HILDEGARD OF BINGEN Homilies on the Gospels. Translated with Introduction and Notes by Beverly Mayne Kienzle. Collegeville, Minnesota: Cistercian Publications, Liturgical Press, 2011. pp. 224. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-87907-241 pb. ISBN 978-0-87907-203-2 e-book.
Reviewed by Jill RAITT, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63103

The Introduction to this fine little book is a must read before one reads the sermons. B.M. Kienzle explains Hildegard’s exegetical style within the context of twelfth century commentaries, a necessary preparation to understand both the context of Hildegard’s homilies and the styles she employs. After a short review of Hildegard’s life, Kienzle examines Hildegard’s “Theology of Exegesis and the Senses of Scripture” (8-14). As a benedictine nun, Hildegard followed the pattern of monastic exegesis that “tended to interpret the Scriptures according to the spiritual meaning, a term that designates the senses of Scripture that are not literal or historical, namely, the allegorical, the tropological —that is moral—and the anagogical, which regards the soul’s union with God in heaven.” (8) Hildegard’s concern was to find the “spiritual meaning,” not the literal meaning of the texts. In this she followed Origen, Augustine, and the monastic tradition. Kienzle says that only six of Hildegard’s homilies followed the literal meaning of the scripture on which she commented. One of those is Homily 5 in this collection: “The Eve of the Lord’s Birth.” It is completely different from Homily 6 that comments on the same text, but this time in terms of the soul and Wisdom represented by St. Joseph: “For the faithful soul is betrothed by baptism to Joseph, that is, to Wisdom . . . .” (48)

Hildegard’s relation to Bernard of Clairvaux is the subject of pages 14-22 under four headings: “ Hildegard and Bernard of Clairvaux” that compares the styles of Bernard’s Parabola and Hildegard’s homilies; “The Superior’s Voice” based on the positions of the two as Abbot and Prioress and their concern for the spiritual well-being of their subjects; “Writing Against Heresy,” particularly against the Cathars, and “The Legends” concerning the supposed meeting of the two among other things.

The last section of the Introduction, “Interpreting and Translating the Expositiones evangeliorum,” provides examples of how Kienzle handled the technical aspects of her task. Although she says that this section may be of particular interest to other translators, I found it fascinating and an excellent example of how every translation is indeed an interpretation.

The homilies themselves are generally quite short, averaging 3-4 pages. Except for those few that present a literal exegesis, they follow the sort of exegesis demonstrated in this brief quotation from Homily 16 (the scripture on which Hildegard’s commentary is based is in italics):

Jesus said to the servants: ‘Fill the jars with water.’ Jesus said, with the power of his breath: “ ‘Fill’ the Old and New Testaments ‘with water’ of wisdom, so that humanity may know God.” And they filled them with diverse knowledge all the way to the brim. While medievalists will be the more probable readers of this volume, anyone intrigued by Hildegard’s Scivias or Ordo Virtutum, or her original music will also enjoy Hildegard’s Homilies on the Gospels. Kienzle provides helpful scholarly and explanatory notes, a Bibliography (205-10), and three indices: Liturgical, Scriptural, and Topical (211-224).


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