Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Liber Divinorum Operum: Prima Pars - Prima Visio, III (15)

Hence Her face is of such great beauty and brightness, that you are able more easily to look into the sun than it [her face], because the abundance of Charity and the gleam of Her gifts is in such great eminence, that all understanding of human knowledge, which can grasp intellectually diverse realities in the soul, is thus transcended so that by no means it may grasp Her in the senses. Yet this is made clear in meaning so that by it the former be recognized in faith, which by the seeing eyes is not seen visibly.

Unde eius facies tantae pulchritudinis et claritatis est, ut facilius solem quam ipsam inspicere possis, quoniam largitas charitatis in tanta eminentia et coruscatione donorum suorum est, ut omnem intellectum humanae scientiae, qua in anima diversas res intelligere potest, ita transcendat ut eam nullo modo in sensu suo capere valeat. Sed hic in significatione ostenditur ut per ipsam ille in fide cognoscatur, qui visibilibus oculis visibiliter non videtur.


The extent to which we can know and understand the world around us - the very power we have to know - is as though weakened when it faces the reality of Charity. We are able to grasp, to capture, to contain as it were, the intelligibility of the realities around us. But if you would attempt to know, to understand, to comprehend the sun by staring at it, it would cause you pain and you would be unable to grasp it. If even the sun is impossible to grasp by the senses, the brightness of Charity and the "gleam of her gifts," exceeds us even more. And yet, at the same time, with faith even our eyes become "seeing eyes." The vision's meaning revealed, we can perceive the blinding light of Charity in Creation through faith.


  1. I noticed that you translated eius facies as "His face...", yet (correctly) switched to "Her" in relation to Caritas later in the passage. While I can certainly understand why you would make the first choice, given that traditionally, we use masculine pronouns of the Godhead, it is not completely accurate to Hildegard's style -- eius facies here refers to the feminine face of Caritas, rather than the masculine face of the Ancient of Days that appears above her. Fundamental to her neoplatonic theology is that theophanies / manifestations of God to the world are primarily feminine, while the Godhead as He exists in Himself and as incarnated in Christ are masculine. The two genders are complementary in Hildegard's thought, kept in balance, as it were, by the fullness of God's being.

    The grand images (imagines, a feminine noun) that appear to Hildegard throughout the Liber Divinorum Operum are identified with abstract qualities / virtues (virtutes for Hildegard means not only "virtues" but also "powers" or "faculties") like Caritas (the primary one, as in this first vision), as well as Sapientia, Humilitas, and Pax (as in Vision III.3, for example). These nouns are not only grammatically feminine -- in Hildegard's visionary theology, they are themselves feminine, the face of God as reaching out and down towards creation and humanity (a maternal function, as it were).

    In this first vision's manifestation of Caritas (Divine Love), this interplay between feminine and masculine is crucial to understanding the theophany. The figure of Caritas herself must be thought of as feminine, for (as you noted before), it strongly recalls the woman clothed with the sun from Apoc. 12; yet the head of the old man that appears above Caritas recalls the Ancient of Days.

    Because of the careful distinctions of gender that Hildegard makes in her theology, it is important to preserve her use of feminine, masculine, and "gender-neutral" terminology, as it were. Thus, you may notice that in my own translations, I usually strive to translate homo as "human being," "humanity", or "humankind", reserving the gendered nouns "man" and "woman" for when Hildegard uses those specifically gendered nouns in Latin (vir and mulier or the adjective feminea), except of course in relation to Christ, whom Hildegard usually refers to with masculine pronouns.

  2. Nathaniel - thank you so much for the information. I will adjust my translation accordingly. I am interested in discussing more the masculine and feminine in St. Hildegard. I'm currently sitting in the airport in Rio de Janeiro - with really unreliable "you get what you pay for" free internet, so I'll take a bit more time to study the question when I've got some more peace and quiet.

    This whole mystery of the incarnation being wrapped up in the mystery of Creation and in the fullness of humanity - male and female He created them - is completely fascinating me. Charity is in God, as the Word is in God - and when God Creates out of Love (Charity) it is "the image of a man," or "the image of a human being." I love how the complimentarity and "quasi confusion" between the masculine and feminine is used to evoke the mystery of the communion of persons in God. The image of God, the Word of God, is expressed in Love (Charity) by the image of "a human being." The Incarnation - the image of Love made flesh - is the fullness of the revelation of God's Love.

    Just scattered meditations - I'm still organizing my thoughts, and your input is EXTREMELY helpful!

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