Hildegard’s Scivias (abbreviated form of the Latin for “Know the Ways of God”) records of a series of 26 visions encompassing history from creation to the final judgment. The Doctor of the Church reveals two important clues to help us recognize when the last days are unfolding.
When she gets to the last days, specifically the time leading up to the Antichrist she comments on the increasingly rapid nature of the passage of time:
All things that are on Earth hasten to their end, and the world droops toward its end (Book III, Vision 11, chap. 1).†
Hildegard’s world was static. In her lifetime (1098-1179) she would see no major technological developments, changing forms of governance, or social customs, etc. Yet she reveals that rapid historical development will be indicative of the last days:
…[F]or 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 19th-century history has progressed in a way not seen in the centuries which preceded it. It began with the Industrial Revolution, probably the most important economic development since the domestication of plants and animals. This was followed with the invention of the internal combustion engine which had an even greater impact. Then came the computer, think of the developments such technological progress has brought to society: changing the nature of warfare, agriculture, transportation, etc.
Geopolitically, the power structure of the world has changed four times since the late nineteenth-century: beginning in 1870 after the Franco-Prussian War, then again after WWI, after WWII, and again following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another change may soon be evident as the unipolar world of “Pax Americana” appears to be in decline; all of this occurring in about a century and a half.
Hildegard’s vision of five beasts represents five successive historical eras that precede the Antichrist. Similarly, in Revelation chapter 17 St. John compares the history which precedes the appearance of 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).
And in the West, before those beasts, a hill with five peaks appeared; and from the mouth of each beast one rope stretched to one of the peaks of the hill.
These “peaks”, she reveals, are meant to symbolize a specific social evil that is characteristic of the corresponding historical era. She explains that the ropes represent the attachment of the people of that era to its particular social evil, and, importantly, that this attachment would be evident from the beginning of the era to its end. According to Hildegard the social evil “…will extend through the period in question“.
While there are many social evils present in any given historical era, not all are evident from the beginning of the era to its end. This is a valuable clue to help us discern whether the era in question matches the symbolism of its respective beast.
The second era, that of the Yellow Lion, is an example of this. I identified it with the historical period of 1914-1945. Hildegard described the people of the era as “martial” or “war-mongering “:
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.
WWI saw the deposing of most of its Christian monarchs, exchanging them for military dictators. It was an age of extreme nationalism and led to numerous genocides. Malice and hatreds engulfed the period from its beginning to its end. Historians would universally agree that Hildegard’s vision describes the era accurately.
The ropes are black except for the one coming out of the mouth of the grey wolf, which has both black and white cords. The latter represent the emergence of a spiritual renewal in the Church:
All the ropes were black except the one that came from the wolf, which was partly black and partly white. …[T]hough the one that symbolizes greed is partly black and puts forth many evils, yet some will come from that direction who are white with justice.”
The speed of historical progression today and the persistence of a specific social evils connected to these eras add to our ability to recognize the times we are living in.
†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.