Collection of Letters: Detail
To Lady Hildegard, venerable mistress of the brides of Christ who are in Bingen, devout prayers with all my love, from Elisabeth, humble nun. May the grace and consolation of the Most High fill you with joy, because you have had kind pity for my disquiet, as I have understood from the words of my consoler, whom you earnestly reminded of my consolation.(!2) Just as you said that it had been revealed to you about me, I truly confess that I have recently harbored in my mind a certain cloud of anxiety on account of the many senseless, untrue words of people are saying about me. Now the words of the public I could easily endure if also those who walk in the habit of religion would not also bitterly afflict my spirit. For they too, spurred by I don’t know what goad, mock the grace of the Lord in me and do not fear to judge rashly about matters of which they are ignorant. I also hear that certain people are circulating letters of the same spirit written in my name. They declare that I have prophesied about the Judgment Day, which indeed I have never presumed to do since its coming eludes the knowledge of all mortals. But let me reveal to you the circumstance of this rumor so that you may judge whether I said or did anything presumptuous in this matter.
As you have heard from others, the Lord has magnified His mercies in me beyond what I deserved or could ever deserve in that He has deigned to frequently reveal certain celestial mysteries to me. Indeed, through His angel He has frequently indicated to me what would happen to His people in these days unless they do penance for their iniquities, and He ordered me to announce this publicly. But to avoid arrogance and not look like an author of novelties, I tried to hide these things as much as I could. Therefore, on a certain Sunday while I was in a trance, the angel of the Lord came to me in his usual way and said, “Why do you hide gold in the mud (Mt. 25:25-26)? This is the word of God which was sent to earth through your mouth not so that it would be hidden, but so that it would be made manifest for the praise and glory of our Lord and for the salvation of His people.” Having said this, he lifted a whip above me and five times he struck me sharply with it, as if in great anger. Thus for three days my whole body languished from that beating. After this, he placed his finger on my mouth saying, “You will be silent until the ninth hour, at which point you will make manifest those things which the Lord has done to you.” Therefore I remained mute until the ninth hour. Then I signaled to the mistress to bring to me a certain little book which I had hidden in my bed and which contained in part those things that the Lord had done to me. When I placed this in the hands of the lord abbot who had come to visit me, my tongue was loosed in these words, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 113B:1). After this, I also revealed certain other things to him which I had not wanted committed to writing, namely about the Lord’s great vengeance which I had learned from the angel was soon to come upon the whole world. Then I most earnestly begged him to keep this conversation to himself. Instead, he ordered me to pray and to seek from the Lord an understanding about whether or not He wished me to cover with silence those things which I had told him.
When for some time I had been prostrating myself in constant prayer about this matter, during Advent, on the Feast of Saint Barbara [December 4, 1154] at first Vigils of the night, I fell into ecstasy, and the angel of the Lord stood by me saying, “Shout strongly and cry Alas’ to all the peoples, because the whole world has been transformed into darkness. And say, Go! The one who formed you from the earth has called you and He says, “Do penance, for the reign of God is at hand”’” (Mt. 4:17). Excited by this message, the lord abbot began to spread the word in the presence of the magistrates of the church and religious men. Some of them heard the words with reverence but some did not, instead speaking perversely about the angel who is close to me, saying that he is a mocking spirit and has been transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Whence a teacher bound me through obedience to adjure him--if he should appear to me again--through the name of the Lord to reveal to me whether he was a true angel of God or not. But I thought this was presumptuous and received the order with great fear. Then one day, while I was in a trance, the angel presented himself to me in his usual way and stood in my sight. Trembling, I said to him, “I adjure you through God the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to tell me directly if you are a true angel of God and if the visions which I have seen in my trance and the things which I have heard from your mouth are true.” He responded, “Know for certain that I am a true angel of God and the visions which you have seen are true and the things which you have from my mouth are true and will truly happen unless God is reconciled to the human race. And I am the one who has for so long worked with you.”
