JOURNAL OF MILLENNIAL STUDIESVOLUME I, ISSUE 2
Kingdoms and Beasts:
The Early Prophecies of Hildegard of Bingen
Charles M. Czarski, PhD
The twelfth-century Benedictine author Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) has long
been famous for her first major work known as the Scivias, a description of her visions
and her commentaries on them which she wrote between 1141 and 1151.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze a striking vision consisting of a group of
animals which for Hildegard had prophetic meaning. Her commentary on this vision
forms the core of her early prophetic thought.
In contrast to other contemporary writers, who developed their eschatology in the
form of Biblical exegesis, Hildegard was a visionary whose prophecies took the form of
commentaries on the visions which she believed had been sent to her by the Holy Spirit.
She maintained that from her infancy she had been instructed by the Holy Spirit in the
form of visions and voices which were not transmitted to her through her physical senses
and imagination. Instead, Hildegard claimed that a heavenly light illuminated her soul
where she experienced the visions and instructions sent by the Holy Spirit. She also
stated that in the course of these visionary experiences she was awake and conscious of
the world around her. Hildegard believed that she had the God-given duty of revealing
these divine revelations in her writings. Because Hildegard incorporated her visions into
her eschatology the symbolism found in her prophetic thought was highly original. As
Newman has pointed out:
… her particular mode of seeing, with its visions within visions
… remains sui generis. To her contemporaries the gift
appeared ‘strange’ and ‘unheard-of,’ and we must finally
With regard to the physical causes of Hildegard’s visions,F lanagan believed that
they were the product of migraine attacks, but this is impossible to prove.
Before Hildegard’s prophecies can be evaluated, a brief discussion of the relevant
historical background and key concepts is in order.
H. Rauh, Das Bild des Antichrist in Mittelalter (Munster: Verlag Aschendorf, 1973), 478-479.
B. Newman, “Hildegard of Bingen: Visions and Validation”C hurch History 54 (1985):168-169.
S. Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: A Visionary Life (London: Routledge, 1989; London:
Routledge, 1990), 193-213.
From the Early Middle Ages until the twelfth century, the views of St. Augustine of
Hippo (d.430) dominated eschatology in the Latin West. Augustine saw the sixth age of
the world (that is, the time between the first advent of Christ and the end of the world) as
the status praesens. Augustine and the Latin writers who followed him perceived the
status praesans as a single, undivided unit of time in which neither significant material
nor spiritual improvement (after Christ and the apostles) was considered possible nor, in
fact, any historical development at all.
Augustine also correlated the sixth age of the world with the old age (senectus) of
man. Thus, the sixth age witnessed a continuation of the temporal decline of man and the
world which had already begun in the fifth age. Augustine refused to predict when
exactly the sixth age would end. The end of the world would remain unknown to
In the course of the twelfth century, Western writers began to abandon the
Augustinian view of the sixth age. For example, according to Kamlah, one of the most
important twelfth-century innovations with regard to the periodization of time was the
development of the concept of Kirchengeschichte. This concept involved the division of
the sixth age of the world into several periods which were assigned concrete historical
details. The use of Kirchengeschichte represented a complete shift away from the
traditional, Augustinian view of the time between the apostolic Church and the Last
Judgement as the status praesens as an undifferentiated block of time in which historical
change was not acknowledged.
Kamlah traced the first use of the concept of Kirchengeschichte to Anselm of
Havelberg’sL iber de unitate fidei, an exegesis of the Apocalypse which was written
around 1150. In it, Anselm divided Augustine’s sixth age of the world into sevens tatus
and he added concrete historical details to each status.
