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BRITISH AND FOREIGN

EVANGELICAL REVIEW.

JANUARY, 1865.

Art. I.--St. Birgitta and the Northern Church.

Den hellige Birgitta og Kirken i Norden. Af Fr. Hammerich. Copen

hagen. 1863.

No
O figure, except that of Anschar, stands forth so promi-

nent in the mediæval Church history of Scandinavia, as does that of the remarkable woman who forms the subject of the present paper;

Dashed off by a colossal brush on a colossal canvas, -the canvas of the wild and stormy Northern life of the Middle Ages,—the twain, indeed, bulk grandly before our view, and imperatively claim a large share of our wondering attention. Like the figure with which, according to the characteristic anecdote told of Wouvermans, the artist was so much perplexed in one of his pictures, because he could not “keep it down,”-and which he tried to modify, therefore, in every possible way, by shifting it and changing its proportions, until at last he discovered that the fundamental error lay in its being originally too large,-Anschar the Scandinavian apostle, and Birgitta the Swedish saint, fill the Northern canvas with their forms, well nigh to the exclusion of others, albeit, all the while, these very forms are rather portrayed in giant shadowy outline than with clearcut lineaments and well-defined expression.

Of the two, however, Anschar is unquestionably the better known. Notwithstanding the irreparable loss of his “ Diarium,” which would have thrown such a flood of light on the various events of his chequered and singular career, the leading features of his evangelistic labours may be pretty correctly traced

VOL. XIV.---NO. LI.

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throughout their entire course; and there have not been wanting, both in ancient and modern times, biographers desirous to do him justice, and to elucidate the tale of toils and trials undergone by one who, whatever otherwise may have been his errors, wrought with devotion so heroic in the great mission-field of the north of Europe. Widely different is the case with regard to Birgitta. Round her shape, at best but dimly seen in the darkness of those old centuries, there has gradually clustered a repulsive mass of lying Romish legends, distorting its fair proportions, obscuring its true nature, and transforming into a kind of spiritual caricature the noble image of her who has been styled by a recent ecclesiastical historian,-by no means unjustly, as we hope to show in the sequel,--the morning star of the Scandinavian Reformation. Thoroughly, intensely Protestant as we are, still we are at the same time eclectic enough to value any measure of the good and true that may be found in the Romish hagiology itself; and it has long been our opinion that no more valuable service can be rendered to the Church of Christ than to disentangle (as is certainly possible in many cases) the forms of so-called saints from the bandages which Papal legend and tradition have swathed around them, and, restoring them to their real characters, thereby prove that instead of being Rome's foremost votaries, they were, at least in some instances, among the stoutest opponents of her unscriptural and antichristian pretensions. In Birgitta of Sweden, although canonized by a Pope, we have sufficient corroboration of the fact thus indicated.

For preliminary proof of our assertion, we may point to the significant circumstance that the earlier annalists of the Lutheran Church invariably described Birgitta a genuine precursor of the Reformation.

For example, the patriarch of Lutheran Church history, Matthias Flacius Illyricus, in his “ Catalogus Testium Veri- . tatis," speaks of her in memorable language as “ reproving the Pope for his iniquities, and predicting that on account of them his throne would descend into the abyss." * Similar opinions have been expressed in regard to her by Johannes Wolf, by J. C. Diethericus, and finally by Arnold, in his “Kirchen und Ketzergeschichte.” But, with the exception of a few of these earlier writers, little notice has ben taken of Birgitta by ecclesiastical historians beyond the limits of her native country. Only occasionally some modern

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The testimony of this author is so striking that we subjoin it in the original : “ Papistæ eam pro prophetissa habent et papa canonizavit. Multum autem reprehendit papæ, ejusque spiritualium turpitudines, sedem ejus dicit demergendam iu profundum.

Character of Ilammerich's Work.

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authors have made to her a transient allusion, such as Rudelbach in his “Savonarola," Hase in his “ Kirchengeschichte, and Michelet in his “ Histoire de France." By her countrymen she has, of course, been differently treated. In Sweden Birgitta is better known than in the rest of the Protestant world, and more attention has been paid to the elucidation of her life and character. Among the works in which she is, more or less fully, described, we may point to Reuterdahl's “ Svenska Kyrkens Historia” (History of the Swedish Church), Lagerbring's “Svea Rikes Historia” (History of the Swedish Kingdom), Fryxell's “Berättelser ur Svenska Historien " (Narratives from Swedish History), and Wieselgren's “ Sveriges Sköna Litteratur” (Swedish Belles Lettres). And now, from the pen, not of a Swede, but of a Dane, the best and completest of all Birgitta's biographies has made its appearance, -the monograph which gives its title to the present article.

