Help Wanted: Hildegard of Bingen Enthusiasts

Catholic Voices USA, a group I am working with my friend Kim Daniels (among others) on to help get more young, fresh, faithful Catholics making the case for the Catholic Church in the public square, will be hosting a series of evening discussions in October on soon-to-be canonized Saint Hildegard of Bingen at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.

So I’m looking for fans and students of this Doctor of the Church to share with me some of their favorite writings, poems, music, recipes. Feel free to post in the comments or e-mail me at And if you’re not in D.C., I’ll be sure to share some of what is found and discussed here in the coming weeks.

Here NPR pays tribute to the composer.

On October 7, both Hildegard and St. John of Avila will be named doctors of the Church. From a Vatican dispatch this spring:

“These two great witnesses of the faith lived in very different historical periods and cultural environments”, he said. “Hildegard was a Benedictine nun during the height of the German Middle Ages, a true master of theology and a great scholar of the natural sciences and of music. John was a young diocesan priest of the Spanish Renaissance, who participated in the travails of the cultural and spiritual renewal of the Church and society at the dawn of the Modern Age”.
The sanctity of their lives and the profundity of their doctrine mean that these two saints “retain all their importance. The grace of the Holy Spirit enabled them to experience profound understanding of divine revelation and intelligent dialogue with the world, two factors which represent the perennial goal of the life and activity of the Church”.
St. John and St. Hildegard are particularly significant on the eve of the forthcoming Year of Faith, and in light of the new evangelisation to which the Synod of Bishops will be dedicating its attention. “Also in our own day, and through their teaching, the Spirit of the risen Lord continues to make His voice heard and to illuminate the path which leads to the Truth, which is the only thing that can make us free and give full meaning to our lives”, the Pope said.

I happened upon this meditation on her visions of God thanks to the New Advent website:

The Abbess of Bingen describes “a blazing fire, incomprehensible, inextinguishable, wholly living and wholly Life, with a flame in it the color of the sky, which burned ardently with a gentle breath, and which was inseparably within the blazing fire.”

Although the vision itself was given to her in her forties, how she sees this vision is the fruit of a lifetime devoted to searching for God, quaerere Deum. She knows her glimpse into the Fire of Love is an undeserved gift. At the same time, she also knows she was able to receive because she had dedicated herself to studying our faith in the Lord with her whole mind, whole heart, whole soul and whole strength.

Anyone who commits themselves to search so great a mystery becomes acutely aware of being inadequate and unworthy. Such souls learn a humility that knows any wisdom they acquire will not be the result of their own resourcefulness. Instead, they live to behold the Living God with the eyes of faith knowing this vision as an estimable gift which inspires heart-piercing gratitude and reverent movements of adoration. The teachings of St. Hildegard ring with this mystical wisdom.

It’s worth reading it all. Hildegard was a tremendous talent, and a holy daughter of God. In celebrating the first, we’d be missing out to look over the great gift of her holy example.

And do remember to share some of what you love most from her! And do some discovering as we celebrate her life and learn from her during these next weeks.

Ten Catholic Things that Caught My Eye Today (Feb. 25, 2015)
Ten Catholic Things that Caught My Eye Today (Feb. 26, 2015)
Twelve Catholic Things that Caught My Eye on St. Polycarp Day (2015)
Meet the Women of October
  • Mary Sharratt

    Hello Kathryn,

    My novel ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, based on her life, is being published on October 9 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to coincide with Hildegard’s elevation to Doctor of the Church. You can visit my website to learn more or request a review copy.

    May Hildegard inspire us all!

  • Mary

    Her radiant “Ave Maria, O auctrix vite.” I recommend the recording of it on the album Canticles of Ecstasy by Benjamin Bagby’s medieval music group, Sequentia. Just luminous. (you can buy the whole disc at Amazon or the MP3 of just that piece)

    • Kathryn Jean Lopez


  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    There are a variety of directions you can go in, simply because Hildegard accomplished so much that it is extremely difficult to squeeze her into any one box. The list with which one feels obliged to describe her can be lengthy—theologian, visionary, prophet, reformer, feminist, composer, poet, artist, healer. The breadth and complexity of these achievements makes the choice of any one area to raise above the others problematic, especially since Hildegard’s competence in one area—music or natural medicine, for example—usually had profound impacts on others, such as her theology and teaching. With that caveat in mind, however, (and noting that Hildegard’s magnum opus, the Liber Divinorum Operum ["Book of Divine Works"], remains without a good English translation, a situation I am working to remedy), I would suggest four worthwhile areas to try:

