Letter from Guibert of Gembloux to Hildegard of Bingen, written in 1175

Brother Guibert, least of the brothers of Gembloux, to Hildegard, the servant of Christ, whom I should name with reverence because of her excellence, and merit, and name: receive the crown of glory in eternal blessedness from the bridegroom of the virgins together with the virgins.

O reverend mother, we -- whomever your writings have reached -- considering that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which had been unaccustomed and unheard of in almost every age until now, have been given already to you, give thanks to the Author of gift upon gift because although we do not deserve to receive them directly because of the impediment of our sins, nevertheless we frequently drink them in through you, in whom they are poured out as in a clean vessel, whilst you overflow with them and spill out. Truly 'your breasts are better' to us 'than wine, smelling sweet of the of the best ointments' [Cant. 1.1-2], while you, returning to the outer world from the storerooms of contemplation into which the eternal king has often brought you as a bride, draw us after you, making us sharers in the holy visions which you with unveiled features behold in the embrace of your bridegroom and swift runners after the odours of your ointments [cf Cant 1.3]. For what reader either of those visions or of the expositions of visions would not be delighted by them as by all riches and, tasting how sweet your orthodox and wholesome teaching is, would not at once exclaim about you: 'Thy lips are a dripping honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue'; thy plants are a paradise of pomegranates with the fruits of the orchard' [Cant. 4.11, 13]?

Truly, holy mother, according to the Lord's promise [John 7.38] living waters are flowing for us from your belly while to make glad the city of God [cf Ps 45.5] which is the church you have been made in it a 'fountain of gardens, with wells of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Lebanon' [Cant 4.15]. From Lebanon indeed because they flow not from you but through you to us from Lebanon, from the mountain which the Father has raised up not only above the hills but also above the tops of the highest mountains, from the curdled and rich mountain [cf Ps 67.16]: He does not fail to water you also abundantly with his blessings pouring down from above among the other mountains whence help comes to us [cf Ps 120.1].

Indeed after her through whose giving-birth we attain to every kind of salvation, your grace is unique among women since although something of song or of prophecy is found in the scriptures of Miriam the sister of Aaron and Moses, or Deborah, or Judith, you, endued in this regard with a far greater outpouring of the Spirit, seem to us to be coequal with the greatest contemplatives in the mysteries of the Lord's visions and revelations. O tender compassion, to be wondered at incessantly and preached of -- compassion of our kind Redeemer toward the human race, which in His mother is restored in life by that sex in which death had entered! From that same hand from which the pestilent sip of perdition had been introduced to us, the antidote of recovery is poured forth for us in you by saving teaching.

But, o mother, as I shall advise you not impudently but respectfully, be mindful of the need for carefulness and steadfastness in sanctity -- for you who have already climbed the height of perfection do not need improvement -- because you yet carry your treasure in a breakable vessel: recall that it is not withies and reeds, which bend in a slight wind, but great and ancient trees that are sometimes uprooted by storms. Look at David, think of Peter, and do not drink too deep but fear and, however great you are, humble yourself in all things, so that the grace which is already yours (not a grace which you do not yet have) may remain whole for you until the end. And so, know that you are on a path full of snares and full of stumbling blocks, that dangers are never lacking: walk carefully until you arrive. You shall never be safe until the final accounting has been finished, which must be reckoned up in the presence of the lender of the talents entrusted to you: never glory in what you have received as though in your own possessions, except as it is written, 'He that glorieth may glory in the Lord' [1 Cor 1.31]. And although you need not now fear the worst power or might which is described as being in the loins or the navel of Leviathan's belly [cf Job 40.11], because you have crushed the head of the evil one, that is, the first hint of licentiousness, with the foot of chastity, nevertheless, recall from the Apocalypse how the tail of the dragon not only swept away clods of earth but also drew a third part of the stars of heaven after it [cf Apoc 12.4]. There too we read of horses which have the power to do harm not only in their mouths but also in their tails. For he says, 'Their tails are like serpents and with them they hurt.' [Apoc 9.19]. Moreover, holy mother, take pains that you who have escaped the head of the ancient serpent not be stung by its tail and, as far as you can with God's protection, keep your heel, that is, the ending of life, safe from its wiles.

