The first letter we are going to highlight in our series on the personal correspondence of St. Hildegard of Bingen talks about the mother of all virtues: moderation. As an abbess St. Hildegard felt herself charged with the care of souls. She saw the purpose of her visionary gifts as charismatas of service. We see this most beautifully in St. Hildegard’s correspondence, as in the following excerpt from a letter St. Hildegard wrote to Elisabeth of Schöngau. St. Hildegard’s correspondence with the young Benedictine nun Elisabeth has a special character because Elisabeth was a visionary too. We have three letters of Elisabeth to St. Hildegard and two from St. Hildegard to Elisabeth. Elisabeth was severely ill, partly through her own excessive asceticism, when St. Hildegard wrote her last letter.
“In a true vision I saw and heard the following words:‘O daughter of God, out of your love for God you call a poor creature like myself, “Mother.” Listen then to your mother and learn moderation! For moderation is the mother of all virtues for everything heavenly and earthly. For it is through moderation that the body is nourished with the proper discipline. Any human being who thinks about her sins with sighs of regret – all those sins which she has committed in thought, word and deed through the Devil’s inspiration – must embrace this mother, discretion, and with the counsel of her religious superiors repent of her sins in true humility and sincere obedience. When there are unseasonable downpours, the fruit and vegetables growing on Earth are damaged; when a field has not been plowed, you do not find good grain springing up, instead there are only useless weeds. It’s the same with a person who lays on herself more strain than she can endure. This is a sign that the effects of holy discretion are weak in such a person. And all of this immoderate straining and abstinence bring nothing useful to the soul.’” – Hildgard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works With Letters and Songs by Matthew Fox.
Is the mother of all virtues active in your life? Do you lay on yourself more strain than you can endure at times? Do you have adequate amounts of rest and do you let yourself enjoy the pleasures of being human? I am learning so much about rest these days. For me rest is sleeping deeply, meditating, doing nothing….it is not worrying, it is not going for a leisurely walk, it is not reading a thrilling novel…. Regarding enjoying the pleasures of being human, this morning I enjoyed a delicious bowl of creamy oatmeal with bananas and nuts and an exquisite cup of espresso…. What pleasures of being human have you recently enjoyed?