St. Hildegard on Our ‘Fleeting Times’

The five beasts from a 13th-century manuscript of Scivias

Hildegard’s Scivias (abbreviated form of the Latin for “Know the Ways of God”) is her record of a series of 26 visions that encompass the whole of salvation history. When she gets to the last days, specifically the time leading up to the Antichrist she makes an interesting comment on the nature of the passage of time during these days:

“All things that are on Earth hasten to their end, and the world droops toward its end” (Book III, Vision 11, chap. 1).

She is stating that one character of these times is that history will progress rapidly. She refers to the five beasts which symbolize the succession of individual historical periods leading up to the Antichrist, as “fleeting times”. She also compares them to the end of the day when the sun is setting, explaining that in her vision it is why the beasts face the west. She also likens them to end of the life of a person:

“…for these fleeting times will vanish with the setting sun. For people rise and set like the sun, and some are born and some die”

Since the nineteenth century history progressed in a way not seen in the centuries which preceded it. It began with the Industrial Revolution, of which the Wikipedia article suggests, “Economic historians are in agreement that the onset of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in the history of humanity since the domestication of animals and plants.” The invention of the internal combustion engine soon followed and had an even greater impact; think of the changes it brought to warfare, agriculture, transportation, etc.

Geopolitically, the power structure of the world has changed four times since the late nineteenth-century: in 1870 after the Franco-Prussian War, after WWI, again after WWII, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another change may soon be evident as the unipolar world of “Pax Americana” appears to be coming to an end. All of this occurring in about a century and a half.

From a sociological standpoint, one can also track the accelerating decline of religion in the West and the rise and fall of ideologies like communism, fascism, and nationalism. Note the rapid rise and impact of Political Correctness on western society just in the last few decades. One doesn’t have to be very old to look back at their own experience in life to recognize a historical progression that is unusually rapid, both technologically and sociologically. You would have to be pretty young not to recall that life was very different when you were growing up.

Not unlike Hildegard’s vision, in Revelation 17 John compares the times which precede the Antichrist to the succession of Roman Emperors during the first-century (the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties), which were relatively short reigns. (I examine the passage and compare it to Hildegard’s five beasts here).

Hildegard’s world was static. In her lifetime (1098-1179) she would not see major technological development, changing forms of governance or social customs, etc. Yet she reveals that these things will be indicative of the time leading up to the Antichrist.


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