A reply from Hildegard to the monk Guibert, AD 1175

I am not speaking these words as from myself or from another human person, but I reveal them as I have received in a heavenly vision. O you who are God's servant through the mirror of faith in which, by understanding, you consider God and God's son through the fashioning of mankind upon which God has established and confirmed his wondrous deeds, hear what the unfailing Light is speaking: just like a mirror in which whatever is seen is placed as if in its vessel, so the rational soul is inserted within the human body as in an earthenware vessel, so that the body may be ruled by it while living and the soul may contemplate heavenly things by faith.

A human being is both heavenly and earthly: heavenly, through the good understanding of the rational soul, but weak and shadowy through its evil understanding. And as much as he knows himself in good things, so much the more he loves God. For, if a person sees his face in a mirror, dirty and spotted with dust, he is eager to clean and scrub it. So also, if he understands that he has sinned and was embroiled in a variety of vanities, he weeps, because he knows through his good understanding that he has been made unclean and with the Psalmist he laments, saying, 'O daughter of Babylon, mourn' [Ps 136.8] Why is this? Human desire has been disordered by the Serpent's venom. For of itself it is poor and needy, since it lacks an honourable reputation through contemplative knowledge. This is because human desire does not long, by seeking God, for the glory of the eternal life that it tastes through the soul's good understanding.

However, blessed is the man who holds fast to this, that he lives by God, and whose understanding teaches him that God has created and redeemed him and that on account of this liberation whereby God has freed him he obliterates every evil practice of his sins and casts all the misery and poverty he has even among the riches of heaven upon that Rock that is the foundation of blessedness. For when a person knows that he has filthy rottenness within and still cannot keep himself from the taste of sin, then the blackest birds befoul him entirely. But then also he may, through his rational soul, which he neither sees nor understands, rely upon God by believing. And although he may know that he is so and lives in endless life, he still cannot keep himself from frequent sin. And so, how wonderful and yet lamentable is speech, since God makes such earthenware vessels, sometimes glittering with his wondrous deeds, although in fact they are not able to desert their very sins unless to some extent the grace of God keeps them from them. For Peter, who promised the Son of God fervently that he would not ever deny him, was not secure. Neither were many other saints so, who fell into sin, who nevertheless afterwards were made more useful and more perfect than they would have been if they had not fallen.

O faithful servant, I, poor as I am in womanly form, am speaking these words to you again in true vision. If it pleased God to console my body as He does my soul in this vision, the fear would still not recede from my mind and heart, because I know that I am still a mere mortal, although from my infancy I have been in enclosure. Moreover many wise men have been so infused with wondrous deeds that they opened many hidden things but, as a result of vainglory, they attributed those deeds to themselves and so they fell. But those who draw off wisdom from God in the lifting up of their soul and account themselves as nothing become the columns of heaven, just as happened in Paul's case. He preceded the rest of the disciples in preaching and nevertheless regarded himself as of no value. John the Evangelist also was full of gentle humility and therefore he drew forth many things from divinity.

And whence would this be, if I had not known myself, poor as I am? God works where He wills, to the glory of His Name not that of earthly man. Indeed I have always a trembling fear, since I know no safety of any possibility in myself. But I stretch out my hand to God that I might be upheld by Him as if by a wing that lacks every weight of force and flies through the wind. Nor can I perfectly know the things that I see, as long as I am a being of corporeal function and invisible soul, since mankind is deficient in these two respects.

Moreover from my infancy, when my bones and sinews and veins had not yet grown strong, I always have enjoyed the gift of this vision in my soul, right up to the present time, although I am now more than seventy years old. But my spirit, just as God wishes, climbs in this vision to the height of the firmament and the changeability of the variable air and broadens itself among various peoples although they are remote from me in far-off districts and places. And since I see these things in such a way, therefore I also observe them according to the changeability of the clouds and of other created things. Moreover, I do not hear these things either with bodily ears or with the thoughts of my heart nor do I perceive them by any combination of my five senses but only in my soul, while my outer eyes are open, so that I never undergo in these visions the defect produced by ecstasy. But I see them in wakefulness day and night. And I am continually constrained by my infirmities and bound by pains that are sometimes so severe as to threaten death. But until now God has sustained me.

Therefore the light that I see is not local but far brighter than a cloud that bears the sunlight nor can I regard in it depth nor breadth nor width. And I call it the semblance of the living Light and just as the sun, moon, and stars appeared reflected in water, so the Scriptures, sermons, virtues, and some works formed by men shine in it for me.

