Sunday, October 21, 2012

Viriditas: Visions of the Green Saint, Mary Sharratt

Lucky me and lucky us!  This morning, Mary Sharratt is visiting us us to write about the quality of Viriditas (or greening power) as described in the writings of Hildegard of Bingen.  I read and reviewed the book a few days ago and was blown away by Mary's remarkable treatment of one of the greatest minds of the twelfth or (for that matter) any century.  It was simply wonderful when Hildegard was finally canonized in May of this year, almost nine hundred years after her passing, and what a grand thing it is that she was named a Doctor of the Church earlier this month.  What took them so long?

Just a reminder that this coming Wednesday I shall be drawing a name for a copy of Mary's new book, Illuminations.  

Viriditas: Visions of the Green Saint  
by Mary Sharratt

Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary nun and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, composed an entire corpus of highly original sacred music, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. An outspoken critic of political and ecclesiastical corruption, she courted controversy. 

In May 2012, 873 years after her death, she was finally canonized. In October 2012, she will be elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have significantly impacted Church doctrine. Previously there were only thirty-three Doctors of the Church, and only three were women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).

But Hildegard’s life and work transcends faith boundaries. Her visions of the Feminine Divine and of Viriditas, the sacred manifest in nature, have made her a pivotal figure in feminist spirituality.

Hildegard’s concept of Viriditas, or greening power, is her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the natural world that infuses all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Just as a ray of sunlight is the sun, Hildegard believed that a flower or a stone was God, though not the whole of God. Creation revealed the face of the invisible creator. Hildegard celebrated the sacred in nature, something highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats.

I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars . . . . I awaken everything to life.
Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Divinorum (Book of Divine Works)

Hildegard’s philosophy of Viriditas went hand in hand with her celebration of the Feminine Divine. Although the established Church of her day could not have been more male-dominated, Hildegard’s visions revealed the Feminine Divine. She called God Mother, and said that she could only bear to look upon divinity in her visions if God appeared to her in feminine form. Her visions revealed God as a cosmic egg, nurturing all of life like a womb. Masculine imagery of the creator tends to focus on God’s transcendence, but Hildegard’s revelations of the Feminine Divine celebrated immanence, of God being present in all things, in every aspect of this greening, burgeoning, blessed world.

According to Barbara Newman’s book Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, Hildegard’s Sapientia, or Divine Wisdom, creates the cosmos by existing within it.   

O power of wisdom!
You encompassed the cosmos,
Encircling and embracing all in one living orbit
With your three wings:
One soars on high,
One distills the earth’s essence,
And the third hovers everywhere.
Hildegard von Bingen, O virtus sapientia

This might be read as an ecstatic hymn to Sophia, the great Cosmic Mother.

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. Visit Mary’s website at:

1 comment:

Mystic Meandering said...

I am not a Catholic, but in my meditations several years ago I felt the presence of Sophia, whom I knew nothing about - and knew "God" as the Divine Mother. How fascinating that Sophia was considered the Cosmic Mother! Also in meditation it was revealed that there are "originating energies" that are most definitely "feminine" in nature, not masculine, as we have been taught to believe. And yet, The Divine Energy is also genderless, neither male or female as we have come to divide them. This is all so fascinating!

How fortunate that you get to meet the author!