Theology as Conversation: Gertrud of Helfta and Her Sisters as Readers of Augustine

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation analyzes the use of Augustine’s life and thought, especially as recorded in his Confessions, in the Herald of Divine Love. It argues that Gertrud collaborated with her sisters at Helfta to produce a book adopting, advancing, and inviting readers into Augustine’s conversational model of theology.

The first chapter introduces Gertrud and Helfta, reviewing the literature and suggesting some modifications to the standard accounts. The second chapter analyzes the work’s composition history, described in its Prologue with the feminine and collaborative metaphor of childbirth. The combination of her autobiography with the convent’s hagiography expresses God’s choice of Gertrud through and for the holiness of others.

The third chapter discusses Gertrud’s spiritual autobiography in Book II, written in the prayerful style of Confessions. She uses Augustine’s image of the pierced heart as a “book"� in which to read God’s merciful love, created through conversational narratives connecting personal and communal salvation history.

The fourth chapter analyzes Gertrud’s "Life and Revelations"� in the compiled portions of Legatus, especially Books I and V. In Book I her sisters advocate a model of female holiness as converted scholarship, comparing Gertrud to Augustine as an inspired theological teacher formed by a holy community. In Book V they conclude the work with divine promises of the book’s wonderworking power as Gertrud’s relic. Along with Gertrud, the Helfta women offer the Legatus in praise of God and to enable readers’ holiness by assisting them to discover and respond to grace in their personal salvation history.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-07032004-135854

Author Laura Marie Grimes
Advisor John Cavadini
Contributor M. Catherine Hilkert, Committee Member
Contributor Joseph Wawrykow, Committee Member
Contributor Lawrence Cunningham, Committee Member
Contributor John Cavadini, Committee Chair
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2004-06-23

Submission Date 2004-07-03
  • United States of America

  • Mechthild

  • Gertrude

  • Confessions

  • Hackeborn

  • Legatus

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Access Rights Open Access
Content License
  • All rights reserved


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