A Catholic Prophetess' Vision of
the Feminine in Godhead By Abe Van Luik, firstname.lastname@example.org (Note: citations from the Newman book by permission of publisher.) Barbara Newman's interpretation of the feminine theology of Hildegard of Bingen's prophetic writings contains much provocative material. The quotes from Hildegard that suffuse the book are all the more thought-provoking because Hildegard, in the 12th century Rhineland of Germany, was an original. Newman boldly characterizes Hildegard as " the first Christian thinker to deal seriously and positively with the feminine as such, not merely with the challenges posed by and for women in a male- dominated world." (Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom, St. Hildegarde's Theology of the Feminine. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989, p. xv.)
Newman continues, however, by pointing out that Hildegard's thoughts were within the traditional Christian framework of symbols. She thus built her theology of the feminine on the female symbols Christianity provided. Those symbols included the great exemplars Eve, Mary, and Mother Church, but also the feminine symbols of holy Wisdom and divine Love which she rolled into the symbolic character Sapientia or Caritas. (Newman, Ibid., pp. xvii-xviii) One example of Hildegarde's use of these character-symbols is this thorough blending of Caritas and Mary, the former as pre-existent archetype of the latter: And I saw one like a lovely maiden, her face gleaming with such radiant splendor that I could not perfectly behold her. Whiter than snow was her mantle and more shining than the stars, and her shoes were of the finest gold. In her right hand she held the sun and moon and tenderly embraced them. And on her breast was an ivory tablet in which there appeared the form of a man, the color of sapphire and all creation called this maiden Lady. Now she spoke to the form that appeared in her bosom, saying, " With you is the beginning of the day of your virtue, in the splendor of the holy ones I bore you from the womb before the morning star." (Newman, Ibid., pp. 56-57, citing Epistola 30 in volume 197, page 192d, of Patrologiae cursus completus: series latina, 221 vols., ed. J.-P. Migne (Paris, 1841- 1864)). The same Caritas that here prefigures Mary is elsewhere cast as the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity and thus God: O mighty passage, penetrating all in the heights, upon the earth, and in all deeps, you bind them and gather them all together. From you the clouds have their flowing, the ether its flight, the stones their moisture, the waters spurt forth in streams, and the earth exudes verdure. (Ibid., p.67, translating from Hildegard von Bingen: Lieder [Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum], eds. Pudentiana Barth, M.-I. Ritscher and Joseph-Schmidt-Gö rg (Salzburg, 1969) no. 19:232-34.) In a prose description of this self-same aspect of the Divine, Caritas sings: I am the supreme and fiery force who kindled every living spark, and I breathed forth no deadly thing -yet I permit them to be. As I circled the whirling sphere with my upper wings (that is, with wisdom), rightly I ordained it. And I am the fiery life of the essence of God: I flame above the beauty of the fields I shine in the waters I burn in the sun, the moon, and the stars. And, with the airy wind, I quicken all things vitally by an unseen, all-sustaining life. For the air is alive in the verdure and the flowers the waters flow as if they lived the sun too lives in its light and when the moon wanes it is rekindled in the light of the sun, as if it lived anew. Even the stars glisten in their light as if alive. (Ibid. pp. 69-70, translating from Hildegard of Bingen, De operatione Dei (cited as DoD, also known as Liber divinorum operum simplicic hominus), ed. J.D. Mansi, in Stephanus Balluzius: Miscellanea, 2 (Lucca, 1761), I.1.2 reprinted in Migne, Op. cit., vol. 197:741-1038, pp. 743-744). So Caritas has been shown cosmologically to be the third member of the trinity, and the source and sustainer of life. With respect to humanity, which is created in the image of the triune God, Caritas continues by explaining her work in terms symbolic of the trinity that makes up living humanity: earth, soul and reason. Thus, Caritas reminds humanity that the earth, water and light of everyday experience is an incarnation of God, and an ever-present reminder of triune humanity's being a reflection of the triune Divine on earth. One aspect of God resides in nature, and in nature's crowning achievement: the image of God on earth. I flame above the beauty of the fields to signify the earth -the matter from which God made man. I shine in the waters to indicate the soul, for, as water suffuses the whole earth, the soul pervades the whole body. I burn in the sun and the moon to denote reason, and the stars are the innumerable words of reason. (Ibid. pp. 70-71, translating from DoD, Op. cit., p. 744b). The theme of humanity being God's reflection on earth is plainly set forth in this vision: Hildegard's vision of the feminine in God involves seeing the third member of the triune God as essentially female. It appears that Hildegard was inspired by the accounts of Wisdom as the active and creative principle of God in the " Wisdom Literature" of the Old Testament. Perhaps Hildegard's motivation was an innate need to fulfill a long suppressed archetypal intent of the type postulated by the psychotherapist Carl Jung.
