Hildegard of Bingen to be made “Doctor of the Church”

Carl McColman, writing at Patheos discusses the upcoming elevation of Hildegard of Bingen as a “doctor of the church.”

I cannot presume to explain why Pope Benedict or his advisors want to elevate Hildegard at this time. Perhaps he is merely taking care of “one of his own”; the pope, after all, hails from Bavaria, less than 300 miles from the Rhine valley where Hildegard lived. In some ways Hildegard’s writings affirm a truly conservative understanding of church hierarchy and theology, which no doubt would appeal to the current pontiff. But in other ways, Hildegard is truly a visionary, not only by the literal fact of her mystical experiences, but in how her understanding of the place of art in the life of faith, the role of women in the church, and the importance of spiritual experience, all point to a figure whose contribution to Christianity has the potential of creating real transformation—even after almost a millennium.

Perhaps one way to ponder the singular nature of Hildegard’s vision is to consider one of her visions. When Hildegard began recounting her visionary experiences in what eventually became her first book, Scivias (“Know the Ways”), her writings were accompanied by vivid, colorful illustrations which some scholars believe she was involved on some level in producing—perhaps providing instruction to the artist(s). But even if these illuminations were not created under Hildegard’s direct influence, they nevertheless are based on the detailed descriptions of her visions found in her own words. So, like William Blake over 600 years later, Hildegard’s legacy includes not only writings about mystical experiences but colorful illustrations that make her visions truly come alive.

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