By Annette Esser
Annette Esser, founder of the Scivias Institute in the Rheinland organized in June 2016 the Second International Conference of Hildegard von Bingen on the subject of Veriditas, Green Power of Life. The following is her entrance speech to the Conference.
Viriditas is the theme of the Second International Hildegard-Conference of the Scivias Institute. This term has been phrased by Hildegard of Bingen. Viriditas is viridity. Viridity is green power of life. Green power of life, is Divine power. Divine power is the power of creation and it is healing power.
As a friend of Hildegard, I imagine Hildegard walking through the cloister, considering and playing with certain words. This is about words, that do not resonate in the German language, yet are connected only in Latin (and a bit better in English!): viriditas (green power of life), vir (male power), virtus (virtue), virga (branch), virgo (virgin) and virginitas (virginity).
Thus Hildegard connects the virgin and the branch, she associates virginity with viridity and she looks at virtue as a male power that paradoxically is inherent to virgins as men have become effeminate.
In a song she praises viriditas:
O nobilissima viriditas
Most noble evergreen,
quae radicas in sole,
with your roots in the sun,
et quae in candida serenitate luces in rota
you shine in the cloudless sky,
quam nulla terrena excellentia comprehendit,
of a sphere no earthly eminence can grasp,
tu circumdata es amplexibus divinorum mysteriorum
enfolded in the clasp of ministries divine
Tu rubes ut aurora
You blush like the dawn,
et ardes ut solis flamma .
you burn like a flame of the sun.
But what shall we do today with Hildegard’s thoughts and songs about viriditas!?
As a theologian I see Hildegard not merely as a woman mystic, but also as a naturalist and as a medical practitioner, who investigates the powers of nature and describes their healing effects on the human beings. Therefore I say: Viriditas is green power of life. Green power of life is Divine power. Divine power is the power of creation and it is healing power.
Yet, there is a question about whether or not Hildegard’s language can be taken seriously in modern science and medicine. For we may observe a “gap”, a very different kind of judgement about her “Physica”, that is her natural history e.g. between Hildegard as healing practitioners and university-trained medical doctors.
Here, I remember a dialogue that I had with my own sister, who is a professor of immunology at Düsseldorf University. As we talked about that “biology” really means the “knowledge about life”, she simply said that, of course, this science could merely describe what life-processes are like. Yet, what life itself may be, and even why there is life at all and not just no life – this is a philosophical question that modern science neither can nor would like to answer.
Now, this reminded me to a story of the Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard. A person once enters a shop that has signs in its shop-windows on which is written: “We take care of you laundry!” As he asks that his laundry should be done there, he gets the answer: “Of course, we do not wash your laundry here. We just sell the signs that say: “We wash your laundry”.
Very different from these signs, Hildegard’s talk about Viriditas is not just about signs saying: “Life is green power” (This would anyhow merely be a tautology). Hildegard also has not just described natural processes from an objective perspective of a researcher that we could probably better study in scientific books today. No when Hildegard talks and sings about viriditas, then she speaks at once of God as origin of all life, but also that in all life on this earth and in us human beings, Divine power is at work. That means that she does not only describe processes of growing in nature, but she also interprets the processes that she observes as Divine power and finds in it the name of God Him/Herself. God for her is Caritas (Divine love), Sapientia (wisdom) and also Viriditas (Green power of life).
This conference is about „Viriditas – Grünkraft – Green Power of Life“. In a time of climate change, growing environmental destruction and dying of species in the flora and fauna world of plants and animals, this is also about the question and the challenge of a sustainable development on our mother planet, the Earth. This is about the need for us humans to understand that if we go on to exploit nature with a rather distant attitude, if we do not understand that we – to use an image – saw the branch on which we sit ourselves, if we do not realize that we as a part of life are called ourselves to – ethically spoken – take the responsibility for a sustainable development, then we will erase life itself on our planet.
Yet if we realize that because of our position as human in the center of the cosmos, the further development of life on our planet is depending on us, – then, in a synergy, in a co-operation between God and humans this Earth and its nature can go on to develop life-affirming, positive, constructive and sustainable. In Hildegard’s language it is as if humans would let flourish their virginal as well as their male virtue. Or it is as if the salesperson in the shop reflect about what really is written on their signs: Viriditas – this is not just a word, but a power with which we humans can and shall work together in synergy.