Thursday, July 7, 2022

O beata infantia

Psalm antiphon for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(R 470vb-471ra) by Hildegard of Bingen
O beata infantia
electi Disibodi,
que a Deo ita inspirata est
quod postea sanctissima opera
in mirabilibus Dei
ut suavissimum odorem balsami
O blessed childhood
of Disibod, the chosen—
an age inspired so by God
that then such holy works
within God’s wonders
you distilled,
like balsam’s freshest scent.
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

Hildegard likely composed this antiphon around 1170, while writing The Life of St. Disibod, to round out the liturgical office started with her three earlier pieces (O mirum admirandum, O viriditas digiti Dei, and O presul vere civitatis). It follows a standard hagiographical conceit that notes the presence of miraculous holiness already in the childhood of a great saint. As Hildegard explains in The Life of St. Disibod:[1]
Then, awake in body and mind, through the loving-kindness of wisdom, I heard a voice from heaven, which said: “Disibod, the chosen of God [electus Dei], inspired from his infancy [ab infantia sua…inspiratus] by the Holy Spirit, as were blessed Nicholas and blessed Benedict and others like them, longed with a thirsting heart for every good that he saw or heard.” For this reason it can be said of him: You have perfected praise from the mouth of infants and nurslings because of your enemies, so you may destroy the enemy and the avenger [Ps 8:2 (8:3)].

This is to be understood in the following way. In the good feelings of infants, who do not yet have the power of speech, and of those who ought to be sucking milk rather than doing miracles, you, who are the Lord of all, have brought the praises of your name to perfection. You have often worked your miracles in them, when you so inspired those not yet fully developed to bring forth many things unknowingly speaking and acting in the Holy Spirit, and when you have strengthened others against the claims of the flesh with such fortitude that they strive toward heavenly things with all desire and do not do the works of the flesh by sinning. Let no one have any doubt whether in these blessed people the serpent’s cunning will impede the doing of these good and holy things. For, you perfected these things on account of your enemies [Ps 8:2 (8:3)], namely, the doomed angels, so that to their confusion they saw your power in childish ignorance. Thus you destroy that enemy, who rejects you in all good things, and the avenger [Ps 8:2 (8:30)], the one who throws the rocks and spears of his impiety [cf. Eph 6:16] against your words and miracles by criticizing and corrupting them.

These evils had no success in such blessed men, because they spoke what was right. Through his gifts, God was at work in blessed Disibod from his infancy to his old age, so that in his boyhood his play did not involve wickedness, and in his youth he did not burn with wantonness, and in his mature old age his gaze did not stray to the left. In his heart and body he abandoned all the pomp of this world. Because of this some claimed he was stupid, others that he was vain, others that he was mistaken, but others said that he was wonderful in his works [cf. Ps 139 (138):14]. They asked, “What is is it that he [is] doing?”
     —Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, cc. 1-3
Barbara Newman notes that Hildegard’s own childhood was marked by visionary “precocity” (Symphonia, p. 292), and Hildegard here seems to project her own experience, with all of the complications that came with it, onto the blank canvas of Disibod and the generic trope of a saintly prodigy. Moreover, the antiphon displays two particularly Hildegardian characteristics. The first is the slightly strange way in which Hildegard often abstracts the subject. In the prose of her Life of St. Disibod, she introduces the saint straightforwardly: “Disibod, the chosen of God, inspired from his infancy by the Holy Spirit [Electus Dei Dysibodus, ab infantia sua Spiritu Sancto … inspiratus].” But in the poetic register of the antiphon, Hildegard shifts the inspiration to the childhood itself (infantia … que a Deo ita inspirata est).

The second element that puts Hildegard’s stamp on this piece is the image of “balsam’s freshest scent” (suavissimum odorem balsami). Balsam is one of the ingredients in chrism, the holy oil used in Christian churches for sacramental anointing and crafted and blessed at the hands of bishops. As a result, Hildegard’s characteristic term for a bishop is pigmentarius, “spice maker,” a term she also applies to Disibod in The Life of St. Disibod. Moreover, she dynamically deployed the image of this aromatic sap dripping from its tree to express the miraculous appearance of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary (cf. verse 2 of O tu suavissima virga; Scivias 2.3.13). For Hildegard, the natural extension of that image is to see the monastic life of virginity as exuding in the same way—she uses the simile in Scivias 2.5.13 for the origins of the monastic way of life, and it appears in the opening of Columba aspexit to express the glistening sanctity of St. Maximin. Balsam thus provides Hildegard a way to imagine to the aromatic expression of sanctity and virtue.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

