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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, March 25, 2014

O tu illustrata (Symphonia 23)

For the Feast of the Annunciation, an Antiphon for the Virgin
by St. Hildegard of Bingen[1]

Chastity, from
Scivias III.8: The Pillar
of the Savior's Humanity.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 178r.
O tu illustrata
de divina claritate,
clara Virgo Maria,
Verbo Dei infusa,
unde venter tuus floruit
de introitu Spiritus Dei,
qui in te sufflavit
et in te exsuxit
quod Eva abstulit
in abscisione puritatis,
per contractam contagionem       
de suggestione diaboli.
Illumined by
God’s clearest brightness,
O Virgin Mary bright,
and flooded with the Word of God:
your womb then flourished at
the entrance of God’s Spirit—
he breathed within you,
within drew out
the loss of Eve,
a purity cut off and silenced
by that disease contracted
at the Devil’s sly persuasion.

Tu mirabiliter abscondisti in te
inmaculatam carnem
per divinam racionem,
cum Filius Dei
in ventre tuo floruit,
sancta divinitate eum educente    
contra carnis iura
que construxit Eva,
integritati copulatum
in divinis visceribus.
You wondrously held hid within yourself
a flesh kept undefiled
according to God’s Reason—
for when the Son of God
within your womb was blossomed,
divinity most holy brought him forth
to abrogate the laws of flesh
establishéd by Eve,
for he was joined to whole integrity
in flesh and womb divine.

O tu illustrata by Hildegard Von Bingen on Grooveshark

In this antiphon, Hildegard celebrates the restoration of procreative purity and integrity in the Virgin’s womb, prepared to receive and bring forth the flower of the Incarnate God. The piece naturally falls into three unequal thematic movements: its first half contrasts the realms of the divine and of the fallen, while the final movement celebrates Mary’s place in mediating the two.

“O tu illustrata”, in the
Riesenkodex, fol. 467ra.
“O tu illustrata”, in the
Riesenkodex, fol. 466vb.
This thematic movement is echoed in the musical setting. In the first third of the antiphon (O tu illutrata…qui in te sufflavit), Hildegard establishes a steady rhythm that repeats a set of several self-contained motifs with various minor variations, including transpositions up or down the scale. The repetition creates an appropriate atmosphere for meditating upon the steady and self-referential movements of the divinity in its relationship to the Virgin, first in the Father’s light, then in the Son’s Word, and finally in the Spirit’s breath. The mood of the music then shifts as we enter into the drama of Eve’s purity lost to the Devil’s poison, with much less repetition and quicker movement up and down the scale. Finally, in the second half of the antiphon, Hildegard marries these two musical styles by reintroducing the use of repeated motifs (e.g. on in te and carnem) within the wider movement of pitch, especially as the piece reaches a fifth higher on ventre than it had up to that point, to its highest note of the d two octaves above middle C, producing an entire range of two-and-a-half octaves.

Despite the thematic height of the opening lines and their meditation upon the divine power flowing into the Virgin’s womb, that musical height is only reached in the later return to that womb, for a full appreciation of its exaltation can only come in mirrored contrast to the depth of fallenness from which the divinity had to restore it. As we have seen already (in e.g. Ave Maria, O auctrix vite, O clarissima mater, and O virga ac diadema), the symbolic parallels between Eve and Mary were a primary and powerfully fertile locus for Hildegard’s poetic imagination. The key to her exploration of this parallel in this antiphon is Hildegard’s perception that the Virgin’s conception of the Son of God took place in accord with the original, paradisical model of procreation—the state in which Adam and Eve were created, whose “most distinctive feature (…) was the state of integrity—wholeness of mind and body—which includes but transcends physical virginity.” As Barbara Newman continues:

In Paradise, Adam and Eve were indeed free from lust, but their union would not have been without pleasure. Rather, husband and wife would have lain side by side, and they would gently perspire as if sleeping. Then the woman would become pregnant from the man’s perspiration (sudor), and, while they lay thus sweetly asleep, she would give birth to a child painlessly from her side … in the same way that God brought Eve forth from Adam, and that the Church was born from the side of Christ.”[2]

