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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.

Monday, December 09, 2013

O Euchari, in leta via (Symphonia 53)

For the Feast of St. Eucharius, First Bishop of Trier (transferred fr. Dec. 8)
A Sequence by St. Hildegard of Bingen [1]


Choir of Bishops
and Confessors, from
Scivias III.13: Symphonia
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 229r
1a. O Euchari,
in leta via ambulasti
ubi cum Filio Dei mansisti,
illum tangendo
et miracula eius que fecit
     videndo.

1b. Tu eum perfecte amasti
cum sodales tui exterriti erant,     
pro eo quod homines erant,
nec possibilitatem habebant
bona perfecte intueri.
1a. O St. Eucharius,
you walked upon the blessed way
when with the Son of God you stayed—
you touched the man
and saw with your own eyes
     his miracles.

1b. You loved him perfectly
while your companions trembled,
frightened by their mere humanity,
unable as they were to gaze
entirely upon the good.

2a. Tu autem in ardenti amore plene
     caritatis
illum amplexus es,
cum manipulos preceptorum eius
ad te collegisti.

2b. O Euchari,
valde beatus fuisti
cum Verbum Dei te in igne columbe
     imbuit,
ubi tu quasi aurora illuminatus es,
et sic fundamentum ecclesie edificasti.     

3a. Et in pectore tuo
choruscat dies
in quo tria tabernacula
supra marmoream columpnam stant
in civitate Dei.

3b. Per os tuum Ecclesia ruminat
vetus et novum vinum,
videlicet poculum sanctitatis.

4a. Sed et in tua doctrina
Ecclesia effecta est racionalis,
ita quod supra montes clamavit
ut colles et ligna se declinarent
ac mamillas illius sugerent.

4b. Nunc in tua clara voce
Filium Dei ora pro hac turba,
ne in cerimoniis Dei deficiat,
sed ut vivens holocaustum
ante altare Dei fiat.
2a. But you embraced him in the ardent love
     of fullest charity—

you gathered to yourself the bundles of
his sweet commands.

2b. O St. Eucharius,
so deeply blessed you were
when God’s Word drenched you in the fire of
     the dove—
illumined like the dawn
you laid and built upon the Church’s one foundation.

3a. And in your breast
burst forth the light of day—
the gleam in which three tents
upon a marble pillar stand
within the City of our God.

3b. For through your mouth the Church can savor
the wine both old and new—
the cup of sanctity.

4a. Yet in your teaching, too,
the Church embraced her rationality—
her voice cried out above the peaks
to call the hills and woods to be laid low,
to suck upon her breasts.

4b. Now in your crystal voice
pray to the Son of God for this community,
lest it should fail in serving God,
but rather as a living sacrifice
might burn before the altar of our God.


This sequence is one of two pieces that Hildegard wrote to celebrate St. Eucharius, the first bishop of Trier, a former Roman colony situated on the Mosel river about 130 kilometers southeast of its confluence with the Rhine and about 100 kilometers southeast of Bingen. Hildegard’s abbey enjoyed especially close ties with the monastery of St. Eucharius in Trier, which was rededicated in 1148 to St. Matthias; among other things, their scriptorium was an important center for the production and dissemination of copies of Hildegard’s works.[2] It is likely that Hildegard composed this work for the use of those monks.

The sequence was normally sung between the Alleluia and the Gospel at Mass. Hildegard usually writes, as here, in the older compositional form of paired versicles or strophes, in which the two strophes of a pair share a common melody between them, but the piece is free to use different melodies for each successive pair. Hildegard, however, allows herself more melodic freedom than is traditional, for although each pair of versicles has its own initial melody, there is often some variation between the (a) and (b) strophes.

Although the historical St. Eucharius likely founded the bishopric at Trier—the oldest in Germany—around the middle of the third century, medieval tradition held that he was, in fact, one of the seventy-two disciples of Christ commissioned in Luke 10 to spread the Gospel, and that he was dispatched by the Apostle Peter to evangelize Roman Gaul—for this reason, Hildegard could claim that Eucharius touched and saw the Lord in the flesh. In local lore, at least, it was thought that Eucharius was present at both the Last Supper and at Pentecost, thus explaining Hildegard’s invocation of both events (verses 3b and 2b, respectively). He was believed to have founded the Church of St. John in the city, where he was first interred after his death on December 8; his relics were later transferred to the Abbey of St. Eucharius / St. Matthias, where they rest today.

