The Cosmic Vision
of Hildegard of Bingen
By Stephanie Roth
"Do not mock anything God has created. All creation is simple, plain and good. And God is present throughout his creation. Why do you ever consider things beneath your notice? God's justice is to be found in every detail of what he has made. The human race alone is capable of injustice. Human beings alone are capable of disobeying God's laws, because they try to be wiser than God." - Scivas 1.2.29
Hildegard of Bingen receiving illuminations from Heaven
Over the last few years, there has been an amazing revival in the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the German mystic who was the forerunner of what was to become a great 'German-Flemish' mystical tradition, spanning from the 12th to the 14th century. Hildegard's 'visions' capture the imagination to this day. Like the music she composed, and which still survives, she described them as a means of "recapturing the original joy and beauty of Paradise".
Much could be written about her extraordinary life as Mother Superior of her convents at Bingen and Rupertsberg. The surviving collection of her correspondence reveals a powerful, courageous and compassionate personality. She produced major writings on theology, natural history and medicine, as well as composing music - including a symphony. At the impressive age of 60, she set off on the first of four successful preaching tours. Al l this is remarkable, especially when considering that she was a woman living at times when the divisions of the world had become increasingly apparent.
The Mystica l Tradition Just like 'myth' and 'mysticism', 'mystic' is rooted in the Greek verb musteion: to close the eyes or the mouth. Mystics tend to seek union with what is closest to their heart. Theistic mystics seek a union with God but not identity. In the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, a 'mystery' was known only to the initiated (mystes). In the New Testament this 'mystery' is the revelation of the word of God.
Amongst the various types of mystic, there are those to whom nature represents a supreme truth and the strongest evidence of God's existence. This universal phenomenon can be
found amongst Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Greek and Russian Orthodox - mystics, ranging as far as Chinese Taoists and Japanese Shintos. It is to this 'school' of mysticism that Hildegard of Bingen belongs.
Hildegard's Natural Vision Hildegard saw the notion of 'Viriditas', or Greenness, penetrating every aspect of life. This 'Greenness' was the very expression of Divine power on Earth. "The Word of God regulates the movements of the Sun, the Moon and the stars. The Word of God gives the light which shines from the heavenly bodies. He makes the wind blow, the rivers run and the rain fall. He makes trees burst into blossom, and the crops bring forth the harvest."1
Since this extraordinary phenomenon called life could only be created by God, Hildegard believed, all that lives equally carried his Divine energy, or 'viritas'. In her own words:
Oh fire of the Holy Spirit, life of the life of every creature, holy are you in giving life to forms... Oh boldest path, penetrating into all places, in the heights, on earth, and in every abyss, you bring and bind all together From you clouds flow, air flies, Rocks have their humours, Rivers spring forth from the waters And earth wears her green vigour O ignis Spiritus Paracliti
This is the foundation upon which all her texts rest, whether songs, visions or natural observations.
Hildegard believed that humanity, made in God's image, was the 'recapitulation' of Creation. This has various implications. Firstly, Man was made after Creation, hence the world was not created for humankind alone. To be precise, humankind was created last in a set order, and so was inserted into an already self-sustaining environment. It is for this reason that humanity depends upon the world as a whole. Secondly, Creation and humankind are both made of the same thing dust.2 Because Man was made last, he unites the powers and properties of Creation. He therefore instinctively knows the limits of trespassing. Thirdly, humankind's very purpose is to glorify Creation in the name of the Lord. This entails looking after it.
To quote Hildegard: "God created the world out of the four
The Ecologist, Vol. 30, No 1, January/February 2000