‘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.

Understanding the Writings of St. Hildegard

I have recently added a page on the top menu, “Understanding the Writings of St. Hildegard“. It is the first chapter of my book, Liberating Marriage in an Age of Heresy. It is probably the only introduction to Hildegard written from an orthodox Catholic perspective that can be found online (as far as I am aware).

Most of the literature on this Doctor of the Church comes from university women’s and gender studies departments; she quickly became a feminist folk-hero as a result of her remarkable rise to power in the patriarchal world of Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages. Consequently, her visions and gift of prophecy, which were recognized as authentic by the Church, are generally explained in human terms.

The first complete English translation of Scivias appeared in the 1990s and the secular interest in her exploded. But the resulting literature generally misrepresents this great saint and her devotion to God and His Church.

If you’re interested in Hildegard and her message to today’s Church, kindly take the time to introduce yourself to the remarkable Abbess and prophetess. And please feel free to share the article.

…rjt

The Church as a ‘Maternal Womb’

Illumination from Scivias, Rupertsberg Ms., 12th-century

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’”

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. Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s ‘Five Beasts’ in a Nutshell”

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”