St. Hildegard’s Trinity

“The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit, and Jesus is the image of the Father. For us men, He shows us what God is like because He had flesh and could be touched.”

St. Hildegard was born in 1098, and came from a family of German aristocrats. She was their tenth child and was offered as a tithe by her parents after they had performed a pious work.   At age 6, Hildegard was taught by Sister Jutta, a Benedictine, to read the Latin Bible and to chant the Divine Office. Hildegard’s life was fairly typical of a Benedictine nun until she was elected abbess of her community. Five years later, she began to experience a series of mystical visions that in time would inspire her to write several books, songs, poems, and the first recorded morality play. 

Unaware of other female religious writers, Hildegard bravely wrote and advised powerful princes and prelates alike. Greatly distressed by the state of the Church and society, she admonished abuses. Always a champion of orthodoxy, Hildegard was appalled at the laxity of the clergy and the gains made by Cathar heretics. Her visions often reflected the ideal order that was distinct from the chaos she saw in both the Church and society. 

She did not recount her visions until later in life, but continued writing well into her seventies. While often classified as a mystic, Hildegard falls more within the prophetic tradition in her challenges to ecclesial and secular authority. She died in 1179 and was officially made both a saint and a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

I had discovered St. Hildegard after reading about her canonization by Benedict XVI. After reading about her life, I was determined to read some of her works in her own words. I was quickly captivated by her organic descriptions of the cosmos and the stern God of the universe Who desires His children to return to Him.  

In Book II of Hildegard’s prophetic work Scivias, Hildegard continues to relay the words that the Father is speaking to her in regards to the Trinity. The first part of the book was focused on the Redeemer, Who reveals the Trinity. The image that prefaces this second book is what called my attention in this particular work.

The image likely was painted by some of her Benedictine monk companions who assisted her in her apostolate. It is likely she was involved in its composition. What stands out to me about it is its uniqueness as an image. I have never seen the Trinity depicted in this way in the context of art. There is something strange about it that draws me to it. What I like about it the most is that Christ is our image of the Trinity and is the only tangible reality of Personhood in comparison with the Father and the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit, and Jesus is the image of the Father. For us men, He shows us what God is like because He had flesh and could be touched. “Those who see Him see the Father.” We still touch Him in the Eucharist. Even today, in our own writings, we understand this powerfully. We see in Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’ bull for the Year of Mercy, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” Here are some excerpts from St. Hildegard von Bingen’s  Scivias, Liber II, vision II:

         

         “Then I saw a bright light, and in this light, the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire. And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in power of potential.”

1. On the perception of God’s mysteries

          This is the perception of God’s mysteries, whereby it can be distinctly perceived and understood what is that Fullness, Whose origin was never seen, and in Which that lofty strength never fails that founded all the sources of strength. For if the Lord were empty of His own vitality, what then would have been His deeds? And therefore in the whole work it is perceived Who the Maker is.

 

2. On the Three Persons

         Therefore you see a bright light, which without any flaw of illusion, deficiency or description designates the Father; and in this light, the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which without any flaw of obstinacy, envy or iniquity designates the Son, Who was begotten of the Father in Divinity before time began, and then within time was incarnate in the world in Humanity; which is all blazing with a gentle glowing fire, which fire without any flaw of aridity, mortality, or darkness is the Holy Spirit, by Whom the Only-Begotten of God was conceived in the flesh and born of the Virgin within time and poured the true light into the world. 

           And that bright light bathes the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathes the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire pour over the whole human figure, so that the three are one light in one power of potential. And this means the Father, Who is Justice, is not without the Son or the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, Who kindles the hearts of the faithful, is not without the Father or the Son; and the Son, Who is the plenitude of fruition, is not without the Father or the Holy Spirit. 

          They are inseparable in Divine Majesty, for the Father is not without the Son, nor the Son without the Father, nor the Father and Son without the Holy Spirit, nor the Holy Spirit without Them. Thus these three Persons are One God in the one and perfect divinity of majesty, and the unity of Their divinity is unbreakable; the Divinity cannot be rent asunder, for it remains inviolable without change. But the Father is declared through the Son, the Son through Creation, and the Holy Spirit through the Son incarnate. How? It is the Father Who begot the Son before the ages; the Son through Whom all things were made by the Father when creatures were created; and the Holy Spirit Who, in the likeness of a dove, appeared at the baptism of the Son of God before the end of time.

          Hence, let no person ever forget to invoke Me, the sole God, in these Three Persons, because for this reason I have made Them known to Man, that he may burn more ardently in My love; since it was for love of him that I sent My Son into the world…”

 

St. Hildegard von Bingen, Scivias, Liber II, vision II

 


Blayne Riley is a seminarian at Assumption Seminary and a student at Oblate School of Theology

 

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