Hildegard of Bingen

A reading response for Medieval Lit, Women and Spirituality:

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Hildegard was a highly influential woman during the latter portion of her life. Initially she feared revealing her visions but, with encouragement, she began to record and share them. Hildegard’s interpretations of these visions read like prophecy, and were believed to have come from God. Her understanding of a sacred, unknown language and her composure of music also lent credibility to this belief in God’s divine intervention because her knowledge was not a product of formal education. While it has been said that her noble lineage may have encouraged correspondence from important people of her day, their letters suggest that their belief in her intimate connection with God is a more probable factor.

Addressing her as daughter, maiden, and servant of Christ, most lovable mother in Christ, and a burning lamp in the house of the Lord, many who wrote to Hildegard requested that she present their case to God, soliciting his grace and mercy on their souls. Requests came from Henry, Bishop of Liege, Eberhard, Archbishop of Salzburg, Abbott Adam and others all seeking intercession from Hildegard, each of them too humble and weary in their sins to ask for God?s mercy on their own. As seen in the Canonization Protocol, Hildegard was also commonly sought after to heal both in her lifetime as well as after her death. Each request demonstrates that if God used Hildegard as a messenger to deliver his word, those who desired could use her to communicate in the opposite direction.

Hildegard’s insight into God’s meaning was sought by people of all walks of life. With strong desire to know God’s word as it was revealed to Hildegard, a request for her texts were sent by Arnold Archbishop of Cologne, regardless of whether or not they were finished. This hunger for her knowledge thrust Hildegard into political situations in the realm of both church and government. Hildegard believed in a God who excludes no soul, an idea contradictory to the natural operations of Government. Since church and state were intertwined, Odo of Soissons, in his letter from 1148, pointedly touched upon the story of Babylon warning, “do not make known any things that might disturb the apostolic and ecclesiastical institutions. Wise woman! Listen to these things” (181). In that same letter, he asked Hildegard to answer to whether or not God is identical with both paternity and divinity, a question pondered by scholars. While this was the type of information Odo wished to protect, by asking, he demonstrated his confidence that he was deserving of the answer.

What I believe to be Hildegard’s greatest influence was her ability to bring women out of the shadows of society and lift them up. Unearthly and desirable natures formerly defined as “male” within a dualistic belief system were now attributed to the feminine. Hildegard argued that this connection between body and soul was created by God, and all things created in God are good –¬†including the feminine. This is how she shifted focus away from the idea that the feminine body’s attachment to the Earth was undesirable in the quest for enlightenment. This was not lost on her admirers as evidenced in a letter from the Abbess of St. Theodore and St. Mary, “he not only foresaw and predestined you of the female sex, but his grace also enlightened many people through your teaching” (185). Hildegard, in all her virtue, chastity, and her ability to channel God’s word challenged prior concepts when she spoke of things such as wisdom and the soul as “she.”

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