Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spiritus sanctus vivificans

Psalm antiphon for the Holy Spirit (D 157r, R 466va) by Hildegard of Bingen Back to Table of Contents
Spiritus sanctus vivificans
vita movens omnia,
et radix est in omni creatura
ac omnia de inmunditia abluit,
tergens crimina ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans
The Holy Spirit: living and life-giving,
the life that’s all things moving,
the root in all created being:
of filth and muck it washes all things clean—
out-scrubbing guilty staining, its balm our wounds constraining—
and so its life with praise is shining,
rousing and reviving
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.

Recording with Psalm 110/111, sung by the nuns of the Abtei St. Hildegard, Eibingen, Germany:

Commentary: Themes and Theology
by Nathaniel M. Campbell

In this opening antiphon of Symphonia’s section devoted to the Holy Spirit (eighth in the Riesenkodex, fifteenth in the Dendermonde, but either way, the first addressed to the third person of the Trinity), Hildegard offers swift, fulsome movement to convey the Spirit’s place, both rooted and rousing, as the source and sustainer of all created life. It is useful, then, to take this piece alongside O virtus Sapientie, as the spiraling movement of Wisdom’s wings propels also this dance through the Holy Spirit’s life-giving action. The mention of the Spirit’s cleansing and wiping away of filth also recalls the responsory, O vis eternitatis, with its movement from the fleshly garments of Adam to the Incarnation; and it is echoed in verse 1b of Hildegard’s sequence, O ignis Spiritus paracliti. In verses 4a-b of that same sequence, Hildegard also expands this antiphon’s treatment of the Holy Spirit as anima mundi, the “World-Soul” that courses through all existence with dynamic vitality.

Although Newman has criticized the syntax of this antiphon for being “clumsy” (Symphonia, ed. Newman, p. 279), the alternation of participles with finite verbs sustains the essential movement of the Spirit’s own dynamis. The participles keep the Spirit’s action continuously in motion, rather than static or discrete. I have tried to maintain that continuous rhythm with the numerous participles in the translation, which also serve to convey another striking feature of this piece: its enumeration of words ending with “a”. Many of these (e.g. omnia, crimina, and vulnera) are neuter plural nouns, while others are feminine singular (e.g. creatura and inmunditia); but they are all connected by their vocalic ending to the key word: vita, “life” (feminine singular).

The thought-movement of the piece takes us from the Holy Spirit as the source of life, paradoxically both moving and the root of all life, to the Spirit’s cleansing and healing action to restore to life that which has been stained and wounded. The repetition of the same musical motif on sanctus (“holy”, line 1) and movens (“moving”, line 2) connects the Spirit’s holiness with its movement in the world—another paradox that juxtaposes the holy as set apart with the holy as synthetic. After a central section meditating upon the Spirit’s succor to cleanse the fetid wounds of fallenness, the antiphon returns to a celebration of the Spirit as giver of life. Another musical repetition links the scrubbing away of guilt (tergens, line 5 / 6 of the transcription) with the Spirit’s shining splendor (fulgens, line 7 / 8 of the transcription), as newly-polished silver gleams in the sunlight.[1]

A hallmark of Hildegard’s theology of the Spirit is this paradox of the Spirit as eternal root of being, on the one hand, and agent of dynamic metamorphosis on the other. This may reflect Hildegard’s own experience of the religious life, in a way, for her first entrance into the monastery at the Disibodenberg was as an anchoress with Jutta on All Saints’ Day, 1112—the technical terms of their enclosure there forbade them to leave the anchorhold, which was to be their permanent, stable place of service to God for the remainder of their lives. But Hildegard did leave the anchorhold, and in dramatic fashion, leading her community of nuns to an entirely new foundation (the Rupertsberg) around 1150, and traveling widely on preaching tours thereafter. Like the patron of that new foundation, St. Rupert, Hildegard could be the “fresh viridity of God’s creative finger, in which God planted his green vineyard,” precisely because she drew her strength as “a lofty pillar” and “the mountain’s height” that “never shall be laid low at God’s discerning judgment” (from her antiphon to St. Rupert, O viriditas digiti Dei).

