Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 60 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Helene Scheck


Hildegard von Bingen, mystic, rhetoric, translation, trinity, vision, Revelation

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Medieval Studies


Hildegard von Bingen invents a new rhetorical topos—that of prismatic refraction—which allows her to communicate her divine revelation to others through narrative, artwork, and explication. While her patristic counterparts, Augustine and Jerome, think about rendering the divine only as it relates to their understanding of Scripture, Hildegard exploits rhetoric in order to push the boundaries of human epistemology through grappling with her unique mystical experience. Though Hildegard recognizes that there is a degree of difference between her visions and her representation of them, Hildegard still finds value in language as a communicative tool. Hildegard refracts her divine experience in Scivias, her opus of visionary encounter. Here, readers and viewers are introduced to the seer’s revelations. Hildegard takes her vision, a single ray of light, and refracts the divine so that its component parts become available through her book. Through changes in narration, Hildegard reminds her reader of their separation from the origin of experience, that they are not seeing the original vision, but are consuming a representation of that vision. Hildegard ruminates on the advantages of various human faculties, as they relate to fitness for divine experience. The doctrine of the Trinity is a guiding principle for Hildegard throughout her work—the notion of Three Persons comprising one God corresponds directly with her hope to represent her singular vision through a refraction of parts. Consigned to bringing the divine to the human realm through language, Hildegard transforms her challenge into an opportunity. Hildegard’s creative use of rhetoric ushers others into her visionary experience, introducing a new pedagogical technique, which bridges the vertical gap between the human and the divine.