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Hildegard of Bingen

From 1098
 to 1179
Hildegard of Bingen

God has gifted creation with everything that is necessary . . . . Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God's work. Humankind is called to co-create . . . . God gave to humankind the talent to create with all the world. Just as the human person shall never end, until into dust they are transformed and resurrected, just so, their works are always visible. The good deeds shall glorify, the bad deeds shall shame.

"This strange child" is how Hildegard was once described. Born in 1098, she was known to have visions, but kept them private for many years. Her family sent her at the age of eight for religious education. It was not until the age of 42 that she realized the full extent of her visions, bolstered by her understanding of religious texts. She sought the advice of Bernard of Clairvaux and then-Pope Eugenius so that her visions would never be seen as anything outside of or against Church teaching. "Some people who see visions blow their own horns with them, and pride ruins their lives. Others see visions but understand that their wisdom comes from God. I'm one of these. I'm human, and I know it," declared Hildegard.

Hildegard's work was some of the most prolific and wideranging in church history. She wrote music, plays, theology, and natural history. She wrote over 70 sacred songs and Ordo Virtutum, an allegorical play about the struggle between good and evil. Her music is still widely performed today. She also left behind massive correspondence. Besides writing to those who sought prayerful and private advice, she took to task men like Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, the archbishop of Main, and King Henry II of England. She was known to approach medical, political, and religious topics that even some men would not openly discuss.

The 12th century was one of schisms and religious turmoil, and Hildegard was openly critical of those who spoke against the Church. However, the practice of burning heretics, popular at this time, was one Hildegard eschewed: "Do not kill them, for they are God's image." She also spoke out vehemently against moral and ethical corruption among the clergy. Hildegard was committed to elevating a moral awakening among lay people and clergy alike. She answered many letters from people who sought her out to improve their prayer life.

Some feminist theologians of the 20th century have found Hildegard to be "feminist-friendly," focusing on her apparent disobedience of a local bishop when relocating her convent. Unfortunately, some of her work and sayings have been hijacked by the modern new age movement. Recent scholarship is primarily interested in depicting her as an oppressed woman of the 12th Century, not a figure of spiritual reformation and sanctification. However, nothing suggests that Hildegard was anything but a true scholar, a student of science, reason, and theology, who sought to work within the Church's tradition of intellectual endeavor. Her primary mission was calling mankind to holiness. "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," she declared.

Hildegard affirmed creation and mankind's role as co-creators who reflect the image of God. Her spiritual visions, education, and high Christology allowed her to proclaim the possibilities of serving God in a variety of ways and this increased her stature and respect among lay persons.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared Hildegard of Bingen a "Doctor of the Church": a title given to certain saints known for work that leads to new understandings of the Catholic Faith. She is "a true master of theology and a great scholar of the natural sciences and of music," declared Pope Benedict. It is in the realm of faith, reason, and intellect that Hildegard can be regarded a woman of liberty.