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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Hildegard of Bingen and the Doctoral Stars

Liber Divinorum Operum I.2:
Macrocosm and Microcosm.

(Lucaa MS 1942)

In the second vision of St. Hildegard of Bingen’s final and most important work, the Liber Divinorum Operum, she lays out a vast schematic of the universe, structured around a series of swirling spheres that nest, one inside the other, down to the globe of the earth at their center. Evenly spaced around and within its outermost sphere, which she describes as a “circle of bright fire”, she sees sixteen principal stars that “strengthen each part of the firmament with their powers,” and “simultaneously hold [it] together (...) with the rightness of an even and necessary but not excessive number. Like the nails that hold together the wall in which they are fixed, these cannot be moved from their places but orbit with the firmament as they keep it solidly fixed together.” (Liber Divinorum Operum I.2.39)

Hildegard then proceeds to offer an allegorical interpretation of the place of each physical feature of the universe within the life of faith and the history of salvation. Of these sixteen principal stars arranged along the outer circumference of the sky, she writes:

These signify that in the pure wholeness of divine power exist the principal teachers (doctores) who have taught and continue to teach that the ten commandments of the law are to be fulfilled throughout the six ages of the world. (…) For these teachers exhort the faithful throughout the four parts of the world to tremble at the fear of the Lord (…), so that because of this holy dread, they should stop sinning.
         —Liber Divinorum Operum I.2.42
Little could Hildegard have known that one day, her name would be added to the catalogue of these great and stellar teachers of the faith.

3 comments:

Nick said...

There are 35 Church Doctors, so the stars must represent something else.

Nick said...

Also, only counting the Doctors who Saint Hildegard might have known since they lived before her time, it adds up to 18 Doctors.

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Hi Nick!

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The first "official" Doctors of the Church were not declared until 1298, when Pope Boniface VIII declared Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great to be so commemorated and honored. The Eastern Church had commemorated Sts. John Chrysostom, Gregroy Nazianzen, and Basil as "Doctors" since the 9th century, but they weren't added to the Western Church's list until the 16th century. The "official" list has since grown to the current total of 35.

So when Hildegard was writing, the western (Roman) Church had no official list of doctores; and thus Hildegard's is a symbolic 16, representative of the many more than 16 or 35 or even a hundred of the Church's great teachers. (And the stars do represent doctores, because that's what Hildegard said they represented in her writing.)