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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, December 17, 2013

O Verbum Patris (Symphonia R 404va)

A Verse for Word and Wisdom by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]

Scivias II.1: Creation
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 41v (detail)
O Verbum Patris,
tu lumen prime aurore
in circulo rote es,
omnia in divina vi operans.
O tu prescientia Dei,
omnia opera tua previdisti,
sicut voluisti,
ita quod in medio potencie tue latuit   
quod omnia prescivisti,
et operatus es
quasi in similitudine rote
cuncta circueuntis,
que inicium non accepit
nec in fine prostrata est.
O Word of the Father,
you are the first dawn’s light
within the circuit of the wheel,
performing all in energy divine.
O God’s foreknowledge,
you have foreseen your every deed
according to your will—
all that you have foreknown lay held
within your power’s heart.
Your working is
as like a wheel
that all encompasses—
beginning kept it not
nor ever was it wound down to an end.

Although Hildegard's musical notation for this piece does not survive, the following is a recording of a modern setting composed by Frank Ferko in his 1996 work, The Hildegard Motets:

As today is the seventh day before Christmas Eve, the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours uses the first of the so-called “O” Antiphons. According to a tradition that stretches back to late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, each of the days from now through December 23 uses an antiphon before and after the Magnificat at Vespers that addresses the coming Christ using one of his manifestations drawn from Old Testament prophecy. In the modern tradition, these seven antiphons have been adapted into the seven verses of, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (“O Emmanuel” is the antiphon for Dec. 23).[2]

Sapientia, from the
Missal, fol. 11r (ca. 1160-70)
J. Paul Getty Museum

Today’s O-antiphon addresses Christ as the figure of Sapientia—the Wisdom celebrated in such passages as Proverbs 8 and Job 28, and throughout the deutero-canonical / apocryphal books Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus). In fact, it is based in part on a passage from Wisdom of Solomon (8:1, transl. from the Vulgate: “Therefore she reaches mightily from end to end and orders all things sweetly”):

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi   
prodidisti, attingens a fine usque
ad finem, fortiter suaviter
disponensque omnia:
veni ad docendum nos
viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who came forth
from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from end to end, ordering
all things strongly and sweetly:
Come to teach us the way
of prudence.

This is Wisdom as both the matrix of all creation—the form and agent through which God brought forth all the world—and the teacher of God’s special revelation to the world. It is in this regard that St. Hildegard, a teacher (Doctor) of the Church, can channel all of the symbolism of the Old Testament’s Sapientia through the Word of the Father that became flesh as described in the prologue to John’s Gospel—a favorite text for Hildegard, forming the seed-bed for her final work, Liber Divinorum Operum.

The symbolic relationship should not, however, be collapsed into mere identity, as the figure of Sapientia had her own particular role in Hildegard’s conception of salvation history. As Barbara Newman notes in relation to the image above of Sapientia from the Stammheim/Hildesheim Missal (ca. 1160-70), “This Sapientia, like Hildegard’s Caritas, is a mysterious persona prefiguring Christ and Mary but distinct from them both; she embodies God’s decision to create a universe in order that he might enter it as a man.”[3] Her emanation of God’s power into the world both points to and enacts the central act of creation: the eternally predestined Incarnation.

We have seen Hildegard’s musical celebrations of this figure already, for example, in the antiphon O virtus Sapientie (Symphonia 2). Although the verse that I have offered for today is one of four for which no music survives, it belongs thematically with the first three pieces of Symphonia and their meditations upon God’s creative and sapiential interaction with the world. As with the responsory O vis eternitatis (Symphonia 1) and the antiphon O quam mirabilis (Symphonia 3), it invokes the order of all creation held eternally within the divine foreknowledge, which spills over with energy and power from eternity into time.

Two particular images give this verse its own power, however: the appearance of the sapiential Word upon “the first dawn’s light,” and its activity likened to the wheel. We have seen that the dawn is one of Hildegard’s favorite metaphors for the two great In principio’s, the two great beginnings, of salvation history—the defining moments when divine power burst forth as dawning light upon the world. As is usual for her (as for example in the antiphon O eterne Deus [Symphonia 7]), the symbol refers to both irruptions simultaneously: the beginning of creation through the Word, and its new beginning in the Incarnation of the Word.

These two dawns are, on the one hand, sequential within a linear history of time; but they are also, on the other hand, circular, in the sense that the whole of salvation history is held within the wheel of divine foreknowledge and its creative power from eternity. The seemingly paradoxical relationship between eternity and time often served as Hildegard’s most fertile point for theological meditation and poetic representation, precisely because her sacramental and symbolist mind moved easily and constantly along the continuum from eternal universal to temporal particular and back again. Her mode of thinking was analogous to her neoplatonic metaphysics— the flow of emanation and return, the cycle at the center of which is the Incarnation. As I have elsewhere described this: “In this way, her visionary experiences could, in fact, connect the highest levels of contemplative knowledge (of divinity itself) with the lowest levels of concrete images and artifacts. (…) [T]he virtue of [this symbolic mode] is that it elastically connects the two sides of the paradox, the infinite and finite, the universal and particular, in a single moment.”[4]

Caritas and the Wheel,
Liber Divinorum Operum III.5
From the Lucca MS (detail).

The image of this wheel appears most memorably in bridging the eternity of divine foreknowledge with the temporality of its creation in the final vision of Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”), in which the sapiential figure of Caritas (Divine Love) appears amidst the wheel of eternity, whose subdivisions represents the course of salvation history:

Yet, even though God is one, he foreknew in the force of his heart each and every work that he so greatly multiplied. God himself is the very living fire through whom souls breath—God who was before the beginning and even exists as the beginning and entire course of time. This present vision reveals all of these things.

