Tuesday, October 23, 2012

St. Hildegard of Bingen - Liber Divinorum Operum: Prima Pars - Prima Visio, II (12)

And with that ethereal wind like invisible life, which supports all things, I stir so as to give life to all things, this is because by air and wind those invigorated [vegetative power] things that proceed in growth subsist, from the remote nothingness according to that which they are. *

Et quod cum aereo vento quadam invisibili vita, quae cuncta sustinet, vitaliter omnia suscito, hoc est quoniam aere et vento ea quae in incremento procedunt vegetata subsistunt, a nihilo remota in id quod sunt.

(*Due to difficulties involved in translating this passage, clarification is pending a discussion in the comments)


A difficult passage that is nonetheless profound, and, while the exact meaning is hard to decipher, it still concocts an expressive image. The image is that of the breath of life in Creation - remember it is Love (Charity) who is speaking here. "Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."(Gn. 2:7).  All that lives and grows subsists by this air of Creation - this breath of life - which gusts forth from the heart of Love.  And once again, that air and breath which so closely resemble nothingness - are the reminder of the origin of our being.  We were created ex nihilo - from nothing.  It was the winds of love - the breath of Charity - gusting along this nothingness that brought us into being: "and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."(Gn. 1:2)  This same Spirit, without created origin or end, gusts along the lives of those who are reborn, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3:8)
What are your thoughts?


  1. Nathaniel's translation:

    And that with the airy wind I rouse all things living with some invisible life, which sustains all things, this because those vegetative things that grow incrementally subsist by the wind and the air, removed from nothing in that which they are.

  2. Spanish translation: (http://www.hildegardiana.es/32divope/03p1v1n01.02.html)

    Y si mi soplo, invisible vida, mantenedor universal, despierta el universo a la vida, significa que las cosas que viven y crecen deben al aire y al viento su subsistencia segĂșn los dones de su naturaleza, alejados de la nada.

    > And if my breath, invisible life, the universal sustainer, awakens the universe to life, it means that things which live and grow owe their subsistence to air and wind according to the gifts of their nature, away(removed, drawn?) from nothing.

  3. After giving it some thought, here's what I've come up with. The quod here functions just like the three previous quod's to grammatically encapsulate the first half of the sentence (describing an attribute of Caritas) and connect it to the second half, by analogy human faculties and forces of creation (remember that for Hildegard, as for many other 12th-century thinkers, humans are microcosms of the macrocosmic universe).

    So, the first half of the sentence (Et quod cum aereo vento quadam invisibili vita, quae cuncta sustinet, vitaliter omnia suscito) works out as, "The fact that with airy wind I stir up / rouse to life (vitaliter) all things as with some invisible life that sustains all things..." (quadam invisibili vita is the antecedent of quae cuncta sustinet)

    This whole faculty of Caritas operates this way because (hoc est quoniam: quod at the beginning of the sentence refers to hoc here) aere et vento ea quae in incremento procedunt vegetata subsistunt, a nihilo remota in id quod sunt... "by (because of) air and wind those living (vegetata) things subsist that grow in stages (quae in incremento procedunt, moved out of nothingness into that state in which they are."

    A few notes: I really think that with vegetata here, Hildegard is referring specifically to non-human life / creation. The previous three quod's related Caritas' actions to the three aspects of humanity (body, soul, and reason); I think this fourth quod relates Caritas' movement of the air to the growth of the rest of creation.

    The final phrase (a nihilo remota in id quod sunt) is, I believe, an elegant statement of creation ex nihilo: the vegetata world was taken / moved (remota) out of nothingness into that state (in id: in with the accusative indicates motion / change, i.e. "into" rather than "in") in which it now exists (quod sunt).