After this, on the vigil of Epiphany [January 5, 1155], while I was praying, again my lord appeared to me, but he stood at a distance with his face turned away from me. Understanding his indignation, I said to him with fear, “My lord, if I annoyed you when I adjured you, do not, I beseech, blame me. I beg you: turn your face to me and be merciful, since I was bound by obedience to act and I did not dare transgress the command of my instructor.” After I had poured out many tears with words like this, he turned to me and said, “You have acted contemptibly toward me and my brothers by your lack of trust in me. From now on, know for certain that you will no longer see my face nor hear my voice unless you placate the Lord and us.” I said, “My lord, how can you be placated?” He said, “Tell your abbot to celebrate devoutly the divine office in memory of me and my brothers.” So when the solemnity of the Mass had been celebrated for the honor of the holy angels, not once but many times by the lord abbot as well as by the other brothers, and likewise when the sisters had honored them by reading psalms, my lord again appeared to me with a calm face and said to me, “I know that you acted in charity and obedience. For this reason you have found mercy and from now on I will visit you more frequently than before.”
After this, the lord abbot arranged to go to a certain place at the request of the clergy staying there. He was to preach the Lord’s word of warning to the people so that perhaps they might do penance and avert the wrath of God from themselves. But first he set about to pray to the Lord, together with all of us, that He might deign to reveal to His handmaid whether or not that sermon which he had already begun to make public should be further divulged. While he was celebrating the divine mystery and we were most devoutly praying, suddenly the joints of all my limbs were loosened and I languished and went into a trance. And behold the angel of the Lord stood in my sight and I said to him, “My lord, remember what you said to me your handmaid, that the word of God was sent to earth through my mouth not so that it could be hidden but so that it would be made known for the glory of God and for the salvation of His people. Tell me now what should be done about that word of warning which you have spoken to me. Has it been made sufficiently known or should it still be preached?” Looking at me with a severe expression he said, “Do not test God; indeed, those who test God shall perish. And say to the abbot, Do not fear, but finish what you have begun. Truly blessed are those who hear the words of your exhortation and keep them and are not scandalized by you.’ Moreover, advise him not to change the form which he has used so far in his preaching. Indeed, in this I have been his counselor. Tell him that he should in no way pay attention to the words of those who, out of envy, speak with doubt about the things which were done to you. Rather, he should attend to what is written, that nothing is impossible with God” (Mt. 19:26).
Encouraged by this speech, the abbot went to the place which he had planned to visit. He exhorted the people, who were awaiting his arrival, to do repentance, announcing the wrath of God about to come upon them unless they tried to prevent it by works of penance. In some of his preaching he did describe what kind of plagues were threatening the earth, but not at all as he was said to have done. Therefore many people among whom that sermon was proclaimed afflicted themselves with penance in great fear throughout the whole time of Lent, and zealously persevered in almsgiving and prayers. At that time someone, led by I don’t know what zeal, sent letters to the city of Cologne in the name of the lord abbot, although--God knows--he was ignorant of it. In these letters, certain terrible threats were read with everybody listening. Whence although it may have been a joke from our own foolish ones, nevertheless, prudent people, so we have heard, reverently heeded the sermon and did not disdain to honor God with works of penance.
It happened moreover that on the Wednesday before Easter, when I came into ecstasy with great bodily struggle, the angel of the Lord appeared to me. I said to him, “Lord, what will be done about that message which you spoke to me?” He responded, “Do not be sad or disturbed if the things I predicted do not come to pass on the day I had indicated to you, because the Lord has been appeased by the amends made by many.” On Friday after this, around the third hour, I went into a trance with severe pain. Again the angel stood by me and said, “The Lord has seen the affliction of His people, and has turned the wrath of His indignation from them.” I said to him, “But then, my lord, won’t I be scorned by everyone to whom this message was revealed?” He said, “You must endure patiently and with good will everything that will happen to you on this occasion. Take diligent heed of that One who, although He was the creator of the whole world, endured the mockeries of human beings. Now the Lord is testing your patience for the first time.”
Behold, my lady, I have explained to you the whole order of the affair so that you may know the innocence of both myself and our abbot, and so that you can make it known to others. I beg you, moreover, to make me a partner in your prayers, and that as soon as the Spirit of the Lord prompts you, write back to me with some words of consolation.
