Because of Hildegard and Simon

You would never, ever find this in the basement of an Episcopal Church, what I found in the basement of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church during this morning’s men’s group—my friend “Simon,” presenting an hour-long bobbing, weaving, juking, and jiving meditation on Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard may be a darling of the New Agers, but Episcopalians are generally not into either New Age or female saints. And Simon is an original, a devout Catholic who reads Hildegard’s book of visions Sciavia during Eucharistic Adoration, an eccentric so out there and at the same time so sincere that I wanted to sit at his feet at the end of the hour to hear the answers to two questions:

Who the heck was Hildegard of Bingen? Who the heck is Simon?

Only the guys present at the meeting know Simon’s real name, and I’d like to keep it that way. But I’ll offer you some other data that Simon offered this morning, quite openly. Simon was walking around Paris in the middle of the night about twenty years ago when he saw a doorway. He entered the doorway and found a Perpetual Adoration chapel and a monastery next door. Simon said he has returned to Paris “at least a dozen times” since then, for the sole purpose of returning to that chapel. After the meeting I asked Simon what he was doing wandering around Paris in the middle of the night. “Drunk?” I asked. “Drugged? Psychotic?” He only nodded, as if to say, all of the above.

Who better, then, to hem and haw his way through a heart-felt but wildly improvisational presentation on a 12th-century saint (or blessed) (Simon wasn’t really clear) whose Wikipedia entry includes the following bullet points: Christian mystic, German Benedictine abbess, author, counselor, linguist, naturalist, scientist, philosopher, physician, herbalist, poet, channeler, visionary, composer, and polymath. I had already encountered Hildegard through her remarkable music. (I’m listening to the CD “Canticles of Ecstasy” right now and would happily listen to her an hour a day for the duration.) The bullet point that had previously grabbed my attention, mentioned later in the Wiki entry: Hildegard is the first composer, male or female, of whom we have a contemporaneous biography.

I’ve been corresponding with my new friend and blogging pal Frank about the subject of war and the Church’s teaching on war. Frank, a retired US Marine with all the military bona fides you could want, pointed me in the direction of Bernard of Clairvaux, because Bernard was both the founder of the Cistercians (contemplative, pacifist) and a leading proponent of the Second Crusade (active, pugnacious). Reading about Bernard during the past 24 hours, I think I’ve found a model for how a Catholic might look at both pacifism and what the Catechism terms “just war.”

And who—it turns out, according to Simon—was one of Bernard of Clairvaux’s 12th-century pals? None other than our Hildegard of Bingen!

This is what I love about Catholicism. You meet the strangest people, from those in your parish (Simon) to those in the martyrology (Hildegard). You find these strange people conversing with one another, studying each other, mutually fascinated and fascinating—and constantly connecting with other equally strange and fascinating people. There are so many of these people to be met—some far stranger than others, but all of them fixed on the same teaching, the same Gospel, within the same Universal Catholic Church—that you are forced to one of two conclusions, and there is no other.

Either (a) the whole world is mad and wandering around in a psychotic daze in Paris in the middle of the night or (b) Jesus Christ is Lord.

  • Ferde

    Or both….

  • Webster Bull

    Ferde was there. He knows what I'm talking about! Thanks, amigo!

  • Maria

    Did you know that her visions were the product of migrains and resultant visual scotomas?Maria

  • Webster Bull

    Hi Maria,I know that Oliver Sacks has *speculated* that her visions were the result of migraines. 1) No one really knows. 2) Even if the visions were result of migraines, how do you explain EVERYTHING ELSE about her?! 3)It's not only easy but predictable for 20th-century materialists to offer/need to make "scientific" explanations of ANYTHING they can't explain in Scripture or Church history. Again, it proves nothing. We are left to contemplate the mystery.

  • Maria

    I did not mean to imply invalidation, at all, of her life nor her mysticism. I love her. Only that it is interseting! I used to suffer from migraines and scintillating scotomas and thus found it interesting. If you look at her artwork, which is remarakable, it does indeed very much reflect the sort of things ones sees with scotomas. I am on your side, which is to say, I am always on God's side. Apparently mysticism and scotomas are not mutually exclusive! God's world is broad and mysterious.Maria

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Maria. I have a lot to learn about Hildegard; my friend "Simon" only opened the door of exploration.

  • Maria

    Oh, no problem. I don't know that much about Hildegarde. Her music is huntingly beautifiul though. The only reason I knew about any of this, as I said, is that I suffered from migrainnes and scintillating scotomas and eventually had a stroke. I thus developed an interest in Neurology which led me to Sacks. Apparently her artwork is still used in medical schools to train Ophthamologists because it so accurately reflects the nature of scotomas. They are quite frightening when you first experience them. I love all things monastic and Hildegarde was a formidable spritual force. I really enjoy your blog, bye the bye.God Bless,Maria

  • Webster Bull

    Maria,Thanks again. I think it would be interesting for readers of this blog if you wrote about your experiences (migraines, stroke, monastic interest) relating them to the theme of this blog, Why you are Catholic. Think about it! And have a great First Sunday in Advent. WB

  • Maria

    I will ponder all this, Webster.It is a very long,long story. Thanks.Maria

  • Webster Bull

    No hurry, Maria. As the first 2BFrank installment (11/28/09) indicates, I'm hoping to open up the "mic" here and invite others to write about Y They R Catholic 2. If you want to e-mail me directly about this at any time, my address is listed with my profile. WB

  • Frank

    Interestingly, I've yet to read about a Saint that wasn't a "full spectrum" person. Maybe they all aren't "polymaths" but they are definately NOT "one dimensional" or "specialists".There is sort of a "myth of the specialist" prevalent in our culture today…anyone agree?

  • Webster Bull

    My favorite saint, Thomas More, was definitely in the polymath category. It might be that "success" is now so grounded in technical expertise (see medicine, law, engineering, science) that to "succeed" you have to focus deeply on a narrow niche. Thomas More, who was a writer (Utopia), a correspondent and friend of leading thinkers (Erasmus), a statesman (Chancellor), a hanging judge (well, a burning one), and a home-schooling father who arose every morning at 2 am to pray in this private oratory—he had a different definition of success, I imagine. To be "the King's good servant, but God's first."

  • Frank

    Erasmus reminds me of Chesterton in many ways. Both were extremely prolific, and had great ideas. They put them out there and then, Machiavelli and Bertrand Russell (specialists) for example get all the "press".But perhaps nefarious forces have tried to hide them from us because they weren't specialists for any one cause except Christianity, which is the "sign of contradiction".

  • Frank

    The tension of Maximizers vs. SatisficersMadison Avenue preaches "Maximizing" as the path to contentment.Another reason why I could consider becoming a Catholic Christian? I am a satisficer…yep I spelled it right. Learned from a professor of mine who is now teaching at the Navy War College.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisficing

  • http://croat.runneratyahoo.com Ashley

    Hey Webster!I'm thinking that I love your blog more than ever now! It's amazing how much you guys know. I also wnated to thank you for putting the saints up here. No one ever talks about them much. Thier lives are so very interesting.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Ashley. As I wrote in my very first post, the saints are what brought me to the Church. Pope Benedict said somewhere (gotta find the citation) that the most convincing evidence that the Christian message is true is the lives of the saints. That was my reasoning: If it worked for all of them, it must have validity, and it can work for me.


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