On October 12, 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI named Saint Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father speaking about the newest Doctor of the Church (along with St. John of Avila) said,
“Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and his Church.”
Saint Hildegard was born in 1098 at Bockelheim, on the Nahe, in Germany. At the age of eight, she was placed under the care of Blessed Juda. She was a sickly child, but was steady with her studies, eventually learning to read and sing in Latin as well as other things that nuns learned. Following the Rule of St. Benedict, she entered religious life as a Benedictine (O.S.B.) at the age of fifteen and served for seventeen years. After Blessed Juda passed way, she became the prioress of the order.
St. Hildegard was given the gift of visions and prophecy. After pondering if she should write them down, in fear of what people would say, and asking her confessor his thoughts, she began to write the visions and revelations that she received. The visions and prophecies dealt with the charity of Christ, the continuation of the Kingdom of God, the holy angels, the Devil and Hell. St. Hildegard’s confessor went to his abbot, who in turn took the revelations to his theologians and examined the visions. After reviewing them, they were given a favorable verdict. After appointing a secretary to Hildegard, she then began her primary text, which she called, Scivias (“Know the Ways”).
By the time the entire book was completed, it took a total of ten years. It consists of twenty-six visions that show the relationship between God, man and creation, Salvation and the Church, and a variety of other apocalyptic warnings and signs through symbolism. In 1147, Blessed Pope Eugenius III, visited Trier where the Archbishop shared with him the writings of St. Hildegard. After taking advisement from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who wished to see the visions approved, and establishing a commission to read the visions, the Pope approved the writings of St. Hildegard. The Holy Father sent her a letter stating that whatever the Holy Spirit inspired her to write she should write with prudence, but to be on guard for pride. She replied with her own letter warning him of the prideful ambitions within his own household.
In one her visions, the Lord told her to move her household. However, there were obstacles in her way, which she had to overcome. St. Hildegard and about fifty nuns moved from their old monastery at Diessenburg to a new property at Rupersberg that would have water running to all parts of the building. The new convent sat on a hill above the Rhine near Bingen. Her energy in moving the nuns was also responsible for building the new monastery.
While prioress, St. Hildegard wrote musical hymns (writing both the words and melodies) and poems. She wrote a morality play titled, Ordo Virtutum, as well as fifty allegorical homilies, which were to be read in-house at the monastery. She continued to write letters and receive letters. Over the years, the letters have gone through some scrutiny and have been seen as unauthentic. Many people came to see her and ask for her prayers. She was loved and adored by many, but despised and called a fraud by others.
Besides being sick most of her life, she traveled many times around the Rhineland between 1152 and 1162. She founded a daughter-house near Rudesheim. She was not afraid to call out monks and nuns who slacked on their discipline and responsibilities of monastic life. In the larger cities of Cologne and Trier, she also called out priests and bishops, sharing with them the visions that she witnessed. St. Hildegard was straight to the point and never mixed words. She didn’t care if the individual was a layperson, bishop, or nun, if they were not living up to their vocation; she was going to correct them!
After years of enduring mortifications and speaking on the visions and prophecies she witnessed, her body was so weak that she could hardly stand; she had to be carried from place to place. Her friend and chaplain, Martin Guibert, said that even though the musical instrument was broken, the beautiful melody still remained. Till her dying moment, she was speaking with others, giving direction to her nuns, and helping sinners find repentance. On September 17, 1179, Saint Hildegard of Bingen died a peaceful death.
She was never formally canonized a saint, but was always considered one in the Roman Martyrology. In May of 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI approved her canonization for the universal Church, removing all doubt that existed over the previous centuries. She is now the thirty-fifth Doctor of the Catholic Church.