St. Hildegard was a German noblewoman who became a Benedictine abbess. She was mystic, which means that she had visions and heard the voice of God directly, which allowed her to understand the scriptures and write about the spiritual truths with special authority that was recognized in her day. In the first section of the reading, Hildegard is writing to St. Bernard, the leading holy man of the day, describing her visions and asking for his approval of her mystical gifts. Mystics were usually preachers and poets. Hildegard was both, and she was also a prolific writer of prose works and of hymns and music. Excerpts of some of her prose and hymns are found below. In her prose one can find very practical advice for living, and in her hymns one finds striking theological concepts, particularly with respect to the veneration of Mary. When you read, ask yourself what Hildegard emphasizes in her visions of a Christian life, and what one might conclude about medieval thought in the 12th century.
Letter to Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux (1147)
O venerable father Bernard, I lay my claim before you, for, highly
by God, you bring fear to the immoral foolishness of this world and, in
your intense zeal and burning love for the Son of God, gather men into
Christ's army to fight under the banner of the cross against pagan
I beseech you in the name of the Living God to give heed to my queries.
Father, I am greatly disturbed by a vision which has appeared to me through divine revelation, a vision seen not with my fleshly eyes but only in my spirit. Wretched, and indeed more than wretched in my womanly condition, I have from earliest childhood seen great marvels which my tongue has no power to express, but which the Sprit of God has taught me that I may believe. Steadfast gentle father, in your kindess repsond to me, your unworthy servant, who has never, form her earliest childhood, lived one hour free from anxiety. In your piety and wisdom look in your spirit, as you have been taught by the Holy Spirit, and from you heart bring comfort to your handmaiden.
Through this vision which touches my heart and soul like a burning
teaching me profundities of meaning, I have an inward understanding of
the Psalter, the Gospels, and other volumes. Nevertheless, I do
receive this knowledge in German. Indeed, I have no formal
at all, for I know how to read only on the most elementary level,
certainly with no deep analysis. But please give me your opinion
in this matter, because I am untaught and untrained in exterior
but am only taught inwardly, in my spirit. Hence my halting,
. . .
And so I beseech your aid, through the serenity of the Father and
His wonderous Word and through the sweet moisture of compunction, the
of truth, and through that holy sound, which all creation echoes, and
that same Word which gave birth to the world, and through he sublimity
of the Father, who sent the Word with sweet fruitfulness into the womb
of the Virgin, from which He soaked up flesh, just as honey is
by the honeycomb. And may that Sound, the power of the Father,
upon your heart and lift up your spirit so that you may respond
to these words of mine . . .
Excerpts from Scivias
(Her calling as a Writer)
But now the Catholic faith wavers among the nations and the Gospel limps among the people; and the mighty books in which the excelling doctors had summed up knowledge with great care go unread from shameful apathy, and the food of life, which is the divine Scriptures, cools to tepidity.
For this reason, I now speak through a person who is not eloquent in the Scriptures or taught by an earthly teacher; I Who Am speak through her of new secrets and mystical truths, heretofore hidden in books, like one who mixes clay and then shapes it to any form he wishes.
(About the calling to the monastic life)
If you offer your child to me when discerning intellect is not in him, but all his understanding lies undeveloped, and that offering is against his will because you have not sought his consent to it, you have not acted rightly....
And if you, O human, confine that child with such great strictness of bodily discipline that he cannot free himself from the pressure of his soul's repugnance, he will come before Me arid and fruitless in body and soul because of the captivity unjustly inflicted on him without his consent....
If I comfort him by miracle so that he may remain in the spiritual life, that is not for humans to look into; for I want his parents not to sin in this oblation, offering him to me without his will.
. . .
For some undertake the religious life renouncing not their own will but only their secular clothes, because they have experienced misery and poverty instead of riches in the world; they leave the world because they cannot have it as they wish.
Others are foolish and simple about the world and, being unable to guide themselves, are contemptible to people; so they flee from the world because they are mocked by it.
Others labor greatly under the calamities of sickness and bodily weakness, and so leave the world not for My sake but to remedy these afflictions more easily.
Yet others suffer such great anguish and oppression from the temporal lords to whom they are subject that they withdraw from the world for fear of them, not so as to obey My precepts but only so that those lords can no longer have power over them.
So all these come to the religious life not for the sake of celestial love but for the sake of the earthly troubles they have, not knowing whether I am salted with wisdom or insipid, sweet or bitter, a dweller in Heaven or on earth.
