Christian Eschatology and Social Thought: A Historical Essay on the Social Implications of Some Selected Aspects in Christian Eschatology to A.D. 1500

By Ray C. Petry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
The Response of Temporal Society to the Eternal Kingdom

4. From Hildegarde of Bingen to the Later Middle Ages

THE MEDIEVAL PROPHETESS, HILDEGARDE OF BINGEN (D. 1179), is distinguished for the penetrating social insights that are to be found throughout her Visions and Letters.1 She is outstanding for her colorful imagery and her trenchant observations on the world of time in relation to God's eternity. Her sense of the impinging otherness of the future world is expressed by way of constructive criticisms on the total structure of existing society. Like her contemporaries, Bernard of Cluny and Bernard of Clairvaux, she has no hope for anything approximating a modern transformation of the temporal order. But she freely confronts every class of society with its obligations for mutual service within social life as it is now ordered. It is not surprising to hear her blaze forth in fearless denunciation, even as she sings the occasional praises, of outstanding rulers. Nor should it startle us to learn her expressive comments on both the good and the bad within clerical and monastic associations. Everywhere the quality of prophetic egotism is apparent. She speaks with such finality, not because she utters anything by her own unaided reason, but because she surrenders herself as the Lord's spokesman to the divine afflatus.2

In Book I, Vision 1, of her master work, the Scivias, she contends that it is the heavenly world which empowers humanity in its tem-

____________________
1
Available in MPL 197:145 ff., and 383 ff. See M. Boeckeler, ed. and tr., Wisse die Wege, Scivias ( Berlin, 1928). An English translation is The Life and Visions of St. Hildegarde, by F. M. Steele ( London, 1914). A helpful sketch is that of J. de Ghellinck, L'essor de la littérature latine au XIIe siècle ( Paris, 1946), I, 195-99. Cf. Manitius, Geschichte III, 228-37; W. Preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter ( Leipzig, 1874), I, 16-37.
2
Scivias, I, 1; Steele, op. cit, p. 132.

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