The author, Professor Hammerich, of the University of Copenhagen, holds a high position among the theological and historical writers of his native country. Into his new task he appears to have entered con amore, and has unquestionably brought to bear upon it a large measure of qualifications which are too rarely found conjoined. With a capacity for laborious and unwearied research, that is more peculiarly a German than a Scandinavian endowment, he blends a power of vivid word-painting that not seldom reminds us of the rich pictorialism of Michelet. While availing himself of the results of modern biographical inquiry, he has mainly gone to the multifarious original sources for information, and, in truly Protestant, yet, at the same time, perfectly impartial spirit, he has sought to disinter from its sepulchre in the slough of Romish legends the figure of the famous Northern saint. The attempt has been crowned with the success it merited. In Professor Hammerich's pages, Birgitta stands before the reader, a form instinct with life,--relieved on the background of the mediæval centuries, no longer in dim and cloudy outline, but with wonderful exactness both of feature and expression,-in short, the breathing, praying, working woman that she was, half-visionary, half-practical; at one and the same time brooding over the strange world of wonders within her breast, and labouring, in her own fashion, with indomitable effort for the advancement of what she deemed the Saviour's cause. And if occasionally her last biographer should represent certain parts of her conduct in what seems to us, we frankly confess, an unduly favourable light, let us remember that without the admixture of the element of hero-worship,-kept, of course, within due and proper bounds,---genuine biography, of any

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kind, would lose a something which imparts to it one of its real and peculiar charms. Besides, in justice to Professor Hammerich, it must be stated that the general tone of the work is strictly impartial, and that it is only when discussing minor details, and even then but rarely, that he evinces aught of a desire unduly to exalt his heroine. The conclusion to which he comes, in the final sentences of the preface, as to the general significance of Birgitta's character, we believe to be, on the whole, unprejudiced and just. “An inquirer who for any length of time has studied the original documents, who has overcome the critical difficulties that are so frequently connected with them, and who is able to separate the true historic elements from those of legend and tradition, will in the end discern a grand personality, stamped with the purest features of the Middle Ages, step forth from what appeared to him at the beginning to be almost a wilderness of romance. Here is a woman, whose life has all-pervading import, not merely for the history of the Swedish, but for that of the entire Northern Church, -not merely for the ecclesiastical, but also for the secular history of the whole North of Europe. And it unfolds itself before the student, through faith, doubts, temptations, battles internal and external, like a veritable Story of the Soul, so that even in the minutest features, he can trace its strange development; seldom, indeed, in this respect, are mediæval sources of information so complete. One thing only is repulsive,--the belief in creations of the fancy as Divine revelations ; but the true student knows the stand-point from which such matters must be viewed. He sees an age of tumult and fermentation, often dark, always interesting, and in its midst an inlyturned, dreaming, highly poetic nature, which alike possesses the will and the power to work from within outwardly in farextending spheres of labour. He sees the mystic conscious. . ness of the epoch mirror itself in a Northern female spirit.

a In spite of all her manifold defects, she stands before him like a witness for the truth, who points simultaneously to past and future,- who foretells and prepares the great regeneration in the life of faith which was to come. Such are the thoughts that guided me while I wrought at the ensuing representation of Birgitta and her labours. May the investigations interwoven with the story exert no dulling influence on the portrait of her noble personality!” Following, then, mainly the guidance of Professor Hammerich, yet availing ourselves also of Fryxell's charming “Narratives,” and other kindred volumes, we proceed to lay before our readers a brief sketch of Birgitta's life and work.

In order to understand aright the character of this notable

Period of Birgittu's Birth.

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Scandinavian woman, it is necessary to take into account the age in which she lived, and the influences that environed her from her earliest childhood. The period of her birth was a kind of turning point in the history of mediæval Europe,-alike remarkable intellectually and spiritually. Its leading features have been grouped together in such terse and graphic fashion by Professor Hammerich, in the first chapter of his book, that we translate it in full, as the most appropriate introduction to the tale of his heroine's career.

“ The great thoughts of the Middle Age could neither live nor die, its ideals were on the point of being metamorphosed into mere distorted images, and the dawn of the fourteenth century was darkened therefore by strange and ominous shadows. Boniface the Eighth had, according to Birgitta's own expression, 'sat down in the seat of pride,' —he affirmed that the two swords, St. Peter's and the temporal, lay crossways over each other, and both in his hand, -he even styled himself, in demoniac madness, the Judge of the living and the dead. In the year of jubilee, 1300, the Vicar of Christ had seen the whole world kneel at Rome before him ; four short years afterwards he sat on a humble stool in Avignon as the submissive Court-Bishop of the King of France. With the fall of Ptolemais (Acre), the sword dropped from the Knight-Crusader's grasp,—his ideas were consumed at the stake along with Jacques de Molay. Thus was the brilliant romantic dream of a worldly kingdom of God fairly dreamt out at last, and succeeded by a half-waken doze, full of spectres that alarm and terrify. The Papacy had fulfilled its mission, to fuse the newly-moulded European nations into that unity which we call Western Christendom. But the Papacy had only done so by vitiating the Gospel until it became a thing almost unrecognizable, by obscuring true faith in the Redeemer's merits, by burying out of view the Sacred Scriptures, by excavating a vast gult between priest and layman, by sinning against each nation's mother-tongue and the natural desires of the human heart, and by losing itself in such an abyss of worldliness and crime, that the Papal Court had grown a name and thing of horror. Dissolution went rapidly on. The two mediæval powers, Pope and Emperor, soon entered into new warfare for life or death; the boundary-lines of right and wrong were confounded, hearts grew cold and morals perverted, thought became mere mechanism; unbelief in the old ideals, and, along with them, in all things spiritual, prevailed increasingly on every side.

“The New, the Freer, the Truer, dimly glimmers on the distant horizon, but it is still long before the break of day. The popular spirit begins to waken from its slumber, its

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