ANGELS: The Choirs of Angels by Hildegard of Bingen

The Choirs of Angels by Hildegard of Bingen

From: Scivias, Book One, Vision Six

Then I saw in the secret places in the heights of Heaven two armies of heavenly spirits who shone with great brightness.  Those in one of the armies had on their breasts wings, with forms like human forms in front of them, on which human features showed as if in clear water.  Those in the second army also had wings on their breasts, which displayed forms like human forms, in which the image of the Son of Man shone as if in a mirror.  And I could see no other form either in these or in the others.  These armies were arrayed in the shape of a crown around five other armies.  Those in the first of these five armies seemed as if they had human forms that shone with great splendor from the shoulders down.  Those in the second shone with such great brightness that I could not look at them.  Those in the third had the appearance of white marble and heads like human heads, over which torches were burning, and from the shoulders down they were surrounded by an iron-gray cloud.  Those in the fourth had forms like human forms and feet like human feet, and wore helmets on their heads, and marble tunics.  And those in the fifth had nothing human in their appearance, and shone red like the dawn.  And I saw no other form in them.

But these armies were also arrayed like a crown around two others.  Those in the first of these other armies seemed to be full of eyes and wings, and in each eye appeared a mirror and in each mirror a human form, and they raised their wings to a celestial height.  And those in the second burned like fire, and had many wings, in which they showed as if in a mirror all the Church ranks arrayed in order.  And I saw no other shape either in these or in the others.  And all these armies were singing with marvelous voices all kinds of music about the wonders that God works in blessed souls, and by this God was magnificently glorified.

1. God wonderfully formed and ordered His creation

Almighty and Ineffable God, Who was before all ages and had no beginning and will not cease to be when all ages are ended, marvelously by His will created every creature and marvelously by His will set it in its place.  How?  He destined some creatures to stay on the earth, but others to inhabit the celestial regions.  He also set in place the blessed angels, both for human salvation and for the honor of His name.  How?  By assigning some to help humans in their need, and others to manifest to people the judgments of His secrets.

Therefore you see in the secret places in the heights of Heaven two armies of heavenly spirits who shine with great brightness; thus, as is shown to you in the height of secret places that the bodily eye cannot penetrate but the inner sight can see, these two armies indicate that the human body and soul should serve God, since they are going to have the brightness of eternal blessedness with the citizens of Heaven.

2. On the appearance of the angels and its meaning

And those in one of the armies have on their breasts wings, with forms like human forms in front of them, on which human features show as if in clear water.  These are the angels, who spread the desires in the depths of their minds like wings; not that they have wings like birds, but that in their desires they are quick to accomplish God’s will, the way a person’s thoughts speed swiftly; and by their forms they display in themselves the beauty of reason, by which God closely examines human deeds; for as a servant who hears his master’s words carries them out according to his will, so the angels pay attention to God’s will for humans and show Him human actions in themselves.

3. On the appearance of the archangels and its meaning

And so those in the second army also have wings on their breasts, which display forms like human forms, in which the image of the Son of Man shines as if in a mirror.  These are the archangels, who contemplate God’s will in the desires of their intellect and display in themselves the beauty of reason; they magnify the Incarnate Word of God in the purest way, because, knowing God’s secret decrees, they have often prefigured the mysteries of the Incarnation of the Son of God.  And you can see no other form either in these or in the others; for in both the angels and the archangels there are many secret mysteries that the human intellect, weighed down by the mortal body, cannot understand.  But these armies are arrayed in the shape of a crown around five other armies.  This shows that the human body and soul must, by virtue of their strength, contain the five human senses, purify them by the five wounds of My Son, and lead them to the righteousness of governance from within.

4. On the appearance of the Virtues and its meaning

And so those in the first of these five armies seem as if they have human forms that shine with great splendor from the shoulders down.  These are the Virtues, which spring up in the hearts of believers and in ardent charity build in them a lofty tower, which is their works; so that in their reason they show the deeds of the elect, and in their strength bring them to a good end with a great glory of blessedness.  How?  The elect, whose inner understanding is clear, cast away all their wickedness of evil, being enlightened by these Virtues in the enlightenment of My will, and fight vigorously against the snares of the Devil; and these Virtues unceasingly show to Me their Creator these struggles against the Devil’s throng.  For people have within themselves struggles of confession and of denial.  How?  Because this one confessed Me, and that one denies Me.  And in this struggle the question is: Is there a God or not?  And the answer comes from the Holy Spirit Who dwells in the person: God is, and created you, and also redeemed you.

But as long as this question and answer are in a person, the power of God will not be absent from him, for this question and answer carries with it penitence.  But when this question is not in a person, neither is the answer of the Holy Spirit, for such a person drives out God’s gift from himself and, without the question that leads to penitence, throws himself upon death.  And the Virtues display to God the battles of these wars, for they are the seal that shows God the intention that worships or denies Him.