    1. Hildegard’s Music: This is the area in which she is probably most well-known at present. Several other commenters have made suggestions in this area, to which I would add a few more. Her longest and most elaborate sequence, “O Ierusalem”, was written for the translation of the relics of St. Rupert into the new abbey where Hildegard moved her nuns in the 1150′s. It is a spectacular hymn to the relationship between the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly church, the gems of the former glittering in the stained-glass windows of the latter. As Peter Dronke concludes, “The growing celestial Jerusalem of Hildegard’s vision is a human building, its walls gleam with living stones (vivis lapidibus). The blessed become both ornamenta Dei and ornati–both fabric of the city and its inhabitants.” (Peter Dronke, “Hildegard of Bingen as Poetess and Dramatist”, in his book, “Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages” [Oxford, 1970], p. 168). The other symphonic work I would recommend is the “Ordo Virtutum”, Hildegard’s morality-play, in which the characters are personifications of virtues fighting for control over the protagonist (Anima) with the Devil, who isn’t allowed to sing but only growl his lines. In its symbolically compressed poetry, it offers a striking meditation on salvation history and Hildegard’s predilection for the doctrine of the absolute predestination of Christ and the eternal counsel.

    2. Hildegard’s Visionary Theology: The best place to begin an exploration of Hildegard’s rich and complex visionary theology is in her first work, “Scivias” (available in an excellent and reasonably-priced translation by Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop in the Classics of Western Spirituality series of Paulist Press [1990]). The first part, containing six visions, deals with the order of creation and is built around the relationships in creation between microcosm and macrocosm. The second, of seven visions, is focused on the order of redemption, and treats of the Church and her sacraments. Across these first two parts, Hildegard articulates the process from Creation through recreative Redemption, perfected once in the Sacrifice of the Son on the Cross and perpetuated in history by the work of the Church. Finally, in the thirteen visions of the third part, Hildegard recapitulates salvation history in the image of the “edifice of salvation”, adorned with an extensive array of personified Virtues, allowing her to reinterpret the recreative dynamic from the eschatological perspective. The best place to start if you are going to pick selections would be in Part II, with its awesome visions of Creation and Redemption, of the Trinity, and of Holy Mother Church giving birth to Christian souls and nourishing, strengthening, and perfecting them in the sacraments.

    3. Hildegard’s Life: In the last few years of her life and in the decade after her death, several of Hildegard’s admirers labored to compose a “Vita”, or hagiographical life, of her. While this was commonplace for many great medieval saints (think of Thomas of Celano’s “Life of St. Francis of Assisi”, for example), what makes this work extraordinary is that it contains a number of autobiographical passages that Hildegard herself wrote in answer to the queries of those around her. A translation of this fascinating account of Hildegard’s visionary life can be found in “Jutta & Hildegard: The Biographical Sources”, trans. Anna Silvas (Penn. State Univ. Press, 1999).

    4. Hildegard’s Letters: Amongst her remarkable legacy is a corpus of more than three hundred letters Hildegard wrote to a variety of people in her lifetime, ranging from Popes and Emperors down to local abbesses and nuns seeking advice and counsel. Joseph L. Baird has assembled an excellent cross-section of these in “The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen” (Oxford, 2006) that highlights the complex interactions between Hildegard’s own search for validation, her reputation for prophetic holiness, her thundering reproach of sinners up and down the line, and her uniquely beautiful visionary meditations–not to be missed is her response to those who criticize her elitism (Letters 4 and 5), her sermon to the clergy at Cologne (Letters 56 and 57), and her response to the interdict under which her abbey was placed in her last year of life (Letters 72-74), which detail an amazing theology of music and liturgy.

    • Ryan

      Barbara Newman’s “Symphonia” is a wonderful collection of her hymns. Hildegard’s music and visions are permeated by a deep sense of the incarnation. When she sees things through the lenses of the “Living light”, places, people and objects are seen as a reflection of the light. I am reading Scivias right now and will share anything that is particularly striking.

      Some may be wary of Hildegard’s non-theological works, which talk about everything from herbology to precious stones. She never claimed divine authority for these and I think that they simply show her as a woman intensely curious about every facet of wisdom.

      Do not forget to ask her intercession!