St. Hildegard of Bingen was a cloistered Catholic nun, a medieval German Benedictine abbess, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and a prolific writer on medicine, nutrition, health, and nature who was named a Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
When I first came across St. Hildegard in 2019, I was been bewildered to discover how unheralded she was in many Catholic circles.
I first discovered her through my research into holistic home health remedies, and noticed that she was quoted often in mind-body spirituality, metaphysical, secular or mixed religion websites, but not much that was traditionally Catholic.
After spending many of my adult years away from the Church, I am determined to make up for lost time in my study of the saints, and since St. Hildegard’s writings were so compelling to me, I am glad to find that now there are many more solid Catholic sources for her work. Lately, I’ve been spending some “quality time” with her.
It is obvious that she was not a feminist as some secular groups like to portray her, but she was—and still is—an excellent role model for women. She was allowed to have a voice in the church without being part of the clergy. She culled and contributed a lot of medical knowledge that contributed to our Western Medicine as well—and in so doing, advancing the role of women in the Church.
Women before her time had not been allowed to practice medicinal cures outside of the home, as that was left mainly to the clergy. Hildegard, however, was allowed to distribute her recipes and facilitate in healing. She could identify diseases and prescribe cures. Church leaders and laymen alike went to her for advice.
St. Hildegard received many visions, which she kept to herself initially. One day at age 43, God impressed upon her: “O frail mortal, ashes from ashes, dust of dust, write down everything you see and hear.” From that point on, she began sharing her writings with local religious leaders. Then, in 1147, those writings reached Pope Eugene III, who recognized Hildegard’s visions to be from God.
St. Hildegard lived to the age of 81, which, at a time when most died in their 30s, may have been a testament to her knowledge of health and wellness.
In 2010, Pope Benedict said in his General Audience, “Hildegard’s mystical visions resemble those of the Old Testament prophets.” And that, “…we already see that theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity.”
Pope Benedict pointed out how much we have to learn from this German abbess from the Middle Ages, remarking that “many of her answers still apply to us.” (General Audience, Wednesday, 8 September 2010)
St. Hildegard remains a quotable spiritual writer. “If people live in love, avoid pride and maintain a state of peace, they will not ruin the world. Love, humility, and peace are the divine powers of healing by which God restores our pristine state of being,” she remarked.
St. Hildegard’s Feast Day is celebrated on September 17.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.