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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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cum processit factura (Symphonia 13)

For the Octave of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
An Antiphon by St. Hildegard of Bingen [1]

Scivias I.2: The Fall.
Rupertsberg MS,
fol. 4r.
Cum processit factura
digiti Dei,
ad imaginem Dei
in ortu mixti sanguinis
per peregrinationem
casus Ade,
elementa susceperunt gaudia in te, 
o laudabilis Maria,
celo rutilante
et in laudibus sonante.
Although the craft
of God’s extended finger,
created in
God’s image,
came forth in birth of blood commingled,
in pilgrimage exiled
by Adam’s fall;
the elements received their joys in you,
O Mary, worthy of our praise,
as heaven gleams with rubied light
and echoes gladsome shouts of praise.

This antiphon is a companion piece to Cum erubuerint infelices, as both draw the contrast between the “pilgrimage exiled” (peregrinatio) of fallen humanity and the grace of the Virgin as she restores that fallenness and leads it back to its paradisical, celestial home. The breadth of that restorative and re-creative agency is celebrated in the last four lines, which Barbara Newman has described as a “sonnet-like volta,”[2] as the elemental fibers of the universe regain the harmonious joy that they had lost when, after the Fall and the expulsion from paradise, they had been cast into noisome confusion:

And so all the elements of the world, which before had existed in great calm, were turned to the greatest agitation and displayed horrible terrors, because when humankind chose disobedience, rebelling against God and forsaking tranquility for disquiet, that Creation, which had been created for the service of humanity, turned against humans in great and various ways so that humankind, having lowered themselves, might be held in check by it. What does this mean? That humankind showed themselves rebels against God in the place of delights, and therefore that Creation, which had been subjected to them in service, now opposed itself to them.
     —Scivias I.2.27[3]

Virgin Mary, Queen of Heavens'
Symphony, Scivias III.13
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 229r
The hallmark of this harmony is the very music with which Hildegard has set this praise of the Virgin, which echoes the praises that ring presently and eternally in the heavens where she reigns as Queen—as Newman notes, the ablative absolute with present participles of the last two lines shifts the piece out of the past tenses of its finite verbs into the heavenly state of the eternal present.[4] Music exemplifies the intended order of the opus Dei, the “work of God,” which is both the liturgical life of the Benedictine monastery and the entire expanse of creation upon which Hildegard constantly reflects, held in eternal order in the heart of God (cf. O quam mirabilis). The celestial symphony that closes today’s antiphon with a lengthy melisma on sonante is also intimately bound up with the celestial light, in this case the ruby-red glow (rutilante) that in Hildegard’s symbolic lexicon refers to the dawn light, her favorite image for the Virgin’s womb as it mediates the irruption of divine light into the world. This synaesthetic complex of light and sound was the hallmark of her visionary experiences, in which light resounds and music sparkles.

Two particular images in the first part of the antiphon elaborate the contrast between God’s craft and handiwork—humankind as factura digiti Dei—and its fallen exile, whose originally ordered procreation was corrupted into “birth of blood commingled” (in ortu mixti sanguinis). The first image, of humankind as a “handiwork” (factura) “formed” (formata) by God, is grammatically striking: the terms are gendered female. This is also not the only verse in which Hildegard uses this feminine factura for humankind; although its musical notation does not survive, the verse O factura Dei explicitly celebrates this grammatically feminine handiwork as it is transformed by the Incarnation itself. In part, this simply reflects the fact that the term, factura, is a feminine noun in Latin; but Hildegard could just as easily have reached for her more usual term for humankind as the work of God, opus (which is grammatically neuter). The word choice here is a conscious decision to cast the humankind whose chaotic exile is reordered by the Virgin with a feminine face. The same word is used in the verse in praise of the Incarnation because, as Hildegard famously put it, “Man signifies the divinity of the Son of God, but woman signifies his humanity.”[5] The feminine is the place where God meets humankind, stooping down to us as we open ourselves to receive him through the virginal fecundity of Mary and her continuation, the Church. As a result, for Hildegard, “humankind in its totality—women and men in history, community, in relation with God—had a feminine face.”[6]

