The Mirror of Simple Souls

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The Mirror of the Simple Souls
Cover of the 1993 Babinsky translation
AuthorMarguerite Porete
Original titleLe Mirouer des simples âmes anienties et qui seulement demeurent en vouloir et désir d'amour
TranslatorEllen L. Babinsky (1993)
Cover artistMarion Miller
LanguageOld French
SubjectChristianity / Mysticism
Publisher(1993) Paulist Press
Publication date
c. 1300
Published in English
Media typeBook
248.2/2 20
LC ClassBV5091.C7 P6713 1993
The Mirror of the Simple Souls
Author"An unknown French mystic of the thirteenth century", Clare Kirchberger ed.
TranslatorM. N.
SubjectChristianity, mysticism
PublisherBurns Oates and Washbourne Ltd.
Publication date
31 October 1927
Media typehardback

The Mirror of Simple Souls[1] is an early 14th-century work of Christian mysticism by Marguerite Porete dealing with the workings of Divine Love.

Love in this book layeth to souls the touches of his divine works privily hid under dark speech, so that they should taste the deeper draughts of his love and drink.

— from 15th-century English translator's prologue

Written originally in the Picard dialect of Old French,[2] it explores in poetry and prose the seven stages of 'annihilation' the Soul goes through on its path to Oneness with God through love. Enormously popular when written, it fell foul of church authorities, who, detecting elements of the antinomian Heresy of the Free Spirit in its vision, denounced it as "full of errors and heresies", burnt existing copies, banned its circulation, and executed Porete herself.

In spite of this, the work was translated into Latin, Middle English, Middle French, and Italian and circulated in France, Italy, Germany, England, and Bohemia,[2] albeit not with Porete's name attached. In fact, Porete was not identified as the author until 1946. Since then it has been seen increasingly as one of the seminal works of Medieval spiritual literature and Porete, alongside Mechthild of Magdeburg and Hadewijch, can be seen as an exemplar of the love mysticism of the Beguine movement.

20th-century rediscovery[edit]

A 15th-century manuscript of an English translation by "M. N." of The Mirror was found by J. A. Herbert among a manuscript collection purchased for the British Library in 1911 and was shown to Evelyn Underhill. Other 15th-century copies were subsequently found in the Bodleian library and the library of St. John's College, Cambridge, together with a Latin version made in the late 15th century by Richard Methley of Mount Grace, Yorkshire. A printed edition was edited by Clare Kirchberger from those four manuscripts, and published by Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd., publishers to the Holy See, in 1927, complete with a nihil obstat and imprimatur. [3]

The translation by "M. N." included a number of glosses by him and divided the text into divisions and chapters.

The French book that I shall write after is evil [i.e. badly] written and in some places for default of words and syllables the reason is away. Also, in translating French, some words need to be changed or it will fare ungoodly, not according to the sense.

— Translator's prologue

For the 1927 edition, the mediæval text was used but with spellings updated, and occasional words replaced accompanied by footnotes with additional glosses.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Full title: The Mirror of the Simple Souls Who Are Annihilated and Remain Only in Will and Desire of Love Sells, Michael A. (1994). Mystical Languages of Unsaying. University of Chicago Press. pp. 118. ISBN 0226747867.
  2. ^ a b Justine L. Trombley, A Diabolical Voice: Heresy and the Reception of the Latin "Mirror of Simple Souls" in Late Medieval Europe (Cornell University Press, 2023), p. 3.
  3. ^ Introduction to said book: By an unknown French mystic of the thirteenth century (1927). Clare Kirchberger (ed.). The Mirror of Simple Souls. Translated into English by M.N. (trans.). Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd. p. 303.