St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell

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.

Thus the century can be divided into four eras: 1870-1914; 1914-1945; 1945-1991 ; 1991-present. (1870 was the Franco-Prussian War which changed the map of Europe and inaugurated the secularization of western Europe). Consulting a wide range of historians, some of whom were friendly to religion and others not, the characterizations of those historical periods that emerged actually matched Hildegard’s description of the specific social evils that were represented by the first four of her five beasts.

The following is a very condensed presentation of those correlations. The first one was difficult to figure out; Hildegard’s description of the era was brief and somewhat vague. The others, as you will discover, are quite obvious.

The Fiery Red Dog (1870-1914)

Historians like to call this the “Age of Imperialism”; the empires of Europe were at their zenith. From a sociological perspective, however, the theme of the era was the exploitation of the working poor, a problem Karl Marx was determined to fix. His ideology was spreading like wildfire of which the popes of the era would issue many warnings and condemnations. Pope Leo XIII, in his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum, declared of the problem of social injustice “…there is no question which has taken a deeper hold on the public mind.” If you read the encyclical, you’ll notice that it is primarily a condemnation of communism.

Here’s how Hildegard described the era:

“One is like a dog, fiery but not burning; for that era will produce people with a biting temperament, who seem fiery in their own estimation, but do not burn with the justice of God.”*

The key to understanding this is to focus on the word “justice”. “Fiery” is to be understood as passionate, similar to a common English usage of the word. We are told that during this era characters will emerge who are passionate for justice, but not really “on fire” because it is not the justice of God, but their own form of justice. It is not difficult to make a case that she was referring to injustice toward the working poor by the upper classes and the consequent rise of communism. The history and literature of the era testify to the centrality of social injustice for understanding what was happening during the period. (Zola, Hardy, etc.)

The Yellow Lion (1914-1945)

Most historians connect the two wars and call it something like “The Age of Catastrophe”, or “The Age of Total War”, an era dominated by wars, genocides, military dictatorships, political prisons, religious persecutions, etc. Historians struggle to understand how the Christian nations of Europe permitted it to happen.

Hildegard describes the era as follows:

“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; for those kingdoms will begin to weaken and tire, as the yellow color shows.”

“Martial” or “war mongering” does not overstate what kind of people dominated much of this era; nationalism and communism were two sides of the same coin. As the era came to a close, the fall of the Nazis and their allies proved to be a spectacular exhibition of self-delusion and cowardice.

The Pale Horse (1945-1991)

To historians these years are known as the “Cold War” era. Most focus their attention on the many conflicts, proxy wars, intrigue, etc. between the two superpowers. Others with more sociological interests will examine the student riots and unrest, assassinations, and the changing perspectives on human sexuality. In regard to the latter, one can think of two influential documents produced during the era that reveal the dramatic changes that took place with regard to sex, The Kinsey Reports (1948), and Humanae Vitae (1968).

Hildegard describes the era as follows:

“Another is like a pale horse; for those times will produce people who drown themselves in sin, and in their licentious and swift moving pleasures neglect all virtuous activities. And then these kingdoms will lose their ruddy strength and grow pale with the fear of ruin, and their hearts will be broken.”

The key word is “licentious”, meaning sexual debauchery. Thanks to artificial birth-control the purpose of sex changed from procreation to pleasure. Like a healthy horse turning sickly pale, the damaging consequences of the sexual revolution on western society began to reveal themselves in the 1980s. Statistics on abortion, divorce, single-parent families, suicide, STDs (including AIDS), etc., all exploded as the era came to an end.

The Black Pig (1991-present)

It is an open question as to how future historians will view the West since 1991 and what sort of titles will be used to characterize the period. From the experience of the last quarter century one might be tempted to call it “The Age of Globalization”. The dominant themes have been free trade, elimination of borders and for much of Europe, a common market, passport, and currency. This title also suits the continuing migrations of millions to Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

Note that Hildegard states clearly that she is referring only to the era’s “leaders” in her description. The generation of leaders since the 1990s have not been, in general, the same type of people as their predecessors. Today’s leaders tend to be pro-abortion and pro-homosexual marriage, imposing many laws, like Obergefell vs. Hodges, that are contrary to Christian teaching.