Anselm correlated the seven status of the Church with the opening of the seven
seals. He originated the use of Kirchengeschichte in his attempt to explain how the
Church could change with time. More specifically, in opposition to the medieval bias
that new developments were by nature bad, he wished to defend the appearance of a new
institution within the Church, namely, the rise of the regular canons, of whom he, as a
Premonstratensian, was a member. Anselm found his answer to the question of how the
W. Kamlah, “Apocalypseu nd Geschichtstheologie,”H istorische Studien 285 (1935): 9-12, 61ff.
A. Luneau, L’histoire dus alut (Paris: Beauchesne et ses fils, 1964), 315-318. Augustine correlated the
ages of the world and the ages of man (both as an individual and humanity in general) as follows: 1) Adam
to Noah –i nfantia, 2) Noah to Abraham – pueritia, 3) Abraham to King David – adolescentia, 4) David to
the Babylonian Captivity – iuventus, 5) the Babylonian Captivity to Christ – gravitas, which was a decline
from youth to old age, 6) Christ to the end of the world – senectus. See Luneau, Salut, 284ff; R. Schmidt,
“Aetates mundi: Die Weltalter als Gliederungsprinzip der Geschichte,”Z eitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte 67
(1955-56): 291-294; P. Archambault, “The Ages of Man and the Ages of the World,”R evue des Etudes
Augustiniennes 12 (1966): 203-211.
Luneau, Salut, 316; R. Schmidt, “Aetates mundi,” 294.
Schmidt, “Aetates mundi,” 294; T. Mommsen, “St.A ugustine and the Christian Idea of Progress,”
Journal of the History of Ideas 12 (1951):350-354.
Kamlah, “Apocalypse,” 61ff.
Anselm of Havelberg, Liber de unitate fidei, Patrologiae, Series Latina 188, 1149C-1160A. Edyvean has
accepted Kamlah’s thesis thatA nselm’s exegesis of the seven seals was highly original in its use of
concrete details. See W. Edyvean, Anselm of Havelberg and the Theology of History (Rome: Catholic
Book Agency 1972), 26.
Church could change in Tyconius’ notion that as the devil changed his attacks against the
Church, the Church must change suitably in order to defend itself against these attacks.
Another example of an author who employed the principle of Kirchengeschichte
was Gerhoh of Reichersberg. Gerhoh’sp eriodization of the sixth age of the world as well
as the historical details which he assigned to these periods reflected the fact that Gerhoh
was an extreme partisan of the Gregorian program of Church reform. In fact, he
belonged to an order of regular canons, the Augustinians, one of the new orders which
was actively engaged in ecclesiastical reforms.
Gerhoh’ sdesire for ecclesiastical reform and his recognition of the historical
importance of the Investiture Controversy was apparent in the third and fourth divisions
of his four-fold scheme for periodizing the history of the sixth age of the world: 1) the
period of the martyrs, 2) the period of the heretics, 3) the time of Pope Gregory I (590-
604) to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), and the present, from ca. 1100 or the reign of the
Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106) to the end of the world.
The evolution of Hildegard’s prophecies and concept of the sixth age of the world
can be most clearly traced through her exegesis of a complex group of symbols which
first appeared in a vision recorded in the Scivias. Hildegard stated the basic theme
behind this group of symbols in the introduction to this vision. Echoing the
Augustinian theme of the senectus mundi, she maintained that the world was heading
toward its end on a path full of disasters. The church would also experience a great share
of troubles from the Antichrist and his harbringers. However, the Church would not only
survive these ordeals but would emerge from them greater than ever.
In the first part of her vision, Hildegard described five beasts which she saw in the
north. These animals signified “five very fierce courses of temporal kingdoms,” as
well as the times during which these kingdoms would exist. The fact that these future
kingdoms were symbolized by animals located in the direction of the north indicated that
these kingdoms would be tainted by sinful, carnal desires. The animals symbolized the
Edyvean, Anselm, 24-25; Kamlah, “Apocalypse,” 64-60.
B. Topfer, Das kommende Reich des Friedens (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1964), 28; H. Rauh, Antichrist,
For Gerhoh’s view of the sixth age, see A.D empf, Sacrum Imperium (Munich and Berlin, 1929; repr.
Ed., Darmstadt, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1954), 252-261; Topfer, Reich des Friedens, 28-33;
Rauh, Antichrist, 416-473; M. Reeves, “The Originality and Influence ofJ oachim of Fiore,”T raditio 36
(1980): 280-281; B. McGinn, Visions of the End (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 96-107.
A. Fuhrkotter, ed., Hildegardis Scivias, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, Vol 43
(Turnholt: Brepols, 1978), III, 11.
