St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell

In 1150 St. Hildegard completed her first major work, Scivias (“Know the Ways of God”), a description of 26 highly symbolized visions that manifest the history of salvation. Soon after her death, inexplicably, Scivias and Hildegard fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until the late 20th-century that the work was rediscovered by Latin scholars looking for material for their students. The first complete English translation appeared in the 1990s.

In Book Three, Vision 11, Hildegard describes five symbolic animals as the forerunners of the Antichrist: a Fiery-Red Dog, Yellow Lion, Pale Horse, Black Pig, and Grey Wolf. She explains that each one represents individual and brief historical periods that follow each other in succession. She also reveals how each animal symbolizes a particular evil that afflicts society during the corresponding period.

In my book The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, I start with an examination the 20th-century with the intention of seeing how historians divided it up and then how they characterized the individual eras that the divisions would unveil. It turned out that there is general agreement among them; certain years marked major social and geopolitical changes in Western society: 1914, 1945, and 1991.

Thus the century can be divided into four eras: 1870-1914; 1914-1945; 1945-1991 ; 1991-present. (1870 was the Franco-Prussian War which changed the map of Europe and inaugurated the secularization of western Europe). Consulting a wide range of historians, some of whom were friendly to religion and others not, the characterizations of those historical periods that emerged actually matched Hildegard’s description of the specific social evils that were represented by the first four of her five beasts.

The following is a very condensed presentation of those correlations. The first one was difficult to figure out; Hildegard’s description of the era was brief and somewhat vague. The others, as you will discover, are quite obvious.

The Fiery Red Dog (1870-1914)

Historians like to call this the “Age of Imperialism”; the empires of Europe were at their zenith. From a sociological perspective, however, the theme of the era was the exploitation of the working poor, a problem Karl Marx was determined to fix. His ideology was spreading like wildfire of which the popes of the era would issue many warnings and condemnations. Pope Leo XIII, in his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum, declared of the problem of social injustice “…there is no question which has taken a deeper hold on the public mind.” If you read the encyclical, you’ll notice that it is primarily a condemnation of communism.

Here’s how Hildegard described the era:

“One is like a dog, fiery but not burning; for that era will produce people with a biting temperament, who seem fiery in their own estimation, but do not burn with the justice of God.”*

The key to understanding this is to focus on the word “justice”. “Fiery” is to be understood as passionate, similar to a common English usage of the word. We are told that during this era characters will emerge who are passionate for justice, but not really “on fire” because it is not the justice of God, but their own form of justice. It is not difficult to make a case that she was referring to injustice toward the working poor by the upper classes and the consequent rise of communism. The history and literature of the era testify to the centrality of social injustice for understanding what was happening during the period. (Zola, Hardy, etc.)

The Yellow Lion (1914-1945)

Most historians connect the two wars and call it something like “The Age of Catastrophe”, or “The Age of Total War”, an era dominated by wars, genocides, military dictatorships, political prisons, religious persecutions, etc. Historians struggle to understand how the Christian nations of Europe permitted it to happen.

Hildegard describes the era as follows:

“Another is like a yellow lion; for this era will endure martial people, who instigate many wars but do not think of the righteousness of God in them; for those kingdoms will begin to weaken and tire, as the yellow color shows.”

“Martial” or “war mongering” does not overstate what kind of people dominated much of this era; nationalism and communism were two sides of the same coin. As the era came to a close, the fall of the Nazis and their allies proved to be a spectacular exhibition of self-delusion and cowardice.

The Pale Horse (1945-1991)

To historians these years are known as the “Cold War” era. Most focus their attention on the many conflicts, proxy wars, intrigue, etc. between the two superpowers. Others with more sociological interests will examine the student riots and unrest, assassinations, and the changing perspectives on human sexuality. In regard to the latter, one can think of two influential documents produced during the era that reveal the dramatic changes that took place with regard to sex, The Kinsey Reports (1948), and Humanae Vitae (1968).

Hildegard describes the era as follows:

“Another is like a pale horse; for those times will produce people who drown themselves in sin, and in their licentious and swift moving pleasures neglect all virtuous activities. And then these kingdoms will lose their ruddy strength and grow pale with the fear of ruin, and their hearts will be broken.”

The key word is “licentious”, meaning sexual debauchery. Thanks to artificial birth-control the purpose of sex changed from procreation to pleasure. Like a healthy horse turning sickly pale, the damaging consequences of the sexual revolution on western society began to reveal themselves in the 1980s. Statistics on abortion, divorce, single-parent families, suicide, STDs (including AIDS), etc., all exploded as the era came to an end.

