Sunday, January 29, 2017

O vos imitatores

Responsory for Confessors (D 163v-164r, R 470rb, Scivias III.13.6b) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
V. O vos imitatores excelse persone
in preciosissima
et gloriosissima significatione,
o quam magnus est vester ornatus,
ubi homo procedit,
solvens et stringens in Deo
pigros et peregrinos,

R. etiam ornans
candidos et nigros et magna onera

V. Nam et angelici ordinis officia habetis,
et fortissima fundamenta prescitis,
ubicumque constituenda sunt,
unde magnus est vester honor—

R. etiam ornans
candidos et nigros et magna onera
V. O actors, you who play the Highest Role
within that precious drama,
that glorious sacrament!
How great and beautiful your vested costume,
as steps forth such a man
to loose and bind in God
the slacker and sojourner,

R. to beautify
the shining and the squalid, and their heavy burdens
to remit.

V. For you both hold the office of the angels
and foreknow where’er the firm foundations
of the Church are to be laid—
this twofold duty marks your honor grand:

R. to beautify
the shining and the squalid, and their heavy burdens
to remit.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this responsory, adapted from one of the two verses sung in praise of the choir of confessors in the heavenly symphony of Scivias III.13,[1] Hildegard uses the language of drama to explain the office of the Church’s principal clergy in their roles as “imitators” (imitatores) of the person of Christ, celebrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions under the apostolic power of “binding and loosing,” to remit the burden of the penitent’s sins. Moreover, they also participate in the “duties of the angelic order” (angelici ordinis officia)—the offering of praise in song to the Lord—and, guided by the Holy Spirit, receive the special knowledge of where to found new churches and monasteries.[2]

Scivias II.6: Crucifixion
and Eucharist.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 86r
As with the other parts of the heavenly symphony at the end of Scivias, this responsory reflects upon elements earlier in the work—in this case, Hildegard’s vision of the Crucifixion and Eucharist in Scivias II.6. As the first illustration that accompanies this vision in the Rupertsberg manuscript makes clear, the drama of Christ’s life, culminating in his sacrifice upon the Cross, pierces through time to be reenacted and re-presented upon the altar each time the Church celebrates her dowry, the Eucharist. In both that vision and this responsory, moreover, the priestly office of performing the Eucharist is intimately intertwined with his office of granting absolution to the confessed penitent. Both Eucharist and Confession regenerate the faithful person into the life of the Resurrected, by lifting them up out of the sin they inherited from Adam and into the glory they receive from Christ, the New Adam. Moreover, each sacrament revolves around actions of memory:[3] in the Eucharist, both God and we the Church remember Christ’s sacrifice, while in Confession, each sinner turns away from the deceit that keeps their sin unremembered, “concealed in his secret heart,” and instead makes “manifest his sins, that he may have a witness to his penitence” (Scivias II.6.87).[4]

In Hildegard’s Eucharistic vision, Christ’s initial establishment of that ritual of memory becomes the script that the Church follows in each subsequent performance of the drama. The most vivid part of the vision is the heavenly spotlight that streams down upon the altar during each performance. Thus this play is unlike any other, for the stage crosses the divide between time and eternity: “in its most precious and glorious signification” (in preciosissima et gloriosissima significatione), God acts together with the priest, beholding the same memories, repeating the same lines, and through them, recreating the world (words in italics are from Hildegard’s description of the vision; the voice speaking is that from heaven):
When a priest clad in sacred vestments approaches that altar to celebrate the divine mysteries, you see that a great calm light is brought to it from Heaven by angels. For when he who has the charge of souls is girded with the sacred cincture and approaches the life-giving table to immolate the innocent Lamb, at once the great light of the heavenly inheritance drives away the darkness, shining with the help of celestial spirits from the secret places of Heaven. And it completely illumines the plan of sanctification, for here is the food of the soul by which believers are saved. How? Because the Church in the voice of the priest seeks her dowry, which is the body and the poured-out blood of My Son, in order to be fit for blessed childbearing in saving souls (…). And so then I, Who am the unfailing Light, illumine the place of that consecration with My holiness, to the honor of the body and blood of My Only-Begotten.

For when the priest begins to invoke me on the sanctified altar, and I consider that My Son offered Me bread and wine at the supper of death just before leaving the world; then I see that My Son did this in the hour of His death, as he was about to perish on the wood of the cross, so that when the blessed offering of the holy sacrifice is offered to Me by a priest I might always have His Passion in My sight, never blotting it from My sharp vision. For He too offered Me bread and wine in the outpouring of His blood, when He cast down death and raised up humanity. (…)

The Bride of My Son offers the gift of bread and wine on My altar with a most devoted purpose. How? To remind me in faithful memory by the hand of the priest that in this same oblation I delivered up the body and blood of My Son. How? Because the sufferings of My Only-Begotten are seen perpetually in the secret places of Heaven; and thus that oblation is united to My Son in My ardent heat in a profoundly miraculous way and becomes most truly His body and blood. And thence the Church is quickened with blessed strength.
     —Scivias II.6.6-11
For Hildegard’s typological mind, the signification of the Eucharistic sacrifice encompasses not just the Crucifixion, but also its foreshadowing in the Passover feast and the Exodus from Egypt. This provides her a natural bridge to consider its role in freeing the sinner from the bondage of sin:
“Remember this day in which you came forth out of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage; with a strong hand the Lord brought you forth out of this place, so look that you eat no leavened bread” [Exodus 13:3]. What does this mean?

