History Of The Christian Church (1892) Philip Schaff


§ 67. Monastic Prophets. St. Hildegard and Joachim of Flore

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§ 67. Monastic Prophets. St. Hildegard and Joachim of Flore.


The monasteries also had their prophets. Men’s minds, stirred by the disasters in Palestine, and by the spread of heresy in Europe, here and there saw beyond the prevailing ritual of church and convent to a new era in which, however, neither hierarchy nor convent would be given up. In the twelfth century the spirit of prophecy broke out almost simultaneously in convents on the Rhine and in Southern Italy. Its chief exponents were Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schoenau, and Joachim, the abbot of Flore.729  They rebuked the clerical corruption of their time, saw visions, and Joachim was the seer of a new age.

Hildegard (1098–1179), abbess of the Benedictine convent of Disebodenberg, near Bingen on the Rhine, was the most prominent woman in the church of her day.730  What Bernard of Clairvaux was to France, that, though in a lesser degree, she was to Germany. She received letters from four popes, Eugenius, Anastasius, Adrian, and Alexander III., from the emperors Konrad III. and Frederick Barbarossa, from Bernard and many ecclesiastics in high office as well as from persons of humble position. Her intercessions were invoked by Frederick, by Konrad for his son,731 and by Bernard. Persons from afar were moved to seek her aid, as for example the patriarch of Jerusalem who had heard that a "divine force operated in and through her."732  Her convent was moved from Disebodenberg to Rupertsberg and she finally became abbess of the convent of Eibingen.

Infirm of body, Hildegard was, by her own statement, the recipient of visions from her childhood. As she wrote to St. Bernard, she saw them "not with the external eye of sense but with the inner eye."  The deeper meanings of Scripture touched her breast and burnt into her soul like a flame."733  Again she said that, when she was forty-two years old, a fiery light of great brightness, coming from the open heavens, transfused her brain and inflamed her whole heart and breast like a flame, as the sun lightens everything upon which his rays fall.734  What she saw, she saw not in dreams nor in sleep nor in a frenzied state nor in hidden places but while she was awake and in pure consciousness, using the eyes and ears of her inner man according to the will of God.735  Eugenius III., on a visit to Treves, 1148, investigated her revelations, recognized the genuineness of her miracles, and encouraged her to continue in her course.736  Bernard spoke of her fame of making known heavenly secrets through the illumination of the Holy Ghost.

It is reported by contemporaries of this godly woman that scarcely a sick person came to her without being healed.737  Her power was exerted in the convent and outside of it and upon persons of both sexes. People from localities as distant as Sweden sought her healing power. Sometimes the medium used was a prayer, sometimes a simple word of command, sometimes water which, as in one case, healed paralysis of the tongue.

As a censor of the Church, Hildegard lamented the low condition of the clergy, announced that the Cathari would be used to stir up Christendom to self-purification, called attention to the Scriptures and the Catholic faith as the supreme fonts of authority, and bade men look for salvation not to priests but to Christ.

She was also an enthusiastic student of nature. Her treatises on herbs, trees, and fishes are among the most elaborate on natural objects of the Middle Ages. She gives the properties of no less than two hundred and thirteen herbs or their products, and regarded heat and cold as very important qualities of plant life. They are treated with an eye to their medicinal virtue. Butter, she says, is good for persons in ill health and suffering from feverish blood and the butter of cows is more wholesome than the butter of sheep and goats. Licorice,738 which is mildly heating, gives a clear voice and a suave mind, clarifies the eyes, and prepares the stomach for the process of digestion. The "basilisca," which is cold, if placed under the tongue, restores the power of speech to the palsied and, when cooked in wine with honey added, will cure fevers provided it is drunk frequently during the night.739

A kindred spirit to Hildegard was Elizabeth of Schoenau, who died 1165 at the age of thirty-six.740  She was an inmate of the convent of Schoenau, not far from Bingen, and also had visions which were connected with epileptic conditions. In her visions she saw Stephen, Laurentius, and many of the other saints. In the midst of them usually stood "the virgin of virgins, the most glorious mother of God, Mary."741  When she saw St. Benedict, he was in the midst of his monkish host, monachalis turba. Elizabeth represented herself as being "rapt out of the body into an ecstasy."742  In the interest of purity of life she did not shrink from rebuking even the archbishop of Treves and from pronouncing the Apostolic chair possessed with pride and filled with iniquity and impiety. On one occasion she saw Christ sitting at the judgment with Pilate, Judas, and those who crucified him on his left hand and also, alas! a great company of men and women whom she recognized as being of her order.743  Hildegard and Elizabeth have a place in the annals of German mysticism.

Joachim of Flore,744 d. 1202, the monastic prophet of Southern Europe, exercised a wide influence by his writings, especially through the adoption of his views by the Spiritual wing of the Franciscan order. He was first abbot of the Cistercian convent of Corazza in Calabria, and then became the founder and abbot of St. John in Flore. Into this convent he introduced a stricter rule than the rule of the Cistercians. It became the centre of a new order which was sanctioned by Coelestin III., 1196.

