HILDEGARD of  BINGEN
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LETTERS
 

 

 

 

 


HILDEGARD of  BINGEN
LETTER 103 to the Monk, Guibert CIII HILDEGARDIS AD GVIBERTVM MONACHVM
 

 

 

 

1175 Hildegard writes in answer to the insistent Guibert of Gembloux. Much of this letter is taken up with answers to some, though not all, of the questions posed by Guibert.

 

 

 

 

 

THE words I speak are not my own, nor any human being’s. I merely report those things I received in a supernal vision. O servant of God, you gaze into the mirror of faith in order to know God, and through the formation of man in whom God established and sealed His miracles, you have become a son of God. For just as a mirror, which reflects all things, is set in its own container, so too the rational soul is placed in the fragile container of the body. In this way, the body is governed in its earthly life by the soul, and the soul contemplates heavenly things through faith.

Hec uerba non a me nec ab alio homine dico, sed ea ut in superna uisione accepi prof ero. O serue Dei, per speculum fidei in quo Deum cognoscendo attendis, et o fili Dei per formationem hominis in quem Deus miracula sua constituit et signauit, quia, sicut speculum in quo queque uidentur uasi suo imponitur, ita rationalis anima corpori uelut fictili uasi immittitur, quatenus per ipsam uiuendo regatur et anima per fidem celestia contem­pletur, audi quod indeficiens lumen dicit.

Hear, then, O son of God, what the unfailing Light says. Man is both heavenly and earthly [cf. I Cor 15.47–49]: through the good knowledge of the rational soul, he is heavenly; and through the bad, fragile and full of darkness. And the more he recognizes the good in himself, the more he loves God. For if someone looks in a mirror and finds that his face is very dirty, he will want to wash it clean. So too, if he understands that he has sinned and been caught up in vain pursuits, let him groan and cry out with the Psalmist because his good knowledge makes him aware that he is polluted: “O daughter of Babylon, miserable” [Ps 136.8].

Homo celestis et terrestris est, per bonam quidem scientiam rationalis anime celestis, et per malam fragilis et tenebrosus; et quanto se in bonis cognoscit, tanto amplius Deum diligit. Nam si in speculo uultum suum sordidatum et puluere sparsum aspexerit, mundare et tergere illum studet. Ita etiam, si se peccasse et uarietati uanitatum se implicitum esse intellexerit, gemat, quoniam in bona scientia se pollutum scit, et cum psalmista plangat, dicens: Filia Babylonis misera.

Here is the sense of this verse: human desire was tainted through the poison of the serpent. Thus it is impoverished and wretched, for despite the fact that it tastes the glory of eternal life through its good knowledge, it nevertheless fails to seek that glory from God with true desire— for which reason it has a low reputation in philosophical thought.a But blessed is he who understands that he has his life from God, and blessed is he whose knowledge teaches him that God created and redeemed him. For through this divinely given freedom, he breaks the evil habit of his sins, and poor as he is in celestial riches, he dashes his wretchedness upon the rock that is the foundation of beatitude.

Quod est: Humana concupiscentia per spumam serpentis est confusa. Ipsa etiam pauper et egena est, quoniam in speculativa scientia honorifica opinione caret, eo quod gloriam eterne uite quam per bonam scientiam gustat, a Deo querendo non desiderat. Beatus autem est ille qui tenebit hoc quod a Deo uiuit, et cuius scientia eum docet quod Deus eum creauerit et redemerit, et quod propter liberationem hanc qua Deus ipsum liberauit, omnem malam consuetudinem peccatorum suorum conterit, omnemque miseriam et paupertatem quam in celestibus diuitiis habet, supra petram illam, que firmamentum beatitudinis est, proicit.

For when a person knows that he is filthy and cannot resist tasting sin whatsoever, black birds completely befoul him. But then also the rational soul, which he neither sees nor knows, leads him to put his faith in God by believing. Yet although he knows that this is his nature, and knows too that he will live forever, he still cannot keep himself from sinning over and over again.

Nam cum homo lutulentam putredinem se habere scit et nequaquam a gustu peccatorum se continere ualet, tunc nigerrime aues eum totum sordidant, sed tunc etiam ipse per rationalem animam quam nec uidet nec cognoscit, in Deum credendo confidat. Et licet se sic esse et infinita uita uiuere sciat, se tamen continere non potest quin frequenter peccet.

