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”

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”