St. Hildegard of Bingen Named a Saint … Again

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In some quarters, there’s this idea that Hildegard of Bingen is not really a saint, and that this is somehow PROOF! of the horrible awful sexism of the Church. Except that Hildegard IS a saint, and even has a feast day (September 17). The problem is that her cause was one of the earlier ones to fall under the official process of canonization, which was still being developed. It dragged on for centuries before the Church just went ahead and added her name to the Roman Martyrology (the official book of saints) in the late 15oos, which means that she was a de facto saint even without an official declaration.

In 1173, Pope Alexander III ruled that the process of “making saints” had to become more formal, and was a function reserved to the Holy See. He was pushed to do this not as some kind of naked power grab, but because the process was more open to corruption when left to the bishops. People who were anything but saintly were being proclaimed saints, either because of local pressure on the bishop or plain old corruption. Hildegard died only 6 years after Alexander’s ruling, leaving her case in limbo between the old process and the new.

Just to clear matters up, today Benedict formally proclaimed what the Church has held for over 400 years (longer than it has held that Joan of Arc is a saint): Hildegard of Bingen is indeed a saint. This was just a formal precursor to what is likely to come next: a declaration that St. Hildegard is a Doctor of the Church, meaning she has made a significant contribution to the faith through her through “eminent learning” and sanctity.

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Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Rob MacMillan

    Worthwhile German-language historical bio-pic on St. Hildegard: “Vision.” Instant play on Netflix.

  • Nathaniel Campbell

    This is a day long-awaited by both admirers of St. Hildegard and those of us who study her academically. Indeed, many of us had long thought it improbable that her canonization cause would be renewed or that she would ever be considered for the honor of Doctor of the Church, to which the Pope will raise her later this year. Because her visionary writings are amongst the most intensely daring and theologically innovative of the twelfth century, her bold tendencies have long made that dream seem distant and unattainable. No longer!

    Indeed, there is a certain providence that the German Pontiff would be the one to rescue St. Hildegard’s powerful theological wisdom from the clutches of new agers and herbalists. A half-century ago, Hildegard was little known outside a small circle of German scholars; crucially, however, that small circle numbered a young Joseph Ratzinger in their number. His early work on medieval theologies of history most certainly brought him into contact with Hildegard’s powerfully prophetic vision of the Church’s mission in the world–a vision of corruption castigated and charity renewed, a Church both holier and smaller. Indeed, his exposure to Hildegard most certainly influenced his own visions of Church reform at the time of the Council, a vision he enunciated in his essays on Faith and the Future.

    I will soon post on my blog ( a detailed examination of Hildegard’s influence on Pope Benedict’s vision of a Church reformed and renewed. It is crucial, I believe, to understand the context of his early scholarship on medieval theologies of history in order to understand his “Reform of the Reform” today.

  • http://JeannieGuzman1.wordpress JeannieGuzman

    Hildegard von Bingen has long been a favorite of mine. She took simple Gregorian Chant to melodic heights never expressed by her male counterparts. Instead of most Gregorian, which often has a range of about an octave, Hildegard’s music often reaches an octave and a half or more. My speculation is that she was probably a coloratura soprano or definitely one with about a two octave range. One can almost hear birds singing, when one hears Hildegard. Today, we have American Indian Musicians, who are known world-wide for their simple, yet poignant “Going back to Nature Music.” In the 1200′s the world had Hildegard, but unfortunately the miracle of digital recording was not available at the time. Her genius, I often liken to that of Mozart, who is famous for building unforgettable melodic lines. It’s too bad that she didn’t have Mozart’s harmonic tools available to her at the time, otherwise she would have written liturgical symphonies! God Bless Her!

  • Tony Broad

    The forthcoming declaration of Hildegard as the 35th Doctor of the Church will be a wonderful milestone for the Church. One hopes that it will open a new era of attention to and study of her work. Her teachings affirm a traditional understanding of the Bible that is much needed today in many areas: affirming the doctrine of creation over against evolution; affirming the geocentrism of the universe; confirming the Catholic doctrines on sexuality and marriage (she teaches that marriage is good, virginity is better; and that divorce, adultery and fornication are wrong).