AWAKEN: Saint Hildegard, it is an honor to spend this time with you. May we begin by plunging straight into deep waters… what is the point of human life?
SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: To consider the One who saw you on the first day, who gave you eyes to see with; who gave you the wings of all creation to fly with. To consider the One who made human beings to be a mirror to the fullness of all his miracles, so that the knowledge of God would shine in them, as it is written: ‘You are gods and all of you are sons of the most high’. May he look upon you, and direct you to his will.
AWAKEN: So, to know God is the purpose of our existence… and would it also be the way to our highest state of realization and enlightenment? If so, this sounds similar to what the Buddhists refer to as the end of suffering… the end of the “wheel of samsara”… the end of birth and death… of beginnings and endings… and finally, the beginning of eternal peace…
SAINT HILDEGARD: Whenever human reason imitates God, then a human being can reach God, who has neither beginning nor end. For God is revealed by the knowledge of good and evil. This is what the wheel of eternity is like.
AWAKEN: What then, is the highest order of human action?
SAINT HILDEGARD: To preserve love and peace among you, as the souls of the just have love and peace with the angels and the angels with the archangels.
In your heart… seek the salvation of waters so that you do not fall into the whirlwind, and so that you may remain gentle to the distress and pain of those who are afflicted by the torment of many wounds, thus imitating your Savior, who will redeem you. And God will not leave you, but you will see in his light.
AWAKEN: Ahh… the whirlwind of life! It seems that we are constantly challenged by life’s unpredictability and changeable nature. It makes it hard to realize the eternal peace of God’s love. I love to find that golden strand of continuity between seemingly diverse traditions, so as to show that they are not so different, after all. In this vein, I again recall Buddha’s insight into how much suffering is caused by the resistance to change… can you speak to this?
SAINT HILDEGARD: In your sense of humanity you will grumble, saying: ‘I do not like these changeable things; I do not understand whether they will lead to prosperity or disaster’; for the human mind is always in doubt. O human creature, embrace your God thus in the light of your vigor… when all things will be revealed and nothing will remain unconsidered. Then also all the times will flow past and will lack nothing of their fullness.
AWAKEN: And who or what is God?
SAINT HILDEGARD: God is eternal, and eternity is fire, and this is where God is. And God is not hidden fire or silent fire, but fire in action, for God’s power directs all the thought and understanding of his creatures, in the glory of his mysteries and secrets, just as the head directs the body: for he has made rational life so that the eyes can see, the ears hear and the nostrils smell, and so that the mouth may utter rational speech.
God, therefore, is the head of all believers; yet he does not reveal all the things that are concealed in the Godhead, because in him there is the mysterious life of the hidden life, just as he makes his ministers a flaming fire in judgement. For before judgement is done it must first be heard. And so it is with God.
AWAKEN: Is this how he appeared to you? If I may be so bold, what was his message and how did he announce himself… how did he show up in your visions?
SAINT HILDEGARD: I am the fiery life of divine substance, I blaze above the beauty of the fields, I shine in the waters, I burn in sun, moon, and stars. And I awaken all to life with every wind of the air, as with invisible life that sustains everything. For the air lives in greenness and fecundity. The waters flow as though they are alive. The sun also lives in its own light, and when the moon has waned it is rekindled by the light of the sun and thus lives again; and the stars shine out in their own light as though they are alive…
Thus I am concealed in things as fiery energy. They are ablaze through me, like the breath that ceaselessly enlivens the human being, or like the wind-tossed flame in a fire. All these things live in their essence, and there is no death in them, for I am life. I also am rationality, who holds the breath of the resonant word by which the whole of creation was created; and I have breathed life into everything, so that nothing by its nature may be mortal, for I am life.
AWAKEN: Ahh, the eternal nature of the divine… how I am beginning to feel my own waning energy with age! This is certainly a reminder of the mortality of the physical form that we inhabit for such a short time… You have spoken of the ways in which this divine spark—the soul—reveals itself through us according to the capabilities of the body. What was it you said about this?
