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Testimony against Papal Corruptions.
cross, indeed, is, in Birgitta's eyes, as in the eyes of all the ethic mystics, the central figure, so to speak, in the great picture of religious doctrine and religious life,--and the mediatorial sufferings of the God-man are, for her as for them, the subject of perpetual comment and elucidation. Profound is the sense of relief with which we turn from the passages in which she so extravagantly sounds the praises of Mary, to those in which the Saviour and His work form the sole undivided theme,-and which read rather like the product of a post-Reformation than a pre-Reformation century.
We now, however, proceed to advert somewhat more minutely to perhaps the most interesting aspect of Birgitta's character and labourg,--the testimony, namely, which she bore, and bore at Rome itself, against the crimes and corruptions of the Papal system. Even before leaving Sweden, in the year 1348, she had commenced her faithful witnessing, and sent the Bishop of Aabo with a communication to Pope Clement the Sixth, in which she urged him, in Christ's name, to reform the Church. But her own residence in the Eternal City first clearly revealed to her the true state of matters, morally and spiritually, in that degenerate capital of Christendom; and she lost no time in lifting up her wrathful and warning voice. Graphically does she describe the condition of Rome at the period of her arrival there. She speaks of the city's ruined sanctuaries and deserted cloisters; the priests, she says, sell remission of sins and break all the Church's laws, the monks go with sword and breast-plate beneath their gowns, and count the scapulary a disgrace ; without shame they are surrounded by their concubines, their sons and daughters. The convents are haunts of infamy, multitudes of persons live and die without ever having made confession or partaken of the Sacrament, and Rome's rulers are manslayers, seduced by evil spirits. She hears the Apostle Peter utter witness against his city,“ once the city of heroes, whose streets were paved with silver and with gold, the blood of saints and martyrs,-but now are its jewels trodden in the mire, and from its inhabitants the right eye has been torn and the right hand smitten off.” She hears Christ's complaint over its fall : “Rome's people hate me, their heart is heavy and hard as stone, they love me like the demons, who will rather suffer eternal woe than behold me in my glory.” In many parts of her “Revelations” there resounds a voice like that of Luther, when he shook the dust from his feet and forsook the accursed city. “O Roma, Roma, now must I speak of thee as the prophets spoke of Jerusalem! The roses and lilies in thy garden are over, grown with thistles, thy walls are ruined, thy gates devoid
of watchmen, thy altars desolate, thy sacred vessels sold, and there arises no smoke of offering from thy sanctuaries. Woe to thee! If God's followers did not without pause entreat His mercy, Rome would exist no longer. Thou shalt be purified with sharp sword and fire, the ploughshare shall go over thee and all thy planting be uprooted ; the Lord shall crush thee in His righteous indignation. He descends upon thee with sudden death, and all His angels and saints in heaven shall doom thee, while the spirits of the lost shall execrate thy name!” Naturally enough, with Birgitta's predominant ethical tendency, it is moral and not doctrinal reform she craves; but her demand for the first is loud, urgent, and unceasing. Thus it is that she, still loyal to the sacerdotal and Papal ideas, can dare to speak of the Romish clergy :
"So soon as the young priest begins his studies Christ departs from him, for all his thoughts are pride and arrogance. The priesthood are like the wild briar's fruit, fair and ruddy to view, yet within they are full of impurity. They cry not with the prophet, 'Come hither, Lord, for Thou art dear unto my spirit,' but, 'Go from us, for Thy laws are heavy, and Thy words bitter, and an offence and scandal to our souls.' Rather would they give a hundred pieces of gold for the world's honour, than a single penny for the Saviour's sake; rather would they speak a hundred words for the world's glory than a single word for Christ's. Suffering along with Him they shrink from, as they would shrink from poison. And yet they do not forget Him altogether; they transform Him into an idol, they fashion a golden calf out of that which appertains to Him alone. The vessels of the Church are carried away to Babylon; the sword of the true fear of God has been thrown aside, and the money-bag usurps its place; all the ten precepts of the decalogue are summed up in this one commandment, 'Hither, hither with your pence. For it is their subtle art to speak fairly and to work evil. Simony is practised openly and without shame. God's sacraments are dispensed for money, remission of sins has become a thing of barter, like Judas they sell Christ and they sell His offices. The priest has patience with the sinner in all his sin, just for the sake of the gift he offers him, and hates, on the other hand, the true believer who walks in the Saviour's way. They feed on the husks of the swine-trough and tread the crown of gold beneath their feet, they reject the fine wheat and chew the dust instead, they loose the bands of others and bind themselves in triple chains. Humble they are !-yea, humble as Lucifer; when they ride forth on their stately steeds, the demons ride along with
Denunciation of the Popes themselves.
them and chuckle inwardly. They have lost the key with which they should open heaven for the wretched, but that which opens hell they love and keep in safety, lying ever nearest to their heart. Of the simple one who comes to them they make a devil like themselves. If he comes with
a three wounds, he receives from them the fourth,-if he comes with four, he goes away with five; for the sinner draws consolation from sinning after their example. Worse are they than Judas, who yet confessed his iniquity, and repented with a fruitless repentance-yea, worse are they even than the very hosts of Satan. As the flame will never break forth from ice, though it should be laid a thousand times upon the fire, so from them will never break forth Love's flame, however often they hear the words of Christ! And the worst of them all is he, who sits with Boniface in his throne of pride, borne up by the four pillars of arrogance, self-will, avarice,
Accursed be they, accursed of heaven and of earth!'
