Thursday, November 20, 2014

Karitas habundat

[Caritas abundat]
Psalm antiphon for the Holy Spirit (D 157r, R466v) by Hildegard of Bingen
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habundat in omnia,
de imis excellentissima
super sidera
atque amantissima
in omnia,
quia summo regi osculum pacis
abounds in all,
from the depths exalted and excelling
over every star,
and most beloved
of all,
for to the highest King the kiss of peace
she gave.
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

The connection between Divine Love (Karitas or Caritas) and the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ’s promise of the Paraclete’s coming in the Last Supper discourse. The new commandment, to love each other as Christ has loved us (John 13:34), is followed in the very next chapter:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [in the Vulgate, Paraclitum], to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
     —John 14:15-17
Like Spiritus sanctus vivificans, this antiphon shares a key thematic with O virtus Sapientie, for in Hildegard’s visionary allegories, Caritas takes her place alongside Sapientia (Divine Wisdom) as a manifestation of the eternal counsel and God’s self-manifestation into creation. She makes her most dynamic and impressive appearance in the opening vision of the Liber Divinorum Operum, where she declares herself in a jumble of different images and metaphors, moving effortlessly from one to the next, never stopping in any one place long, yet often circling back around from a new direction. In each instantiation of this panoply, she reveals herself as the creative, fiery force driving the living dynamics of all creation and its microcosm in the human being:
I am the supreme and fiery force, who sets all living sparks alight and breathes forth no mortal things, but judges them as they are. Flying around the circling circle with my upper wings, that is, with wisdom, I have ordered all things rightly. But I am also the fiery life of the essence of divinity; I flame above the beauty of the fields and I shine in the waters and I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And with the airy wind I rouse to life all things with some invisible life, which sustains all things.

Therefore I, the fiery force, lie hidden in these things, and they burn because of me, just as breath continually moves a human being and a flickering flame exists within the fire. All of these things live in their essences and are not found in death, because I am life. I am also reason, possessing the wind of the resounding Word, through which every created thing was made; and in all these things I blow, so that none of them might be mortal in its nature, because I am life. (…)

But I also fulfill my duty, since all living things are set ablaze from me; and I am uniform life in eternity, which has neither beginning nor ending. God is this life, working and moving itself, and yet this life is one in three forces. Therefore Eternity is called the Father, the Word is called the Son, and the breath connecting these two is called the Holy Spirit, just as God is signified in human beings, in whom are body, soul, and reason.
     —Liber Divinorum Operum, I.1.2[1]
This wide range of images is condensed in this simple antiphon into two key concepts—or perhaps, given the fact that most of Hildegard’s music was likely composed before the Liber Divinorum Operum, it might be better to say that, from the simple articulations of this antiphon was spun the complex web of Caritas’ powerful visionary appearance at the opening of the latter work. Each of these two key concepts is enunciated by a superlative adjective (a construction in which Hildegard revelled and whose rhythms are far more poetic in Latin than in English): Love embraces the cosmos as excellentissima (“most excellent”; in its etymology, the Latin concept of excellence relates to loftiness and height), and God, her royal spouse, as amantissima (“most beloved”).

The first half of the antiphon celebrates the exalted reach of Divine Love from the depths of the abyss to the heights beyond the stars. Because the subtle immensity of her being is the dynamic structuring principle of all levels of created being (habundat in omnia), she connects every link in the neoplatonic chain of being, overflowing from the Divine Source into each successive level. Love’s fundamentally connective office then transforms in the second half of the antiphon into the tender relationship between lover and beloved. While this imagery is classically scriptural, Hildegard here has assimilated a verse from Psalm 85 to reverse the imagery of the opening of the Song of the Songs. While the Bride cries out, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Sg. Sgs. 1:2), in Hildegard’s antiphon, it is Caritas who reaches herself up to kiss the High King with the kiss shared between Justice and Peace in Ps. 85:10 (84:11 in the Vulgate).