SAINT HILDEGARD: The soul reveals her capabilities according to the capabilities of the body, so that in childhood she brings forth simplicity, in youth strength, and in the fullness of age, when all the veins of the human being are full, she brings forth her greatest strength in wisdom. In the same way a tree in its first growth brings forth tender shoots, goes on then to bear fruit and finally ripens that fruit to the fullness of utility. But afterwards, in old age, when a human being’s bones and veins incline to weakness, then the soul reveals gentler strengths, as though tired of human knowledge. In the same way, at the onset of wintertime, the sap of the tree withdraws from the leaves and branches as the tree begins to incline towards old age.
AWAKEN: So beautiful to remember that the wisdom gained through time, really is a strength… the highest strength, in fact. And a powerful reminder that there is no reason to lament the loss of youthful vigor! If I recall correctly, the only faculty within us, that embodies this eternal quality, is the will… would you explain?
SAINT HILDEGARD:Just as the body has a heart, so too, the soul has understanding, which exercises its power in one part of the soul just as the will does in another. How does this happen? The will in fact has great power in the soul. How does this come about? The soul stands, so to speak, in the corner of the house, that is, in the firm support of the heart, like a man standing in the corner of a house in order to survey the whole house and supervise its running.
The soul uses the will, as it were, like her right arm, as a firm support for the veins and the bones and the movement of the whole body, for the will directs every action, whether for good or ill…The will is like a fire baking every action in an oven… Bread is baked in order to feed people and strengthen them so that they can live. The will is the force behind the whole of the action. It grinds the action in a mill, it adds yeast and kneads it firmly and thus carefully prepares the action, like a loaf of bread which the will bakes to perfection in the heat of its zeal.
In so doing, it provides human beings with a better food than bread for the activities they do. For while food is taken into the human body and used up, the action of the will endures within the human being until the separation of the soul from the body. And although the action will vary greatly in childhood, in youth, in maturity and in the declining years, nevertheless, the will directs it stage by stage and brings it to perfection.
AWAKEN: Would you speak further about the nature of God, as He has revealed Himself to you, through your visions?
SAINT HILDEGARD: He is without beginning or end, not to be comprehended by any glimmer of creaturely knowledge. And he remains ‘inextinguishable’, for he is that plenitude which never reaches an end, and he is ‘fully alive’, since nothing can be completely hidden that he does not know about, and ‘existing full of life’, for everything that is alive draws its life from him… The ‘shining fire’ which you see, represents the omnipotent living God, whose light-filled brightness is never obscured by any evil. He remains ‘unfathomable’, because he cannot be divided by any divisions.
AWAKEN: What do you mean by “shining fire?” Does that come from your visions? I would so relish hearing more of your visions…
SAINT HILDEGARD: I saw a shining fire, unfathomable, inextinguishable, fully alive and existing full of life; with a flame the color of the air, brightly burning in the gentle breeze, and as inseparable from the shining fire as a human being is inseparable from his inner organs. And I saw the shining flame glow white. And suddenly, a dark sphere of air appeared, huge in size, upon which the shining flame struck many blows, and at each blow, a spark flew up, so that soon the circle of air was brought to completion, and heaven and earth shone forth in the fullness of perfection.
The burning flame of heat moved towards a small clump of muddy earth lying on the circle of the ball of air. And it heated the clump of earth, turning it to flesh and blood, and breathing life into it so that it rose up as a living man. Once this was done, the shining fire with its flame burning bright in the gentle breeze, offered the man a brilliant white flower that hung in the flame like a drop of dew on a stalk of grass. The man could smell its fragrance with his nose but not taste it with his mouth or touch it with his hands. And he turned away and fell into thick darkness from which he could not raise himself up. But the darkness grew and spread further and further across the air.
