If we wish to comprehend the crisis in which not only our contemporary world, but also the very Militant Church is literally “immersed,” the significance of Saint Hildegard's works can be crucial. We can learn this from a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on December 20, 2010, to the Roman Curia.[i] Struggling to address the extremely grave scandals of sexual abuse committed by priests, the Holy Father cited a vision described by Saint Hildegard in a letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his priestly community, a vision he equivocally connected to the present state of the Church:
“In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year (emphasis added).”
We can observe that Saint Hildegard’s eight-hundred-year old vision is related by Pope Benedict XVI to a situation that occurred in the past 50 years. Most likely, by doing so, the Holy Father not only wanted to indicate the recurrence of an unfortunate situation caused by the committing of certain sins by the members of the sacred orders, but he also intended to draw attention to the relevance of Saint Hildegard’s visions. That’s why he proclaimed the famous Teutonic mystic as a Doctor of the Church. In the same vein, and without adding to many commentaries, we shall present some of the most significant traits of antichrist as portrayed in her works, Scivias – probably completed between 1151 and 1152 A.D. – and Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works) – completed in 1173. This will enable our readers to assess whether these traits can be ‘applied’ to the present crisis or not.
In this fully corrupted atmosphere of thievery, “the error of errors will rise from Hell to Heaven.” The bearer of this abominable doctrine is the Antichrist.
Firstly, referring to the realm of universal history, Saint Hildegard deciphers it in a manner reminiscent of Saint Bede the Venerable, using the symbolic number seven derived from the Book of Revelation (i.e. Apokalypsis) written by Saint John the apostle:
“In six days God completed His works, and on the seventh day He rested. What does this mean? The six days are six numbered epochs; and in the sixth epoch the latest miracles were brought forth in the world, as God finished His work on the sixth day. But now the world is in the seventh epoch, approaching the end of time, as on the seventh day.”[ii] (Scivias, p. 498)
The seventh and last period of history is divided into five other epochs, each of them being associated with an animal that has a symbolic significance: a dog, “fiery but not burning,” a yellow lion, a pale horse, a black pig and a gray wolf. The last two beasts reveal the main vices that will be universally spread during the last two epochs of the whole human history, epochs that are situated before the second coming of Jesus Christ described in chapter 19 of the Book of Revelation.
The nature of the animal itself, the pig, as well as its color, black, represent the vile sexual vices to which the political and ecclesiastical leaders (Lat. rectores) of the world will indulge to an extent that has never been seen in all history.
The gray wolf, whose color is a mixture of black and white, symbolizes the cunning of widespread theft among those who will plunder one another. Like thieves of the same gang, they will appear friendly to one another only to find opportunities to despoil. In this fully corrupted atmosphere of thievery, “the error of errors will rise from Hell to Heaven.” The bearer of this abominable doctrine is the Antichrist.
“The son of perdition” (II Thessalonians 2:3) will not dominate through magic and sorcery but through the persuasive power of his deceitful words. Essentially, he will be a manipulator of language, deceiving his interlocutors in a manner comparable to his master, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). This is the first remarkable trait of the enemy of Christ, as described in Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works):
“But those then who have been perfected in the catholic faith will await in their deep distress whatever God has ordained in his will. And these crises will continue to advance in this way until the son of perdition opens his mouth to teach his opposing views. But when he has offered the false words of his lies (emphasis added), heaven and earth will tremble together.”[iii] (Liber Divinorum Operum, pp. 463-464)
The spreading of the so called perversam doctrinam of the antichrist will lead to the justification of extreme sins like pedophilia and incest. In fact, Saint Hildegard implies that a significant number of the baptized will follow him. But how can this be possible?
Again, over a few pages, the spreading of a false teaching, is even more strongly emphasized simultaneously with the description of the content of this perverse doctrine (perversam or contrariam doctrinam):
“The Antichrist will indeed be infused by the devil when he opens his mouth to teach perversity, as described above. He will destroy all that God established within the ancient and the new law, and he will assert that sexual immorality and other like things are not sins at all. For he will claim that it is not a sin if flesh heats up flesh, just as it is not a sin if a person warms himself by the fire. He will also assert that all commandments concerning chastity were made in ignorance, for since one person may be hot but another cold, they ought to moderate one another with their heat and cold.” (Liber Divinorum Operum, p. 466)
By carefully reflecting on the above quotation, everything instantly becomes crystal clear. The core of the antichristic teachings directly regards the moral law. More precisely, the enemy of our salvation postulates that every type of deed that is defined by Moral law and Christian Tradition as sin is not so. The spreading of the so called perversam doctrinam of the antichrist will lead to the justification of extreme sins like pedophilia and incest. In fact, Saint Hildegard implies that a significant number of the baptized will follow him. But how can this be possible?