Mode: A
Range: G below the final to G above the final
Setting: syllabic, neumatic and one long melisma

This is a short work in the A modality. The phrasing is not as regularly punctuated by the final or fifth of the mode as is typical of Hildegard. number of lines begin with G below the final, and the performer might consider the use of G as a connector in some cases. For example, the first two lines of the transcription could be connected as one thought - an expanded salutation: “O blessed childhood of Disibod, the chosen.” Lines 4, 5 and 6 appear to use non standard pitches as opening notes intentionally. Staves 6 and 7 comprise one phrase and can probably be performed without a pause.

On the fourth staff the reader will note that there is a missing pitch. I added E as a suggestion. Also the B that appears in parentheses is faint in the manuscript - the ink could have chipped or perhaps it was a stray mark. It makes sense if one wishes to avoid the leap of a fourth.

Further Resources for O beata infantia


[1] Hildegard of Bingen, Two Hagiographies: Vita sancti Ruppert confessoris; Vita sancti Dysibodi episcope, ed. Christopher P. Evans, trans. Hugh Feiss (Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations, 11; Paris, Leuven, Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2010), pp. 86-89. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

O viriditas digiti Dei

Responsory for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(D 162r-b, R 470v) by Hildegard of Bingen
R. O viriditas digiti Dei,
in qua Deus constituit plantationem
que in excelso resplendent ut statuta columna:

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.

V. Et o altitudo montis
que numquam dissipaberis
in differentia Dei,
tu tamen stas a longe ut exul,
sed non est in potestate armati
qui te rapiat.

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.

Gloria Patri
et Filio et Spiritui sancto.

R. Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei.
R. O fresh viridity of God’s creative finger,
in which God planted his green vineyard
that glistens in the heights, a lofty pillar:

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!

V. And O, the mountain’s height!
O never shall you be laid low
when God marks the difference—
no, you stand yet afar, an exile,
but not ensnared by that brigand’s power
who snatches after you.

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!

Glory be to the Father
and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

R. How glorious you are as you prepare for God!
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.
Note: Newman’s edition follows a textual variant from Letter 74r to Abbot Kuno, which reads “discretione” instead of “differentia” in the versicle (Riesenkodex, fol. 347rb); we have followed the text as found in the musical settings of the responsory.

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

This responsory was the second of the pieces that Hildegard “revealed” for the community of Disibodenberg, and it continues seamlessly the themes first established by the antiphon O mirum admirandum. St. Disibod’s presence “glistens” upon the monastery’s mountaintop, shimmering like sunlight filtered and dappled through the green leaves of its garden and vineyard—the plantatio, a classic metaphor for the monastic house that for Hildegard was also literal, given her experience keeping the monastery’s gardens. Yet the saint is also purposely kept separate from the monastery as “an exile” from the scandal that Hildegard chastises in the house. As one study of this responsory points out, its visionary text in Hildegard’s letter (no. 74r) to Kuno, the Disibodenberg’s abbot, is not formatted for liturgical use as a responsory; rather, the above arrangement comes from its later appearances in the two manuscripts that preserve its musical notation.[1] However, as noted in the commentary to O mirum admirandum, Hildegard’s letter specifically situates the problems of the monastery within the failures of its liturgical service to God. It is likely that, when she dispatched the textual letter to the Disibodenberg, she had the messenger also commit the melodies she composed for the three pieces within it to memory, to be recited for and learned by the men’s community. That messenger may even have been her beloved secretary and confidant, Volmar, who remained his entire life a brother of the Disibodenberg, on permanent loan to Hildegard’s community at the Rupertsberg as provost and spiritual advisor.

While imagery of the garden and its viridity is classically Hildegardian, she provides a unique emphasis in this responsory through the musical setting of the refrain. As Tova Leigh-Choate, William Flynn, and Margot Fassler have recently argued:[2]
It is the saint’s preparatory work that is celebrated in the repetendum: Tu gloriosa in preparatione Dei. Hildegard set the repetendum as a joyous melody with an extensive melisma of over 50 notes on the penultimate syllable “o” of preparatione. Three times as long as the chant’s opening melisma, the preparatione melisma emphasizes the chant’s highest note (g) through repetition of the note itself and the melisma’s entire opening arc (the rise to g and subsequent descent to G […]). This internal repetition not only highlights the word preparatione but also echoes the earlier word plantationem, whose penultimate syllable “o” descended in like manner from e to G, after peaking on g […]. As the repetendum would have been chanted at least twice, its repetitive preparatione melisma would have been the most memorable part of the performance. Hildegard clearly wanted to emphasize the preparatory work of St. Disibod.