Joachim enjoyed the reputation of a prophet during his lifetime.745  He had the esteem of Henry VI., and was encouraged in his exegetical studies by Lucius III. and other popes. After his death his views became the subject of conciliar and papal examination. The Fourth Lateran condemned his treatment of the Trinity as defined by Peter the Lombard. Peter had declared that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a certain supreme essence, quaedam summa res, and this, according to Joachim, involved a substitution of a quaternity for the Trinity. Those who adopted Joachim’s view were condemned as heretics, but Joachim and the convent of Flore were distinctly excepted from condemnation.746

Joachim’s views on the doctrine of the Trinity are of slight importance. The abbot has a place in history by his theory of historical development and his eschatology. His opinions are set forth in three writings of whose genuineness there is no question, an exposition of the Psalms, an exposition of the Apocalypse, and a Concord of the Old and New Testaments.747

Interwoven with his prophecies is Joachim’s theory of historical development. There are three ages in history. The Old Testament age has its time of beginning and bloom. So has that of the New Testament. But a third age is to follow. The basis for this theory of three periods is found in a comparison of the Old and New Testaments, a comparison which reveals a parallelism between the leading periods of the history of Israel and the periods of Christian history. This parallelism was disclosed to Joachim on an Easter night, and made as clear as day.

The first of the three ages was the age of the Father, the second the age of the Son, of the Gospel, and the sacraments, the third, the age of the Holy Spirit which was yet to come. The three were represented by Peter, Paul, and John. The first was an age of law, the second of grace, the third of more grace. The first was characterized by fear, the second by faith, the third was to be marked by charity. The first was the age of servants, the second of freedmen, the third of friends. The first brought forth water, the second wine, the third was to bring forth oil. The first was as the light of the stars, the second of the dawn, the third of the perfect day. The first was the age of the married, and corresponded to the flesh; the second of priests, with the elements of the flesh and the Spirit mixed; the third of monks, and was to be wholly spiritual. Each of these ages had a beginning, a maturity, and an end.748  The first began with Adam, and entered upon its maturity with Abraham. The second began in the days of Elijah, and entered upon its maturity with Christ. The third began in the days of St. Benedict in the sixth century. Its maturity had already begun in the days of Joachim himself. The consummation was to begin in 1260.

The Gospel of the letter is temporal not eternal, and gives way in the third period to the Eternal Gospel, Rev. 14:6. Then the spiritual meaning of the Gospel will be fully known. Joachim did not mean to deny the permanent authority of the two Testaments, when he put into his third period the full understanding of them, in the spiritual sense, and the complete embodiment of their teachings in life and conduct. The Eternal Gospel he described, not as a newly written revelation, but as the spiritual and permanent message of Christ’s Gospel, which is hidden under the surface of the letter. This Gospel he also called the Spiritual Gospel, and the Gospel of the Kingdom.749  It was to be preached in the whole earth and the Jews, Greeks, and the larger part of mankind, were to be converted. A spiritual Church would result,750 by which was meant, not a church separate from the papacy, but a church purified. The Eternal Gospel was to be proclaimed by a new order, the "little ones of Christ."751  In his Apocalypse, Joachim speaks of two prophets of this new order.752  This prediction was subsequently applied to Francis and Dominic.

It was in the conception of the maturition of the periods as much as in the succession of the periods that the theory of development is brought out.753  In the development of the parallels between the history of Israel and the Christian Church, Joachim discovered a time in each to correspond to the seven seals of the Apocalypse. The first seal is indicated in the Old Testament by the deliverance from Egypt, in the New by the resurrection of Christ; the second seal respectively by the experiences in the wilderness and the persecutions of the ante-Nicene Church; the third by the wars against the Canaanites and the conflict with heresy from Constantine to Justinian; the fourth by the peril from the Assyrians and the age lasting to Gregory III., d. 741 the fifth by the Babylonian oppression and the troubles under the German emperors; and the sixth by the exile, and the twelfth Christian century with all the miseries of that age, including the violence of the Saracens, and the rise of heretics. The opening of the seventh seal was near at hand, and was to be followed by the Sabbatic rest.

Joachim was no sectary. He was not even a reformer. Like many of his contemporaries he was severe upon the vices of the clergy of his day. "Where is quarrelling," he exclaims, "where fraud, except among the sons of Juda, except among the clergy of the Lord?  Where is crime, where ambition, except among the clergy of the Lord?"754  His only remedy was the dawning of the third age which he announced. He waged no polemic against the papacy,755 submitted himself and his writings dutifully to the Church,756 and called the church of Peter the throne of Christ. He was a mystical seer who made patient biblical studies,757 and saw in the future a more perfect realization of the spiritual Church, founded by Christ, exempt from empty formalism and bitter disputes.

An ecclesiastical judgment upon Joachim’s views was precipitated by the Franciscan Gerardus of Borgo San Donnino, who wrote a tract called the Introduction to the Eternal Gospel,758 expounding what he considered to be Joachim’s teachings. He declared that Joachim’s writings were themselves the written code of the Eternal Gospel,759 which was to be authoritative for the third age, as the Old and New Testaments were authoritative for the ages of the Father and the Son. Of this last age the abbot of Flore was the evangelist.

When Gerard’s work appeared, in 1254, it created a great stir and was condemned by professors at Paris, the enemies of the Franciscans, William of St. Amour among the number. The strict wing of the Franciscans, the Spirituals, adopted some of Joachim’s views and looked upon him as the prophet of their order. Articles of accusation were brought before Innocent IV. His successor, Alexander IV., in 1255 condemned Gerardo and his book without, however, passing judgment upon Joachim.760  Gerardo and other Spirituals were thrown into prison, where Gerardo died eighteen years after. John of Parma was deposed from his office as head of the Franciscans for his Joachimism. The Franciscan chronicler Salimbene was also for a while a disciple of Joachim, and reports that the prophet predicted that the order of the Friars Minor should endure to the end while the order of Preachers should pass away.761  In 1263 a synod of Arles condemned the writings of Joachim. A century after Joachim’s death, the Franciscan Spirituals, John Peter Olivi and Ubertino da Casale, were identified with his views. The traces of Joachimism are found throughout the Middle Ages to their close. Joachim was the millenarian prophet of the Middle Ages.




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