“Either They Shall Stay Together in Righteous Union, or They Shall Both Abstain From Such Unions!” St. Hildegard on Divorce and Remarriage

marriage2In her first book, Scivias, within which we find the vision of the five beasts, many of St.Hildegard’s twenty-six visions included references to matters relating to marriage and sexuality. Her language at times can be rather blunt, employing less than delicate phraseology. The visions of this twelfth-century Doctor of the Church can take the form of direct warnings from God, written in the style of an Old Testament prophet, “Thus saith the Lord…”, taking the form of a first-person oration by God Himself! This is uncommon in medieval mystical literature and more unusual in that it comes through the voice of a woman. An example of this comes from Book 1,Vision 2,Chapter 3, in which the text is specifically referring to prohibitions against incestual relationships (All quotations herein are taken from the following translation: Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abby of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.):

…[F]or the embraces of a man and woman related by blood would be wickedly enkindled into shameless fornication and ceaseless lust much more than those of unrelated people. I am explaining this by this person [Hildegard], …she is receiving this explanation not from human knowledge but from God. (p.82)

The Medieval scholars that stumbled across Hildegard’s little known Latin works in the late twentieth-century were astounded by the authority in her first-person voice of God. She discusses marriage in the Second Vision of Book One, the context of which covers the fall of Adam and Eve:

But if either husband or wife breaks the law by fornication, …they shall undergo the just censure of the spiritual magisterium. For the husband shall complain of the wife, or the wife of the husband, about their sin against their union before the Church and its prelates, according to the justice of God; but not so that the husband or wife can seek another marriage; either they shall stay together in righteous union, or they shall both abstain from such unions, as the discipline of Church practice shows. (p.78)

We notice here that for Hildegard, the “discipline of Church practice” does not conflict with the “spiritual magisterium” or the “justice of God”; they are perfectly complementary. In Vision Five Hildegard revisits the same subject:

“What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. What does that mean? God, creating the human race, took flesh out of flesh and joined them in a union, and thus established that this connection must not hastily be broken. How? Because the union of man and woman flesh will be united to flesh and blood to blood by a legal ceremony, so they cannot be divided from each other in foolish haste. …[F]or, as God commanded that people should not slay each other, He also commanded that they should not divert their blood from its rightful place by cruel fornication. (pp.215-216)

We are told here that the marital bond is the same union of man and woman as was the very act of Adam and Eve’s creation; in colloquial terms, the two were “made for each other”. Once the  “legal ceremony” (in Hildegard’s twelfth-century meaning: the sacramental rite of marriage) took place, it could not be divided. In the last sentence, she compares the act of remarriage by legally married persons to the commandment against murder; a married person’s “blood” is one with their spouse and can never be intermingled with someone else’s.

In Scivias, St. Hildegard has much more to say on the subject. The Bishops attending the upcoming final session of the Synod on the Family in October should consider St. Hildegard’s testimony. And I’ll try to present it, through this blog, on her behalf.


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