This week we are beginning our prayer with some encouragement from Hildegarde of Bingen. Her most famous work: Scivias (short for the Latin phrase Scito vias Domini: Know the Ways of the Lord) written between 1141-51, contains her reflections on 26 visions she received. She included pictures of the visions, seven of which will illuminate our daily prayer. Book Two is all about the Redeemer and redemption.
Today’s Bible reading
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. — 1 Corinthians 9:7-11
More thoughts for meditation
Hildegard first sees an unquenchable fire that is “wholly living and wholly Life,” with a sky-blue flame to represent the eternity of the Word. As in today’s Bible reading, it is a picture of generativity. After creating the first human being, the triune God offers him “the sweet precept of obedience” in the shape of a fragrant flower, but Adam fails to pluck it and thereby falls into thick darkness. The forbidden fruit of Genesis is here transformed into a blossom that the man did not pluck, so that his sin becomes one of omission; obeying the heavenly vision is the central good, withholding or rejecting is evil. This view puts Hildegard out of the mainstream, since she teaches that the “knowledge of good and evil” is God’s gift to humanity rather than the devil’s temptation. Life is a good gift to be lived, not a travail to be endured, an opportunity to sin, until one goes to heaven.
In the vision, redemption proceeds in gradual stages. First the night of sin is illumined by the shining stars of the patriarchs, then by the prophets, culminating in John the Baptist; finally Christ appears as the radiance of dawn. By his passion and resurrection he delivers Adam, whose fate is contrasted with that of the unrepentant Satan. In the illustration Adam is represented three times: as the creature fashioned from mud (adamah = “red earth”); as the young man who withholds his hand from the flower; and as the old man who has fallen into darkness and “returned to his earth.” There is a central medallion to represent the six days of creation. The unity of Creator and Redeemer is brilliantly figured in symmetrical spheres of light at the top and bottom. A “finger of God” stretches downward from the light to awaken the newly created Adam, while the radiance of the risen Christ flames upward to redeem the fallen Adam.
Suggestions for action
What kind of redeemer did you receive? Was he an angry God exercising his wrath against your sin and you? Or more like a flower to pluck, a radiant, light-filled rescuer, filling the world with opportunity, a generous giver supplying seed to sow? How we conceptualize God makes a big difference to how we live our faith. Hildegard is experiencing the reform of her view and so reforming others. Take a minute to sketch out your own understanding of how redemption works.