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Archive for September, 2016

Dear Readers,

I am going to be taking a short break from the weekly posts. I am going to study for a Doctor of Ministry degree. The track is called, “Leadership in Global Perspectives”. I am really excited about this opportunity.

My doctoral dissertation will be about women in ministry. I would like to write a book – a devotional – that includes stories of women that God has used in Kingdom work. God has called His daughters to serve in the Kingdom all through history and from all parts of the globe – hence the appropriateness of the Global Perspectives’ track.

My blog posts include over 200 women now. I would like to research the stories of 165(6) more from Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, the Islands, and other minority ethnic groups in Europe and North America. This devotional should be a daily encouragement to women to answer their call from God as so many others have done before them.

An important reason for writing the book is to show that God does indeed use women in ministry. But equally important is a list of resources for women to use. I have been blessed by each and every book or article I have read. An important part of the devotional will be a bibliography in the back containing a list of the many books available. Other women will be blessed too as they read these inspiring stories.

sandemans-new-london

So, I am off to London for 10 days with my colleagues. We will be studying global issues and how to minister more effectively to all cultures.   Christianity has always been a global religion, but now that the world has “shrunk” we have the opportunity to reach every nation with the Gospel.

There is only one place in the Scriptures that gives us an indication of when Christ will return. “The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Now with technology, GPS, easy travel, more cooperation between some countries, and the many new Mission Organizations I believe that we can reach every nation. This is exciting for all of us who look for and love His appearing.

When I return, we will pick up with fourteenth-century Christian mystics. In the meantime, check out some of the books listed in the Reviews. They will give you much to think about.

 

 

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Blessed may you be, my Lord Jesus Christ. By your precious blood and by your most sacred death, you redeemed souls and mercifully led them back from exile to eternal life.                                                                            Birgitta of Sweden

For the last several months we have been looking at Christian women mystics of the Middle Ages. We have covered twelfth century mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen and the Beguines (posts 7/26/16). Next we related the stories of many thirteenth century mystics such as St. Clare of Assisi, Hadewijch, and Angela of Foligno (posts 7/27/16 through 8/6/16). Then I posted reviews of the books that have more information about these amazing women (Review #17, posted 9/5/16). If you read these books you will be inspired, challenged, and blessed.

Now let us turn our attention to fourteenth century mystics. In this group are some of the most birgitta-of-swedenfamous women in church history – Birgitta (Bridget) of Sweden, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Dorothea of Montau, and Margery Kempe.

I am looking forward to talking with these women when I get to Heaven. Birgitta especially is very intriguing to me. She led such a selfless life. She gave away most of her wealth. And I am truly amazed at her courage. Though she was obviously a humble woman, Birgitta did not shrink from confronting leaders, even the pope.

St. Birgitta (or St. Bridget) of Sweden is as famous in the Netherlands as Joan of Arc is in France. Birgitta (1303-1373) is remembered for her work among the poor and destitute. Her piety is renowned. We are blessed to have her story, much of which is in her own writings.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Birgitta’s writings and many books are now available for you to read. Her “Revelations” and “Prayers” are beautiful. Some are controversial for Protestants, since Birgitta prayed to the Virgin Mary. I think that we need to remember the time during which she lived and focus on her obvious love for the Savior. She proved her love by her many works of charity. She not only fed the poor, but she rescued many girls from a life of sin. The people of Rome gave Birgitta the title of “The Angel of Rome”.

I have already posted a story on Birgitta (July 15, 2011). I gave a summary of Birgitta’s life – her marriage to Ulf Gudmarsson, her eight children, her widowhood and subsequent travels, her work among the poor, and her founding of the religious order that is named after her and still in existence today.

The previous post also contains more about her efforts to convince Popes Clement VI, Urban V and Gregory XI to move from Avignon to Rome. The background for this was the decision of the popes to move their seat to Avignon, France in the early fourteenth century. Many called this “The Babylonian Captivity”. Most of the faithful believed that the right place for the papacy was in Rome, where the church had reportedly been founded by Saint Peter. But because of the influence of the powerful French kings, the popes had lived in Avignon since 1305.  Birgitta believed that the reform of the Church would begin with the return of the papacy to Rome. Eventually the papacy would return, but Birgitta did not live to see it.

saint-bridget-of-sweden-03In the first post I did not say much about Birgitta as a mystic. I did not tell of her visions or the miracles that she did. For example, I did not state that the reason she went to Rome was because she was following God’s direction to go there. In this post, I would like to say more about her mystical experiences and her writings.

