This week many Core classes may be doing the medieval Christian mystics, Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen. Last year about this time, I wrote about Julian, so this time I will focus on Hildegard, perhaps one of the most unusual writers included in the Core II textbook.
We've all heard the expression "Renaissance man," with its usual connotation of someone who is a master at not one but several arts – Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Bernini would be a few obvious examples – and with an underlying implication that there is the presence of some kind of inspiration underlying the amazing and almost miraculous outpouring of gifts. Though living in the twelfth century (and, so, therefore, before the Renaissance by a couple of hundred years) and decidedly not a man, Hildegard of Bingen fits the definition given above. She was a mystic/visionary, a poet, a musician and composer, a playwright, a proto-scientist/medical professional, and some believe even perhaps an artist.
Just this week, one of our Core Fellows, Travis Stevens, dropped by my office to chat, and we got onto topic of the mystics (a common topic for him and me). He mentioned that he is teaching Hildegard and shared one of her many musical compositions with me.
The work is entitled "Caritas" and is related to the excerpt from the Liber divinorum operum. Listening to the beautiful chant, one is reminded of Hildegard's vision of Caritas, Divine Love, personified in Part I, Vision I of the excerpt in our text:
…Divine Love is beautiful because of her election in the strength of unfailing divinity, and wonderful in the gifts of the heavenly Father's mysteries: and thus Divine Love reveals human kind. For when the Son of God put on flesh, he redeemed fallen humankind through the service of love" (Core II text, 223).
Later in the visions, Hildegard describes Divine Love, Caritas, as being beyond time – in a kairos of eternity.
And so Love is in the wheel of eternity outside of time, just as heat is in fire. For God foreknew in eternity all of his created beings, which he brought forth in the fullness of Love so that humans would lack no refreshment or service in them, for he joined them to humankind as flames are to fire (227).
Like the wheel images in some of the paintings associated with Hildegard (and perhaps drawn or painted by her), Love is central to the life of God and to all that is created.
For Hildegard, her intense and passionate spiritual life did not keep her from being interested in things of this earth. Medical and herbal remedies, for example, fascinated her. She was an abbess, a role of authority and responsibility. She wrote plays, as mentioned earlier. The Divine Love seen in her visions and celebrated in her music and poetry seems to have animated her life in many ways; instead of cutting her off from the world, it linked her to it.
So, I listened to the music Travis suggested to me while I graded my set of Core III quizzes on the snowy afternoon that Seton Hall was closed. Her music inspired me for the task, and I went on and listened to many more on the website he gave me. Thanks to him and to Hildegard for a little inspiration that is needed as much today, if not more so, as it was in her time.