Tag Archives: St Hildegard of Bingen

St Hildegard of Bingen


Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is a most attractive person with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a keen intellect and good zeal of a Benedictine nun. Knowing her history you would say she is a polymath. She said once, “There is the Music of Heaven in all things, and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.”

For many years it was hoped that Hildegard would be officially raised to the altar and be declared a Doctor of the Church. In deed, it was Pope Benedict who gave the Church this supreme gift of this saintly woman a witness to the new evangelization. Benedict stated:

In Saint Hildegard of Bingen there is a wonderful harmony between teaching and daily life. In her, the search for God’s will in the imitation of Christ was expressed in the constant practice of virtue, which she exercised with supreme generosity and which she nourished from biblical, liturgical and patristic roots in the light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Her persevering practice of obedience, simplicity, charity and hospitality was especially visible. In her desire to belong completely to the Lord, this Benedictine Abbess was able to bring together rare human gifts, keen intelligence and an ability to penetrate heavenly realities.

Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorization of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

(Pope Benedict XVI, 7 October 2012)

Blessed Jutta of Disibodenberg

Until I read somewhere else today, I never heard of Blessed Jutta of Disibodenberg (c. 1084-1136), a German noble woman, an anchoress, and the teacher of children, especially Saint Hildegaard of Bingen.

Blessed Jutta’s history says that taught female students from wealthy families at her hermitage. She taught and raised them all, most notably the child Hildegard of Bingen.

Jutta was known for her sanctity and her life of extraordinary penance; Justta was known as a healer.

On the Day of All Saints, November 1, 1112, Hildegard was given over as a Benedictine oblate into the care of Jutta. It was Jutta who taught Hildegard to write; to read the psalms used in the Liturgy;  to chant the recitation of the Canonical hours. She probably also taught Hildegard to play the zither-like string instrument called the psaltery.

Saint Hildegaard of Bingen, succeeded Jutta as abbess; Benedict XVI named Hildegard a Doctor of the Church and we would make the claim that she owes her fundamental knowledge of life to Blessed Jutta. Let us pray for those who were our first teachers of life and faith.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty. 

For many preachers don’t handle the “idea feast” of the Most Holy Trinity. Their method is typically confused. Admittedly, the theology of the Trinity is not well represented in sacred Scripture in a direct way. You have to be able to read and interpret the indications given by Revelation. You can also read what the theologians have said, but you also may go to the poets and musicians (see the previous post today) but we have other spirited people like the saints. A reflection from Saint Hildegard of Bingen, last Doctor of the Church may shed some light on how we relate to this sublime of Mysteries. I happen to think that the saints and many artists are more successful in teaching some complexities of our faith, for example, a triune God but one.

 Before time, all creatures were in the Father. He organized them in himself and afterwards the Son created them in fact. How is that to be understood? It is similar to the situation among human beings when one carries the knowledge of a great work in herself and then later through her word brings it to the light of day, so that it comes into the world with great acclaim. The Father puts things in order; the Son causes them to be…The Holy Spirit streams through and ties together ‘eternity’ and ‘equality’ so that they are one. This is like when someone ties a bundle together – for there would be no bundle if it weren’t tied together; everything would fall apart. Or it is like when a smith welds two pieces of metal together in a fire as one…The Holy Spirit is the firmness and the aliveness. Without the Holy Spirit eternity would not be eternity. Without the Holy Spirit equality would not be equality. The Holy Spirit is in both, and one with both of them in the Godhead. The one God.”

Two new Doctors of the Church

procession-of-st-hildegards-relics-2012Today, the Holy Father proclaimed two new Doctors of the Church, the highest honor for saints because of their exemplary lives and insightful doctrine.

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is the fourth woman Doctor of the Church. Saint Hildegard was a 12th century German  Benedictine nun, writer, composer, philosopher, polymath, and mystic. The sainted abbess was also the founder of several monasteries. On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict formally proclaimed her a saint by an equivalent of canonization, and therefore added her to the Church’s roster of saints (Roman Martyrology) extending her liturgical feast throughout the world.

Pope Benedict also proclaimed Saint John of Avila (1500-1569), a Doctor of the Church. He’s known as the Apostle of Andalusia, priest, reformer, educator, mystic, author, and patron of the early Carmelite Reform and the Jesuits.

May Saints Hildegard and John of Avila bless the work of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

Pope Benedict speaks of the New Evangelization as an “encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence”

This morning in Rome, Pope Benedict opened the 13th Ordinary Synod of Bishops whose it will be to guide him and the entire Church, in the work of Evangelization. At Holy Mass, His Holiness bestowed the honor of being Doctors of the Church on Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. The Pope’s homily follows.

