Skip to comments.On St. Hildegard: Cloistered Nun and Mystic
Posted on 09/01/2010 7:59:34 PM PDT by ELS
On St. Hildegard: Cloistered Nun and Mystic
"The Receiver of Supernatural Gifts Never Boasts"
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in Castel Gandolfo.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year, the Venerable John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter titled "Mulieris dignitatem," dealing with the valuable role that women have had and have in the life of the Church.
"The Church," one reads there, "gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness" (No. 31).
In those centuries of history that we usually call medieval, several women are outstanding for their holiness of life and the richness of their teaching. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in the Rhineland in Bermersheim in 1098, in the region of Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, despite having permanently frail health.
Hildegard belonged to a noble and numerous family and, from her birth, she was vowed by her parents to the service of God. At 8 years of age, in order to receive an adequate human and Christian formation, she was entrusted to the care of the teacher Judith of Spanheim, who had withdrawn into a cloister near the Benedictine monastery of St. Disibod. A small women's cloistered monastery was being formed, which followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Hildegard received the veil from Bishop Othon of Bamberg and, in 1136, on the death of Mother Judith, who had become the superior of the community, her fellow-sisters called Hildegard to succeed her. She carried out this task bringing to fruition her gifts as an educated woman, spiritually elevated and able to address competently the organizational aspects of cloistered life. A year or so later, also because of the growing number of young women who knocked on the door of the monastery, Hildegard founded another community in Bingen, named after St. Rupert, where she spent the rest of her life. The style with which she exercised the ministry of authority is exemplary for every religious community: It inspired a holy emulation in the practice of goodness, so much so that, as we see from testimonies of the time, the mother and the daughters competed in their reciprocal esteem and service.
Already in the years in which she was superior of the monastery of St. Disibod, Hildegard had begun to dictate the mystical visions she had received for some time to her spiritual adviser, monk Volmar, and to her secretary, a fellow sister to whom she was very devoted, Richardis of Strade. As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard, too, wanted to be subject to the authority of wise persons to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the fruit of illusions and that they did not come from God. She turned, therefore, to the person that at her time enjoyed the highest esteem of the Church: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I have already spoken in some catecheses. He calmed and encouraged Hildegard. However, in 1147 she received another very important approval. Pope Eugene III, who was presiding at a synod in Treviri, read a text dictated by Hildegard, presented to him by Archbishop Henry of Mainz. The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak publicly.
From that moment, Hildegard's spiritual prestige grew increasingly, so much so that her contemporaries attributed to her the title of "Teutonic prophetess." This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority. Every gift distributed by the Holy Spirit, in fact, is destined for the edification of the Church, and the Church, through her pastors, recognizes their authenticity.
I will speak once again next Wednesday about this great woman "prophetess," who speaks with great timeliness also to us today, with her courageous capacity to discern the signs of the times, with her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today is being pieced together, her love of Christ and of his Church, suffering also at that time, wounded also at that time by the sins of priests and laymen, and that much more loved as Body of Christ. So St. Hildegard speaks to us; we will speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[In English, he said:]
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Sri Lanka. Our catechesis today deals with Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the great nun and mystic of the twelfth century. One of the outstanding women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard used her spiritual gifts for the renewal of the Church and the spread of authentic Christian living. Hildegard reminds us of the contribution which women are called to make to the life of the Church in our own time. Trusting in her intercession, I cordially invoke upon all of you God's abundant blessings!
[In Spanish, he said:]
I greet the Spanish-speaking pilgrims, in particular the group of the Diocese of Bilbao, accompanied by the bishop-elect, Mario Iceta, as well as other faithful from Spain, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Likewise, I greet the participants in the Third Latin American Congress of Young People, which will shortly be held in the city of Los Teques, Venezuela. The meeting, organized by the Youth Section of the Latin American bishops' council, will take place under the motto: "Let Us Walk with Jesus to Give Life to Our Peoples."
I invite all those present in that significant initiative to look at Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. With his grace, you will find the strength that impels one to be committed to causes that dignify man and make peoples great.
Dear young people, may these days of fellowship, prayer and study serve you to personally encounter the Lord and to hear his Word. You will not be disappointed, as he has plans of love and salvation for everyone. The Pope is by your side and reiterates his confidence in you, while at the same time asking God to assist you so that, being authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, you may live the values of the Gospel, transmit them with courage to those around you and so that you will be inspired in them to build a more just and reconciled world. It is worthwhile to give oneself to this beautiful mission.