Like John of Oliva and the Fraticelli, when they pronounced their condemnation against the Papacy, Birgitta confidently anticipated a great season of conversion both for Jews and Gentiles.* This, and the hope of a grand moral reformation within the pale of Christendom itself, mainly contributed to console her spirit amid the growing corruption and degeneracy of the times. Her devotion to the idea of the Papacy prevented her from recognizing how utterly impossible it was that the Popes would ever, of their own accord, inaugurate a series of radical reforms in the Church over which they ruled. Yet, unwilling as she was, on account of that very devotion, to evince disloyalty to the doctrine of Papal supremacy, or to range, in ordinary circumstances, Christ's vicars side by side with the “dumb and leprous priests” whom she branded as the chief cause of the decay of godliness, there are times when she can no longer restrain her indignation, when she arraigns the Pope himself, as the symbol of degraded Christendom, before the tribunal of a righteous God. In one of her most memorable visions, she represents the Pope at heaven's judgment-bar, not so much in his individual character as the type of the entire Papacy and the whole body of the Romish clergy, and she hears, proceeding from the lips of Christ, those words of fearful doom: “Thou
Compare “Neander's Church History” (Clark's translation) Vol. VIII., p. 443. What Neander truly says of Oliva, that “he may be reckoned as ranking, with the Abbot Joachim, among the prophetic men who bore within them the germs of great spiritual developments in the future, though intermingled with a chaotic mass of heterogeneous elements," is unquestionably applicable to Birgitta also. Neander's whole description of Oliva is important, as throwing, indirectly, not a little light on the subject of the present paper.
head of my Church, I lament because of thee ! Thou shouldest bring to me the souls which I redeemed with my blood, but, verily, thou art a soul-murderer,-worse than Lucifer; for me only did he slay, but thou slayest the souls of my people also,-more iniquitous than Pilate, for he only condemned to death myself, but thou condemnest both me and the souls that are my own.
Thou art more false than Judas who betrayed me, more inhuman than the Jews who crucified me, and therefore shall thy throne sink, like a millstone, into the depths of the abyss." Words like these cannot be explained away, even by the subtlest efforts of the Popish annalists and commentators. They will remain a perpetual memorial of the manner in which the Papacy was regarded by a future saint of the Church of Rome, at the time of her sojourn under its baleful shadow. Catherine of Siena foretold, indeed, the Papal schism and the subsequent Reformation,-a Reformation the bare thought of which filled her mind with inexpressible gladness; but her predictions are scarcely clearer or more definite than are Birgittaʼs of the fall of the Papal throne.
Passing, however, now to another topic of considerable interest and importance, we proceed to indicate very briefly in what respects Birgitta may be said to have paved the way for the introduction of the Reformation into Northern Europe. Her influence here, along with that of her followers, was of a threefold nature. The ethic mysticism which she taught,-a mysticism resting on the essential principles of Scripture, and, at the same time, of an eminently moral and practical character,-operated with singular benefit throughout the three Scandinavian kingdoms as a kind of preliminary spiritual culture, preparing men's minds for the reception, at an after period, of an ampler and better system of religious truth. Living faith in the Saviour's merits, the necessity of holiness, earnest perusal of the Word of God, allimportance of ecclesiastical reform, proclamation of the Gospel in the mother-tongue, and the education of the masses,—such were the doctrines which Birgitta and her adherents everywhere announced to be the one thing needful; and the good seed thus sown dropped silently, but efficaciously, into the great heart of the Northern races,-bringing forth, in due time, a rich and abundant harvest. Again, from all the pulpits in connexion with the Birgittine religious houses throughout Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, there resounded every Sunday the voice of preachers who used in their sermons the common language of the people. This was one of the distinctive characteristics of the Birgittine monastic order. What the founder of that order had laid down as a principle
Influence upon the Scandinavian Reformation. 25
just and right in theory, her followers systematically reduced to practice; and thus, while the other pulpits of the Romish Church were in general closed to the mother-tongue, the people had the privilege of listening, in the sanctuaries founded by Birgitta and her adherents, to a more or less faithful exposition, in their own vernacular, from Sabbath to Sabbath, of the precious Word of God. Such a circumstance could not fail to prepare the popular mind for the larger and more blessed religious revival which was yet to come. Finally, the Birgittine monks distinguished themselves by literary efforts of no ordinary nature, when we take into account the difficulties by which, in many cases, they were surrounded, and also the age in which they lived. In the great cause of intellectual enlightenment, as well as spiritual instruction, they laboured zealously and indefatigably, carrying out thereby one of the favourite plans of their foundress, whose aspiration it was to see the mass of the people trained in the knowledge of things human, in addition to things divine. Professor Hammerich, in his concluding chapter, enumerates the chief writings of the Birgittine monks; and from his catalogue we may safely deduce the inference that the Birgittine literature had considerable share in moulding the minds of the more thoughtful classes in the North of Europe, and fitting them to welcome, in its appointed season, the advent of a purer faith.
Our task is now completed. We have endeavoured, however feebly and imperfectly, to reproduce before the reader the lineaments, mental and spiritual, of one who was not merely in her own day a memorable woman, but who exercised a powerful influence,--and an intluence, on the whole, for good, —upon immediately succeeding generations. Let us hope that our labour has not been altogether thrown away. Surely, with all our repugnance to the Romish creed, we cannot yet afford to despise any useful lesson which may be taught us by those old medieval ages-surely, with ail our attachment to Protestantism and heart-hatred of Popery, we can still revere that Swedish “saint,” who, although she never left Rome's communion, protested so stoutly against Kome's corruptions,—and surely we may well rejoice in each successful attempt to rescue a character so Christianly heroic from the clutches of the Papal annalists, and to prove that Birgitta was, in reality, an illustrious witness for the truth, and the pioneer of the Scandinavian Reformation.