by Hildegard of Bingen
|R. O dulcis electe,
qui in ardore ardentis
et qui in splendore Patris
et qui intrasti
in aurea civitate
quam construxit rex,
cum accepit sceptrum regionum:
R. Prebe adiutorium peregrinis.
V. Tu enim auxisti pluviam
qui miserunt illam
in viriditate pigmentariorum.
R. Prebe adiutorium peregrinis.
|R. O chosen sweet,
inflamed by Flame
you gleamed, a root,
and in the Father’s radiance
you beamed the mysteries,
and went into
the bed of chastity
within the golden City,
constructed by the King
when he received the scepter of the lands:
R. To pilgrims lend your aid.
V. For you have swelled the rain
together with your predecessors,
who cast it
with the spicers’ viridity.
R. To pilgrims lend your aid.
Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell
by Nathaniel M. Campbell
This responsory for St. John complements the imagery of its companion antiphon, O speculum columbe especially in its treatment of John’s special vocation—shared by Hildegard and her nuns—as a virgin contemplative. Like that antiphon, its opening is structured around three images, here arranged into three relative clauses (qui…): a gleaming root set aflame by the flaming Son; a mirroring beam of the Father’s mysteries; and the virgin’s destined home with that Son, the shining Lamb at the center of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:23). The pilgrims for whom the repetendum seeks John’s aid are the virgin nuns, making their way along the pilgrimage road of this life to the royal bedchamber in the golden City of God, where they will recline (as John did at the Last Supper) with their Bridegroom, Christ. (The bridal imagery returns in Hildegard’s compositions for virgins, especially the antiphon, O pulcre facies, and the “symphony,” O dulcissime amator.)
The burning heat and flame (ardore) of that virginal eroticism espoused to Christ, the Flame burning with love (ardentis), also connects to the sunlight of O speculum columbe—the paradox of seething passion sublimated into sweet repose, a classic move of twelfth-century monastic devotional literature. The imagery of light, gleaming and beaming (effulsisti…elucidasti), also connects this piece to Hildegard’s compositions for the prophets (O spectabiles viri and O vos felices radices). John’s sweet election is to be ingrafted into the root of light, knowledge, and being itself, to become a conduit (we might think of a fiber-optic cable) for Christ, the true Light declared in the prologue of his Gospel (John 1:9). This office of shining beacon and mirror of God is shared by all God’s chosen prophets and servants—in Hildegard’s typology, a line stretching from Adam to herself:
For with divine strength, prophecy began in God’s first work—Adam—throughout the time when the old law appeared with its harshness and then came to an end with the advent of the ardor of justice and truth. Prophecy has thus shown from generation to generation through the various ages of humankind, like a light in the darkness (John 1:5), and it will not rest from its sound until the world’s ending, offering words of multivalent signification because it is imbued with diverse mysteries by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. For prophecy exists in humankind like the soul in the body, because as the soul is hidden within the body and the body is governed by it, so prophecy that comes from the spirit of God, who excels all creation, is invisible, and by it every failure is reproached and all who leave the path of righteousness are led back.This combination of truth-revealing light and sound shines with echoes in Hildegard’s compositions for the apostles, O cohors milicie and O lucidissima apostolorum turba, precisely because proclaiming the Light is the Church’s mission. It is thus also a characteristic feature of Hildegard’s own synaesthetic visionary and prophetic experience—and so she invokes John’s visionary and contemplative gift when she describes “the extraordinary mystical vision” that provoked the writing of the Liber Divinorum Operum:
The prophets indeed had said that the woman who was to give birth ought to come forth from the act of charity, like the branch from the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)—and they all ascribed this virginal birth to the King, the Son of God. For when this woman enclosed the Son of God and humans saw and heard him in the likeness of their own image, they loved him more than if they had not seen him—for what humans see in shadow they cannot know in fullness. So too when the prophets spoke in the sound of shadow, they often passed through as if in shadow those things that nevertheless were all afterwards rendered in solid form among humans, because prophecy’s sound proceeds from the hidden mysteries of divinity.
