Men and Christ as Stags according to Hildegard of Bingen

Yesterday, I alluded to how the Celtic tradition often pictures men as stags and Christ too was pictured as a stag.  

“Five Virtues Building a Heavenly City in the House of Wisdom” by Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, in Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen, who was raised in a Celtic monastery, paints a picture of Christ as a stag (see image at right).

She describes her vision:  A “young man with a virile and noble countenance,” very bright and alive, was sitting on a throne.  He speaks:

O, foolish people, you are lukewarm and are disgracefully withering away.   You refuse to open even one eye to see what you might accomplish in the goodness of your spirit….You refuse to be with a good conscience as if you lacked the understanding of good and evil.

Who is talking?  It is “the Son of Man who is speaking to you” who wants to teach you how to “know the fruit of a useful existence.”  

In life, gifts are given us that allow us “to choose God in truth and justice” and contribute to a healthy society.  

“You possess in yourself everything that is useful to yourself.”   It takes work—but even the earth works hard—“Do I ever give the fruitfulness of the earth without work?”

“The Ash Yggdrasil” (1886) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, showing the four harts of Norse mythology, eating the foliage of the world tree. Wikiwand.

He urges us to “cultivate your gifts [and] the best treasure your Creator gave you is of course a living intellect….At every hour of the day you should think about how you received so great a gift and how you give it back in your works for justice”…the “splendor of holiness” follows.

The central woman figure is Constancy.  She insures we persevere steadfastly in our good works.  A stag straddles two windows appearing on her chest.  

The deer, Hildegard says, is the Son of God about whom the psalmist writes: “I thirst for you as a deer after running waters.” 

The stag is linked symbolically with the Tree of Life and with regeneration since its antlers are renewed regularly.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, pp. 136-141, and plate 21.

Also see Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

Banner Image: Stag in the forest. Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Hildegard that “of course a living intellect” is your greatest gift and that it is meant to serve truth and justice and society? And that work and Constancy are essential? And that a deer who is a “Son of God” dwells in your heart, in your chest?

Recommended Reading

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.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine

To awaken what Fox calls “the sacred masculine,” he unearths ten metaphors, or archetypes, ranging from the Green Man, an ancient pagan symbol of our fundamental relationship with nature,  to the Spiritual Warrior….These timeless archetypes can inspire men to pursue their higher calling to connect to their deepest selves and to reinvent the world.
“Every man on this planet should read this book — not to mention every woman who wants to understand the struggles, often unconscious, that shape the men they know.” — Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of The Left Hand of God

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4 thoughts on “Men and Christ as Stags according to Hildegard of Bingen”

  1. Avatar

    In the Saint-Greal, it is related that Christ sometimes appeared to the disciples as a white stag with four lions whom represented the four evangelists. The stag has been painted, weaved and carved as an allegory of Christ because legend attributes it to the capacity for self-renewal, spiritual authority, reaching towards the realm of Spirit, regeneration as well as conversion of the heart. Four knights from the King Author legend also relate to being guided by the white stag, seen as Christ, to the Holy Grail. Interestingly, in relationship to this… legend identifies the white unicorn with the blessed Mother Mary and the mystical rose pathway. All of these legends, Hildegard I sense would have been familiar with during her lifetime… as well as being exposed to this imagery within the old churches architectural decorum.

    Symbols, sigils, allegories, metaphors and legends have an alchemical energy about them… which embodies a mysterious, mystical way of creating a transformation in consciousness. There seems to be an element of truth hidden within them… awaiting to be intuitively and imaginatively discovered. The Spirit moves in its own ways…

  2. Avatar

    Who first named the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality? Eckhardt? Aquinas? Julian? Matthew Fox? Is this idea a modern way of describing Creation Spirituality?
    Joan Robertson

  3. Avatar

    I first name the 4 paths in an article (my first) on Meister Eckhart for I saw them there in his writings. The article is in my edited book, “Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes” (1979) and the article is called “Meister Eckhart on the Fourfold Path of a Creation-Centered Spiritual Journey.” In 1983 I published my book “Original Blessing” where I lay them out in more detail and of course they became the structure of my major book on Eckhart, “Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation” (1980) and now called “Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart”) and the same for my major book on Aquinas, “Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality.” (1992)

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