hildegard of bingen – soon to be saint and doctor of the church

Before the renaissance man, there was the medieval woman…

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a remarkable woman, a “first” in many fields. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard, known as “Sybil of the Rhine”, produced major works of theology and visionary writings. When few women were accorded respect, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first composer whose biography is known. She founded a vibrant convent, where her musical plays were performed. (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/hildegarde.asp)

On December 16th, Benedict XVI declared that Hildegard of Bingen will be canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church next October.

I was first introduced to Hildegard by my dear Benedictine friend, Sr. Grace, who nudged me to read her biography. Grace also introduced me to St. Gertrude and Julian of Norwich, instilling in me an appreciation for them and other strong women of the Middle Ages.

History is never without bias. Written mostly by men, it also chooses the personalities and events that are promoted and remembered. Women’s history is trying to correct the imbalance. Thanks to historians around the world, we now have greater access to women’s stories and experiences. The silence is slowly being broken, and gaps are being filled. The renewed interest in Hildegard is a good example of the effects of this scholarly work.

Presently there are 33 Doctors of the Church. The first women declared Doctors of the Church were St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila (both in 1970). St. Therese of Lisieux followed in 1997. Hildegard will only be the fourth.

I came across a blog called The Chant Café that offers this reflection on the announcement,

It seems significant that Pope Benedict has made the decision now to canonize and exalt this true patroness of sacred music. Is it possible that he is building up toward a more intensely focused movement for sacred music in the Church? Is it possible that perhaps a new document or motu proprio might await us with the naming of Hildegard as a Doctor of the Church, or sometime following? One never knows, but this is one of many signs that there may be more to come for us in the promotion sacred music from the highest of ranks in the Church. 

Interesting. Some are embracing the news as a promotion of more traditional sacred music in our church. Others are embracing the news as much needed recognition of a gifted woman scholar, writer, musician and leader in the church; a woman who defied the gender restrictions of her time.

Perhaps mutual love and respect for Hildegard of Bingen  will help a wee bit to bridge the Trad-Lib divide!