No matter how far the soul or heart expands itself, all that expanse is less than this good.
What I related until now: that is, when the soul sees all creation overflowing with God’s presence, when it sees the divine power or the divine wisdom, all this is inferior to this most secret good, because this good which I see with darkness is the whole, and all other things are but parts.”
“Without humility of heart all the other virtues by which one runs toward God seem — and are — absolutely worthless. This humility of heart that the God-man wished us to learn from him is a life-giving and clear light which opens the understanding of the soul so that it perceives both its own vileness and nothingness and immensity of divine goodness. The more the soul realizes the magnitude of the divine goodness, the more it advances in the knowledge of itself. The more it perceives and knows that it is nothing, the more it will rise up to know and praise the ineffability of the divine goodness which its humility makes it perceive and understand so fully. And from this, all the other virtues begin to blossom.
Indeed the primary virtue of all, which is the love of God and neighbor, originates in the light of humility. For the soul, perceiving its own nothingness and even united to this nothingness, is set ablaze with love for God, and in this burning love is transformed into God. And thus transformed by love, is there any creature who would not return this love with all its strength? Truly, the soul thus transformed loves, with the love of God, every creature as is fitting, because in every creature it perceives, understands, and recognizes God’s presence.”
“In a vision I beheld the fullness of God in which I beheld and comprehended the whole creation, that is, what is on this side and what is beyond the sea, the abyss, the sea itself, and everything else. And in everything that I saw, I could perceive nothing except the presence of the power of God, and in a manner totally indescribable. And my soul in an excess of wonder cried out: “This world is pregnant with God!” Wherefore I understood how small is the whole of creation — that is, what is on this side and what is beyond the sea, the abyss, the sea itself, and everything else — but the power of God fills it all to overflowing.”
“God presents himself in the inmost depths of my soul. I understand not only that he is present, but also how he is present in every creature and in everything that has being, in a devil and a good angel, in heaven and hell, in good deeds and in adultery or homicide, in all things, finally, which exist or have some degree of being, whether beautiful or ugly. She further said: I also understand that he is no less present in a devil than a good angel. Therefore, while I am in this truth, I take no less delight in seeing or understanding his presence in a devil or in an act of adultery than I do in a good angel or in a good deed.
This mode of divine presence in my soul has become almost habitual. Moreover, this mode of God’s presence illuminates my soul with such great truth and bestows on it such divine graces that when my soul is in this mode it cannot commit any offense, and it receives an abundance of divine gifts.
Because of this understanding of God’s presence my soul is greatly humiliated. It is also granted deep wisdom, great divine consolation, and joy. Indeed, such is the plan of divine love that its purpose is always to draw back to itself that which it loves; it draws everyone out of themselves and out of all created reality, and totally into the uncreated.”
“For all the angels and the saints have no other gift than that of seeing you, their Beloved, and loving you and contemplating you… O highest good, you have made us to know you, love itself, and make us love such love. All those who come into your presence will be satisfied according to the love they have. Nothing leads contemplatives to contemplate, except true love.”
“This embrace of God sets ablaze a fire within the soul with which the whole soul burns for Christ. It also produces a light so great that the soul understands the fullness of God’s goodness, which it experiences in itself, and which is, moreover, much greater than the soul’s experience of it. The effect then of this fire within the soul is to render it certain and secure that Christ is within it. And yet, what we have said is nothing in comparison to what this experience really is.”
“The joy of the saints is a joy of incomprehension; they understand that they cannot understand.”
“No matter how far the understanding of the soul is able to stretch itself, that is nothing in comparison to what it experiences when it is lifted beyond itself and placed in the bosom of God. Then the soul understands, finds its delight, and rests in the divine goodness; it cannot bring back any report of this, because it is completely beyond what the intelligence can conceive, and beyond words; but in this state the soul swims.”
“And immediately upon presenting himself to the soul, God likewise discloses himself and expands the soul and gives it gifts and consolations which the soul has never before experienced, and which are far more profound than earlier ones. In this state, the soul is drawn out of all darkness and granted a greater awareness of God than I would have thought possible. This awareness is of such clarity, certitude, and abysmal profundity that there is no heart in the world that can ever in any way understand it or even conceive it.
Even my own heart cannot think about it by itself, or ever return to it to understand or even conceive anything about it. This state occurs only when God, as a gift, elevates the soul to himself, for no heart by itself can in any way expand itself to attain it. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing that can be said about this experience, for no words can be found or invented to express or explain it; no expansion of thought or mind can possibly reach to those things, they are so far beyond everything — for there is nothing which can explain God.
I repeat there is absolutely nothing which can explain God. Christ’s faithful one affirmed with utmost certitude and wanted it understood that there is absolutely nothing which can explain God.”
“The soul sees, knows, feels, and comprehends God as invisible light, incomprehensible and unknown good. Comprehending, seeing, knowing, and feeling God, the soul, according to its capacity, expands in him and becomes filled with him through love… The soul, then, experiences and possesses God’s sweetness more from what it does not comprehend than from what it comprehends, more from what it does not see than from what it sees, more from what it does not feel than from what it feels, more finally, from what it does not know than from what it knows. It seems to me that this is the reason that no matter how perfect the soul, even if it is as perfect as that of the Blessed Virgin, it comprehends nothing of God, the ordainer, uncreated and infinite. From looking at what it sees, feels and knows, it sees, feels, and knows that it cannot see, feel, and know.”
