I am so delighted to have Mary Sharratt, author of the exciting new book “Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard of Bingen” as our guest blogger today. She is here to discuss a topic I never seem to tire of — Hildegard of Bingen’s Viriditas.
Viriditas: Visions of a Green Saint
“Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary nun and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, composed an entire corpus of highly original sacred music, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. An outspoken critic of political and ecclesiastical corruption, she courted controversy.
In May 2012, 873 years after her death, she was finally canonized. In October 2012, she will be elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have significantly impacted Church doctrine. Previously there were only thirty-three Doctors of the Church, and only three were women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).
But what relevance does Hildegard have for a wider ecumenical audience today?
A cornerstone of Hildegard’s spirituality was Viriditas, or greening power, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone was God, though not the whole of God. Creation revealed the face of the invisible creator. Hildegard celebrated the sacred in nature, something highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats.
I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars . . . . I awaken everything to life.
Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Divinorum (Book of Divine Works)
Hildegard’s philosophy of Viriditas went hand in hand with her celebration of the Feminine Divine. Although the established Church of her day could not have been more male-dominated, Hildegard’s visions revealed the Feminine Divine. While acknowledging God as Father, she also called God Mother. She said that she could only bear to look upon divinity in her visions if God appeared to her in feminine form. Her visions revealed God as a cosmic egg, nurturing all of life like a womb. Masculine imagery of the creator tends to focus on God’s transcendence, but Hildegard’s revelations of the Feminine Divine celebrated immanence, of God being present in all things, in every aspect of this greening, burgeoning, blessed world.
According to Barbara Newman’s book Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, Hildegard’s Sapientia, or Divine Wisdom, creates the cosmos by existing within it.
O power of wisdom!
You encompassed the cosmos,
Encircling and embracing all in one living orbit
With your three wings:
One soars on high,
One distills the earth’s essence,
And the third hovers everywhere.
Hildegard von Bingen, O virtus sapientia
This might be read as an ecstatic hymn to Sophia, the great Cosmic Mother.”
Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. It can be purchased here.
Visit Mary’s website here
Listen to one of Hildegard of Bingen’s ecstatic hymns, Viridissima Virga or The Greenest Branch, here
and sample or purchase the Arabesque botanical perfume Veriditas, inspired by Hildegard of Bingen, here.