Saturday, December 19, 2020

Hildegard of Bingen on Saturn and Jupiter

Detail of the Celestial Bodies, from
The Book of Divine Works, 1.2
(Biblioteca Statale di Lucca, MS 1942, fol. 9r)
In honor of the celestial conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, we present Hildegard of Bingen’s description of the two planets from her cosmological vision in The Book of Divine Works. Saturn is “the highest and first celestial body,” and Jupiter is the second in the circle of pure ether, illustrated in the Lucca manuscript as the top two stars in the band of red flames (the sun is the large star in the band of black fire just below):
And from the middle of the sign of the highest and first celestial body that is marked out above the head of that image, there go out certain rays, one of which descends to the sign of the sun. This signifies that rays of strength go forth from the strength of this first celestial body, which appears first in the east because it is from there that the daylight comes forth. One of these rays is directed to the sun, succoring and tempering its course so that it does not discharge its fire beyond measure. Furthermore, one beams to the right foot of the crab’s head that proceeds from the leopard’s head. For as this celestial body arises from the part opposite that wind, it emits its ray to strengthen the latter’s egress as it shifts forwards and back and proceeds from the principal east wind to which it is collateral; and it holds it back with its stability, lest it proceed further than God has allowed it. Finally, one extends to the right horn of the stag’s head that comes from the same leopard’s head. For another ray comes from that part of this celestial body to oppose the strength of this wind that comes out there from the principal wind, restraining its shocks so that it emits its blasts according to the correct measure of fitting necessity, like a man who restrains the arms of his enemy, to keep him from harming either himself or others. Thus one part of creation is restrained by another part of creation, and likewise each is sustained by the other.

From the middle of the sign of the second celestial body a certain ray bends down as if to the sign of the sun, for this celestial body reveals its power when it touches the sun with its ray, soothing it to be mild. And another goes forth to the lamb’s head that comes from the sign of the lion’s head. For from its strong part, it extends a ray of its brilliance to the beginning of the collateral wind that signifies gentleness and proceeds from the major wind of the southern region. It holds onto that wind, so that rather than transforming its mildness to ferocity, it continues in its course without any aggressiveness. Another is directed to the aforesaid line that stretches in the firmament from the beginning of the eastern part of the wheel as if to the end of its western part and facing its northern region, at a spot above where the lamb’s head that goes out from the sign of the bear’s head is placed. This signifies that a ray comes from the firm course of that brilliance and is led to the course of another collateral wind that goes out from the major north wind. It resists that wind with its moderation, so that it emits its blasts with equal measure.

     —The Book of Divine Works 1.2.32 (pp. 84-85)
Hildegard also allegorizes these planets and their celestial rays, because for her, all of creation has a moral meaning, encouraging and strengthening us to grow in the virtues:
Moreover, from the middle of the sign of the highest and first celestial body that appears marked out above the head of that image, there go out certain rays, one of which descends to the sign of the sun. This is because the virtues spring from the choicest and outstanding gift of the spirit of wisdom, which surpasses the entire height of human understanding. From them, a holy breathing forth descends to the sign of the sun—to the spirit of fortitude—to which it allies itself, so that the fortitude of holiness might enter wisely into the faithful, lest they foolishly presume to undertake a task they cannot complete. But one beams to the right foot of the crab’s head that proceeds from the leopard’s head. This shows that in the salvation of souls, the breathing forth of the spirit of wisdom, which is made manifest for the correct advance of the trust that rises up from the fear of the Lord, spreads itself out and fortifies that trust, so that, with the fear of the Lord, it might have confidence in God and not think his mercy worthless or for naught. Furthermore, one stretches itself to the right horn of the stag’s head that comes from the same leopard’s head; for in chastisement, the breathing forth of rightness reveals itself to the fortitude of faith that also arises from the fear of the Lord. It stretches itself out and leads that fortitude to the right path, so that it turns itself away from the devil’s devices while unceasingly chastising humankind for their ignorance of the truth.

From the middle of the sign of the second celestial body a certain ray bends down as if to the sign of the sun. This signifies that an outpouring of intelligence from the abundant fullness of the spirit of understanding advances also towards the spirit of fortitude. This also shows that each faithful person understands acutely that he ought with a strong mind to serve his Creator and to renounce the devil. And another goes forth to the lamb’s head that comes from the sign of the lion’s head. For as a person walks successfully to his Creator, the breathing forth from the spirit of understanding extends towards the patience that proceeds from the judgment of God. This shows that, when a person imitates patience, he ought to bear both prosperity and tribulation with equanimity. And another is directed to the aforesaid line that stretches in the firmament from the beginning of the eastern part of the wheel as if to the end of its western part and facing its northern region, at a spot above where the lamb’s head that goes out from the sign of the bear’s head is placed. For as each faithful person shuns what is contrary to his soul, the breathing forth from the spirit of understanding comes on the other side to the rightness of justice, which extends from the origin of good deeds that persist under God’s power all the way to their fulfillment. With the assistance from above of the patience produced from bodily distress, it separates the devil’s tricks from just works, and admonishes a person that, when the judgment of God chastises him, he ought to endure that chastisement patiently, lest he be stricken even more sharply.

     —The Book of Divine Works 1.2.34 (pp. 91-92)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this! Very interesting and a helpful interpretation of an image that i have enjoyed for years. I'm not a scholar, but I read everything i can get my hands about such an extraordinary and inspiring woman. Have a lovely holiday (what's left) and may the powerful wisdom of Hildegard carry us through the year to come!

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