Ibid., III, 11, 1.
Ibid., III, 11, 1-6.
…quinque ferocissimi cursus temporalium regnorum… Ibid., III, 11, 1, 155-156.
Ibid., III, 11, 1, 153-157. Elsewhere, Hildegard maintained that the kingdoms of the world were
supported by a vice which she labeled Love of the World. The virtue which opposed this was Love of
Heaven. See her Liber vitae meritorum in J. Pitra, ed., Analecta Sacra, vol. 8 (Monte Cassino, 1882;
reprint ed., Farnborough, England: Gregg Press Ltd., 1966), 10.
For Hildegard, the dynamic force behind history was the battle between God and his virtues versus
Satan and his vices for man’s soul. SeeS civias, III, 4, 6. Although the virtues appeared to her as
personified forms in her visions, she carefully pointed out that they were not animate:
…non quod ulla virtus sit vivens forma in semetipsa, sed solummodo praelucida sphaera a Deo
fulgens in opera hominis; quia homo perficitur cum virtutibus, quoniam ipsae sunt opus operantis
hominis in Deo.
ferocity of these future kingdoms. The first animal was a “fiery dog” which did not
burn. Thus, “snapping” men would live during the times symbolized by this animal.
These men would believe that they appear like fire. However, they would not actually
burn in divine justice.
The second beast was a yellow lion. The lion symbolized future times which
would be characterized by warlike men who would not observe God’s righteousness in
their wars. The yellow color of the lion indicated that the kingdoms of these warlike
times would begin to grow weak.
The next animal was the pale horse associated with the fourth seal of the
Apocalypse (Rev. 6:7-8). The men who would live during the times symbolized by the
horse would neglect the virtues in their haste to pursue pleasure. They would be
completely sunk in sin and lust. Their preoccupation with sin and neglect of the virtues
would soon rob their kingdoms of strength. The paleness of the horse signified the fall of
The fourth animal was a black pig. The leaders who would exist in the times
symbolized by the pig would engulf themselves in filth by which Hildegard meant that
they would violate God’s precept by committing fornication and related sins. The
blackness of the pig symbolized the gloominess or sadness of these leaders. Hildegard
See Scivias, III, 3, 3, 166-169.
The purpose of the virtues was to ensure man’sw ellbeing be showing him the way to the good and
by helping him in the struggle against Satan. They also indicated to God whether or not man was
worshipping him. See Scivias I, 6, 4, 112-139 and Explanatio symboli S. Athanasii, PL 197, 1067C. Thus,
Hildegard was able to employ the relative strength or weakness of the virtues among men of different
historical periods or of future ages as a barometer with which she measured humanity’s spiritual progress
…canis igneus, sed non ardens; quia cursus temporum illorum homines suae constitutionis mordaces
habebit, in sua quidem aestimatione velut ignis apparentes, sed in iustitia Dei non ardentes. Scivias III, 11,
In the LVM (pp. 11 and 35), Hildegard used a dog as a symbol of petulance (petulantia). According to
her, men who were petulant were like a hunting dog because they did not have steadfast minds. Their
minds were like a hunting dog because they followed the will of other people just as a hunting dog
followed its prey. She also noted (LVM 44-45) that people who were guilty of petulantia would be
punished by fire.
…leo fulvis coloris est: quoniam cursus ille bellicosos homines sustinebit, multa quidem bella moventes
sed in eis rectitudinem Dei non inspicientes: quia in fulvo colore regna illa incipient fatigationem debilitatis
incurrere. Scivias, III, 11, 3.
Hildegard also used a lion in the conventional manner to symbolize Christ, who was the enemy of Satan.
See LVM, 9, 30, 88.
…equus pallidus: quia tempora illa homines in diluvio peccati lascivos et in velocitate voluptatis suae
operationem bonarum virtutum transilientes producunt, ubi tunc cor regnorum illorum in pallore reinae
suae confingetur quoniam ruborem fortitudinis suae iam perdet. Scivias, III, 11, 4.