Like every good confessor, Disibod would have prepared for the Lord’s coming with “loins girt and lamps burning” (Lk. 12:35-6). These verses from Luke may have opened the Gospel reading for Disibod’s feast at the Disibodenberg and Rupertsberg […]. But Hildegard’s line also brings to mind the preparatory themes in Isaiah 40:3 (“prepare ye the way of the Lord”) and in Ephesians 6:15 (“and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”).[3] Like the wilderness prophet and precursor of Christ, John the Baptist, and like the Christian who has “put on the armor of God,” Disibod strengthened himself and his followers to stand firm—like the mountaintop that will not be leveled—against the wiles of the devil. […]

The melodic parallels between the settings of plantationem and preparatione suggest that Hildegard viewed Disibod’s founding of a monastic community, represented by the image of the vineyard, as integral to his preparatory work.
By constructing the image of St. Disibod’s “lofty pillar” upon the City of God’s mountaintop as one that “cannot be laid low” by the divine forces that “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3-4), Hildegard implicitly contrasts his eternal, spiritual stability with the problems at the earthly Disibodenberg that her letter takes to task. “At God’s discretion” (Hildegard wrote in discretione Dei in the letter to Abbot Kuno, which was later changed to in differentia Dei for the liturgical version of the text), she seems to suggest, that monastic house might very well topple to the ground if its brothers and abbot do not set their affairs in order and stop trying to interfere with the holy work of Hildegard’s new community at the Rupertsberg. Indeed, in her later years, Hildegard would often prophesy in dark and loathsome visions the radical disendowment of the Church in punishment for the sins of her ministers. Drawing on the Augustinian image of being pilgrims and exiles in this world that she used, for example, in Cum erubuerint, Hildegard implies here that the monks have ceased to be, like their founder and patron, “exiles” from the Earthly City and true citizens of the Heavenly City (an image to which she will return at the opening of the sequence for St. Disibod, O presul vere civitatis).

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

B mode (plagal version of E mode)
Range: G above the final B to C below the final
Setting: primarily syllabic and neumatic with several longer melismas

The use of the plagal version of the E mode, with B as the final, is unusual for Hildegard. Punctuation in this work is primarily achieved by using the final and/or E. Readers will note that the transcription includes a number of lines that begin with D, either below or above the final. In those cases where the text indicates that the phrase beginning on D belongs to what went before (in the previous line of the transcription), I have added tick barlines to indicate the full idea. If the long section cannot be performed in one breath, it would be possible to breath at the end of the first line in those instances where a barline has been included.

There are minor differences between the sources, with one exception. Dendermonde does not include the Gloria patri.

Further Resources for O viriditas digiti Dei
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 182 and 291.
  • Leigh-Choate, Tova; Flynn, William T.; and Fassler, Margot E. “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220, esp. p. 203. 
[2] Ibid., pp. 205-6. 
[3] As Newman notes, the parallel with the famous verses in Isaiah that prefigure the Baptist is extended in the second versicle with the reference to the “hills made low” (Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 291). 

Monday, July 4, 2022

O mirum admirandum

Psalm antiphon for St. Disibod [Feast, July 8; Translation, Sept. 8] Back to Table of Contents
(D 162r, R 470va) by Hildegard of Bingen
O mirum admirandum,
quod absconsa forma
precellit ardua
in honesta statura,
ubi vivens altitudo
profert mistica.
Unde, o Disibode,
surges in fine, succurrente
flore omnium
ramorum mundi,
ut primum surrexisti.
O wonder, so wondrous!
A hidden form,
so hard, so steep, surpasses
in its lofty honor—
where Living Height itself
reveals the mysteries.
And so, O Disibod,
you shall arise at the end of time
as first you rose—
the flow’r of all the branches of the world
comes to your aid.
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