For near the mountain that you see in the middle of the area to the east, as described above, you see as it were a wheel of wondrous size, in the likeness of a shining cloud and turned toward the east; and this shows that God has neither beginning nor end, but exists gently amongst his works, prepared for all good things. Stretching across its middle from the left side all the way to the right, a line can be seen, its color dark and vague like human breath; because the will of God appears perfectly in the beginning of the fallen world and through to its end stretching to eternity, since he has separated the temporal things from those that are eternal. Thus, another line appears, shining like the dawn, so that it is in the half of the wheel that is above the first line, descending from the top of the wheel to the middle of the aforesaid line. Through this is shown the divine ordinance, directed towards all good things and wondrously appearing, as it were, with the flashing brilliance of unfailing constancy before the beginning of the world and after its end and in all ages of the world. This divine ordinance reveals that the fullness of God’s perfection, which excels temporality and is established by his will in the heavens, was prepared for every cause of righteousness.

Wherefore the upper half of this wheel sparkles from its left edge to its middle with a verdant green color, because when God made each work of creation to go forth in its form to its labor, just as it was foreknown by him, he held each one, as it were, in the viridity of his will. And it shines from its right edge to the middle like the color red, because after the end of the world, God changes for the better those things that must be used to live in the transitory world. To the souls of the faithful he also grants the reward of their refulgent labors and allows neither labor nor defect to rule over them anymore. These two colors in equal measure of space are divided, the one from the other; for just as eternity lacks a beginning before the beginning of the world, so also, after the world has ended, it shall have no end. Rather, the beginning and ending of the world are defined, as it were, by a single, contained circle.

     —Liber Divinorum Operum III.5.2[5]

As today’s verse indicates, this is a wheel that “orders all things strongly and sweetly” as its eternal whirling never wears down, but rather with gracious love spins out the goodness of being from its center into time—and we prepare ourselves next week to celebrate the greatest burst of divine energy from that wheel, as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 258; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. This is one of four pieces that appear in what Newman has called the “Miscellany” section of the Riesenkodex (specifically, fol. 404va), which includes the texts of all of the pieces in Symphonia without neumes (musical notation), but which do not, unfortunately, appear in the later section of that manuscript with neumes, nor in the other manuscript to preserve the musical notation, the Dendermonde. Thus, though only its text has been preserved, it is likely that Hildegard either composed music for it or had it sung to preexisting notation. 
[2] In the Anglican tradition, there are eight antiphons, and “O Sapientia” was sung yesterday (Dec. 16); see yesterday's entry on Chantblog
[3] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987; 2nd ed., 1997), p. 58. 
[4] See “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. 29-31; accessible online here. See also Newman, Sister of Wisdom, pp. 44-5; and Peter Dronke, “Arbor Caritatis,” in Medieval Studies for J A. W Bennett, ed. P.L. Heyworth (Oxford Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 207-53, esp. p. 232. 
[5] My translation, from the critical text of Derolez and Dronke, CCCM 192 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), p. 406-7:  

Sed quamvis Deus unus sit, in vi tamen cordis sui opus quoddam prescivit, quod magnifice multiplicavit; ipseque Deus ille vivens ignis est, per quem anime spirant; et ante inicium fuit et etiam inicium et tempus temporurm existit. Hec omnia presens visio manifestat.

Nam iuxta montem, quem velut in medio orientalis plage conspicis, ut predictum est, quasi rotam mire amplitudinis similitudinem candide nubis habentem et ad orientem versam vides; que Deum inicio et fine carentem, se mitem in operibus suis existentem et ad omnia bona paratum ostendit. Quam in medio in transversum, scilicet a sinistro latere usque ad dextrum latus suum, linea obscuri coloris velut halitus hominis est distinguit; quia perfecte per principium caduci mundi et per finem eius ad eternitatem tendentem voluntas Dei apparet, cum temporalia ab his que eterna sunt sequestravit; ita ut etiam eiusdem rote medietatem que super eandem lineam est, alia linea quemadmodum aurora rutilans, a summitate ipsius rote usque ad medietatem prefate linee descendat. Per hoc ostenditur quod perfectionis Dei plenitudinem, que in celestibus per voluntatem ipsius temporalia excellens existit, divina ordination, ad quelibet bona directa et quasi quodam fulgore indeficientie ante principium mundi et post finem eius et in ipsis mundi temporibus mirabiliter apparens, ad omnem iustitiam paratam esse manifestat.

Unde superior pars medietatis eiusdem rote a sinistro latere usque ad medietatem sui quasi viridem colorem emittit; quoniam Deus, quando creaturas quemadmodum ab ipso prescite erant in formis suis ad laborem prodire faceret, ‹eas› quasi in viriditate voluntatis sue habebat. Et a dextro latere usque ad medietatem sui velut rubeus color fulget; quia Deus, post finem mundi ea que a transitorio seculo ad vitam sunt ‹elevanda› in melius commutans, animabus quoque fidelium mercedem fulgentium laborum suorum reddens, nullum laborem nullumque defectum eis ultra dominari permittit; ita ut hi duo colores equali mensura spaciorum inter se dividantur; quoniam sicut eternitas ante principium mundi inicio caret, sic etiam finito mundo finem non habet, sed principium et terminus mundi quasi uno circulo comprehensionis concluduntur.

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