‘Office of the Angelic Order’: St. Hildegard’s Ode to Priests

The Choirs of the Blessed, Rupertsberg Manuscript

In Book III, Vision 13 from Hildegard’s Scivias (hard ‘c’, and is an abbreviation for Sci vias domini, “Know the Ways of God”), she describes a vision of heavenly choirs, “I heard the praises of the joyous citizens of Heaven”. There is a song for angels, martyrs, Mary, etc. She wrote down the words to the songs and called them the “Symphony of the Blessed”. The following is a hymn to confessors:

O ye who succeed and serve the mighty Lion,
And rule between the temple and the altar,
The angels sing praises and stand to help the peoples,
And so do you in the Lamb’s service careful.

O ye who imitate the Most Exalted,
In His most precious and glorious Sacrament!
How great is your glory, in which the power is given
To loose and bind the indolent and the straying,
to beautify white and black, and lift their burdens.
Yours too is the office of the Angelic order,
And yours is the task of knowing the firm foundations
And where to lay them, and therefore great is your honor.†

This is one of the rare places in the book where Hildegard has something nice to say about priests. By the middle of the twelfth-century the priesthood had been corrupted and was in deep need of reform. Historians generally agree that at the time most priests disregarded celibacy and were either married or supporting a concubine. They also would regard their church and attendant properties as their own personal real estate, using the land to accumulate wealth.

Hildegard would later be authorized by Pope Eugenius III as well as his successors to conduct speaking tours primarily to groups of priests, harshly condemning their behavior. From her correspondence we know that these speeches had a powerful influence and included prophesying, as her reputation as a genuine seer had spread throughout Latin Christendom.

…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.

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