No Comment, Quotation — January 6, 2008, 7:19 am

The Vision of Hildegard of Bingen

hildegard

And behold, in the forty-third year of my passing course, while I was intent upon a heavenly vision with great fear and tremulous effort, I saw a great splendour, in which a voice came from heaven saying to me:

‘O weak mortal, both ash of ash and rottenness of rottenness, say and write what you see and hear. But because you are fearful in speaking and simple in explaining and unlearned in writing these things, say and write them not according to human speech nor the understanding of human creativity nor according to the will of human composition, but according to this rule: that you reveal by interpreting the things you see and hear among heavenly matters from above, in the wonders of God, just as also a hearer receiving his teacher’s words makes them known according to the tenor of his speech, as he wishes, shows, and teaches. So then you also, o mortal — speak the things you see and hear; and write them not according to yourself or any other person, but according to the will of the One Who knows, sees, and disposes all things in the hidden places of his mysteries.’

And again I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: ‘Therefore speak these wonderful things and write and say them in the manner they were taught.’

This happened in AD 1141 when I was 42 years and 7 months old: A fiery light, of the greatest flashing brightness, coming out of a cloudless sky, flooded my entire mind and so inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast like a flame — yet it was not blazing but glowing hot, as the sun makes anything on which its rays fall hot. And I suddenly experienced the understanding of the exposition of books, that is, of the Psalter, the Gospel, and of the other orthodox volumes of both the Old and the New Testaments, but nevertheless I did not thereby enjoy the interpretation of the words of their text, nor the division of syllables, nor a knowledge of cases and tenses.

But indeed I had already experienced (as I was still doing) in myself in a wondrous manner the power and mystery of hidden and wonderful visions from my girlhood, that is, from the time that I was five years old, right up until the present time. But I did not make that known to any person except to a certain few, also in the religious life, who were living the way of life as I was also myself. But in the meantime up to that time at which God desired this to be made manifest by His grace, I sank down beneath a quiet silence. But I have not received the visions that I saw in dreams, neither while I was sleeping nor in a frenzy; nor with bodily eyes nor with the ears of the outer person nor in hidden places. But I received them while waking and attentive, in a clear mind, with the eyes and ears of the inner person, in open places, according to God’s will. It is difficult for any one of flesh and blood to find out how this comes about.

But to resume, when my girlhood was past, after I had come to the aforesaid age of full physical strength, I heard a voice from heaven saying:

‘I am the living yet obscure Light, enlightening the person whom I wish and whom I have searched out wonderfully according to My pleasure and placed among many wonders beyond the limit of the people of old, who saw so many hidden things in Me. But I have overthrown that one upon the ground that he may not rise up in any mental self-exaltation. Indeed the world does not have in him any joy or pleasure nor any activity in matters that belong to the world because I have drawn that one away from stubborn boldness, to be one who is fearful and trembling in his labours. For that person sorrows in the marrow and veins of his flesh, having soul and senses constrained and enduring great bodily suffering, so that no conflicting sense of peace may lie concealed in him but rather that that person may judge himself guilty in all his causes. For I have hedged about the clefts of his heart, lest his mind raise itself up in pride or glory but rather that in all these things it would have fear and sorrow rather than joy or exuberance. Therefore in my love this one searched in his soul for where to find the one who runs in the way of salvation. And he finds the other and loves him, recognising that that one too is a faithful person and like himself in any part of that labour that leads to Me. And holding one another fast, they strive together in all these things with the eagerness from above so that My hidden wonders may be revealed. And that same person does not rely upon himself but turns with many sighs toward the one that he found in the approach to humility and the intention of good will. You therefore, o mortal, who receive this, not in the disquiet of deceit but in the purity of simplicity, having been directed toward the revealing of hidden things — write what you see and hear.’

But I, although I did see and hear this, nevertheless because of doubt and a bad opinion and the diversity of men’s words refused to write for a long time — not out of obstinacy but as an office of humility — until I lay on a bed of sickness, struck down by God’s lash so that finally, compelled by many infirmities — as a certain noble young woman of good morals and that person whom I had sought secretly and found, as is explained above, can testify — I set my hand to write. While I was doing this, even while experiencing the deep profundity of the books’ exposition, as I said before, and receiving the strength to lift myself out of my illness, I scarcely closed this work, taking 10 years to do so.

Hildegard of Bingen, Declaration in the form of a Prologue to Scivias (1141-52)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today