De septem sacramentis
by Alf Härdelin (rev. Stephan Borgehammar)
De septem sacramentis (“On the Seven Sacraments”) is an anonymous Birgittine treatise from ca. 1400. Title
Titles given in the manuscripts are: De septem sacramentis (C 7), Tractatus de sacramentis cum exemplis (C 631).
Sapiencia edificauit sibi domum, excidit columpnam septem. Prouerbiorum IX. Hec sapiencia est Filius Dei, Iesus Christus, qui, sicut per deitatis sue potenciam …
Ubi eciam intra paradysi sui amena virencia nos ille celestis agricola dignetur collocare, qui … in secula seculorum. Amen.
ANDRÉN 1963, 135-213 [with an extensive introduction and notes].
Date and Place
The editor of the treatise, ANDRÉN (1963), argues convincingly that it was written around the year 1400 in the Birgittine abbey of Vadstena, most likely by one of the friars there or at least by an author within the Birgittine circle. Summary of Contents The treatise deals with the seven rites which, from the time of early scholasticism, have been considered by the Catholic Church to be truly and properly sacraments. After a short preface, being an exposition of Proverbs 9,1, seven chapters follow, dealing with each of the sacraments in the usual order. The general character of the treatise is practical rather than speculative. The author avoids siding with any of the different theological schools of the later Middle Ages. Instead, his theology is basically in accordance with the teaching of Peter Lombard and St. Thomas Aquinas. As some characteristics of the text show, the author has written to help his brothers in the priestly office in their tasks as preachers and catechists. Thus there are, in every chapter, a series of exempla, usually taken from the common stock of homiletic literature.
Composition and style
The prose is of the unadorned and colloquial kind generally found in homiletic and pastoral literature from the later Middle Ages. The frequent quotations produce a certain amount of stylistic variation.
Extensive use of a single source is found only in the treatment of the sixth sacrament, ordo, where the first four degrees are described more or less in the words of Peter Lombard’s Sentences. But it is not clear whether the author actually had the Sentences before him, or was using an unknown intermediate source. The same is true of the sporadic quotations from Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Bonaventure’s commentary on the Sentences. The use of mnemonic verses and exempla is frequent. The ultimate sources of the latter include the Vitae patrum, the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, the Historia Ecclesiastica of Bede, and Jaques de Vitry. Swedish sources include the legend of >Sanctus Sigfridus and the Revelations of >Sancta Birgitta. But the majority of direct quotations are from the Bible, the liturgy, and canon law (ANDRÉN 1963, 102-12.)
Purpose and audience
The treatise is a kind of practical theological handbook for parish priests. It aims to teach them basic theology and canon law concerning the sacraments, give them practical advice about how to handle the sacraments, and provide them with material for the instruction of their parishioners.
Medieval reception and transmission
The treatise is preserved in four manuscripts, all coming from the medieval library of Vadstena Abbey and now kept in the University Library at Uppsala:
- (1) C 7, written 1400-1445, probably not long after 1400
- (2) C 10, written by Ericus Simonis, 1442-1464
- (3) C 364, written ca. 1420-1450
- (4) C 631, written by Johannes Johannis 1404-1446, most likely ca. 1410-1420.
ANDRÉN based his edition on C 7, adducing the variants of the other three manuscripts in the apparatus. Not only the number of preserved manuscripts but also the fact that we find passages from the treatise quoted in some late medieval texts proves that it was read and used at least until the end of the fifteenth century. However, De septem sacramentis is not, as was once alleged, the source of the similar Old Swedish treatise, De siw sacramenten (ANDRÉN 1963, 97-101).
- • ANDRÉN, C.-G. 1963: De septem sacramentis: En sakramentsutläggning från Vadstena kloster ca 1400 / Eine Sakramentsauslegung aus dem Kloster Vadstena von etwa 1400. Mit einer deutschen Zusammenfassung (Bibliotheca theologiae practicae 15), Lund.
- BRANDMÜLLER, W. (ed.) 1998: Christus in den Sakramenten der Kirche, Aachen.
- BRILIOTH, Y. 1922: “Till belysning av den svenska medeltidskyrkans mässfromhet,” in Teologiska studier tillägnade Erik Stave på 65-årsdagen den 10 juni 1922 av kolleger och lärjungar, Uppsala, 42-57.
- HÄRDELIN 1997: “Admonitions and Reprimands to Parochial Clergy. A ‘Pastoral Letter’ from Vadstena,” in Master Golyas and Sweden: the transformation of a clerical satire: a collection of essays, ed. O. Ferm & B. Morris (Runica et mediævalia, Scripta minora 2 [i.e. 3]), Stockholm, 407-51.
- KILSTRÖM, B.I. 1954: “De sju sakramenten: Några nyidentifieringar,” Fornvännen 49, 30-48.
- KILSTRÖM, B.I. 1958: Den kateketiska undervisningen i Sverige under medeltiden (Bibliotheca theologiae practicae 8), Lund.