Saint Bridget of Sweden: how the revelations were written down (Aron Andersson)
Bridget herself has described how she experienced these moments of heaven-sent vision. The description is with reference to one of her most comprehensive visions, that concerning the Rule for the Order of the Most Holy Saviour (the Brigittines).
"God, the Creator of all things, make known to me, unworthy woman, through his own blessed mouth, all the regulations of this Rule in so marvellous a way and in so short a time, that it is impossible for me to explain it to anyone in a satisfactory manner. Also, without a tangible image it is not possible for anyone to understand how so many words could be uttered or understood in this immeasurably short time.
"It was as if there were a great variety of treasures in a vessel and all were spilled out at the same moment so that she who saw this was at once able to distinguish each thing from the other... my vision lasted long enough for me to collect it in my innermost memory.
"After this vision, my heart was filled with such ardour and such rejoicing that it could not have held more if I were to live, but would have burst with joy. Yes, for some days my heart was like a bubble overfilled with air, until I could tell a monk a friend-in-God all the regulations of the Rule and the words contained in it. he wrote it all down as quickly as he was able to. And when all was written down, I felt my heart and my body gradually return to their natural condition." (The Rule of the Order, Ch. 29).
No skilled artist or writer could describe this moment of inspiration better than Bridget does in these lines. The startling experience of the vision when her future work suddenly shines in its glory as in supernatural light, is seen with a clarity which allows each detail and its relation to all others to stand out in brilliant distinctness and as something deeply significant. Lastly, the rapid pace of the vision flashing by, the anxiety of not being able to capture all particulars and memorize them, and then relief, thankfulness and release when it is finally written down, are vividly conveyed.
At times it was Bridget herself who wrote down her visions; at others it was her confessors who wrote at her dictation, after which a revision and translation was undertaken by the confessors under her supervision. Both at Ulvasa and during her Roman years Bridget studied Latin and she knew the language well enough to be able to supervise the fathers’ translations.
In the first place the original revelation needed to be worked over and adapted by Bridget herself. Christ said to her: "Thy heart is not always capable of recounting and writing sufficiently warmly of what thou hast felt without both weighing it in thy memory and writing and rewriting it until thou hast come to the true meaning of my words." But the confessors were also able to help in giving the visions their final form. In the revelation quoted above Christ tells of the confessors’ contribution in a parable. "I am like a carpenter who cuts down wood in the forest and takes it home to make a beautiful carving which he decorates with colours and gives the form of a body. When his friends see that the carving could be decorated with even finer hues, they also take their paints and colour it. Thus have I, God of my divine forest, carved out my words and laid them in your heart. my friends have collected them into books through the grace which has been granted them They have coloured and decorated them." (Extrav. 49).
The allegorical interpretations and didactic explanations of the revelations gave Bridget and her confessors and arduous task. But the revelation itself, or the words of God that are the essence of the written vision, were received by Bridget in a moment of divine inspiration. The revelations often have a tangible, physical character - they are visions from Purgatory, from Heaven and Hell that unfold as on a stage before her inner eye. But Christ explained in a vision why it must be so.
"The sight thou seest does not appear to thee as it really is. For if thou shouldst see the spiritual beauty of the holy souls and angels, thy body could not bear to look upon it but would break as a brittle and cracked vessel because of the soul’s joy at the sight. And if thou hadst seen devils as they are, thou wouldst either live in great misery or die a sudden death at the sight of their horrible appearance. Therefore, spiritual things are shown to thee as bodily - spiritual words are spoken to thee in parables for otherwise thy spirit could not understand them. But more wonderful than anything else is that thou feelest that my spirit moves in thy heart."
Bridget answered: "Oh, my Lord, Son of the Virgin, why hast thou deigned to visit so simple a widow? I am lacking in all good deeds, have little understanding and knowledge, and have for a long time been consumed by many sins."
But Christ comforts Bridget saying that all he demands "is a pure heart which on the surface shows that all worldly lusts have withered, but which deep within is filled with love, so that thou dost not desire nor covet anything but me. Then the fire of my love shall penetrate it and thus shall all the virtues be kindled so that, as in fire, thou shalt be cleansed from sin and arise again as a bird re-born when thou hast cast off the skin of lust." (II:18).
Saint Bridget of Sweden. Patroness of Europe,
Catholic Truth Society - Publishers to the Holy See, pp. 29-31.