We started the story of Hildegard last time. Let’s continue…
Hildegard of Bingen was extraordinary in her time. She continues to be a voice to our theological understanding of gender, the church, and how we relate to God. Through her published writings, letters of correspondence with secular and religious leaders, and her preaching; she called the church back to living a life of purity with God. She felt that the true nature of things was obscured by the “grossness of the fallen world.”(1)
I find it amazing that Hildegard had a voice at all. In her writings, her boldness is evident as she confronted those in authority. This boldness is in sharp contrast to the view of women at this time. As I shared last time, women were considered weaker than men, which made a formal education unavailable.
Hildegard approached her speaking and writing by accepting her weakness based on being a woman. The force and courage she approached in all of her contributions were due to her being a mouthpiece for God. She spoke to both secular and religious leaders boldly because she felt due to her nothingness, all of what she achieved could only be God.(2)
A woman’s voice had to be approved by men as theologically correct. Before her work was able to be published, Pope Eugenius III, upon the encouragement of Bernard of Clairvaux, sent someone to confirm Hildegard’s gift. Upon receiving a positive response from that visit, Pope Eugenius III read her unpublished work, Scivias, to a formal gathered group of church leaders called a synod. This action gave unprecedented approval to Hildegard as an approved theologian in the church.(3) This approval was a big deal.
In her writing and teaching, Hildegard encouraged others to begin to see things clearly. She spoke of a holistic God.(4) We tend to judge and fragment our world, yet Hildegard’s writings invite us to see things outside of a dual perspective. She viewed people both as creators and the created. Her view of humanity held our capacity to be gracious, compassionate, and loving while recognizing our capacity to be destroyers, malicious, and self-indulgent. She was able to hold both our capacity for great good and great evil in tension within her non-dual understanding.
She thought the world spiraled through ages of justice and injustice, continuing until the universe was consummated in love.(5) It was in this hope that Hildegard desired to communicate her message to influence reform in the church, changing things in small ways and still allowing things to be not quite right. As she understood it, God’s provision of restoration and reform was available as long as humankind needed the help.(6)
During this time, the Middle Ages, it was turbulent and disorderly; full of wars, fierce struggles, undisciplined Church leaders. There were popes, anti-popes, emperors, and anti-emperors. There was a bloody conflict between Church and State over control of society and religion. Henry IV was the king of Germany and a punitive ruler of the empire.(7) It was a violent and divisive time.
Even in the harshness witnessed during this time, Hildegard could view everyone having the image of God within. She understood the violence and corruption that was so evident in the Church within the knowledge that these same people were also capable of great good. She believed she could speak as a mouthpiece of God to the need for reform inside the Church by looking past the “fallenness” to also see the beauty, as God continued to bring us to love.
What would Hildegard say to us in our own time? Can we see the Image of God (Imago Dei) in every individual (Gen. 1:26-27)? Can we realize our own capacity for great good and great evil? And allow for that to be true in others? This awareness takes humility - accepting that we do not have all the answers.
Hildegard spoke about the need for us to see things clearly. I trust God to continue to show us clearer and clearer views of the world, God-self, ourselves, and others as we ask for greater and greater clarity. Willam McNamara defined contemplation as a long, loving look at the real. This is the place I have found that offers a quietness which allows my mind to quiet into my heart for a clearer view. May God meet each one of us on the journey to greater awareness and clarity.
Note: The image at the top of this post from Scivias 1.6, titled Humanity and Life. The other is an icon showing God’s illumination while Hildegard wrote Scivias, a book containing her theological understanding which was approved by the Pope.
(1) Julia Dietrich, “The Visionary Rhetoric of Hildegard of Bingen,” in Listening to Their Voices: The Rhetorical Activities of Historical Women, ed. Molly Meijer Wertheimer (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), 202.
(2) Marian Bleeke, “Considering Female Agency: Hildegard of Bingen and Francesca Woodman.,” Woman’s Art Journal 31, no. 2 (2010): 42.
(3) Mike Kestemont, Sara Moens, and Jeroen Deploige, “Collaborative Authorship in the Twelfth Century: A Stylometric Study of Hildegard of Bingen and Guibert of Gembloux,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 2015, 201, 205, https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqt063.
(4) Hildegard of Bingen, The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman, vol. I (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 10.
(5) Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story, 1 Reprint edition (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 130.
(6) Ann Astell, “The Eucharist, Memory, Reform, and Regeneration in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias and Nicholas of Cusa’s Sermons,” in Reassessing Reform, ed. David Zachariah Flanagin and Christopher M. Bellitto (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 207, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=494528&scope=site.
(7) Hildegard of Bingen, The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, I, 10.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!