Meet Hildegard of Bingen

A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.

 

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We can know God.

Born in 1098, Hildegard of Bingen, a sickly child born of nobility was given at the age of eight to Jutta of Sponheim for care in a hermitage as an oblate of St. Benedict. At Jutta’s death, Hildegard was elected abbess. Attracted to her greatness and sanctity, the convent overflowed with vocations and she went to establish two new monasteries.

Her early education was poor, but she was instructed in Latin enough to chant the Psalms. Here and in the Church she met the Lord. He granted her visions from an early age. After revealing them to her spiritual director, she was instructed to write them all down. These visions were approved as being from God by Church authorities. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux encouraged her. Pope Eugene III authorized her to write and speak in public.

She wrote books on theology and mysticism, medicine and natural sciences. We have 400 of her letters, addressed to simple people, to religious communities, popes, bishops and the civil authorities of her time. She composed sacred music.

In his letter proclaiming her Doctor of the Church, Pope Benedict wrote, “The corpus of her writings, for their quantity, quality and variety of interests, is unmatched by any other female author of the Middle Ages.”

Hildegard died at the age of 81. It took 800 years for her to be formally elevated by the Church.

 

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In the great canon of her work, she spoke of the reciprocal relationship between men and women, the complementarity, and contrasted with other traditions, did not blame women for the fall. Her writings acknowledged the hylomorphic reality: that we are created body and soul, and body and soul will be involved in our search for God.

Summarizing her teaching, Pope Benedict continued: Hildegard asks herself and us the fundamental question, whether it is possible to know God: This is theology’s principal task. Her answer is completely positive: through faith, as through a door, the human person is able to approach this knowledge. God, however, always retains his veil of mystery and incomprehensibility. He makes himself understandable in creation but, creation itself is not fully understood when detached from God. Indeed, nature considered in itself provides only pieces of information which often become an occasion for error and abuse. Faith, therefore, is also necessary in the natural cognitive process, for otherwise knowledge would remain limited, unsatisfactory and misleading.

Creation is an act of love by which the world can emerge from nothingness. Hence, through the whole range of creatures, divine love flows as a river. Of all creatures God loves man in a special way and confers upon him an extraordinary dignity, giving him that glory which the rebellious angels lost.

… man, of course, is the creature who can answer the voice of the Creator with his own voice. And this can happen in two ways: in voce oris, that is, in the celebration of the liturgy, and in voce cordis, that is, through a virtuous and holy life.

…In this regard, the most precise description of the human creature is that of someone on a journey, homo viator. On this pilgrimage towards the homeland, the human person is called to a struggle in order constantly to choose what is good and avoid evil.

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