“In this felt experience wherein the soul finds the certitude that God is within it, the soul is given the grace of wanting God so perfectly that everything in it is in true and not false harmony. False harmony exists when the soul says that it wants God but does not really mean it, because its desire for God is not true in everything, in every way, or in every respect.
Its desire for God is true when all the members of the body are in harmony with the soul, and the soul in turn is in such harmony with the heart and with the entire body that it becomes one with them and responds as one for all of them. Then the soul truly wants God, and this desire is granted to it through grace.
Hence when the soul is told: “What do you want?” it can respond: “I want God.” God then tells it, “I am the one making you feel that desire.” Until it reaches this point, the soul’s desire is not true or integral. This form of desire is granted to the soul by a grace by which it knows that God is within it, and that it is in companionship with God. This gift is to have a desire, now a unified one, in which it feels that it loves God in a way analogous to the true love with which God has loved us. The soul feels God merging with it and becoming its companion.”
“When I am in that darkness I do not remember anything about anything human, or the God-man, or anything which has a form. Nevertheless, I see all and I see nothing. As what I have spoken of withdraws and stays with me, I see the God-man. He draws my soul with great gentleness and he sometimes says to me: “You are I and I am you.”
I see, then, those eyes and that face so gracious and attractive as he leans to embrace me. In short, what proceeds from those eyes and that face is what I said that I saw in that previous darkness which comes from within, and which delights me so that I can say nothing about it.
When I am in the God-man my soul is alive. And I am in the God-man much more than in the other vision of seeing God with darkness. The soul is alive in that vision concerning the God-man. The vision with darkness, however, draws me so much more that there is no comparison.
On the other hand, I am in the God-man almost continually. It began in this continual fashion on a certain occasion when I was given the assurance that there was no intermediary between God and myself. Since that time there has not been a day or a night in which I did not continually experience this joy . . . .
Even if at times I can still experience outwardly some little sadness and joy, nonetheless there is in my soul a chamber in which no joy, sadness, or enjoyment from any virtue, or delight over anything that can be named, enters. This is where the All Good, which is not any particular good, resides, and it is so much the All Good that there is no other good. Although I blaspheme by speaking about it — and I speak about it so badly because I cannot find words to express it — I nonetheless affirm that in this manifestation of God I discover the complete truth. In it, I understand and possess the complete truth that is in heaven and in hell, in the entire world, in every place, in all things, in every enjoyment in heaven and in every creature.
And I see all this is so truly and certainly that no one could convince me otherwise. Even if the whole world were to tell me otherwise, I would laugh it to scorn. Furthermore, I saw the One who is and how he is the being of all creatures. I also saw how he made me capable of understanding those realities I have just spoken about better than when I saw them in that darkness which used to delight me so. Moreover, in that state I see myself as alone with God, totally cleansed, totally sanctified, totally true, totally upright, totally certain, totally celestial in him. And when I am in that state, I do not remember anything else…
When I leave that supreme state in which I do not remember anything else, I come back and see myself in those good things I have just spoken about, but at the same time I see myself completely full of sin and obedient to it, devious, impure, totally false and erroneous, and yet I am in a state of quiet. For what remains with me is a continual divine unction, the highest of all and superior to any I have ever experienced in all my life.
God is the one who leads me and elevates me to that state. I do not go to it on my own, for by myself I would not know how to want, desire, or seek it. I am now continually in this state. Furthermore, God very often elevates me to this state with no need, even, for my consent; for when I hope or expect it least, when I am not thinking about anything, suddenly my soul is elevated by God and I hold dominion over and comprehend the whole world.
It seems, then, as if I am no longer on earth but in heaven, in God. This state I am in far surpasses all others, for it is a state of such great fullness, clarity, certainty, ennoblement, and expansion that I feel no other previous state came anywhere near it. Christ’s faithful one told me, brother scribe, that she had experienced this unspeakable manifestation of God more than a hundred times, even thousands and thousands of times, and each time her soul had received something fresh, and what it experienced was always novel and different.
But once the soul is perfectly united to God, it is placed in the seat of truth, for truth is the seat of the soul… It possesses God to the fullness of its capacity. And God even expands the soul so that it may hold all that he wishes to place in it. The soul then sees the One who is, and it sees that all else is nothing except insofar as it takes its being from him. In comparison, everything up until now seems as nothing to it — as, indeed, all created reality.
Nor are death, infirmity, honor, or dishonor of any concern to it. The soul is so satisfied and at rest that it desires nothing; it even loses the capacity to desire and to act effectively because it is bound to God. In this light it sees so well that God does everything with order and appropriateness that even in his absence, it does not pine. Likewise it becomes so conformed to God’s will that even in his absence it is content with everything he does and entrusts itself totally to him.”
“True poverty is not only of having but of being itself. As such it entails the annihilation of the false self, the emptying to the point of nothingness, in order to become totally free and filled with the abundance of God’s uncreated love and wisdom.”