Julian of Norwich & Hildegard of Bingen: Sisters in Wisdom

Yesterday we meditated on the Book of Wisdom’s teaching that Wisdom is artisan of all that is.  Both Julian and Hildegard of Bingen were sisters in their common pursuit of wisdom, though they lived some 200 years apart.  Wisdom is feminine in the Bible and indeed around the world.  And she is all about cosmology.

All Beings Celebrate Creation, by Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias Codex, plate 9.

The quest for wisdom and listening for wisdom is one of the deepest medicines that feminism offers to cure the ills of patriarchy.  Indeed, these ills, as we can see in today’s world, can well be named as folly.  Folly is the opposite of wisdom—as Hildegard and Julian were aware.  Folly destroys our common home, the earth, the very nest that houses our species and so many other marvelous species.  To ignore climate change or deny it is the ultimate in folly therefore.  From such ignoring coronaviruses derive as well. 

To educate only in knowledge and not in wisdom is to invite folly.  It empowers human skills at technology and power but it offers no values by which to evaluate our use of the same.  (This is why Albert Einstein said, “I abhor American education.”)  Thomas Berry warned us about such folly when he observed that most of the destruction of the planet is happening at the hands of people with PhD’s. 

Oil refinery: deadly masterpiece of engineering. Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

When education banishes wisdom, as happened during the modern era when patriarchy ruled supreme, much that follows is folly.  Raw power that knowledge offers is no substitute for wisdom and values.  Knowledge and wisdom are both needed.

So aware was Hildegard about wisdom vs. folly that she named her first book Scivias, meaning Know the Ways—the ways of folly and the ways of wisdom.  In that book she not only treats science and religion but presents 33 paintings of her visions (she calls them Illuminations).  She also includes her opera–the oldest opera in the West.  Clearly, she is working with intuition, art and creativity, alongside knowledge.

Julian too puts wisdom forward.  She declares that “Wisdom is the mother of all good things” and grounds her theology on goodness and therefore on the motherhood of divinity whether God the Creator, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.  All are motherly in Julian’s understanding.

Julian lays out an “I am” poem where divinity is speaking:  

“Communion of the Saints in Cosmic Symphony” on a page of Hildegard’s Scivias.

God said: “This I am—the capability and goodness of the Fatherhood.
This I am—the wisdom of the Motherhood.
This I am—the light and the grace that is all love.
I am the sovereign goodness of all things.
I am what makes you love.
I am what makes you long and desire.”

This poem is marvelously parallel to a poem by Hildegard where she too celebrates Wisdom found in the goodness of creation:

I, the fiery life of divine wisdom,
I ignite the beauty of the plains,
I sparkle the waters,
I burn in the sun,
and the moon,
and the stars.
With wisdom I order all rightly.
Above all, I determine truth.  

To be continued.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 42f. 

And from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 16.    

See also Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.

Banner Image: Stained glass windows depicting Julian of Norwich (location and photographer unknown) and Hildegard of Bingen (Selestat (Alsace); Saint Faith church; photographer Wolfgang Sauber; on Wikimedia Commons.)

Be with Julian’s poem.  Be with Hildegard’s poem.  What are they saying to you?

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

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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4 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich & Hildegard of Bingen: Sisters in Wisdom”

  1. Avatar

    Yes, speaking of SOURCE. The SOURCE in us all that observes, is behind our minds – so to speak, and is everything. This is why we bow, genuflect, pray on our knees, prostrate ourselves, etc.

  2. Avatar

    Patriarchy has been born of severing the head from the heart. That is why the selfsame process severs knowledge from wisdom. And that is why Dorothy Day called us to make a “revolution of the heart.”

  3. Avatar

    Hildegard of Bingen was an amazingly multi-talented person and mystic. From her wiki:
    “She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs for female choirs to sing and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words.”

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