Den fullkomnade människan

Vägledning på via perfectionis i tre vadstenensiska predikningar

  • Katarina Hallquist teol. och fil. kand., organist


Living in the Middle Ages was living drawn into the ever ongoing drama of Salvation. At stake was the great conundrum of how to live one’s life in order to reach eternal life in Heaven. Having reached the final days of life the ritual of proper dying, the Ars moriendi, proposed to the dying person a number of questions that ought to be answered with a Yes.

For this purpose an educational system developed where every person was taught about the foundations of Christian belief, the Credo, the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria. Furthermore it was necessary to know about sin, since the sacrament of confession had to be comprehensive in order to give full absolution. Teaching about sin and virtue and how to develop into a better person was transmitted by the Church through preaching and confession.

Gregory the Great had written about the seven capital sins, deri- ved from the root of pride. In the twelfth century Hugh of St. Victor made a scheme of categories of seven, where he pointed out several steps of progress from a capital sin towards beatitude. From the state of sin a person should use first the relevant prayer from the seven prayers of the Pater Noster. Then he should take the next step to one of the seven gifts of the Spirit, then one of the capital virtues and after that reach the state of beatitude and be able to enter into Paradise.

This scheme of Hugh had an immense influence on medieval thinking and was followed by many others in edifying literature. Due to the words of Gregory the Great, capital sin and virtue were regarded as the cause of other sins or virtues. Sin and virtue were states of mind, habiti, and every person had to work oneself away from sin and build the habitus of virtue in heart and mind. In the Later Middle Ages the philosophical school of nominalism became influential and the power of will was emphasized. Through education every person should be able to choose the right way of life by means of free will.

In this essay, questions are asked about how this education was handled in the preaching of the Vadstena brethren. I have chosen three sermons for the Canonization Day of St. Birgitta, the foundress of the Abbey. My purpose has been to analyze each of them consi- dering the situation of their delivery, their purpose and the strategy used by the preachers to achieve their purpose. I have sought their ethical emphasis in order to see what appears to have been most important to teach. Further, I have asked why the Canonization Day of St. Birgitta was considered a day when moral teaching should be preached and searched an answer in the possibility of a greater con- course of pilgrims. As a result I have found that, though the material is far too small to say anything in general, the brethren seem to have been aware of scholastic thinking about sin and virtue, though they do not use any scheme of edifying steps for the soul. Perhaps the reason for that is the excellent pedagogical instrument provided by St. Birgitta herself in her Revelations.