5. On the appearance of the Powers and its meaning

Those in the second army shine with such great brightness that you cannot look at them.  These are the Powers, and this means that no weak, mortal sinner can understand the serenity and beauty of the power of God or attain a likeness to it, for God’s power is unfailing.

6. On the appearance of the Principalities and its meaning

Those in the third have the appearance of white marble and heads like human heads, over which torches are burning, and from the shoulders down they are surrounded by an iron-gray cloud.  These are the Principalities, and they show that those who by God’s gift are rulers of people in this world must assume the true strength of justice, lest they fall into the weakness of instability.  They should contemplate their Head, Who is Christ the Son of God, and direct their government according to His will for human needs, and seek the grace of the Holy Spirit in the ardor of truth, that until their end they may continue firm and unshaken in the strength of equity.

7. On the appearance of the Dominations and its meaning

Those in the fourth have forms like human forms and feet like human feet, and wear helmets on their heads, and marble tunics.  These are the Dominations; they show that He Who is the Lord of all has raised human reason, which had laid polluted in the dust of humanity, from earth to Heaven, when He sent to earth His Son and His Son in His righteousness trod underfoot the ancient seducer; and thus the faithful should faithfully imitate Him, Who is their Head, placing their hope in Heaven and fortifying themselves with the strong desire of good works.

8. On the appearance of the Thrones and its meaning

And those in the fifth have nothing human in their appearance and shine red like the dawn.  These are the Thrones, showing that when for human salvation the Only-Begotten of God, He Who was uninfected by human sin, put on a human body, Divinity bent down to humanity; for He, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the dawn, which is to say in the Blessed Virgin, received flesh with no spot of uncleanness whatsoever.  And you see no other form in them, for there are many mysteries of the celestial secrets that human frailty cannot understand.  But these armies are also arrayed like a crown around two others.  This means that the faithful who direct their body’s five senses to celestial things, knowing that they have been redeemed through the five wounds of the Son of God, attain with every turn and working of their mind, because they ignore the heart’s pleasure and put their hope in inward things, to love of God and their neighbor.

9. On the appearance of the Cherubim and its meaning

Therefore, those in the first of these other armies seem to be full of eyes and wings, and in each eye appears a mirror and in each mirror a human form, and they raise their wings to a celestial height.  These are the Cherubim, who signify knowledge of God, by which they see the mysteries of the celestial secrets and fulfill their desires according to God’s will.  Thus, possessing in the depth of their knowledge the purest clarity, they miraculously foresee all those who know the true God and direct their hearts’ desires, like wings on which nobly and justly to arise, to Him Who is above all; and, instead of lusting after the transitory, love the eternal, as they show by the high-mindedness of their desires.

10. On the appearance of the Seraphim and its meaning

And those in the second army burn like fire, and have many wings, in which they show as if in a mirror all the Church ranks arrayed in order.  These are the Seraphim, and this means that just as they burn for love of God and have the greatest desire to contemplate Him, they also by their desires display with shining purity the ranks, both secular and spiritual, which flourish in the mysteries of the Church, for the secrets of God show wondrously in them.  Therefore all who, loving sincerity with a pure heart, seek eternal life, should ardently love God and embrace Him with all their will, that they may attain to the joys of those they faithfully imitate.

But you see no other shape either in these or in the others.  This is to say that there are many secrets of the blessed spirits that are not to be shown to humans, for as long as they are mortal they cannot discern perfectly the things that are eternal.

11. All these armies sing of the miracles God does in blessed souls

But all these armies, as you hear, are singing with marvelous voices all kinds of music about the wonders that God works in blessed souls, by which God is magnificently glorified.  For spirits blessed in the power of God make known in the heavenly places by indescribable sounds their great joy in the works of wonder that God perfects in His saints; by which the latter gloriously magnify God, seeking Him in the depth of sanctity and rejoicing in the joy of salvation; as My servant David, the observer of celestial secrets, testifies when he says:

12. The Psalmist on this subject

“The voice of rejoicing and of salvation in the tabernacles of the just” (Psalm 117:15).  Which is to say: The song of the gladness and joy of those who tread the flesh underfoot and lift up the spirit is known, with unfailing salvation, in the dwellings of those who reject injustice and do the works of justice; they might do evil at the Devil’s temptation, but by divine inspiration they do good.  What does this mean?  Man often has inappropriate exultation at committing an improperly desired sin; but in that state he does not have salvation, for he has gone against the divine command.  He, however, who strongly does the good he ardently desires shall dance in the true exultation of the joy of salvation, for while in the body he yet loves the mansion of those who run in the way of truth and turn aside from lying error.

Therefore, whoever has knowledge in the Holy Spirit and wings of faith, let this one not ignore My admonition, but taste it, embrace it and receive it in his soul.

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