The music itself highlights Love’s active giving rather than passive reception by repeating the opening phrase on Karitas almost note-for-note in the long final melisma on dedit ("gave"). As in Spiritus sanctus vivificans, the dynamic paradox that animates the Spirit’s office is the tension between a rooted omnipresence that structures the world—denoted here in the first of the antiphon’s two verbs, habundat—and the constantly moving dynamism of the Spirit’s activity—denoted here in the second verb, dedit. In its guise as Caritas, the Holy Spirit is an active agent of peace—the harmony in and for which the world was created.

That harmony is further reflected in the pervasive homoioteleuton, or repetition at the end of words, of “a”—again, another feature seen in Spiritus sanctus vivificans. As Marianne Richert Pfau has noted (“Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons,” pp. 86-8), the intense repetition of “a” and “i”—the two vowels of the word Karitas itself—becomes wholly intertwined with the musical structure of the piece, in which five (or six, if you include the initial word Karitas) of the eight musical phrases ends on the modal final, D, and with the end-vowel “a” (omnia, excellentissima, sidera, amantissima, and omnia). The final two phrases are the exception—but in this case, the variatio proves the rule. The penultimate phrase ends with pacis and, rather than returning to D, remains high on A, pressing the melody onto the final phrase—a melisma on the first syllable of dedit—which begins and ends on the final while ranging all the way to its octave.

The repetition of final vocalic “a” and its marriage with the musical return to the final of D confirms the thematic structuring of the piece around the two superlative adjectives, which are further highlighted by the range of the music in which they are set. The two musical phrases that contain de imis excellentissima / super sidera also contain the broadest range of the entire piece, from the first appearance of the high D an octave above the final as the third note of de down to the low A on the first syllable of super (repeated on in omnia in the line after next), thus musically mirroring the breadth of Caritas’ ontological dynamic.

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

D mode
Range: A below the final to D an octave above the final
Setting: neumatic, with several melismas on key words

Set in the D mode, the antiphon revolves around the focal pitches of D and A, which are typical fulcrum pitches in this mode. The phrasing is straightforward. The opening, Karitas, is outlined by the modal final and carries a substantial melisma, thus endowing it with emphatic significance. While others have titled this piece Karitas habundat, the first word alone could serve as the title here because its melodic structure is so clearly defined by the final of the mode. The second phrase, habundat in omnia, begins on A, as do all of the subsequent phrases until the last two, which both open on D. The penultimate line ends on A, while the final phrase, like the antiphon’s opening, is outlined by the modal final.

Karitas is a favorite figure for Hildegard and plays a large role in the theological books. She receives less emphasis in the songs, with only one dedicated to her. However, some of the attributes assigned to Mary in the Symphonia are consistent with those given to the female allegorical figures in the theological writings.

Further Resources for Karitas habundat
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Barbara Newman (Cornell Univ. Press, 1988 / 1998), pp. 140 and 279.
  • Pfau, Marianne Richert. “Music and Text in Hildegard’s Antiphons.” (In Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia, ed. Newman), pp. 86-8.
  • For a discography of this piece, see the comprehensive list by Pierre-F. Roberge: Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) - A discography


[1] Trans. by Nathaniel Campbell, from the Latin text of Hildegard of Bingen, Liber Divinorum Operum, ed. A. Derolez and P. Dronke, in CCCM 92 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996), pp. 47-9.  


  1. Just to suggest a different version:
    Thanks for your beautiful site

  2. Here are calligraphy coloring pages of the text:

    I love your site, thank you so much!

  3. I enjoyed reading and listening to the music on your site, it was very interesting and awaking.

  4. I think this antiphon gave inspiration to this

    Chris Franco

    1. Thank you, Chris, for the idea! It does indeed sound like the opening theme to the film, Prometheus, written by Marc Streitenfeld, samples the opening phrase of this antiphon.

  5. Hi again.

    Since the last time we spoked, and just for the fun of it, I made an entire ambient/electronic ep all based on this opening phrase ^^

    Here it is if you want to listen to it (you can find it also on more "traditional" streaming platforms)


  6. Thank you for such an spiritual and wonderful work that all of you are sharing with us. God bless you for ever.