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The Book of Divine Works (Liber Divinorum Operum): Part III, Vision 3

by
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard’s final and greatest visionary work was
the Liber Divinorum Operum (“The Book of Divine
Works”), completed in 1172-1174. In it, the
Visionary Doctor returns to the history of salvation
that formed the structure of her first work, Scivias—
but this time, prompted by an extraordinary mystical
experience while meditating on the Prologue to the
Gospel of John in the early 1160’s, she explores it
through the dynamic relationship between human
and divine, mediated in the Word through which all
was created and which then became a human being.

Like the third part of Scivias, the third part of the


Liber Divinorum Operum is built upon a vision of a
great edifice or city. In this latter work, the four-
square construction expresses the dynamic of
salvation history through successive manifestations
of the eternal predestination of the Word. An often
minority tradition within western Christianity, this
doctrine views the Incarnation not just as a
reparation for sin but more as a fundamental and
“eternal counsel” (Ps. 32[33]:11) of the divine will.
God willed from eternity to become a human being,
that human beings might become as God.

In the following vision, Caritas (Divine Love) is one


manifestation of the eternal counsel. As she speaks
from her place rooted in the fountain, she reveals in
a cascade of images and symbols “that creation is
itself theophany: in the utterance of the Word, divine
Love gives life to the forms that have always
glimmered in her unseen mirror.” This creative Illustration of Liber Divinorum Operum III.3,
from Lucca, Biblioteca Statale, MS 1942
theophany of Love can be understood as the very
substance of divine grace, divinizing humanity in the overshadowing of its self-gift. The images
of water and fire, shadow and light, of the life-giving tree of love, and of spoken and written
language (words), coalesce not as a coherent picture but as “successive flashes of perception”
whose “sheer abundance …attempts to convey the plenitude of being that creatures possess in
God.” 1 This cataphatic approach is characteristic of Hildegard’s creative use of complex webs of
symbols.

1
Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 1987 / 1997), pp. 52-5.
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): The Book of Divine Works, Part III, Vision 3
Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell. © The Catholic University of America Press.

This vision follows the same format as all of Hildegard’s visionary works: she first describes the
vision, together with the words spoken by the central figure of Caritas; then, the “voice form
heaven” explains the allegorical meaning of each element of the vision. It closes with an
admonition to the faithful reader to take its divine message to heart.
This introduction and translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell is under copyright of The Catholic University
of America Press, in whose series, “Fathers of the Church, Medieval Continuation,” his translation of
Hildegard’s complete Liber Divinorum Operum will appear in 2018.
Trans. from the Latin text in CCCM 92, ed. Derolez & Dronke (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 379-85.

1. And I also saw as if three images in the middle of the aforementioned southern stretch.
Two were standing in the clearest fountain, encircled and crowned with a round, perforated
stone; 2 and they were as if rooted in it, as when trees sometimes seem to grow in the water’s
midst. The one was dressed in purple, the other in white, and they gleamed so brightly that I
could not completely look upon them. The third meanwhile was standing outside the fountain
upon its stone rim and wore a garment of brilliant white. Her face shone with such stark
radiance that it caused my face to turn away. And before these images appeared the blessed
ranks of the saints like a cloud, upon whom they gazed lovingly.
2. And the first image spoke: 3 “I am Divine Love, the radiance of the living God.
Wisdom has done her work with me, and Humility, who is rooted in the living fountain, is my
helper, and Peace accompanies her. And through that radiance that I am, the living light of the
blessed angels blazes. 4 For just as a ray of light shines from its source, so this radiance
enlightens the blessed angels; and it cannot but shine, since no light can exist without its flash.
For I have written humankind, who was rooted in me like a shadow, just as an object’s reflection
is seen in water. 5 Thus it is that I am the living fountain, because all things that were made
existed in me like a shadow. In accordance with this reflected shadow, humankind was created
with fire and water, just as I too am fire and living water. For this reason also, humans have the
ability in their souls to set each thing in order as they will8
“Indeed, every animal possesses this reflected shadow, and that which gives each one life
is like a shadow, moving this way and that. In rational animals, these are thoughts, but not in
beasts, for their life is guided only by their senses, by which they know what to avoid and what
to seek. But only the soul, breathed by God, is rational.
“My radiance also overshadowed the prophets, who foretold things to come by holy
inspiration, just as all things that God wished to make were foreshadowed in him before they
came to be. But rationality speaks with sound, and sound is like thought, and word like work.
Thus, from the shadow came forth the writing of Scivias, through the form of a woman who was
but a shadow of strength and health, since such powers were not active within her. 6

