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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.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nunc gaudeant materna (Symphonia 67)

For Easter, the Resurrection of the Lord, an Antiphon for the Church
by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]


Scivias II.3:
Mother Church & Baptism.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 51r.
Nunc gaudeant materna viscera
     Ecclesie,
quia in superna simphonia
     filii eius
in sinum suum collocati sunt.
Unde, o turpissime serpens,
     confusus es,
quoniam quos tua estimatio
     in visceribus
     suis habuit
nunc fulgent in sanguine
     Filii Dei,
et ideo laus tibi sit, Rex altissime.  
     Alleluia.
Now let the womb and heart
     of Mother Church rejoice!
For in the starry symphony
     her children
are gathered to her bosom.
O vile snake, you are
     confounded,
for those your hollow jealousy
     had thought
     it clutched within its guts
now sparkle in the blood
     of God’s own Son—
praise be to you, the highest King!
     Alleluia!

Nunc gaudeant materna by Sequentia on Grooveshark

Let us rejoice, children of Christ and children of the Church! For her Bridegroom is raised from the dead, and with his Resurrection he raises us, his children and hers, to the symphony of heaven! Alleluia!

Our antiphon today completes the journey we started with the antiphon, O virgo Ecclesia, earlier this week. In that piece, Ecclesia’s garments were rent and her children torn from her side by the invidious plots of the serpent, whose vicious guts (in visceribus suis), producing only the harsh bile of sin, are in today’s antiphon contrasted with the Church’s life-giving womb (materna viscera). We had entered into the mournful, painful silence imposed by the interdict of Christ’s death—the wasteland of grief, of light snuffed out, of voices choked. But today, the bells ring out and our voices reecho with their clarion call. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Scivias II.1: The Redeemer.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 41v (detail).
For St. Hildegard, one hallmark of Christ’s restoration of life was this restoration of celestial music, a synaesthetic cooperation of light and sound and Word:

And you see a serene human coming forth from this radiant dawn, Who pours out His brightness into the darkness; and it drives Him back with great force, so that He pours out the redness of blood and whiteness of pallor into it, and strikes the darkness such a strong blow that the person who is lying in it is touched by Him, takes on a shining appearance, and walks out of it upright. This is the Word of God, imperishably incarnate in the purity of unstained virginity and born without pain, and yet not separated from the Father. How? While the Son of God was being born in the world from a mother, He was still in Heaven in the Father; and at this the angels suddenly trembled and sang the sweetest praises of rejoicing. And, living in the world without stain of sin, He sent out into the darkness of unbelief His clear and blessed teachings and salvation; but, rejected by the unbelieving people and led to His passion, He poured out his beautiful blood and knew in His body the darkness of death. And thus conquering the Devil, he delivered from Hell his elect, who were held prostrate there, and by His redeeming touch brought them back to the inheritance they had lost in Adam. As they were returning to their inheritance, timbrels and harps and all kinds of music burst forth, because humankind, who had lain in perdition but now stood upright in blessedness, had been freed by heavenly power and escaped from death.
     —Scivias II.1.13[2]

As we saw in the antiphon, O tu illustrata, this restoration of the inheritance lost in Adam was the restoration of the voice of the Spirit, the living breath that inspires the children of the Church to sing as the angels sing. As Hildegard explained in her famous apology for music:

When we consider these things carefully, we recall that humankind needed the voice of the living Spirit, but Adam lost this divine voice through disobedience. For while he was still innocent, before his transgression, his voice blended fully with the voices of the angels in their praise of God. Angels are called spirits from that Spirit which is God, and thus they have such voices by virtue of their spiritual nature. But Adam lost that angelic voice which he had in paradise.
(…)
Consider, too, that just as the body of Jesus Christ was born of the purity of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, so, too, the canticle of praise, reflecting celestial harmony, is rooted in the Church through the Holy Spirit. The body is the vestment of the spirit, which has a living voice, and so it is proper for the body, in harmony with the soul, to use its voice to sing praises to God.[3]

Scivias II.3: Ecclesia's
children & music for
Virgin Mothers (detail).
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 51r.
The transition from Virgin Mother to Virgin Mother, from Mary to the Church, is another hallmark of Hildegard’s theology. We noticed in O virgo Ecclesia, for example, that Ecclesia took the place of Mary beneath the beam of the Cross in Hildegard’s vision of the Crucifixion. The analogous relationship between the two, which in theological terms might be considered sacramental, comes to the fore in Hildegard’s first vision of the Church in Scivias II.3 (ch. 9):

And on [Ecclesia’s] breast shines a red glow like the dawn;[4] for the virginity of the Most Blessed Virgin when she brought forth the Son of God glows with the most ardent devotion in the hearts of the faithful. And you hear a sound of all kinds of music singing around her, “Like the dawn, greatly sparkling” [quasi aurora valde rutilans]; for, as you are now given to understand, all believers should join with their whole wills in celebrating the virginity of that spotless Virgin in the Church.[5]

These two Virgins conceive and give birth by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the Church, the means of that rebirth are the waters of baptism that flowed mingled with blood from the Crucified’s side. As Hildegard’s heavenly voice continues:

And thus the Church is the virginal mother of all Christians, since by the mystery of the Holy Spirit she conceives and bears them, offering them to God so that they are called the children of God. And as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Blessed Mother, so that she miraculously conceived and painlessly bore the Son of God and yet remained a Virgin, so does the Holy Spirit illumine the Church, happy mother of believers, so that without corruption she conceives and bears children naturally, yet remains a virgin.
     —Scivias II.3.12

Scivias II.3: The Church and Baptism.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 51r (detail).
In this vision, Hildegard sees the faithful enter into the Church’s womb, still encased in the blackness of sin; but “as this blessed mother sighs inwardly when baptism is celebrated by the sacred anointing of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.), they reemerge from her mouth, the glittering words of her song of praise, stripped of that mire of sin and clothed now in “a pure white garment.” The crystal waters of baptism, like the very blood of Christ crying to the heavens, resound and restore:

For the Divine Power, looking into human hearts, mercifully takes from them the crimes of their unbelief by the washing of baptism, and throws those crimes out of their Way, Which is Christ; for in Christ there is no death, but life through pure confession and washing away of sins. Through Him each of them is clothed in the purity of salvation, and through Him the brightness of the blessed inheritance, from which the first human being was expelled, is opened to them. And each of the faithful is admonished by words of truth that they should lay aside the old ways of iniquity and accept the new gift of grace for salvation.

And the children who have passed through the womb of the image [of Ecclesia] walk in the splendor that surrounds her; which means that they, who through the font of sacred baptism have the Church as their happy mother, should remain in and keep to the divine law by which their mother is illuminated and adorned.
     —Scivias II.3.14

Notes
[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 252; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. For a bit of an overview of my continuing project to translate the Symphonia, see my first entry, for O vis eternitatis, from last Easter. 
[2] All quotes from Scivias adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 and 43a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 
[3] Letter 23, Hildegard to the prelates at Mainz. Adapted from The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Vol. I, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 76-80; Latin text in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Brepols, 1991) , pp. 61-6. 
[4] For the imagery of the dawn in relation to both mothers, see See Nathaniel M. Campbell, “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. 51-5; accessible online here
[5] The words of song that Hildegard hears ringing around the Virgin’s central place upon the Church’s breast are from the antiphon for the Magnificat from First Vespers on the Feast of the Assumption: “Virgo prudentissima quo progrederis quasi aurora valde rutilans? Filia Sion tota formosa et suavis es pulchra ut luna electa ut sol.” (See the entry for this antiphon at ChantBlog and in the Cantus database.) 

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