The word viriditas is important to understand here. The author explains that it literally means “the greening green,” and figuratively it means “a self-refreshing vegetal power of creation ingrained in all finite things.” That’s a mouthful, but it’s also rich and beautiful. Take a moment to ponder such a world. This is St. Hildegard of Bingen’s vision of what we inhabit, whether we realize it yet or not. This came originally from her in twelfth century Europe — she was so far ahead of her time!
For example, she describes the Holy Spirit as a root shared by all creatures. Michael Marder points to the transformational quality of such teachings, for Christians and everyone who seeks to integrate the physical and the spiritual in their lives.
Hildegard was a nun and an abbess (which means, head of an abbey of nuns), but she corresponded with popes and kings, bishops and abbots — in other words, with the powerful men of her time. She was both fearless and humble. She surely confounded them!
She wrote a letter to the most powerful religious man of them all, Bernard of Clairvaux, asking him to read and support her writings, her vision for the world. Bernard was unsure. She added that God was “the highest Father, who has sent the Word [meaning Christ, the Logos] with sweet viriditas into the womb of the Virgin.” In other words, the salvation of the world was to come not only through Christ — which was good Christian theology — but with the greening green.
Marder explores these aspects of Hildegard’s ecological theology in this book, but not in a systematic way. He says that trying to force Hildegard into the mold of a systemic thinker would be to betray her vision, which is more mystical and particular. Instead, he chooses to offer her ideas and practices like a musical composition (hence the book’s title).
However, with a university press as the publisher, this book is more for Hildegard afficionados than for novices. It is not uncommon to find terms such as “intravegetal” and phrases such as “vegetal psycho-physio-theology.”
But for those who have read more introductory works already (a quick search on our site will reveal several), this one is full of gems. For example, a late chapter called “Kisses” focuses on a promise that Hildegard makes to her readers. She says, “Let the one who sees with watchful eyes and hears with attentive ears welcome with an embracing kiss my mystical words, emanating from me, the living one.” Why — and how — a “kiss”? There are many layers to the explanations that follow. To put it simply, Hildegard is inviting her readers to meet and welcome the kiss of God. Marder writes: “As Hildegard pictures them, creation and the knowledge of creation are interlaced through kissing: the kiss of God exuding the greenest green of viriditas and the kiss of the human mind through which the world becomes knowable.”