Then three large stars appeared in the darkness, combining in their brightness, and after them many others, small and large, shining in high splendor. Finally a great star appeared, radiating marvelous clarity and directing its splendor towards the aforesaid flame. But on the earth a brightness like the dawn appeared, merging with the flame in a marvelous manner but nevertheless, not becoming separated from the shining fire. And in this way, in the brightness of the dawn, a great will was kindled.
But when I tried to consider more closely the kindling of that will, I was opposed by a secret seal on the vision, and I heard a voice speak to me from on high: Of this mystery you may not see any more than is granted you through the miracle of belief. And I saw a light-filled man emerge from the aforesaid dawn and pour his brightness over the aforementioned darkness; it repulsed him; he turned blood-red and pallid, but struck back against the darkness with such force that the man who was lying in the darkness became visible and resplendent through this contact, and standing up, he came forth out of the darkness.
And thus the light-filled man, who had emerged from the dawn, appeared in greater splendor than any human tongue can express, and he proceeded to the utmost heights of immeasurable glory, where he shone out wondrously in the fullness of great fragrance and fruitfulness.
And I heard a voice speaking to me from the living fire which I have mentioned:
Insignificant earthly creature! Though as a woman you are uneducated in any doctrine of fleshly teachers in order to read writings with the understanding of the philosophers, nevertheless you are touched by my light, which touches your inner being with fire like the burning sun. Shout and tell! And write down these my mysteries which you see and hear in the mystical vision! Do not be afraid, but tell the mysteries as you understand them in the spirit, as I speak them through you. May they be ashamed who should be showing righteousness to my people! Through the fickleness of their own morals, they refuse to proclaim openly the justice which they know for themselves! They have no will to cease from their evil desires, which stick to them as though they were their teachers, causing them to run away from the face of the Lord, so that they are ashamed to speak the truth. Therefore, paltry soul, instructed as you are in your inner being by mystical inspiration, and although you are trampled by the male form because of Eve’s transgression, speak nevertheless of the fiery work of salvation which this most certain vision reveals to you!
AWAKEN: Although the previous passage seems to insult the political sensibilities of today with regard to how women are regarded, you took subtle reprisals in the way you carried on as a messenger of God, by continuing to address the public, and speak up about corruption within the church. Thank you for serving as a model of strength to other women! Now, you have described God’s appearance to you, but how do the rest of us come to know God?
SAINT HILDEGARD: The spirit raises itself up in two ways: On the one hand, by heaving sighs, groanings and desires for God, and on the other, by seeking, as it were, through commands to exercise sovereignty, influence and autonomy in various areas, because through reason, the spirit has the power of discernment.
Therefore, also, the human being contains the likeness of heaven and earth within her. How does this come about? The human creature contains a circle in which there appear the qualities of discernment, breath of life and rationality, just as in the heavens there are stars, air and birds. Likewise, the human creature contains a receptacle in which there appear the moisture of the humors, germination and parturition, just as on earth there is greenness, fruitfulness and animals. What does this mean? Human creature! You are a wholeness in every created thing and yet you forget your creator!
The soul encircles earthly matters, at work through the many changes that fleshly customs demand of it.
AWAKEN: So, it’s a matter of simply waking up to what we already are! You also speak of “the word” as inseparable from God himself… can you clarify?
SAINT HILDEGARD: Before his assumption of flesh, the Word was indivisible in the Father and remained inseparable in him after his assumption of human nature. For as a human being cannot exist without the breath of air in his inner organs, in the same way, the unique Word cannot be separated in any way from the Father.
Similarly also, through the utterance of the unlocalized Word, which is permanent in the inextinguishable life that lives through eternity, the strength of the Father is understood by the various creatures of the world who sense and recognize it as the origin of their created state.
Likewise, just as the capacity and the glory of the human being are known by the functioning word, so the sanctity and the goodness of the Father shine through the perfectly filled Word.