2
Cf. Hildegard’s sequence for St. Maximin, Columba aspexit, verse 2b (Symphonia 54).
3
For this image of Divine Love (caritas) and her eternally predestined role in creation and redemption, cf. Let. 85r/a
(Vol. 1, pp. 192-4); and Newman, pp. 63-4.
4
For the combination of fountain and light, cf. Ps 35:10(36:9).
5
“shadow…reflection”: both umbra—see Newman, p. 51-3.
6
A reference to Hildegard’s first visionary work, composed between 1142 and 1151. Other than in the prologues (or
Protestifcatio / “Declaration” in Scivias) and epilogues, this is the only place in Hildegard’s visionary trilogy in
which voice is given to such (auto)biographical details.

2
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): The Book of Divine Works, Part III, Vision 3
Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell. © The Catholic University of America Press.

“And so the living fountain is the Spirit of God, which he distributes unto all of his
works. They live because of him and have vitality through him, just as the reflection of all things
appears in water. And there is nothing that can clearly see this source of its life, for it can only
sense that which causes it to move. Just as water makes that which is in it to flow, so also the
soul is the living breath ever pouring forth in a human being, and it makes them to know, to
think, to speak, and to work as if by streaming forth.
“Wisdom also distributes in this reflected shadow all things in equal measure, so that one
thing should not exceed another in weight, 7 nor should one thing be able to be moved by another
contrary to its nature. For she overcomes and restrains every wicked plot of the devil, because
she existed before the beginning of all beginnings, and after their ending she shall remain, strong
in her own power, and nothing will be able to stand against her. She has never called upon any
for help, nor has she lacked for anything, for she is the first and the last. She answers to none, for
she is the first and fashioned the direction of all things. In and through herself she established all
things with gentle kindness, and these no enemy can destroy, for she oversees with excellence
the beginning and the end of her works. She composed them all completely so that all things
might also reign in her. 8
“She also looked upon her work, which she had set in order and right proportion in the
reflected shadow of the living water, when through the aforementioned unlearned womanly
form, 9 she revealed certain natural powers of various things, the writing of the [Book of the]
Rewards of Life, and certain other profound mysteries, which she saw in true vision, even as she
became weak and debilitated. 10
“But before all of these things, Wisdom drew from the living fountain the words of the
prophets and the words of other wise people and of the Gospels, and entrusted them to the
disciples of the Son of God, so that the rivers of living water might flow out through them into
all the globe, that they might return people to salvation like fish caught in a net. 11
“Indeed, the leaping fountain is the purity of the living God, and in it shines his
radiance. 12 In that splendor God embraces all things with great love, 13 for their shadow appeared,
reflected in the leaping fountain, before God bade them to come forth in their forms.
“And in me, Divine Love, all things shine resplendently, and my splendor reveals the
formation of all things, just as a shadow indicates a physical form; and in Humility, my helper,
creation goes forth at God’s bidding. Likewise in humility, God bowed down to me, so that he
might refresh those dried-out, fallen leaves in that blessedness by which he can do all things that
he wills. For he had formed them from the earth, and thus he has also freed them after their fall.

7
Cf. Wis 11:21
8
This description of Wisdom draws on several scriptural sources, esp. Prv 8:22-31; Wis 7:22-8:1; and Sir 24:5-31.
9
I.e. Hildegard
10
“certain natural powers of various things”: an allusion to Hildegard’s scientific and medicinal writings, Cause et
Cure and Physica; “[Book of the] Rewards of Life”: Hildegard’s second visionary work, written between 1156 and
1163; “even as she became weak and debilitated”: Hildegard’s visionary experiences were often and chronically
accompanied by a variety of maladies and illnesses. Cf. Life 2.2, 2.5, and 2.9.
11
Cf. Mt 4:18-22 and Mk 1:16-20
12
Cf. Jn 4:14; and Hildegard’s antiphon, O splendidissima gemma (Symphonia 10).
13
“love”: amore

3
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): The Book of Divine Works, Part III, Vision 3
Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell. © The Catholic University of America Press.

