St. Bridget: Popes and Priestly Marriage

St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) was a medieval mystic and founder of the Bridgettines. Besides being the most celebrated Swedish saint, St. Bridget's writings had a profound effect on late medieval piety, so much so that she is considered one of the patron saints of Europe. St. Bridget's most famous work is her Revelations, a series of visions of Christ, Mary and the angels received by St. Bridget and transcribed into Latin by one Mathias, canon of Linköping, and her confessor, Peter Olafsson. In this article, we provide the entirety of Chapters 10 of Book VII, in which the Blessed Virgin Mary narrates to St. Bridget God's opinion of a married, sexually active priesthood. Mary's words are especially poignant in light of current discussions about admitting married men to priesthood. The Virgin Mary specifically tells her that any pope who tried to reform the discipline to admit married, sexually active me would be subject to a most severe curse.

Revelations of St. Bridget, Book VII, Chapter 10

Rejoice eternally, O blessed Body of God, in perpetual honor and in perennial victory and in your everlasting omnipotence together with your Father and the Holy Spirit and also with your blessed and most worthy Mother and with all your glorious heavenly court. To you be praise indeed, O eternal God, and endless thanksgiving for the fact that you deigned to become a human being and that for us in the world you willed to consecrate your venerable Body out of material bread and lovingly bestowed it on us as food for the salvation of our souls!

It happened that a person who was absorbed in prayer heard then a voice saying to her: “O you to whom it has been given to hear and see spiritually, hear now the things that I want to reveal to you: namely, concerning that archbishop who said that if he were pope, he would give leave for all clerics and priests to contract marriages in the flesh. He thought and believed that this would be more acceptable to God than that clerics should live dissolutely, as they now do. For he believed that through such marriage the greater carnal sins might be avoided; and even though he did not rightly understand God’s will in this matter, nonetheless that same archbishop was still a friend of God.

But now I shall tell you God’s will in this matter; for I gave birth to God himself. You will make these things known to my bishop and say to him that circumcision was given to Abraham long before the law was given to Moses and that, in that time of Abraham, all human beings whatsoever were guided according to their own intellect and according to the choice of their own will and that, nevertheless, many of them were then friends of God. But after the law was given to Moses, it then pleased God more that human beings should live under the law and according to the law rather than follow their own human understanding and choice. It was the same with my Son’s blessed Body.

For after he instituted in the world this new sacrament of the Eucharist and ascended into heaven, the ancient law was then still kept: namely, that Christian priests lived in carnal matrimony. And, nonetheless, many of them were still friends of God because they believed with simple purity that this was pleasing to God: namely, that Christian priests should have wives and live in wedlock just as, in the ancient times of the Jews, this had pleased him in the case of Jewish priests. And so, this was the observance of Christian priests for many years.

But that observance and ancient custom seemed very abominable and hateful to all the heavenly court and to me, who gave birth to his body: namely, because it was being thus observed by Christian priests who, with their hands, touch and handle this new and immaculate Sacrament of the most holy Body of my Son. For the Jews had, in the ancient law of the Old Testament, a shadow, i.e., a figure, of this Sacrament; but Christians now have the truth itself - namely, him who is true God an man - in that blessed and consecrated bread.

After those earlier Christian priests had observed these practices for a time, God himself, through the infusion of his Holy Spirit, put into the heart of the pope then guiding the Church another law more acceptable and pleasing to him in this matter: namely, by pouring this infusion into the heart of the pope so that he established a statute in the universal Church that Christian priests, who have so holy and so worthy an office, namely, of consecrating this precious Sacrament, should by no means live in the easily contaminated, carnal delight of marriage.

And therefore, through God’s preordinance and his judgment, it has been justly ordained that priests who do not live in chastity and continence of the flesh are cursed and excommunicated before God and deserve to be deprived of their priestly office. But still, if they truthfully amend their lives with the true purpose of not sinning further, they will obtain mercy from God.

Know this too: that if some pope concedes to priests a license to contract carnal marriage, God will condemn him to a sentence as great, in a spiritual way, as that which the law justly inflicts in a corporeal way on a man who has transgressed so gravely that he must have his eyes gouged out, his tongue and lips, nose and ears cut off, his hands and feet amputated, all his body’s blood spilled out to grow completely cold, and finally, his whole bloodless corpse cast out to be devoured by dogs and other wild beasts. Similar things would truly happen in a spiritual way to that pope who were to go against the aforementioned preordinance and will of God and concede to priests such a license to contract marriage.

For that same pope would be totally deprived by God of his spiritual sight and hearing, and of his spiritual words and deeds. All his spiritual wisdom would grow completely cold; and finally, after his death, his soul would be cast out to be tortured eternally in hell so that there it might become the food of demons everlastingly and without end. Yes, even if Saint Gregory the Pope had made this statute, in the aforesaid sentence he would never have obtained mercy from God if he had not humbly revoked his statute before his death.”

Editor's Note:
We must offer a few historical notes: St. Bridget's revelations seem to imply belief that in the ancient Church, priestly marriage was common and accepted, but then later was revoked under the inspiration of a particular pontiff, presumably Pope St. Gregory VII, under whom the Gregorian Reform struck out against clerical concubinage. At any rate, this view is incorrect. Even in the ancient Church, clerical celibacy was expected. There certainly were married priests, but they were expected to remain chaste. The move towards a universally unmarried priesthood was not due to the legislative decree of a single pope, Gregory VII or otherwise; it was an issue spoken of and legislated on by several pontiffs from the 5th century into the Middle Ages. For more on the subject, please see our article "The Truth About Priestly Continence and Celibacy in the Early Church."