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.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

O luce viventi coronata: A Chronogram for the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard beholds the universe.
Liber Divinorum Operum 1.4
(detail from Lucca, MS 1942, fol. 38r)
o LVCe VIVentI Coronata,
CVIVs VoX qVasI tonItrVI
nos De LangVore nostro
In saLVteM roborat:
ora pro nobIs
et pro aegra orbIs aetate nostrI.

O one crowned with the Living Light,
whose voice as of thunder
strengthens us from our weakness
into health:
pray for us
and for this ailing age of our world.

(O luce viventi coronata, cuius vox quasi tonitrui nos de languore nostro in salutem roborat: ora pro nobis et pro aegra orbis aetate nostri.)

This year’s prayer for the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen focuses on the special need our world faces in this time: the COVID-19 pandemic. An important element of Hildegard’s visionary theology is the holistic view she took of physical and spiritual health: our bodies and our souls are meant to work together, to cooperate, as we enact God’s will in the world. But when things get out of balance on either side of that equation, then we end up suffering illnesses of both body and soul. Pope Francis has repeatedly connected the pandemic’s effects to our global climate crisis and the pressing need for ecological stewardship. Hildegard would have completely agreed with him; as she wrote in The Book of Divine Works 1.3.2 (pp. 112-13):

God made all parts of creation in both the upper and lower realms and directed them to be useful for humankind—but if humankind perverts them with corrupt actions, the judgment of God brings creation down upon them with vengeance. Furthermore, though they aid humankind in the necessities of the body, they must be understood to attend no less to the health of the soul.
The solution to our world’s weakness will not come through medicine alone (though I’ll be first in line for a vaccine when I can get it). True health requires the restoration of the soul as much as of the body.

So this prayer bids us to listen to Hildegard’s visionary voice calling out to remind us that we need to restore that balance. The opening addresses Hildegard with reference to the Living Light that illuminated her vision. In imagining her crowned with that light, I hearken to the famous crowns that she and her nuns wore on high feast days (and also nod to our current crisis). The phrase vox quasi tonitrui, meanwhile, draws from a responsory commonly used at the second nocturn for the Feast of St. John before the Latin Gate (May 6): “The voice of your thunder upon the wheel, O God, is John the Evangelist, preaching heavenly light throughout the world’s course.” St. John was Hildegard’s most important scriptural self-model, and it was the Prologue to his Gospel that inspired her greatest exploration of the interrelation between cosmos, body, and soul in The Book of Divine Works.

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, 1 M = 1,000, + 1 D = 1500, + 3 C’s = 1800, + 3 L’s = 1950, + 1 X = 1960, + 10 V’s = 2010, + 10 I’s = 2020. 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:


Daisy Debs said...

I think this is my favourite painting ! I wonder how big the original paintings were ?

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

Hi, Daisy! That's a great question. This series of illustrations comes from an illuminated manuscript of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works, made about 40 years after her death. The book still exists and you can leaf through it digitally here. The pages of this manuscript are 390mm tall and 260mm wide -- about 15 inches tall by 10 inches wide. This particular image is on folio 38r of that manuscript (you can see it in the digital library here), and by my estimate, it is probably about 10 inches tall and 8 inches wide.