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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.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

O factura Dei (Symphonia R 405rb)

For Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord, a Verse on the Incarnation
by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]

God enthroned upon
the mountain, with
Fear of the Lord (L)
& Poor in Spirit (R),
Scivias I.1.
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 2r.
O factura Dei que es homo,
in magna sanctitate edificata es,
quia sancta divinitas
in humilitate celos penetravit.
O quam magna pietas est
quod in limo terre deitas claruit,    
et quod angeli Deo ministrantes
Deum in humanitate vident.
O what a work of God you are, O human,
forged and established in great holiness—
for now divinity most holy has
the heavens pierced in your humility.
How great indeed that loving kindness is,
as in the earthy clay the Godhead beamed,
the angels in their ministry to God
see now that God within humanity.

(Although Hildegard's musical notation for this piece does not survive, the following is a recording of a modern setting composed by Frank Ferko in his 1996 work, The Hildegard Motets):

How great indeed God’s loving kindness, that this dark night was banished long ago and heaven’s light pierced through the cloudy shades, to gleam and shine upon us and within us! The splendor of the angels is now but just a reflection of the godly Light that beams within humanity.

How wondrous is the handiwork of God, first to create the world by his own Word, and then with that Word now made flesh, to enter in, into that world! From all eternity our God, the source and summit of all that is, foreknew this everlasting moment when the eternal would meet with time, would open wide the finite bounds of heaven and earth and unite them all in his embrace of love.

Knowledge of God (Scientia Dei)
Scivias III.4, Rupertsberg MS, fol. 146r.

Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis!
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward humankind.”
     —Luke 2:9-14
Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam eius,
gloriam quasi unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiae et veritatis.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (…) That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (…) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
     —John 1:1-14

*  *  *

The first image above accompanies the opening vision of Hildegard’s Scivias in the Rupertsberg manuscript. It shows God, the One enthroned upon an iron-colored mountain (“the strength and stability of the eternal Kingdom of God”), his glory streaming with blinding brightness as “he rules the whole world with celestial divinity in the brilliance of unfading serenity” (Scivias I.1.1). He commissions Hildegard:

O human, who are the fragile dust of the earth and ashes of ashes! Cry out and speak of the entrance of pure salvation until those people are instructed, who, though they see the inmost contents of the Scriptures, do not wish to tell them or preach them, because they are lukewarm and sluggish in serving God’s justice. Unlock for them the enclosure of mysteries that they, timid as they are, conceal in a hidden and fruitless field. Burst forth into a fountain of abundance and overflow with mystical knowledge, until they who now think you contemptible because of Eve’s transgression are stirred up by the flood of your irrigation. For you have received your profound insight not from humans, but from the lofty and tremendous Judge on high, where this calmness will shine strongly with glorious light among the shining ones.

     —Scivias I.1, Vision[2]

The voice of this One enthroned then explains the meaning of the two figures at the foot of the mountain:

And before him at the foot of the mountain stands an image full of eyes on all sides. For the Fear of the Lord stands in God’s presence with humility and gazes on the Kingdom of God, surrounded by the clarity of a good and just intention, exercising her zeal and stability among humans. (…)

And so before this image appears another image, that of a child, wearing a tunic of subdued color but white shoes. For when the Fear of the Lord leads, they who are poor in spirit follow; for the Fear of the Lord holds fast in humble devotion to the blessedness of poverty of spirit, which does not seek boasting or elation of heart, but loves simplicity and sobriety of mind, attributing its just works not to itself but to God in pale subjection, wearing, as it were, a tunic of subdued color and faithfully following the serene footsteps of the Son of God. Upon her head descends such glory from the One enthroned upon that mountain that you cannot look at her face; because the great clarity of the visitation of Him Who praiseworthily rules every created being imparts the power and strength of this blessedness, and weak, mortal thought cannot grasp His purpose, since He Who possesses celestial riches submitted himself humbly to poverty.

     —Scivias I.1.2-3[3]

The second image above is the second of the Rupertsberg manuscript’s illustrations for Scivias III.4, showing the figure that Hildegard saw standing within the Edifice of Salvation, facing the pillar of Word of God (we profiled the first illustration, of the pillar itself, in connection with O Euchari, in leta via [Symphonia 53]):

This virtue shows herself within the work of God the Father, declaring the mystery of the Word of God. For she has revealed all the justice in the city of the Almighty to the people of the Old and New Testaments. She is standing on the pavement, which is to say above all earthly things in the work of the loving Father, for everything in earth and heave are foreseen by Him. (…) She contemplates in the Word of God the mystery put forth by the power of divinity, and also the people who are working in the Father’s goodness. (…)

And this image signifies the knowledge of God; for she foresees all people and all things that are in heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:10). And she is so bright and glorious that you cannot look at her face or her garments for the splendor with which she shines. For she is terrible with the terror of the avenging lightning, and gentle with the goodness of the bright sun; and both her terror and her gentleness are incomprehensible to humans—the terror of divine brilliance in her face and the brightness of her beauty in her garments, as the sun cannot be looked at in its burning face or its beautiful clothing of rays. But she is with everyone and in everyone, and so beautiful is her mystery that no person can know the sweetness with which she sustains people, and how she spares them in inscrutable mercy—even the hardest stone, which is a hard and incorrigible person who never want to turn aside from evil, until it can be penetrated no further.

But, like the other virtues, she appears in human form. For God in the power of His goodness profoundly imbued humankind with reason and knowledge and intellect, that they might dearly love Him and devotedly worship Him and spurn the illusions of demons, and adore Him above all Who gave them such high honor.

And around her you see a beautiful multitude, with the appearance and wings of angels, standing in great veneration, for they both fear and love her. Which is to say that all the blessed and excellent spirits in the heavenly ministry worship the Knowledge of God with inexpressibly pure praise (…). These spirits embrace God in their ardor, for they are living light; and they are winged, not in the sense that they have wings like the flying creatures, but in the sense that they circle burningly in the spheres through the power of God, as if they were winged. And so they adore Me, the true God, and persevere in proper fear and subjection, knowing my judgments and burning in My love; for they behold My face forever, and desire and will nothing but those things they see are pleasing to my penetrating vision.

     —Scivias III.4.15-16[4]

[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 262; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. This is one of four pieces that appear in what Newman has called the “Miscellany” section of the Riesenkodex (specifically, fol. 405rb), which includes the texts of all of the pieces in Symphonia without neumes (musical notation), but that do not, unfortunately, appear in the later section of that manuscript with neumes, nor in the other manuscript to preserve the musical notation, the Dendermonde. Thus, though only its text has been preserved, it is likely that Hildegard either composed music for it or had it sung to preexisting notation. 
[2] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1994), p. 67; Latin text in the edition of Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 8. 
[3] Adapted from Hart and Bishop, trans. p. 68; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, pp. 9-10. 
[4] Adapted from Hart and Bishop, trans. pp. 363-4; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, pp. 400-2. 

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