This is one of several pieces that Hildegard composed in honor of St. Disibod, the patron of the Disibodenberg, the monastery where she was first enclosed and grew up. She first provided this antiphon, together with the responsory, O viriditas digiti Dei, and the sequence, O presul vere civitatis, as part of a visionary letter in answer to a request in the early 1150’s from the Disibodenberg’s abbot, Kuno, for any information revealed to her concerning the patron.[1] These three pieces appear in the earlier Dendermonde manuscript (fols. 162r-163r); they are joined by two other, rather more generic antiphons (perhaps to fill out the office), in the Riesencodex (fols. 470v-471r and 475v). Kuno’s letter (no. 74) may have been an attempt to patch things up between his community and the nascent Rupertsberg, to which Hildegard had recently relocated her growing community of nuns from the Disibodenberg. The move had been contentious—Kuno had initially refused Hildegard’s request for it, and even after he relented under the pressure of “the Living Light,” the two communities continued to argue bitterly for several years over the rights to the lands dowered to the Disibodenberg upon the entry of the women into the community before the move.

Though including the texts that would be used liturgically, Hildegard’s response (Letter 74r) was not, at first, warm:
O how foolish is the man who does not amend his own life, and yet delves into other people’s private affairs and, with a torrent of words like rushing waters, noises abroad all the vices that he finds hidden there. Let the man who does this hear the words of the Lord: “O man, once having tasted of good works, why are you deaf to their music, for they resound before God like a symphony? Why do you not examine your own heart and reject your unabashed lasciviousness? I am the One who brings the lost sheep back to the fold, the One to whom you should always turn, but you fail to do so, and thereby slap me in the face, rejecting my wounded hands and feet. And so you will answer to me concerning the house of your own heart and concerning the city I made and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Why are you not afraid to break the man that you did not create? You fail to anoint him and, therefore, neither cover nor protect him, but rather, you afflict him grievously with the heavy rod of correction. Now the period of your decline is at hand, but God, who created you, does not wish to lose you. Therefore, take these things to heart.”
These words of rebuke likely begin in censure of Kuno’s efforts to interfere with the financial administration of Hildegard’s community, but soon indicate that those “lascivious” efforts interfere in the spiritual life of the Disibodenberg, too. Hildegard showcases here her Benedictine spirituality, in that “the taste of good works” (gustus bonorum operum) are intuitively linked to the Opus Dei, the sung liturgies of the “Work of God,” enjoined by the Rule. The foolish, worldly concerns of Abbot Kuno have thus rendered those good deeds of liturgical service mute, and the consequences come in several Hildegardian images—ecclesiastical corruption “wounding” Christ anew, and alienation from the Heavenly City of Jerusalem that serves as the exemplar for the monastic community here on earth. Fundamentally, however, what Kuno and his brethren have done is to betray their patron and founder, blessed Disibod—their “heavy rod of correction” that has errantly fallen on Hildegard and her community turned back onto the bones at the most concrete center of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Her choice to respond to Kuno’s request for “any revelation of God” concerning Disibod with liturgical compositions, rather than the full-fledged hagiographical vita of the saint that she would compose two decades later (see here for more on her Life of St. Disibod), thus reflects the way in which the liturgical life of the community forms its heart. The symphony of God’s work connects the monastics who chant it with its source in the heavenly symphony that resounds ubi vivens altitudo profert mistica—“where Living Height itself reveals the mysteries.” This first antiphon in the three hagiographical pieces that follow Hildegard’s admonition sets the stage for the themes that will dominate, “the pervasive dichotomies of hiddenness, humility, and exile, and height, honor, and liturgical community.”[2] These abstract pairs of ideas, however, are rooted in the concrete placement of the Disibodenberg high atop a mountain, and yet St. Disibod’s choice even after founding the community to remain but a lowly hermit clinging to the steep hillside.

The antiphon is situated both within and outside of time, as St. Disibod’s “form” governed the monastery, first while “hidden” within that hermitage, and now while “hidden” within the celestial glory of the heavenly city. Moreover, Hildegard plays on the concept of “rising up” (surges and surrexit) to mirror Disibod’s initial climbing of the mountaintop with his resurrection at the end of time. Thus, she intentionally seeks to connect the current community to their founder through this communion of sanctity, both looking back to its founding and forward to its eschatological consummation. Finally, crossing all of these temporalities at once, Hildegard uses the present participle succurente (“aiding”) to invoke the help of Christ, “the flow’r of all the branches of the world,” in the divine work of the Disibodenberg’s community.

