About Me

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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. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. 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.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ave generosa (Symphonia 17)

For the Third Sunday in Advent, a Hymn for the Virgin
by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]

Virgin Mary, Queen of Heavens'
Symphony, Scivias III.13
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 229r
1. Ave generosa,
gloriosa et intacta puella.
Tu pupilla castitatis,
tu materia sanctitatis,
que Deo placuit.

2. Nam hec superna infusio   
     in te fuit,
quod supernum Verbum
     in te carnem induit.
1. Hail, nobly born,
O Maiden, honored and inviolate.
You are the piercing gaze of chastity,
you the material of holiness—
the one who pleasèd God.

2. For heaven’s flood poured
     into you
as heaven’s Word was clothed
     in flesh in you.

3. Tu candidum lilium
quod Deus ante omnem creaturam

4. O pulcherrima et dulcissima,
quam valde Deus in te delectabatur,
cum amplexionem caloris sui in te posuit,  
ita quod Filius eius de te lactatus est.

5. Venter enim tuus gaudium habuit
cum omnis celestis symphonia
     de te sonuit,
quia virgo Filium Dei portasti,
ubi castitas tua in Deo claruit.

6. Viscera tua gaudium habuerunt
sicut gramen super quod ros cadit
cum ei viriditatem infundit,
ut et in te factum est,
o mater omnis gaudii.

7. Nunc omnis ecclesia in gaudio rutilet
ac in symphonia sonet
propter dulcissimam Virginem
et laudabilem Mariam,
Dei Genitricem. Amen.
3. You are the lily, gleaming white,
upon which God has fixed his gaze before
     all else created.

4. O beautiful, O sweet!
How deep is that delight that God received in you,
when ‘round you he enwrapped his warm embrace,
so that his Son was suckled at your breast.

5. Your womb rejoiced
as from you sounded forth the whole
     celestial symphony.
For as a virgin you have borne the Son of God—
your chastity shone bright in God.

6. Your flesh rejoiced
just as a blade of grass on which the dew has fall’n,
viridity within it to infuse—
just so it happened unto you,
O mother of all joy!

7. So now in joy the whole Church gleams dawn-red,
resounds in symphony
because of you, the Virgin sweet
and worthy of all praise, Maria,
God’s mother. Amen.

In this glorious hymn, Hildegard skillfully weaves together several of her most characteristic images and symbols to celebrate the complementary themes of the Virgin Mary’s chaste union with God and her giving birth to God’s Son in the flesh. The perspective of the hymn moves back and forth between the realm of heaven and its eternal symphony, on the one hand; and the Virgin’s womb and its classic symbol, the lily, on the other. The point of contact between the two, then, is when the Heavenly Bridegroom brings the eternal symphony into the Virgin’s joyous bedchamber and the Incarnate Word enters the world in song.

The opening verse sets the tone by marrying the language of the court—to be generosa was to be born of noble stock, and thus to be bred to be “generous”—with the praise of Mary’s untouched chastity. Both elements combine to make her the “material”—matter, mother, and matrix— whose perfect holiness befits the garment that will be crafted from that material. We saw in Symphonia’s opening responsory, O vis eternitatis, that Hildegard could envision human nature as a garment, soiled by the Fall but “washed and cleansed” of its suffering by the suffering of the Incarnate Christ. The second verse recalls this image as Hildegard describes the Word “clothed in flesh” in Mary’s maternal material of holiness, infused (infusio—“flood”) from above (superna).

Verse 3 complements this by offering another image for Mary’s chastity, the gleaming white lily—but the perspective shifts back from the moment of the Incarnation to its eternal predestination. Just as God foresaw before all eternity that his Son would become a human being, so he also looked upon the Virgin’s fertile flower within that same “eternal counsel”, knowing that she would be the vessel for the Incarnation.

The next verse then combines these elements to describe the espousal of God and this predestined Virgin; as Barbara Newman notes, “The chaste eroticism of such lyrics is a characteristic medieval mood, no less fervent for being virginal, nor less delicate for being ardent.”[2] The conceptual movement of the first four verses is reinforced by the use of a repeated musical motif that first appeared with materia in the first verse—it begins on the high a (which occurs in the first four verses only in the context of this motif or its variations), then descends a note at a time to d before recovering to e. This motif appears also on superna (Verse 2), lilium (Verse 3), in a modified form on dulcissima (Verse 4), and again on caloris sui and quod Filius eius (Verse 4). Mary as matrix and pure, sweet white flower receives from above the heat of a spousal embrace and the sunlight, which issues in the Incarnation.

Verses 5 and 6 shift into a joyous celebration of this union, focused on what have emerged as the two key images: the realm of heaven and its symphony; and the movement from heaven to earth, represented in the flower and the viriditas flooded and infused into it (infundit, echoing the superna infusio of Verse 1). The music in Verse 5 works especially to connect the celestial symphony with the gleam of Mary’s chastity as it reaches several times to the c two octaves about middle C, the highest note in the piece. Verse 6 then invokes one of Hildegard’s favorite images, of the viridity that sparkles in the early morning light as it reflects off of the beads of dew that have settled on each tender blade of grass. Indeed, the image of Mary as the Queen of the Heavenly Symphony from the Rupertsberg Scivias manuscript (pictured above), invokes the lily as the form of her scepter, as well as the greenness of viriditas in her dress, the orb in her right hand, and the border of the roundel in which she is seated. Her bejeweled crown, meanwhile, echoes that upon the head of Humilitas from Scivias III.8, profiled last week in our discussion of the antiphon, Hodie aperuit.

