The Catholic Defender: Saint Hildegard of Bingen
The mystery of God hugs you in its all-encompassing arms.
Abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian—where to begin in describing this remarkable woman?
A 12th-century Benedictine nun who had extraordinary visions. She wrote about these visions in theological books, and she used them as inspiration for compositions.
She founded her own abbey, created her own language, and wrote one of the first musical plays.
Born in 1098, Hildegard began to live with a hermitess near her parents' home when she was 8 years old. The woman educated the child Hildegard and, over time, gathered several other women into a community of religious sisters.
Born into a noble family, she was instructed for ten years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta. When Hildegard was 18, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Saint Disibodenberg.
As Hildegard matured, her interior life expanded as well. Hildegard began to receive visions while enthralled in prayer, and she was granted the gift of seeing the future while in conversation with others. When the holy hermit woman who had educated her died, Hildegard was appointed the new leader of their monastic community.
Ordered by her confessor to write down the visions that she had received since the age of three,
Having experienced visions since she was a child, at age 43 she consulted her confessor, who in turn reported the matter to the archbishop of Mainz. A committee of theologians subsequently confirmed the authenticity of Hildegard’s visions, and a monk was appointed to help her record them in writing.
The finished work, Scivias (1141–52), consists of 26 visions that are prophetic and apocalyptic in form and in their treatment of such topics as the church, the relationship between God and humanity, and redemption.
Hildegard took ten years to write her Scivias (Know the Ways).
Pope Eugene III read it, and in 1147, encouraged her to continue writing. Her Book of the Merits of Life and Book of Divine Works followed. She wrote over 300 letters to people who sought her advice;
she also composed short works on medicine and physiology, and sought advice from contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
Hildegard’s visions caused her to see humans as “living sparks” of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. Sin destroyed the original harmony of creation; Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection opened up new possibilities. Virtuous living reduces the estrangement from God and others that sin causes.
Like all mystics, Hildegard saw the harmony of God’s creation and the place of women and men in that. This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries.
Hildegard was no stranger to controversy. The monks near her original foundation protested vigorously when she moved her monastery to Bingen, overlooking the Rhine River.
She confronted Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for supporting at least three antipopes. Hildegard challenged the Cathars, who rejected the Catholic Church claiming to follow a more pure Christianity.
Between 1152 and 1162, Hildegard often preached in the Rhineland. Her monastery was placed under interdict because she had permitted the burial of a young man who had been excommunicated.
She insisted that he had been reconciled with the Church and had received its sacraments before dying. Hildegard protested bitterly when the local bishop forbade the celebration of or reception of the Eucharist at the Bingen monastery, a sanction that was lifted only a few months before her death.
Her reputation and visions drew more women to her community, and Hildegard helped the nuns move into a larger monastery. She wrote a number of hymns and songs for the community and composed extensive theological treatises on the beauty of sacred music.
In 2012, Hildegard was canonized and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. Her liturgical feast is celebrated on September 17.
She was constantly rebuking princes, bishops and popes in a fearless manner when she did not approve of their actions. She was able to foretell the future and she wrote her visions down. An archbishop later declared that her visions had come from God. In total, she had 26 visions. She wrote more than 300 letters to kings and popes with prophecies and warnings.
Pope Eugenius III read her writings and told her to write whatever the Holy Spirit told her to do. With the blessing of her pope, she built a large monastery and had such things as running water for her and the other nuns.
While St. Hildegard was revered as a saint for centuries and listed as a saint in the Roman Martyrology, she was not officially canonized until 2012, 833 years after her death. She is the patron saint of ecology as well as musicians and writers.
St. Hildegard of Bingen was declared a doctor of the Church quite recently in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. She is first in a line of mystical saints from Germany; Hildegard was a poet, prophet, physician, and political advocate who fearlessly gave advice to popes and princes.
Hildegard began to feel called to write down what she saw in her visions, but she hesitated, out of concern for what others might think. Nevertheless, the promptings persisted, and Hildegard brought the case before her confessor.
They decided that Hildegard was to share her visions, and she began to preserve in writing her mystical revelations of Christ’s love, angels, and hell. Her writings were examined by the local archbishop, who declared them authentic. Throughout her life Hildegard continued to record what she saw in prayer.
She was known for a number of miracles during her lifetime.
Finally, her health gave out, and though her body was incapacitated, she continued to meet with people to give advice and offer insight. She died on today's date, September 17, in 1179, and quickly miracles began to be reported at her tomb.
In a turbulent age, Hildegard used her talents in the quest for obtaining true justice and peace. She corresponded with four popes, two emperors, King Henry II of England, and famous clergy.
Her works include commentaries on the Gospels, the Athanasian Creed, and the Rule of St. Benedict as well as Lives of the Saints and a medical work on the human body. Hildegard is regarded as one of the greatest figures of the 12th century — the first of the great German mystics, a poet, a physician, a musician, and a visionary. Hildegard died on September 17, 1179. Miracles were reported at her death, and the people honored her a saint. Beatified but not formally canonized, her name was inserted in the Roman Martyrology in the fifteenth century. Her feast day is September 17.
a papal proclamation of canonization based on a standing tradition of popular veneration. Later that year Benedict proclaimed Hildegard a doctor of the church, one of only four women to have been so named. She is considered a patron saint of musicians and writers.
The work is divided into three parts, reflecting the Trinity. The first and second parts are approximately equal in length, while the third is as long as the other two together.
The second part consists of seven visions and deals with salvation through JesusChrist, the Church, and the sacraments. The third part, with thirteen visions, is about the coming kingdom of God, through sanctification, and increased tension between good and evil.
The final vision includes 14 songs, plus a portion of the music drama which was later published as the Ordo Virtutum. In each vision, she first described what she saw, and then recorded explanations she heard, which she believed to be the "voice of heaven."
Words to live by from Saint Hildegard of Bingen:
The mystery of God hugs you in its all-encompassing arms.
All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, emerging from God like the rays of the sun.
All of creation is a song of praise to God.
We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.
Be not lax in celebrating. Be not lazy in the festive service of God. Be ablaze with enthusiasm. Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God.
Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.
These visions which I saw were not in sleep nor in dreams, nor in my imagination nor by bodily eyes or outward ears nor in a hidden place; but in watching, aware with the pure eyes of the mind and inner ear of the heart.
Even in a world that's being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.
A human being is a vessel that God has built for himself and filled with his inspiration so that his works are perfected in it.