Academic journal article Magistra

Hildegard, Jung, and the Dark Side of God

Academic journal article Magistra

Hildegard, Jung, and the Dark Side of God

Article excerpt

I form the light and create darkness;

I make peace and create evil:

I the Lord do all these things.

Isaiah 45:7

A tidy theodicy is an oxymoron. Religious people have long struggled with a contradictory and profound incompatibility: how can humans invest their allegiance and fidelity in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and absolutely good God while that same God "permits" catastrophic tragedy, innocent suffering, and evil abounding in creation and in human experience? That creation groans and humans suffer is not the issue; it is the character of God that vexes and perplexes. This divine darkness is complex and controversial material. This article offers a foray into intriguing possibilities between twelfthcentury German Benedictine magistra, mystic, theologian, and reformer Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) and twentiethcentury Swiss pioneer in depth psychology Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).1

Hildegard and Jung addressed with unhesitating directness the consequences of neglecting or repressing the innate introspective, critically self-reflective capacities that reside in the human personality. They both foresaw that apparent successes in conquering nature had the effect of subduing wildness in such a way as to alienate one from the dark unconscious, the dark cloud where God is (Ex. 20:21).

Seven references to Hildegard von Bingen's work exist in Jung's Collected Works? While his reliance on Hildegard to illustrate various points is not overwhelming by any means, he makes note of her in seven different volumes of his work spanning decades in the development of his thinking. Their respective stories reveal the dynamics of how the human personality can successfully negotiate the forces that submerge consciousness and creativity. They both were immersed in the Christian mystery, possessed the interior capacity to encounter the numinous, believed in the role of psychic suffering in coming to spiritual consciousness, and explored innovative expressions of Trinitarian life. Emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, Hildegard and Jung exercised a creative freedom that remains relevant primarily because of the depth and scope of their pristine individuality and multidisciplinary expression across many venues of creativity. A full account of the expanse of their productivity is beyond the scope of this essay, but a few salient historical and biographical remarks help the reader appreciate their synchronicities across the span of centuries.

Hildegard and Jung in Context

In a passage included in the Vita of Hildegard, she writes, "In the eleven hundredth year after the Incarnation of Christ, the teaching and fiery justice of the Apostles, which Christ had established among the Christians and spiritual people, began to slow down and turn into hesitation, I was born in those times."3 Hildegard, like Jung eight centuries later, faced an era of faltering faith. She characterized her time as one when:

The catholic faith now totters among the people and the Gospel limps in their midst; the most steadfast volumes that the most learned doctors expounded with utmost diligence are melting away out of shameful disgust; and the life-giving food of divine Scripture has grown tepid.4

This was a time of paradox, an epoch of spiritual fervor, extraordinary expansion of monastic life, and simultaneously the clericalization of the church. Her visionary life began at age three and continued throughout her eighty-one years of life. An unusual child, Hildegard confided in Jutta, her mentor, "When I was three years old, I saw an immense light that shook my soul; but, because of my youth, I could not externalize it."5 Hildegard's parents tithed her as a tribute to the Lord when she was around eight years old, although scholars now nuance this age reference.

Following Jutta' s death, Hildegard was elected magistra of the convent of nuns at Disibodenberg, where she lived for fortyfour years. …

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