Jung approvingly noted the surfacing of the long-suppressed archetypal demand for the female in Deity in Catholicism. Jung felt that the Catholic announcement of the Assumption of Mary, in 1950, was " the most important religious event since the Reformation." (Storr, Anthony (Ed.). The Essential Jung. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey(1983), p. 324) This " bodily reception of the Virgin into heaven" (Ibid.) meant that " the heavenly bride was united with the bridegroom," (Ibid. p. 322) which union " signifies the hieros gamos." (Ibid.)
Acknowledging that the Assumption " is vouched for neither in scripture nor in the tradition of the first five centuries of the Christian Church," Jung observes that: " The papal declaration made a reality of what had long been condoned. This irrevocable step beyond the confines of historical Christianity is the strongest proof of the autonomy of archetypal images." (Storr 1983 p. 297)
To Protestants who challenge the new dogma on historical grounds the Protestant Jung (Jung, C. G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Translated by W. S. Dell and C. F. Baynes. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, San Diego(1933), p. 236) answers in part that " the Protestant standpoint . . . is obviously out of touch with the tremendous archetypal happenings in the psyche of the individual and the masses, and with the symbols which are intended to compensate the truly apocalyptic world situation today." (Ibid. pp. 322-323) Jung added: Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women. But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a 'divine' woman. . . . The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation. (Ibid. p. 325) (Jung was not a feminist (Wehr, Demaris S. Jung and Feminism. Beacon Press, Boston (1987)), but these selected quotes are representative of Jung at his near-feminist best.)Jung, C. G. Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Translated by W. S. Dell and C. F. Baynes. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, San Diego. (1933)
Jung suggests that this Catholic introduction of the female into Deity lessened archetypal tension in the human race, and it seems logical that a sensitive person like Hildegard could be sensitive to these archetypal stirrings, an encounter with the unconscious that Jung felt was as an encounter with the God- archetype. Whether this God-archetype reveals God or indicates God exists is, of course, beyond the purview of Jung's observational science.
But the process Jung describes from observation is that sufficient egoistic stress leads to the revelation of new knowledge from the subconscious, the storehouse of the " collective unconscious" made up of the " archetypes." Jung explicitly links this phenomenon with revelation when he illustrates the concept with Paul's internal conflict, over killing Christians in the name of God, leading him to his " journey to Damascus" experience. (1933 p. 239)
Hildegard's characterization of the universal creative/ redemptive force in terms of the female rather than the male sex: Caritas/Mary/Mother rather than the Father, may seem paradoxical, given her elaborate anti-sexual bias. The celibate nun Hildegard saw Paradise as a place where without the fall there would have been impregnation without sexual pleasure and birth out of the body's side, like Adam's production of Eve, without pain and without the use of the birth canal, (Newman 1989 pp. 112, 124- 125, 176-177).
Perhaps Hildegard's egoistic crisis, leading in Jungian terms to her facing the archetypal revelations she shares so eloquently, involved a severe internal conflict over the acceptability of the erotic impulse. She seldom cited the Song of Songs (Canticles) with their sexual/erotic imagery (Newman 1989 p. 65). Her theology saw mortal, pleasurable sex as sinful, even in marriage, where it passed on the condition of original sin. Yet she could describe the mortal sex act/impulse as a type of the love-pleasure Adam experienced when Eve was born from his side during his slumber. (Newman 1989 pp. 112, 130) Hildegard was capable of describing Caritas as God's blushing bride, allowing her creative imagery to partake of sexual notions quite freely, as in this selection where the stag denotes the desire of God, and the mirror the splendor of God (Newman 1989 p. 50): . . . Love, most sweet, most tender, who captured the mighty stag and poured forth song above all heavens and entered the bridal chamber of all the King's mysteries and revealed herself in all her beauty in the mirror of the cherubim. Whatever led Hildegard to her revelations, she made a contribution to theology that involved symbolizing the feminine as the third member of the Godhead, and thus as God. In my opinion, there is ultimately no reason for assigning maleness to the Holy Ghost except pre-conceived notions of the male sex being installed by God to rule over the female. Hildegard believed in the subordination of the female in the home and Church, (Newman 1989 pp. 95, 197) yet that did not stop her from being a conduit for satisfying the human archetypal need described by Jung as a demand for elevating the feminine to Godhood and Godhead. This elevation is particularly satisfying in the Trinitarian view of God wherein each personage is seen as an aspect of the same mystical Being. Thus, in the Trinitarian view, Hildegard's God is both male and female in the mystical unity of Godhead.