You who wish to be imitators [imitatores] of My Son, turn your eyes from death to life and keep in mind the salvation of that Day which is My Son, Who trampled death and gave life, so that you went forth from the wretched exile of perdition; you threw off the thick darkness of infidelity and tore yourselves away from the house of the Devil, to whom Adam’s transgression had given you. Turn your eyes from earthly to heavenly actions, for by divine power I the Lord have led you out of evil; I Who rule all with such strength that no obstacle can stand against My might, but I sharply penetrate all things. So through My Son I have snatched you from the place where you shamefully lay in your wickedness, serving death by your infidelity instead of doing good works.

And now that you are freed in My Only-Begotten from that oppression, go from strength to strength and take care not to admit into your consciences the infidelity, which does not strengthen but bitterly weighs down your heart. What does this mean? Do not follow the arts of the Devil or the other fictions people devise for themselves (…), but imitate My Son as a mirror of faith, Who delivered you from the prison of Hell when He gave Himself for you to the suffering of the cross. And, that you may more carefully follow in His footsteps, strengthen your hearts with the celestial bread, and so with faithful devotion receive His body. For He came from Heaven and was born of the sweet and pure Virgin, and, by suffering for you on the cross, gave you His very self; so that now you may receive the sweet and pure bread, which is His body, consecrated on the altar by divine invocation, without any bitterness but with sincere affection, and thus escape from humanity’s inner hunger and attain to the banquet of eternal beatitude.
     —Scivias II.6.27
The “thick darkness of infidelity” that the light of this glorious sacrament dispels, and the “inner hunger” that it fulfills with its “sweet and pure bread”—these are the shadows and lusts of sin that, in enflaming a person with their dark fire, make a person “eat and drink unworthily” of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:29). It is in her exegesis of St. Paul’s description of the Eucharist that Hildegard pivots to the failure of memory and the concealment of the truth with sin:
Truly I say to you, anyone who, being unworthy and foul with sin, eats the bread of life or receives the cup of salvation, which is the sacrament of Him Who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, shall feel himself at fault for it. How? Because he receives the body and blood of the Lord, the Savior of the world, snarling and dying; inclined to evil and polluted with uncleanness, he forgets the fear of the Lord and approaches the palace of healing redemption in a state of contamination. And so he commits murder there. How? By treating the sacrament presumptuously, concealing his crimes without cleansing or washing them by penance; and so with many wounds he tears himself to pieces.
     —Scivias II.6.58
But there is a remedy for this state of corrupted memory and intentional forgetting:
But if anyone labors under too great a number of these tendencies and is not able to resist them by themselves, let them with devoted purpose seek Me and humbly uncover to Me the wounds of their heart. How? Let them lay bare these wounds by making a humble confession to a priest. And why is this? Because true confession is a second resurrection. How? The human race was slain by the fall of the old Adam; the new Adam by His death raised it up. And so the resurrection of souls arose in the death of the new Adam. (…) Hence confession was instituted, to raise people up after they fall. And so anyone who confesses their sins to a priest for love of Me rises again from death to life; as the woman who purged herself from her impurity with tears at the banquet in the presence of My Son was snatched away from uncleanness (cf. Luke 7:36-50).
Faithful people should seek the help of My Son, because when they repeat the ancient crime of Adam after baptism they cannot rise from their fall by themselves. And therefore they should seek counsel as it were from the patriarchs and prophets, and derive instruction as if from the high priests and the ordinary priests, and accept help as if from the apostles, laying bare their wounds and displaying their sins truly and purely. How?

They should confess their sins to the priest, who is the minister of My Son, with devoted heart and mouth. And then the priest will give them a remedy of penance and bury their sins in the death of My Only-Begotten. And then they will rise again to life and glorify the Resurrection of My Son.
     —Scivias II.6.82-83
Hildegard then turns her attention to those priests, with dire warnings against those who abuse their office, whether by failing “to teach true doctrine to the people” by not exhorting them to penance, or by their own crimes “in perverse filth and adulterous wickedness” (Scivias II.6.94-95). Throughout her works, the Visionary Doctor consistently castigated the clergy for their failures and sins, for she holds them the higher standard of responsibility and integrity owed the honor of their office:
You, rather than others, have received in My Son the keys of Heaven; which are righteous decisions of just judgment made in knowledge of the Scriptures, as long as you consider rightly what you should bind. What does this mean?

