Friday, September 21, 2012


Jane Lieber Mays

In this blog I will deal with St. Hildegard's spiritual life, which is very complicated, but sets the stage for other works to come. So bear with me as we continue on this journey of her amazing life.

Nothing would have seemed extraordinary about St. Hildegard for the first half of her long life. She did not wish to publicize the visionary experiences she had been having since the age of three when a blaze of dazzling brightness burst into her sight.
St. H. with Jutta

A diffuse radiance which she called her "visio" filled her field of vision for the rest of her life without interfering with ordinary sight. St. Hildegard came to understand this phenomenon as “the reflection of the living Light” which conferred the gift of prophecy and gave her an intuitive knowledge of the Divine.

St. Hildegard’s visions were not apparitions or dreams. She rarely fell into ecstasy but rather perceived sights and messages with the “inner” eyes and ears of her soul. She dictated to her secretary what she “saw” and “heard” while fully lucid. The astonishing images she saw she described to others to illustrate.

 They feature sparkling gems, shimmering orbs, pulsating stars, towers and crenelated walls. Modern psychologists have said that St. Hildegard suffered from a form of migraine called “scintillating scotomata.”
Agrios, Spain

 The debilitating illnesses that preceded or accompanied her visionary episodes might have been migraine attacks. Because supernatural communications are received according to the capacity of the receiver, neurology can offer insights on her physical manifestations but it cannot explain away her experiences or the religious meanings she assigns to them. These were genuine occasions of contact between St. Hildegard and God, and, as they say: God works in mysterious ways.

In 1141 heaven opened upon St.Hildegard as “a fiery light of exceeding brilliance” and a mighty voice commanding her to “tell and write” what she sees of God’s marvels. St  first she quailed at her call. Pleading her sickly female constitution and lack of formal education, she fell ill. But she confided in the monastery's provost, who shared the matter with his abbot at Disibodenberg, who urged her to accept her call. She rose from her bed and set to work on her first book, Scivias which succeeds in spanning the history of salvation from the creation of the world and man, to redemption and fulfillment at the end of time.

Konstantin Ugrinov, Germany
St. Hildegard attempts to describe the unspeakable mystery of God in ever-new images. Her visions are all composed in the same way: the vision itself as seen; the explanation of the vision; and the theological and spiritual explanation.
Liber Div. Operum

Equally impressive is the elemental power of imagery in her language, though it must be said that this, at times, does not make it easy for us modern mortals to comprehend St. Hildegard's thoughts and interpretations. She was as much a master of the narrative style as of the dramatic, the scientific as much as the lyrical and she filled old concepts with new meaning.

St. Hildegard’s three major theological books are: Scivias (Know the Ways) , Liber Vitae Meritorum (The Book of the Rewards of Life), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works). They deal with microcosm and macrocosm, the Trinity, Fall, Incarnation and Redemption, vices and virtues, sacraments, angels and Satin, Genesis and the Gospel of John, Antichrist, the End of the World and the joys of Heaven. St. Hildegard‘s keyword, viriditas, communicates the fertile, green freshness of unspoiled Paradise. Her visions reveal the luminous presence of God permeating all creation, calling forth life so that matter and spirit will unite in a chorus of eternal glory.

Due to the confusion of the times, in the Church and outside, St. Hildegard  asked advice from Bernard of Clairvaux who encouraged her in her work. Meanwhile, her local abbot notified the archbishop of Mainz who mentioned her to Pope Eugenius III, then visiting Germany.
St. H., with  Pope Eugenius III

After a papal commission reviewed chapters of Scivias, the pope approved St. Hildegard’s writings and read portions to a regional synod at Trier in 1147.
Now certified by the highest authorities, St. Hildegard became a celebrity seer whose counsel was treasured by rulers, clerics, and laity from England to Byzantium. Visitors streamed to her monastery seeking advice and cures from the “Sibyl of the Rhine.” (This fame was one reason why the Disibodenberg monks opposed St. Hildegard’s move to a new location.)

Despite the startling quality of St. Hildegard’s messages, her theology was orthodox. She accepted traditional teaching on male hierarchy, the complementary character of masculine and feminine, and social mores.
Beate Heinen, German

 She condemned offenses against life: contraception, abortion, infanticide, suicide, and homosexuality. But any sin could be forgiven. Penance and the cultivation of opposite virtues remedied vices. During an address in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI called St. Hildegard’s humble deference to ecclesiastical authority “the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Hildegard’s one clash with Church rules hinged on a point of fact, not doctrine. In 1178, she and her nuns were placed under interdict for burying an excommunicated benefactor in their graveyard. Knowing that he had been reconciled before his death, they endured months without the sacraments or music until cleared by the archbishop of Cologne. St. Hildegard died peacefully the following year, at the venerable age of 81.

Death of  St. Hildegard, Fr. Paulus Krebs (Abbey St. H)

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