A Mirror Of The Miracles Of God – Br. Sean Glenn
Hildegard Von Bingen
Omnis caelestis harmonia speculum divinitatis est,
et homo speculum omnium miraculorum est Dei.
All celestial harmony is a mirror of divinity,
and the human being is a mirror of all the miracles of God.
—Saint Hildegard, Causes and Cures
I recently overheard a very energetic conversation between two young technology enthusiasts while sitting by the Charles River on a sunny Sabbath afternoon. They were clearly very excited by the ideas they discussed, evidenced by the liveliness of their tone. “And, well, just imagine!” said one, “soon we’ll be able to leave behind all the mistakes of previous generations—we’re so close! With enough investment and research, humanity will probably leave this earth and start a new life on some other planet.” “I think you’re right,” replied the other, “we’ve turned a corner here, you know, with the climate and all. We’ll probably have no other option than to start over somewhere else.”
As this duet passed me by, continuing their praise of STEM education and figures like Elon Musk, I couldn’t help but laugh internally. This view, in various forms, is expressed in many corners of modern society. As an accurate reflection on reality, however (and maybe you already realize this), such a view, at its core, denies a fundamental truth about human beings—a truth hidden in plain sight in the word “human” itself. The idea that we can simply leave behind the over-whelming crisis of climate assumes a particular kind of anthropology. An anthropology that separates the human creature from the rest of creation just as violently as the burning of rocket fuel separates a payload from the grip of earth’s gravity.
Can the human being be so easily removed from the context of (to use the language of the Eucharistic prayer) “the fragile earth, our island home?” Such an anthropology already assumes the human creature is so removed—for it denies an inescapable truth: just as we are in the earth, the earth is in us. We are some 80% water, intermingled with the dust of the earth, the very elements of this sin-burdened sphere. We need the oxygen the earth’s atmosphere traps for us; we need the light of our sun filtered by the earth’s distance; we need fire to keep the warmth of our bodies; we need food, which comes from the earth itself.
The human creature, far from incidentally related to the earth, is in fact intrinsically related to the earth, down to the very core of its being.
As our contemporary culture seems eager and willing to forget or deny this fundamental in-dwelling of creature and creation, the church remembers a different kind of anthropology as it commemorates the woman we remember today, Saint Hildegard von Bingen.
As musician, I knew her first as a composer to daring and sophisticated music. Yet she was so much more— a mystic, a teacher, a doctor, a composer, a visionary leader.
Hildegard was born in 1198. The last of 10 children, she was tithed to the church, given by her parents to the monastic community at Disibodenberg. At Disibodenberg, an anchoress, Jutta, raised her. Jutta would leave a deeply formative mark on Hildegard. When Hildegard was 38, Jutta died, where after Hildegard succeeded her as the Abbes at Disibodenberg.
Almost unheard of in the thirteenth century, Hildegard commanded a formidable and respected authority within the church. At the height of her powers, she was answerable to only one man: the bishop of Mainz.
All of her creative and spiritual endeavors were grounded in an anthropology of interdependence. According to this anthropology, human beings are seen not as incidentally related to the creation, but as intrinsic ingredients of God’s on-going act of creating. Called to be co-creators of an earth where justice tempered by love fills the whole of the cosmos, the human being is to realize its role as a mirror reflecting the creative love of God out into the whole of creation. A creation that God continues to create, redeem, and sustain. A creation for which God gave God’s only Son, pledging forever to be bound up with the fate of God’s creatures.
Hildegard’s cosmology is at its core musical—there is a harmonic ideal here, whereby the creature, the creation, and the Creator share an in-dwelling interdependence. Like the notes of a triad, who find their harmonic source within the harmonic contents of a deep, abiding fundamental pitch, the creatures of creation are to realize their harmonious dependence and creativity.
Hildegard, inspire the modern church we pray to sing anew a medieval anthropology. Teach her to refine her song, that she may show God’s creative liveliness amid the sterility of a STEM only vision of the universe
Blessed Hildegard, whom we remember today.
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