Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias

Introduction: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) was the abbess of a Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg, which she moved to a new site in Bingen (Germany). Hildegard had a remarkable literary output that included works in such diverse subjects as liturgical music, moral drama, medicine, horticulture, and natural history. In the 1140s Hildegard recorded twenty-six mystical visions she had experienced throughout her lifetime; she called the work Scivias, which is a contraction of "Know the Ways [of the Lord]" (Scito vias Domini in Latin). The visions, accompanied by thirty-five illustrations, are divided into three parts (corresponding to the Trinity), and the topics range from creation to redemption and salvation. Both Hildegard’s language and visual imagery are highly original.

Two illustrated medieval copies of the Scivias survived until the Second World War, when the one most closely connected to Hildegard (called the Rupertsberg manuscript) was destroyed. Fortunately, it is known from photographs and a hand-drawn color copy made by nuns in Eibingen, another convent founded by Hildegard. Fol. 4r of the lost Rupertsberg manuscript contains an image of the Creation and Fall and some of the chapter headings for Part I, Vision 2. These headings, which provide a sense of the vision’s contents, are translated here (a), followed by excerpts from Hildegard’s text (b).


Some passages have been simplified and words added in brackets to aid comprehension.

XXI That a man should not wed unless he is at a mature age and the woman is marriageable.

XXII Concerning the unlawful and lustful pollution that is to be avoided.

XXIII Why a woman after birth or once defiled by man should remain hidden and abstain from entering church. Those who defile themselves by lying with a pregnant woman commit murder.

XXIIII Hosea on the same topic.

XXV Concerning the commendation to chastity.

XXVI John on the same topic.

XXVII How God built a wall around paradise after Adam was expelled.

XXVIII How because man rebelled against God, the creation formerly subject to him [man] rebelled against him.

XXIX. Concerning the delightfulness of paradise that imparted vigor and strength to the land, as the soul does to the body.

XXX Why God made man in such a way that he was able to sin.

XXXI That man ought not investigate the heavens, because he is not able to ponder even the things below them.

XXXII How man now shines more brightly in heaven than he did before.

XXXXIII The similarity of a garden, an egg, and a pearl to mankind.

XXXIIII Concerning the commendation of humility and charity, which are more radiant than the rest of the virtues.
(b) Book I, Vision 2—The Fall (excerpts)
Then I saw a very great multitude resembling living lamps of immense brightness; receiving a burning glory, they obtained a most serene splendor. And lo! a pit of great breadth and depth appeared, having a mouth like the mouth of a well and belching forth fiery smoke with a great stench, from which the foulest haze [the devil], spreading itself out like a blood vessel, also touched one having the face of a deceiver. And in a clear part of the sky it wafted toward a white cloud [Eve] that had emerged from another beautiful cloud in the shape of a man [Adam] containing within itself many, many stars, and thus drove out that cloud and the man’s shape from the area. Once this was done, a most brilliant light surrounded the expanse, and thus all the elements of the world that formerly existed in great peace appeared as horrible terrors transformed into the ghastliest disarray.

That most foul steaming vapor that stretched out into some distance imperceptible to sight? This is the devil’s trickery emanating from the depths of perdition that secretly entered a venomous snake containing the sins of fraudulent purpose for the purpose of deceiving mankind. How? Since the devil saw man in paradise, with great indignation he cried out, saying: "Oh, who will be my equal in the mansion of blessedness?" And thus he recognized that he had not yet worked upon another creature the malice that he held within himself, but seeing Adam and Eve living in childlike innocence in the Garden of Delights, he came to them with great craftiness in the guise of a serpent in order to deceive them. For what reason? Because he understood that a serpent is more similar to him than any other animal; he was endeavoring to accomplish secretly with this trick what he was unable to fulfill openly in his own form. Therefore when he saw Adam and Eve turning away in both soul and body from the tree forbidden to them, he understood in his own mind that they had received some divine command, and because they were only beginning their first task, he could easily overthrow them. For he did not know that the tree was forbidden to them until he recognized this through the evidence provided by his devious question and their responses to it. On account of this, he blew out a white cloud in that shining region through a most foul mist that went out from a beautiful human form containing many stars, because in the aforementioned place of delight he assailed Eve, who had an innocent soul gifted from innocent Adam, and it carried an entire shining multitude of the human race according to God’s preordination, but he brought her to ruin through the serpent’s deception. Why? Because he knew that a woman’s weakness is more easily overcome than a man’s fortitude; also he observed that Adam was inflamed so vehemently with his love for Eve that, if the devil himself could prevail upon Eve, Adam would do anything that she commanded to him. For this reason the devil sent from that region both that cloud and a human form, just as that same ancient seducer sent Eve and Adam into the shadows of ruin, expelling them from the seat of their blessedness by his deceit. How? He first seduced Eve, so that she might flatter Adam, and by that he would offer to her his assent, since she was able to lead Adam to disobedience more quickly than any other creature could have done because she had been made from his rib. Thus a woman overthrows a man quickly, for he easily accepts her words because he does not fear her.

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