Thursday, March 7, 2013

Birgitta of Sweden


Birgitta Suecica, or Birgitta of Sweden, (1302-1373) was born to Birgerus and his wife Ingeborg, who were both nobility. Just before Birgitta was born, her mother nearly lost her life in a shipwreck, but instead saw a vision in which an angel told her she was saved to have a daughter who would be a mouthpiece for God. From a very early age Birgitta began seeing visions of Mary and Christ, as well as the trinity and heaven. She desired to become a nun as a child, but her parents forced her to marry at age 13. She was married for 29 years in which she had eight children and practiced heavy asceticism (often depriving herself of food, burning herself with a candle, and living in continence except for purposes of reproduction). After the death of her husband, Birgitta's piety earned her much respect. She founded a convent opened a few hospitals in which she herself served as a nurse to the sick and poor. She was canonized in 1391. 

Birgitta also viewed herself as a “prophet” speaking political direction from God to the monarchs, as well as pointing out corruption within the church and monarchies. She also tried to reconcile the Pope and the Germanic Kings; she was successful in convincing Charles IV and Pope Urbanus V to reconcile in 1368, though few of her other attempts were successful.

In addition to her confident activism in the political sphere, Brigitta is most know for her visions. Through Brigitta’s visions it is clear that she has a thorough understanding of scripture. Her Revelationes, Sermo Angelicus, and The Orationes, (which serve as prayers, devotionals and lectures) are her most know works in which she conveys her doctrine on Mary, her concept of God, her Doctrine of the Trinity, her concept of human nature, and her political thought as given to her from God. She holds somewhat unique views claiming that God created man for no reason other than to make people who could share in His eternal joy, not because he needed man. She also wrote of the complete unity of the trinity as one and three with one eternity, one power and one glory. In her thoughts on human nature, she writes that the body was created to serve the soul and that through work, man can receive the honor of the angels. She also believed in predestination. Finally, her views on political thought revolve around the notion that Kings were put in place because man would not obey God alone, and that Kings must be just and charitable in all governing and decision-making.

Her most notable views include her extensive Mariology, in which she writes of visions of Mary as a counselor and advisor to all within the Catholic Church (widowed, virgin, happily married, etc.), and worshiped as the perfect and beloved-by-God virgin Queen of Heaven, second only to God himself. She also writes of Mary’s life on earth. Birgitta’s visions differ from the masculine dominated views of the time in that she portrays Mary as an intelligent, confident and active figure among the scriptures, teaching the apostles and serving and ministering to people alongside Jesus. While Aquinas held a view of Mary as passive and unintelligent, Birgitta’s Mary is a much stronger and more influential figure.

Personal Response

What I found most interesting about Birgitta was her passion and confidence. While she often denied herself, she gave everything she had (monetarily and physically) to serve others and to share the message of God. Also, it was noted in the introduction to this book that many women were seen as prodigies and marveled at for their knowledge while they were young and before having a family, but Birgitta accomplished much and earned the respect, or at least the ear of many powerful figures, even after raising a family of her own. While her heavy concentration on the study and worship of Mary outweighs much of the other literary work she produced, I found it interesting and refreshing that she was able to put forward her ideas despite the male-dominated sphere. She presented Mary as an encouragement and role-model to all women within Catholicism. Not only was Birgitta’s Mary perfectly pious and pure, she was intelligent and confident in serving God alongside men, even Christ. It seems Birgitta aimed to reflect Mary in her own life.


Chapter 8 "Birgitta of Sweden" by Cornelia Wolfskeel, of A History of Women Philosophers: Medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment Women Philosophers A.D. 500-1600 by Mary Ellen Waithe 

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