Charles Williams was captivated by Dante Alighieri’s belief that he had been led to salvation by a young woman with whom he had become infatuated with when he was a boy. From Dante’s vision of Beatrice, Williams elaborated a “romantic theology.” Chesterton discovered a similar romantic dynamic in the life of “God’s troubadour,” Francis of Assisi. Lewis described his conversion as the surprising discovery of joy. Each of these writers was drawing on a distinctively medieval tradition of affective theology, exemplified especially in such late-medieval mystics as Julian of Norwich.
This chapter will use the oddball laywoman Margery Kempe, author of the first extant autobiography in the English language, as a lens through which to examine the affective tradition that stretches back through the Franciscans and Cistercians (and their affectively larger-than-life founders, Francis of Assisi and Bernard of Clairvaux), to Augustine himself (who spoke much of desire, and at one point in his Confessions cried out, “Inebriate me, O God!”).