By casting unfallen humankind as God’s feminine handiwork, this antiphon is one of the few places in Hildegard’s Marian corpus where she makes Adam the representative of fallen sexual intercourse—the “birth of blood commingled.”[7] (Hildegard understood sexual procreation to be a mingling of the man’s blood—in the form of cool, foamy semen—with the woman’s blood—the warmer environment of the uterus.[8]) This leaves the unnamed Eve free to represent the original factura digiti Dei, to be renewed and restored by the Virgin. Edenic procreation, according to one of Hildegard’s descriptions of it, would not have been by vaginal intercourse, though it would have been sweetly sensual. As Adam and Eve, husband and wife, lay side-by-side in their paradise:

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.[9]

This painless birth was commonly understood to have been part of the grace of the Virgin Birth of Christ, as Mary would bear the Christ child absent the birthing pangs that were given in punishment of the Fall. Moreover, as we’ve seen with the third wing in O virtus Sapientie and verse 4b of Hildegard’s hymn to the Holy Spirit, O ignis Spiritus Paracliti, the concept of sudor (and its verb, sudare) represented for Hildegard’s the Holy Spirit’s active, life-giving (vivificans) presence in the world as the sweet, aromatic distillation of fecundity. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin at the Annunciation, it was this procreative sudor by which she would have conceived the Christ child. Thus, as Newman points out, “To this way of thinking, only the Virgin’s conception and childbearing reveal true ‘nature’ as God ordained it from the beginning; it is the motherhood of fallen Eve and her daughters that is ‘unnatural.’”[10]

The connection between the macrocosmic elements and the microcosmic human body was central to Hildegard’s understanding of human biology, including sexual intercourse and postlapsarian procreation. Thus, the chaos and disorder of sexual intercourse—the uncontrollable urges of lust seething in the loins—are the human experience of the discord of all of creation and its elements after the Fall. As Hildegard described it in Scivias I.2.15:

But after Adam and Eve were driven out of the place of delight, they knew in themselves the work of conceiving and bearing children. And falling thus from disobedience into death, when they knew they could sin, they discovered sin’s sweetness. And in this way, turning My rightful institution into sinful lust, although they should have known that the commotion in their veins was not for the sweetness of sin but for the love of children, by the Devil’s suggestion they changed it to lechery; and, losing the innocence of the act of begetting, they yielded it to sin.

In today’s antiphon, the elements themselves rejoice to be put back into balance with the restoration of the virginal nature to the factura Dei, the sinless God-made-human in the sinless Virgin’s womb. The lecherous, shame-faced blush with which its companion piece, Cum erubuerint infelices, begins, is transformed into the glowing red light of the dawn that burst forth in heaven as the Son of God entered upon earth—or, as Hildegard put it in the antiphon with which we celebrated the Assumption a week ago, when the Virgin “the heavens graced / far more than e’er the earth in chaos cast.”

[1] Latin text adapted from Barbara Newman’s edition of Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia (Cornell University Press, 1988, 2nd ed. 1998), p. 118, in consultation with the musical transcription of Beverly Lomer; translation by Nathaniel Campbell. 
[2] Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 274. 
[3] All quotes from Scivias adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978). 
[4] Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 274. 
[5] Liber Divinorum Operum I.4.100, in CCCM 92, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), p. 243: “Et uir diuinitatem, femina uero humanitatem filii Deo significat.” 
[6] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Univ. of California Press, 1987 / 1997), p. 249. 
[7] Adam also appears in verses 1b-2a of the sequence O virga ac diadema, but his appearance there is mirrored by Eve’s in verses 5a-6a. 
[8] For Hildegard’s biology of sexual procreation, see Book II, chs. 129 and 137 of Cause et Cure [Causae et Curae], ed. Laurence Moulinier and Rainer Berndt (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003), pp. and 94-97 and 103. 
[9] Fragment IV.29, as quoted in Newman, Sister of Wisdom, p. 111. 
[10] Ibid., pp. 111-12. 

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