May the Virgin Mary accompany you on your journey and always remind you that there is no greater happiness than that of being Christ's friend. May the apostolic blessing that I impart with affection also serve you. Many thanks!
[In Italian, he said:]
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear young people, taking up again after the vacations your usual daily activities, spread with your testimony the light of God in every environment. You, dear sick people, find support in Jesus, who continues his work of redemption in the life of every man. And you, dear newlyweds, draw from the love of Christ, so that your love will be ever more solid and lasting.
[Translation by ZENIT]
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this ping list.
I have several CDs of the music of Hildegard of Bingen. It is glorious!
My brother went to the museum in England. He said it was amazing. He is agnostic. I pray for him. I was Happy he went to the museum.
Therefore the whirlwinds tell me lies in many voices, which rise up within me, saying, 'Who are you? and what are you doing? and what are these battles you are fighting? You are indeed unhappy, for you do not know whether your work is good or bad. Where will you go? and who wills save you? and what are these errors that are driving you to madness? Are you doing what delight you? Are you escaping what distresses you? Oh, what will you do when you know this are ignorant of that? For what delights you is not lawful for you, and what distresses you God's precept compels you to do. And how do you know whether these things are so? It would be better for you if you did not exist!' And after these whirlwinds have risen up thus within me, I begin to tread another path that is hard for my flesh to bear, for I begin to practice righteousness. But then I doubt as to whether or not the Holy Spirit has given this to me, and I say, 'This is useless.' And I wish to fly above the clouds. How? I wish to fly above the faculties and start things I cannot finish. But when I try to do these things, I only stir up great sadness in myself, so that I do no works, either on the heights of sanctity or on the plains of good will; but I bear within me the disquietude of doubt, desperation, sadness, and oppression in all things. And when the Devil's persuasion disturbs me, then, oh, how great a calamity overtakes me! For I am overcome in my unhappiness by all the evils that are or can be in blame, malediction, mortification of the body and soul and shameful words against the purity, healing and loftiness that are in God. And then wickedness suggests to me that all the felicity and all the good which is in Man as well as God will be to me harmful and oppressive, offering me death rather than life. Ach! How unhappy is this struggle, which forces me from labor to labor, from sorrow to sorrow, from discord to discord, depriving me of all happiness
(Book 1, Vision 4, Scivias; Source)
Vision 2: 9: "And, accordingly, the devil knew that other creatures had not yet been filled with the wickedness that the devil had inside. But the devil was angry seeing Adam and Eve in their innocence in the garden of delights, so with great amazingness the devil changed into a serpent in order to deceive them. Why did the devil change appearance? Because the devil knew it would be more wondrous to change into a serpent than into some other animal. Concealed as a serpent, the devil took great pains to accomplish the deceitfulness which the devil could not complete openly in the devil's usual form. When the devil saw Adam and Eve turn away both in body and in soul from the tree which had been forbidden to them, the devil knew that they had received a divine command regarding that place, but the devil also knew that they might easily be hurled down in the very first work which they had begun."
Vision 2: 10: "Why did the devil approach Eve? Because the devil knew the tenderness of a woman was more easily conquered than the strength of a man. The devil also saw that Adam's love for Eve was burning so strongly that if the devil was able to conquer Eve, whatever she might say to Adam, Adam would do the same. And the cloud threw the form of a man out of itself: this signifies that the same ancient seducer, expelling Eve and Adam from the seat of blessedness by treachery, sent them into the darkness of destruction. How did the devil do this? Clearly the devil seduced Eve first, so that she rather than Adam was able to lead the other creatures to disobedience, because she had been made from his rib. Because of this, a woman hurls a man down more quickly, when he easily takes her to himself, not shrinking back from her words."
Vision 2: 27: "Because humanity stood out rebellious to God in that place of sweet things, that woman who had been subjected to that man in his service now opposed herself to him."
