September 19, 2012

The Fire of St. Hildegard

The Abbess of Bingen describes "a blazing fire, incomprehensible, inextinguishable, wholly living and wholly Life, with a flame in it the color of the sky, which burned ardently with a gentle breath, and which was inseparably within the blazing fire."

Although the vision itself was given to her in her forties, how she sees this vision is the fruit of a lifetime devoted to searching for God, quaerere Deum. She knows her glimpse into the Fire of Love is an undeserved gift. At the same time, she also knows she was able to receive because she had dedicated herself to studying our faith in the Lord with her whole mind, whole heart, whole soul and whole strength.

Anyone who commits themselves to search so great a mystery becomes acutely aware of being inadequate and unworthy. Such souls learn a humility that knows any wisdom they acquire will not be the result of their own resourcefulness. Instead, they live to behold the Living God with the eyes of faith knowing this vision as an inestimable gift which inspires heart-piercing gratitude and reverent movements of adoration. The teachings of St. Hildegard ring with this mystical wisdom.

We need her vision of God, her way of seeing the Mystery of our faith. Contemplating God as "Blazing Fire" corrects a certain static vision of God, one which sees Him as conveniently tamed and predictably dull. One of the gravest errors of our time is the intellectual and lived hubris that presumes to fit God into some system or agenda contrived by human cleverness. In St. Hildegard's vision, all earthly powers of estimation and prediction are surmounted by the ardent burning in the heart of the Trinity.

She sees, she beholds, and she savors the radiant light and warming love of God. Because she is humble, He is able to constantly astonish her with new wonders and bath her in his dazzling splendor. Encountering One so totally other in holiness and truth, she is left stammering using a tapestry of rich images one following another in an effort to point to the One who has so captivates her thoughts and even more, has so captured her heart. In all of this, she is vulnerable to the hidden purpose He wants manifest.

When we seek the Lord with love driven faith, like St. Hildegard, we encounter a purposeful mystery who wants to disclose Himself, a hidden presence which no system can extinguish and no cleverness comprehend. Hidden and secret, the Life who reveals Himself in faith nonetheless enlightens and warms our whole existence in such manner that we must, like her, make Him known.

For her, at the center of this blazing vision of God is none other than the Eternal Word, the Word of Creation and Redemption, the divine utterance of the Father that resounds in the wonders He has made. Christ is the secret that opens access to the hidden depths of God. If we approach the Word of God in our living tradition ardently searching for God in word and sacrament, why should we not be able to share in her contemplation and find ourselves taken like her in silent adoration, our hearts full, bursting to cry out?


  1. What a beautiful meditation on how Hildegard's visions of the fiery life of divinity can help us on our journey to God! Too often, as you say, we separate God to fit him into whatever box we need at the moment: sometimes, he's that amorphous spiritual force that enlivens us creatively; other times, he's the rational structure of thought and of the universe (you can see here perhaps the false division we like to make between practical theology and systematic theology, or between the lived faith on the ground and the theoretical faith of the academic theologian).

    Yet, what Hildegard sees is a God who is both creative and rational at the same time. At first sight, Hildegard's visions present us with a volatile whirlwind that seems to juggle so many different, contrasting, and even paradoxical images, keeping all of them in the air at once and letting none fall to the floor. On the one hand, it seems disordered, chaotic, even nonsensical—how are we to navigate such stormy waters as this jumble and juxtaposition of visionary moments? Yet, within the chaos we begin to discern order—but not order as we would have it in our everyday lives; no, in her inimitable and fascinating visionary style, Hildegard offers a glimpse, rarely in focus and always on the verge of slipping away, teetering on the edge of falling into the abyss, of an order that transcends any notion of order that our feeble minds can grasp. Hildegard's visions of Divine Love leave the confines of the strictly animalistic, the strictly rational, the strictly human, in order to fly away upward, striving to reach the heights of heaven where True Love dwells, from which seat can be glimpsed again what is truly creative, truly rational, truly human.

  2. I love this saint. She was and is a great woman of strength, intelligence and love of God and man. Only one more month until she receives the full recognition she has so long and so richly deserved. Deo gratias!!