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St. Hildegard, Doctor of the Church


Hildegard was a singer, composer and mystic.  Already, she has my attention.  Anyone who loves music and singing and God has got to be a good person to get to know.  And next Sunday, October 7th, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI will confirm that St. Hildegard is a Doctor of the Church alongside St. John of Avila, two very different people, from two different centuries.  One of the Rhineland mystics, Hildegard as born in 1098 in Bermersheim vor de Hohe, County Palatine of the Rhine of the Holy Roman Empire to noble parents.  Being their 10th child, they dedicated her to God as a tithing practice, and she went to live with a consecrated widow, Uda of Golklheim and then later with Jutta of Spanheim, who was an anchoress, who had taken the veil at a Benedictine monastery.  An anchor or anchoress often lived a solitary and ascetic life near a church and dedicated their (they could be men or women) days to prayer.  Hildegard began experiencing visions as the age of three, so her caretakers knew she was very special from an early time.  Jutta taught her to read and write and some Latin, but she was not formally schooled other than that.  Many of her writings seem to have been dictated as well.  Other noble women began to flock to Jutta and Hildegard, so soon a small convent was forming.  By the time Jutta died, Hildegard was 38, and was immediately elected by the sisters to be their new “magistra” or prioress.  She was good at organization, and went on to form two new convents as the groups grew. 


St. Hildegard


While Hildegard did not receive the classic education of the day, she frequently meditated on the Scriptures, and wrote commentaries on them.  Her theological works stem from her visions, and all three volumes of visionary theology are solidly orthodox: Scivas (Know the Ways), Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits) and Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works).  Wanting to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating, however, she checked with her spiritual director and then St. Bernard of Clairvaux, both of whom said her insights were definitely from God.  When the Archbishop of Mainz saw some of her writings, he gave them to Pope Eugene II, who authorized her to write down more of her insights and to begin publically speaking about them! Hildegard wrote philosophical and theological works; she even composed her own alphabet,


Hildegard alphabet


which brought solidarity to her sisters in a unique way; she wrote about medicine and natural healing practices; she wrote commentaries on the psalms and the gospels; she described her visions when commanded to do so by God and her spiritual director; she drew illustrations and composed ethereal music, for music was to her a way to recapture the original joy and beauty of paradise; she accepted the post of prioress and went on four preaching tours when encouraged to speak publically by the pope; she became a counselor to emperors and kings and popes!


When Hildegard sang and composed, the “Teutonic Prophetess,” as Pope Benedict XVI has called her, she felt the entire creation was a symphony to the Holy Spirit.  She wrote a morality play, Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues), composed of monophonic melodies between the soul and the virtues, and sixty-nine other musical compositions, considered one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. She also composed many liturgical songs, a Symphonia (another work) of antiphons, hymns, sequences and responsories.  This too, draws me to Hildegard.  Her inspiration was from the Scriptures and the liturgy.  She was solidly grounded.  Always a bit unsure of her education, she was obedient to the Church and wrote about the marriage between Christ and his church, centuries before Lumen Gentium (Vatican II document about the Church) appeared.  Hildegard wanted the Church to reform in her days and urged the pope to do so, esp. regarding clergy abuses; she also wanted to combat the heresy of her day against the Cathar movement, and urged all to repentance and conversion, not some form of elitism for special groups.

St. Hildegard music

Hildegard also paid attention to nature, and lived that sustainable lifestyle before it was popular.  She was an herbalist and sought natural cures for illnesses, looking for that Divine Harmony she felt was to be the order of the universe.  She started with the Greek categories of the four elements of fire, air, water and earth and blended them with their complimentary qualities of heat, dryness, moisture and cold, and then added the four bodily humours: yellow bile, blood, phlegm and black bile, seeking balance all the while.  Illness occurred when one was out of balance, and she treated many illnesses of her day with plants, herbs and stones.  In today’s age, holistic medicine and alternative medicines are looking at the same questions of balance.  She had insights and talents centuries ahead of her time.


What she is most remembered for, however, is her unabashed love of God.  When Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, her sisters said they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.  The canonization process was just beginning when Hildegard had died.  She was beatified, but four attempts to canonize her were never finished, even though her name was added to the Roman Martyrology at the end of the sixteenth century.  On May 10, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended to the universal Church the liturgical worship in honour of St. Hildegard on Bingen, an equivalent canonization, which is a definitive judgment from the pope on the sanctity of a Servant of God.  On October  7th of this year, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI intends to raise St. Hildegard of Bingen to the level of a doctor of the Church at the beginning of the ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.  Her feast day is September 17th and she is honored by the Anglican Church as well as the Catholic Church.  She is often symbolized by a feather, for the following quote, and while she is not yet the patroness of any particular group, I think she would be a great addition to St. Cecelia and others who guide those of us who love to sing…..especially in choirs to praise the Lord God!

hildegardfeather300“Listen, there once was a king sitting on his throne.  Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns, ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor.  Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly.  The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.  Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.”


To listen to some of St. Hildegard’s compositions, click below.  You might want to turn off the music for this sight before you do so, simply by clicking the above black music box.


Call to Prayer

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Endow pic

Endow Groups 



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st veronica 3

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St. Veronica Guiliani



Pope Francis

Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, it that direct intuition or experience of God; a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience – one whose religion and life are centered not merely on accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge.                    

Evelyn Underhill