Hildegard of Bingen on Compassion and Justice

Meister Eckhart and Thomas Aquinas are not alone in insisting on Compassion and Justice as integral to our being human.  

“Cultivating the Cosmic Tree” by Hildegard von Bingen. For more works by Hildegard see Matthew Fox’s book Illuminations.

We find deep teachings on Compassion in Francis of Assisi, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and Julian of Norwich.  Consider the teachings from Hildegard of Bingen:  We have seen that compassion is based on interdependence.  She teaches:

Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.

Compassion and justice are about right relationships and Hildegard believes “creation blooms and flourishes when it remains in right relationship and keeps to its assigned tasks.”  Speaking of justice, she declares:

When you lack the verdancy of justice, your soul is dry, totally without tender goodness, totally without illuminating virtue. 

O Nobilissima Viriditas by Hildegard of Bingen: “Most noble evergreen with your roots in the sun: you shine in the cloudless sky of a sphere no earthly eminence can grasp, enfolded in the clasp of ministries divine. You blush like the dawn, you burn like a flame of the sun.” Video posted to YouTube by la harpe de melodie; translation by Barbara Newman.

A dry person, one who is without caring or is in denial about injustice, is “totally lacking” in virtue and “totally without goodness.”    

She recognizes creation to be in a love relationship with the Creator. “Creation is allowed in intimate love to speak to the Creator as if to a lover.”  She elaborates:

I compare the great love of Creator and creation to the same love and fidelity with which God binds woman and man together.  This is so that together they might be creatively fruitful.

Thomas Berry comments on Hildegard’s teaching, saying that because of this “erotic” bond Hildegard is speaking of, “the earth becomes luxuriant in its every aspect.”  

South of Lake Tahoe, CA: the remains of a forest burned out by wildfire. Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash.

Hildegard seems to be speaking to our times of climate change and raging fires in a prescient way when she declares: 

Now in the people who were meant to green there is no more life of any kind, there is only shrived barrenness.  The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish going-on….the air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples.  There pours forth an unnatural, loathsome darkness that withers the green, wizens the fruit that was to serve as food for the people.  Sometimes this layer of air is full of fog which is the source of any destructive and barren creatures that destroy and damage the earth, rendering it incapable of sustaining humanity….God desires that all the world be pure in his sight.  The earth should not be injured, the earth should not be destroyed. 

The remains of a home following the Getty wildfire in Sepulveda Pass, Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by the Los Angeles Fire Department on Flickr.

She warns that if humans damage the “web of creation” by our greed and indifference to other creatures in that web, the following will happen.  

As often as the elements of the world are violated by ill treatment, so God will cleanse them through the sufferings, through the hardships of humankind.   

We are seeing these hardships occur daily where hundreds of thousands of people are having to abandon their homes to escape wildfires; and those who stay have to deal with poisonous air which seems to be more smoke than air.  Warns Hildegard:

The high, the low, all of creation God gives to humankind to use.  But if this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 95-98.

And from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, a Saint For Our Times, pp. 33, 39-42. 

See also Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

Banner Image: “Sunset.” Photo by Adam Bautz on Flickr.

Do you think humanity has learned or is learning the “privilege” of being a part of the “web of creation”?  What is holding us back?  What is missing in our culture, its education and its religions and its media, that interferes with learning this lesson? 

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen, Illuminations reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition.  At the age of 42, she began to have visions; these were captured as 36 illuminations–24 of which are recorded in this book along with her commentaries on them.
“If one person deserves credit for the great Hildegard renaissance in our time, it is Matthew Fox.”  – Dr Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Sacred Voices.

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3 thoughts on “Hildegard of Bingen on Compassion and Justice”

  1. Avatar

    How well Hildegard describes The Man in the White House!

    When you lack the verdancy of justice, your soul is dry, totally without tender goodness, totally without illuminating virtue.”

    A dry person, one who is without caring or is in denial about injustice, is “totally lacking” in virtue and “totally without goodness.”

  2. Avatar
    Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

    I recently received a newsletter from Lighthouse Trails, a popular anti-science, anti-evolution and climate change denying Christian organization. The newsletter presents several articles. One of its articles is by Roger Oakland. His article is about a “new reformation Gospel on the horizon,” which he is opposed to and I am helping to usher in. His article is titled, A Glorious Destiny?

    A few excerpts from the article read: Many religious leaders (including New Agers) believe we need a new reformation. Neale Donald Walsch, a prominent leader in the New Age, is one of those with new reformation on his mind. He states: Our intention is to stimulate the second great Reformation of world religion. That is our intention, our goal and our purpose. We intend to, in fact, inspire the second great Reformation of world religion.

    Walsch’s reformation is one that will fulfill Catholic mystic Thomas Merton’s vision: We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity.

    Merton believed that God dwells in all humans, and what’s more, that we are part of the Divine—or to say it more succinctly, that we are all God. Thus, the new reformation on the horizon is not one that points to Jesus Christ as the single Savior who shed His blood to redeem sinners heading to hell.

    The new reformation gospel says that God is in everybody, and humanity just needs to come to this enlightened understanding. When mankind comes into full unity, the global giants of poverty, disease, sickness, etc. will be eradicated. It is the perfect ploy of Satan to keep souls from true salvation and eternal life. It is a grand deception that will seduce the masses—a deception the Bible has warned about, and it will come to pass.

    There is a link presented on the above excerpt from Oakland’s article that reads: “Catholic mystic Thomas Merton’s vision.” The link goes to an article. An excerpt from that article reads:

    “Isn’t it a pity that people are going into LSD to have spiritual experiences, when we have a tradition in the Church [contemplative prayer] which no one knows anything about?” (Interview in which Matthew Fox quoted Merton).

    “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, … now I realize what we all are …. If only they [people] could all see themselves as they really are …I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other … At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth … This little point …is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody.”
    (Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander -1989 edition, 157-158)

    “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity … I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” (Merton in David Steindl-Rast’s “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” – Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969)

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