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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.

Friday, April 04, 2014

O successores (Symphonia 40)

For the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville, an Antiphon for Confessors
by St. Hildegard of Bingen [1]


Initial D: Lion of Judah
Stammheim / Hildesheim
Missal (ca. 1160-70), fol. 111v.
J. Paul Getty Museum
O successores fortissimi leonis,
inter templum et altare
dominantes in ministratione eius  
sicut angeli sonant in laudibus
et sicut assunt populis
     in adiutorio,
vos estis inter illos
qui hec faciunt,
semper curam habentes
     in officio Agni.
Successors of the mighty Lion,
between the temple and the altar
commanding in his service:
as angels sing in praise resounding
and quicken to defend the people
     with their aid—
so you among them,
as they go about their lives,
keep carefully the office
     of the Lamb.

Hildegard: O Successores Fortissimi Leonis by Sequentia on Grooveshark

The first piece devoted to the choir of confessors—a class that for Hildegard contains generally the clergy—in her vision of the heavenly symphony in Scivias III.13 (in c. 6), this antiphon turns from the sacramental duties of their priestly office described in the responsory, O vos imitatores, to look at their Christ-like role as the servant-leaders of the Church: leading the people of God in their praise, helping them like the guardian angels, waging the battle against the fallen angel, and in all things imitating Christ’s strength as the Lion and his sacrificial love as the Lamb.[2]

This ministry of the confessors holds a particular place in the progression of salvation history, reflected in the placement of the choir of confessors after those of the apostles and martyrs in the celestial symphony. After the apostolic dawn of the Church and the flowing of the martyr’s rose-red blood, this choir of confessors took its place among her orders, as likewise described in Hildegard’s exegesis of the Pillar of the Word of God in Scivias III.4.11:[3]

For in the clear light in which My Son preached and spread the truth there have grown up apostles who announce that true light, and martyrs who faithfully shed their blood like strong soldiers, and confessors who officiate after My Son, and virgins who follow the Supernal Branch, and all My other elect, who rejoice in the fountain of happiness and the font of salvation, baptized by the Holy Spirit and ardently going “from virtue unto virtue” (Ps. 83:8[84:7]).

What we see in today’s antiphon is the way that the “confessors” in their office as “successors” or “imitators” of Christ take a middle place between the early martyrs, whose blood “watered” the foundations of the Church, and the order of Virgins who crown Ecclesia. Thus, the second line situates the confessors as heirs of both the ancient prophets and the martyrs by alluding to Christ’s words of castigation against the scribes and Pharisees for “shedding the blood of the prophets, (…) from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar [quem occidistis inter templum et altare]” (Matt. 23:30 and 35). Moreover, Hildegard transforms their commanding rule (dominantes) over the Church into the service of her ministers (in ministratione); as Barbara Newman notes, “Following Christ’s example and commandment, they exercised their spiritual lordship only through service (Luke 22:25-26).”[4]

As Hildegard explains in her discussion of the Church’s administration of the sacraments of Eucharist and confession in Scivias II.6.92:

One who desires the power of an office for his own boastful pride and not for the glory of My name is to Me like a putrid corpse, but one who seeks it desiring from it not his own pride but My honor will be glorious in My kingdom. And so priests should take on the office of spiritual government not for their own sakes but for Mine, that they may rule more surely and devoutly over My people.

In the previous vision’s discussion of the clergy’s office of pastoral service, Hildegard compares them to the shepherd Abel:

The followers [of the apostles], who took their places, faithfully traverse streets and farms and cities and other places, regions and lands, carrying the health-giving charisms and announcing the divine law to the people. For they are fathers and stewards, carefully chosen to make church rules known to the people by their teaching and to distribute to them the food of life (…)

So, as Abel was in charge of his flock, pasturing and guarding it and with simple devotion offering its increase and its fatty nourishment to God [Genesis 4:4], let the chrism-makers [bishops], who are set over the children of the Church, who are the sheep of Christ, pasture them according to His plan, faithfully nourish them by their words, teaching them the church rules, and protect them forcefully from the snares of the ancient waylayer, and offer gifts from some of them, with sincere reflection, to the Observer of all.
     —Scivias II.5.2

Scivias I.6: Choirs of Angels.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 38r.
Although today’s antiphon never mentions him, that “ancient waylayer” lies always in the background of Hildegard’s view of the Church’s place in salvation history, her battle against him, and her relationship to the angels. In comparing the office of the Church’s pastors to the angels as they both praise God and, as guardians, come to the aid of humankind, Hildegard draws on the belief that God created the angels for a twofold service, “for the honor of His name and for human salvation”—the latter office “by assigning some to help humans in their need, and other to manifest to people the judgments of His secrets” (Scivias I.6.1). Moreover, Hildegard held firmly to the belief that humankind was created to fill the tenth and highest choir of angels, left empty by the fall of Lucifer and his companions, as she explains Scivias III.2.19.[5]

The angelic ministry thus serves for Hildegard as an exemplar for human ministry. As we saw in our discussion of the antiphon for the Virgin, O tu illustrata, Hildegard’s theology of music rested on the conceit that Adam’s unfallen paradisical voice was that of the angels. Similarly, the angels and archangels offer their service to both God and God’s creation (humankind) with a humility to be imitated by the clergy:

Therefore have peace and charity and humility among you, as the souls of the just do not envy the office of the angels, and the angels announce lesser things in the normal course of events, while the faithful people humbly obey. Therefore, let each fulfill his office faithfully. How?

