In her book, Scivias (book II, vision 3), St. Hildegard explains the symbolism of her vision of a woman with many children in her womb. The woman is the Church and the children represent the life of all baptized Christians. She describes differences among these children and notes:
“…some direct their attention to spiritual purity and shine with serene virtue, treading earthly things underfoot.” These, she states, “…are marching forward vigorously in the womb of the image” (p.195).
“…[Some] tear away from her and attack her and break her established rules. They abandon the maternal womb and the sweet nourishment of the Church” (p.196).
The life-giving sacraments which are administered by the Church to her sons and daughters are like the “sweet nourishment” of a mother’s womb. When Christians cut themselves off from this sustenance, they are spiritually aborting themselves. Continue reading “The Church as a ‘Maternal Womb’”→
In 1150 St. Hildegard completed her first major work, Scivias (“Know the Ways of God”), a description of 26 highly symbolized visions that manifest the history of salvation. Soon after her death, inexplicably, Scivias and Hildegard fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until the late 20th-century that the work was rediscovered by Latin scholars looking for material for their students. The first complete English translation appeared in the 1990s.
In Book Three, Vision 11, Hildegard describes five symbolic animals as the forerunners of the Antichrist: a Fiery-Red Dog, Yellow Lion, Pale Horse, Black Pig, and Grey Wolf. She explains that each one represents individual and brief historical periods that follow each other in succession. She also reveals how each animal symbolizes a particular evil that afflicts society during the corresponding period.
In my book The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, I start with an examination the 20th-century with the intention of seeing how historians divided it up and then how they characterized the individual eras that the divisions would unveil. It turned out that there is general agreement among them; certain years marked major social and geopolitical changes in Western society: 1914, 1945, and 1991. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell”→
It is generally agreed that the illuminations which accompany Hildegard’s Scivias (Rupertsberg Manuscript) were either sketched and painted by her, or produced under her supervision. The image of the Church as a Bride appears periodically throughout her visionary work. In Book III, Vision 11, chap. 13, which immediately follows her description of the era of the Grey Wolf, she describes the vision that corresponds to the illumination here:
“And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the alter that stands before the eyes of God, …but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes, and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head.”
The Bride who appeared in an earlier vision only from the waist up is now seen fully complete, which reflects that the last days have arrived. Importantly, Hildegard adds that by this time the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children” (Chap. 13); it will have completed her mission of evangelization. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ”→
I was asked by a CNS reporter last summer in private email correspondence what I thought of Charles Johnston, the seer from Denver who has made predictions of immanent civil unrest and social collapse. Unfamiliar with him, I listened to an interview the reporter provided a link to and gave the following response (additional commentary is in brackets):
“Thanks for the link and I listened to the interview. What he said was a little vague so I looked at his site [link]. He predicts a worldwide economic collapse followed by civil wars followed by a confrontation with Islam. This is also what Hildegard predicts for the era of the grey wolf; but that’s where the similarity ends. Charlie adds that there will be a major miracle followed by a prolonged period of peace. And this is all supposed to take place in the next year and a half. [He claimed that his Guardian Angel had told him these things]. The era of the grey wolf as Hildegard described it hasn’t started yet.
In honor of Nostradamus’ birthday (Dec. 14), a number of news websites quoted the following quatrain:
Man with a false trumpet claiming he’s right,
Will rise from the tower’s of the New World
On dames he will spew tangerine venom
But victorious he will be, despite allegations being hurled.
This, they suggest, was a reference to the victory of Donald Trump. The prophecy is typical of Nostradamus’s style; there’s just enough ambiguity to make a connection appear compelling, but not quite. He actually wrote horoscopes for a living and was the court astrologist for Catherine de Medici. Astrology was closely aligned with astronomy and generally respected at the time. Paid astrologers were tolerated by the Church but not considered as having the prophetic gift. Continue reading “Nostradamus and the False Trumpet”→
One consequence of the fall of man was the corruption of marriage and the eventual institution of legal divorce. Even in Hildegard’s day (12th-century) divorce and remarriage were common in Latin Christendom. Marriages were utilitarian and pre-arranged, and consequently, loveless. They facilitated alliances between noble families in order to protect their respective fiefs or wealth. When circumstances would change and an alliance was no longer advantageous, the nobleman would discard the wife who was the basis of the pact and form another one with a different feudal lord.