Vision 2: 31: "And so humanity, having been freed, shines in God and God in humanity, humanity having a partnership in God, having - of course - the very great brightness which humanity had previously in heaven. This might not have come about if the same Word of God had not put on flesh, because if humanity had remained in paradise, the Word of God might not have died on the cross. But when humanity was deceived through the cunning serpent, God was touched with true compassion, so that God caused the Only-Begotten to become flesh in the purest Virgin. And so after the fall of humanity, more virtues were lifted up - shining in heaven - just as humility is lifted up as the queen of virtues. "
Vision 2: 32: "In the beginning of creation, the same devil was lifted up with the haughtiness of pride and thereby cast down in death, causing humanity to be expelled from the glory of paradise. At the time, God did not resist the devil with divine power, but God eventually conquered the devil with the humility of the Word. Because Lucifer had mocked the justice of God, Lucifer was not able to know about the incarnation of the Only-Begotten Word of God in accordance with the just judgment of God. And through this agreement which god and the Word made without Lucifer's knowledge, the lost sheep was carried back to life. O rebellious people, why are you so harsh? God did not forsake people, but God instead sent the Word for their salvation, thereby crushing the head of pride in the serpent. As humanity was released from death, Satan opened the evil barricade, shouting: "Alsa, alas, who will help me." All the devils cried aloud with a great roar, astonished by anyone having such power that they could not resist it even with their leader, even as God's Word carried the faithful souls back to Heaven. As a result, humanity was lifted up above the heavens, because God appeared in the form of a person and person appeared in the form of God through the Word of God. . . . For God had created humanity, but humanity fell into death through the persuasion of the devil. The Word of God snatched humanity from the devil through the shedding of blood, and the Word lead humanity back to heavenly glory."
Then I saw a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided at its summit as if into many tongues. And there stood in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, before whom what seemed like a screen of translucent crystal had been placed, reaching from their breasts to their feet. And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lay on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long, which aroused an indescribable sense of horror and rage. On its left stood a kind of market-place, which displayed human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise; and some people were running through it very fast and not buying anything, while others were walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy. Now that worm was black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules, and it was divided into five regions from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes. One was green, one white, one red, one yellow and one black; and they were full of deadly poison. But its head had been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone was dislocated. Its eyes were bloody on the surface and burning within; its ears were round and bristly : its nose and mouth were those of a viper, its hands human, its feet a viper's feet, and its tail short and horrible.
Hildegard (1098-1179) was a Benedictine abbess who documented her allegorical visions and apocalyptic prophecies in text and illuminations. Her most famous work, written over the course of ten years (1141-51). is Scivias (short for "Scito vias Domini," "know the ways of the Lord,"). In this excerpt, Hildegard describes her vision of the devil embodied as a monstrous worm. After her description, she interprets some of the key images.
And around its neck a chain was riveted, which also bound its hands and feet and this chain was firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it could not move about as its wicked will desired. Many flames came forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts: One part ascended to the clouds, another breathed forth among secular people, another among spiritual people, and the last descended into the abyss. And the flame that sought the clouds was opposing the people who wanted to get to Heaven And I saw three groups of these. One was close to the clouds, one in the middle space between the clouds and the earth, and one moved along near the earth; and all were shouting repeatedly, "Let us get to Heaven!" But they were whirled hither and thither by that flame; some did not waver, some barely kept their balance and some fell to the earth but then rose again and started toward Heaven. The flame that breathed forth among secular people burned some of them so that they were hideously blackened and others it transfixed so that it could move them anywhere it wanted. Some escaped from the flame and moved toward those who sought Heaven, reiterating shouts of "O you faithful, give us help!" But others remained transfixed . Meanwhile, the flame that breathed forth among spiritual people concealed them in obscurity; but I saw them in six categories. For some of them were cruelly injured by the flame's fury; but when it could not injure one of them, it burningly breathed on them the deadly poison that flowed from the worm's head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black. But the flame that sought the abyss contained in itself diverse torments for those who had worshipped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith. And I saw sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth, and black smoke exhaling from its breast, and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, and a hot whirlwind blowing from its navel, and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels; all of which affected human beings with grave disquiet. And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that came out of it infected many people with its own perversity. But behold, a great multitude of people came, shining brightly; they forcefully trod the worm underfoot and severely tormented it, but could not be injured by its flames or its poison. And I heard again the voice from Heaven, saying to me: 1. God strengthens the faithful so that the Devil cannot conquer them
hildegard's vision of the devil
God, Who disposes all things justly and rightly, calls His faithful people to the glory of the celestial inheritance; but the ancient deceiver lurks in ambush and tries to hinder them by using all his wicked arts against them But he is conquered by them and is confounded as his presumption deserves for they possess the celestial country, and he suffers the horrors of Hell. Therefore, you see a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided at its summit as if into many tongues. This is the justice of God. which burns in the faith of believers, displaying the greatness of His power, sanctity and glory, and wonderfully declaring in that glory the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit.