The gentle and noble beauty of this paradiscal nature is taken up in the Incarnation in Hildegard’s explication of Ps. 44[45]:3, “Beautiful in form above the children of men”:

In Him shines forth beauty, the noblest form free from any spot of sin, without a splash of human corruption, and lacking all desire for the sinful works demanded by fleshly human weakness. None of these ever touched this human. And the body of the Son of Man was born more purely than other people, for the stainless Virgin bore her Son in ignorance of sin, and thus ignorant of the sorrow of childbirth. How? She never felt any stubborn urge to sin, and therefore the pains of childbirth were unknown to her; but the wholeness of her body [corporis sui integritas] rejoiced within her. Oh, how beautiful then His body!
     —Scivias III.1.8[3]

Furthermore, as Peter Dronke notes, the concept of sudor—the procreative “perspiration” of Paradise—has in Hildegard’s poetic vocabulary, “the associations not of the sweat of effort but of the distilliation of a perfume, a heavenly quality, out of anything that is fertile or beautiful on earth.”[4] It appears in other places in her musical compositions to characterize the fecund sweep of Wisdom’s wing about the earth (in O virtus Sapientie) and to describe the Holy Spirit’s fertile and creative power in the sequence, O ignis spiritus paracliti:[5]

4b. De te nubes fluunt,
     ether volat,
lapides humorem habent,
aque rivulos educunt,
et terra viriditatem sudat.      
4b. From you the clouds flow forth,
     the wind takes flight,
the stones their moisture hold,
the waters rivers spring,
and earth viridity exudes.

It is only a short step to connect the fertile distillation of viridity produced by Wisdom and the Holy Spirit with the Spirit’s overshadowing of the Virgin as she conceived the God-child in her womb (Luke 1:35). That Gospel scene was almost certainly the inspiration for the image of Chastity upon the Pillar of the Savior’s Humanity in Scivias III.8, as illustrated above in the Rupertsberg manuscript. In the vision itself, this figure of Chastity declares (Scivias III.8.7):

I am free and not fettered, for I have passed through the pure Fountain Who is the sweet and loving Son of God. I have passed through Him, and I have come forth from Him. And I tread underfoot the Devil with his limitless pride, who has prevailed to fetter me. He is alien from me, because I am always in the Heavenly Father.”
Later, Hildegard explains the significance of her appearance (Scivias III.8.24):
She is dressed in a tunic purer and more brilliant than crystal, which shines resplendent like water when the sun reflects from it. It is brilliant because of her simple intent, and pure because it is not covered with the dust of burning desire; miraculously strengthened by the Holy Spirit, she is enwrapped in the garment of innocence, which shines in the bright white light [in clarissima albedine] of the Fountain of living water, the splendid Sun of eternal glory.

And a dove is poised over her head, facing her with its wings spread as if to fly. This is to say that Chastity at her beginning, at her head, as it were, is protected by the extended and overshadowing wings of the Holy Spirit; and so she can fly through the Devil’s snares, one after another. For the Spirit comes with the ardent love of holy inspiration to wherever Chastity shows her sweet face.

Therefore too, in her womb as if in a pure mirror appears a pure infant, on whose forehead is written, “Innocence.” For in the heart of this purest and brightest of virtues there lives inviolable, beautiful and sure integrity [integritas]. Its form is immature because it is simple infancy that has integrity; and its forehead, which is to say its knowledge, shows no arrogance and pride but only simple innocence.

And in her right hand she holds a royal scepter, but she has laid her left hand to her breast. This is to say that on the right, the side of salvation, life is shown in Chastity through the Son of God who is the King of all people. And through Him as defender, Chastity confounds the left, the side of lust, and reduces it to nought in the hearts of those who love her.[6]

This image of virgin Chastity bearing the infant Integrity elaborates the second half of today’s antiphon, but also brings to mind two other of Hildegard’s compositions for the Virgin that illuminate the first half of the antiphon. Chastity’s gleaming garment shares the properties of reflecting and refracting light that Hildegard attributed to the Virgin in the antiphon, O splendidissima gemma, in which the Virgin’s body is a sparkling gem through which the divine light pours, a lens to focus that light into the world. Moreover, Hildegard’s contrast of the Virgin to Eve’s diseased fall, together with her frequent references to the healing properties of gemstones, focuses our attention on the responsory, O clarissima, mater sancte medicine, in which the Virgin becomes healer dispensing from her womb the balm of salvation.

