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                                     William C. Zehringer
        St. Birgitta of Sweden’s Image of Perfection

          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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