The monk had to sigh time and again under the pressure of the immense. Everything has its place in the cosmos, and the best of things are in movement.
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Originally they all flowed out into the world at once. Those, however, that have recognized both themselves and God strive to return to the divine One. That is the mystical path to God.
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It belongs to the lengthy itinerary mapped out by Christian cosmology and is unquestionably the most complex picture in the Exemplar. The red connecting line between the figures, which always leads directly through the heart, is more than just a didactic aid for Elsbeth and all other nuns who following her make use of the text.
What flows from them are the distinct persons of the Trinity the three male figures. Then come the angels and, along with them, the fallen angels who were cast down to hell where they carry on their terror as demons. The path then continues down to the various creatures. In the valley of death on earth, we find, on the one hand, the crucified Christ in the role of the suffering servant on the cross, announcing the resurrection through his passion, and, on the other hand, self—forgetting love that beckons in a somewhat aloof fashion along the path marked in red, where eternal Death lurks beside her.
Like the female figures represented on the left, a nun examining this illumination ought not let herself be led astray. Through devoted immersion into the sacred heart of Jesus, she soars up and returns, like the illuminated and perfected, to the Trinity and finally into the Godhead, which is One. Whoever is submerged back into the three circles stands at the end of the mystical path. There a human figure says: Ich bin in got vergangen, nieman kan mich hie erlangen.
It appears as though Christian cosmology. Fons vitae The mystical books—as—mirrors showed man his highest, most difficult to reach goal: his original and exclusive source. How was this image understood in the Middle Ages? As has become clear, medieval Christians emphasized that the Godhead disclosed its oneness, unfolding itself in the Trinity, and that, as Christ became man, he assumed this kenotic movement. Then, at that time, He experienced the emptiness of human existence and simultaneously made incarnate the abundance of that existence for those who heeded and believed in him.
He also kept his double nature and was thus at the same time God and man. For this reason, in the bible, Christ is called the fountain of life, the eternal flowing abundance. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. It was intended for a woman probably a nun, unlikely a beguine, because the codex was much too elaborately adorned for it to have been commissioned for a member of the social classes from which beguines usually came. The illumination discussed here is a commentary on verse from the Song of Song.
When the river then empties back into the sea it loses its course and its own name. Now it is water in the sea, where it rests and has given up all its exertions. The image of the fons vitae visualizes Christ as the fountain of life. He sits on a tower—like font. Water flows out of four fountains in which small faces are swimming. Originally they wore golden crowns. Over the course of centuries, however, the gold peeled off or remained stuck to the opposing page.
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The iconography brings to mind the mysterious opening image in the first work of the visions of Hildegard of Bingen. The text identifies the figure with the pauperes spiritu, who distinguish themselves through simplicitas and sobrietas of the spirit. He taught that there is an indivisible oneness, which he characterized as the Godhead, even before the trinitarian distinction into the three divine Persons, which he called God. The mobility of water and of any liquid even of material imagined as liquid also explains the creation of creatures from God. Important for this imagery was neo—Platonic cosmology, which explained creation as emanation.
From a Christian perspective, the oneness was correlated with God, freely flowing out into creation. Together with a divine movement, the circuit began a multilayered downward stream of thousands upon thousands of creatures in creation. In other words: a mirror. He who wants to return to the source, wrote Marguerite, must reacquire the freedom that creatures had to give up in order to become distinct, i. Water, wrote the beguine, flows from a nameless sea, then becomes a river, quite specific and thus designated with its own name — be it the Seine or the Rhine — and it flows through many.
Images of Hildegard, handed down by the author herself, depict the visionary in a very similar manner. Eyes, ears, mouth all swim in light. Thus Hildegard received the announcements of God and to have dictated them to an amanuensis named Volmar. Hildegard makes one thing emphatically clear: during the event she was neither lost in reverie nor otherwise of a clouded consciousness.
Quite the contrary: she read the book of divine mysteries with a fully wide—awake mind. The fons vitae is also programmatic for the Speculum Virginum from the twelfth century. The half—page miniature is discussed at the end of the first of twelve books. In the center of the pictures sits Christ holding out for the viewer an open book on which a verse from John can be read: si q ui s sitit veniat et bibat. Out of the body of Christ flow powerful streams. The text offers an interpretation: just as the four rivers — Tigris, Geon, Pison and Euphrates — sprang out from the middle of Paradise, so too from the side of Christ springs forth the multi—braced stream of wisdom that multiplies itself in the hearts of the believers.
Additional, interlaced allegories make the image still more complex. Peregrinus asks Theodora about her observation concerning this illumination of the rivers of Paradise. He asks whether or not she understands the depiction and thereby gauges her understanding of the model. The Speculum Virginum views the way to God as an ascent that man ought to climb and swiftly surmount.
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He who takes this path is, in a way, pulled along it and prospers in the very going. Above is God, the origin, and all the positively connoted figurative pictures point upwards. The ascent is a spiral, which is also the case for the book itself: that which the first book explains is taken up again in the final two books and amplified at an even higher plane.
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And thus, in the end, we return in principio to the beginning. In the sea of the Godhead rests also the soul. She is a member of the selection committee for the Ingeborg Bachmann Award and since has produced performances, readings and adaptations of medieval literature for audio and other media.. She has also published extensively on the history of European theater and medicine, as well as on medieval mysticism and its reception in modernity. In our context I would.
Spanish translations: El espejo de las almas simples. English translation: The Mirror of Simple Souls. Leuven: Peeters, Mews ed.
Hildegard Elisabeth Keller: Abundancia. New Haven: Yale University Press, , for the picture discussed here see in particular pgs.
This here is the first picture with a thematic reference to the first vision. Kolloquium Kloster Fischingen. Edition with German translation: Jungfrauenspiegel. Edition with German translation: Das St. German translation: Der Spiegel der einfachen Seelen. Notes 1 The original text speaks of a tin filled with latwerge, in English, electuary [a sweetened medicinal paste] or, in this context more appropriately, a tin with any sweet paste that infuses the container with a scent.
For the sake of simplicity, I here have chosen the word honey.