As with many of her other compositions dedicated to saints, however, this one often reflects Hildegard’s own personality more than that of the saints themselves. In verse 1b, it is Eucharius’ intense and perfect love and devotion to the person of Christ that frees him from the fearful limitations that his mortal human companions experience in trying to look upon the highest Good—reflective, perhaps, of the child-like joy and freedom from anxiety that Hildegard often reported feeling when bathed by the experience of the Living Light.[3]

Verse 2b goes on to invoke several characteristically Hildegardian images and themes: Eucharius’ reception of the Holy Spirit’s dove-borne fire at Pentecost “drenches” (imbuit) him with the Word of God in the same way that Hildegard herself often described the flooding of her heart and mind with that polyvalent Word—both the second person of the Trinity and the Scriptures that were his revelation. That flooding fire then gleamed like the dawn—Hildegard’s favorite image for both the entrance of Christ’s light into the world in the Incarnation, the womb of his Virgin Mother in bearing that light of the sun, and the apostolic Mother Church’s mission to bring that light to all the world. Thus, Eucharius’ apostolic mission to lay the foundation of the Church in Trier is one of dawning light over the Mosel river.

Hildegard’s symbolist mind, deeply imbued with every resonant image of Scripture impressed from years of monastic reading and prayer, then leaps from that dawn light to the light of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) in verse 3a, recalling also the inability of Eucharius’ companions to gaze fully upon that dazzling light. The three tents that Peter offered to build for the Transfigured Christ and his two mystical companions, Moses and Elijah, now gleam not on Mt. Tabor but upon a pillar in the heavenly City of God—the momentary Transfiguration of the Gospel now itself transformed into the eternal glory of the ascended Christ.

The Pillar of
God's Word,
Scivias III.4
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 145v

This marble pillar with its three tabernacles also recalls two tri-cornered pillars that appeared upon the Edifice of Salvation that Hildegard described in Scivias Part III: the Pillar of the Word of God (Vision 4) and the Pillar of the Trinity (Vision 7). The former, near the northern corner of the Edifice, is the color of steel “with edges sharp as a sword” facing East, North, and South, which represent “the beginning of the knowledge of God through the divine Law;” “the gospel of My Son;” and “the profound and rich wisdom of the principal teachers (doctores), who through the fire of the Holy Spirit made known what was obscure in the Law and the prophets, and showed their fruition in the Gospels,” respectively (Scivias III.4.6). Of the three phases of salvation history delineated by this pillar, St. Eucharius would have belonged to the radiance that Hildegard saw echoing from the northern to the southern edge, in which she “saw apostles, martyrs, confessors and virgins, and many other saints, walking in great joy”—the faces between the flames on the right half of the pillar in the image accompanying this vision in the Rupertsberg manuscript. He may also have joined that final edge of teachers, as the sequence celebrates his teaching as the foundational endowment of the Church at Trier. As Hildegard again describes the doctores in whose company she is now numbered:

They touched on the outward content of the Scriptures in the work of the Father’s goodness, and sweetly ruminated on their mystical significance. (…) As the Gospel was spread, the wisdom of the saints broadened; they burned in the Holy Spirit, seeking It in depth so as to find through It the deepening of their understanding of the Word of God, strengthened by the faith of the Christian people. And so the sense of the Scriptures that went forth from the mouth of the holy teachers broadened too.
     —Scivias III.4.6 and .12[4]
The Pillar of
the Trinity,
Scivias III.7
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 172r