Transcription and Music Notes
by Beverly Lomer

E mode
Range: G below the final to C above (Dendermonde Version); G below the final to E an octave above (Riesencodex Version)
Setting: primarily syllabic, some neumatic

Because there were extensive divergences in some lines between the sources, it was decided to create separate versions for Dendermonde and Riesencodex. The big differences begin on Line 7 of both transcriptions, though smaller ones are found earlier. Essentially, the R version is set in a higher range than that of D. One can speculate that the original (D) was too low for a particular singer.

There is one peculiar interval in the Riesencodex—line 6 of the transcription on the words profert mistica. There is an unusual leap of a sixth, from C (the last note of profert) to A (the first of mistica). This is rendered as a fifth in D (B to F), but a Bb must be added there to avoid a tritone. There is no signed flat in the source.

While most of the musical punctuation is fairly typical—use of the final and the fifth to outline phrases—there are some deviations. The first four lines of the transcriptions presented some vexing issues as far as alignment of the melodic phrasing and text. While word order in Latin is not so definitive as word order in English and other languages, Hildegard’s text phrases are generally congruent with musical ones. You will recall from other commentary on this site, that melody generally prevails, especially when standard text punctuation is consistently applied. In this case I chose to begin Line 2 of the transcription with D and kept it as the opening pitch of Line 4. It creates a somewhat awkward text phrasing. An alternative for those who prefer the final as phrase marker might be:
O mirum (E to E)
admirandum quod absconsa (E to E)
forma precellit ardua (E to E)
When the sources diverge, D remains more conventional, with the change to A as the punctuating pitch. In R, we see a more unusual use of C and G to open phrases, with G and B as closures respectively on those lines.

Further Resources for O mirum admirandum
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 180 and 290-91.
  • Leigh-Choate, Tova; Flynn, William T.; and Fassler, Margot E. “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula.” In A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen. Ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Kuno’s request is Letter 74, and Hildegard’s response Letter 74r, in Epistolarium I, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991), pp. 160-2; The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, vol. 1, trans. Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 158-62. 
[2] Tova Leigh-Choate, William T. Flynn, and Margot E. Fassler, “Hildegard as Musical Hagiographer: Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek MS. 103 and Her Songs for Saints Disibod and Ursula,” in A Companion to Hildegard of Bingen, ed. Beverly Mayne Kienzle et al. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 193-220, esp. p. 202. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

An Introduction to Hildegard’s Life of St. Disibod

by Nathaniel M. Campbell

“The Ruins of the Disibodenberg Monastery".
Lithograph, 1833. From Gemeinfrei IGL-Bildarchiv.
The Disibodenberg was the monastery where Hildegard began her religious life in 1112; became the leader of the women’s community in 1136; and composed her first work, Scivias (1141-1151). It had been founded by St. Disibod, a seventh-century Irish bishop who traveled to Germany and eventually founded the monastery on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Glan and Nahe rivers. It later fell into disrepair and had only been revivified from a house of canons to one of reform-minded monks just a few years before Hildegard took up residence there. Around 1170, Hildegard composed The Life of St. Disibod, Bishop (Vita sancti Dysibodi episcopi) at the request of Helengar, the abbot of Hildegard’s one-time abbey, the Disibodenberg, Drawing on her “mystic visions”—but likely also the material contained in the Disibodenberg’s Chronicle—Hildegard wrote eloquently about the exiled bishop turned monastic father and hermit. The themes she develops mirror her own views and experiences of the religious life and illuminate the pieces of liturgical music she had composed for St. Disibod in the 1150’s.

Born of wealthy stock in Ireland in the early seventh century, Disibod—as was common for such saints—lived an exemplary childhood before entering holy orders and receiving ordination as a priest at the age of thirty. Other sources indicate that Disibod lived 619-700, but Hildegard chose never to include specific dates in her hagiography of the bishop, perhaps to achieve the same ambiguous sense of atemporality that pervades her liturgical compositions for the saint. Upon his ordination, Hildegard writes:
He then did as would a good pigmentarius [spice, dye, or ointment maker], who plants pigment-bearing and aromatic plants in his garden, taking care always that his garden was green and not parched. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 5)
Though still just a priest at this point in his life, Hildegard’s description alludes to his future as a bishop, as pigmentarius was her peculiar visionary term for bishops in their roles as chrism-makers and anointers in the sacrament of confirmation (cf. Scivias 2.4). Moreover, we see already how central the metaphor of the spiritual life as a garden, green and verdant, will be in her version of his story.

