Saturday, July 19, 2014

O eterne Deus

Antiphon/Collect for God the Father (D 153, R 466rb) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
O eterne Deus,
nunc tibi placeat ut in amore illo ardeas,
ut membra illa simus, que fecisti in eodem amore,
cum Filium tuum genuisti in prima aurora
ante omnem creaturam,
et inspice necessitatem hanc que super nos cadit,
et abstrahe eam a nobis propter Filium tuum,
et perduc nos in leticiam salutis.
O eternal God,
may you be pleased to blaze once more in love
and to reforge us as the limbs you fashioned in that love,
when first you bore your Son upon the primal dawn
before all things created.
Look upon this need that over us has fallen,
draw it off from us according to your Son,
and lead us back into salvation’s wholesome happiness.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.


In both its salutation and its petition to be loosed from the need (necessitatem) that has fallen upon us, this antiphon (also written in the collect form) initially strikes similarities with O magne Pater. However, it quickly starts to burn with greater intensity, both in its images and in its language—rather than the stately subjunctive request, ut aspicias in nos (line 8 in O magne Pater), Hildegard here uses more direct imperative commands: inspice… abstrahe… perduc (“Look upon… draw off… lead back”). In O magne Pater, the needy emptiness of humankind was our self-imposed absence from the fullness of being, signified by God’s name. In this antiphon, the emptiness that we yearn to be rescued from is our self-imposed absence from God’s passionate love.

Hildegard emphasizes the central importance of that love in this antiphon by ascending the music for the first time to its highest pitch point, G an octave and a third above the final, on the second appearance of amore (line 3 in the text, line 4 in the transcription). The musical phrase that contains that high note is repeated at two additional key points, on necessitatem (line 6), and Filium tuum (line 7). The music’s language connects the neediness that has overtaken us with the love with which we were first created, and finally points to the agent of that creative and redemptive love: God the Son.

The imagery in this antiphon is also more Hildegardian: rather than simply “establishing us by the Word” (per quod nos constituisti, line 5 in O magne Pater), in this antiphon, God made us “in love…when first you bore your Son upon the primal dawn.” The dawn is one of Hildegard’s favorite images for the irruption of divinity into time, both in the beginning and then at the Incarnation (that is, at the two In principio’s of Scripture: Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1). Moreover, in connection to that second irruption into time, the dawn also served as one of her favorite images for the Virgin Mary’s God-bearing womb (e.g. Hodie aperuit). Another phrase that alludes to the Virgin’s subtextual presence in this antiphon is ante omnem creaturam, which highlights Hildegard’s belief in the Virgin’s special predestination “before all creation”, the natural corollary to Christ’s eternal predestination (cf. Ave generosa, verse 3).

Light imagery naturally abounds in Hildegard’s visions, and alongside the concept of Creation as the “primal dawn” we find in Scivias II.1 and elsewhere the image of God as the blacksmith forging together humanity in the fire of his love. It is this image that we have allowed to inform the translation of the beginning of the third line of this antiphon, which literally means, “that we may be [or become] the limbs…,” a reference to the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ, her members as his limbs.

Interestingly, the term that Hildegard chooses here for God’s creative and redemptive love is not her usual visionary-allegorical figure of Caritas, but rather amor. This choice may simply be stylistic—to alliterate with the verb ardere, “to burn”—or it may indicate an even more intense fire, an evocation not only of God’s caring and paternal / maternal love, but also of the passionate desire that animates the spousal imagery of the Song of Songs, whose popularity in monastic circles (especially the Cistercians and their own Mellifluous Doctor, St. Bernard of Clairvaux) surged in the twelfth century. Hildegard herself employed this imagery in O dulcissime amator, her “Symphony of Virgins.”

Transcription and Music Notes

E mode
Range: D below the final to G an octave and a third above final
Setting: primarily syllabic, with a few neumatic episodes

The antiphon begins with a short salutation, O eterne Deus, outlined by the final E. The second line of the transcription begins on D, a frequent strategy that Hildegard uses to connect thoughts in two separate phrases. Lines 2 and 3 of the transcription should be construed as one phrase, and a tick barline has been included at the end of line 3 to indicate this. Line 4 begins similarly to line 2 and again serves to connect the two segments of the petition. The use of E an octave above the final in this section maintains the suspension or tension until the cadence on the final pitch at the end of line 5. The pause is not entirely conclusive, however, as the next line begins on B, the secondary tonal focus in this mode.

—Commentary and Notes by Nathaniel M. Campbell and Beverly Lomer.

Further Resources for O eterne Deus

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