Domine H. venerabili magistre sponsarum Christi, que sunt in Pinguia, E. humilis monacha devotas cum omni dilectione orationes. Gratia et consolatio altissimi repleat vos gaudio, quia mee perturbationi benigne compassa estis, sicut ex verbis consolatoris mei intellexi, quem de mei consolatione diligenter commonuistis. Sicut enim vobis de me revelatum fuisse dixistis, fateor vere quandam perturbationis nubem me nuper in animo concepisse propter ineptos sermones populi multa loquentis de me, que vera non sunt. Sed vulgi sermones facile sustinerem, si non et hi, qui in habitu religionis ambulant, spiritum meum acerbius contristarent. Nam et hi, nescio quibus stimulis agitati, gratiam domini in me irrident, et de his, que ignorant, temere iudicare non formidant. Audio, et quosdam litteras de suo spiritu scriptas sub nomine meo circumferre. De iudicii die me prophetasse diffamaverunt, quod certe nunquam facere presumpsi, cum omnium mortalium cognitionem effugiat eius adventus. Sed huius fame occasionem vobis aperiam, ut iudicetis, utrum presumptuose quicquam in hac re fecerim, aut dixerim. Sicut per alios audistis, magnificavit dominus misericordiam suam mecum supra, quam meruerim, aut mereri ullatenus possim, in tantum, ut et celestia quedam sacramenta michi frequenter revelare dignatus sit. Significavit etiam mihi per angelum suum frequenter, qualia ventura essent super populum suum in his diebus, nist agerent penitentiam de iniquitatibus suis, atque, ut palam hec annuntiarem, precepit. Ego autem, ut arrogantiam evitarem, et ne auctrix novitatum viderer, in quantum potui, omnia hec studui occultare. Cum igitur solito more quadam dominica die essem in mentis exccessu, astitit mihi angelus domini dicens: Quare abscondis aurum in luto?, hoc est verbum dei, quod per os tuum missum est in terram, [propter facies distortas] non ut abscondatur, sed ut manifestetur ad laudem et gloriam domini nostri, et salvationem populi sui. Et hoc dicto, elevavit super me flagellum, quod quasi in ira magna quinquies mihi amarissime inflixit, ita ut per triduum in toto corpore meo ex illa percussione languerem. Post hec apposuit digitum ori meo dicens: Eris tacens usque ad horam nonam, quando manifestabis ea, que operatus est dominus tecum. Ego igitur usque ad horam nonam muta permansi. Tunc significavi magistre, ut afferret ad me libellum quendam, quem in stratu meo absconderam, continentem ex parte ea, que fecerat dominus mecum. Quem cum offerrem in manus domini abbatis, qui ad visitandum me venerat, soluta est lingua mea in hec verba: Non nobis domine, nou nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Post hec cum et alia quedam ipsi revelassem, que scriptis committi nolueram, videlicet de vindicta domini magna, quam universo mundo in brevi superventuram ab angelo didiceram, rogavi illum diligentissime, ut verbum illud apud se haberet absconditum. Precepit autem mihi, ut operam darem orationi, atque a domino postularem, ut daret mihi intelligere, utrum ea, que dixeram, silentio tegi vellet, an non. Cunque per aliquod tempus pro hac re orationi insistendo me afflixissem, in adventu domini in festivitate sancte Barbare in prima vigilia noctis corrui in extasim, et astitit mihi angelus domini dicens: Clama fortiter et dic heu ad omnes gentes, quia totus mundus in tenebras est conversus. Et dices: Exite, ille vos vocavit, qui de terra vos formavit, et dicit: Penitentiam agite, quia prope est regnum dei. Hoc igitur sermone inductus dominus abbas, cepit divulgare verbum coram magistratibus ecclesie, et viris religiosis. Quorum quidam cum reverentia verbum exceperunt, quidam vero non sic, sed sinistro de angelo, qui familiaris mihi est, locuti sunt dicentes, cum esse illusorem spiritum, et in angelum lucis tranfiguratum. Unde et per obedientiam me constrinxit precipiens, ut si quando mihi appareret, per nomen domini illum adiurarem, quatinus indicaret mihi, utrum verus dei angelus cesset, an non. Ego autem, presumptuosum esse id, estimans, cum timore magno preceptum hoc suscepi. Quadam igitur die, cum essem in excessu meo, solito more se mihi obtulit, et stetit in conspectu meo. Et dixi tremens ad eum: Adiuro te per deum patrem, et filium, et spiritum sanctum, ut recte dicas mihi, si verus angelus dei sis, et si vere sint visiones, quas vidi in excessu meo, et ea, que de ore tuo audivi. Respondit et dixit: Scias pro certo, quia verus angelus dei sum, et vere sunt visiones, quas vidisti, et que de ore meo audisti, vera sunt et vere fient, nisi reconcilietur deus hominibus. Et ego ipse sum, qui diu laboravi tecum. Post hec in vigilia Epiphanie, dum orarem, rursus apparuit mihi dominus meus, sed procul a me stans, et faciem habens aversam a me. Ego igitur indignationem eius intelligens, dixi illi cum timore: Domine mi, si molesta fui tibi in eo, quod adiuravi te, ne queso, imputes mihi. Converte, obsecro, faciem tuam ad me, et esto mihi placabilis, quia constricta per obedientiam feci, neque ausa fui transgredi mandatum preceptoris mei. Cunque in huiusmodi verbis multas lacrimas profundissem, conversus est ad me dicens: Contemptum mihi fecisti et fratribus meis, quia diffidentiam habuisti de me. Unde pro certo noveris, quia ultra non videbis fa ciem meam, neque vocem meam audies, nisi placatus fuerit dominus et nos. Et dixi: Domine mi! quomodo placari poteritis? Et ait: Dices abbati tuo, ut in memoriam mei et fratrum meorum celebret divinum officium devote. Cum ergo non semel, sed pluribus vicibus tam a domno abbate, quam etiam a reliquis fratribus missarum sollempnia ad honorem sanctorum angelorum celebrata fuissent, simulque sorores psalmorum lectionibus eos honorassent, rursus apparuit mihi dominus meus placido vultu, dixitque ad me: Scio, quoniam in caritate et obedientia factum est, quod fecisti, idcirco veniam consecuta es, et de cetero frequentius te visitabo, quam hactenus. Post hec, cum dominus abbas ire disponeret in locum quendam rogatu clericorum illic manentium, ut predicaret verbum comminationis domini in populo, si forte penitentiam agerent, et averteretur ira dei ab illis, primum aggressus est deprecari dominum una cum omnibus nobis, ut revelare dignaretur ancille sue, utrum sermonem, qui iam manifestus esse ceperat, amplius divulgari oporteret, an non. Ipso igitur divina misteria celebrante, et nobis devotissime orantibus, subito dissolute sunt compages membrorum meorum, et elangui, et veni in mentis excessuum. Et ecce angelus domini stetit in conspectu meo, et dixi ad eum: Mi domine, memento, quod dixens mihi ancille tue, verbum dei per os meum missum esse in terram non ut abscondatur, sed ut manifestetur ad gloriam dei, et ad salvationem populi sui. Et nunc indica mihi, quid oporteat fieri de verbo illo comminationis, quod locutus es ad me. Nunquid iam satis manifestum factum est, an adhuc predicandum? At ille severo aspectu me intu ens ait: Noli temptare deum qui enim temptant illum, peribunt. Et dices ad abbatem. Noli timere, sed perfice, quod cepisti. Vere beati sunt qui audiunt verba exhortationis tue et servant ea, et non fuerint scandalizati in te. Hoc autem illi suggeres, ut eam formam, quam hactenus in predicatione habuit, non inmutet. In hac enim consiliarius illius ego fui. Dicito illi, ut nequaquam attendat verba eorum, qui propter invidiam dubie locuntur de his, que facta sunt in te, sed attendat, quod scriptum est, quia nihil inpossibile est apud deum. Hoc igitur sermone animatus, locum, quem adire disposuerat, adiit, et populum, qui eius adventum prestolatus fuerat, ad penitentiam exhortatus est, annuntians iram dei cunctis superventuram, nisi penitentie fructibus eam