Even though I am speaking in this way, I am not afraid that you will convict me of presumption, both because I do not mean to instruct out of thoughtlessness but to warn out of the love I feel for you, and at the same time because I lingered with you willingly for a long time in conversation when I had the opportunity.

This in fact is all I had to say about you: but as for myself, I who am fixed fast in the mire of the deep [cf Ps 68.3], and whose sores putrefy and are corrupted because of my foolishness [cf Ps 37.6] -- I pray by the sweetness of Almighty God that you may deign to count me among your intimates and that you may not refuse to keep me always in your remembrance: lifting pure hands in prayer I beseech the great kindness of the compassionate Redeemer that I might come out of my past evils and waste no time in acquiring for myself amendment of my present faults and caution against future ones.

Because I am a monk and I have not had any opportunity or ability to travel to you so that I could speak to you face to face about the things I want to know from you, I pray that you would deign to pay careful attention to the things I am putting forward to you informally by the woman that bears this letter, requesting for these as for my other necessities a manifesting of a desire for my good: do not hesitate to tell me what I ought to do about them.

I also ask that you will not mind answering my questions about your writings. For we want to know, I and those with me, whether what rumour spreads about you in our part of the world is true -- although I cannot be easily persuaded of it -- that after your visions have been taken down in writing by notaries, while you direct and explain, they fade from your memory to such an extent that you don't recall at all what you said. We also want to know whether you dictate the same visions in Latin speech or does another translate them into Latin while you express then in German. We also aspire to know this, whether you acquired the elements of learning and the Holy Scriptures from the study of reading or found them out with unction alone as the teacher who teaches of everything that she wishes.

Because, my lady, I do not deserve to see your face, shining (as I believe) with a divine light, make it possible at least for me to hear your voice in letters, for your voice is sweet to me, so that in this way at least I may have some remembrance of you in which, as in the image reflected in a mirror, the likeness of your holiness may illuminate me and be present in my heart with a recollection both more intimate and more constant.

May the Lord deign to keep the presence of your holiness intact, reverend mother, for a long time to come, for the honour and benefit of His church. Amen.

Our lord abbot and prior greet you, together with my mother church of Gembloux, entrusted to them, praying to God for your good health and salvation and asking you to do the same in turn for them. I myself who have written you this letter, greet you with all my heart, as does our beloved brother (also named Guibert), who has taken it down as I dictated: we especially request the help of your prayers, Lord Siger of Wavre and Nicholas, a young knight of Nivelles whom you saw with him when you were visiting in Lent, greet you -- they are beloved friends whom you know by sight. Brother Franco, the recluse, greets you, a worthy son in Christ of our church, and Brother Robert, sick in body but strong in mind, who is ill at Mont St Guibert. Dom Enno, the parish priest of our church, greets you, as does another young man, my dear friend, whose name and what I am suggesting about him, will be made known to you by this penitent woman, very dear to us.

All these people would convey to your holiness their own particular requests for the needs with which they are oppressed (which would take a long time to unfold), if they could speak with you face to face for a time. Since that is not possible at this time, pray for each of them to God, to Whom all things are known and possible; intercede for them that He might support them as a compassionate helper at the right time in these tribulations, especially those with which they are dangerously oppressed , as He knows is expedient for us, giving His aid in these circumstances and, for the rest, conferring the remission of sins, the amending of life, and eternal joy. May He Who is blessed beyond all, God for ages of ages, grant all these things by your kindness and your prayers to me and to those for whom I am asking you. Amen.

Farewell in Him, o lady always beloved by me.

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