A Catholic Prophetess' Vision of 
the Feminine in Godhead

By Abe Van Luik, abevanluik@thoughtsandplaces.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.

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