AWAKEN: You have spoken in particular, of the three components of the human word… can you explain the significance of this… and do you mean literally, the spoken word?
SAINT HILDEGARD: Three components may be noted in the human word, just as the Trinity may be considered in the unity of the Godhead. How is this to be done? A word is composed of sound, force and breath. A word has sound, in order to be heard; force, in order to be understood, and breath, in order to be completed.
In the sound of the word, consider the Father, who expresses all things by his ineffable power; in the force of the word, consider the Son, marvelously engendered of the Father; in the breath of the word, consider the Holy Spirit, who burns gently within them.
But if the sound is not heard, then the force does not operate and the breath is not raised; hence the word is not understood; because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not to be divided, for they function as one unanimous activity.
Therefore, just as there are the three components of the word, so also the heavenly Trinity is in one heavenly unity. And just as no moist greenness can exist or function in the stone without the palpable strength or the red- burning flame, and no palpable strength without the moist greenness or burning flame, and no burning flame without moist greenness or palpable strength; and just as no splendid brightness can exist or function in the flame without the purple vigor or the fiery glow, and no purple vigor without the splendid brightness or the fiery glow, and no fiery glow without the splendid brightness or purple vigor; and just as no sound can exist or function in the word without force or breath, and no force without the sound or the breath, and no breath without the sound or the force, for they act indivisibly in unison; so also the three persons of the Trinity exist inseparably in the majesty of the Godhead and cannot be divided from each other.
Human creature, understand that the one God is in three persons! But you imagine in the foolishness of your mind, that God is so powerless that it is impossible for him truly to exist in three persons, but only barely to exist in one! What are you thinking? God is truly God in three persons, the first and the last.
AWAKEN: I’ve been pondering the role of humility in spiritual practice… especially as a tool in overcoming what Buddha calls “the three poisons” of greed, anger and ignorance. I have discussed this in conversation with Gandhi, as well as his teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda… and I would now so appreciate your input on this subject…
SAINT HILDEGARD: When anger is about to burn up my tabernacle, I look to the goodness of God, whom anger has never touched, and so I become softer than the air which waters the dry earth with its sweetness. Then the virtues and powers manifest the force of their green vigor within me, and spiritual joy is mine! In this way, I feel the goodness of God!
But when hatred attempts to defame me, I look to the mercy and the pain of God’s Son, and so I contain my flesh, receiving the sweet fragrance of roses from the thorns which grew up in memory of the Faithful One. In this way, I acknowledge my Savior! And when pride strives to build without a firm foundation rock and raise up his tower of vanity within me, and when he is about to reach a great height that none can equal, and when I appear higher than the others: oh, who will come to my aid?
In great sadness, then I say: “Where is my king and my God? What good can I do without God? No good!” And I look to the God who gave me life, and I run to the blessed Virgin who toppled the cave of pride… In this way, I become a strong stone in God’s building. And in this way, I acknowledge the sweetest good, that is humility, in the height of God. I taste the savor of unfading balsam and rejoice in the sweetness of God, as if I was inside the fragrance of all fragrances! In this way also, I repel the other vices with the strong shield of humility.
AWAKEN: I recall a certain story that you once told, which confers the significance of humility…
SAINT HILDEGARD: In a true vision, I saw and heard these words… Life sees and overcomes death, as the small boy, David, defeated the giant, Goliath. I see a mountain rising up on high. A valley lies below; at times it allows flowers to blossom in their green force of vitality, but it also brings forth useless grasses, thorns and briars. Now, understand the meaning!
Two men were sitting in a house; one was a knight, the other a slave. And two beautiful wise maidens came to the house and knocked on the door, saying, “We have heard of your reputation in distant lands, and it was a poor reputation, for you have spoken badly of the king. And the king has said of you: ‘Who do these ruffians think they are? And who do they think I am?’ Hear now our counsel for your victory.’ ‘I am Humility. I have seen the life of God’s son in the Incarnation, and I have trodden down death. The mountain is the works of obedience, and the valley of the flowers is benevolence, which the storms of the vices often frequent as thorns and briars.”
