“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”

Is Social Engineering the Salient Evil of Our Time?

The term “social engineering” originated in the late 19th century and was used by early sociologists to define the attempt by governments to influence human attitudes toward certain ideas or behaviors. It is primarily associated with authoritarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao’s China. Using manipulative laws, re-education, and propaganda, they sought to reshape their societies according to their repective ideologies. All governments, however, practice social engineering to some extent, with the intention of producing a desirable outcome that is in the best interest of the public. Regulation of industry and financial markets, laws, and tax incentives are a few examples. But social engineering, even in free societies can have a sinister side.

jpiiPope St. John Paul II tried to warn the West about this in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Written just after the fall of the Soviet Union, something he had helped accomplish, he cautioned the West about the dangers of freedom in a society that was losing its moral foundations:

“Today, when many countries have seen the fall of ideologies which bound politics to a totalitarian conception of the world — Marxism being the foremost of these — there is no less grave a danger that the fundamental rights of the human person will be denied and that the religious yearnings which arise in the heart of every human being will be absorbed once again into politics. …Indeed, if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”

It may not be correct to assert that social engineering itself is an evil; that would depend on whether the desired outcome is evil in nature. We get a clue about the intentions of today’s social reformers from a recent article in the New York Post. Citing Gallup Polls, the writer points out some of the dramatic changes that have affected American culture in the last decade or so. They reflect a complete shift in attitudes toward moral issues over very brief periods of time. Some examples:

  • In 2003 34% of people polled said they were in favor of legalizing marijuana; in 2013 it was over 50%. (Interestingly, only 7% said they used it).
  • In 2006, support for homosexual marriage stood at 39%, today it is 60%.
  • In 2001, only 40% of those surveyed considered homosexuality morally acceptable; today it is 63%.
  • In 2003 only 34% of people polled thought that having a child out of wedlock was morally acceptable. Today that number is 61%.

He compares the scale of these massive changes to the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and notes perceptively: “We’ve hardly taken notice of it, because it happened in people’s minds instead of in the streets.” He cannot explain how this came to be, but suspects it has to do with the degrading nature of pop culture. In my view, however, what is ultimately responsible for this is social engineering by government institutions: schools, legislatures, presidents, judges, as well as lobbyists and special-interest groups, and those that fund them. The journalist rightly poses a troubling question that should give Roman Catholics a cause for concern, “…what comes along with this mass departure of moral judgment from public life?” social10In his encyclical, St. John Paul II answers that question: “…if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power.” (note the word “easily”) Continue reading “Is Social Engineering the Salient Evil of Our Time?”

St. Hildegard’s Life and Works on BBC Radio

hild3I highly recommend taking the time to listen to this excellent BBC production on St. Hildegard. The moderator interviews three medieval scholars who specialize in the saint’s history and works. The Catholic Church owes secular scholarship a debt of gratitude for rediscovering one of her newest Doctors of the Church.

As such, this is not coming from a Catholic perspective, but an academic one. The participants may or may not be Catholics, but either way, academics have to be able to maintain an ability to communicate on an academic level with their secular colleagues–which means any talk about the miraculous is forbidden (though one of them seems to go in that direction). Nevertheless, the respect that these three scholars have for Hildegard is truly striking.

An explanation for her prophetic visions is put forward suggesting that in her 40s she simply pieced together the sum of her very extensive Benedictine education in a series of personal revelations which she then attributed to God. This is pure sophistry, of course, of which Hildegard’s writings are too often subjected to.

After hearing this talk, you will know much more about this great saint. Pope Benedict appreciated her in the way these academics do; but moreover, he was keenly aware of her critical importance to the situation facing today’s Church.

…rjt

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The Reappearance of St. Hildegard After 800 years and Her Gift to Today’s Church

Hildegard picSt. Hildegard (1098-1179) is the perfect subject for the study of Catholic mystical literature; there are simply no red flags associated with her. We know precisely who she is, a twelfth-century nun born into a noble family and who, because of her visionary gift, was given as a child to be raised by the Church and eventually became an abbess. She is not only a saint but a Doctor of the Church. Her writing was prolific, covering her extraordinary visions of salvation history, medicine, and even music composition. We also have hundreds of her letters; she corresponded with kings, queens, popes, abbots, nuns, etc.

Hildegard was left out of the history books and it is not clear why. She fell into obscurity shortly after her death. She was rediscovered in the late twentieth century by Latin scholars looking for new material for their students; her Latin works were first translated into English in the late 1980s. She was elevated to Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. It is as though she came back after 800 years of obscurity to continue her service to the Church in a world she had described for us in her vision of five beasts, which she explained were symbols of the last days (vision 11 from her book, Scivias, Latin, “Know the Ways“)

In her letters one thing stands out as an urgent priority, the call to holiness and purity. They clearly show that for Hildegard a spiritual battle was raging in the twelfth-century, particularly with regard to corruption and immorality among the clergy. She writes with impressive authority:

“The Spirit of God says earnestly: ‘Oh shepherds, wail and mourn over the present time, because you do not know what you are doing when you sweep aside the duties established by God in favor of opportunities for money and the foolishness of wicked men who do not fear God.’  And so your malicious curses and threatening words are not to be obeyed. You have raised up your rods of punishment arrogantly, not to serve God but to gratify your own perverted will.” [Letter to Heinrich, Archbishop of Mainz. Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p.42.]

The correspondence on the whole gives evidence of her personal saintliness and tireless commitment to the reform of the Church. Continue reading “The Reappearance of St. Hildegard After 800 years and Her Gift to Today’s Church”