Like Howard Thurman, who speaks in his book on Jesus and the Disinherited to “people with their backs against the wall,” Hildegard of Bingen teaches about emptying.
She paints a picture with a girl “clothed in a plain tunic” who represents “the poor in spirit [who]do not seek to boast or inflate their spirits, but choose a simplicity and sobriety of mind.”
In doing so, they imitate Christ, since he, “even though he had heavenly riches, subjected himself humbly to the poor.” Here she is describing the theme of kenosis, of being emptied which happens in the via negativa. Christ, emptied of divinity, became human. (Phil. 2.6-11) So we, emptied of boasting and self-inflation, become poor in spirit and in this way capable of receiving the Great Spirit.
While Hildegard celebrates the spirit of poverty as the spirit of being emptied, she goes out of her way not to make a virtue of being poor. She criticizes those who ignore helping the poor for their lukewarmness and their being asleep—and ignoring of justice making. Many people
…do not wish to be busy about justice or about rubbing out injustice or about paying back their debts.
She rebukes the laziness, timidity, and false fear of those who, in the name of a religiously pious poverty, do nothing in their lifetimes about justice and injustice.
She admonishes people to
…cry out loud and speak about incorruption….Some refuse to speak or proclaim this because they are lukewarm and dull when it comes to preserving God’s justice.
Hers is a prophetic call. She declares that hard-heartedness is
…the worst sin since it shows no mercy. Neither does it think that charity is necessary nor does it do any good works….
“Hard-heartedness was strong in tyrants,” she observes, and among the overly rich. Yet “no one is able to be satisfied by abundance—you are only bored by it.” Does this have something to do with billionaires in our time rushing to buy and sell trips for other billionaires and millionaires into space?
Hildegard pictures hard-hearted ones saying:
Why should I do any work [for others]? Why should I wear myself out? Nothing excites me except what benefits me directly….If I am always busy being compassionate, what good will it do me? What kind of life will I have if I pay attention to all the happy and sad people? I will take care of myself. Let others take care of themselves.
Hildegard tells us that
this sin hardens people so much that they do not wish to know the image of God nor recognize it in other people because without kindness they lack any kind of mercy and goodness.
They instead fall into envy and hard-heartedness is
…the worst evil of all evils. It spares no one and shows no mercy. It despises men and draws back from God. It does not rejoice with men nor does it encourage humans to do good deeds. It is very hard and despises all things.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, pp. 112-116;
Also see Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 100f.
Banner Image: “A Drink of Water.” Photo by Sarwer e Kainat Welfare from Pexels
Do you see the inner work of emptying as useful for moving from a hard heart to a compassionate one and from injustice to justice?
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.
Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century
Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.
Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.
Join us for a Virtual Teach-in with Isa Gucciardi and Matthew Fox, hosted by Rev. Cameron Trimble.
August 13-14, 2021 (Fri-Sat)
Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
Session 1: Friday, August 13 at 4pm-6pm PT
Session 2: Saturday, August 14 at 9am-12pm PT
Session 3: Saturday, August 14 at 12:30pm-2:30pm PT