Friday, November 21, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen and the Laborers in the Vineyard parable

Hildegard of Bingen, a mural at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard near Bingen

A post about Hildegard of Bingen and the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard before I get on the plane for AAR/SBL:

Homilies 22 and 23 interpret the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, and the differences between them reflect the same concerns as Homilies 1 and 2. Homily 22 focuses on creation story (including the history of salvation), but Homily 23 focuses on the soul (including moral explanations and exhortations).

Homily 22 again illustrates Hildegard’s concern for the natural world, including her ideas about God’s divinely appointed role and function for all creatures. (Kienzle 2011: 175). Although the details of the parable do not correlate exactly with the days of creation in Genesis 1, Hildegard’s homily integrates them extensively. God is the householder of the parable, and Hildegard equates the householder going out early in the morning with the day that God created the heaven and earth. Likewise, the other aspects of the parable all designate aspects of the seven days of creation and the functions of all God’s creatures. The agreement with the first laborers, for example, designates God’s work on the second day of creation when God divided “waters from waters” (Gen. 1:6-8), and the “eleventh hour” in the parable represents the sixth day of creation when God created humankind, male and female. God then tells humankind “to work in accordance with what I appointed for you,” which includes supervising the work of all the animals (Hildegard 2011: 102).

The sin of Adam, however, affected all of God’s creatures, because they went with Adam “into the whirlwind.” The scene in the parable where the landowner pays the workers each a denarius signifies the creatures each receiving “particular functions according to their nature, with the result that wild creatures were in the forest but domestic ones in the farmland with humankind” (102-3). The laborers hired first in the parable correlate to the animals who were created first in Genesis 1; they have a greater opinion of themselves, according to Hildegard:

Led first to Adam were the ones who had come forth first in creation, such as birds and the like; in their opinion they would have greater potential in thee things than would the herds, since they could both fly in the air and walk with humankind on earth.

These first creatures thus grumbled when the animals created after them, who fulfill only one function—fish only swim and other animals only walk—were given the same denarius for their work:

These last, who were created after us, like the herds, labored one hour, because coming forth in their creation, they had supported no other creature to be created after them, as the prior creatures did; and you made them equal to us, in the full and not half function of their nature; equal on the pastures of the earth alone, because the birds, herds, and remaining creatures all feed at once from the earth alone. We have borne the burden, in our estimation, of flying and walking, what we were going to do, the time of our proceeding forth, and the heat of the sun, the moon, and the vicissitude of the other creatures following us (103).

The laborers’ complaint against the owner of the vineyard, then, represents the creatures’ complaint against God for the extra burdens they had carried before the other creatures were created. God, however, replies that God had assigned duties to all creatures justly and according to the capabilities of each. In addition, God says, the Creator is allowed to do with the creation whatever the Creator judges best, especially since the Creator had created them “rightly and beautifully” (104). 

My next post (I have two more about Hildegard) will cover Homily 23, unless I find something at AAR/SBL about the reception history of the parables that I should include first.

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