Ave generosa / Hymn to the Virgin

by Hildegard von Bingen

English version by Barbara Newman
Original Language Latin

In the pupil of chastity's eye
I beheld you
Generous maid! Know that it's God
who broods over you.

For heaven flooded you like
unbodied speech
and you gave it a tongue.

lily: before all worlds
you lured the supernal one.

How he reveled
in your charms! how your beauty
warmed to his caresses
till you gave your breast to his child.

And your womb held joy when heaven's
harmonies rang from you,
a maiden with child by God,
for in God your chastity blazed.

Yes your flesh held joy like the grass
when the dew falls, when heaven
freshens its green: O mother
of gladness, verdure of spring.

Ecclesia, flush with rapture! Sing
for Mary's sake, sing
for the maiden, sing
for God's mother. Sing!

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This hymn by the great female mystic Hildegard von Bingen is addressed, of course, to the Virgin Mary, but it is more than a simple work of Christian devotion. It is meant to be more deeply understood as being about the soul's relationship with God.

Within this relationship, the soul is usually described as being a woman, with God understood as the male. In the mystical tradition, the soul must stop attempting to take false 'lovers' in every outer experience and, instead, yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural "virginal" state (represented by the Virgin Mary). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, "untouched" by the experiences of the outer world. Mary's virginity, in this sense, can be understood, not as a statement about sexuality but purity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the soul becomes radiant, "glistening," and magnetically lures the Divine Beloved, "the supernal one."

When that divine touch comes, within that virginal state of being, a new life is formed within (the Christ child in Christian tradition). In this deepest communion, the mystic is filled with an experience of overwhelming bliss that is felt as a new presence in the body -- "your flesh held joy like the grass / when the dew falls, when heaven / freshens its green." And the heart is "warmed"; it opens with an immense love. The more the heart allows this love to flow, the more we feed that sacred new life, "you give your breast to his child."

Then, truly the mystic's awareness becomes the "mother / of gladness, verdure of spring." We become "Ecclesia," the embodiment of the true and secret church, "flush with rapture!"

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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Ave generosa / Hymn