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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.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

O prophetissa oecologica: A Chronogram for the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen

Scivias 3.12: The Last Judgement
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 225r
o prophetIssa oeCoLogICa,
eLeMenta CVnCta,
propter praVa opera nostra sVbVersa,
qVereLas sVas
qVasI aegrIs et strepItIs VoCIbVs
In VIsIone tVa proferVnt:
ora pro nobIs,
Vt spIrItVs nostrI
VIrtVtIbVs VIresCentes
pro saLVte CreatVrae operentVr.

O prophetess of ecology,
all the elements,
overturned by our perverse deeds,
utter their complaints
as with sick and strident voices
in your sight:
pray for us,
that our spirits,
growing green with the virtues,
might act for the health of creation.

(O prophetissa oecologica, elementa cuncta, propter prava opera nostra subversa, querelas suas quasi aegris et strepitis vocibus in visione tua proferunt: ora pro nobis, ut spiritus nostri virtutibus virescentes pro salute creaturae operentur.)

As I explained in an essay published earlier this year, St. Hildegard of Bingen offered a stark vision of the damage our sinful corruption renders to the natural environment around us. So to honor the celebration of her feast day this year, I have composed this chronogram prayer to seek her prayers for us as we face the defining crisis of our age: climate change.

The composition draws its inspiration in particular from the third vision of her second large work, the Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits). There, Hildegard imagines the elements themselves crying out in lament to God at the environmental crisis caused by human sin: “We cannot run and complete our course as we were put in place [to do] at your command. For humans overturn us like a mill wheel with their depraved works [pravis operibus suis…subvertunt]. So we stink with pestilence and the hunger for complete justice.” (LVM 3.1) Hildegard explains their lament more fully later in the vision:

This is because the elements utter their complaints as with the loudest shouts to their Creator [querelas uelut maximas uociferationes elementa ad creatorem suum proferunt], not so that they might speak like humans do, but so that they might demonstrate what their oppression means. For because they are caught up by human sins, they transgress the proper mode that they received from their Creator, with movements and courses that are foreign to them. They demonstrate that they cannot keep to the paths and purposes to which they were enjoined by God, because they are subverted by human wickedness. So too they stink with the pestilence of depraved reputations and the hunger of miscarried justice, for humans do not tend them rightly. For they sometimes are contaminated by the fog of stinking human filth brought on as punishment, because the elements and humans share a common bond—humans exist with the elements and the elements exist with humans. (LVM 3.23)
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 = 1000, + 7 C’s = 1700, + 4 L’s = 1900, + 21 V(U)’s = 2005, + 17 I’s = 2022. 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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