“For humankind is fully the handiwork of God, 14 for humans look up to heaven and tread
upon the earth that they command, and rule over all the creatures, because they gaze upon the
height of heaven in their souls. 15 This is why the human person is a heavenly being in their soul,
but earthly in their visible body. 16 Thus, as humankind lies in the depths of humility, God draws
them up against him who was cast out of heaven in confusion. For when the ancient serpent
wished through pride to tear apart the harmony of the angels, God preserved that harmony with
the strength of his power, so that it would not be torn to shreds by that one’s madness. For
because Satan possessed great glory on high, he reckoned to himself that he could do anything he
wished, and that by doing so he could have everything he wanted without diminishing the glory
of the stars. But in coveting all things, he lost everything that he had.”

3. And again I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: All that God has done, he has
accomplished in Divine Love, in Humility, and in Peace, so that humans, too, should lovingly
desire Divine Love and embrace Humility and hold also onto Peace, and should not go to ruin
with him who mocked these virtues in his first origins.

For you see as if three images in the middle of the aforementioned southern stretch. Two
are standing in the clearest fountain, encircled and crowned with a round, perforated stone; and
they are as if rooted in it, as when trees sometimes seem to grow in the water’s midst. These
three virtues in the strength of ardent justice are in the name of the Holy Trinity: first Divine
Love, second Humility, third Peace. Indeed, Divine Love and Humility exist in the purest
divinity, from which the streams of blessedness flow, for these two virtues reveal that the only
Son of God is known far and wide throughout the whole world, in order to free and set aright
humankind, which lay oppressed in the depths of sin. For his body, which was perforated upon
the cross and buried, 17 he raised up by the wondrous power of the divinity, and revealed himself
to be the stone of strength and honor—for all the miracles which the Son of God did in the world
he returned to the glory of his Father. 18 These same virtues cannot be separated from the divinity,
as a root cannot be cut away from its tree. For God is Love in all his works, 19 and holds humility
in all his judgments. Love and Humility came down to earth with the Son of God and led him
back as he returned to heaven.

The one is dressed in purple, the other in white, and they gleam so brightly that you are
not able completely to look upon them. This shows that Divine Love burns in heavenly love like
purple, 20 but that Humility casts off from herself earthly filth in exchange for gleaming white
rectitude. Although it may be difficult for a mortal person to imitate this in all things so long as
they live in the flesh, they should not neglect to love God above all things and to humble
themselves in all things, because of the reward of eternity.

14
Cf. Hildegard’s verse, O fatura Dei (Symphonia, pp. 262-3).
15
Cf. III.2.16
16
Cf. I.4.91-2
17
Cf. Jn 19:34
18
For the body as (gem)stone, cf. Scivias I.4.1 and Hildegard’s antiphon, O splendidissima gemma (Scivias III.13.1a
/ Symphonia 10); and further the Preface of Book IV of her Physica (on stones).
19
Cf. 1 Jn 4:8 and 16
20
Caritatem in celesti amore…ardere

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St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): The Book of Divine Works, Part III, Vision 3
Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell. © The Catholic University of America Press.