Disibod seemed content to live a quiet, humble life in the pursuit of divine wisdom, but God had different plans for the budding saint. Despite the objections of those “whose life was blameworthy,” the local people elected him after their bishop died, and despite his own reluctance to leave the seclusion of his quiet, spiritual garden, he accepted the commission as “a teacher and bishop” (magister et antistes; c. 8). He labored “manfully and strongly” at this commission, and his holy teaching and proclamation of “the justice of God” inspired many in the local church, including a group of close-knit companions who gathered around the bishop to support him. Unfortunately, that support was not sufficient against the growing enmity of a laundry-list of enemies and heretics, especially those who found Disibod’s spiritual discipline too harsh for their taste.
Finally, aided by a multitude of unbelievers, they expelled the suffering man from his see with many insults. He preferred to serve God in quiet rather than waste any more time with no useful result. So he gathered a few religious men around him and for the sake of Christ’s name left behind the see of his honorable office, which he had ruled for ten years vigorously and devoutly, his country, and all that he had. (…) And so, with a happy mind and for the sake of eternal life, he undertook the pilgrimage that he had long desired. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 12)
His exile took him to Germany, where he found the way of life that would fulfill his humble yearnings:
But while he tarried in that province, deliberating about where he could turn next, he heard of the good and sweet reputation of St. Benedict’s form of religious life. Benedict had recently passed on to the Lord, and had left behind many people who loved his way of religious life. And so, Disibod recognized through the prompting of the Holy Spirit that he had not yet fulfilled a desire of his. For a long time he had wanted, in place of the people formerly committed to him, to join to himself some men of true and perfect form of religious life. For this is why he had gone again and again from place to place, and still neither in the places nor in the lifestyles of the inhabitants did he find what pleased his soul. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 13)
Hildegard here offers a subtle reminder of why she referred to Disibod in her liturgical compositions as still an exile—“the lifestyles of the inhabitants” of his own monastery were failing to “please his soul.” In the next excerpt, she then implicitly compares her own visionary charism—which included the divine revelation of the place of the Rupertsberg—to Disibod’s; as Hugh Feiss notes, “It is probably true that the vita of Disibod tells us more about Hildegard than about St. Disibod. (…) Hildegard uses the vita to admonish the monks of St. Disibod to return to their pristine fervor, and it reveals something of her understanding of what monastic life should be.” (Two Hagiographies, p. 32)
Because of the viridity of Disibod’s good desire, at this point God accepted his prayers. He sent into Disibod’s mind the sweet consolation of repose, just as dew falls upon the grass. In a night vision God also showed him by a certain manifestation that sometime he would find a place which matched what he prayed for. For to this blessed man, as to others of his beloved who desired God with all their longing on account of their great and good intention by which they strove for him faithfully with all their heart, God appeared as present in vision, speech, and hearing.
After crossing [the River Glan, near the Rhine], he saw a high, wooded peak. After ten years of pilgrimage he went up it. Exhausted, he sat down there and rested. Touched by the Holy Spirit, he said to his companions (…): “Here will be my rest.”

