Friday, April 21, 2017

O nobilissima viriditas

Responsory for Virgins (D 165r-v, R 471rb-va, Scivias III.13.7b) Back to Table of Contents
by Hildegard of Bingen
R. O nobilissima viriditas,
que radicas in sole
et que in candida
luces in rota
quam nulla terrena excellentia

R. Tu circumdata es
divinorum ministeriorum.

V. Tu rubes ut aurora et ardes
ut solis flamma.
R. O noblest green viridity,
you're rooted in the sun
and in the clear
bright calm
you shine within a wheel
no earthly excellence
can comprehend:

R. You are surrounded by
the embraces of the service,
the ministries divine.

V. As morning’s dawn you blush,
as sunny flame you burn.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell. Although this is marked as a responsory, neither of the manuscripts repeat the repetendum after the verse, as would be proper for the form.

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

Scivias II.2: The Trinity.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 47r.
The beautiful paradox of this responsory is that its opening image for virginity is vital and fertile—viriditas, one of Hildegard’s favorite terms that connects the fresh, green life of nature to the active Life of the divine and its triple role as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Here, Hildegard traces virginal viridity back to its source, “rooted in the sun” of divinity and its incomprehensible wheel—the rota is one of her classic images for the creative and eternal movement of the divine, as in the opening vision of Part III of Scivias, or the circles of gold, silver, and blue used to illustrate the Trinity in several visions of the Rupertsberg manuscript of that work. Yet, this spinning wheel of divine power is not some cold or distant formulation, but one that sparks and glows with the red blush of dawn and the sun’s warming flames, as Hildegard describes its virginal, life-giving activity in the versicle.

The refrain, meanwhile, carries God’s generally creative activity into the particular service that Hildegard and her nuns offered in their daily lives—the “ministries divine” (divina ministeria) are the opus Dei, the “Work of God,” as St. Benedict described the hours of prayer and musical praise that monastics living under his Rule were to offer every single day. For Hildegard, this divine service was practically sacramental as its sung praises became an open channel to connect her community of nuns to the heavenly choirs and their eternal ministry of praise—in enacting God’s work every day, she and her virgins became agents of divine grace and power. Indeed, the very veils and ornate jewelry with which Hildegard (in)famously clothed her nuns on high feast days were divinely-commanded signs of the verdant, virginal grace that worked within and through them. Their design was revealed in Scivias II.5, a vision of the Orders of the Church—and as the illustration for this vision in the Rupertsberg manuscript shows, preeminent among those orders were the virgins standing at the breast of Ecclesia, some in verdant green cloaks and others in the sky-blue of the Incarnate Word. In their center stands the dawn-red-cloaked Virginitas—Virginity herself, hands lifted in the same virginal praise of God as Virgin Mother Church:[1]
Scivias II.5: Virginitas &
the Orders of the Church.
Rupertsberg MS, fol. 66r (detail)
After this I saw that a splendor white as snow and translucent as crystal had shone around the image of that woman from the top of her head to her throat. And from her throat to her navel another splendor, red in color, had encircled her, glowing like the dawn (…) and shining mixed with purple and blue [pupura hyacintho]. (…) And where it glowed like the dawn, its brightness shone forth as high as the secret places of heaven; and in this brightness appeared a most beautiful image of a maiden, with bare head and black hair, wearing a red tunic, which flowed down about her feet.

And around that maiden I saw standing a great crowd of people, brighter than the sun, all wonderfully adorned with gold and gems. Some of these had their heads veiled in white, adorned with a gold circlet; and above them, as if sculpted on the veils, was the likeness of the glorious and ineffable Trinity as it was represented to me earlier, and on their foreheads the Lamb of God, and on their necks a human figure, and on the right ear cherubim, and on the left ear the other kinds of angels; and from the likeness of the glorious and supernal Trinity golden rays extended to these other images.
     —Scivias II.5, Vision[2]
Hildegard elaborated this vision in a later letter to Guibert of Gembloux:
I saw that all the ranks [ordines] of the Church have bright emblems in accord with the heavenly brightness, yet virginity has no bright emblem—nothing but a black veil and an image of the cross. So I saw that this would be the emblem of virginity: that a virgin’s head would be covered with a white veil, because of the radiant-white robe that human beings had in paradise and lost. On her head would be a circlet [rota] with three colours conjoined into one—an image of the Trinity—and four roundels attached: the one on the forehead showing the lamb of God, that on the right a cherub, that on the left an angel, and on the back a human being—all these inclining towards the [figure of the] Trinity. This emblem, granted to me, will proclaim blessings to God, because he had clothed the first man in radiant brightness.[3]
When Tengswich, the magistra of a community of Augustinian canonesses in Andernach, wrote to Hildegard questioning the propriety of dressing her nuns in flowing white, silk veils, their hair bound only by a golden coronet (rota—the circlet of the crown and the wheel of divinity sacramentally combined, perhaps in a combination of gold and silver with blue enamel, to echo the illustration of the Trinity for Scivias II.2 in the Rupertsberg manuscript), Hildegard responded with a glorious defense of her virgins:
Because the beauty of woman radiated and blazed forth in the primordial root, and in her was formed that chamber in which every creature lies hidden. Why is she so resplendent? For two reasons: on the one hand, because she was created by the finger of God and, on the other, because she was endowed with wondrous beauty. O woman, what a splendid being you are! For you have set your foundation in the sun, and have conquered the world.
Listen: The earth exudes the viridity of the grass [terra sudat viriditatem graminis], until winter conquers it. Then winter takes away the beauty of that flower, and the earth covers over its vital force [viriditatem] so that it is unable to manifest itself as if it had never dried up, because winter has ravaged it. In a similar manner, a woman, once married, ought not to indulge herself in primordial adornment of hair or person, nor ought she to lift herself up to vanity, wearing a crown and other golden ornaments, excepts at her husband’s pleasure, and even then with moderation.

