Hildegard of Bingen was born into a noble family in Bermersheim in 1098. She experienced visions from a young age but did not tell anyone about them. At the age of eight her family gave her to the care of a religious noblewoman, Jutta of Spanheim, who took Hildegard with her to be enclosed as a recluse at the Disibodenberg monastery. The monastery became a convent sometime between 1112 and 1115, and Hildegard took religious vows. After Jutta died in 1136, Hildegard was elected the abbess at Disibodenberg. When she was 43, at the urging of a vision, she started to write about the visions she had experienced. Her first work, Scivias, appeared (with Papal approval) in 1151. Her collection of religious songs, the Symphonia, appeared in 1158. She then produced a number of other works, including theological, musical, scientific, and medical works. Hildegard died in 1179. She was celebrated as a saint in the Rhineland and in the fifteenth century her feast day was established as September 17.
This is a metaphor of Hildegard of Bingen’s: We are born with an “inner tent of wisdom.” As we grow, we unfold the tent and learn how to pitch it, so more and more wisdom will fit inside us. If we keep growing, expanding our tent, our understanding will continue to grow, leading to inner harmony and peace with God and others. She wrote this vision:
1Fox, Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, 308-310.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, pp. 76-79.
Hildegard says we are born in “original wisdom.” Our origins are beautiful but life is a fierce struggle. This is not an easy task. “Where am I, a stranger?” her soul asks. “In the shadow of death. And by which way do I go? In the way of error. And what consolation do I have? What strangers have.” The soul wanders and struggles to set up its tent and to make a home for Wisdom. Hildegard teaches that this Divine Tent came from heaven to each of us at our birth, tightly folded up. Our journey through life is a gradual unfolding of this Divine Tent of Wisdom in our lives, amid its struggles and obstacles.
We are all works in progress. From birth to death to eternity, we are on a journey. When we are born we are like that tightly folded tent. Imagine the new tent in its box. You know when you take it out that you will never get it to fit in that box again. As we grow and age we continue to learn who we are. We continue to unfold our tent and set it up bit by bit, making room inside for more growth, more hope, more understanding.
The First Artist
Humans, God made you
in a profoundly sacred space
when the holy Divinity split
heaven open for the Trinity
and sparkle in earth’s muck.
If you want to know why,
look at His humility and kindness.
Even the angels who serve God see Him in
us who merely walk on
-Hildegard, Translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher