Thomas Izbicki

title.none: McInerney, ed., Hildegard of Bingen (Izbicki)

identifier.other: baj9928.9901.003 99.01.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Thomas Izbicki, Eisenhower Library, John Hopkins University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: McInerney, Maud Burnett, ed. Hildegard of Bingen: A Book of Essays. Garland Medieval Casebooks, Vol 20. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1998. Pp. xvii, 257. $55.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32588-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.01.03

McInerney, Maud Burnett, ed. Hildegard of Bingen: A Book of Essays. Garland Medieval Casebooks, Vol 20. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1998. Pp. xvii, 257. $55.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32588-6.

Reviewed by:

Thomas Izbicki
Eisenhower Library, John Hopkins University

As Sabina Flanagan notes in her introduction to this collection, scholarship on Hildegard of Bingen has entered a second generation. The first generation of scholars, including Peter Dronke and Barbara Newman, restored this powerful woman to a central place she had lost after her own day. The second generation can presume her importance, while feeling free to agree with or dissent from the opinions of their predecessors.

Hildegard also has, as this product of the second generation shows, a wide reach in areas of history, theology, gender studies, history of science and medicine, art history and music, including the performing arts. She also has become what a friend has called "a projection catcher," attracting persons who find in Hildegard what they need for their own alternative theological, artistic or medical labors. Some of this appears in this collection of essays, sometimes but not always well presented. An academic reviewer must wrestle with a desire to respond dismissively, as scholars once responded to Hildegard's own legacy. On the whole, however, this collection earns its right to our attention.

The first part of the collection is focused on "The Social World and the Natural World". The first contribution, that by Beverlee Sian Rupp, opens the volume with a strong analysis of how Hildegard presented herself in her correspondence. The tones adopted in dealing with men vary, but there is a certain tendency to move from the supplicatory to the strident, especially when dealing with obstinate men of power and place. The abbess had a resort beyond the strident, a "charismatic illness," genuine suffering but well-timed in a crisis, which kept her to her bed until the obdurate person yielded on the point at issue. Hildegard's tone when dealing with women more often is consolatory. Rupp wisely treats Hildegard as believing in her own visions; but she does not preclude the abbess' having her own personal agenda, especially in removing her nuns to Rupertsberg. What Rupp does not investigate is the possibility that the collectors of Hildegard's letters might have crafted her "self presentation" further to make their own points in the absence of this mulier fortis.

The essays on the natural world are less compelling. Kenneth Kitchell and Irven Resnick present an initial examination of Hildegard's taxonomy of the animals mentioned in the Physica. Much of the effort is focused on terminology, identifying the creatures listed by the abbess. Much of this work is very technical, of interest to the specialist; but the authors do not fail to provide indications of the principles of presentation, like the listing of exotic creatures before the more mundane. Also noted is the applied nature of much of the knowledge Hildegard displayed, including the use of the unicorn's hoof in the detection of poisons. In all cases the authors are well aware of their subject's connections to existing animal lore in the bestiary tradition. A useful effort might have been made to bridge between the Physica and the letters, especially since Hildegard's epistolary discussion of the unicorn as a symbol of Christ was ground-breaking in its day.

Marcia Kathleen Chamberlain's focus on the "doctor-cook binary," however, is the least successful of these essays. An argument with Plato and Hippocrates about the dignity of the physician's craft, compared to the cook's, is not without interest; but the argument needs to be better situated in Hildegard's day in order to fit the abbess into the controversy. The reviewer believes, however, that the author's desire to address the gender issue has led to a misapplication of Hugh of Saint Victor's ideas on the origins of the art of cookery. Hugh did not treat cooking as a female invention. Instead he describes it as invented by Appicius, who came to a bad end. Consequently, the cook-physician binary works better in a moral context, contrasting harmful indulgence with the healing art. Here Hildegard can be described as addressing the medical value of diet, the cook reclaiming territory from the physician. Chamberlain's discussion of Hildegard's cooking motifs in the description of procreation, however, deserves to be read for its emphasis on the active role of woman, which indeed does contrast vividly with the passive role later assigned mothers by physicians and philosophers.

The second part of the collection, "Worlds Beyond: Poetry, Visions and Music," emphasizes theology and the arts. Jan Emerson examines body imagery, including the role of the senses. Unlike authors who emphasized the soul at the expense of the body, Hildegard is shown to have regarded them as interdependent. The senses were not bad in themselves, though they could be thrown into disorder by vice. Emerson makes effective use of both vision and exposition of vision in Scivias to make these and related points, all of which underline the harmony of body and soul. Moreover, she points out how Hildegard's exposition of the Fall treats Adam and Eve in a more even-handed fashion, blaming Satan more than either for the Fall and its consequences. Connecting medicine to theology, Emerson points out the physician role which the abbess assigned to Christ for the healing of both body and soul, which are restored to their proper harmony.

Rebecca Garber's contribution makes even more use of the illustrations in Scivias to explore a closely related theme, Eve and Mary. Here the author points out how divorced Hildegard was from the Mariological currents of her day. While other writers, men and women both, were writing a great deal of devotional material about the Virgin Mother, the abbess emphasized Mary as an Everywoman, whose bearing of Christ nuns could imitate. Hildegard emphasized for her nuns the personified virtues of Mary, which were appropriate to their calling; and she dressed her nuns in festal garb to portray such figures as Castitas. This is the best sense the reviewer has seen made of the garb concerning which Tengswich made inquiries of Hildegard. Eve too appears less as a fallen woman, condemned to bear her children in pain, than as an archetype in a group of female images, the mother of all living whom all physical maternity imitates.

Maud McInerney takes up the correspondence between Hildegard and Tengswich to introduce a very interesting study of the idea of male virginity. Hildegard's reply to her fellow abbess claims for virgins a "prelapsarian femininity," combining spiritual and bodily purity. This corporeal integrity, with its spiritual consequences, is denied to males, whose continence is distinguished from physical virginity. They can share pudor virginitatis, but not virginity itself. Here the abbess is found looking forward from a patristic emphasis on male virgins to a new categorization of saints, which distinguishes many female saints on the liturgical calendar as virgins but denies that distinction to men. (Women, in turn, were denied many of the functional categories, like bishop, although both sexes could share the glory of martyrdom.) Mary, of course, appears as the ultimate Virgin. This essay should be read with the two preceding it as not just the strongest part of the collection but as an interconnected examination of Hildegard's theology of the feminine, which displays remarkable creativity in deploying archetypal figures in ways which privilege the dedicated virgin in her monastic context.

Kathryn Bumpass' contribution is a musicological coda to this trio of studies. The responsory "Spiritu sancto" fits Saint Ursula, whose cult was on the rise in the twelfth century, into a bride of Christ figure of the bridal Church. Here too the fine raiment of Hildegard's nuns, decked out as brides, is given due attention. Bumpass argues that Ursula becomes not just a virgin bride and image of the Church, but also a justification for Hildegard's own inspired mission. Only God. she contends, has authority over the "divinely inspired virgin." The author seems to be reaching here beyond the actual text of the responsory, but the argument is not without a persuasive power in the light of the abbess' own life and works.

The final section of the collection, "Echoes of Hildegard: The Fourteenth Century and Beyond," is less satisfying than the second. Leonard Hinsley does a solid job of demonstrating John Tauler's knowledge of Hildegard's works and the depictions of them to be found on monastic walls. Christine Rose, however, overreaches herself in trying to combine two evil mothers-in-law found in The Man of Law's Tale with Synagoga and both with Hildegard's more than usually kind treatment of that archetypal representation of the Jewish roots of Christianity. The wicked mother-in-law is better explored through folklore or through the treatment of Saracen women in romances than through a strained comparison with Synagoga as mother-in-law of Ecclesia. Frederick Roden's comparison of Hildegard with Christina Rossetti might seem as strained were the author not able, quite well, to point toward the revival of English interest in both the monastic life and in medieval thought during Rossetti's lifetime. Here the affirmation of the body as a part of the spiritually whole human fits into both theologies. Moreover, the theological revaluing of the body found in feminist theology finds better grounding in these two spiritual women than one might expect in an age too ready to seek precursors where none may exist.

One last, carping note: the number of proofreading lapses is regretable.