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 Virtues and the History of Salvation.
Today’s Bible reading
Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord. — Psalm 150
More thoughts for meditation
This final picture continues the great worship time Hildegard creates at the end of her book. In this image, Mary sits enthroned above the choirs of angels, who stand above the apostles, patriarchs and prophets, virgins, confessors and martyrs — the heroes of medieval faith.
This final portion is not just a vision but a concert. The songs Hildegard records in this section marvelously summarize all the meanings she has presented before. In the first fourteen pieces she offers praise to the Virgin Mary, the choirs of angels and five categories of saints, as above. Each rank of the celestial hierarchy is honored with an antiphon and a responsory, although the liturgical genres of these pieces are not specified here as they are in the Symphonia manuscripts. Hildegard was quite a composer, as you can hear below.
Heaven is not populated only with saints, but also with repentant sinners. The second part of this section is a lament and prayer of intercession for the fallen. In the final portion a penitent soul’s pilgrimage to heaven is set forth in dramatic form. The soul slips from well-meaning innocence to impatience when she asks the Virtues for a “kiss of the heart,” and they warn instead that she must do battle by their side. At this point the devil intervenes and easily leads her into sin. In contrast to later morality plays, Hildegard is not interested in dramatizing the soul’s adventures in evil; instead she presents a verbal contest between the devil and the Virtues to fill the time until the soul’s repentance. In the end the Virtues receive the weeping penitent, and led by their queen Humility and celestial Victory, they conquer and bind the devil.
The play is followed by a brief commentary and a tribute to the power of music. In liturgical song “words symbolize the body” and the humanity of Christ, she writes, “and the jubilant music indicates the spirit” and the Godhead. An allegorical reading of Psalm 150, in which the different instruments are made to symbolize the varieties of saints, leads into a final affirmation of the prophet’s mission and brings the Scivias to a close.
Suggestions for action
Have you ever tried to make up a song to praise the Lord? Some people are great composers and it is great to follow their lead. But it is not important to be great. It is important to be faithful and who we are. We are among the creatures with breath who can sing. Try making up a little tune with a couple of lines that you can carry with you today. Maybe even do it in the style of Hildegard! How about “Lord you’ve made me who I am. I praise you for your gift of life” or “With all the saints I’ve seen or will, I open up my soul to fill.” You get the idea.