Vigvatten, signerier och prästlöften

En dispyt om kyrkobruk och vidskepelse i skuggan av Röda boken

  • Christer Pahlmblad, D.Th. Docent at Lund University, Sweden


The point of departure for the article is the tract On False Exorcists written in 1579 Jesper Marci, the vicar of Vadstena in the diocese of Linköping. The treatise quotes a letter in which Hans Pauli Monta-nus, chaplain to the Birgittine sisters in Vadstena, describes his use of holy water and exorcisms. Hans Pauli claims that he has healed people, restored ore to depleted mines and repaired broken tools by means of holy water. He had taken the rite for blessing holy water and the texts of exorcisms and prayers from a book that he found in Falun in 1570, entitled Consecratio major[is] salis et aquæ contra dæmo-niacas infestationes, ”The Great Blessing of Salt and Water Against Disturbances by Evil Spirits”. Jesper Marci levels sharp criticism both against Hans Pauli’s in his opinion superstitious use of holy water and against the sacramentals of the Roman Church in general.

Hans Pauli had probably made use of rites like those found in a Da-nish ritual (manuale) from the fourteenth century and in a manuscript from the 1550s used by the priest Severinus in a parish just north of Lund. The latter, a small paper manuscript written in a simple cursive hand, may give us some idea of the manuscript used by Hans Pauli.

The article also presents two other texts containing criticism of the traditional sacramentals: a polemical tract by the Bishop of Lin-köping, Martinus Olai Gestricius, written in 1577 against the ”Red Book”, i.e. the Order of Mass published in 1576 by King Johan III, Liturgia Svecanæ ecclesiæ catholicæ et orthodoxæ conformis; and a tract against holy water which Laurentius Petri, archbishop of Uppsala 1531–1573, had published already in 1538. Although it has no direct bearing on the Liturgia, Martinus Olai treats in detail the episcopal consecrations of oils and chrism on Holy Thursday as well as the ordinary blessing of holy water. The passages where he does this are largely quoted verbatim from Johannes Brenz’ Apologiæ Confessionis Wirtenbergensis published 1555–57. Maybe Martinus Olai had heard about the debacle concerning Hans Pauli and for this reason spent an inordinate number of pages on Roman Catholic ritual practices.

From the writings of these three authors, three main arguments against sacramentals can be distilled:

1. Holy Scripture contains no precepts about such practices, so they must be regarded as mere human inventions.

2. Sacramentals ascribe to created things a holiness and power that they do not and cannot possess by nature. Already the baptismal ritual in Een handbock påå Swensko 1529 says, in accordance with the Lutheran understanding of creation, that there is no ”need to exor-cize the salt, as has hitherto been done, since it is by nature God’s unspoilt creation”.

3. Laurentius Petri rejects the use of holy water since it derogates from God’s promise of forgiveness for sins through the means he himself has instituted, granted to those who in faith hold on to that promise.

In his tract Jesper Marci criticizes Hans Pauli for having broken the vows of his ordination. The rites at ordination described by Jesper Marci are otherwise unknown, but he assumes that they are familiar to his readers and generally practised: the bishop presents ”the entire Holy Scriptures” and a chalice to the ordinands, who one by one lay their hands on them as they make their promises. The ceremony of the chalice has a parallel in the medieval rite of ordination, at the point when the bishop anoints the newly ordained priest’s hands and grants him power to ”present sacrifice to God and celebrate mass for both the living and the dead”. In the ritual described by Jesper Marci, however, the ceremony has an entirely different meaning and relates to a ”lutheranized” ordination oath, in which the ordinand promises to flee false doctrine, proclaim the Word of God rightly, administer the sacraments in accordance with the Scriptures and not offend anyone by his conduct.

Jesper Marci’s description is the only glimpse we have of a re-formed Swedish ordination rite earlier than that of the proposed Church Order of 1561 and the ratified Church Order of 1571.
By mentioning ”the entire Holy Scriptures” Jesper Marci suggests that Hans Pauli was ordained after 1541, the year when the Bible was first published in Swedish, since no complete Bible (either in Swedish or in Latin) existed in Sweden before that year. On the other hand, the papal nuntio to King Johan III, the Jesuit Antonio Possevino, evidently accepted Hans Pauli as a properly ordained Roman Catholic priest, which suggests that he had been ordained in the 1530s by one of the remaining bishops that Rome regarded as legitimate.

If we accept both terms of this equation, we must suppose that the rite of ordination already in the 1530s had been altered in a way that was acceptable both to the remaining reformist bishops who were loyal to Rome and to the Lutheran bishops. The change most urgently desired by the reformers was surely to remove the anointing of hands and the granting of power to present sacrifice and celebrate mass for the deceased. If these elements were suppressed, the cere-mony with the chalice could be transferred to the oath at the begin-ning of the rite. In harmony with the medieval practice of swearing on the Gospel Book, the New Testament in Swedish, published in 1526, could have been used in lieu of the entire Bible.

However, the anointing of hands and the granting of power to pre-sent the sacrifice of the mass was by the medieval church regarded as necessary for ordination (as evidenced by the pontifical, which uses ordinandi before the anointing and ordinati afterward). This casts doubt on whether Possevino would have accepted such a reformed rite of ordination as valid – if he knew that it had been used. But there is no reason to doubt that Jesper Marci described something that was actually practised in a Lutheran ordination rite. How Hans Pauli became a validly ordained Roman Catholic priest remains to be demonstrated.