And so: O how lamentable is the fact that God makes such fragile vessels which cannot refrain from sin, save through the grace of God. And yet how wondrous that these same vessels are sometimes adorned with the stars of His miracles.

Et ideo : O quam mirabilis - et lamentabilis - uox est, quod Deus talia fictilia uasa quan­doque miraculis suis stellata facit, cum tamen ipsa non ualeant peccata deserere, nisi quantum per gratiam Dei ab ipsis pro­hibetur.

For even Peter, who vowed vehemently that he would never deny the Son of God, was himself not safe [cf. Matt 26.33ff; Mark 14.29ff; Luke 22.33ff; John 13.37f]. The same was true of many other saints, who fell in their sins. Yet these were all, afterward, made more useful and more perfect than they would have been if they had not fallen.

Petrus namque securus non fuit, qui Filium Dei se numquam negaturum ardenter promisit ; sic nec multi alii sancti qui in peccatis ceciderunt, qui tamen postmodum utiliores et perfectiores facti sunt quam fuissent, si non cecidissent.

   O faithful servant, I—poor little woman that I am—say these words to you again in a true vision: If God were to raise my body as He does my spirit in this vision, my mind and heart would still not be free from fear, because, although I have been cloistered from childhood, I am fully aware that I am only human. For many wise men have been so miraculously inspired that they revealed many mysteries, and yet they fell, because in their vanity they ascribed all these miracles to their own power. On the other hand, those who have drunk deeply of God’s wisdom in elevation of spirit while still regarding themselves as nothing—these have become the pillars of heaven. Paul was such a one, for although he was a far better preacher than all the other disciples, he still counted himself as nothing [cf. II Cor 12.11; Eph 3.8]. Likewise, the evangelist John was mild and humble, and therefore drank deeply of divine revelations [cf. Apoc 1.1—2],

O serue fidelis, ego paupercula feminea forma in uera uisione hec uerba iterum tibi dico : Si Deo placeret quod corpus meum sicut et animam in hac uisione leuaret, timor tamen ex mente et corde meo non recederet, quia me hominem esse scio, quamuis ab infantia mea inclusa sim. Multi autem sapientes miraculis ita infusi sunt quod plurima secreta aperiebant, sed propter uanam gloriam illa sibimetipsis ascripserunt, et ideo ceciderunt. Sed qui in ascensione anime sapientiam a Deo hauserunt et se pro nihilo computauerunt, hi columne celi facte sunt, sicut et in Paulo contigit, qui ceteros discipulos predicando precessit et tamen se quasi pro nihilo habebat. Iohannes quoque euangelista miti humilitate plenus erat, quapropter de diuinitate multa hauriebat.

   And how could God work through me if I were not aware that I am but a poor little creature? God works His will for the glory of His name, not for the glory of any earthly person. Indeed I always tremble in fear, since I know that I cannot safely rely on my own innate capacity. But I stretch out my hands to God so that He might raise me up like a feather,1 which, having no weight of its own, flies on the wind.

Et unde hoc esset, si ego paupercula me non cognoscerem ? Deus ubi uult ad gloriam nominis sui, et non terreni hominis operatur. Ego quidem semper trementem timorem habeo, quo­niam nullam securitatem ullius possibilitatis in me scio. Sed manus meas ad Deum porrigo, quatenus uelut penna, que omni grauedine uirium caret et per uentum uolat, ab ipso sustinear.

Still, I cannot fully understand those things I see, as long as I am an invisible spirit in a fleshly body, because man was injured in both these faculties.

Nec ea que uideo perfecte scire possum, quamdiu in corporali officio sum et in anima inuisibili, quoniam in his duobus homini defectus est.

 

 

 

 

    I am now more than seventy years old. But even in my infancy, before my bones, muscles, and veins had reached their full strength, I was possessed of this visionary gift in my soul, and it abides with me still up to the present day.

Ab infantia autem mea, ossibus et neruis et uenis meis nondum confortatis, uisionis huius munere in anima mea usque ad presens tempus semper fruor, cum iam plus quam septua­ginta annorum sim. Spiritus uero meus, prout Deus uult

In these visions my spirit rises, as God wills, to the heights of heaven and into the shifting winds, and it ranges among various peoples, even those very far away.