Moreover whatever I shall have seen or learned in this vision, I retain a memory of it for a long time, so that I recollect that I saw and heard it at one time. And at the same time I see and hear and also know and as it were in a moment I learn what I know. For what I do not see, that I do not know, since I am not learned. And the things that I write I see and hear in that vision. Nor do I put down words other than the ones that I hear and I reveal them in unpolished Latin words just as I heard them in that vision, since I am not taught in this vision to write as philosophers write. And the words that I see and hear in that vision are not like the words that sound from human lips at all but like flickering flame and as a cloud moved in the clear air. Also I cannot understand the form of this light in any way, just as I cannot perfectly see the sphere of the sun.

And in the same light I perceive, sometimes and not frequently, another light that I call the living Light, which I am surely much less capable of revealing as I see than the former light. And in the meantime, while I am contemplating it, all my sadness and every pain are taken from my memory so that then I act like an unaffected girl and not an old woman.

But also because of the constant infirmity that I suffer, sometimes I weary of revealing the words and visions that are shown to me then. But still when my soul is seeing them by tasting, I am so transformed in another way of acting that, I have said, I completely forget every sorrow and trouble. And my soul drinks up what I then see and hear in the same vision as though from a fountain but it still always remains full and inexhaustible.

Moreover my soul never lacks at any time that light named above which is called the semblance of the living Light. And I see it just as I would look at the sky without stars in a bright cloud and in it I see what I often say and what I reply to those asking about the splendour of the living Light.

Also I saw in a vision that the first book of my visions should be called Scivias, since it was revealed by the way of the living Light, not from another teaching. Concerning the crowns, I saw that all the orders in the church have clear signs according to the heavenly clarity, but virginity does not have a clear sign, except the black veil and the sign of the cross. Wherefore also I saw that this was the sign of virginity, that is, that the head of a virgin should be covered by a white veil because of the bright garment which mankind had in paradise and had lost. And upon her head I saw a wheel of three colours joined into one, which represents the Holy Trinity. Four wheels attach to it, of which there was one in front bearing the Lamb of God, another bearing cherubim on the right side and another bearing an angel on the left side, while the one in the back bore a man and all these are hanging on the wheel that represents the Trinity. This sign once given blesses God because He had clothed the first human being with the brightness of clarity. And these things are contained fully in the book Scivias. And so I wrote the book Scivias and others in true vision and I am still labouring in the same work.

Moreover in two ways, that is, of body and of soul, I am ignorant of myself and account myself as if nothing. And I concentrate upon the living God and leave all these things to Him, that He, Who has neither beginning nor end, may preserve me from evil in all these matters. Therefore you also who seek these words together with all those who desire to hear them faithfully, pray for me, so that I may remain happily in the service of God.

But also, o son of God, who is seeking Him in faith and who asks Him to save you -- consider the eagle flying upon its two wings to a cloud: she still rests upon the ground and cannot lift herself if she is hurt in one wing, even though she would willingly lift herself to fly. So also a human being flies with the two wings of reason, that is, with the knowledge of good and of evil. The right wing is the knowledge of good and the left is the knowledge of evil. And the knowledge of evil serves that of good and the knowledge of good is sharpened and ruled by that of the evil, and is made wise in all things by it.

Now then, o dear son of God, may God raise the wings of your understanding to the right paths so that -- although you may sometimes lay hold on sin through the senses since you are so born that you cannot exist free from sin -- you may yet never commit it by consent. The heavenly harmony sings well to God of the person who does so. It praises him because the person of ash loves God so much that, wholly condemning himself because of Him, he does not spare himself and forces himself away from the work of sin. Be such a one in this battle, o faithful warrior, so that you might be part of the heavenly harmony and it may be said to you by God: You are among the sons of Israel because you have gazed upon the high mountain through the eyes of the mind and the zeal of heavenly desire. Yet may all who are mentioned in the letters you have sent me be ruled by the Holy Spirit and be written in the Book of Life.

You also, faithful servant of God, meet with Lord Siger and warn him not to turn from the right to the left. But if someone resists his will, he should nonetheless fight back manfully, clad in the breastplate of faith and the helmet of heavenly desire, and finish his course. But he should also consider that when the first man obeyed the voice of his wife rather than the voice of God he perished in his presumption because he consented to her. Moreover if the manner of their tribulation is so great that it seems to surpass their strength, they should remember what is written: 'God is faithful Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it.' He and his wife, strengthened by the swift expectation of His kind promise, should agree together with one assent. And the advice that is most useful -- whether the husband or the wife gave it -- should be followed. And they should provide against the first deception in them, that is, the man should not accuse his wife nor the woman her husband but they should accomplish all these things according to God's will. Moreover may the Holy Spirit so enkindle their hearts that they may never turn back from Him.

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