St. Birgitta (or St. Bridget) was born in June of 1303 in Finsta, Sweden. She was the fifth child of aristocratic parents, Birger Persson, a knight and a governor, and Ingeborg Bengstdotter.  They were very devout Christians. Her parents were related to the king of Sweden and had influence at court. Birgitta spent six years as lady-in-waiting and advisor to King Magnus II and Queen Blanche of Sweden and Norway. This tie to the nobility would enable Birgitta to have the opportunity to stand in front of popes and kings, denouncing them for their worldliness and asking for reform.

Birgitta and Ulf Gudmarsson were happily married for twenty-eight years and had eight children. One of these children was Katherine – later St. Katherine of Sweden. Katherine would go on to continue Birgitta’s work in Sweden.

After Ulf died, around 1344, Birgitta experienced a vision as she was praying. In this vision a voice spoke to her from a bright cloud, “Woman, hear me; I am your God, who wishes to speak with you. Fear not, for I am the Creator of all, and not a deceiver. I do not speak to you for your sake, but for the sake of the salvation of others …. You shall be my bridge and my channel, and you shall hear and see spiritual things, and my Spirit shall remain with you even until your death.”

An Aside:

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.                                                 (I Corinthians 14:26

One of the hardest things for Christians of the twenty-first century to accept is the idea of personal visions from God. I believe that during the Medieval era especially, women and men did receive dreams or visions from God. The Christian mystic believes that God gives a type of revelation today. These revelations are not at the same level as the Scriptures. They are merely a spiritual word from the Holy Spirit.

There are several tests for the genuineness of visions. How would Birgitta or any other of the mystics know that it was the Spirit instructing them and not Satan?

In the first place, the dream or vision is not placed on the same level as Scripture. It is a secondary revelation and must be tested by the Scriptures.

Secondly, though Birgitta may have had some access to the Scriptures as a wealthy woman, she probably did not have the ready access to the Scriptures that twenty-first century Christians have. When we have such ready access to the Word, visions are less necessary. Today, Muslims are receiving visions of Christ for the same reason. They don’t have the Bible and God is graciously appearing to them in order to bring them to Christ.

Lastly, Birgitta’s vision was not for herself. It was for others. God was calling her to be a witness for Christ and a channel for their salvation.

Back to Birgitta:

Birgitta had been experiencing visions since childhood, but after her husband’s death her revelations became more frequent. She was directed by God to speak to others. She traveled and spoke to kings and popes directly. She sent messages denouncing the evils of the day. She was a counselor and advisor to all who called on her. God also directed her to guide in a positive way, establishing the Order of the Most Holy Savior. Later the name of her monastic community would be changed to the Order of the Brigittines. King Magnus donated a former castle as a residence for the nuns.

Birgitta was given instructions for how to build and organize her convent in a vision. The convent would be primarily a place for education. It would be a double community with both priests and nuns. The convent would be governed by the Rule or Regula. Birgitta’s daughter Katherine became the first abbess.

In 1349, Birgitta received a vision from God telling her to go to Rome. Birgitta obeyed, and lived in Rome until her death. She left temporarily at age 70 to visit the Holy Land with a son and daughter. She died on the return trip in 1373.

Birgitta was led by God to put her visions and teaching into writing. As was the custom of her day, Birgitta had confessors (Prior Peter and Master Peter) who wrote her Vita (the story of her life). In it they recorded her biography, and her revelations and prayers. These give us an account of her life in Sweden, Italy, and the Holy Land. The “Revelations” were probably in print as early as 1492 and many editions have followed throughout the centuries. Her “Four Prayers” are often reprinted as a stand alone booklet. Another popular booklet is “The Fifteen Prayers of St. Bridget”. These are only a part of her complete works.

Birgitta’s life and her writings have been an inspiration to many. Her chief characteristic was prayer. Birgitta never wavered in her trust in God. Many Christian women have followed in her footsteps devoting themselves to prayer and good works. In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared Birgitta to be the patron saint of Europe.

 

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Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.                     (I Peter 4:8-11)

Medieval Christian women spent their lives using their gifts in service to one another as commanded by Peter in this Scripture. They believed that following Christ meant sharing the Gospel and ministering to the poor as Jesus did.

For some women during the Medieval Age this included a mystical experience. Scholars agree that both the definition and the description of mysticism are difficult to explain. It is not magic or paranormal experience. It does not consist of a preoccupation with special revelations or visions. Religious mystics simply want to be closer to Christ and to experience Him in more than just an intellectual way.

The following four books are just a few of the books that give a general picture of some of the Mystical Saints of the Thirteenth Century. Try to place yourself in their century and imagine what it would have been like to be a Christian living during the time of the Crusades, the Black Plague and a very corrupt Church. Their lives were very different from ours.

I hope you enjoy these books. These women have pretty much been forgotten. It will be fun to meet and talk with them in Heaven!

(Reviews of Medieval mystics from later centuries will follow every few weeks.)

 

—  Perrin, David B., Editor, Women Christian Mystics Speak to Our Times, (Sheed & Ward, Franklin, Wisconsin, 2001).

This book is a collection of essays on Women Christian Mystics written byPerrin Book - Mystics various authors who are experts in the history of women and religion.

Part One helps us understand the lives of women in the Medieval Age. There is a very good explanation of mysticism and how it fits into the religion of women in the Middle Ages. Though they lived in a different time, we share the same concerns about following God, life, and our love for the Savior.

Part Two contains brief biographies of Catherine of Siena, Marie D’Oignies, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Therese of Lisieux, and Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The essays help us to understand the contributions the women saints of the Middle Ages made to the church. We have much to learn from them. Many of the issues they dealt with are still relevant today. We all need to know how to serve God best. Our practices today may be different, but our call to serve by loving God and others is the same.

 

—  Swan Laura., The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement,  (BlueBridge, Katonah, New York, 2014).

wisdom of the beguines bookThis was one of the most interesting books I have ever read. The Beguines were groups of devout women who began forming over 800 years ago (12th Century) in the Low Countries and spread across Europe. They were not nuns but groups of women committed to living and worshipping and working together to follow Christ by deepening their own faith and serving the poor. The Beguines did not take vows but made their own rules. They were all encouraged to read and study. They were expected to support themselves. Some came with rich inheritances that they shared with everyone. Others learned trades, especially in the cloth industry.

Beguines came from every social class – nobility and aristocrats, middle class and merchants, widows, daughters of knights, urban poor and rural poor. They spanned all ages, fourteen to eighties or beyond. They were self-supporting and independent.

If I wanted to devote my life to Christ by joining a service group of women, this would have been my ideal.

The Beguines left us a great legacy. We have preserved for us beautiful art work, songs, poetry, and writing. Most of all the Beguines gave us an example of serving Christ by helping the poor and marginalized. They showed wisdom, courage, and strength as they worshiped God as they felt called. They would have been great in any century!

 

—  Dreyer, Elizabeth A., Accidental Theologians: Four Women Who Shaped Christianity, (Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014).

Not all of us are called to be “theologians”, yet as Christians we all doaccidental theologians book theology. Theology is just the study of God. We learn about God every time we read our Bibles. When we try to make sense of it or summarize it, we are doing theology.

Four women have been made “Doctors of the Church” by the Roman Catholic Church because they made significant contributions to the church. They are – Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. The church has finally recognized these women for their work by given them the accreditation they deserve.

As Protestants we may have some differences of opinion regarding ecclesiology, but let us remember that these women were products of their cultures and circumstances. In the main, we can still learn much from them. I would submit though that even Protestants can appreciate the theology of these saintly women. The women based the greater part of their theology on the Scriptures.

One of the most important things is that they lived out their beliefs. They are good examples to us of how to love and serve Jesus by loving and serving others.

As I read this book I was glad that the church has finally decided to give credit where it is due, not matter the gender, and I hope more recognition of women will follow in the years to come.

 

—  Foligno, Angela., The Complete Works of Angela of Foligno, (Paulist Press, New York, New York, 1993).

angela-of-folignoWe do not have very many details of Angela’s life outside of her writings. We know that she was born to a prominent family in Foligno, a few miles from Assisi. Her father died when she was young. She was rich, proud, beautiful, and educated. She lived for worldly pleasures until her conversion in 1285 when she was thirty-seven years old.

Angela decided to only work among the poor and she sought out a way to do that. In 1291 the Franciscans of San Francesco’s in Foligno permitted her to take the habit and make her profession in the Third Order of St. Francis.

After a pilgrimage to Assisi, Angela returned home to begin her spiritual journey. This was described in Angela’s book. The first part of the book is the Memorial, Angela’s inner spiritual journey. The second part of her book, Instructions, gives us glimpses of her life as a spiritual mother.

This book published by the Paulist Press was translated into English by Paul LaChance, O.F.M. It contains a background study and brief biography of Angela in the fifty-page Introduction. The text follows of the two parts of the book and is very interesting to read.

Angela cared for the poor until her death in 1309.

Like many other Christian Mystics in her day she shared the common characteristic of love for the poor. Most of these women were born into wealth but gave it all away. They were all touched by the life of St. Francis and desired to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as Francis did. Truly they obeyed Jesus’ when He said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

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