Cf. interpretations of the pale horse be Bede, Explanatio Apocalypsis, PL 93, 147C; Haimo of
Halberstadt, In Apocalypsin, PL, 117, 1027D-1082D; Anselm of Havelberg, De unitate fidei, PL, 188,
1152C-1154C; Martin of Leon, Expositio libri apocalypsis, PL 209, 336D-337B.
…niger porcus: quoniam cursus ille rectores magnam nigredinem tristitia in semetipsis facientes habet et
se luto immunditiae involventes, videlicet divinam legem in multis contrarietatibus, fornicationum et
aliorum similium malorum postponentes, ac multa schismata divinorum praeceptorum in sanctitate
machinantes. Scivias, III, 11, 5.
Elsewhere (Ibid., III, 7, 6) Hildegard denounced pagans who refused to convert as being covered with
fornication and adultery like a pig covered with mud.
was referring to the leaders of kingdoms because all of the animals symbolized
The fifth animal was a grey wolf. The earlier times signified by the wolf would
be characterized by men who would struggle for control over kingdoms with the result
that the kingdoms of these times would be divided and fall. The wolf indicated the
rapaciousness of these future men. The gray color of the wolf symbolized the cunning or
deceit these men would employ to obtain power because they would try not to appear
black or white, that is, they would not wish to reveal their true selves. When the
kingdoms of the earlier times symbolized by the wolf have fallen, the Antichrist would
appear and persecute the elect.
In the next scene of her vision, the five animals turned towards the west. This
scene signified that the “fallen times”c (aduca tempora) symbolized by the animals “fell”
with the setting sun. Hildegard based the comparison between the times and the sun on
an analogy with man: “… since just as it rises and sets so also do men when one is born
and another dies.” Hildegard thus compared the history of the world to the course of a
day. The Incarnation had taken place relatively late in the day because Christ arrived
after the world had already passed through five ages. She likened Christ’s arrival to the
time of the day after the ninth hour, when evening was approaching. Thus, she
maintained, in true Augustinian fashion, that the day which symbolized the history of the
world was already moving towards its sunset at the time of the Incarnation. The advent
of the Antichrist would be like the setting of the sun in the west, in other words, near the
end of the world.
Next, Hildegard observed that a hill with five tops appeared in the west before the
five animals. The five hilltops in the west indicated the power of the carnal desires
In the LVM (147), the vice of injustice was symbolized by an animal with a body like a pig’s.
…lupus griseus quia illa tempora habebunt homines multas rapinas tam in potestatibus quam in reliquis
successibus sibmetipsis inferentes, cum in his certaminibus nec nigros nec albos sed velut griseos in
verustiis suis se ostendentes, capita rengorum illorum ea dividentes deiciunt: quoniam tunc veniet tempus
irretitionis multarum animarum, ubi error errorum ab infer usque ad caelum erigitur, ita quod ‘filii lucis’
torculari martyriorum suorum imponuntur, Filium Dei non negantes sed filium perditionis abicientes, qui
diabolicis artibus voluntates suas perficere tentabit. Scivias, III, 11, 6, 182-192.
Medieval writers saw the wolf as a symbol of the Antichrist because this animal was the enemy of the
lamb, which symbolized Christ. See R. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages (Seattle: University of
Washington Press, 1981), 76.
In the LVM (198), Hildegard used a creature with the head of a wolf to signify the vice of sorcery.
She reasoned that to acquire the diabolical arts of magic, people had to surrender their souls to Satan who
would consume his victims the way a wolf consumed a lamb. This creature also had a lion’s tail, which
symbolized that sorcerers come to a bad end. The fact that the remainder of this creature’s body resembled
a dog indicated that sorcerers employed their knowledge of magic to hunt for evil. Hildegard, emphasized
the Antichrist’s role as a sorcerer in her account of his life.
Scivias, III, 11, 6, 193-196.
Ibid., III, 11, 24-25.
…quia sicut [sol] oritur et occidit, ita etiam faciunt homines, cum hic nascitur et cum ille moritur.
Scivias, III, 11, 6, 194-196. Origen (d. ca. 253) had formulated a pattern based on a correlation between the
twelve-hour solar day mentioned in the parable about the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16) and the
history of the world. Thus, the morning or first hour represented the time from Adam to Noah, the third
hour, Noah to Abraham, the sixth hour, Abraham to Moses, the ninth hour, Moses to Christ, and the
eleventh hour, Christ to the end of the world. Origen had also correlated the hours of the solar day with the
ages of man. See Schmidt, “Aetates Mundi” 302-306.
Ibid., III, 11, 7, 199-202.
associated with the five future times and kingdoms, which were symbolized by the five
A rope ran from each animal’s mouth to each hilltop. The ropes coming from the
animals’ mouths indicated that from the beginning of the times symbolized by these
animals the power of carnal desires would maintain an “uninterrupted course of great
extent” (tenor prolixitatis). The ropes which were connected with the first four beasts
were black, which signified that the courses of the carnal desires of the times symbolized
by the animals would be characterized by the rapacity of the men living then and that the
great lengths of these carnal desires would be characterized by man’s stubborn pursuit of
pleasure. The rope coming from the mouth of the wolf was partly black and partly
white. The blackness of this rope symbolized the iniquities which would be committed
under the Antichrist while the whiteness of this rope signified the justice of those who
would oppose him.
Dividing time or viewing historical development in terms of kingdoms symbolized
by animals can be traced back at least as far as Jerome whose concept of four successive
world empires became important in the Middle Ages. Jerome developed this concept in
a commentary on the four beasts mentioned in Daniel 7:2-8. The lioness symbolized
the kingdom of the Babylonians and their way of life which was characterized by
brutality, cruelty, luxuriousness and lust. Moreover, the eagle’s wings attached to the
lioness stood for the pride of Babylon. The second beast was like a bear whose ferocity
Ibid., III, 11, 7, 203-206.
Ibid., III, 11, 7, 205.
Ibid., III, 11, 7, 206-211. In a fragment from her medical works, Hildegard noted that the letter “c” or the
number one hundred was written on each rope of the beasts. See H. Schipperges “Ein unveroffentlichtes
Hildegard-Fragment,”S udhoffs Archiv fur Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaft 40 (1956):
73. In the Scivias (III, 2, 19), she used the number one hundred to signify man’s moral imperfection from
the time of Christ to the end of the world. On the last day, the elect will achieve moral perfection, which
she symbolized by the number one thousand.
Scivias, III, 11, 7, 207-215.
This scene of the five animals and the hill was portrayed in a miniature in Hs 1 (214 verso). Besides
having the best text of the Scivias (a distinction it with Pal. Lat. 311), Hs 1 contains illuminations which are
generally in harmony with the text. The only inaccuracies in the illumination of this scene is that the lion is
painted red instead of yellow. The hill is somewhat distorted because it is very elongated like a tree with
five thick trunks at its top.
In addition to having a text which contains many errors, the illuminations found in the Codex Salem
X, 16, do not do justice to the details described in the text. The illumination (177 recto) of the scene in
question consists of very simplified pictorial versions of Hildegard’s descriptions. The illumination does
not help to explain the text. In fact, the artist had to use captions so that the reader could identify the
pictures. For example, the animals are labeled: canis, leo, equus, porcus, and lupus. Only the horse and the
pig can be recognized without their captions. The horse is colored light blue with patches of white. The
four other animals are light brown or beige. Thus, their colors do not match the descriptions in the text.
The ropes of the dog, lion, and pig are uncolored, while the ropes of the horse and the wolf are black and
white. Thus only the rope of the wolf is true to the text. The caption for this picture reads: “Collis quinque
apices habens, et ab ore cuiusque bestiae funis ad quemque apicem collis eiusdem extensus.” This is close
to the text. The hilltops are light brown just like the animals.
Rauh, Antichrist, 530-531.
Jerome of Stridon, In Danielem, Corpus Christanorum, Series Latina, Vol. 75 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1964),
II, vii, 2-8.