When he had traveled all around the mount and diligently examined all its slopes, its beauty satisfied his soul more and more as a place where he should dwell. Its height offered difficult access to those who came there, while the streams that flowed on both sides offered bodily refreshment to those staying there. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, cc. 14, 16-7)
St. Disibod and Companions.
Engraving by Raphael Sadeler, 1594.
From Wikimedia Commons.
Disibod began to live the hermit’s life of fasting, vigils, and prayer upon the mountain’s slopes, while his three companions built shelters some distance away. As the reputation of his holiness spread, more and more people were attracted to the holy mountain—some to take up residence in the growing monastic community; others to seek healing, guidance, and miracles; while wealthy nobles began to endow the holy house with the lands surrounding the mountain. As the community grew to over fifty monks in twelve years, Disibod served as a committed and masterful teacher of the brothers under his care, fortifying them with the virtues of holiness and spiritual discipline in their fight against the Devil:
In this way this holy man began to unite and strengthen his sons. (…) The Holy Spirit, who had planted this community, also watered it, so that dew fell upon the fertile field, and those who lived in it under discipline ascended from virtue unto virtue. They met with no impediments from the ancient tempter, because wherever the Holy Spirit is with his miracles, there the ancient enemy will be terrified. He will not even dare to enter there. But if he stealthily sows something there, the Holy Spirit will again tread it down in consternation. Signs and miracles of God followed the merits and holiness of blessed Disibod, and these were often renewed without being wearying, because God always makes things new. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 25)
Though Disibod remained for the rest of his long life the Abbot Father of the community, he never joined the brothers in the oratory and other buildings that he built upon the summit. Rather, he remained throughout in a small oratory upon the eastern slope, living as the hermit whose life, like St. Anthony’s, is the root and summit of the monastic discipline described in the Rule of St. Benedict—thus informing another set of paradoxes that Hildegard invokes in her liturgical compositions, of spiritual loftiness rooted in earthly lowliness.
This servant of God lived among his own as a hermit, which way of life is the root of the life of monks, because men of this way of life withdraw from the world in all ways and live in solitude amid the praise of the angels. Their life is so laborious that many, because of their bodily or mental weakness, could not bear it, should they rashly and hastily undertake it. Living in this confining way of life, by teaching and example [doctrina et exemplo] the blessed father strengthened his subjects for every good work, like a man who makes a fire burn very hot. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 29)
St. Disibod
Oil on canvas, 17th c.
(From Colonial Art)
This portrait of Disibod’s fathership of his community reveals how deeply Hildegard was imbued with St. Benedict’s careful balance of holy strictness and caring, tender concern; and perhaps that Disibod had learned a bit from his rough experience as a bishop in Ireland:
He never received the habit of the monastic form of religious life, which his community used, because he allowed his subjects a way of life according to the Rule of blessed Benedict that was milder than his own. He did this for fear that if he were in a habit like theirs and did not want to lay aside the harsh rigor of his vigils, fasts, and other bodily renunciations, he would distract from their religious observance and detract from their common life. (…) From the time when he was driven from his see until the end of his life, he celebrated the divine rites of the altar not in the manner of bishops but according to the custom of poor priests. From this he had no mental unrest but happiness of heart, because he was imitating the suffering of Christ. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 30)
After more than thirty years of faithful service to this community, Disibod’s health began to fail. He appointed his successor as abbot, and gave instructions that he be buried, not in the monastery upon the hilltop, “but in the shaded arbor of his oratory [in humili umbraculo oratorii sui], in which he had served God as a solitary” (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 34). Having faithfully kept the spiritual garden of his life like the pigmentarius (spice or dye maker) to which Hildegard compared him at the beginning, those spice trees and fragrant flowers came at last into full bloom:
After many labors and many troubles in the eighty-first year of his life, on the eight day of the Ides of July, he accepted the end of the present life. (…) His passing was immediately followed by a very sweet odor, like that of balsam, myrrh, and frankincense, and all other scents. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 35)
The remainder of the vita tells of the ups and downs of the Disibodenberg’s community in the centuries that followed—foreign invasions that led to abandonment; reestablishments later disendowed by greedy nobles; and several episodes of worldly monks whose vainglory got in the way. Hildegard connects the foundation’s history into that of the German church when she claims that St. Boniface, “Apostle of the Germans” and bishop of nearby Mainz, himself presided over the translation of Disibod’s relics in 754 from his humble oratory upon the mountain’s slope into the main oratory at its summit (c. 45). Though Hildegard kindly omits any mention of her own disputes with the “vainglory” of the current community—which, however, she did censure in the sermon she delivered to the community with the finished vita—the parallels with previous failures are clear enough. She chooses instead to close the saint’s life with an exhortation of hope, grounded in the eschatological perspective that she takes in the liturgical compositions:
So now let there be praise to God, who always fights against the ancient serpent in such a way that he removes every wrinkle of sin until the consummation of the world [cf. Eph. 5:27], when every disposition of his faithful will fully appear as he originally arranged it. Then the ancient serpent will be completely overthrown, since he will not be able to do anything for himself or to others, nor will he be able to give glory to anyone. (Vita S. Dysibodi episcopi, c. 54)

  • Summarized and adapted, with Latin text from Hildegard of Bingen, Two Hagiographies: Vita sancti Ruppert confessoris; Vita sancti Dysibodi episcope, ed. Christopher P. Evans, trans. Hugh Feiss (Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations, 11; Paris, Leuven, Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2010), pp. 86-157.
  • The older edition of the Latin text can be found in Patrologia Latina 197, cols. 1095-1116.