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WISDOM TO DRINK William C. Zehringer St. Birgitta of Sweden’s Image of Perfection O ne of our Blessed Mother’s most perfect imita- claimed in Christian theology as the true spiritual quest tions in the Middle Ages was the gifted, many- and final goal of mankind. sided mystic, St. Birgitta of Sweden (c. 1303- Born into a proud and noble family, of “a lineage of 1373). A brilliant scholar, a splendid writer, and a happily holy kings,” as Christ Himself told her, Birgitta was to married wife and mother, she influenced, in the course of know a joyful married life as a dutiful and generous wife her long career, both the society in which she lived and and mother, who bore eight children, and a loyal compan- the spiritual life of her own and subsequent generations. ion to her husband, whose passing saddened her greatly. Birgitta is unique among those women of the The great benedictions of her interior life began while she Middle Ages who were saints and mystics: she was a was still a married woman. For “she was already that bride of Christ with a husband and children to whom Bridget,” wrote Johannes Jorgensen, “who was later to be she was deeply devoted. And she is outstanding in an- driven by the spirit to confess three times a day — Saint other respect as well: the ability she possessed to act Bridget, whose tender conscience had continually to be successfully in several different spheres — domestic, relieved and healed by the soothing unguent of grace.” courtly, religious, administrative, and political — and to That conscience also drove Birgitta to a life of con- leave a lasting impact on each one of them. As a result, tinued and fruitful activity, from her long residence in her writings, which illume the way to a redeemed world, Rome in service to the reform of the troubled papacy, to are a most engaging mirror of the social life of the four- the labors that led to the foundation of the great religious teenth century. house of Vadstena, in her native Sweden. In the midst of Perhaps it is the diversity of those occupations and her ceaseless endeavoring for the peace of the Holy Church, experiences, coupled with her developing sense of the she was blessed with those sacred hours of contemplation Divine Presence as she journeyed through life, that recorded in her Revelations, one of the most influential makes The Revelations of St. Birgitta of Sweden such a and memorable of mystical treatises. powerful testimony to the love of God moving in the In her time and place, St. Birgitta’s indomitable world and individual souls. In her “questioning re- spirit allowed her to perform the always thankless task sponses” to Christ and His Mother, and in her portrayals of making her fellow Christians see, with clear vision, of their hidden lives, this great visionary embodies in what was necessary for the salvation of their souls and her writings a foretaste of the heavenly city, ever pro- the world. In The Life of Blessed Birgitta, Marguerite T. Harris writes: On a second occasion, [Birgitta’s] brother saw her raised from the earth, and, as it were, lightning William C. Zehringer, a retired college writing instruc- going forth from her mouth. And then he heard in tor and a freelance author with a doctorate in old and spirit: “This is the woman who, coming from the middle English language and literature, is a member of ends of the earth, shall give countless nations wis- the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. dom to drink.” 32 New Oxford Review
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