Certainly, being a “servant of sin” (Romans 6: 17) is a spiritual state that darkens the intellect and hinders the discernment. Undoubtedly, this is a major cause of the spreading of an anti-Christian doctrine. However, there is another explanation that may be even more important: the disregard for the ascetic and moral Tradition of the ancestors. Instigated by the false gospel of the antichrist, here is what his followers will say:
“Oh, woe to the wretches who lived before these times! For they made their lives miserable with dire pains, not knowing, alas, the loving kindness of our God!” (Scivias, p. 504)
This anti-Traditional way of thinking comes together with a total per-version of theological, revealed teachings about God that takes place in their minds. The image of the God, the Creator of the universe, is profoundly distorted. Any mention of justice and divine wrath is eliminated. The major problem for those who follow the doctrine of the antichrist is not only that the exclusively ‘merciful’ God who allows them all sins is not the true God, but also that the usurper seeks to substitute Him, obtaining the glory and worship that belong only to our Savior, Jesus Christ. The essence of his deceptions is revealed in Scivias (p. 504):
“He will acquire for himself many people, telling them to do their own will (emphasis added).”
If we contemplate the ocean of sins in which today’s world is immersed, we realize that this is the most profound and consistent explanation for such an unprecedented situation. The encouragement of the inhabitants of the (post)modern world to follow the course of their lives, constantly fulfilling their own wills, is the ‘engine’ driving the stark and rapid decline of our Western culture and civilization.
The most interesting aspect of Saint Hildegard’s visions and teachings about antichrist is the most surprising. So surprising, that even the Saint herself seems to be afraid to say it explicitly: the antichrist is – formally speaking – Christian (i.e. Catholic).
In the realm of ecclesiastical life, the result of the antichrist's “politics” is recorded by Saint Hildegard when she mentions “the great schisms that will come with the son of perdition.” (Scivias, p. 510) His capacity to deceive and manipulate through the power of his words, generating an illusion that veils the minds of those who listen to him, is so great that many Catholics will follow him. Consequently, his heretical teachings will provoke schisms that will separate him and his followers from the true Christian Church.
In addition to all of this, the most interesting aspect of Saint Hildegard’s visions and teachings about antichrist is the most surprising. So surprising, that even the Saint herself seems to be afraid to say it explicitly: the antichrist is – formally speaking – Christian (i.e. Catholic). Far from being considered, as we see in other Holy Fathers and Doctors, a representative of a different religion than Christianity, the antichrist is certainly a formal member of the Church. And he does not seem to be an ordinary member. If we consider the schisms mentioned in the aforementioned prophecies he appears to be a high-ranking hierarch within the Church. In any case, the Christian identity of the antichrist is clearly evident in the most peculiar part of the vision described in Scivias (p. 493):
“And I saw again the figure of a woman whom I had previously seen in front of the altar that stands before the eyes of God; she stood in the same place, but now I saw her from the waist down. And from her waist to the place that denotes the female, she had various scaly blemishes; and in that latter place was a black and monstrous head. It had fiery eyes, and ears like an ass’, and nostrils and mouth like a lion’s; it opened wide its jowls and terribly clashed its horrible iron-colored teeth. And from this head down to her knees, the figure was white and red, as if bruised by many beatings; and from her knees to her tendons where they joined her heels, which appeared white, she was covered with blood. And behold! That monstrous head moved from its place with such a great shock that the figure of the woman was shaken through all her limbs. And a great mass of excrement adhered to the head; and it raised itself up upon a mountain and tried to ascend the height of Heaven. And behold, there came suddenly a thunderbolt, which struck that head with such great force that it fell from the mountain and yielded up its spirit in death.”
The Church itself is, therefore, represented through the icon of a majestic woman, in whose specifically feminine area resides a monstrous head symbolizing the antichrist. Every detail of this abominable head is significant. The donkey’s ears indicate the obstinacy with which he will cling to his own heretical teachings – the “perverse doctrine”– which he will spread. The lion’s nostrils and mouth allude to both the demonic ferocity with which he will tear apart the orthodox faith and the physical and/or spiritual violence with which he will persecute true Christians. The ascension to the sky indicates his pride, which will reach unimaginable proportions. The violent dislocation – the woman is shaken from all her limbs – indicates the separation (or exclusion?) from the Church that will occur through the schisms into which he will draw his followers (the mass of excrements adhering to the monstrous head).
The deceptive power of antichrist aims for a precise goal: to substitute the authentic Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with an anti-Gospel that especially justifies sexual sins.
We did not intend to describe all the details of Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s visions regarding the antichrist. Our aim was to highlight only a few particularly significant points, which we summarize as follows:
Antichristic doctrine (i.e. perverted theology). The deceptive power of antichrist aims for a precise goal: to substitute the authentic Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with an anti-Gospel that especially justifies sexual sins. A key-aspect of the antichrist’s perverse doctrine is the distortion of theological teachings about God. By proposing an image of God from which divine justice and vengeance are absent (an image through which he can attract a large number of Christian adherents), he actually substitutes himself for the supreme Creator.
Schisms. The spread of the antichrist’s perverse doctrine (doctrinam perversam) will lead to some schisms, culminating in a final major schism that separates the antichrist and his adherents from the Church.
Christian origins. The Antichrist is of Christian origin. Furthermore, his capacity to cause schisms within the ecclesiastical body suggests his membership in the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
Having said all this, we can only invite you to (re)read and meditate upon Saint Hildegard’s texts, keeping in mind the words of the Gospel of our King and Savior, Jesus Christ:
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)
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[ii] We use the translation made by Mother Columba Hart O.S.B. and Jane Bishop, Scivias, New York, Paulist Press, 1990.
[iii] We quote Nathaniel M. Campbell’s translation: St. Hildegard of Bingen, Book of Divine Works, The Catholic University of America Press, 2018.