Thursday, September 17, 2015

Saint Hildegard

Today in some churches the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1179) is celebrated. Hildegard was a Christian mystic, and an abbess of the Benedictine order at Disibodenberg, in Germany. She was also a writer, philosopher, and botanist, and most especially for our purposes, a composer, one of the oldest composers whose work we still know today.  Her music has been extensively researched, particularly in the last thirty years or so, and many works have been recorded.

There are a number of modern hymn texts, that have been derived from her life, her poetry, and her theology -- perhaps the best known being O Holy Spirit, root of life by Jean Janzen. Today's text below dates from the nineteenth century and is a translation of her poem O ignis Spiritus Paracliti, also about the Holy Spirit.  Richard Frederick Littledale translated many texts from Greek, Latin, and other languages, the most well known being Come down, O love divine.

O Fire of God, the Comforter,
O life of all that live,
Holy art thou to quicken us,
And holy, strength to give:
To heal the broken-hearted ones,
Their deepest wounds to bind,
O Spirit of all holiness,
Thou Love of humankind!
O sweetest taste within the breast,
O grace upon us poured,        
That saintly hearts may give again
Their perfume to the Lord.

O purest fountain! we can see,
Clear mirrored in thy streams,
That God brings home the wanderers,
That God the lost redeems.
O breastplate strong to guard our life,
O bond of unity,
O dwelling-place of righteousness,
Save all who trust in thee:        
O surest way, that through the height
And through the lowest deep
And through the earth dost pass, and all
In firmest union keep.

From thee the clouds and ether move,
From thee the moisture flows,       
From thee the waters draw their rills,
And earth with verdure glows,
And thou dost ever teach the wise,
And freely on them pour
The inspiration of thy gifts,
The gladness of thy lore.
All praise to thee, O joy of life,
O hope and strength, we raise,
Who givest us the prize of light,
Who art thyself all praise.

Hildegard; tr. Richard F. Littledale; alt.
Tune: NOAH (
Hubert P. Main, 19th cent. 

This is perhaps not exactly the right tune for this text, but the meter is an unusual one and there aren't many choices among the available sound files.

Hildegard has long been regarded as a saint in Germany, but it was not until May 2012 that her sainthood was officially recognized by the Roman church. Later that year, in October, she was also named a Doctor of the Church, one of four women among the total of  thirty-five.

Five Years Ago: Josiah Conder

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