Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, 1098-1179, pioneer woman of faith and science

Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, 1098-1179

also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.[1]

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.[2]

She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, with miniature illuminations.[3] Hildegard corresponded with popes, German emperors and other notable figures such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,

From an early age she experienced heavenly 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[16] and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others.

"When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch."

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!’[21]

Hildegard’s works include three great volumes of visionary theology;[24] 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 1170’s;[25] two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures;[26] an invented language called the Lingua ignota ("unknown language");[27] and various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography.[28]

Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly her music. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Viriditas or ‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly as the power of life is an image that appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.[47]

Hildegard also wrote Physica, a text on the natural sciences, as well as Causae et Curae. Hildegard of Bingen was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones.[50] In both texts Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals.

She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans.[51] She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God’s effect on man’s health.[52] One example of her healing powers was curing the blind with the use of Rhine water.[53]

The acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even a well-connected abbess and acknowledged prophet, does not fit the stereotype of this time. Her preaching was not limited to the monasteries; she preached publicly in 1160 in Germany. (New York: Routledge, 2001, 9). She conducted four preaching tours throughout Germany, speaking to both clergy and laity in chapter houses and in public, mainly denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform.[60]

Hildegard was one of the first persons for whom the Roman canonization process was officially applied. She is officially a Doctor of the Church.[68] , "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music."[70] In space, the minor planet 898 Hildegard is named for her.[81]

Below are some quotes that illustrate her ecological thinking, health science and spirituality:

With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life sustaining.

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

O Highest Wisdom, who circles the great circle, who envisions the whole world as one living path, you have three wings. One soars above the sky, another moistens the ground with sweat, while a third flies everywhere at once. O Wisdom, we sing your praise.

The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.

Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly…The earth is at the same time mother, She is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all.

The truly holy person welcomes all that is earthly.

Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things. . . . All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without it we cannot survive.

The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!

Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining.

God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.

All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.

Whenever the blood vessels come into contact with body fluids which have been shocked in such a manner, then they also reach the vessels of the ears and now and then affect the hearing capability, because often a person earns health or sickness with hearing; similarly, the person is overjoyed with happiness, but with misfortune falls into deep sorrow.

Overeating, or a diet saturated with fat or raw foods, can damage the heart muscle. In addition to heart pain, such excesses can cause fatigue, mood changes, possible loss of weight, and sometimes loss of consciousness.


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