O spectabiles viri / Antiphon for Patriarchs and Prophets

by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Barbara Newman
Original Language Latin

Spectacular men! you see
with the spirit's eyes,
piercing the veil.
In a luminous shade you proclaim
a sharp living brightness
that buds from a branch
that blossomed alone
when the radical light took root.

Holy ones of old! you foretold
deliverance for the souls
of exiles
slumped in the dead lands.

Like wheels you
spun round in wonder as you spoke
of the mysterious mountain
at the brink of heaven
that stills many waters, sailing
over the waves.

And a shining lamp
burned in the midst of you!
Pointing,
he runs to the mountain.

-- from Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum, by Hildegard of Bingen / Translated by Barbara Newman

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/ Photo by Wolfgang Staudt /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A few thoughts --

Spectacular men! you see
with the spirit's eyes,
piercing the veil.


That taunting veil of surface seeming. It both hides and it reveals. It dances and teases the senses. But there is a point at which we must learn to see through its gauzy fabric.

In a luminous shade...

I've spoken often of the radiance experienced by many mystics in deep contemplation ("And a shining lamp / burned in the midst of you!"), but I like the way Hildegard von Bingen pairs that luminosity with "shade." All of this imagery of light can sound overly intense, like a place of no rest. To me, Hildegard's use of shade suggests a gentle shielding, a space of quietude, profound peace amidst the glow.

Like wheels you
spun round in wonder as you spoke...


These lines put a wide grin on my face. The imagery, the words carry a sense of delight. Pure wonder -- at the Divine, at the sheer immensity of Existence -- floods us, fills us, until all we can do is turn in all directions, in witness to the All. This almost brings to mind the image of Mevlevi dervishes, spinning and spinning, at once animated and at rest in divine contemplation.

...of the mysterious mountain
at the brink of heaven
that stills many waters, sailing
over the waves.


The mountain, like Christ, brings calm to the waters. But the phrasing here is particularly interesting to me. To talk of stilling "many waters" uses the gospel story of Christ calming the water and transmutes it into a broader statement about the psyche and its relationship with the world around it. It suggests a profound stilling of the turbulent movement that occurs throughout creation. It suggests the waves of the mind and its disharmonious perceptions of the world being made still, calm, clear. This "mysterious mountain," which is the bridge to heaven ("at the brink of heaven"), summons forth the hidden awareness of the harmonious unity of creation.

Pointing,
he runs to the mountain.



Recommended Books: Hildegard von Bingen

Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs Women of Wisdom: A Journey of Enlightenment by Women of Vision Through the Ages The Book of the Rewards of Life: Liber Vitae Meritorum
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O spectabiles viri