When people stubbornly oppose themselves to My Law, you must inspire them with fear of My judgment. And if they do not then correct themselves, extend over them your power of binding. How? You will bind these rebels in My words with a clear voice, and show them the power of the binding; for their stubbornness they are bound in My sign, as My Son showed to the Church’s first pastor, saying:

“I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind on earth, it will be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it will be loosed also in Heaven” (Matthew 16:19). What does this mean? I, Who have all power in Heaven and earth, by My grace give to you, My devout imitators [imitatores], those judgments that touch the dignity of the Kingdom of Heaven. As you see people sin on earth, you will bind the wicked deed on earth with just judgment, and it will be entangled in its wickedness and bound in Heaven; it will be separated and driven out from Heaven, for in the heavenly mansions there is no freedom and no place for iniquity. But after I withdraw a person’s soul from their body, you will not extend your judgment over them, for that judgment is Mine. Likewise, if a transgressor is penitent, you will loose on earth the chain you fastened on him in rebellion, and it will be loosed in the secret places of Heaven, for God does not reject the groans of a devout heart. But after the person’s death you will pray for their soul, but you cannot absolve it from being bound.
This is the purpose of that binding: that one who perversely refuses to obey Me or the precepts of their superiors may be separated by My word from celestial things. Thus Adam, when he disobeyed Me, was by My command cast out of Paradise. And until such a person repents and obeys, they will not be received into the company of the faithful; as the human race was recalled to the celestial country by the martyrdom of My obedient Son.
     —Scivias II.6.96-97 and 99
Scivias II.6: Eucharist, detail of recipients.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 86v.
Finally, we turn to Hildegard’s description of the effects of this sacrament of penance, “to beautify the shining and the squalid” (etiam ornans candidos et nigros). This recalls her vision of the various states of grace and iniquity in which people might approach to receive the Eucharist, as illustrated below the priest at the altar in the second illustration for Scivias II.6 in the Rupertsberg manuscript:
And as other people approached the priest to receive the sacrament, I notice five modes of being in them. For some were bright of body and fiery of soul, and others seemed pale of body and shadowed of soul; some were hairy of body and seemed dirty in soul, because it was pervaded with unclean human pollution; others were surrounded in body by sharp thorns and leprous of soul; and others appeared bloody of body and foul as a decayed corpse in soul. And all these received the same sacraments; and as they did, some were bathed in fiery brilliance, but the others were overshadowed by a dark cloud.
     —Scivias II.6, Vision
In chs. 51-57, Hildegard offers an elaboration of these states of soul. Only the first (“bright of body and fiery of soul”) approach the altar “clear in faith about the sacrament, (…) and because they are sanctified by this mystery they will appear in this same body in Heaven after the resurrection of the dead; and their souls are transformed and enkindled by the fiery gift of the Holy Spirit, so that, flooded with enlightenment, they reject earthly things and long for the heavenly ones” (Scivias II.6.52). Each of the other four states of soul are mired in ever graver levels of sin—yet to each, Hildegard’s exposition holds out the offer of redemption: “the fountain of salvation will still flow for them if they take care to wash themselves from this wickedness of theirs by worthy penitence” (Scivias II.6.56).

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

C mode
Range: F below the final to C an octave above
Setting: Primarily syllabic, one long melisma, several short melismatic segments

The responsory begins with a syllabic setting of the salutatio, “O you imitators of the most exalted person.” This is a bit different, as Hildegard often favors a more elaborate treatment of the opening greeting. The only substantial melisma in the piece is found on remittens at the end of the repetendum.

As is typical of the songs in which C is the final, the Bb is notated only in the lower octave. In this case, there are quite a number of differences between the manuscripts. In Dendermonde, most of the cadences on C that are preceded by B indicate a flat. This is not always the case in the Riesenkodex. Though we have added no editorial ficta, take note of the last line of page 1 of the transcription. The Bb noted in Dendermonde should be continued until the cadence on C, and similar figures should be treated the same elsewhere. For example, on page 2, line 5, the descent from G to B and finish on C appears elsewhere in Dendermonde with a notated flat. Our recommendation is to add the flat here and in other instances of repetition as well.

The second refrain, Etiam ornans…, differs in R from the way it appears earlier, as well as differing from D. It should be internally consistent.

Further Resources for O vos imitatores


[1] Although the responsory appears first in the Riesdenkodex’s ordering of the Symphonia (on fol. 470rb), it follows the antiphon for confessors (O successores) in Scivias III.13.6. 
[2] I will look more closely at the connections between the offices of the angels and the confessors in relation to Hildegard’s antiphon for confessors, O successores. Newman notes: “In the verse [Hildegard] calls to mind two additional privileges of these saints: they share in the angelic office, the singing of God’s praise, and they found churches on sites that have been providentially revealed to them. The abbess may have been remembering her own vision of the Rupertsberg as a site for her new monastery.” (Symphonia, p. 289) 
[3] See Anne W. Astell, “‘Memoriam Fecit’: The Eucharist, Memory, Reform, and Regeneration in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias and Nicholas of Cusa’s Sermons,” in Reassessing Reform: A Historical Investigation into Church Renewal, ed. Christopher M. Bellitto and David Zachariah Flanagin (Catholic University of America Press, 2012), pp. 190-213. 
[4] All quotes from Scivias II.6 adapted from the trans. of Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp. 237-89; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 229-306. 

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