The «lux vivens» and Hildegard’s new senses: tools for knowledge of God and nature
During her visions, and particularly when she is visited by the «lux vivens», Hildegard experiences a transformation of her sense organs, which no longer distinguish between sensations, but perceive them simultaneously. The mystic has an experience that transfigures her not only in her self-perception, but also in the way she understands the things around her and, in a special way, nature. A valuable testimony to this is in the second chapter of the Vita, which contains the description of the vision from which the Liber divinorum operum originated: «Then I had a mystical and marvellous vision, such that all my bowels were shaken (viscera mea concussa sunt) and the senses of my body were as if dulled (sensualitas corporis mei extincta est). My knowing was changed into another form, as if I no longer recognised myself». As Margot Schmidt has acutely supposed, Hildegard would not be referring to the loss of consciousness during vision, but to the transformation of her sensory faculties by living light. This would be the experimentation of a higher cognitive level than the purely sensory one. In the Protestificatio of Scivias, Hildegard claims that her spiritual senses are able to see, albeit imperfectly, what is normally invisible to the bodily senses. At the conclusion of the Liber vitae meritorum, Hildegard reports that the «voice from heaven» speaks of her as the «string that when touched by the zither player does not produce sound by itself, but produces it through the touch of the player» (quemadmodum chorda per citharedam tacta, sonum non per se sed per tactum illius reddit). The bodily senses of the mystic, touched by divine light, reach the fullness of their condition, becoming one with the spiritual ones in a synaesthesia that opens up an understanding of the divine mysteries and the rules of nature. The consequence of this sensory awakening is the use of synaesthetic expressions such as «touching light» or «seeing sounds» to describe the condition experienced under the effect of living light.
Starting from an analysis of the surviving literary and figurative sources, the paper aims to explore the role of Hildegard’s exaltation of the senses in their synaesthetic dimension as a result of the action of divine light, which does not suppress cognitive capacities, but exalts them, providing the mystic with a profound knowledge of the divine principle and the organisation of nature.