The word 'critical" has three meanings which are dangerous, important, and disapproving. The purpose of this blog is to examine important or over-looked cultural, political, artistic, or historical issues of our time. Also, this blog is intended to be educational.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Great Thinkers, Great Thoughts: Hildegard of Bingen
Saint Hildegard of Bingen
"Listen: there was
once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully
beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with
great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground,
and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself
but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of
God." - Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen has
been called by her admirers "one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle
Ages," and "the greatest woman of her time." Her time was the
1100's (she was born in 1098), the century of Eleanor of Aquitaine, of Peter Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux, of the rise of the great
universities and the building of Chartres Cathedral in France.
was the daughter of a knight, and when she was eight years old she went to the Benedictine monastery at Mount St
Disibode to be educated. The monastery was in the Celtic tradition, and housed
both men and women (in separate quarters). When Hildegard was eighteen, she
became a nun. Twenty years later, she was made the head of the female community
at the monastery. Within the next four years, she had a series of visions, and
devoted the ten years from 1140 to 1150 to writing them down, describing them
(this included drawing pictures of what she had seen), and commenting on their
interpretation and significance. During this period, Pope Eugenius III sent a
commission to inquire into her work. The commission found her teaching orthodox
and her insights authentic, and reported so to the Pope, who sent her a letter
of approval. (He was probably encouraged to do so by his friend and former
teacher, Bernard of Clairvaux.) She wrote back urging
the Pope to work harder for reform of the Church.
Pope Eugenius III
The community of nuns at
Mount St. Disibode was growing rapidly, and they did not have adequate room.
Hildegard accordingly moved her nuns to a location near Bingen, and founded a
monastery for them completely independent of the double monastery they had
left. She oversaw its construction, which included such features (not routine
in her day) as water pumped in through pipes. The abbot they had left opposed
their departure, and the resulting tensions took a long time to heal.
Hildegard travelled throughout
southern Germany and into Switzerland and as far as Paris, preaching. Her
sermons deeply moved the hearers, and she was asked to provide written copies.
In the last year of her life, she was briefly in trouble because she provided
Christian burial for a young man who had been excommunicated. Her defense was
that he had repented on his deathbed, and received the sacraments. Her convent
was subjected to an interdict, but she protested eloquently, and the interdict
was revoked. She died on September 17th,1179.
Her surviving works
include more than a hundred letters to emperors and popes, bishops, nuns, and
nobility. (Many people of all classes wrote to her, asking for advice.) She
wrote 72 songs including a play set to music. Musical notation had only shortly
before developed to the point where her music was recorded in a way that we can
read today. Accordingly, some of her work is now available on compact disk, and
presumably sounds the way she intended. Her compositional style is like
nothing else we have from the twelfth century. The play set to music is called
the Ordo Virtutum and
show us a human soul who listens to the Virtues, turns aside to follow the
Devil, and finally returns to the Virtues, having found that following the
Devil does not make one happy.
She left us about
seventy poems and nine books. Two of them are books of medical and
pharmaceutical advice, dealing with the workings of the human body and the
properties of various herbs. (These books are based on her observations and
those of others, not on her visions.) I am told that some modern researchers
are now checking her statements in the hope of finding some medicinal
properties of some plant that has been overlooked till now by modern medicine.
She also wrote a commentary on the Gospels and another on the Athanasian
Creed. Much of her work has recently been translated into English. (TheAthanasian Creed, also known as Pseudo-Athanasian Creed or Quicunque
Vult (aka: Quicumque Vult), is a Christian statement of belief focused on
Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. The Latin name of thecreed, Quicunque
vult, is taken from the opening words, "Whosoever wishes".)