Hildegard recognizes in her theology of the Holy Spirit that the power of the Spirit’s rootedness in eternity dynamically overflows into time and throughout the world, vivifying what would otherwise be passive and dead—for the antithesis of life is the immoveable stagnation of death, the failure of the dynamic. This idea of fixed strength overflowing into dynamic, creative life is reflected in the participles in this piece, which keep the Spirit’s action continuous rather than static. Likewise, Hildegard described the strength with which the Spirit endued the Church (confirmation) at Pentecost as one that bursts forth, a powerful and creative actor in the drama of salvation history:
The Father sent [the Holy Spirit] into the world for love of His Son, to enkindle the hearts of His disciples with fiery tongues and make them stronger in the name of the Holy and True Trinity. Before the coming upon them of the Holy Spirit in fire, they were sitting shut up in their house, protecting their bodies, for they were timid about speaking of God’s justice and feeble in facing their enemies’ persecutions. Because they had seen My Son in the flesh, their inner vision was unopened and they loved Him in the flesh, and thus did not see the bright teaching that afterward, when they were made strong in the Holy Spirit, they spread abroad in the world. But by Its coming they were so confirmed that they did not shrink from any penalty, but bravely endured it. And this is the strength of that tower, which strengthened [confirmed] the Church so much that the insane fury of the Devil can never overcome it.
     —Scivias II.4.1[2]

Commentary: Music and Rhetoric
by Beverly Lomer

A mode
Range: G below the final to A an octave above the final
Setting: primarily neumatic with some short melismas

In this antiphon, phrasing is generally straightforward, with A and E serving as the grammatical markers. There are two less regular situations in which F has been designated here as the opening pitch of a line/phrase.

The first incidence is found on line 5 of the first page of the transcription (abluit). This is an interesting segment, as the phrase as given in the transcription begins on F and ends on B with no flat, thus outlining the tritone. Perhaps this was an intentional rhetorical strategy designed to highlight the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, one of Hildegard’s favorite themes.

It is possible to align this section differently, but it would seriously disrupt any sense of textual order. The musical phrase that begins on ac omnia de inmunditia could continue past abluit to encompass tergens on line 6. Crimina would then begin on the A an octave above the final and the phrase would begin with a downward leap of a fifth—a very unusual opening for Hildegard. Thus ordered, this next phrase would continue to include et sic est on line 7. Such a division would keep the phrases outlined by either A or E, the typical demarcating tones in this mode. However, although word order was less important in medieval Latin than it is in modern languages, this solution would negate any textual phrasing. The music would dominate rather than emphasizing and enhancing the words. Such an interpretation, while not unacceptable, is nevertheless unlikely.

Interestingly, the range of the piece only reaches to the A an octave above the final once in the Riesenkodex, while it attains the highest pitch several times in Dendermonde. The placement of this high A is always associated with a downward leap of a fifth, except in the first line. This melodic gesture can be thought to link the idea of (the root of) life with the cleansing and saving power of the Holy Spirit. The rhetorical emphasis gained by such melodic repetition is not as strong here, however, as it is in other works.

Further Resources for Spiritus sanctus vivificans


[1] I have elsewhere argued that Hildegard made the intentional and costly choice to illustrate the Rupertsberg manuscript of her Scivias with extensive silver, precisely to symbolize the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit: Nathaniel M. Campbell, “Imago expandit splendorem suum: Hildegard of Bingen’s Visio-Theological Designs in the Rupertsberg Scivias Manuscript,” Eik√≥n / Imago 4 (2013, Vol. 2, No. 2), pp. 1-68, esp. pp. 46-8; accessible online here
[2] Adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), p. 190. 


  1. Hi , where can I get the verses for this antiphone ?

    1. I'm not sure what you're asking. If you are wondering what psalm it would have been sung with, the answer is that we do not know what precise liturgical office it would have been used for. All of the information that we have about the antiphon has been included here.