Jerome mistook “lion” for “lioness” when he was translating from the Aramaic or the Greek. See his
Commentary on Daniel, trans. G. Archer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), 72.
symbolized that the Persians, who succeeded the Babylonians, had a rigorous and frugal
life style. Jerome thought that the third beast or the leopard symbolized the
Macedonians. He based this correlation on the fact that a leopard was noteworthy for its
speed. Likewise, Alexander the Great conquered the world very quickly. The
Macedonians also resembled a leopard because they were bloodthirsty and tended to
plunge into death. The fourth beast, which was strong and terrible, signified the Roman
Empire. The fact that this beast devoured and crushed everything indicated that Rome
would destroy and subjugate all nations. Jerome maintained that Rome would be the last
empire. The fall of the Roman Empire would lead to the rise of the kingdom of the
With regard to the derivation of Hildegard’s symbolism, the pale horse and the
wolf, as it has been noted, were conventional symbols. The concept of using a lion to
symbolize a kingdom was as old as the book of Daniel and Jerome. However, Hildegard
modified this symbol in her own way. Unlike the lion in Daniel, her lion was not winged.
Furthermore, there was no mention of a color in connection with the lion in Daniel,
whereas Hildegard described the lion in her vision as yellow. The symbols of the dog
and the pig seem to be original.
Liebeschutz’s notion of the derivation of these symbols was inadequate and not
backed by sufficient evidence. He noted that Hildegard’sP hysica, which was her
encyclopedia of pharmacology, contained descriptions of similar animals. From this
similarity, he concluded that these animal symbols were derived from “einer
zoologischen Uberlieferung.” However, in theP hysica, Hildegard dealt with these
animals in a way quite different from the Scivias. In the Physica, she described the
nature of the dog or the lion in general and whether or not the species or animal under
discussion was good or bad for man. She evaluated the medical properties of these
species. In the Physica, unlike the Scivias, she did not assign any eschatological meaning
to these animals.
When the entire scene of the five beasts anchored to the hilltops is considered, the
originality of Hildegard’s symbolism is readily apparent. She placed traditional symbols
like the lion, horse, and wolf in an original context. The originality of this scene was an
outgrowth of her visionary experience, which set her apart from contemporary exegetes
such as Gerhoh of Reichersberg, Anselm of Havelberg, and Honorious of Autun.
Hildegard was more like an Old Testament prophet in the tradition of Isaiah or Jeremiah
in that she criticized the moral lapses of leaders like Archbishop Henry of Mainz and
revealed personal visions, which she believed were divinely-inspired, concerning the
present and future. The concept of comparing Hildegard to the Old Testament prophets
can be traced as far back as her Vita, which likened her to Ezechiel and Daniel.
Hildegard’s use of five beasts to symbolize periods of time and thek ingdoms
which would exist in these periods was unusual. She did not follow the traditional
pattern of four beasts and empires which had been established by Jerome, nor did she
Jerome of Stridon, In Danielem, II, vii, 7c, 8.
H. Liebeschutz, Das allegorische Weltbild der heiligen Hildegard von Bingen (Leipzig: Teubner, 1930;
reprint ed., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964), 153-154. See also Physica, PL 197,
VII, 3, 8, 17, 19, 20.
M. Klaes, ed., Vita Sanctae Hildegardis, CCCM, vol 126 (Turnholt: Brepols, 1993), I, IX, 3-4 and III,
follow the patterns of seven found in the Apocalypse such as the seven seals or the seven-
headed dragon. Liebeschutz, in his interpretation of the five beasts, came to the
conclusion that Hildegard chose five because five ages of the world proceeded Christ.
Hildagard’s account of the five beasts and thes ymbols which were associated with them
does not contain the slightest implication that she recognized any relationship between
the ages of the world which passed before Christ and the times designated by the five
Rauh, on the other hand, has suggested that Hildegard’s use of five in connection
with her account of the kingdoms which were symbolized by the beasts might be derived
from the five fallen kings mentioned in Revelation 17:10. Rauh’s thesis is very
probably correct because one of the main themes in her discussion of the five beasts was
the downfall of the kingdoms which they signified.
Scholarly opinion has been divided over the question of the meanings of the five
beasts. There is the problem of whether or not they signified periods of time.
