by Roger Andersson
Johannes Benechini (d. 1461), deacon at the Birgittine abbey of Vadstena, Sweden, 1416–1461, and an important preacher and composer of sermons.
Johannes, who according to a note also had the by-name “Oost” (DS 2170, n. 2) originated from the isle of Öland (DV 715) and is said to have served as stacionarius (residing priest or canon) in the town of Kalmar (DV 267). At the beginning of 1416 he asked permission to enter Vadstena Abbey, but was informed that there was no vacant place for him (DS 2170).
However, later the same year he was offered a place as one of the four deacons (DS 2244). At about the same time he received instructions to bring clothes and books with him to Vadstena (DS 2246). On 15 July 1416 Johannes entered the Abbey (DV 267). That he was an ordained priest in the secular Church but here was offered the lower position of deacon may have annoyed him. In any case he became involved in a discussion concerning the status of the four deacons in relation to the thirteen priest brothers, and directed a letter on these matters to the cardinal, Johannes de Turrecremata (Uppsala, University Library, C 138, fols. 157r–159v; cf. other documents on this issue in C 138, fols. 151r–187r passim).
Very little is known about the life of Johannes Benechini during the following years, but in 1436 he was – apparently with some disagreement – elected sacrista (DV 461). He is also known to have functioned as editor (and scribe) of the Diarium Vadstenense for a long period of time (DV 267 and 461 with notes), and his hand-writing also frequently occurs in the copy-books of the abbey (STÅHL 2003, 50 f.). He resigned from the office of sacrista in 1460 owing to some ailment of the legs (propter difficultatem eundi, DV 707) and died in April the following year during the Matins of the sisters (DV 715).
Despite his lower position as deacon, Johannes Benechini was evidently an important preacher. Preaching was not compulsory for the diaconi, but it seems that those of them who were consecrated priests often helped with this duty, especially on days when preaching was not enjoined on the sacerdotes (ANDERSSON & BORGEHAMMAR 1997, 219; Sermones Birgittini). Thus, Johannes is known to have preached on at least one non-obligatory day, namely the feast of Compassio Marie (cf. BORGEHAMMAR 1996).
His main legacy as preacher is his own voluminous collection sermones varii (Uppsala, University Library, C 386 – 524 leaves). Now and then his sermons show similarities with sermons in a variety of model collections available in the abbey libary. A closer study of four sermons for the eighth Sunday after Trinity reveals that he uses sermons by authors such as Guilelmus Peraldus and Conradus de Brundelsheim (ANDERSSON 2001, 90 ff., 116; on his sermons also 150 f., 156 f.). However, he was no mere copyist. Following the normal Birgittine method of composition, he elaborates on his exemplar, adding and omitting at will. He normally begins his sermons with a long prothema and expands them by means of quotations from the Revelations of St. Birgitta. One sermon, probably delivered in 1429, has been preserved in a reported version (HALLBERG 1995, 111, no. 39). The erudite Clemens Petri sometimes makes references to his sermons (cf. C 308, fol. 229r; C 321, fols. 273r, 376r), which is evidence that they were held in esteem.
Apart from sermons Johannes also composed no less than four rhymed offices, for the feast-days of Simeon, Joachim (the father of St. Mary), the Sisters of St. Mary, and for Katherina (the daughter of St. Birgitta) respectively. Of these only the last seems to have survived (cf. DV 715 with note; Sancta Katherina). In 1440 he composed an account of the translatio of St. Birgitta’s relics, which in an abbreviated version used to be read aloud in choir (DV 500).