[The voice says:] But I do not reject the chaste coupling of of
marriage, which was set up by divine counsel when the children of Adam
were fruitful and multiplied. But it is to be done for the true
of children and not for the false pleasure of the flesh, and only by
to whom it is allowed and harmless by divine law, those allied to the
and not set apart for the Spirit. You should love the good you
from Me better than yourself. You are heavenly in spirit but
in flesh; and so you should love heavenly things and tread the earthly
underfoot. When you do heavenly things I show you a supernal
but when you seek to do what is unjust by the will of your flesh, I
you My martyrdom and the pains I endured for your sakes, that you may
your wrong desires for love of My Passion.
You have been given great intelligence; and so great wisdom is required of you. Much has been given to you, and much will be required of you. But in all these things I am your Head and your helper. For when Heaven has touched you, if you call on Me I will answer you. If you knock at the door, I will open to you. You are given a spirit of profound knowledge, and so have in yourself all that you need. And, this being so, My eyes will search you closely and remember what they find.
Therefore, I require of your conscience a wounded and sorrowful heart; for thus you can restrain yourself when you feel drawn toward sin and burn in it to the point of suffocation. Behold, I am watching you; what will you do? If you call upon Me in this travail, with a wounded heart and tearful eyes and fear of My judgement, and keep calling on Me to help you against the wickedness of your flesh and the attackes of evil spirits, I will do for you all that you desire, and make My dwelling-place in you.
From Liber Vitae Meritorum
I saw a fifth image that had the form of a woman.... She said: "Alas that I was ever created! Alas that I am alive! Who will help me? Who will free me? If God knew me, I would not be in such danger. Although I trust in God, he does not give me any good things; although I rejoice in him, he does not take evil away from me. I listen to a lot of things from philosophers who teach that there is much good in God, but God does not do any good for me. If he is my God, why does he hide all his grace from me? If he were to bring something good to me, I might know him. I, however, do not know what I am. I was created for unhappiness, I was born into unhappiness, and I live without any consolation. Ah! What use is life without joy? Why was I ever created when there is no good for me?"
I again heard a voice from the storm respond to this image: "O blind
and deaf one, you do not know what you have said.... Behold the sun,
stars and all the embellishments of the earth's greenness, and consider
what great prosperity God gives to man in those things.... Who gives
these bright and good things unless it is God? When the day rushes up
you, you call it the night; when salvation is present to you, you
say that it is a curse, and when good things come to you, you say they
From Liber Divinorum Operum
(On the relation of body and soul)
Zeal for goodness is like a day when we can ponder everything in our mind, while laziness is like a night where we can no longer see anything at all. Just as the night is often moonlit and then later overshadowed if the moon goes under, our deeds are all mixed up. Sometimes they are luminous and at other times they are dark.
If our soul, under the body's urging, does evil with the body, the power of our soul will be darkened, because the light of the truth is missing. But if later the soul feels humiliated by sin and rises up again in opposition to the desires of the flesh, it will henceforth harry that flesh and hinder its evil deeds....
Indeed, the soul sustains the flesh, just as the flesh sustains the soul. For, after all, every deed is accomplished by the soul and the flesh. And, therefore, the soul can achieve with the body good and holy things and be be revived as a result.
In this connection, it often happens that our flesh may feel bored when it cooperates with the soul. In such a case, therefore, the soul may give in to its fleshly partner and let the flesh take delight in earthly things. Similarly, a mother knows how to get her crying child to laugh again. Thus the soul accomplishes good deeds with the body, even though there may be some evil mixed up with them. The soul lets this happen so as not to overburden the flesh too much.
(On men and women:]
When God looked upon the human countenance, God was exceedingly pleased. For had not God created humanity according to the divine image and likeness? Human beings were to announce all God's wondrous works by means of their tongues that were endowed with reason. For humanity is God's complete work....
But the human species still needed a support that was a match for it. So God gave the first man a helper in the form of woman, who was man's mirror image, and in her the whole human race was present in a latent way. God did this with manifold creative power, just as God had produced in great power the first man.
Man and woman are in this way so involved with each other that one of them is the work of the other. Without woman, man could not be called man; without man, woman could not be named woman. Thus woman is the work of man, while man is a sight full of consolation for woman. Neither of them could henceforth live without the other. Man is in this connection an indication of the Godhead while woman is an indication of the humanity of God's Son.
And thus the human species sits on the judgment seat of the world.
rules over all creation.
Hymn: O Radiant Mother
Radiant mother of sacred healing!
you poured slave on the sobbing wounds that Eve sculpted
to torment our souls.
For your slave is your son and you wrecked death forever,
Pray for us to your child,
Mary star of the sea.
O life-giving source and gladdening sign
and sweetness of all delights that flow unfaling!
Pray for us to your child,
Mary, star of the sea