About eighty percent of my book is a study of history from the late-nineteenth century to the present. I began the project when I had a hunch about the second era, the era of the Yellow Lion. St. Hildegard’s explanation of the symbolism of that time almost perfectly describes the militaristic period of 1914-1945. The challenge then was to see if the historical era that preceded it and the one that followed it matched her explanation of the respective beast’s symbolism.
Since I did not want to force square pegs into round holes, I was hoping to find obvious matches between the animal symbols and the respective historical periods. After consulting numerous histories of the periods in question, I became somewhat discouraged and considered hanging it up; there were similarities but no obvious matches. The specific characteristics of each period must be present from its beginning to its end; and the sequence of eras must follow each other in the right order for Hildegard’s vision to have been realized.
Historians naturally will view history differently from each other. One might place a higher level of importance on social history, another on politics, and another on economics. I realized that the writing of history is unavoidably a very subjective effort, everyone has their personal agenda and biases. Then I recalled the work of the great British historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). Dawson, a Catholic, had a powerful bias, he viewed history from a distinctly Catholic perspective, not as a Church historian, but a Catholic historian. Dawson believed that:
“…the Catholic, and indeed every Christian, is bound to recognize the existence of a transcendent supra-temporal element at work in history.”
He recognized that his role as a historian was to interpret the past in the same way as the authors/redactors of the Bible did, as the story of God interacting with his people. In the Old Testament It was God’s interrelationship with Adam, Noah, and the Jews that was the center of the respective chronicler’s attention. In the New Testament it was all about God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus. Dawson studied the history since then as the story of Christ’s interaction with His Church. History to him was the continuing history of man’s salvation.
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago I took a course on the history of Palestine with the late G. W. Ahlstrom. He had no hesitation in expressing his disdain for the Bible. On the first day of class he lectured on the various sources for studying the subject; he came to the Old Testament. He stated that the Bible was a helpful resource — whatever outcome of an historical event it states that happened, you could assume that the opposite occurred.
The Bible is a collection of religious documents that interpret historical events based on the understanding that God is at work in the world to provide for man’s salvation. (They are also inspired documents and are free of error in their original form). Would it not be natural then that a Catholic should try to view history since New Testament times in the same way?
Comparing Hildegard’s description and explanation of her vision with recent history, from Dawson’s perspective, yielded different results. For example, in the era that followed WWII, the Cold War era, a number of historians barely mention, if at all, the sexual revolution in their description of the 60s and 70s. They focus rather on geopolitics, assassinations, civil rights, etc. St. Hildegard describes the era as a period of licentiousness and dissolute behavior, a time of pleasure-seeking. Isn’t that what drove Pope Paul VI to respond to the times and produce one of the greatest of all papal encyclicals, Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the natural role of marriage and conjugal relations?
When I examined the history of the twentieth century from the perspective of the Church, the connection between Hildegard’s five beasts and modern times was, in my view, irrefutable.