, in hac uisione sursum in altitudinem firmamenti et in uicissitudinem diuersi aeris ascendit, atque inter diuersos populos se dilatat, quamuis in longinquis regionibus et locis a me remoti sint.

    And since I see in such a fashion, my perception of things depends on the shifting of the clouds and other elements of creation.

Et quoniam hec tali modo uideo, idcirco etiam secundum uicissi­tudinem nubium et aliarum creaturarum ea conspicio.

Still, I do not hear these things with bodily ears, nor do I perceive them with the cogitations of my heart or the evidence of my five senses. I see them only in my spirit, with my eyes wide open, and thus I never suffer the defect of ecstasy in these visions. And, fully awake, I continue to see them day and night. Yet my body suffers ceaselessly, and I am racked by such terrible pains that I am brought almost to the point of death. So far, however, God has sustained me.

Ista autem nec corporeis auribus audio nec cogitationibus cordis mei, nec ulla collatione sensuum meorum quinque percipio, sed tantum in anima mea, apertis exterioribus oculis, ita ut num­quam in eis defectum extasis patiar; sed uigilanter die ac nocte illa uideo. Et assidue infirmitatibus constringor, et grauibus doloribus implicata sum, adeo ut mortem inferre minentur. Sed Deus usque adhuc me sustentauit.

    The light that I see is not local and confined. It is far brighter than a lucent cloud through which the sun shines. And I can discern neither its height nor its length nor its breadth. This light I have named “the shadow of the Living Light,”e and just as the sun and moon and stars are reflected in water, so too are writings, words, virtues, and deeds of men5 reflected back to me from it.

Lumen igitur quod uideo, locale non est, sed nube que solem portat multo lucidius, nec altitudinem nec longitudinem nec latitudinem in eo considerare ualeo, illudque umbra uiuentis luminis mihi nominatur, atque ut sol, luna et stelle in aqua apparent, ita scripture, sermones, uirtutes et quedam opera hominum formata in illo mihi resplendent.

Whatever I see or learn in this vision I retain for a long period of time, and store it away in my memory.And my seeing, hearing, and knowing are simultaneous, so that I learn and know at the same instant. But I have no knowledge of anything I do not see there, because I am unlearned. Thus the things I write are those that I see and hear in my vision, with no words of my own added. And these are expressed in unpolished Latin, for that is the way I hear them in my vision, since I am not taught in the vision to write the way philosophers do.

Quicquid autem in hac uisione uidero seu didicero, huius memoriam per longum tempus habeo, ita quod, quoniam illud aliquando uiderim et audierim, recordor. Et simul uideo et audio ac scio, et quasi in momento hoc quod scio disco. Quod autem non uideo, illud nescio, quia indocta sum. Et ea que scribo, ilia in uisione uideo et audio, nec alia uerba pono quam  illa que audio, latinisque uerbis non limatis ea profero quemad­modum ilia in uisione audio, quoniam sicut philosophi scribunt scribere in uisione hac non doceor.

Moreover, the words I see and hear in the vision are not like the words of human speech, but are like a blazing flame and a cloud that moves through clear air. I can by no means grasp the form of this light, any more than I can stare fully into the sun.

Atque uerba que in uisione ista uideo et audio, non sunt sicut uerba que ab ore hominis sonant, sed sicut flamma coruscans et ut nubes in aere puro mota. Huius quoque luminis formam nullo modo cognoscere ualeo, sicut nec spheram solis perfecte intueri possum.

    And sometimes, though not often, I see another light in that light, and this I have called “the Living Light” But I am even less able to explain how I see this light than I am the other one. Suffice it to say that when I do see it, all my sorrow and pain vanish from my memory and I become more like a young girl than an old woman.

Et in eodem lumine aliam lucem, que lux uiuens mihi no­minata est, interdum et non frequenter aspicio, quam nimirum quomodo uideam multo minus quam priorem proferre sufficio, atque interim dum illam intueor, omnis mihi tristitia omnisque dolor de memoria aufertur, ita ut tunc mores simplicis puelle, et non uetule mulieris habeam.

But the constant infirmity I suffer sometimes makes me too weary to communicate the words and visions shown to me, but nevertheless when my spirit sees and tastes them, I am so transformed, as I said before, that I consign all my sorrow and tribulation to oblivion. And my spirit drinks up those things I see and hear in that vision, as from an inexhaustible fountain, which remains ever full.

