Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Christian themes abound in Nesanovich’s poems about Hildegard von Bingen. By far the most significant of these is Christian forgiveness, established initially in “The Child Hildegard at Her Needle.” After admitting her abhorrence of the smell of the abbot and of the toothlessness and other flaws of the servant, even at age ten Hildegard is able to perceive the wrong in fixing on people’s flaws without appreciating their virtues. The poem ends with the child praying to be forgiven for her pride, the worst sin, implicit in her criticisms of others. Also, forgiveness figures prominently in “The Death of Richardis,” in which the mature Hildegard is presented as aware that all involved in the struggle over Richardis, including herself, contributed to the younger nun’s death. Thus, Hildegard indicates that she will ask God’s forgiveness for all.

Forgiveness is also central to the final, and probably greatest, struggle of Hildegard’s life, that concerning burial of the young man on her abbey’s sacred ground, which led to the interdiction against Hildegard’s anchorage. This struggle, reflected in several of Nesanovich’s poems, derives from Hildegard’s conviction that the young may genuinely confess and repent and thus must be forgiven and honored by a proper, sacred burial. That this forgiveness was fundamental to Hildegard is obvious in her refusal to bow to pressure to disinter the young man, her endurance of the interdiction, and her powerful struggle to have it lifted. Although she is more than eighty years old, she goes in person to argue the issue before the prelates and basically gives her life for the principle of Christian forgiveness. Three aspects of the forgiveness—that it is given by a woman leader and her female followers; that it is of a young man probably like most young men, a significant sinner; and that it is against the virtually intransigent authority of male church leaders—shows the importance of the feminine in the Christian forgiveness tradition. Without this feminine element in Christianity, very likely there would not be such a tradition. Through the emotional power and skillful artistry of her poems, Nesanovich has given this Christian forgiveness principle renewed life.