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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, June 08, 2014

O ignis Spiritus Paracliti (Symphonia 28)

For Pentecost, a Sequence for the Holy Spirit by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]

Pentecost, from the
Ingeborg Psalter, ca. 1195
(Web Gallery of Art)
1a. O ignis Spiritus Paracliti,    
vita vite omnis creature,
sanctus es vivificando
     formas.

1b. Sanctus es ungendo
      periculose
fractos, sanctus es
      tergendo
fetida vulnera.
1a. O fire of the Spirit and Defender,
the life of every life created:
Holy are you—giving life
     to all the forms.

1b. Holy are you—anointing to heal
      those danger
has broken. Holy are you—cleansing
      to clean
the festering wounds.

2a. O spiraculum sanctitatis,
o ignis caritatis,
o dulcis gustus in pectoribus
et infusio cordium in bono odore virtutum.

2b. O fons purissime,
in quo consideratur
quod Deus alienos
colligit et perditos requirit.

3a. O lorica vite et spes compaginis
membrorum omnium
et o cingulum honestatis:
salva beatos.

3b. Custodi eos qui carcerati sunt ab inimico,  
et solve ligatos
quos divina vis salvare
vult.

4a. O iter fortissimum,
     quod penetravit
omnia in altissimis et in terrenis
et in omnibus abyssis,
tu omnes componis et colligis.

4b. De te nubes fluunt,
      ether volat,
lapides humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.

5a. Tu etiam semper educis doctos
per inspirationem Sapientie
letificatos.

5b. Unde laus tibi sit,
qui es sonus laudis et gaudium vite,
spes et honor fortissimus,
dans premia lucis.
2a. O breath of holiness,
O fire of love,
O taste so sweet within the breast
that floods the heart with virtues’ fragrant good.

2b. O clearest fountain,
in which is seen the mirrored work of God:
to gather the estranged
and seek again the lost.

3a. O living armor, hope that binds
the every limb,
O belt of honor:
save the blessed.

3b. Guard those enchained in evil’s prison,
and loose the bonds of those
whose saving freedom is
the forceful will of God.

4a. O mighty course
     that runs within and through
all in the heights, upon the earth,
and in the every depth—
you bind and gather all together.

4b. From you the clouds flow forth,
      the wind takes flight,
the stones their moisture hold,
the waters rivers spring,
and earth viridity bedews.

5a. You are the teacher of the truly learned,
whose joy you grant
through Wisdom’s inspiration.

5b. And so may you be praised—
you, who are the sound of praise and joy of life,
the hope and potent honor,
and the giver of the gifts of light.


In contrast to Hildegard’s hymn to the Holy Spirit, with its sparse music and taut themes, today’s sequence bursts into life with overflowing exuberance. At the same time, through Hildegard’s unique recasting of the sequence form, in which “she makes each pair [of versicles] melodically similar, at times identical, yet [with] a trace of asymmetry,”[2] it maintains a rhythm both steady and dynamic to express the Holy Spirit’s role as root of nature and as anima mundi, “the soul of the world.” The poetry adopts the same paradoxical movement that animates some of Hildegard’s other pieces for the Spirit, especially the antiphon Spiritus Sanctus vivificans vita, which combines the Spirit’s eternally rooted stability—the ground of being—with its dynamic activity. As Peter Dronke notes, this musical “pattern of echo and modification” is “beautifully reflected in the thematic development of the poetry: in each pair of versicles, the images and meaning of the second both mirror and carry forward those of the first.”[3]

The opening trope on the triple Sanctus reveals what Newman has called “the delicate balance” of this sequence’s images, as it moves between its Platonic role as “life-giver in the initial bounty of creation” to its grittier role as “source of healing” in “the ‘stricken’ world.”[4] This particular movement between grace and fallenness motivates the second and third versicle pairs, which begin, like the second, third, and fourth verses of Hildegard’s hymn O ignee Spiritus, by imagining the Spirit in relation to each of the five senses: the sound of the breath (the “mighty wind” from Acts 2:2), the felt heat of the fire, the taste and smell of divine virtue inspired in human hearts, and finally the contemplative gaze. Each of these physical senses is effortlessly connected to its deeper, spiritual signification—a perfect example of Hildegard’s visionary-poetic capacity to “construct” symbolic landscapes that “show no trace of [the didactic, allegorical, or figural] scaffolding” upon which they rely.[5] Indeed, verse 2b requires for clarity in translation the addition of some of that scaffolding—in this case, to explain that the indefinite quod (that which “is seen” [consideratur] in the Spirit’s fountain) refers to the opus Dei, “the work of God,” held eternally reflected within the creative divine foreknowledge. As Hildegard explains in the words of Divine Love (Caritas) in Liber Divinorum Operum III.3:

Liber Divinorum Operum III.3,
Lucca, MS 1942
For I have written humanity, who was rooted in me like a shadow, just as an object’s reflection is seen in water. Thus it is that I am the living fountain, because all creation existed in me like a shadow. In accordance with this reflected shadow, humankind was created with fire and water, just as I, too, am fire and living water. For this reason also, humans have the ability in their souls to set each thing in order as they will. Indeed, every creature possesses this reflected shadow, and that which gives each creature life is like a shadow, moving this way and that.
(…)
And so the living fountain is the Spirit of God, which he distributes unto all of his works. They live because of him and have vitality through him, just as the reflection of all things appears in water. And there is nothing that can clearly see this source of its life, for it can only sense that which causes it to move. Just as water makes that which is in it to flow, so also the soul is the living breath that always pours forth in a human being and makes them to know, to think, to speak, and to work by streaming forth.
(…)
Wisdom drew from the living fountain the words of the prophets and the words of other wise people and of the Gospels, and she entrusted them to the disciples of the Son of God. This she did so that the rivers of living water might flow out through them into the entire world, that they might return humanity to salvation like fish caught in a net.