Sed et pre assidua infirmitate quam patior, aliquando tedium habeo uerba et uisiones que mihi ostenduntur ibi proferre, sed tamen cum anima mea gustando uidet, in alios mores ita conuertor quod, ut supra dixi, omnem dolorem et tribulationem obliuioni trado, et que tunc in eadem uisione uideo et audio, hec anima mea quasi ex fonte haurit, sed ille tamen semper plenus et inexhaustus manet.

    Moreover, that first light I mentioned, the one called “the shadow of the Living Light,” is always present to my spirit And it has the appearance of the vault of heaven in a bright cloud on a starless night7 In this light I see those things I frequently speak of, and from its brightness I hear the responses I give to those who make inquiry of me.

Anima autem mea nulla hora caret prefato lumine quod umbra uiuentis luminis uocatur, et illud uideo uelut in lucida nube firmamentum absque stellis aspiciam, et in ipso uideo que frequenter loquor et que interrogantibus de fulgore uiuentis lucis respondeo.

 

 

 

 

In a vision I also saw that my first book of visions was to be called Scivias,8 for it was brought forth by way of the Living Light and not through any human instruction. I also had a vision about crowns. I saw that all the orders of the church have distinct emblems according to their celestial brightness, but that virginity has no such distinguishing emblem save the black veil and the sign of the cross. And I saw that a white veil to cover a virgin’s head was to be the proper emblem of virginity. For this veil stands for the white garment which man once had, but subsequently lost, in Paradise. Furthermore, upon the virgin’s head is to be set a circlet of three colors joined into one. For this circlet stands for the Holy Trinity. To this circlet four others are to be joined: the front bearing the Lamb of God; the right, a cherubim;9 the left, an angel; and the one behind, man.10 For all of these are pendants to the Trinity. This sign given by God will bless God, for He once clothed the first man in the whiteness of light. All of this is fully described in the Scivias.

In uisione etiam uidi quod primus liber uisionum mearum Sciuias diceretur, quoniam per uiam uiuentis luminis prolatus est, non de alia doctrina. De coronis autem uidi, quod omnes ecclesiastici ordines clara signa secundum celestem claritatem habent, uirginitas uero clarum signum - preter nigrum uelamen et signum crucis - non habet. Vnde et istud signum uirginitatis esse uidi, scilicet ut albo uelamine caput uirginis tegeretur propter candidam uestem quam in paradiso homo habebat et perdiderat, et supra caput ipsius rota tribus coloribus in unum coniunctis, quod sanctam Trinitatem designat, cui quattuor rote adherent quarum una in fronte Agnum Dei habens, in dextera parte cherubim et in sinistra angelum, retro autem hominem, et hec omnia ad Trinitatem pendent. Hoc datum signum Deum benedicet, quia candore claritatis primum hominem uestierat.

And I wrote this Scivias, as well as other volumes, according to a true vision, and I continue my writing up to the present day.

Et hec in libro Sciuias pleniter continentur. In uera itaque uisione librum Sciuias et alios scripsi, et in eodem opere adhuc laboro.

Body and soul, I am totally ignorant, and I count myself as nothing. But I look to the living God and relinquish all these matters to Him, so that He, Who has neither beginning nor end, may preserve me from evil.

In duobus autem modis, scilicet corporis et anime, meipsam nescio et me quasi pro nihilo computo, atque in Deum uiuum intendo et omnia hec illi relinquo, quatenus ipse, qui nec initium nec finem habet, in omnibus istis a malo me conseruet

And so pray for me, you who seek these words of mine, and all of you who long to hear them in faith— pray for me that I may remain God’s servant in true happiness.

. Vnde et tu, qui hec uerba queris, cum omnibus illis qui ipsa fideliter audire desiderant, pro me ora, sic uidelicet ut in seruitute Dei feliciter permaneam.