The third meanwhile stands outside the fountain upon its stone rim. This is because
Peace, who remains in heaven, also defends earthly undertakings that are outside the heavenly
realm. For the Son of God, who is the true corner stone, 21 brought her forth when he enlightened
the whole world with his birth, and when the angels recognized him as God and Man in their
song of praise. 22 Her face shines with such stark radiance that it causes your face to turn away.
For Peace, who arose through the Son of God, cannot yet be grasped on earth as she is in heaven,
for though heavenly things exist forever in the stability of one accord, earthly things are
constantly changing, cast here and there as they stagger about. 23 Yet humankind, who is the work
of God, shall praise him, for the human soul was made to praise like an angel. While a person
lives in the world, they till the earth as they wish and desire, and in this way they reveal God, for
he has assigned them to this task. 24

And before these images appear the blessed ranks of the saints like in a cloud, upon
whom they gaze lovingly. For the glory of the highest heaven is achieved through Divine Love
and Humility when the minds of the faithful fly like clouds from virtue unto virtue. 25 Then
Divine Love and Humility, looking upon them with loving consideration and guidance, set them
alight both vigorously and gently to desire the things of heaven. For Divine Love adorns the
works of God, 26 just as a ring is adorned with a precious gem; while Humility has revealed
herself openly in the humanity of the Son of God, who arose from the undefiled Star of the Sea. 27

He did not fear the fall of the first humans, nor did their expulsion frighten him, for no sin
touched him, because he was wholly rooted in the divinity. But some who saw him and went
with him dried up and fell like parched leaves. Yet he made others to spring up in their place and
followed no human plan to overcome his enemies, who had fallen away from him by their self-
will. Nor was he idle, in contrast to the first Man, who fell away, unoccupied by good works, for
he came to renew humankind for a life more glorious than what they had at first. 28 He did not
relax in the seat of pride as did the devil, who deceived humankind with the disease of
disobedience; nor did he fear the way in which he would take humankind back from him,
because he foreknew that the devil’s head would be crushed by a mighty strength. 29 Thus he
adorned and endowed the Church with the virtues described above as he led her into the King’s
bedchamber, as is written:

4. “The queen stood at your right hand, in clothes of gold surrounded by variety.” 30 The
meaning of this passage is to be taken in this sense: O Son of the Father, in the betrothal of the
catholic faith the Church stood in the prosperity of heavenly desire, endowed with your
humanity, which was bathed by the redness of your blood. 31 She also is clothed with the many
virtues that she brought from the house of your Father when she came into the embrace of your

21
Eph 2:20
22
Cf. Lk 2:9-14; and Hildegard’s verse, O fatura Dei (Symphonia, pp. 262-3).
23
Cf. I.3.9; and Augustine, De Civ. Dei 19.17
24
Cf. Gn 3:17-9
25
Ps 83:8(84:7); cf. III.2.10
26
Caritas ornatrix operum Dei est, lit. “Divine Love is the embellisher of the works of God.”
27
Cf. III.2.14; and the respond in Hildegard’s responsory, O clarissima mater (Symphonia 9).
28
Cf. the chorus of virtues in Ordo Virtutum, Scene 3, lines 280-4 (p. 518).
29
Cf. Gn 3:15
30
Ps. 44:10 [45:9]
31
Cf. Hildegard’s antiphons, O rubor sanguinis and O virgo Ecclesia (Symphonia 61 and 66).

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St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): The Book of Divine Works, Part III, Vision 3
Trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell. © The Catholic University of America Press.

love. Indeed, this betrothal came forth by the will of Almighty God, who accomplished it with a
resplendent work when he gathered together humankind from the height even unto the depth.
With the cloak of justice he adorned them when the Son of God willed to suffer in the flesh for
humankind’s redemption.

For humankind is the work of the right hand of God, by whom they are clothed and called
to the royal wedding that Humility prepared when God the Highest looked out into the depths of
the earth and gathered the Church together out of the common people. They are adorned with a
variety of virtues as with the viridity of flowers, so that those who had fallen might rise again
through repentance and be renewed in a holy way of life. Pride, however, is forever corrupted,
because it squeezes, divides, and tears everything apart. But Humility never seizes nor tears apart
anything, but holds all things together in Divine Love; and in her God bent himself towards the
earth, and through her he gathers together all the virtues. The virtues indeed reach out towards
the Son of God, just as a virgin, by rejecting the suits of men, declares Christ her Bridegroom;
and they are joined to Humility when she leads them to the royal wedding.

These words, moreover, the faithful should receive with devout affection of the heart, for
they have been revealed for the usefulness of believers by the One who is the first and last. 32

32
Is 41:4, Rv 1:17, and elsewhere.