Indeed, the leaping fountain is the purity of the living God, and in it shines his radiant glory. In that splendor God embraces all things with great love, for their shadow appeared, reflected in the leaping fountain before God bade them to come forth in their forms.

And in me, Divine Love, all things shine resplendently, and my splendor reveals the form of creation just as a shadow indicates the form [of its object]; and in Humility, my helper, creation goes forth at God’s bidding. Likewise in humility, God bowed down to me, so that he might refresh those dried-out, fallen leaves in that blessedness by which he can do all things that he wishes. For he had formed them from the earth, and thus he has also freed them after their fall.

As I have noted elsewhere, Hildegard’s symbolic-poetic mode excels in connecting “the highest levels of contemplative knowledge (of divinity itself) with the lowest levels of concrete images and artifacts” as it envisions each particular image in the light of the entire scope of salvation history.[6] This mode of thought and expression participates in the neoplatonic metaphysics that Hildegard deploys particularly strongly in the fourth pair of versicles of today’s sequence. As Dronke explains:

[T]he Spirit is characterized first as an irresistible force that penetrates the universe from without; then, in the complementary half-stanza, as the source of motion and fertility within the natural world. When the pervasive power has moved from the circumference of the cosmos right through to its centre, it becomes the centre-point from which new elemental life radiates.
(…)
The threefold action in [versicle 4a] recalls the functions of the three wings of the virtus Sapientie, as well as perhaps the Neoplatonic triad of processio, conversio, and reditus: the divine force descends and enters into all things, it harmonizes them, and draws them to itself. If here the language associates the powers of the Holy Spirit with those of the Anima Mundi, in the second versicle it links them with those of the goddess Natura. (…) At the same time, these functions, cosmic and terrestrial, complement each other; the movement of the thought and that of the music are shaped by same symmetrical-asymmetrical pattern, the undulation of parallelism and contrast.[7]
Pentecost.
Stammheim / Hildesheim
Missal (ca. 1160-70), fol. 117v.
J. Paul Getty Museum

In the final pair of versicles, the musical symmetry breaks down, however—5a illuminates the Spirit’s particularly pentecostal task within the life of the Church, while 5b summarizes the sequence in a final burst of praise. Those final “gifts of light,” however, are also the tongues of fire that “through Wisdom’s inspiration” came upon the apostles as they huddled in that upper room nearly two millennia ago. Hildegard described this seminal moment in the early life of the Church in her vision of the Pillar of the Trinity in Scivias III.7.7:[8]

But after the Son of God had ascended to the Father, through the Son and according to His promise the Holy Spirit descended. For now the whole earth was full of heavenly dew because the Bread of Heaven had been in it; the faithless had ignored Him like a false rumor, but the faithful had received Him with all their devotion. And so, because the true Word had become incarnate, the Holy Spirit came openly in tongues of fire; for the son, Who converted the world to the truth by His preaching, was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And, because the apostles had been taught by the Son, the Holy Spirit bathed them in Its fire, so that with their souls and bodies they spoke in many tongues; and because their souls ruled their bodies, they cried out so that the whole world was shaken by their voices.

And the Holy Spirit took their human fear from them, so that no dread was in them, and they would never fear human savagery when they spoke the word of God; all such timidity was taken from them, so ardently and so quickly that they became firm and not soft, and dead to all adversity that could befall them. And then they remembered with perfect understanding all the things they had heard and received from Christ with sluggish faith and comprehension; they recalled them to memory as if they had learned from Him this very hour.

And so, going forth, they made their way among the faithless peoples who did not have roots, which is to say the sign of the knowledge of holy innocence and justice, and whose city, which is to say the instruments of God’s law, had been destroyed by faithlessness. And to these they announced the words of salvation and of the true faith in Christ. And thus they brought back many of this throng to the knowledge of God and led them to the center, which is to say the font of baptism, where they received the holiness they had lost by their proud transgressions. And they built the holy city of the commandments of God, thus rebuilding the holy city which the seducer the Devil had taken from them in Adam, and restored it to them in the faith that leads to salvation.
Notes
[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), pp. 148-50; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. 
[2] Peter Dronke, Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1970), p. 158. 
[3] Ibid. 
[4] Newman, Symphonia, p. 281. 
[5] Peter Dronke, The Medieval Poet and His World (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1984), p. 85. 
[6] 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. 29-30; accessible online here
[7] Dronke, Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages, pp. 158-60. 
[8] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 415. 

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