One of the best weapons the Church employed to break down feudal society’s marriage customs was its insistence on consent as the basis for a valid marriage. Girls in their early teens were considered too young to grant consent and arranged marriages precluded it. Invalid marriages were a problem for the nobility because any children produced in them would be regarded as illegitimate and unable to inherit. The people of Christendom finally accepted that it was Church law, not civil law, that determined the validity of a marriage.
Listening to Hildegard explain aspects of the conversion of bread and wine to the real presence of Christ reveals the uniqueness of the visionary’s prophetic gift as well as how that gift was viewed by Church authorities in the twelfth-century.
While the doctrine of transubstantiation can be traced back to apostolic times, because of its mysterious nature theologians have had a difficult time explaining it. They employed philosophy and logic to draw their conclusions and thus had little success in making various aspects of the miraculous transmutation understandable. In his discourse on the subject, Hildegard’s contemporary, the early scholastic theologian Peter Lombard wrote, “If, however, it is asked of what sort this conversion is, whether formal, or substantial, or of another kind, I am not capable of defining it” (Book of Four Sentences, Book IV, Distinction 11). Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Vision of the Moment of Consecration”→
St. Hildegard wrote that in a period of time that precedes the Antichrist the Catholic Church will be punished for many sins, noting three in particular: fornication, rapine (theft or plunder), and murder (Scivias Book III, Vision 11, Chapter 13). The case for the first two as being present today isn’t difficult to make: the clerical sex abuse of children is probably the worst sexual scandal in Church history, and the well-documented troubles of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) should be a cause of embarrassment and anger for all Catholics (see Gerald Posner’s recent book, God’s Bankers). But what about homicide?
The murder accusation could be made for a number of reasons, like supporting an unjust war or the uncovering of murderous intrigues within the higher levels of the hierarchy. The latter likely only occurs in mystery novels and the former isn’t very conceivable; on the question of war the Church seems to be moving in the direction of pacifism.
“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
There was a time when St. Hildegard would have probably agreed with these paradoxical but generally true shortcomings of the Holy Roman Empire. As an adult Hildegard had come to know a succession of Emperors, since they were in reality no more than Kings of Germany and she was as famous a German as they were. She especially detested Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for his determination to usurp the authority of the pope in ecclesiastical appointments. Hildegard received a gracious letter from the Emperor, in which he referred to her as “holy lady”, and “beloved lady”, requesting her prayers as a means of obtaining grace. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by fearlessly assuming her role as a prophet, of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God (very unusual for a woman in medieval times):
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you” (Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78).
She follows up with another letter in which explicitly insults the King (a guy who could make her life very difficult):
“…[I]n a mystic vision I see you like a little boy or some madman living before Living Eyes. Yet you still have time for ruling over worldly matters. Beware, therefore, that the almighty King does not lay you low because of the blindness of your eyes, which fail to see correctly how to hold the rod of proper governance in your hand. See to it that you do not act in such a way that you lose the grace of God” (Letter #45, p.78).
“More works can be definitely attributed to Hildegard than any other composer from the Middle Ages. The melodic variety of Hildegard’s chant, ranging from the highly florid works of her early years to the more restrained chant, reflect her intimate familiarity with chant genres and the compositional practices of late medieval chant. Where Hildegard’s musical brilliance shines brightest is the sublimity of the liturgical poetry that accompanies it.”
“…For Hildegard, music rises almost to the level of a sacrament, channeling the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to us.”
O vis aeternitatis, “O power within eternity”, is one of her responsories: