Harriet Sonne

title.none: Joensson, ed., Sancta Birgitta: Revelaciones, Book III (Sonne)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.013 00.03.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Harriet Sonne, University of Copenhagen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Joensson, Ann-Mari, ed. Sancta Birgitta: Revelaciones, Book III. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Uppsala, Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell International, 1998. Pp. 251. SEK 231. ISBN: 9-174-02288-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.13

Joensson, Ann-Mari, ed. Sancta Birgitta: Revelaciones, Book III. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Uppsala, Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell International, 1998. Pp. 251. SEK 231. ISBN: 9-174-02288-1.

Reviewed by:

Harriet Sonne
University of Copenhagen

The revelations of St. Birgitta of Sweden, canonized in 1391, have attracted the attention of scholars for many years. There are approximately eighty extant manuscripts of Birgitta's revelations. Originally, they were written or dictated by her in Old Swedish. They were first compiled and translated into Latin by her Swedish confessors, Master Mathias Ovidi, Canon of Linkoping Cathedral ( 1350), Prior Petrus Olavi of Alvastra (d.1390) and Master Petrus Olavi of Skanninge (d.1378) and later, by the exiled Spaniard Alfonso Pecha da Vadaterra, former Bishop of Jaén (d.1389), who is believed to have been responsible for the division of her nearly 700 revelations into eight books.

Ann-Mari Jonsson's edition of Book III adds to previous editions of Books I [[1]], IV [[2]], V [[3]], VI [[4]] and VII [[5]], the first in a series of modern critical Latin editions of Birgitta's revelations. Book III is comprised of thirty-four chapters with the supplementary material of the Addiciones and Declaraciones, comments on revelations I-IV and VI by Prior Petrus prior to the manuscript's submission to Vadstena in 1380 (p.57). Birgitta is believed to have experienced the visions in Book III between 1349 and 1353, and composed them prior to 1354. They were codified prior to the submission of Book IV to the papal authorities on December 17, 1373 (p.28). Book III differs from the others. Jonsson's edition is of particular interest to historians. The revelations were directed toward the leading members of the Church in Sweden and Italy. Birgitta expresses an urgent need for reform in the Church. As a prerequisite, she felt the Pope must return to Rome. The revelations assembled in Book III are tied thematically and were meant to serve as a type of Speculum episcoporum, as a textbook guide to a better Christian life for popes, bishops and monks, alike. H.T. Gilkaer [[6]] has suggested that Book III was edited by Alfonso for the express purpose of being part of a larger compilation of works consisting of Liber celestis imperatoris ad reges (Book VIII with the Epistola Solitarii), Tractatus de summis pontificibus and Celeste viridarium, planned in accordance with Alfonso X's legal treatise from the thirteenth century, Las siete partidas (p.28).

Interpretations of the revelations are kept to a minimum. The focus of the edition is on the process of transcribing, creating an archetype and related editorial issues. In keeping with the layout of previous works in this series, Jonsson's edition commences with an extensive bibliography (pp. 9-18), a brief history of the text, dates of the individual revelations and a summary of the contents of Book III (pp. 29-41). Chapter 2 provides the reader with information about the various manuscripts and their relationships (pp.42-57). Chapter 3 outlines the editorial principles (pp.59-61). The reader is given an overview of the relationship of the Old Swedish texts to the Latin versions, the rubrics, the cursus planus, tardus and velox, the orthography, normalizations and apparatuses. In Chapter 4 Jonsson discusses the various textual problems associated with the reconstruction of the archetype (pp.63-81). The transcription of Book III follows on pages 81-190. At the end there is a glossary of the words that are either completely missing from K.E. Georges, Ausfuhrlisches latenisch-deutsches Handwoerterbuch (Basel, 1962) or, as the author writes "whose meaning are not adequately dealt with" (pp.191-203). Each entry has useful cross references to the glossaries in the other modern editions of Birgitta's revelations and related Birgittine works. The glossary is followed by several useful indices: a grammatical index, an index nominum, an index rerum et locutionum notabiliorum et allegoriarum and, lastly, an index locorum sacrae scripturae. Jonsson concludes her text with an examination of the fourteenth-century Old Swedish copies of the revelations with the reconstructed archetype from the Latin versions.

