Hildegard of Bingen: I Am the Air

Beverly Lanzetta Meditations, Study

Hildegard of Bingen, Beverly LanzettaHildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, healer, composer, and mystic. One of the most remarkable and creative persons of the Middle Ages, she was celebrated for her prophetic and healing gifts, and consulted by popes, bishops, and kings. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced major works of theology, visionary writings, and treatises about the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees, and stones. Especially relevant is her cosmological view of creation, redemption, and transformation in the feminine figure of Sapientia (Wisdom) or Caritas (Love).

Hildegard situates Sapientia at the center of the cosmological wheel of life, as the source and power of healing, and as the mothering figure of the church. Sapientia or Caritas exemplifies the ultimate mystery of the cosmos, and the inseparable bond between creator and creation. Her immanence is supreme; she is everywhere, generating, circulating, and greening all of life. She is both the elemental force that invigorates nature and the spiritual force that instills new life in the soul.

Sapientia is creatrix and anima mundi (soul of the world), who gives life to the cosmos by existing within it and not by molding or ordering it from on high. Hildegard depicts Mary as the celestial foreshadowing of Sapientia and the embodied fertility of Eve. She thus unites the celestial with the earthly, the divine with the flesh. “Hildegard,” writes Barbara Newman, “saw this as the dimension in which mediation or union between Creator and creature can be achieved. Where the feminine presides, God stoops to humanity and humanity aspires to God.”[1]

Caritas: “I am the air, I who nourish all green and growing life, I who bring ripe fruit from the flower. For I am skilled in every breath of the Spirit of God, so I pour out the most limpid streams. From good sighing I bring weeping, from tears a sweet fragrance through holy actions.”[2]

One of her musical compositions, O Viridissima Virga, is a song to the Virgin. A portion of the song is chanted in this recording by Shana Lanzetta.

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[1] Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 45.

[2] Ibid. 67.