2. The multitude of the faithful and the divine law displayed before them
And there stand in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, a cohort of people in the presence of God's justice, shining with faith and well and honorably constituted in good works. Before them what seems like a screen of translucent crystal has been placed, reaching from their breasts to their feet; for, from their decision to do good actions to their completion they have before their eyes the strong and splendid sight of the divine law. And thus they are so strengthened in these actions that no cunning or deception of false persuasion can conquer them.
3. The deceptions of the Devil lie in the path humans take in this world
And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lies on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long. This means that the ancient serpent is well-known to humanity in the course of the pilgrimage of the good and the bad through the world, not in that visible form but in its inner meaning. Its mouth is gaping upward in order to pull down by deception those who are tending toward the celestial regions; but it is lying down, because the Son of God destroyed so much of its strength that it cannot stand up. And it arouses an indescribable sense of horror and rage; for the mental capacity of mortal humans is insufficient to understand the manifold variations of its poisonous fury and malicious exertions.
4. The Devil offers fraudulent riches and delights, and some buy them
On its left stands a kind of marketplace, which displays human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise. For the left hand of the destroyer signifies death, and there is seen a marketplace composed of Death's evil works: pride and vainglory in corruptible riches, licentiousness and lust for transitory pleasures, and trafficking in all kinds of earthly desires. Thus those who would be terrified by the horror of the Devil if they met it openly are deceived by these things; they are lightly offered persuasions to vice as a merchant displays his diverse wares to people, and delighted by the display so that they buy what is offered. So the Devil offers humanity his lying arts; and those who desire them buy them. How? They throw away a good conscience as if selling it, and they collect deadly wounds in their souls as if buying them.
5. The strong resist the Devil's offers, the apathetic consent to them
And some people are running through it very fast and not buying anything; they know God, and so they carry the treasure of good will and the sweet spices of virtue and eagerly accumulate more of them, and quickly pass by the pleasures of the world and the filth of the Devil, obeying God's commands and despising the sweetness of their flesh. But others are walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy; they are slow to do good works and apathetic heart and so they smother their own desire for Heaven as if selling it, and nurture the pleasures of their flesh as if buying them. Therefore, the former will receive the reward of good works, and the latter will suffer the punishment of iniquity, as Ezekiel shows ... .
7. The Devil labors to deceive the five senses of humanity.
But you see that that worm is black and gristly, covered with ulcers and pustules. This shows that the ancient serpent is full of the darkness of black betrayal, and the bristles of concealed deception, and the ulcers of impure pollution, and the pustules of repressed fury. And it is divided into five sections from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes; for from the time of his first deception when he tried to put himself forward until the final time when his madness will end, he does not cease to inspire the five human senses with the desire for vices. Simulating a deceitful rectitude he draws people to the downward slopes of his unclean arts. One is green, one white, one red, one yellow, and one black and they are full of deadly poison. The green indicates worldly melancholy; the white, improper irreverence; the red, deceptive glory; the yellow, biting envy; and the black, shameful deceit, with all other perversities that bring death to the souls of those who consent to them.
8. The Devil's pride was overthrown by the Incarnation
But its head has been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone is dislocated. This means that his pride was so overthrown by the Son of God that even the enmity of Death is already destroyed and cannot exert its full strength of bitterness.
9. What the eyes and ears and nostrils of the serpent signify
Its eyes are bloody on the surface and burning within; because his wicked intent outwardly inflicts harm on human bodies and inwardly drives a fiery dart into their souls. Its ears are round and bristly; for the bristles of his arts pierce a person all around, so that if he finds anything that is his in that person, he may quickly throw him down. Its nose and mouth are those of a viper; for he shows people unbridled and vile behavior, through which transfixing them with many vices, he may cruelly slay them.