Let those who are vowed monks, like the archangels, renew their powerful assistance whenever there is a great occasion of necessity in the Church; and let those who have the office of clerics, like the angels, do their business in the daily life of their institution; and let people who want to attain to supreme beatitude faithfully receive their words.
     —Scivias II.5.36

The clergy of the Church thus assume the twofold office of the angels, analogous to Christ’s twofold summary of the law’s commandment of love: they praise and love God, and they serve and love their neighbors, the children of God and inheritors of the kingdom. As governors, they mediate the angels’ manifestation of God’s commands to his people; as pastors, they “keep and feed God’s sheep to imitate Him in honor” (Scivias III.9.22).

Scivias III.9: The Tower of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 192r
(full-page miniature rotated 90 degrees
counterclockwise from original orientation).
Finally, as successors of Christ, the confessors are also the successors of the apostles, the Church’s first leaders-in-service who “stand out among the defenders of the Church as its first founders” (Scivias III.9.15). In her vision of the Church in Scivias III.9, Hildegard sees the apostles—and by analogy, their successors—gazing towards the tower of the Church whose foundation they have laid. Throughout the grand visions of the Edifice of Salvation that comprise the third part of Scivias, Hildegard indulges in numerical symbolism as she explains the various measurements of this vast architectural complex. In particular, her comments on humankind as replacement for the fallen choir of angels draw on the symbolism of ten and its multiples, one hundred and one thousand, as signs of the perfection of this city:

This building [of salvation] is a hundred cubits long, which means that the number ten was diminished by humanity when it transgressed, but was restored by My Son and multiplied by ten to a hundred, as virtues were multiplied in the salvation of souls. And from the hundred, again multiplied by ten, there will come the perfect number one thousand, referring to the virtues that will completely destroy the thousand arts of the Devil, which now seduce the whole flock of Almighty God’s lovely sheep.
     —Scivias III.2.19

As the successors of the apostles and their mighty leonine Captain, the confessors provide that thousand-fold defense, as Hildegard indicates through her interpretation of a verse from the Song of Songs:

“Your neck is like the tower of David, which is built with bulwarks; a thousand bucklers hang upon it, all the armor of the valiant” [Song of Songs 4:4]. This is to say:

The Incarnation of the mighty Lion [fortissimi leonis], the Son of the Supreme Ruler, Who arose from the blooming of the Virgin, is the strongest instrument of the new grace; and so too the strength of your incorrupt faith, O Bride, is set as the sure rampart of the faithful people. How? All your children stand and join themselves into the walls around your strength, nourished by the new light that trickles from the pure living Fountain. And in this strong joining they cannot be destroyed or dismembered, anymore than the victorious weapons of true David could be defeated. How?

The strong tower is the strength of Christ Jesus the Son of God, and in it the conquering hosts of the faithful are tested without defeat. No adversary can boast of prevailing over them, for they hold fast to Christ, true God and true Human, through Whom in your Second Coming all your children will gloriously attain adulthood in salvation. To this end the pure Incarnation was foretold by the prophets and adorned by precious gems of virtue. And it was manifested through the world for the salvation of believers through the bulwarks of apostolic doctrine who planted the justice of the True Light.
(…)
And so a thousand bucklers, perfect defenses of the perfected faith, hang from the Son of God. And the first shepherds of the Church follow His example and despise themselves for the hope of Heaven; they pour out their blood to protect the Catholic faith from the fiery darts of the Devil, which wound human souls. And the other elect, who follow them, also form a heavenly militia and take arms to establish the love of God in this world.
     —Scivias III.9.15-17

Notes
[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 176; translation by Nathaniel Campbell.  
[2] Although today’s antiphon follows the responsory for confessors (O vos imitatores) in the Riesdenkodex (appearing on fol. 470va), it comes first in Scivias III.13.6. 
[3] 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). 
[4] Newman, Symphonia, p. 290. 
[5] As she explains Scivias III.2.19: 
God foresaw that what had fallen in the lost group [of angels] could be more firmly restored in another. How? He created humankind from the mud of the earth, living in soul and body, to attain to the glory from which the apostate Devil and his followers were cast out. Humankind is thus exceedingly dear to God, Who made them truly in His own image and likeness; they were to exercvise all the virtues in the perfection of holiness, as indeed God formed all creatures to do, and to work in humble obedience to do acts of virtue, and so to fulfill the function of praise among the glorious orders of angels. And thus, in this height of blessedness, humankind was to augment the praise of the heavenly spirits who praise God with assiduous devotion, and so fill up the place left empty by the lost angel who fell in his presumption.

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