Liebeschutz and Rauh denied that the beasts represented periods of time. Liebeschutz
felt that in the Scivias, Hildegard was using the five beasts to signify the evil of secular
authority in general and not in future periods of time. Rauh maintained that the animals
referred to future things but not to periods of time. One major problem with Rauh’s
treatment of the five beasts was that he did not clearly distinguish Hildegard’s early use
of the beasts in the Scivias, from her later use of these symbols in the Liber divinorum
operum. Warnefried and Hocht were of the opinion that the beasts designated periods of
time. They did not specify whether or not Hildegard considered these periods of time to
be in the future. Demf, Widmer, Rosenberg, and Gronau upheld the notion that for
Hildegard the five beasts represented five future periods of time.
The position maintained by the author of this article is that from Hildegard’s point
of view, the five beasts in the Scivias represented five future periods of time.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that these periods of time were vaguely-defined
compared with Hildegard’s later discussion of these animals in theL iber divinorum
operum. The main reason why these animals should be interpreted as referring to the
future was that Hildegard employed the future tense in connection with the events which
were associated with the time signified by the dog. Thus, the sequence of events which
followed the time signified by the dog will occur in the future as well. Furthermore,
Hildegard also used the future tense in connection with events which were designated by
Liebeschutz, Weltbild, 153-154.
Scivias, III, 11.
Rauh, Antichrist, 507-508.
Liebeschutz, Weltbild, 154.
Rauh, Antichrist, 510.
C. Warnefried, Merkwurdige Gesichte, Prophezeiungen, und gottliche Offenbarungen uber Kirche und
Staat (Regensburg: Georg Joseph Manz, 1871), 163; J. Hocht, Hildegard von Bingen, Gesichte uber das
Ende der Zeiten (Wiesbaden: Credo –Verlag, 1953), 22.
Dempf, Sacrum Imperium, 267; B. Widmer, Heilsordnung und Zeitgeschehen in der Mystik Hildegards
von Bingen (Basel: Verlag von Hilbing und Lichtenhahn, 1955), 185, 193-195; A Rosenberg, Sibyl und
Prophetin (Munich: Otto Wilhelm Barth-Verlag, 1960), 85; E. Gronau, Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179:
Prophetische Lehrerin der Kirche an der Schwelle und am Ende der Neuzeit, with a forward by F.
Holbock, 2 ed. (Stein am Rhein: Christiana-Verlag, 1991), 143.
Scivias, III, 11, 2.
the lion, horse, and wolf. Contrary to Rauh’s opinion,H ildegard’s employment of such
phrases as cursus temporum illorum and illa tempora indicates that the animals signified
periods of time and not just things.
Another question regarding the beasts is their political significance. The notion of
Liebeschutz that the beasts signified the evil of secular authority in general and not in
future periods of time has already been disproved. Hildegard was referring only to evil
secular powers which would exist in the future. Raugh maintained that when Hildegard
employed the term “kingdoms”r (egna) in connection with the five beasts, she did not
mean a specific kind of political structure but the evil political or social behavior which
would pave the way for the advent of the Antichrist. Similarly, Gronau believed that
Hildegard used the five beasts to represent the spiritual characteristics of the future rather
than the kingdoms of the future.
However, Hildegard meant kingdoms in a literal sense. For example, she spoke of
leaders (rectores) in association with the period symbolized by the pig. The use of such
a term makes more sense in relation to kingdoms than it does to evil political conduct in
general. Furthermore, in her later thought, Hildegard was quite specific in describing
how kingdoms will dominate Europe’s future political scene. Warnefried and Dempf
held that the five beasts signified temporal kingdoms. Lubac felt that each beast
represented a definite kingdom. But Hildegard consistently used the plural whenever
she referred to the kingdoms (regna) and those who will lead those kingdoms
(rectores). She most likely intended each beast to signify all of the kingdoms which
will exist in a particular future period of time.
In conclusion, the five beasts represented five vaguely-defined periods of time,
from Hildegard’s point of view. According to her, the evil people who will live in these
kingdoms will prepare the way for the arrival of the Antichrist.
