Illustrations from a Manuscript of Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Scivias
Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; Heidelberg
The above are illustrations from Scivias, an illustrated work by Saint Hildegard von Bingen, Doctor of the Church, completed in 1151 or 1152, describing 26 religious visions she experienced
Recently the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time devoted a whole episode to the life and works of the saint
There is a podcast of the episode with the discussion as well as a reading list on the website
Saint Hildegard had an active correspondence with the great figures of her time, including Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the various Popes.
She was a faithful daughter of the Church but like St Catherine of Siena she could deliver a
Here is an extract of her letter to Pope Anastasius IV in 1153. He was elected that year aged eighty years and his pontificate only lasted one year. He was a weak Pope too eager to give into the secular powers:
"O man whose eyesight has become so weak that he cannot see the worst sort of malignancy perpetrated by men, why do you not recall back to you these lost souls who can only by you be rescued from doing grave evil? And why do you not cut away the root of evil that suffocates all plants that grow good and useful, and that have a sweet odour and taste about them?
You neglect Justice, the daughter of a king, supreme in all superior things, and who was entrusted to you. For you allow this kingly daughter to be thrown down to the ground, her crown and robe dashed by the crudest sort of men who bark like dogs and who make the inept sounds of crowing like roosters in the middle of the night. They are all impostors, who on the surface appear to be peaceful but in their hearts they grind their teeth, like a dog that wags his tail at the sight of friends then bites them, the warriors who fi ght for the Lord’s house. . . .
Thus you, o man, sit on the principal seat of the Lord, surrounded by evil that you not only do not reject, but embrace by tolerating depraved men. And consequently all the earth is in disarray owing to an ever-changing sea of error because man loves what God has destroyed.
And you, o Rome, lie as if moribund. But you will be confounded, the very structure on which you stand will weaken because you do not burn with the love of the daughter of the king, namely Justice, but remain as if in the torpour of sleep. . . .
But he who is great and without blemish [God], raised up a little tent [Hildegard] so that it will see miracles and form unknown letters in an unknown language, and that these will sound a melody consonant to itself. And it was said to that tent,
“In this language express those things shown to you from above, not in the form of any human tongue, because this common language was not given to you. But have the one with the fi le [likely referring to her secretary Volmar] transfer these into a sound that men can understand.”
You, however, o man, who is supposed to be the shepherd, wake up and run quickly to Justice, so that you will not be accused by the great doctor [God] of failing to have cleansed your fl ock from fi lth or of failing to anoint it with oil. . . .
Therefore you, o man, walk in the path of righteousness, and God will save you, so that he may lead you back into the house of the elect and that you may live eternally."
In 1141, Hildegard began writing Scivias, a title derived from the “exhortation Scito vias Domini, or Know the Ways of the Lord”
At the beginning of the work she states: “And I wrote these things not through a desire for human composition but through God alone”
According to Hildegard, she was living in a corrupt age in which the ostensibly “learned, masculine clergy” did not heed God’s command.
She called on the Church to repent and reform
For her singing the Office was important as “the words symbolise the body…the jubilant music indicates the spirit…the celestial harmony shows the Divinity, and the words the Humanity of the Son of God”.