On Sunday 7th October 2012 Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod on the New Evangelization and declared two new doctors of the Church, Saint John of Ávila (1500-1569) and Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Given the occasion, it is not surprising that both of these saints excelled in re-evangelizing—in stirring up and strengthening the faith of those who had already heard the Gospel.
In the coming few blogs I would like to focus on Hildegard of Bingen, the fourth woman to be proclaimed Doctor of the Church. The other three are Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux.
WHO WAS HILDEGARD OF BINGEN ?
Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179) was an extraordinary woman of incredible spirit, talent, drive and intellect. She was a “painter and poet, musician and healer, theologian and prophet, mystic and abbess, playwright and social critic.” During her 82 - year life span she made amazing creative and intellectual contributions and became so well respected, that she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, noblemen and kings. Her work influenced thousands during her lifetime and she was highly respected in religious, scientific, political and artistic circles, during a time when women were generally not accorded such respect.
Hildegard was also a nun who founded a “vibrant convent” and produced theology and visionary writings (including Scivias) . She had her texts “illuminated”, or illustrated. These 36 renditions of her images or vision make her one of the few identifiable women artists of the middle ages.
She is the first composer whose biography is known; Hildegard was famous for writing sacred music (about 70 chants, hymns and songs) and composed music for a medieval morality play called Ordo Virtutum (Play of Virtues), the origin of the art form of opera. Music was extremely important to Hildegard. “She described it as the means of recapturing the original joy and beauty of paradise…music was invented and musical instruments were made in order to worship God appropriately. Perhaps this explains why her music most often sounds like what we imagine angels’ singing to be like.”
In addition to her theological writings, music and painting, Hildegard also had a keen interest in nature, science and healing. She wrote of remedies for psychic and physical ailments and she was a social activist who took on issues of social disease and injustice in her preaching and writing.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HILDEGARD …
- Kristina Lerman, The Life and Works of Hildegard Von Bingen
- Sabina Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life
- Barbara Newman, Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World
- Hildegard of Bingen (author), Barbara Newman (translator), Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the “Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum” (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations)
- Joan Chittister, Hildegard of Bingen: The Feminine Voice of God
- Fiona Maddock, Hildegard of Bingen. The Woman of Her Age
- Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen
- Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times : Unleashing Her Powers in the 21st Century
Image | St. Hildegard from Our Lady of Kazan Monastery