We shouldn’t let this year go by without a word about Hildegard of Bingen who was recognised as a saint and Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in October. She is accorded this title along with Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux. These are the only four women granted the title among the 33 so named for their contribution to theology and doctrine, writes Carmel Posa SGS in The Good Oil.
I recently attended the “Festival of Hildegard” in Melbourne which was a testament to the breadth and depth of Hildegard’s contribution to her own world and the legacy she has left for us. What impressed me most was the freedom of voices at the conference, the freedom to explore Hildegard’s words and ideas in dialogue with the needs and struggles of our own times.
Hildegard was a candidate for beatification not long after her death in 1179 at the age of 81. However, there were changes to the process of canonisation taking place at the time and bureaucratic “red-tape” requiring the authority and approval of the Holy See, rather than popular acclaim, was becoming the norm.
The nuns of Hildegard’s abbey certainly did make a petition to the pope and a process did begin in the early 13th-century. What happened to this process is unclear, but it does seem it never made it to the Roman Curia. In spite of this, Hildegard was accorded a feast day on September 17 in many martyrologies of the time. The cult surrounding Hildegard flourished particularly amongst Benedictines.
It was perhaps, thanks to the work of Matthew Fox that many of us gained access to the extensive writings of this remarkable woman. Notwithstanding many of Fox’s dubious interpretations of her work, this exposure partly enabled the explosion of studies into Hildegard’s writings on a wide range of topics, as well as the popularisation of her music, over the past 30 or so years.
It has been said had Hildegard been a man she would have been recognised as a Thomas Aquinas of her own times. At last she has found her rightful place as a Doctor of the Church.
Hildegard, a German Benedictine nun, was steeped in learning, liturgy and Benedictine spirituality. She was a visionary, a prophet and a mystic. She was versed in medicine, astrology and music. Her visions, recorded in art by the nuns of her community, give us an extraordinary insight into her complex revelations, her comprehensive treatment of theology, her political and ecclesiastical views, and her understanding of the operations of nature and the universe.
Interestingly, she was asked to write a commentary on the Rule of St Benedict for a group of Benedictine monks. This was a radical departure from the norm – women religious receiving guidance from their male counterparts. This is testament to her remarkable standing in the religious world of the 12th-century.
FULL STORY Hildegard: a woman for women and men of our times (The Good Oil)