Human being! The knight, that is Obedience, and the slave, that is Pride, are sitting in the house of your heart.
Love and Humility are knocking at the door of your mind, so that you do not commit all the wrong that you are harboring within you. You should know that the slave is overcome by the knight. And so, the beauty of Obedience will never fall beneath his feet. But Pride says: ‘It is impossible to break the chains with which I bind human beings!’To which you should respond by listening to the words of Love, who says: ‘I sat untouched in heaven and I kissed the earth. Pride swore against me and wanted to soar beyond the stars, but I threw him into the abyss. Trample down now the slave of pride and stand fast within me! I am Love, O my son; embrace Humility as your Lady. And in so doing, you will never be troubled or confounded!
AWAKEN: And, you have a prayer to this point?
Humility, true healer,
give me your help,
for Pride has broken me with many vices
and afflicted me with many scars.
I flee to you now:
therefore receive me!
AWAKEN: Why are humans so afflicted?
SAINT HILDEGARD: You do not see or taste the One who made you.
AWAKEN: Is there anything else you’d like to say, or share with our readers?
SAINT HILDEGARD: Daughter, may God make you a mirror to life. But as for me, I remain in the meagerness of my own mind. I am very tired, anxious and fearful, at times sounding forth as the small sound of the trumpet from the Living Light. May God help me that I remain in his service.
AWAKEN: You have always been, and continue to be a great source of inspiration and empowerment, as a strong woman and a true being of light. It has been a tremendous honor to spend this time with you. Thank you.
This is one of Awaken’s Dream Interviews, conducted by Donna Quesada, and All Answers are Verbatim from Saint Hildegard of BINGEN.
Saint Hildegard was born of noble parents and was educated at the Benedictine cloister of Disibodenberg by Jutta, an anchorite (religious recluse) and sister of the count of Spanheim. Hildegard was 15 years old when she began wearing the Benedictine habit and pursuing a religious life. She succeeded Jutta as prioress in 1136. Having experienced visions since she was a child, at age 43 she consulted her confessor, who in turn reported the matter to the archbishop of Mainz. A committee of theologians subsequently confirmed the authenticity of Hildegard’s visions, and a monk was appointed to help her record them in writing. The finished work, Scivias (1141–52), consists of 26 visions that are prophetic and apocalyptic in form and in their treatment of such topics as the church, the relationship between God and humanity, and redemption. About 1147 Hildegard left Disibodenberg with several nuns to found a new convent at Rupertsberg, where she continued to exercise the gift of prophecy and to record her visions in writing.
A talented poet and composer, Hildegard collected 77 of her lyric poems, each with a musical setting composed by her, in Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. Her numerous other writings included lives of saints; two treatises on medicine and natural history, reflecting a quality of scientific observation rare at that period; and extensive correspondence, in which are to be found further prophecies and allegorical treatises. She also for amusement contrived her own language. She traveled widely throughout Germany, evangelizing to large groups of people about her visions and religious insights.
Her earliest biographer proclaimed her a saint, and miracles were reported during her life and at her tomb. However, she was not formally canonized until 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI declared her to be a saint through the process of “equivalent canonization,” a papal proclamation of canonization based on a standing tradition of popular veneration. Later that year Benedict proclaimed Hildegard a doctor of the church, one of only four women to have been so named. She is considered a patron saint of musicians and writers.
As one of the few prominent women in medieval church history, Hildegard became the subject of increasing interest in the latter half of the 20th century. Her writings were widely translated into English; several recordings of her music were made available; and works of fiction, including Barbara Lachman’s The Journal of Hildegard of Bingen (1993) and Joan Ohanneson’s Scarlet Music: A Life of Hildegard of Bingen (1997), were published.