—Liber Divinorum Operum III.2.2-3
It was as if the inspiration of God were sprinkling drops of sweet rain into my soul’s knowing, the very same with which the Spirit instructed John the Evangelist when he drank in from the breast of Jesus the most profound of revelations. His sense at that time were so touched by the sacred Divinity that he revealed hidden mysteries and works, saying, “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1), etc.These are the very same drops of rain celebrated in this responsory’s verse, as the beaming root bursts into bloom “with the spicers’ viridity” (in virditate pigmentariorum). The garden imagery (again recalled from O speculum columbe) is, in the literal sense, of the specialist’s herbarium or perhaps even apothecary, where one cultivates those particular plants renowned for their perfumes, spices, or special pigments (the range of meanings associated with pigmentum). But as with all of her natural images, Hildegard always has ready a spiritual extension—in this case, the spice-maker (pigmentarius) is her special term for bishops and priests, who produce the healing chrism and fragrant balm with which to anoint sinners for salvation:
—Vita S. Hildegardis (“Life of St. Hildegard”), II.16
The apostolic teaching shone around the head of the Church when the apostles first began to build her up by their preaching; moving through different places, they collected workers who would strengthen her in the Catholic faith and make themselves into priests and bishops and all the ecclesiastical orders (…). Therefore, the chrism-makers [pigmentarii] conform to that teaching (…). What does this mean? That [the apostles’] followers, who took their places, faithfully traverse streets and farms and cities and other places, regions and lands, carrying the health-giving chrisms [saluberrima pigmenta] and announcing the divine law to the people. (…) For they have this office that they may openly serve the bread of life to the people.This description of the Church’s ministers as pigmentarii comes at the opening of the very same vision in Scivias that later centers on the order of virgins to which Hildegard and her nuns belonged, gleaming and beaming at the heart of Mother Church, singing the new song of the heavenly Jerusalem that John the Divine described in Revelation 14 (as discussed in the Commentary on O speculum columbe). St. John’s sweet rain nourished the Promised Land of the Church to spring forth the choicest blooms, redolent with salvific fragrance, shining like gemstones in the golden City’s walls (cf. Revelation 21) to declare the True Light (cf. John 1:8-9), and resounding with the Word’s purest voice.
Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer
by Beverly Lomer
Range: A below the final to C above
Setting: Combination melismas, neumatic, and syllabic settings
This work is primarily organized by the final, E. The transcription phrasing follows the musical structure. The Verse departs somewhat from the grammatical punctuation by the final and employs the C below and the G above as tonal markers.
In those cases where phrases are too long to be fit on a single line, they are continued, and a tick barline has been placed at the conclusion. In some cases, singers might opt to phrase differently while keeping essentially within the outline by E. For example, the salutation, O dulcis electe, is quite long, and one might elect to separate out each of the words or to group as: O / dulcis electe.
Lines 7 and 8 on page 1 of the transcription contain four segments, each outlined by the final (et qui in splendore / patris elucidasti / mistica / et qui intrasti), which might be combined or separated differently. In particular, one could follow the textual syntax and begin One could also, a line with the final segment, et qui intrasti. Hildegard sometimes goes to the note below the final to initiate a phrase with a conjunction, such as et. However, in this case, the melody does not immediately move to the final, as it generally does when she employs this strategy. Intrasti also ends similarly to the line above (elucidasti), while the melody on cubiculum begins similarly to the other opening statements on et qui in splendore and mistica. The phrasing in the transcription thus preserves these musical structures, even when in conflict with the textual structures. (See the introductory article on the Music page on Hildegard’s use of rhetorical strategy, including repetition of beginning and ending phrases, for more information.)
The repetendum is indicated at the end of the piece by the repetition of Prebe, as per the manuscript sources.
Further Resources for O eterne Deus
- Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 168 and 287-8.
- For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography
 Liber diuinorum operum III.2-3: Latin text ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 355-6; trans. Nathaniel M. Campbell, in St. Hildegard of Bingen, The Book of Divine Works (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming). On this “treatise on prophecy” in the context of Hildegard’s own vocation, see Bernard McGinn, “‘Trumpets of the Mysteries of God’: Prophetesses in Late Medieval Christianity,” pp. 125-42, esp. 127-9, in Propheten und Prophezeiungen—Prophets and Prophecies, ed. Matthias Ridel and Tilo Schabert (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2005). ↩
 Trans. by Anna Silvas in Jutta & Hildegard: The Biographical Sources (Brepols, 1998; Pennsylvania State Pres, 1999), p. 179; Latin text ed. Monika Klaes, Vita Sanctae Hildegardis—Leben der heiligen Hildegard (Fontes Christiani, Bd. 29; Herder, 1998), p. 172: “Et de Dei inspiratione in scientiam anime mee quasi gutte suavis pluvie spargebantur, quia et Spiritus sanctus Iohannem evagnelistam imbuit, cum de pectore Iesu profundissimam revelationem suxit, ubi sensus ipsius sancta divinitate ita tactus est, quod absconsa mysteria et opera aperuit, ‘In principio,’ inquiens, ‘erat verbum’ etc.” ↩
 Scivias II.5.1: trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1994), pp. 202-3; Latin text in the edition of Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 177-8. ↩