Except for one innovative element, her discussion of the time symbolized by the
beasts was traditional or Augustinian. The Augustinian components included the theme
that the world was in its old age and also the notion that man could not calculate the time
of the arrival of the Antichrist. In accordance with the Augustinian view of the sixth age
as the status praesens, Hildegard’s accounts of the periods and kingdoms symbolized by
the first four beasts were just vague variations on the traditional theme of moral decline
which would pave the way for the arrival of the Antichrist. The concept that sin and evil
would thrive near the advent of the Antichrist or the end of the world was a traditional
concept in eschatology. This view was based on Matthew 24:12. In harmony with the
nonhistorical notion of the sixth age as the status praesens, Hildegard did not foretell any
historical developments or changes in the future times and kingdoms which would come
Ibid., III, 11, 3-4; III, 11, 6, 182-192.
Ibid., III, 11, 2; III, 11, 4; III, 11, 6, 182-192.
Rauh, Antichrist, 509-510.
Gronau, Hildegard, 130-143.
Scivias, III, 11, 5.
Liber divinorum operum, PL 197, 1026B-D.
Warnefried, Prohezeiungen, 163; Dempf, Sacrum Imperium, 267.
H. de Lubac, Exegese medievale (Paris, Aubier, 1961) Pt. 2, Vol. 1, 525-526.
Scivias, III, 11, 2-5.
Emmerson, Antichrist, 42, 52-53.
before the advent of the Antichrist. Also in agreement with the Augustinian concept of
the sixth age, Hildegard’s use of the five beasts demonstrated that her early prophetic
thought did not foresee any material or spiritual improvement in the time before the
Hildegard’s description of the five beasts made one major departure from the
traditional view of the sixth age as the status praesens by dividing the future of the sixth
age into five vaguely-defined periods of time. She thereby drew away from the notion of
the sixth age as a single unit of time. By periodizing the sixth age, Hildegard adopted
one of the characteristics of Kirchengeschichte. However, the Scivias did not incorporate
the other aspect of Kirchengeschichte, namely the use of concrete historical details in
conjunction with periods of time. Therefore, Hildegard’s treatment of the five beasts in
the Scivias marked an incomplete transition from the Augustinian view of the sixth age as
the status praesens and the new way of dealing with the sixth age in terms of
Scholarship has overlooked the significance of Hildegard’sp eriodization of time in
connection with the five beast in the Scivias. This important departure from the
Augustinian view of the sixth age has gone unnoticed with the result that the Scivias has
been stereotyped as traditional or Augustinian. For example, Liebeschutz correctly
observed that the use of the beasts in the Scivias was indicative of patristic eschatology
because Hildegard focused her attention on the Antichrist and not on the future events
which would precede him. However, he completely failed to understand her
periodization of time and its significance. Lubac felt that the Scivias, like all medieval
eschatological works which were written before Joachim of Fiore, was in the Augustinian
tradition. Likewise, McGinn claimed that “…the Scivias…shows this Benedictine
abbess as conservative and monastic in outlook….” Granted that she dealt with the great
majority of topics in the Scivias in a traditional or Augustinian manner, yet the
periodization of time which she described in connection with the five beasts represented a
significant departure from the Augustinian view of the sixth age.
Mommsen, in his account of Augustine’s view of the sixth age of the world, describedA ugustine’s
attitude towards kingdoms during this age in words which could be applied precisely to Hildegard’s attitude
towards the kingdoms signified by the five beasts. Mommsen stated that in Augustine’s view, the sixth age
was characterized by “…the mutability and instability of human affairs. Cities, kingdoms, and empires
have risen and fallen throughout the course of history and this will always be the case.” T.M ommsen,
“Progress,” 373. ThisA ugustinian indifference to the historical fate of temporal political institutions was
clearly manifested in Hildegard’s account of the kingdoms which were symbolized by the five beasts in the
Liebeschutz, Weltbild, 154.
Lubac, Exegese medievale, Pt. 2, Vol. 1, 459-527.
McGinn, Visions, 97.
The thesis that the periodization of time employed in association with the five beasts in the Scivias
signaled an important departure from the Augustinian view of the sixth age as the status praesens or an
incomplete transition to Kirchengeschichte was original to the author’s dissertation “The Prophecies of
Hildegard of Bingen,” (Ph.D.d iss., University of Kentucky, 1983), ch. 2.