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Learn more about St. Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen: Saint, Mystic, Naturalist, and Doctor of the Church

“The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self. Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played. The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather, through the touch of the musician. I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.” -Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Recently brought back in to the spotlight by Pope Benedict XVI, the Saint the Church celebrates today has a story that begins like many others of her time. Born in Germany in the early eleventh century as the youngest of ten children, she was often sick, and confined to her bed. Her parents dedicated her to God at a young age, sending her to live with a holy cousin named Jutta, in a small house attached to a Benedictine monastery. Jutta educated her, and the two of them lived a simple life of prayer that attracted other young women to join them in their holy life.

Within this traditional system, Hildegard learned to practice medicine, spending years working in the infirmary as a nurse-physician. This led to a life-long interest in medicine and the human person, leading her to write a few medical and philosophical works in which she developed a philosophy of the unity of the body with the soul and a one of gender complementarity that was revolutionary for her time, and still contains insights for today.

Hildegard also had a profound interest in and gift for music, composing lyrics and music for chant hymns that her sisters performed in the abbey, and which is still performed today (a new recording of her hymns was nominated for a Grammy award in 1995, check them out here). All of her interests developed out of a profound love for God’s creation, and express her desire to praise and understand it. When Jutta died, the other women elected Hildegard to become the prioress of their small convent when she was 38 years old. 

Soon after she became prioress, she began to have strong visions and felt compelled to write them down. She revealed these visions to her spiritual director, who shared them with the abbot and eventually with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Pope. She wrote three major spiritual works that meant she became a public figure in her time, and eventually a Doctor of the Church.

Hildegard traveled, wrote and preached until her death at the age of 81. Despite many illnesses and the difficulty of travel during her time, she did everything she could to bring the revelation God had given her to the people of Germany. In doing so, she helped to fight the heresies and clerical abuses that she saw in the Church around her.

Though her culture was completely dominated by men, Hildegard’s influence and authority were astonishing, explainable only by a respect for Divine Authority. Though she began to speak only with hesitation, she soon accepted the role that God gave her in the world in which she lived.

Her many natural talents were strengthened and enhanced by Divine Revelation, allowing her to develop and promote an understanding of God that illuminated Him for others. In this, she recognized that God chose to give this understanding to a woman, embracing her femininity and allowing it to permeate both her teaching and the advice she gave to others. In her writings, she provides a wealth of understanding for the whole Church that we are still coming to understand more fully today.

In Hildegard’s life, we see an example of how God used the feminine genius to revolutionize a culture and teach his Church. Here at Endow, we hope to spread her teaching and her example! You can learn more about her example in our study Discovering the Doctors, which is on sale today in honor of her feast day (use code HildegardFeast to save $5).