While the revelations are directed toward members of the Church, identifying them is another puzzle that has engaged several scholars. Jonsson introduces previous suggestions as to who some figures might be but, generally, refrains from partaking in speculative assumptions, noting only the more certain identities. It seems that the first revelations (III, 1-3) must have occurred in Sweden and that the subsequent revelations (III, 5- 29 and 33) were experienced during her stay in Italy. Jonsson agrees with B. Klockars interpretation that revelations III, 1-3 may have been intended for Bishop Thomas of Vaxjo (p.32). References in III, 4 to the "undutiful bishop and his dutiful canon" may have been intended for Petrus Tyrgilli, Archbishop 1351-1366 and Master Mathias (p.33). Revelations III, 5-9 occurred in Milan and Rome. As Jonsson demonstrates, revelations III, 8 and 9 were addressed to the Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Visconti in 1339. The belief that Birgitta had predicted the Great Schism of the Church in 1378, some twenty years prior to the event, was based on another revelation mentioned in Addiciones III, 10 (p.113). In fact, this is the evidence which Magnus Petri in his capacity as confessor general (1384-1394) is believed to have used in the letter of defending Birgitta's revelations (p.34). Symbolic references to the ruinous condition of St. Maria Maggiore in Rome in III, 10 mirror the troubled state of the Church at that time. Birgitta's belief that a new religious order was needed surfaces in the revelations III, 14 -19 where she attacks the Dominican order in their preference for wealth rather than poverty (III, 15:1) and the Benedictine order in III, 20-22. The inspiration of St. Benedict is described as a fire burning inside him. Once inside others it is now lost (III, 21). Jonsson concurs with Schmid and Brilioth that the revelations were directed toward Archbishop Petrus Philippi and the Dominican Odgisle (Eglislus) Birgeri (d.1352-1353) Bishop of Vasteras in 1329 but who was at the papal court in Avignon for more than 10 years. He became known for his use of bribery to secure papal authority for King Magnus Eriksson's occupation of Scania (p.37). Rev. III, 26 is of historical interest for its discussion about salvation and Jews, the three groups of mankind and their degrees of evil, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Upon her arrival in Rome in revelation III, 27:1 Birgitta compares the monk with a Christain knight. The concluding revelations discusss her efforts to learn Latin and references to the Virgin. The following sections give a brief synopsis of the revelations, their content and the names of some of the individuals alluded to in Birgitta's revelations.

As a conclusion to this review mention should be made of Jonsson's references to Birgitta's explanations of what constitutes her revelations for this is an interesting dimension not addressed in other editions. What exactly is a revelation? According to Birgitta it is when "St. Ambrose says that he wants to talk to her through a similitude because her heart cannot understand the implication of spiritual things without a corporal similitude" (III, 6:1; p.24). Furthermore, in III, 30:8 Birgitta describes herself as "the channel of the Holy Ghost" ( canalis scilicet Spiritus Sancti) and in III, 19:23 she likens herself to an ancient prophet (p.24). The shifting plurality of time and speech become intertwined as "the Virgin Mary says certain events of a revelation can occur in an instant before God but for Birgitta's sake they have been prolonged with the help of words because a thousand years with God are like one hour" (III, 4:18). Lastly, the historical sense of time is not applicable to revelations for, as Birgitta says, God "sometimes speaks in the present about what belongs in the future and about things that will happen as if they have already taken place" (III, 19:23; p.24-25).


1. C.G. Undhagen, ed., Santa Birgitta, Reuelaciones Liber I Book I with magester Mathias' Prologue, SFSS, Ser.2. Latinska skrifter VII:1. Stockholm, 1978.

2. H. Aili, ed., Santa Birgitta, Reuelaciones Book IV (SFSS, Ser.2. Latinska skrifter VII:4. Stockholm, 1992.

3. B. Bergh, ed., Sancta Birgitta, Reuelaciones Book V Liber questionum (SFSS, Ser.2. Latinska skrifter VII:5. Uppsala, 1971.

4. B. Bergh, ed., Sancta Birgitta, Reuelaciones. Book VI Stockholm, 1991.

5. B. Bergh, ed., Sancta Birgitta, Reuelaciones. Book VII(SFSS, Ser.2. Latinska skrifter VII:7) Diss. Uppsala, 1967.

6. H.T. Gilkær, The Political Ideas of St. Birgitta and her Spanish Confessor, Alfonso Pecha. Liber Celestis Imperatoris ad Reges. A Mirror of Princes. Odense University Studies in History and Social Sciences 163, Diss. Odense, 1993.