About Me

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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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Spiritui Sancto honor sit: A Chronogram for the Feast of St. Hildegard

Human microcosm enmeshed by clouds.
Liber Divinorum Operum 1.3
(detail from Lucca, MS 1942, fol. 28v)
spIrItVI sanCto honor sIt,
qVI In opere hILDegarDIs VIrgInIs
stVDIa saLVtarIa
VeLVt nVbes In aVrIs pVrIs nItentes
nobIs CoLLegIt.

Honor be to the Holy Spirit,
who in the work of the virgin Hildegard
has gathered for us
studies in saving health
like clouds gleaming in the clear sky.

(Spiritui sancto honor sit, qui in opere Hildegardis virginis studia salutaria velut nubes in auris puris nitentes nobis collegit.)

For this year’s Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, I took inspiration for this chronogrammatic prayer from one of Hildegard’s own compositions, a responsory for the feast of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgin-martyrs of Cologne. As I have noted elsewhere, in the office that Hildegard composed for St. Ursula, she often drew parallels between the early medieval figure and her own mission as a prophetic virgin. In the original responsory, the Holy Spirit gathers round Ursula “a virginal brood like doves” (virginalem turbam / velut columbas collegit)—the simile draws on Isaiah 60:8, “Who are these, that fly as clouds, and as doves to their windows?” Hildegard frequently invoked this verse to describe those vowed to the monastic life (see e.g. Letters 77r, 149r. and 200r; and The Book of Divine Works 2.1.42), and in Scivias 1.5.3 it refers to the children of the Church.

By switching from the doves of the second half of the verse to the clouds (nubes) of the first half in my chronogram, I have tried to maintain that link while also shifting the register to include a different set of symbolic resonances. For a cloud gleaming with sunlight in a bright sky is also one of the fundamental images Hildegard uses to describe her own visionary experiences in her famous Letter 103r to Guibert of Gembloux:

The light that I see is not local and confined. It is far brighter than a lucent cloud through which the sun shines. And I can discern neither its height nor its length nor its breadth. This light I have named “the shadow of the Living Light,” and just as the sun and moon and stars are reflected in water, so too are writings, words, virtues, and deeds of men reflected back to me from it … Moreover, the words I see and hear in the vision are not like the words of human speech, but are like a blazing flame and a cloud that moves through clear air (ut nubes in aere puro mota).

Offering us insights into the health of both body and soul, Hildegard’s visions are such a profound spiritual gift to us that we owe the Holy Spirit our thanks for allowing us to glimpse their shining light!

About the Chronogram

The chronogram is an epigrammatic form where, if you take all of the letters that are also Roman numerals (I, V[U], X, L, C, D, and M, which are capitalized in the prayer above) and add their values together, the result is the year you are commemorating. In this case, 3 D’s = 1500, + 2 C’s = 1700, + 5 L’s = 1950, + 10 V’s = 2000, + 19 I’s = 2019. I was inspired to write chronograms to honor Hildegard by those composed by Sr. Walburga Storch, O.S.B., a nun of the Abbey of St. Hildegard in Eibingen, Germany, which appeared in Festschriften for the Sibyl of the Rhine in 1979 and 1998.

Here are links to previous chronograms I have composed for St. Hildegard:

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