The disease that the Virgin’s ointment heals is described in today’s antiphon as the infection that Eve “contracted / at the Devil’s sly persuasion”—her loss of virginal purity, the gleaming garment of a translucid gem that her body was made to be. The word that Hildegard uses to describe that loss of purity—abscisio—carries in Latin the same double meaning that being cut off does in English: it can mean both a literal loss and the loss of the right to speak. This is the shame-faced silence with which our first fallen parents looked mournfully upon their homeless offspring in the antiphon Cum erubuerint—and it is the silence that was broken in that same antiphon by the Virgin’s clara voce, “crystal voice”. On this day, we remember the words with which the Virgin cut through the silence imposed by Eve’s cut-off purity and restored its gleaming harmony: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

For Hildegard, it would be especially appropriate that we sing these words in the recitation of the Angelus, for the Virgin’s clarion call reechoed the musical harmony of Adam and Eve’s paradisical speech, silenced by the Devil’s acrimony in the Fall but restored by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the prophets and saints. Hildegard’s most powerful theological meditation on music came in the last year of her life, when she described its paradisical power to overwhelm the devil in a scathing letter she wrote to the prelates of Mainz in her attempts to have an interdict lifted from her abbey—a punishment that prevented her community from the singing the divine office (the Opus Dei—the Work of God) so dear to her. Crucial to Hildegard’s argument is the relationship between the music of praising God and full knowledge of God—and as we saw in our discussion of her eucharistic theology (in O vos imitatores), the state of sin is a state of darkened memory and intentional forgetting.

As the Symphonic Doctor wrote in that famous letter:

When we consider these things carefully, we recall that man needed the voice of the living Spirit, but Adam lost this divine voice through disobedience. For while he was still innocent, before his transgression, his voice blended fully with the voices of the angels in their praise of God. Angels are called spirits from that Spirit which is God, and thus they have such voices by virtue of their spiritual nature. But Adam lost that angelic voice which he had in paradise, for he fell asleep to that knowledge which he possessed before his sin, just as a person on waking up only dimly remembers what he had seen in his dreams. And so when he was deceived by the trick of the devil [suggestione diaboli] and rejected the will of his Creator, he became wrapped up in the darkness of inward ignorance as the just result of his iniquity.

God, however, restores the souls of the elect to that pristine blessedness by infusing them with the light of truth. And in accordance with His eternal counsel, He so devised it that whenever He renews the hearts of many with the pouring out of the prophetic Spirit, they might, by means of His interior illumination, regain some of the knowledge which Adam had before he was punished for his sin.

And so the holy prophets get beyond the music of this exile [in hoc exsilio] and recall to mind that divine melody of praise which Adam, in company with the angels, enjoyed in God before his fall. For, inspired by the Spirit which they had received, they were called not only to compose psalms and canticles (by which the hearts of listeners would be inflamed) but also to construct various kinds of musical instruments to enhance these songs of praise with melodic strains.
Consider, too, that just as the body of Jesus Christ was born of the purity [ex integritate] of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, so, too, the canticle of praise, reflecting celestial harmony, is rooted in the Church through the Holy Spirit. The body is the vestment of the spirit, which has a living voice [vivam vocem], and so it is proper for the body, in harmony with the soul, to use its voice to sing praises to God.[7]

[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 136, in consultation with the musical transcriptions of Beverly Lomer; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell. 
[2] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987, 2nd ed. 1997), p. 111. 
[3] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 314-15; Latin text in the edition of Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43a (Brepols, 1978), pp. 336-7. 
[4] Peter Dronke, Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1970), p. 157. 
[5] 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. 44-5; accessible online here
[6] Adapted from the trans. of Hart and Bishop, pp. 445-6; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43a, pp. 510-11. 
[7] Letter 23, Hildegard to the prelates at Mainz. Adapted from The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume I, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 76-80; Latin text in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Brepols, 1991), pp. 61-6. 

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