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With this solemn concelebration we open the thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. This theme reflects a programmatic direction for the life of the Church, its members, families, its communities and institutions. And this outline is reinforce by the fact that it coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, starting on 11 October, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I give a cordial and grateful welcome to you who have come to be part of the Synodal Assembly, in particular to the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and to his colleagues. I salute the fraternal delegates of the other churches and ecclesial communities as well as all present, inviting them to accompany in daily prayer the deliberations which will take place over the next three weeks.

The readings for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word propose to us two principal points of reflection: the first on matrimony, which I will touch shortly; and the second on Jesus Christ, which I will discuss now. We do not have time to comment upon the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews but, at the beginning of this Synodal Assembly, we ought to welcome the invitation to fix our gaze upon the Lord Jesus, “crowned with glory and honour, because of the suffering of death (2:9). The word of God places us before the glorious One who was crucified, so that our whole lives, and in particular the commitment of this Synodal session, will take place in the sight of him and in the light of his mystery. In every time and place, evangelization always has as its starting and finishing points Jesus Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1); and the Crucifix is the supremely distinctive sign of him who announces the Gospel: a sign of love and peace, a call to conversion and reconciliation. My dear Brother Bishops, starting with ourselves, let us fix our gaze upon him and let us be purified by his grace.

I would now like briefly to examine the new evangelization, and its relation to ordinary evangelization and the mission ad Gentes. The Church exists to evangelize. Faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ’s command, his disciples went out to the whole world to announce the Good News, spreading Christian communities everywhere. With time, these became well-organized churches with many faithful. At various times in history, divine providence has given birth to a renewed dynamism in Church’s evangelizing activity. We need only think of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon peoples or the Slavs, or the transmission of the faith on the continent of America, or the missionary undertakings among the peoples of Africa, Asia and Oceania. It is against this dynamic background that I like to look at the two radiant figures that I have just proclaimed Doctors of the Church, Saint John of Avila and Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Even in our own times, the Holy Spirit has nurtured in the Church a new effort to announce the Good News, a pastoral and spiritual dynamism which found a more universal expression and its most authoritative impulse in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Such renewed evangelical dynamism produces a beneficent influence on the two specific “branches” developed by it, that is, on the one hand the Missio ad Gentes or announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, and on the other the New Evangelization, directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life. The Synodal Assembly which opens today is dedicated to this new evangelization, to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone who fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favour the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life. Obviously, such a special focus must not diminish either missionary efforts in the strict sense or the ordinary activity of evangelization in our Christian communities, as these are three aspects of the one reality of evangelization which complement and enrich each other.

The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.

One of the important ideas of the renewed impulse that the Second Vatican Council gave to evangelization is that of the universal call to holiness, which in itself concerns all Christians (cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-42). The saints are the true actors in evangelization in all its expressions. In a special way they are even pioneers and bringers of the new evangelization: with their intercession and the example of lives attentive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they show the beauty of the Gospel to those who are indifferent or even hostile, and they invite, as it were tepid believers, to live with the joy of faith, hope and charity, to rediscover the taste for the word of God and for the sacraments, especially for the bread of life, the Eucharist. Holy men and women bloom among the generous missionaries who announce the Good News to non-Christians, in the past in mission countries and now in any place where there are non-Christians. Holiness is not confined by cultural, social, political or religious barriers. Its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.

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At this point, let us pause for a moment to appreciate the two saints who today have been added to the elect number of Doctors of the Church. Saint John of Avila lived in the sixteenth century. A profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.

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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.

This summary of the ideal in Christian life, expressed in the call to holiness, draws us to look with humility at the fragility, even sin, of many Christians, as individuals and communities, which is a great obstacle to evangelization and to recognizing the force of God that, in faith, meets human weakness. Thus, we cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion. The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other (cf. 2 Cor 5:20). Solemnly purified, Christians can regain a legitimate pride in their dignity as children of God, created in his image and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and they can experience his joy in order to share it with everyone, both near and far.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust the work of the Synod meeting to God, sustained by the communion of saints, invoking in particular the intercession of great evangelizers, among whom, with much affection, we ought to number Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate was an example of the new evangelization. Let us place ourselves under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. With her let us invoke a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that from on high he may illumine the Synodal assembly and make it fruitful for the Church’s journey today, in our time. Amen.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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