Mar 22 2013

Hildegard von Bingen – Sequence for the Holy Spirit

Published by at 8:15 am under Poetry

O ignis Spiritus Paracliti / Sequence for the Holy Spirit
by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Barbara Newman

Fiery Spirit,
fount of courage,
life within life
of all that has being!

Holy are you, transmuting the perfect
      into the real.
Holy are you, healing
      the mortally stricken.
Holy are you, cleansing
      the stench of wounds.

O sacred breath O blazing
love O savor in the breast and balm
flooding the heart with
the fragrance of good,

O limpid mirror of God
who leads wanderers
home and hunts out the lost,

Armor of the heart and hope
of the integral body,
sword-belt of honor:
save those who know bliss!

Guard those the fiend holds
free those in fetters
whom divine force wishes to save.

O current of power permeating all
in the heights upon the earth and
in all deeps:
you bind and gather
all people together.

Out of you clouds
come streaming, winds
take wing from you, dashing
rain against stone;
and ever-fresh springs
well from you, washing
the evergreen globe.

O teacher of those who know,
a joy to the wise
is the breath of Sophia.

Praise then be yours!
you are the song of praise,
the delight of life,
a hope and a potent honor
granting garlands of light.

— from Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum, by Hildegard of Bingen / Translated by Barbara Newman

/ Photo by Jimmy Benson /

The spring equinox has just passed (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). In the Persian calendar, Nowruz was just celebrated. Palm Sunday leading into Easter in the Christian world and Passover in Judaism… This is a time of renewal, a time to shake off the death and darkness of winter and embrace the new light and life offered to us by the world.

So I thought a meditation on the universal flow of life by the great Medieval mystic, Hildegard von Bingen would set the right tone for us today..

This song of praise is more than just a beautiful catalog of how God, in the motherly aspect of the Holy Spirit, is so important to creation. Read it deeply and you will see that a powerful and very specific vision is being communicated.

God, through the Holy Spirit, is “life within life / of all that has being.” This is an image of the formless, vivifying force of the divine, the Holy Breath that permeates all of manifest existence, everything in nature, every form, giving it life, making it holy, making it divine.

Through this divine animating spirit shared by all, all separate things are actually one: “you bind and gather / all people together.”

Especially notice the lines:

Out of you clouds
come streaming, winds
take wing from you, dashing
rain against stone;
and ever-fresh springs
well from you, washing
the evergreen globe.

Another translation renders these lines as:

From you clouds flow, air flies,
rocks have their humours,
rivers spring forth from the waters
and earth sweats her green vigour.

All of physical reality, even in its most solid forms of earth and rock, all of ‘solid’ reality… flows. Nothing is as tangible or stationary as it may superficially appear. All forms possess a sort of divine inner ‘sap’ — the fluid Holy Spirit — that is its true being or essence which shows itself as life: “and earth sweats her green vigour.”

This is not a dusty theological statement, but a vision of life, how the Divine flows unhindered through all of creation, and it is that flowing that is life. And all things, all people, you and I, we are not solid, separate physical bodies; we, too, are nothing less than that eternal flow.

O teacher of those who know,
a joy to the wise
is the breath of Sophia.

Hildegard von Bingen, Hildegard von Bingen poetry, Christian poetry Hildegard von Bingen

Germany (1098 – 1179) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Hildegard was born in Bermersheim, not far from Mainz, Germany to a noble family. She was the tenth and last child to be born to the family. At the age of eight, Hildegard was “given to God as a tithe” by placing her in the care of Jutta, a woman who had chosen a life of solitary seclusion. Hildegard would later describe Jutta as “uneducated,” yet she taught the girl the basic skills of reading, as well as her initial practices in the spiritual life.

Hildegard’s health was always fragile, but she had a rich interior life, by her own account receiving visions since early childhood. Hildegard describes one vision she had at the age of three of witnessing “a brightness so great that [her] soul trembled.” This was a light that remained a part of her perception throughout her life. Even in her seventies, Hildegard described it as a light that seemed to permeate everything without hindering her ability to see normally, as well.

She is said to have had a natural gift of clairvoyance and the ability predict the future. She was also widely respected as a healer and herbalist, having written works on natural history and the medicinal uses of plants.

Illness was intimately linked with Hildegard’s mystical life. Bouts of illness seemed to be brought on by the tensions that existed between her divine promptings and the limitations of the roles allowed to her as a woman and a nun. She had especially severe illnesses occur prior to the major decisions in her life.

Hildegard’s early life was relatively quiet. A small community of women gathered around Jutta, that eventually joined the Benedictine order. Hildegard herself took monastic vows in her teens. When Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was elected to lead the monastic community.

It wasn’t until she was in her forties, however, that Hildegard began to gain notoriety for her visions. She was surprised to receive an inner prompting to “tell and write” her visions. She initially resisted and was soon bedridden as the inner conflict played out. Eventually she relented and began to dictate her visions.

The first work she produced was Scivias, a description of a cycle of visions about the relationship of humanity and nature with God. She also composed a collection of music and poetry called the Symphonia. She also wrote extensively about medicine and herbs.

Hildegard’s fame quickly spread, bringing pilgrims and the curious, eventually overwhelming the capacity of the small community. A new, larger monastery was built between 1148 and 1150 in Rupertsberg near Bingen.

Throughout the 1150’s, Hildegard made several teaching tours through the Rhineland.

Although Hildegard had received blessings from Church authorities through most of her work, toward the end of her life she ran into conflicts for, among other things, allowing an excommunicated man who had died to be buried in consecrated ground. She refused to have the body dug up and, as a result, she was not allowed to take the eucharist — a deep wound for a devout Catholic. This ban was eventually lifted, but she died only a few months later.

More poetry by Hildegard von Bingen

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Hildegard von Bingen – Sequence for the Holy Spirit”

  1. Pegon 23 Mar 2013 at 9:06 am

    Thank you Ivan. It is always a pleasure to read your thoughts on the poems, as well as the thoughts from us “others.”

    O teacher of those who know,
    a joy to the wise
    is the breath of Sophia.

    Today I feel the presence of the Blessed Sophia. The lie of the Christ crucifixion is just that…a lie. The “joy of the wise” know the wisdom of the truth. The Christ is the spiral blueprint of the light.

    Much love and light, Peg

  2. Ann Griffinon 23 Mar 2013 at 1:03 pm

    A woman well ahead of her time, Hildegard trusted her gifts so fully, she easily transcended social and religious bans to teach publicly and to clergy. And she did so in the later part of her life.
    Personally, I’m waiting for “sweats of green vigor” sitting in a snow storm today.

    Thank you Ivan for yesterday and todays beautiful page. I will return often. Blessings.

  3. Rena Navonon 30 Mar 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Why “even in the seventies”? For a saint this is not a high age. “A joy to the wise is the breath of Sophia.” How refreshing to see joy and wisdom equated as they should for as false friends they would be incomplete. A thinking, feeling person wants to be both and should become so by persistently living a creative life, opposites culminating in a full expression of his own making.

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