Ordo Virtutum: Hildegard of Bingen (c.1151)

Hildegard_of_Bingen_Rupertsberg_Scivias_Fol_192r_III-9_Tower_of_the_Church_and_4_VirtuesHildegard of Bingen was, by any standard an extraordinary woman.  While most writers of the Middle Ages now languish in obscurity, she stands out as an author, painter, mystic, and composer.  The work highlighted today is known as Ordo Virtutum or The Play of Virtues.  It is the first musical drama in history and one of the earliest examples of a morality play.

As Terry Glaspey writes in  75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Hildegard’s music is generally much more dramatic than the typical chant of her times, with soaring and leaping and swirling melodies, deeply expressive emotion, and a wide sonic range. It is characterized by both rich sensuousness and purity of sound, as though she were trying to bring heaven and earth together in her music. Melodic phrases are stretched and contracted to create the soaring arches of sound that typify her style and make most other contemporary chant seem mild-mannered and stately when set beside Hildegard’s richly expressive compositions. Hildegard’s musical expressiveness was also reflective of her personal style. She was a woman who loved beautiful clothing, fragrant scents, and shimmering gemstones. She would, on occasion, even allow the nuns under her care to dress themselves in more extravagant costumes than were normally allowed for cloistered women, or allow them to let their hair grow long and remain uncovered, sometimes even crowned with flowers.

Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098 to noble parents at Bermersheim in the Rhineland, the youngest of ten children. As was common at the time, this tenth child was offered as a tithe to the church when she was eight years old and sent to the Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg. Trained by the small community of nuns there, she joined the religious life and learned how to recite and sing the Latin Psalter. When the abbess died, Hildegard, who had already shown herself to be a natural leader, was chosen as her successor.


How did Hildegard’s circumstances shape her life?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.


D I G  D E E P E R

Ordo Virtutum, Hildegard of Bingen

Stranded in Time: How the Metaphysical and Physical are Necessarily Linked by Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Hildegard of Bingen. Mystical Writings. New York: Crossroad, 1993.
Hildegard von Bingen in Portrait: Ordo Virtutum. DVD. Directed by Michael Fields. Forked River, NJ: Kultur Video, 2008.
Jaoudi, Maria. Medieval and Renaissance Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2010.
Sukowa, Barbara. Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. DVD. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. New York: Zeitgeist Video, 2011.


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

Stranded in Time: How the Metaphysical and Physical are Necessarily Linked by Kate Thomsen Gremillion

“A human being is a vessel that God has built for himself and filled with His inspiration so that his works are perfected in it”

Kate Thomsen Gremillion

Hildegard von Bingen, O.S.B., the twelfth century mystic, theologian, poet, and composer/playwright lived so long ago that it warrants a timeline of sorts to see just how ahead of her time she was. She is, in fact one of the very first composers whose name has actually come down to us. She was preceded by the music theoretician Guido of Arezzo who, interestingly enough, was also affiliated with the Benedictine order as a monk and invented our modern system of musical notation. She was roughly contemporaneous with Leonin and Perotin, the first composers of polyphonic music who worked in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, but any music student would struggle to come up with those names without pulling out their old music history exams. She was writing two hundred years before Machaut, five hundred years before Bach, six hundred years before Mozart and over nine hundred years from today.

“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world-everything is hidden in you.”

I emphasize her time and place in history to bring to the light the advantages of having lived before the Enlightenment, before the chaos eschewed in with acceptance of the Cartesian divide. The integration of soul, mind and body had not yet been rent apart in unnatural ways and I make the argument that the enduring appeal of her music grown in the fertile gardens of her worldview. Here is a woman in the medieval era who was the modern equivalent of a doctor of medicine, composer, playwright. poet, and philosopher. She was a tour de force wholly devoted to Christ with a formidable intellect and a mystical quality that draws even modern audiences in droves.

This is particularly exciting on two levels; as a woman and artist, I see her unhampered and strong approach to living out her beliefs and how her knowledge of the soul and the struggle and glory of life on earth were inextricably connected to her physical life. As a Benedictine Nun and eventually an abbess, she followed a strict discipline and rule of life. Her days were ordered by work and prayer; Ora et Labora.  The labor of discipline was to her a joy because of the fruit it bore. She was unapologetically educated and scholarly and even chastised the Pope and Kings and encouraged Queens when she thought it was warranted. Her advice was highly desired. With her gifts and acumen in unity with her bodily actions, she imparted wisdom.

To the Pope: “You despise God when you embrace evil. For in failing to speak out against the evil of those in your company, you are certainly not rejecting evil. Rather, you are kissing it”

To Emperor Barbarossa: “Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn Me. Hear this, O king, if you wish to live.”

To Eleanor of Aquitaine: “Your mind is like a wall battered by a storm … Stay calm, and stand firm, relying on God and your fellow creatures, and God will aid you in all your tribulations.”

In one her most well-known compositions, Ordo Virtutum, she demonstrates the relationship between joy and the development of virtue and contrasts that with the temptations of the devil towards vice. An interesting and epistemological theme is that the singing reaches towards the heavens with its use of high passages and euphoric melismas (chains of notes strung together that move quickly). Interestingly, the devil does not ever sing.

Listen here to the operatic ancestor Ordo Virtutum.

The translation can be found here


It is very important to follow along with the text. The music though sublime will take some getting used to for some. Be patient with your ears and your brain while they make the adjustments. After going through the entire piece with the translation at hand, you will be ready to listen as you work or do the dishes. I recommend taking a prayer walk while you listen with headphones.

We, like Hildegard, are members of eternity, stranded in time which provides us with context to develop our souls.

Your true voice can only find its home within the context of a worldview that contains a harmony and connection with the metaphysical and the physical. The transcendence of God is a relief to our souls and a true mercy.

He is higher and nobler and worthy of praise.

Kate resides in Newport Beach, CA. After pursuing a music degree at Trinity University and Indiana University she currently studies at HBU in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program. She is a full time homeschooling mother of four, two of whom have graduated to college (Cornell and LMU). She is also a professional singer performing regularly with the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale. Kate gives regular recitals in Art Song and Opera and conducts the St Matthew’s Choristers at St Matthews Anglican Church in Newport Beach where they study Latin, Liturgy and Music. Her newest projects are the establishing of The Children’s Conservatory at St Matthew’s Montessori school and… as a contributing writer to Literary Life!