10. Its hands and feet and tail and what they signify
Its hands are human, for he practices his arts in human deeds; its feet a viper's feet, because he ceaselessly ambushes people when they are journeying and inflicts devilish lacerations on them; and its tail short and horrible, for it signifies his power in the short but most evil time of the son of perdition, whose desire to run wild exceeds his power to do it.
11. The might of God has broken the Devil's strength to do what he wants
And around its neck a chain is riveted, which also binds its hands and feet; which is to say that the strength of the Devil was so broken and crushed by the power of Almighty God that he cannot freely work his evil and accost humans in the way. And this chain is firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss confining it so that it cannot move about as its wicked will desires; for the power of God abides unfailingly and immovably for eternity, and by saving souls oppresses the Devil so forcibly that he is not able by inner or outer means to take away redemption from the faithful, or keep them from that place of joy from which he perversely exiled himself.
From Hildegard of Bingen : Scivias trans. by Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop
© 1990 by the Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Benedictine abbess was one of the most original apocalyptic thinkers since ancient times. In interpreting her visions, Hildegard linked the time of troubles with the attacks of Henry IV upon the Church.
HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, SC1VIAS 3:11
Then I looked to the North,34 and there were five beasts standing. One was like a fiery hound, though not burning, one like a lion of tawny color, another like a pale horse, another like a black pig, another like a gray wolf. They were all turning to the West.35 In the West before the beasts something like a hill with five peaks appeared so that a single cord was stretched from the mouth of each of the beasts to each peak of the hill. The cords were all somewhat blackish, especially the one which came from the mouth of the wolf and seemed part black and part white.36
Behold in the East I again saw above the cornerstone that youth whom I had previously seen clothed in a purple tunic above the corner of the shining wall and the stone wall of the building.37 Now he appeared to me from the navel down so that you might see him gleaming like the dawn from the navel to the groin. There was at that place something like a lyre with its cords lying crosswise. From there to the bottoms of his feet, that is, to a measure of two fingers set across from above touching the heel, he was shaded. From the two-finger measure through the whole of his feet he appeared brighter than milk.38
The image of the woman before the altar in front of the eyes of God that I saw earlier was now-also shown to me again so that I could also see her from the navel down. From the navel to the groin she had various scaly spots. In her vagina there appeared a monstrous and totally black head with fiery eyes, ears like the ears of a donkey, nostrils and mouth like those of a lion, gnashing with vast open mouth and sharpening its horrible iron teeth in a horrid manner.
From that head to the knees the image was white and red, bruised as with many a beating. From the knees to the two white transverse zones which crosswise seemed to touch the bottoms of the feet from above, the image appeared to be bloody.40 Lo, the monstrous head removed itself from its place with so great a crash that the entire image of the woman was shaken in all its members. Something like a great mass of much dung was joined to the head; then, lifting itself upon a mountain, it attempted to ascend to the height of heaven.4* A stroke like thunder came suddenly and the head was repelled with such strength that it both fell from the mountain and gave up the ghost. After this a stinking cloud suddenly enveloped the whole mountain. The head was surrounded with such great filth in the cloud that the people standing by were struck with the greatest terror as the cloud stayed upon the mountain somewhat longer. The people standing there beheld it and struck with much fear said to each other: "woe! Woe! What is this? What does that seem to be? Who will help us, unfortunate as we are? Who will deliver us? We are ignorant of how we have been deceived. Almighty God, have mercy on us. Let us, oh let us return. Let us prepare the covenant of Christ*s Gospel, since we have been bitterly deceived."42 Behold, the feet of the aforementioned female image appeared to be white, giving out a brightness above that of the sun. I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: "Even though all things on earth are tending toward their end, so that the world with all its powers now weakened and oppressed by many hardships and calamities is bowed down to its End, nevertheless, the Spouse of my Son, though much weakened in her children, will never be destroyed either by the heralds of the Son of Perdition or by the Destroyer himself, however much she will be attacked by them. At the End of time she will arise more powerful and more secure; she will appear more beautiful and shining so that she may go forth in this way more sweetly and more agreeably to the embraces of her Beloved. The vision which you saw signifies all this in mystic fashion."
Translated from the edition in PL 197, cc. 709A710C.
Also see a collection of links at Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Another Benedictine saint and mystic for whom I have a devotion is St. Gertrude the Great. She is the only female saint to have "the Great" appended to her name. She was also from Germany.
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