Study Guide

Book of Divine Works

by Hildegard von Bingen

Book of Divine Works Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In “The World of Humanity,” part 1 of Book of Divine Works, Hildegard von Bingen affirms that her visions are from God, who has instructed her to write them for the benefit of others. This section includes four visions. Part 2, “The Kingdom of the Hereafter,” contains the fifth vision, and part 3, “The History of Salvation,” concludes with five visions.

In the first vision, Hildegard describes a complex image of a winged human being. Her descriptions are very clear, and the illustrations help explicate the descriptions. She records the accompanying voice, which identifies the figure as love, co-eternal with the Trinity. This vision emphasizes the importance of the Catholic faith and of love for God and for one’s neighbor. She briefly describes God’s unfolding plan of salvation for humans through Adam’s fall and Abraham’s obedience. Also, Hildegard contrasts Eve’s disobedience with the Virgin Mary’s obedience, which will result in the salvation of body and soul.

The second vision begins with a medieval focus on the cosmos and the four elements that make up all things: fire, air, water, and earth. Hildegard explains that God, in Creation, has caused these alien elements to cooperate with one another to make humans and all the other creatures. An important image here is that of balance; humans must aim for constancy by experiencing repentance, trust, and faith to accomplish God’s will. In addition, Hildegard identifies six periods in world history in which love guides the elements and humans to live in balance and justice.

In the third vision Hildegard discusses the ways in which the natural world affects human beings, and following the medieval model, she describes the circulation of humors through the body and the effects these have on well-being—both physical and spiritual. She discusses the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which guide one toward holiness. Christians must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in good deeds and prayer so that God will bless them. By strongly renouncing the sins of the flesh, Christians can move past depression and other ills of the body to find joy and hope.

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(The entire section is 890 words.)

Book of Divine Works Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Baird, Joseph L., and Radd K. Ehrman, trans. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. 3 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994-2004. Letters ranging from advice and encouragement to rebuke, to and from Hildegard to church leaders, including popes, as well as monks and nuns.

Fox, Matthew. Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen. 1985. Reprint. Rochester, Vt.: Bear, 2002. Provides insight into Hildegard’s spiritual message. Includes color plates of twenty-one visions from Hildegard’s Scivias (1141-1151; English translation, 1986) and three from Book of Divine Works.

King-Lenzmeier, Anne H. Hildegard of Bingen: An Integrated Vision. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2001. Explores Hildegard’s mysticism, spirituality, and theology. Includes excerpts from her writings and discusses her music and the morality play, Ordu Virtutum.

Pernoud, Regine. Hildegard of Bingen: Inspired Conscience of the Twelfth Century. Translated by Paul Duggan. New York: Marlowe, 1998. A thorough biography that examines Hildegard in the political and religious context of her age.