But these strictures do not apply to a virgin, for she stands in the unsullied purity of paradise, lovely and unwithering, and she always remains in the full viridity of the budding rod [in plena viriditate floris virge]. A virgin is not commanded to cover up her hair and her viridity [non habet tegmen crinium viriditatis sue in precepto], but she willingly does so out of her great humility, for a person will naturally hide the beauty of her soul, lest, on account of her pride, the hawk carry it off.

Virgins are married with holiness in the Holy Spirit and in the bright dawn of virginity [in aurora virginitatis], and so it is proper that they come before the great High Priest as an oblation presented to God. Thus through the permission granted her and the revelation of the mystic inspiration of the finger of God, it is appropriate for a virgin to wear a white vestment, the lucent symbol of her betrothal to Christ, considering that her mind is made one with the interwoven whole [intexte integritati mens eius solidetur], and keeping in mind the One to whom she is joined, as it is written: “Having his name, and the name of the Father, written on their foreheads” [Apoc. 14:1] and also, “These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” [Apoc. 14:4].[4]
Although the bridal imagery does not appear in today’s responsory, it does fill her another of her compositions, the “Symphony of Virgins”, O dulcissime amator. Nevertheless, this responsory does make clear the preeminent place that Hildegard perceived for the virgins whose mother she became—the most dedicated of God’s servants, and thus his most powerful agents of fertile grace and viridity.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

C mode
Range: G below the final to D an octave and a second above
Setting: primarily melismatic

In this responsory, the opening salutatio consists of the phrase, O nobilissima viriditas (“O most noble greenness”), with viriditas referring to the virgins. As with the corresponding antiphon, O pulcre facies, Hildegard likens the earthly virgins (nuns) to the Virgin Mary, as many of the same metaphors apply. They are rooted in the sun (divinity), blush like the dawn, shine and burn in the sun’s brightness, and are entwined in the embraces of God. The salutation, as is typical, emphasizes the key words through outlining by the final of the mode. Here, each of the words of the salutation is outlined by C.

The text continues with the phrase, que radicas in sole (“who are rooted in the sun”), which extends from the salutatio and begins to expound the various characteristics of these most noble creatures. On the word que, the final is replaced by the pitch E, but the phrase ends on C. In the next phrase, the most significant word, candida, is given a lengthy melisma that extends to the highest range of the piece. The emphasis, then, is on the brightness of the virgins, the highest order of saintliness and a signifier of their special closeness to the divine.

The theme of extraordinary sanctity continues with the text, quam nulla terrena excellentia comprendit (“which no earthly excellence can comprehend”). The final C outlines quam nulla terrena excellentia, while the verb comprehendit begins on C but ends on G, the dominant or second most significant pitch in the mode.

The respondendum (refrain) explicates the next theme, that the virgins are embraced by the divine (tu circumdata es amplexibus divinorum misteriorum). The use of non-standard pitches in this lengthy section—A and D as grammatical markers—might be considered as an indicator that the entire thought should be construed as one idea. This is, however, more than one can sing on a breath, and thus, the absence of a definitive tonal punctuator underscores the holistic nature of the phrase.

The closeness to divinity echoes again in the versicle that closes the responsory (the repetition of the refrain is not marked in the manuscripts): “As morning’s dawn you blush, as sunny flame you burn.” Through its analogy to Mary, this confirms again the special place virginity holds in the hierarchy of sanctity in Hildegard’s theology of the feminine.

Further Resources for O nobilissima viriditas


[1] See Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eikón / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 36-39 and 57-61; accessible online here
[2] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (Paulist Press, 1990), p. 201; Latin text ed. Führkötter and Carlevaris, CCCM 43 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), pp. 174-5. 
[3] Letter 103r, trans. Peter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), p. 169; Latin text in Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium II, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), p. 253. 
[4] Letter 52r, adapted from The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 128-9; Latin text in Hildegardis Bingensis, Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91, pp. 127-9. Barbara Newman also notes the similarities between this letter and the above responsory (in Symphonia, pp. 304-5).