Spiritual Formation as the Hero’s Journey in John of Ruusbroec  book cover
1st Edition

Spiritual Formation as the Hero’s Journey in John of Ruusbroec

ISBN 9781032137568
Published April 8, 2022 by Routledge
222 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book examines the theology of spiritual formation developed by fourteenth-century Flemish mystic John of Ruusbroec, arguing that his formational path clearly and consistently displays the characteristics of the archetypal narrative structure of the hero’s journey.

To start with, a hermeneutical dialogue between scholars of the hero’s journey and Ruusbroec is established, employing the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer. The author then examines the stages and tropes of the hero’s journey according to Vladimir Propp, Joseph Campbell, Northrop Frye, René Girard, Dean Miller, and others, exploring the parallels in Ruusbroec’s writing and theology of spiritual formation. The book follows Ruusbroec’s story of answering the divine call, journeying inward and experiencing the trials of spiritual transformation, attaining the treasure of divine union, and returning in loving service to others. Finally, the ramifications of the argument for the interpretation and application of other mystical and heroic narratives are considered.

Offering a new perspective on John of Ruusbroec, mystical theology, and the hero’s journey as a spiritual quest, this volume will be of interest to scholars of mysticism, theology, formative spirituality, narrative theory, and religious literature of the Low Countries.

Table of Contents

1. The Fusion of Horizons  2. Call, Departure, and the Active Life  3. The Inner Life and the Road of Trials  4. Union as the Object of Search and Apotheosis  5. Villainy and the Struggle of the Return  6. The Common Life in Two Kingdoms  

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Robert Pelfrey is a graduate of the University of Manchester and a fellow of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre at Nazarene Theological College, where he has lectured in the History of Christianity. He is also a Methodist pastor in the United States. His research interests include spiritual formation, late medieval mystical theology, theology in arts and culture, heroism studies, and Wesleyan-Methodist history and theology. He writes on Christian formation and spirituality for both academic and general readerships.


'Robert Pelfrey’s Spiritual Formation as the Hero’s Journey in John of Ruusbroec is a book of outstanding scholarship. Its method is unusual, since it analyses Ruusbroec’s Spiritual Espousals and formational theology according to principles taken from narrative theory (the hero’s journey), though Ruusbroec’s work does not have such an obvious narrative structure. Yet, in my view the author is successful in showing the usefulness of this method. It highlights a broad variety of aspects that might otherwise be overlooked in Ruusbroec’s astonishingly rich text.'

Rob Faesen, Jesuitica Chair, KU Leuven, Belgium, Francis Xavier Chair, Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp, Belgium

'Robert Pelfrey’s book is not only a welcome addition to the growing number of studies on John of Ruusbroec in English, but is also engagingly written and methodologically innovative. Pelfrey casts new light on Ruusbroec’s theology of spiritual and mystical development from the literary perspective of the "hero’s journey", providing careful analysis and many new insights into this still too-little-known giant of the Christian mystical tradition.'

John Arblaster, Assistant Professor of the History of Spirituality in the Low Countries, Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp, Belgium