The second tri-cornered pillar appears at the west corner of the Edifice and represents the Trinity. The explication of this purple-black column with sharpened edges the color of steel relates the Trinity’s relationship to the course of salvation history and offers an extended and specific meditation on the apostolic mission of evangelization celebrated in this sequence devoted to the work of St. Eucharius. Each of this column’s razor-sharp edges cuts away a symbolic feature—dry straw, little wings, and decaying branches—that represent those who wander away from or reject the true knowledge of the Trinity—heretics, Jews, and pagans, respectively. The edges then become in ch. 7 the fire-producing flint-stone in an elaborate parable of God’s repeated mission of messengers and the violent, fiery punishment of those who dallied or failed. Of particular importance for today’s sequence in this parable’s explanation is the story it tells of Christ’s disciples and the early Church, ringing upon themes of fear and inadequacy, the coming of the Holy Spirit’s fire to remove that fear, and evangelization as the building of God’s city, founded upon his holy commandments:

But His disciples, while the Son was with them in the world in His body, were foolish and unknowing and unresponsive, slow to understand His words in the Spirit and to fulfill them in work. For they heard them only as in a dream; they were simple, timid and frightened, and had not yet been strengthened. (…)

But after the Son of God had ascended to the Father, through the Son and according to His promise the Holy Spirit descended. (…) And because the apostles had been taught by the Son, the Holy Spirit bathed them in Its fire (in calore suo perfudit eos). (…) And the Holy Spirit took their human fear from them so ardently and so quickly that they became firm and not soft, and dead to all adversity that could befall them. (…)

And so, going forth, they made their way among the faithless people (…) and to these they announced the words of salvation and of the truth faith in Christ. (…) And they built the holy city of the commandments of God (sanctam civitatem praeceptorum Dei), thus rebuilding the city which that seducer the Devil had taken from them in Adam, and restored it to them in the faith that leads to salvation.

     —Scivias III.7.7[5]

The ministries of “this holy city of the commandments of God”—the Church—occupy Hildegard’s attention in the last three verses of today’s sequence. In verse 3b, Eucharius’ preaching of the Word of God is received by the Church, who then ruminates upon it—literally chewing upon the words of Scripture spoken from his mouth to receive nourishment. Hildegard then adapts the image of the old and new wines from Matthew 9:17 to the Old and New Testaments, to unite the scriptural Word of God with the eucharistic Word received in the holy chalice of communion.

The next verse reveals Hildegard’s awareness of the seasonal place of St. Eucharius’ feast day, which always falls within Advent, by adapting images drawn from the prophecies of Isaiah. In particular, she evokes the voice crying out in the wilderness and from a high mountain of Isaiah 40:1-9, promising the coming of God unto Jerusalem when “every mountain and hill shall be made low” (40:4)—but now, as Barbara Newman notes, the hills and woods are laying down to suckle at the breast of Mother Church, “who nurses the world with the milk of doctrine, inverting the messianic promise of Isaiah 60:16”.[6] In teaching the fulfillment of that promise, St. Eucharius helped “the Church to be made rational” (Ecclesia effecta est racionalis), to embrace the Reason at the root of the Incarnate Word.

Finally, the sequence petitions Eucharius’ prayers for the community of monks that continues the ministry of the Church in Trier that he had established centuries before—a petition that their service before God’s altar should be quickened into the living, burning sacrifice of true worship. Drawing again from Hildegard’s discussion of the pillar of the Trinity:

When the old rituals failed and the new holiness arose, the worship of the Holy Trinity was most plainly proclaimed; for it was openly believed that the Heavenly Father sent His Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit, into the world. And the Son sought the glory of His Father and not His own, and disclosed the profound consolation of the Holy Spirit, as had been foretold; and thus it was hidden on no side, but was proclaimed both to the faithful, who abode in God’s work, and to the unbelievers, who stood outside the faith.
     —Scivias III.7.2

Notes
[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), pp. 208-10; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. 
[2] See Angela Carlevaris, Das Werk Hildegards von Bingen im Spiegel des Skriptoriums von Trier St. Eucharius (Trier: Paulinus, 1999). 
[3] See especially her description of this in her famous letter to Guibert of Gembloux, Letter 103r, in Epistolarium II (CCCM 91a, ed. L. Van Acker; Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), p. 253; trans. Baird and Ehrman, The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 2 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), p. 24. 
[4] Translation adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 357-362. 
[5] Ibid., pp. 414-5. Latin text from the edition of Führkötter and Carlevaris, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 
[6] Newman, Symphonia, p. 302. 

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