The plain, vivid and rhetorical style of his sermons may be studied in the following paragraph, taken from a sermon for one of the feasts of St. Birgitta:
Congruum est et exigit racio, vt sanctus Dominus, bonus et iustus, sanctam, bonam et iustam habeat familiam. Sed respondent quidam amantes vitam non sanctam, sed optant viuere in peccatis: “Non possunt omnes viuere monachice. Oportet quod mundialiter viuat, qui mundum non abnegauit. Absit, quod Deus adeo immisericors est, quod omnes taliter viuentes velit perire.” Et ita in statu dampnabili viuentes viuunt in peccatis mortalibus toto tempore vite sue, non curantes, quid Deus velit, quod corrigant se et peniteant. Talem errorem talium hominum caueamus et diuine voluntati intendamus, que est, vt sancta sit vita nostra. Et hoc patet per eius exemplum, quod dedit, vt omnes sancte viuerent Io xvii: “Ego pro eis sanctifico meipsum, vt et ipsi sint sanctificati in veritate.” (John 17,19) Propone ergo tibi, o homo, vitam et mores Domini nostri Iesu Christi, tamquam speculum tocius sanctitatis et sancte conuersacionis, vt videas, quam humilis, quam benignus, quam paciens, quam misericors et compaciens fuerit. Istud sanctum speculum beata Birgitta oculis cordis ab infancia sua aspexit, et ideo multiplicem sibi graciam et nomen sanctitatis acquisiuit, ita quod merito possint dici de ea verba premissa: “Gracia super graciam” (Eccl. 26,19) etc. (C 386, fol. 447r).
(It is appropriate, and reason demands that the holy Lord, good and just, also has a holy, good and just family. But some people, who love an unholy life, have chosen to live in sin, and they reply: “All cannot live as monks. It is proper that he who does not deny the world should also live in the manner of the world. Be it not, that God is so unmerciful so as to wish that all who lead such a life should perish!” And therefore, those who live in deadly sins all their lives are in a damnable state, and they do not desire for what God wills, namely that they correct themselves and do penance. Let us avoid the fault of such people and be attentive to the divine will, which is that our life be holy. And this is revealed by his own example, when he states that all should lead saintly lives. John, chapter 17: “And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17,19) Therefore, o man, place the life and the habits of our Lord Jesus Christ as a mirror of all sanctity and of all holy behaviour before you, so that you can see how humble, how mild, how patient, how merciful and compassionate he is. The blessed Birgitta regarded this holy mirror with the eyes of her heart from her childhood, and thus she acquired multiple grace and the name of holiness, to such a degree that the aforementioned words could rightly be said about her: “Grace upon grace” (Eccl. 26,19) etc.)
A sermon for the feast Compassio Marie is edited in BORGEHAMMAR 1996, 347–60.
- ANDERSSON, R. 2001: De birgittinska ordensprästerna som traditionsförmedlare och folkfostrare. En studie i svensk medeltidspredikan på den 8:e söndagen efter Trefaldighet (Runica et Mediævalia), Stockholm.
- ANDERSSON, R. & BORGEHAMMAR, S. 1997: “The Preaching of the Birgittine Friars at Vadstena Abbey (ca 1380–1515),” Revue Mabillon, n.s. 8 (t. 69), 209–36.
- BORGEHAMMAR, S. 1996: “Marias medlidande. Ett bidrag till studiet av birgittinsk spiritualitet,” Maria i Sverige under tusen år. Föredrag vid symposiet i Vadstena 6–10 oktober 1994, I, ed. S-E. Brodd & A. Härdelin, Skellefteå, 331–60.
- DV = Vadstenadiariet. Latinsk text med översättning och kommentar (Kungl. Samfundet för utgivande av handskrifter rörande Skandinaviens historia. Handlingar del 19), ed. C. Gejrot, Stockholm 1996.
- HALLBERG, H. 1995: “Reportaciones Vadstenenses – über das Predigen im Kloster Vadstena um 1430,” A Catalogue and its Users. A Symposium on the Uppsala C Collection of Medieval Manuscripts (Acta Bibliothecae R. Universitatis Upsaliensis 34), ed. M. Hedlund, Uppsala, 101–14.
- STÅHL, P. 2003: “Vadstena klosters stora kopiebok. En presentation av handskriften A 20 i Riksarkivet,” Kyrka, helgon och vanliga döda (Årsbok för Riksarkivet och Landsarkiven), Stockholm, 35–64.