Hildegard writes:

“…[T]his epoch will have leaders who blacken themselves in misery and wallow in the mud of impurity. They will infringe the divine law by fornication and other like evils and will plot to diverge from the holiness of God’s commands”

As the agenda of political correctness, gender theory, homosexuality, race, etc., gradually became more radicalized in the higher educational system through the 70s and 80s, naturally so have our leaders who were educated in those times. Think of Clinton, Blair, Obama, Trudeau, Cameron, Holland, Merkel, etc.; think also of the thousands of their political appointees, including judges, that further the cause of political correctness, the goals of which “infringe the divine law”. Historian Paul Johnson has described it in terms of social engineering and referred to it as “the salient evil of our time”.

The Grey Wolf

The arrival of the era of the Grey Wolf will ultimately prove whether it was coincidental that the preceding four historical eras matched Hildegard’s descriptions of them. But it is important to acknowledge, however, that Hildegard’s descriptions are not interchangeable with these eras. Historians may vary on the importance of the sexual revolution, but they would not place it in the other eras, it belongs to the Cold War years. Likewise, outside of the era of the Yellow Lion, the other three eras were relatively peaceful. Social engineering was being practiced by the Soviet Union and the Fascists, but it does not define the period of 1914-1945, malice and militarism do. Moreover, since the four follow in the proper order; it strikes me as unlikely that these correlations were accidental.

It is interesting that Hildegard goes into far more detail regarding the Grey Wolf then the other eras. Essentially, three main things will define the era:

  • Civil unrest and revolutions with their cause being economic inequality.
  • Physical persecution of the Church by a specific group of people.
  • A powerful spiritual revival in the Church.

She also adds that it is when the Church will be “…replete with the full number of her children.” The Church’s mission will have been completed.

…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.

St. Hildegard’s Unsettling Vision of the Bride of Christ

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Bride of Christ, Scivias, Book III, vision 11, chapter 13

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”

Charles Johnston’s Hanging it Up

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.

Continue reading “Charles Johnston’s Hanging it Up”

Nostradamus and the False Trumpet

nostradamus

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”

St. Hildegard on Reclaiming Marriage through Christ

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“Creation and Fall”, illumination from Scivias, Rupertsberg MS.

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.

St. Hildegard (1098-1179), explaining her vision of the creation and fall in her mid-12th century work, Scivias, revealed that through Christ, marriage could be restored to its original ideal, the marital union of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: Continue reading “St. Hildegard on Reclaiming Marriage through Christ”

St. Hildegard’s Vision of the Moment of Consecration

eucharist1Listening 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”

Contraception and the Guilt of Homicide

lightningSt. 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.

But what about the refusal of Church authorities to enforce the its prohibition on the use of artificial birth control? Continue reading “Contraception and the Guilt of Homicide”

“You are Allowing Evil to Raise Itself up Arrogantly!” St. Hildegard Reproves Her Pope

“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”

…Voltaire

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).

Continue reading ““You are Allowing Evil to Raise Itself up Arrogantly!” St. Hildegard Reproves Her Pope”

“O vis aeternitatis”: The Power of St. Hildegard’s Music

One of the best online resources for the study of St. Hildegard’s music is on the blog run by the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies, which includes a large collection of her works along with Latin texts and translations that can be found here. Medievalist Nathaniel Campbell, a contributor to the blog,makes the astonishing claim:

“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:

R. O power within Eternity:
All things you held in order in your heart,
and through your Word were all created
according to your will.
And then your very Word
was clothed within
that form of flesh
from Adam born. Continue reading ““O vis aeternitatis”: The Power of St. Hildegard’s Music”

The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard and Revelation 17: The Beast with Seven Heads

beasts2St Hildegard’s vision of the last days is a description of five symbolic beasts that represent five unique historical periods that immediately precede the time of the Antichrist. The book, The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, argues that four of the five periods have already occurred in our recent history. If the book’s theories are convincing, then we can look for references to that same future period of time in the prophetic literature of the Bible and compare.

babylon4One such reference is the well-known apocalyptic passage in the Book of Revelation which includes a description of the infamous “Whore of Babylon”. Unfortunately, the book of Revelation is very difficult to interpret, and Revelation 17:1-14, which references the Whore of Babylon and the beast with seven heads, is especially difficult to understand. But it can be interpreted, and often is among Catholic theologians, as referencing the time leading up to the Antichrist. To do so requires the premise that the book of Revelation relates to the future and has specific information about the end times. Continue reading “The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard and Revelation 17: The Beast with Seven Heads”