The Black Pig (1991-present)

It is an open question as to how future historians will view the West since 1991 and what sort of titles will be used to characterize the period. From the experience of the last quarter century one might be tempted to call it “The Age of Globalization”. The dominant themes have been free trade, elimination of borders and for much of Europe, a common market, passport, and currency. This title also suits the continuing migrations of millions to Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

Note that Hildegard states clearly that she is referring only to the era’s “leaders” in her description. The generation of leaders since the 1990s have not been, in general, the same type of people as their predecessors. Today’s leaders tend to be pro-abortion and pro-homosexual marriage, imposing many laws, like Obergefell vs. Hodges, that are contrary to Christian teaching.

Hildegard writes:

“…[T]his epoch will have leaders who blacken themselves in misery and wallow in the mud of impurity. They will infringe the divine law by fornication and other like evils and will plot to diverge from the holiness of God’s commands”

As the agenda of political correctness, gender theory, homosexuality, race, etc., gradually became more radicalized in the higher educational system through the 70s and 80s, naturally so have our leaders who were educated in those times. Think of Clinton, Blair, Obama, Trudeau, Cameron, Holland, Merkel, etc.; think also of the thousands of their political appointees, including judges, that further the cause of political correctness, the goals of which “infringe the divine law”. Historian Paul Johnson has described it in terms of social engineering and referred to it as “the salient evil of our time”.

The Grey Wolf

The arrival of the era of the Grey Wolf will ultimately prove whether it was coincidental that the preceding four historical eras matched Hildegard’s descriptions of them. But it is important to acknowledge, however, that Hildegard’s descriptions are not interchangeable with these eras. Historians may vary on the importance of the sexual revolution, but they would not place it in the other eras, it belongs to the Cold War years. Likewise, outside of the era of the Yellow Lion, the other three eras were relatively peaceful. Social engineering was being practiced by the Soviet Union and the Fascists, but it does not define the period of 1914-1945, malice and militarism do. Moreover, since the four follow in the proper order; it strikes me as unlikely that these correlations were accidental.

It is interesting that Hildegard goes into far more detail regarding the Grey Wolf then the other eras. Essentially, three main things will define the era:

  • Civil unrest and revolutions with their cause being economic inequality.
  • Physical persecution of the Church by a specific group of people.
  • A powerful spiritual revival in the Church.

She also adds that it is when the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children.” The Church’s mission will have been completed.

…rjt

*Quotations taken from Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.

The Celestial Phenomenon on Sept. 23 and Revelation 12

Stellarium screen shot, 9/23/2017

The following will occur in the daytime sky on Sept. 23rd:

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered” (Revelation 12:1-2).

As the sun envelopes the constellation Virgo (a virgin maiden in Greek mythology) the moon will cross beneath her feet. At the same time twelve stars will congregate just above her head, nine from the constellation Leo plus three visiting planets: Mercury, Venus, and Mars.* The planet Jupiter (mythological king), which had entered Virgo’s torso back on Dec. 1, 2016, will have just exited between her legs on Sept. 12th, 9 1/2 months later. (Recall that Jupiter’s entry into the constellation Leo represented the birth of a prince in Babylonian astrology and inspired the journey of the Magi).

While there should be caution and prudence in making assumptions as to what the upcoming celestial phenomenon might portend, there should be equal caution in failing to appreciate its resemblance to St. John’s apocalyptic description of the vision he experienced. I think it’s very unlikely that this is coincidental. Our omniscient God caused John to have this vision and inspired the author to describe it utilizing celestial bodies, while at the same time knowing that the corresponding astronomical formation would occur for the first time on Sept. 23, 2017. He also knew that it would be during the centenary celebrations of Our Lady of Fatima.

What also suggests that this formation might herald something important is the transcendent nature of St. John’s portrayal; the symbolism is extraordinary and pan-historical. Catholic Biblical scholar Peter Williamson explains that it portrays Mary as the personification of the whole of salvation history:

“On the one hand, the woman of this vision symbolizes the faithful people of God of the Old and New Testaments. On the other, she is Mary, the mother of the Messiah and for that reason the most exalted member of the human race after her son.”

“The image of the sun, moon, and stars are drawn from Joseph’s dream in Gen. 37:1-7, where they represent his father, mother, and brothers, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. The woman thus symbolizes Israel, who in the Bible is often personified as a woman…”

“…Finally, the woman is the Church, whom God cares for during her time in the wilderness in this world, and brings forth other children” (Rev. 12:17).**

That this image is soon going to be re-created in the heavens is momentous in itself.

Following John’s description of the “woman clothed with the sun” he records a series of events:

  • The woman gives birth, and the Child (the Messiah) is taken up to heaven (vs. 5).
  • The woman flees to the desert “where she had a place prepared by God” (vs. 6).
  • A war in Heaven breaks out between Satan and the demons and Michael and the angels (vs. 7).
  • Satan is ejected from Heaven (vs. 9).
  • The serpent  pursues the woman (vv. 13-16).
  • The serpent leaves the woman and prepares to pursue her offspring (the persecutions of the Antichrist, vv. 17-18).

Many scholars consider most of these events as overlapping and occurring concurrently, representing the age of the Church; others interpret these as sequential events. From a broader perspective, however, the prophetic message of chapter 12 is pretty clear, a description of the Church, symbolized by the woman, entering the “eschaton”, the period of history when the mission of the Church approaches its end. It would make sense that the celestial sign on September 23, a perfect complement to St. John’s description, to be a herald of the arrival of that era.

The timing of this, occurring during the centenary of Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun, may also suggest it’s the harbinger of a response to the disregard of Our Lady’s requests. An astute observation by Catholic journalist points in this direction. Writing about the significance of the upcoming astronomical phenomenon, Patrick Archibold recalled a communication from Our Lord received by Fatima seer Sister Lucia in 1931:

“Make it known to My ministers, given that they follow the example of the King of France in delaying the execution of My requests, they will follow him into misfortune.”

Archibold explains that on June 17, 1689 Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, following Christ’s direction, implored King Louis XIV to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. This was never accomplished and exactly 100 years later, to the day, King Louis XVI was stripped of authority when the Third Estate declared itself the sole authority to conduct the affairs of France. The Revolution had commenced; the King would be executed four years later and the Catholic Church would suffer despoliation and persecution.

God gave the French 100 years to comply with his requests and Lucia is telling Church authorities that they will have the same. The 100-year period of the Fatima apparition concludes on Oct. 13, 2017, the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, the same month that the pope is headed to Sweden to celebrate the Reformation. If that day passes without a significant event that would suggest that a difficult time for the Church lies ahead, perhaps we should all breathe a sigh of relief.

*I highly recommend downloading Stellarium, a free program that allows one to view space from anywhere and on any day. Its re-creation of what will occur on Sept. 23 is striking.

**Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015, pp. 205-220.

..rjt

Contraception and Spousal Accountability

Everyone knows that millions of Catholic married couples are using contraceptives irrespective of the Church’s condemnation of the practice. What is interesting about this reality is that the common methods being used place the responsibility on either the man or the woman, but not both. This means that only one of the two is actively facilitating contraception. So, for example, what if a Catholic man has a change of heart on moral grounds and would rather his wife switch from the pill to natural family planning and she refuses? According to Pope Pius XI, he would not be culpable for the sin of contraception:

“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order [contraception]. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (Casti Connubii, 1930, #59).

Continue reading “Contraception and Spousal Accountability”

A Costly Misinterpretation of Scripture

While numerous passages in the Bible are ambiguous in meaning and can be validly interpreted in multiple ways, certain passages are so clear one would have to try very hard to get them wrong. One of those is Matthew 25:31-46, the separation of the sheep from the goats and Christ’s judgment upon His return. The ethical imperatives that will form the basis of that judgment are the treatment of those people he regards as His “brothers”. Identifying Jesus’ brothers is the key to understanding the passage:

“‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (vv. 37-40).

Throughout Church history the “brothers” were primarily interpreted as referring to Christ’s followers. More recently however, the modern concepts of social justice and universal brotherhood have influenced the way this text is read and most interpreters wrongly identify “brothers” as anyone who suffers hunger, thirst, etc. But that isn’t what Matthew wrote or intended. Continue reading “A Costly Misinterpretation of Scripture”

The Causal Connection of the Love Commandments

It is impossible to overstate the magnitude of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they tested him on which is the greatest commandment:

”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).

The Pharisees responded with silence because Jesus answered correctly. That the entire Law can be summarized in those same few lines can be found in the Rabbinic literature of the first-century. Continue reading “The Causal Connection of the Love Commandments”

St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ

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Bride of Christ, Scivias, Book III, vision 11, chapter 13

It is generally agreed that the illuminations which accompany Hildegard’s Scivias (Rupertsberg Manuscript) were either sketched and painted by her, or produced under her supervision. The image of the Church as a Bride appears periodically throughout her visionary work. In Book III, Vision 11, chap. 13, which immediately follows her description of the era of the Grey Wolf, she describes the vision that corresponds to the illumination here:

“And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the alter that stands before the eyes of God, …but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes, and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head.”

The Bride who appeared in an earlier vision only from the waist up is now seen fully complete, which reflects that the last days have arrived. Importantly, Hildegard adds that by this time the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children” (Chap. 13); it will have completed her mission of evangelization. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ”

‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’

In a statistical analysis of mass attendance by CARA, one of the major findings was that the percentage of U.S. self-identifying Catholics who attend mass weekly has steadily declined since 1950, and now stands at 23%. Unsurprisingly, the number jumps to 68% on Easter Sunday. Parish priests get a captive audience and an opportunity to encourage lapsed Catholics back to the faith.

If it were me I would do three things this year:

  • Encourage parishioners to park at a distance if possible, or attend a mass that is not likely to have visitors. People tend to avoid going back to places where parking is a problem.
  • Have one or more confessionals open prior to mass and, if another priest is around, during mass. Visiting Catholics might feel the call to reconciliation just by seeing that it’s available.
  • Preach a homily on Hell. It doesn’t have to be in the fire and brimstone style of Jonathan Edwards, though it worked for him, and started a movement, “The Great Awakening”:

sinners2“The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.”

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (ca. 1741)

The fiery puritan grew tired of the malaise he noticed at his colonial-era church and community. People went through the motions of the religious life but lacked passion, which for Edwards meant an absence of an appreciation of the reality of God, heaven, and hell. He wanted evidence that a person was a true Christian through a visible “religious affection”. The malaise, however, was the unavoidable by-product of Calvinism, in which salvation or damnation was predetermined for everyone.

It has been claimed that certain readings and prayers addressing eternal damnation were purged in the mass of Pope Paul VI. Theologian Brian Harrison, O.S. examined this question in detail and concluded that there was little substantial difference between the old and new masses with respect to such matters. He added, however, that the true disparity comes from the pulpit:

“…Catholics attending the old rite heard – and still hear – a lot more about sin, judgment, wrath and Hell than their ‘Novus Ordo’ brethren, simply because post-conciliar priests, whatever the readings of the day may be, tend to avoid those topics like the plague in their bland, vacuous, and politically correct homilies.” (link)

Continue reading “‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’”

A Pastoral Revolution?

medieval-confessionIn the Middle Ages confession could be an unpleasant experience; penances were severe and could last years. Priests had been taught that if a penance accorded was not in proportion to the gravity of the sin, a portion of the temporal punishment would be transferred to the priest. But around the middle of the twelfth-century priests were encouraged to develop a gentler approach to confession.

French scholar Pierre Payer, an expert on the penitential literature of the period,  called it a “pastoral revolution”, where the focus of preaching and the confessional was to educate and counsel rather than admonish and punish. Confession would become, according to Payer, “…one of the most intimate of human relationships that was institutionalized in the Christian Church”.*

Another “pastoral revolution” may be taking place in the Church with the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in which Pope Francis introduces a new development in pastoral discernment:

“[Seminarians and future priests] need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.” (link)

Continue reading “A Pastoral Revolution?”

An Ancient Law Written on the Heart

When I studied Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, we would occasionally spend class time reading ancient legal texts. It often provoked discussion because laws reveal much about a society’s concerns. While laws regarding homosexuality in the Near Eastern codes are relatively rare, Tablet A, 19-20 of the Middle Assyrian Law Code (ca. 1400 BC) describes the punishment for falsely accusing someone of engaging in a homosexual act as well as the penalty for the act itself:

“If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, ‘He has allowed men to have sex with him,’ or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, ‘Men have sex with you,’ and then, ‘I will bring charges against you myself,’ but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off [hair], and pay one talent of lead.”

The very next law establishes the penalty if the accusation is proven in court:

“If a man lay with his neighbor, when they have prosecuted him [and] convicted him, they shall lie with him [and] turn him into a eunuch.”

Continue reading “An Ancient Law Written on the Heart”

The Vatican Bank May Be Running Out of Time

In canon lawyer Ed Condon’s recent article critical of the Pope’s actions against the Knights of Malta, he makes an astute observation about possible unintended consequences:

The disregard for the mutually sovereign relationship between the Holy See and the Order sets a precedent in international law, which will now lurk under the Secretariat of State’s dealings with other governments like an unexploded bomb.

Cardinal Parolin should prepare to see today’s actions cited as legitimate precedent when the IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank, finds its sovereign independence under renewed pressure from other countries or international bodies. [emphasis mine]

With respect to the bank, one has to ask just how long the Italian government’s going to tolerate this institution? While the current pontiff had promised to clean up Vatican finances, he recently ordered Archbishop Becciu to abruptly cancel an outside audit of the bank by PricewaterhouseCooper. According to journalist Edward Pentin, it was over the issue of transparency: Continue reading “The Vatican Bank May Be Running Out of Time”