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Sister of Wisdom

Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine, With a New Preface, Bibliography, and Discography

Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Sister of Wisdom
    Book Description:

    Barbara Newman reintroduces English-speaking readers to an extraordinary and gifted figure of the twelfth-century renaissance. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was mystic and writer, musician and preacher, abbess and scientist who used symbolic theology to explore the meaning of her gender within the divine scheme of things. With a new preface, bibliography, and discography,Sister of Wisdomis a landmark book in women's studies, and it will also be welcomed by readers in religion and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92018-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface (1997)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Barbara Newman
  6. Preface (1987)
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. 1 “A poor little female”
    (pp. 1-41)

    Some years ago, wrote the monk Guibert to his friend Radulfus, strange and incredible rumors had reached his ears at the Belgian monastery of Gembloux.¹ They concerned an old woman, abbess of the recent Benedictine foundation at Bingen-am-Rhein, who had gained such fame that multitudes flocked to her convent, from curiosity or devotion, to seek her prophecies and prayers. All who returned thence astonished their hearers, but none could give a plausible account of the woman, save only that her soul was “said to be illumined by an invisible splendor known to her alone.”² Finally Guibert, impatient with rumor and...

  8. 2 The Feminine Divine
    (pp. 42-88)

    Hildegard’s visionary style and self-understanding, as we have seen, derive in fundamental ways from the Old Testament prophets. And her visions of the feminine divine, whom she called Sapientia and Caritas, are no less indebted to the Biblical wisdom literature.

    The books of Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, enjoyed a much wider popularity in the Middle Ages than they do in post-Reformation theology. Twelfth-century writers made use of this wisdom literature in a variety of ways. Aside from its obvious didactic content—the aphorisms on friendship, politics, women, morality, and other...

  9. 3 The Woman and the Serpent
    (pp. 89-120)

    For Hildegard, as for medieval Christians generally, the story of Paradise lost recounted in Genesis served as the touchstone for all meditation on man and woman. It explained their origin, end, and present plight, as well as their relations with God, Satan, and one another. Although the seer nowhere offered a full-scale commentary on the Genesis story, she returned time and again to the figures of Adam and Eve. Their creation, marriage, and banishment appear in one of her earliest visions (Scivias1.2) and still occupied her on her deathbed. Adam and Eve occupy a central place in the saga...

  10. 4 Daughters of Eve
    (pp. 121-155)

    Outside the gates of Eden, one can no longer speak hypothetically about the world or the women in it. When Hildegard wrote about the daughters of Eve—living women in their concrete psychosexual being—the prophet turned physician; and the reader may be startled to find pages of frank, original discussion of female physiology and passion, with scarcely a nod toward theological interpretation.¹ Most of this material occurs in theCauses and Cures,where subjects like sexual desire, intercourse, conception, and childbirth are treated in great though disorganized detail, and in theBook of Simple Medicine,which supplies herbal and...

  11. 5 The Mother of God
    (pp. 156-195)

    “God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere.” So runs the celebrated axiom of Hildegard’s contemporary Alan of Lille.¹ The physician of Bingen had much in common with the metaphysician of France, notably the vitalist and sapiential cast of her theology, and she too liked to imagine God’s essence in the form of a circle. But where Alan delighted in the mind-defying paradox, Hildegard mapped what she could see. “God remained whole like a wheel. . . . The round of the wheel is fatherhood, the fullness of the wheel is divinity. All things are...

  12. 6 The Bride of Christ
    (pp. 196-249)

    No fewer than five visions in theSciviasportray the exalted feminine figure named Ecclesia: bride of Christ, inviolate virgin, mother of the faithful. In preference to other familiar images of the Church—body of Christ, ark of salvation, and so forth—Hildegard turned repeatedly to this consummate form of Woman, who embodies the whole of redeemed humanity in union with God.¹ She is the final epiphany of the feminine, and historically the last manifestation of the eternal counsel.

    Beyond time, Caritas and Sapientia reveal the Incarnation as God’s changeless purpose, the final cause of his creation. Eve, at the...

  13. 7 Sister of Wisdom
    (pp. 250-272)

    In recent years St. Hildegard has found great favor with the gurus of “creation-centered spirituality,” who have tried to popularize her as a kind of New Age mystic by stressing the more optimistic, holistic, and naturalistic sides of her thought.¹ There are, indeed, passages in her work that could have been uttered by Dame Nature inThe Romance of the Rose,and my chapter on the feminine divine highlights precisely those passages. For in a sapiential theology of creation, such as Hildegard’s, the feminine is the immanent divine principle that mediates between the transcendent God and his creatures. She is...

  14. Texts of Hildegard’s Poetry
    (pp. 273-280)

    The texts that follow are newly edited from the principal manuscript sources of Hildegard’sSymphonia armonie celestium revelationum.For a complete edition see Hildegard of Bingen,Symphonia,ed. and trans. Barbara Newman (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).

    D = Dendermonde Abbey, Belgium, Cod. 9; Rupertsberg, c. 1175.

    R = Riesenkodex (Wiesbaden, Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2); Rupertsberg, 1180-1190.

    1.0 virtus Sapientie

    0 virtus Sapientie,

    que circuiens circuisti

    comprehendendo omnia in una via

    que habet vitam,

    5 tres alas habens,

    quarum una in altum volat

    et altera de terra sudat

    et tercia undique volat.

    Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet, lo...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-296)
  16. Discography
    (pp. 297-298)
  17. Index
    (pp. 299-307)