Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Doctor of the Church

1098 - 17 sep 1179

 

Feastday: September 17

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis) (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.

She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias.

Although the history of her formal recognition as a saint is complicated, she has been recognized as a saint by parts of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. On 7 October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church.

Biography

Hildegard's exact date of birth is uncertain. She was born around the year 1098 to Mechtild of Merxheim-Nahet and Hildebert of Bermersheim, a family of the free lower nobility in the service of the Count Meginhard of Sponheim. Sickly from birth, Hildegard is traditionally considered their youngest and tenth child, although there are records of seven older siblings. In her Vita, Hildegard states that from a very young age she had experienced visions.

Monastic life

Perhaps due to Hildegard's visions, or as a method of political positioning, Hildegard's parents offered her as an oblate to the church. The date of Hildegard's enclosure in the church is the subject of a contentious debate. Her Vita says she was enclosed with an older nun, Jutta, at the age of eight. However, Jutta's enclosure date is known to be in 1112, when Hildegard would have been fourteen. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight, and the two women were enclosed together six years later. The written record of the Life of Jutta indicates that Hildegard probably assisted her in reciting the Psalms, working in the garden, and tending to the sick.

In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the enclosure. Hildegard tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard Biblical interpretation. Hildegard and Jutta most likely prayed, meditated, read scriptures such as the psalter, and did handwork during the hours of the Divine Office. This might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.

Upon Jutta's death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as "magistra" of the community by her fellow nuns. Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg asked Hildegard to be Prioress, which would be under his authority. Hildegard, however, wanted more independence for herself and her nuns, and asked Abbot Kuno to allow them to move to Rupertsberg. This was to be a move towards poverty, from a stone complex that was well established to a temporary dwelling place. When the abbot declined Hildegard's proposition, Hildegard went over his head and received the approval of Archbishop Henry I of Mainz. Abbot Kuno did not relent until Hildegard was stricken by an illness that kept her paralyzed and unable to move from her bed, an event that she attributed to God's unhappiness at her not following his orders to move her nuns to Rupertsberg. It was only when the Abbot himself could not move Hildegard that he decided to grant the nuns their own monastery. Hildegard and about twenty nuns thus moved to the St. Rupertsberg monastery in 1150, where Volmar served as provost, as well as Hildegard's confessor and scribe. In 1165 Hildegard founded a second monastery for her nuns at Eibingen.

Visions

Hildegard says that she first saw "The Shade of the Living Light" at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. She used the term 'visio' to this feature of her experience, and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard's tutor and, later, secretary. Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to "write down that which you see and hear." Still hesitant to record her visions, Hildegard became physically ill. The illustrations recorded in the book of Scivias were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations. In her first theological text, Scivias ("Know the Ways"), Hildegard describes her struggle within:

But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. (...) And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, 'Cry out therefore, and write thus!'

It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenus heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit giving her instant credence.

Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Church. Therefore, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the church at the time of his death.

On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.

Vita Sanctae Hildegardis

Hildegard's hagiography, Vita Sanctae Hildegardis was compiled by the monk Theoderic of Echternach after Hildegard's death. He included the hagiographical work Libellus or "Little Book" begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg. Godfrey had died before he was able to complete his work. Guibert of Gembloux was invited to finish the work; however, he had to return to his monastery with the project unfinished. Theoderic utilized sources Guibert had left behind to complete the Vita.

Works

Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels. From the Rupertsberg manuscript, fol. 38r.
Hildegard's works include three great volumes of visionary theology; a variety of musical compositions for use in liturgy, as well as the musical morality play Ordo Virtutum; one of the largest bodies of letters (nearly 400) to survive from the Middle Ages, addressed to correspondents ranging from Popes to Emperors to abbots and abbesses, and including records of many of the sermons she preached in the 1160s and 1170s; two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures; an invented language called the Lingua ignota ("unknown language"); and various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography.

Several manuscripts of her works were produced during her lifetime, including the illustrated Rupertsberg manuscript of her first major work, Scivias (lost since 1945); the Dendermonde manuscript, which contains one version of her musical works; and the Ghent manuscript, which was the first fair-copy made for editing of her final theological work, the Liber Divinorum Operum. At the end of her life, and probably under her initial guidance, all of her works were edited and gathered into the single Riesenkodex manuscript.

 

Source of information: Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

 

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