Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, but we celebrated him on Sunday, so today, we returned to Hildegard, which is celebrated on September 17th.
Today we celebrate Hildegard of Bingen, who was born in the year 1098. She was eagerly sought out for counsel and was a correspondent to kings and queens, abbots and abbesses, and archbishops and popes. She went on four preaching tours across northern Europe, practiced medicine, published treatises on science and philosophy, and composed great music and liturgical dramas. What makes this even more remarkable is that in the year 1098, these were rolls reserved exclusively for men.
In addition to her many accomplishments, she was also one who had visions, which began to appear to her when she was only three years old. She would later describe them as “The Shade of the Living Light.” She wrote, “These visions which I saw—I beheld them neither in sleep nor dreaming nor in madness nor with my bodily eyes or ears, nor in hidden places; but I saw them in full view and according to God’s will, when I was wakeful and alert, with the eyes of the spirit and the inward ears.”
Here is an example of her writing:
It is easier to gaze into the Sun than into the face of
the mystery of God.
Such is its beauty and its radiance.
I am the supreme fire; not deadly, but rather,
enkindling every spark of life.
I am the reflection of providence for all.
I am the resounding WORD; the It-Shall-Be
that I intone with mighty power
from which all the world proceeds.
Through animate eyes I divide the seasons of time.
I am aware of what they are.
I am aware of their potential.
With my mouth I kiss my own chosen creation.
I uniquely, lovingly embrace every image I have
made out of the earth’s clay.
With a fiery spirit I transform it into a body to serve
all the world.
For me, she expresses a true understanding of the love of God. Not as we might understand God from a theologian’s perspective, but from a human perspective (not that theologians aren’t human).
In our Gospel reading from John, we have a passage many would write off as a cliché: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In Hildegard’s poem, it seems she was expressing that same idea: God is saying, I am aware of who they are, their potential. I lovingly embrace them, transform them, and give them my Son to show them this great love I have for them so that they may be where We are.
Hildegard was one who intimately knew of this transforming love of God and was so able to express it through music, preaching, poetry, and art that she transcended the boundaries of her age. Perhaps such intimacy with God is not something that we can all attain, but it is something that we should all strive for. By doing so, we also can become living testimonies, transcending our boundaries.
There is an exceptional German movie about her life, Vision, and I recommend it if you don’t mind subtitles (or speak German). In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he may inspire in the Church holy and courageous women like Saint Hildegard of Bingen who, developing the gifts they have received from God, make their own special and valuable contribution to the spiritual development of our communities and of the Church in our time.” In 2012, Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church, of which, at the time, there were thirty-three, and only three were women.
Hildegard of Bingen. She died in 1179 at the age of 81.