Known as the “Sybil of the Rhine,” Hildegard of Bingen was a remarkable woman who produced multiple visionary writings and major theological works throughout her life (1098-1179). During a time period when women received little respect, Hildegard was consulted by religious and political leaders and advised popes and kings. Her contributions are many and include founding a convent, composing music, and writing about the medicinal uses of natural objects such as plants, trees, animals, and stones.
It was recently announced that Hildegard of Bingen will be canonized and declared a doctor of the church. Hearing this I was among the many who were surprised by the news since I had assumed that Hildegard was already canonized, particularly since she has been called St. Hildegard and has had a feast day on September 17th since 1940 (although only within the Benedictine order in Germany). Nonetheless, I have recognized Hildegard as a crucial woman in Christian history – as crucial as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux who have already been canonized. So why the delay in granting this honor to Hildegard of Bingen?
According to Barbara Newman, Hildegard’s outspokenness against the Church did not prevent her canonization; rather the complexity of the process itself resulted in it failing to reach its goal. Initially, Hildegard was not canonized because those who sought to carry out the task of collecting information about her deeds were unsuccessful; they had waited too long and most of Hildegard’s beneficiaries had died.
While Hildegard was considered a controversial figure in life, she was even more so in death. Thus, the idea of canonizing her was quickly forgotten and Hildegard’s reputation suffered throughout history. It was claimed that her work was not that of her own, but rather written by a man who utilized Hildegard as a false front. She was denied any credit for her many important contributions and labeled a hysterical woman.
Movements in the twentieth century resulted in reparation of Hildegard’s name and again her canonization was called for. Although Pope John Paul II canonized more saints than “all previous popes combined” (Newman), he did not canonize Hildegard. Surprisingly, his very conservative successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who made the process of canonization even more strenuous and declared a ban on all discussions of women’s ordination, has decided to canonize Hildegard and proclaim her a doctor of the church.
While there are currently 33 doctors of the church, only three are women, and Hildegard will be the fourth. Although it is disappointing that this honor was not bestowed upon Hildegard until the 21st century, it is gratifying to know that Hildegard will finally be recognized for her great contributions to Catholic theology, as well as their continued impact in the world.
For more information also see:
Has Hildegard Made the Cut for Saint and Doctor of the Church?
Pope to Canonize and Name Hildegard of Bingen as Doctor of the Church
Behind the Elevation of St. Hildegard
Resources on Hildegard of Bingen:
The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard von Bingen – a discography
International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies
11 thoughts on “Hildegard of Bingen to be Canonized and Named Doctor of the Church By Gina Messina-Dysert”
Gina, this is great news! Like you, I’m surprised she’s not already canonized, and I’m doubly surprised that it’s the current pope who is authorizing this canonization. Do you think that Pope Benedict’s decision to do this is a peace offering to more progressive/feminist Catholics who have been disappointed with some of his decisions regarding women and women’s ordination? In other words, maybe a bit of a political/strategic decision on his part?
Yes indeed this is great news especially because the general public know nothing about her. I included her in this past semester and my students were so surprised that a woman could accomplish what she did as well as stand in her own truth.
The canonization process can be political as well. Clare of Assisi is but one example. At any rate, A slow move forward none-the-less.
I highly recommend the movie “Vision.” about the life of Hildegard. It brings to the surface issues of power, authority and strategic decisions (even visions) Hildegard encountered. Plus it is beautifully done (in English subtitles).
I reviewed “Vision” on http://medusacoils.blogspot.com/2010/10/film-review-visionhildegard-von-bingen.html
I would like to add that, to me, Hildegard’s influence goes beyond the Roman Catholic Church. She is admired by spiritual feminists of many paths today, and by music lovers.
I suppose the German pope cannoized her because she was German. Should we really care? The most important thing is that her life and history have been brought to light. I credit Judy Chicago for that as much as anyone, Hildegaard has a place of honor at The Dinner Party now on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum. Follow this link to see her plate and runner. She was also an artist.
I guess I am happier that judy Chicago recognized her than that the pope is.
And click here to see her art work, which uses a vagina-like image to portray the divine mysteries.
You can experience the whole dinner party online at this site!
I’m so happy Hildegard is finally getting this belated recognition and I hope more people become aware of her amazing legacy to sacred music, philosophy, holistic medicine, ecology, and her vision of a more immanent and woman-centered spirituality.
ILLUMINATIONS, my literary novel about Hildegard, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in October 2012, to coincide with her canonization. I would be delighted to offer Advanced Reader Copies to feminist bloggers. Please contact me via my website if you would like to know more.
I’ve long been fascinated by the dynamic and iconoclastic figure of Hildegard and have the “Vision” CD that Judith (above) has reviewed. As Judith seems to suggest, she offers a view of the divine feminine in a context typically inimical to it. (At least, many of those of us with daughters think so.)
Do I recall correctly that she also gave sanctuary to a conscientious objector. Was she at any point an anchoress?
Yes, she was an anchoress from an early age. A very fascinating person in many ways. I hope you will look further into her life and teachings.
I think the Pope is canonizing Hildegard because of her personal holiness and because the canonization requirements were met – like every other saint that has been canonized – in other words, the Pope believes her to be in Heaven.