Finally, in Verse 7, ecclesia receives a modified version of the repeated motif that begins in the high a, leading the transfer of the office of Virginal Mother from Mary to the Church. The early-morning light is alluded to in the verb rutilet, which literally means “to gleam red”, and becomes the setting for the heavenly symphony, which sounded in the Virgin’s womb with the entrance of Christ as “the New Song”, to echo in the Church.[3] Here, Hildegard’s particularly sacramental view of music comes to the fore, as she and her nuns would literally fill the Church with music in the course of singing the praises of their Virgin Mother, bringing into being the musical grace of her Son. In singing for the Lord, they became themselves actors in the divine drama, feminine agents of divine power. Indeed, they literally acted out those roles when they performed as the various Virtutes—not just virtues, but emanations of divine power working within the world—in the sung morality play, Ordo Virtutum, that Hildegard composed for them. As I have recently argued, the special veils and crowns with which Hildegard clothed her nuns on high feast days would combine with their liturgical service of song to create a sacramental matrix in which was channeled the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to Ecclesia’s choirs of virgins, where they reflected the symphony in the blessed joy of song.[4]

One of the favorite parts of the Advent and Christmas season for many Christians is the music, and in this hymn Hildegard gives us a glimpse of why that might be. Ancient and medieval theoreticians believed that, as the spheres of the heavens rotated, they actually composed a symphony—the music of the spheres, it was called. Music is the language of heaven. When God spoke the Word by which all things were made, he did not just speak—he sang! Thus, when the Word became flesh and entered the world, the child of the Virgin Mary, the Word came singing—as Caritas (Divine Live) declared in her speech at the opening of the Liber Divinorum Operum, “The resounding Word flourishes in rationality, the root.”[5] The joyous song of the angels to the shepherds—“Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace to people of goodwill!” (Luke 2:14)—was just an echo to praise the Song that had been born in Bethlehem. “O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!” (Ps. 95[96]:1).

[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 122, in consultation with the musical transcriptions of Beverly Lomer; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. 
[2] Newman, ed., Symphonia, p. 275. 
[3] Ibid. 
[4]Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 57-61. 
[5] Liber Divinorum Operum I.1, Vision: “Racionalitas enim radix est; sonans Verbum in ipsa floret.” (From the edition of Derolez and Dronke, CCCM 192 [Turnhout: Brepols, 1996], p. 49.) 


basspoemssong said...

Is the translation "piercing gaze of chastity" in v.1 truly accurate, or an interpretation of the Latin (which doesn't seem to say this)? Of course the Theotokos of Vladimir searches the heart with Love's truly terrifying gaze...

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

"piercing gaze" attempts to convey in poetic English the sense of the Latin, pupilla, literally "pupil [of the eye]". Throughout my translations of Hildegard's Symphonia, I have tried to strike a balance between poetics and literal accuracy, offering, as it were, a middle ground between the two translations that Barbara Newman gives for each piece in her edition—an ultra-literal one and one whose poetry often takes flight beyond the bounds of the original.

For comparison, Newman's literal rendering of the first verse (p. 123) is:
Hail, high-bron,
glorious, inviolate Maid!
You are the pupil of chastity,
the matrix of sanctity,
pleasing to God.

And here is her poetic rendering:
In the pupil of chastity's eye
I beheld you
Generous maid! Know that it's God
who broods over you.

You can find my translations, together with musical transcriptions by Beverly Lomer and commentary on each piece, in the in-progress edition of the Symphonia hosted by the International Society for Hildegard von Bingen Studies: http://www.hildegard-society.org/p/music.html.

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Allow me to expand a little on why "piercing gaze" is an appropriate translation for pupilla:

For Hildegard, the pupil of the eye corresponds to the vision of faith, which alone can perceive the divine light of truth--for physical eyesight cannot see that light, because of the weight of sin. So she writes in Liber Divinorum Operum III.2.12 (my translation): "Immortal life indeed does not experience the obscuring of light like the physical eye, which only sees for certain periods of time before darkness again overtakes it—and a person suffers this because their eye is lidded by an obscuring membrane. The pupil of the eye thus represents the vision of the inner eyes, of which the flesh is ignorant, while the eyelid demonstrates the vision of the flesh, which is directed outward. And so it is in these two types of knowledge that every human work is accomplished. For the knowledge of inner sight teaches a person about divine things, even though the flesh opposes it; while blinded knowledge enacts the works of night according to the serpent’s sight, which does not see the light. As a result, the serpent also turns as many as he can away from the works of light, just as he did with Adam when he clouded the light of living knowledge within him."

So you see, the Virgin's pupilla castitatis is the restoration of the light of living knowledge, a restoration of the piercing gaze of true faith achieved through the virginal chastity that kept her flesh whole and untouched by man or the taste of sin. She can gaze upon the Light that comes into the world through her womb because her eyes are unclouded by that night.