But her major works are
three books on theology: Scivias ("Know the paths!"), Liber VitaeMeritorum (on ethics), and De OperationeDei . They deal (or at least the
first and third do) with the material of her visions. The visions, as she
describes them, are often enigmatic but deeply moving, and many who have
studied them believe that they have learned something from the visions that is
not easily put into words. On the other hand, we have the recent best-seller, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, by
Oliver Sacks, Professor of Clinical Neurology at Albert Einstein College of
Medicine, and author of Migraine and various other books. Professor Sacks is
concerned with the relation of the brain to the mind, and ways in which the physical
state of the nervous system can affect our ways of perceiving reality. He views
the pictures in Hildegard's books of what she saw in her visions, and says,
"The style of the pictures is a clear indication that the seer suffered
regularly from migraine attacks. Migraine sufferers tend to see things in this
manner." And indeed, it is true that Hildegard suffered throughout her
life from painful attacks of what may have been migraine. Professor Sacks
hastens to add that this has nothing to do with whether her visions are
authentic insights into the nature of God and His relation to the Universe.
Hildegard has undergone
a remarkable rise in popularity in the last thirty years, since many readers
have found in her visions, or read into them, themes that seem to speak to many
modern concerns. For example: Although she would have
rejected much of the rhetoric of women's liberation, she never hesitated to say
what she thought needed to be said, or to do what she thought needed to be
done, simply because she was a woman. When Pope or Emperor needed a rebuke, she
Her writings bring
science, art, and religion together. She is deeply involved in all three, and
looks to each for insights that will enrich her understanding of the others.
Her use of parable and
metaphor, of symbols, visual imagery, and non-verbal means to communicate makes
her work reach out to many who are totally deaf to more standard approaches. In
particular, non-Western peoples are often accustomed to expressing their views
of the world in visionary language, and find that Hildegard's use of similar
language to express a Christian view of reality produces instant rapport, if
not necessarily instant agreement.
Hildegard wrote and
spoke extensively about social justice, about freeing the downtrodden, about
the duty of seeing to it that every human being, made in the image of God, has
the opportunity to develop and use the talents that God has given him, and to
realize his God-given potential. This strikes a chord today.
explicitly about the natural world as God's creation, charged through and
through with His beauty and His energy; entrusted to our care, to be used by us
for our benefit, but not to be mangled or destroyed.
Quotes by Hildegard of Bingen
Now in the people that
were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds
are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on.
Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the
peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!
The Word is living, being, spirit, all
verdant greening, all creativity. This Word " 'With my mouth,' God says,
'I kiss my own chosen creation. I uniquely, lovingly, embrace every image I
have made out of the earth’s clay. With a fiery spirit I transform it into a
body to serve all the world.
Humankind, full of all creative
possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone is called to assist God.
Humankind is called to co-create. With nature’s help, humankind can set into
creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining.
God has arranged all things in the world in
consideration of everything else.
All of creation God gives to humankind to
use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish
God is the good and all things which
proceed from him are good.
truly holy person welcomes all that is earthly.
at the sun. See the moon and the stars.
Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings.
Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things. . . . All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. Forwithout we cannot survive.
Trust shows the way.
People, most royal greening verdancy, rooted in the sun, you shine with radiant
I welcome all the creatures of the world with
Music by Hildegard of Bingen
“Caritas habundat” (no. 25), from Canticles
“O quam mirabilis” (no. 3), from Symphoniae.
“O rubor sanguinis” (no. 61), from Voice
of the Blood.
“Laus Trinitati” (no. 26), from Voice of
“O virtus Sapientiae” (no. 2), from Symphoniae
“O viridissima virga” (no. 19), from Canticles
“O orzchis (immensa) Ecclesia” (no. 68), from Voice
of the Blood.
“O frondens virga” (no. 15), from O
“O ignee spiritus” (no. 27), from O
“O sunt hi, qui ut nubes?”, from Ordo
“O Euchari in leta via” (no. 53), from Saints.
“O mirum admirandum” (no. 41), from Saints.
Prayers to Hildegard of Bingen
PRAYER (traditional language)
O God, by whose grace thy servant Hildegard,
enkindled with the Fire of thy love, became a burning and shining light in thy
Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and
discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and
reigneth, one God, now and forever.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
O God, by whose grace your servant Hildegard,
kindled with the Fire of your love, became a burning and shining light in your
Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and
discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and forever..