prevenire studerent. Quales autem plage mundo inminerent, nequaquam velut diffamatus est, in aliqua predicatione sua enarravit. Factum est igitur, ut multi, apud quos sermo iste diffamatus est, per totum tempus Quadragesimale in timore magno per penitentiam sese affligerent, et elemosinis et orationibus studiose insisterent. In tempore illo quidam, nescio, quo zelo ductus, ad urbem Coloniam in persona dommi abbatis, ipso ignorante, deus novit, litteras direxit in quibus terribiles quedam comminationes audiente omni populo lecte sunt. Unde quamquam ab insipientibus illusum nobis sit, prudentes tamen, ut audimus, reverenter sermonem animadverterunt, et penitentie fructibus deum honorare non contempserunt. Factum est autem in quarta feria ante diem Pasche, cum post magnos labores corporis in extasim venissem, apparuit mihi angelus domini et dixi ad eum: Domine, quid fiet de verbo, quod locutus est ad me? Qui respondit: Noli contristari neque perturberis, si non in die, quem determinavi tibi, venerint, que predixi, quoniam multorum satisfactione placatus est dominus. Post hec in sexta feria circa horam terciam cum gravi passione veni mentis excessum, et rursus astitit michi dicens: Vidit dominus afflictionem populi sui, et avertit iram indignationis sue ab eis. Cui dixi: Quid ergo domine mi, nonne ero in derisionem omnibus, apud quos verbum hoc divulgatum est? Qui ait: Omnia, que occasione hac evenerint tibi, patienter et benivole sustineto. Illum diligenter animadverte, qui cum esset totius orbis creator, hominum irrisiones sustinuit. Nunc primum patientiam tuam dominus probat. Ecce, domina mea, totum ordinem rei vobis explicavi, quatinus et vos innocentiam meam et abbatis nostri cognoscatis, et aliis manifestare possitis. Obsecro autem, ut et orationum vestrarum participem me faciatis, et prout spiritus domini vobis suggerit, aliqua michi consolatoria verba rescribatis.
Elisabeth turns to the older visionary Hildegard for consolation, justifying herself in case Hildegard has heard other rumors, with a detailed description of her visions and how she was made to reveal them. Some of the events described in this letter are referred to, but with less detail about the circumstances, in First Book of Visions, ch. 25 and 78.
(1)This translation is copyrighted by Anne Clark. For permission to reproduce, contact Paulist Press. (2)This passage is puzzling. Hildegard’s earlier concern about Elisabeth has been seen as a reference to a letter from Hildegard addressed to the mistress of nuns at Schönau in which special care for Elisabeth is exhorted, see L. Van Acker, “Der Briefwechsel zwischen Elisabeth von Schönau und Hildegard von Bingen,” in Aevum inter utrumque: Melanges offerts à Gabriel Sanders, Instrumenta Patristica, 23 (The Hague: Nijhoff International, 1991), 409-17. However, Hiltrud Rissel has convincingly argued that that letter was part of a correspondence with a different Elisabeth (“Hildegard von Bingen an Elisabeth von St. Thomas an der Kyll: Die heilige Hildegard und die fruhesten deutschen Zisterzienserinnen,” Cîteaux 41 (1990): 5-44). The absence of an extant letter does not preclude the very likely scenario of Hildegard’s having heard reports about Elisabeth’s activity and having expressed her concern, which Elisabeth learned through an intermediary such as her abbot, Ekbert, or even her angelic informant, whom Elisabeth describes elsewhere as her consoler; see, e.g., the letter to Gerlach, abbot of Deutz.
Die Visionen der hl. Elisabeth und die Schriften der Aebte Ekbert und Emecho von Schönau, ed. F.W.E. Roth (Brünn: Verlag der Studien aus dem Benedictiner- und Cistercienser-Orden, 1884), Bk.3, ch.19, p.70-74; trans. Anne L. Clark, The Complete Works of Elisabeth of Schönau (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 18. (!1)