   O child of God, you who faithfully seek salvation from the Lord, observe the eagle flying toward the clouds on two wings. If one of those wings is wounded, the eagle falls to earth and cannot rise, no matter how hard it tries. So too man flies with the two wings of rationality, that is to say, with the knowledge of good and evil. The right wing is good knowledge, and the left, evil. Evil knowledge serves the good, and good knowledge is kept in check by the evil, and is even made more discerning by it. Indeed the good is made wise in all things through the evil.g

Sed et tu, o fili Dei, qui illum in fide queris et qui ab ipso petis ut te saluet, attende aquilam duabus alis suis ad nubem uolantem, que tamen, si in una leditur, super terram residet nec se leuare potest, cum se libenter ad uolandum eleuaret. Sic etiam homo cum duabus alis rationalitatis, scilicet cum scientia boni et mali, uolat. Dextera ala scientia bona est et sinistra mala scientia est, et mala bone ministrat bonaque per malam acuitur et regitur, atque in cunctis per illam sapiens efficitur.

Now, dear son of God, may the Lord raise the wings of your knowledge to straight paths so that although you come into contact with sin through the senses—since man’s very nature makes it impossible not to sin—you nonetheless never willingly consent to sin. The heavenly choir sings praises to God for the person who acts in this way, because, although made from ashes, he loves God so much that, for His sake, he does not spare himself, but, totally despising the self, preserves himself from sinful works. O noble knight, be so valiant in the battle that you may take your place in the heavenly choir, so that God will say to you: “You are one of the sons of Israel, because in your great desire for heaven you direct the eyes of your mind to the lofty mountain.”

Nunc autem, o care fili Dei, alas scientie tue Deus ad recta itinera eleuet, ita quod etsi aliquando peccatum ex sensu contingas, quoniam sic natus es quod sine peccato esse non possis - numquam tamen illud ex assensu committas. Bene celestis harmonia de homine sic faciente Deo cantat ilium laudans, eo quod cinerosus homo Deum tantum diligat quod, propter eum seipsum ex toto contemnens, sibi non parcat et a peccati opere se coerceat. Hoc modo, o probe miles, in certamine hoc esto, quatenus in celesti harmonia esse possis et ut tibi a Deo dicatur: Tu es ex filiis Israel, quia per oculos mentis et per studium celestis desiderii in montem excelsum aspicis.

   As for all those you called my attention to in your letter, may they be guided by the Holy Spirit and inscribed in the Book of Life [cf. Apoc 20.12].

- Sed et omnes qui in litteris tuis mihi transmissis notati sunt, per Spi­ritum Sanctum regantur et in libro uite scribantur.

Moreover, O faithful servant of God, speak specifically to Lord Siger, and warn him not to turn from the right hand to the left [cf Deut 5.32; Prov 4.27]. For if someone resists a vow that he has made, let him put on the breastplate of faith and the helmet of celestial desire [cf. Eph 6.14ff], and fight manfully. Then, he will successfully complete his journey. And let him consider the fact that when the first man obeyed the voice of his wife rather than the voice of God, he perished in his presumption [cf. Gen 3.17], because he consented to her. But if the tribulation appears to exceed their powers, let them remember the Scripture: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it” [I Cor 10.13]. Thus strengthened by this blessed promise, let him and his wife be of one mind, and let them follow whatever course of action is best, whether suggested by the husband or the wife. And let them not fall prey to that first deception, with the man accusing the woman, and the woman, the man. But let them settle this whole matter according to the will of God. I pray that the fire of the Holy Spirit so enkindle their hearts that they never withdraw from Him.

Tu quoque, fidelis serue Dei, dominum Sigerum compete, et admone ne a dextera in sinistram declinet. Quod si uoto ipsius aliquis resistit, ipse tamen lorica fidei et galea celestis desiderii indutus uiriliter repugnet, et iter suum perficiet. Sed et consi­deret quia, cum primus homo uoci uxoris sue plus quam uoci Dei obediret, presumptione sua periit, quoniam consensit. Si autem modus tribulations istorum tantus est ut uires ipsorum transcendere uideatur, meminerint scriptum: Fidelis Deus qui non patietur uos temptari supra id quod potestis, sed faciet etiam cum temptatione prouentum ut possitis sustinere. Cuius benigne promissionis ipse et uxor eius alacri exspectatione roborati, unanimiter in unum assensum conueniant, et consilium quod utilius est - siue uir siue femina illud dederit - teneatur, atque prouideant ne prima deceptio in ipsis sit, uidelicet ne uir feminam accuset aut econtra femina uirum; sed omnia hec secundum uoluntatem Dei perficiant. Igneus autem Spiritus Sanctus corda eorum ita accendat ne umquam ab ipso recedant.

 

 

 

 

   

 


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