*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 17th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today, the 17th of September is the Feast day for Hildegard von Bingen- one of the more remarkable and unconventional saints celebrated across denominations today. Let’s get some highlights of her life and ask a question or two.
First, what is a “feast” day? It does not have to do with eating, although you would certainly eat on a feast day. It comes from the Latin “festus” which is a "religious anniversary characterized by rejoicing”. It is the opposite of a fast day.
The feast day is set today in commemoration of the anniversary of her death in 1179. Hildegard was born in 1098 making her a contemporary of Peter Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Peter Lombard. She grew up near the Rhine in the German territories of the Holy Roman Empire. The pious fiction often told about Hildegard is that she was the 10th of 10 children and thus given up to the church as a tithe from her parents (they likely had 7 children).
As a girl, she was sent to a Benedictine cloister in Disibodenberg. She was tutored by an Anchorite named Juta. She would succeed Juta as the prioress and spent years in isolation reading, writing, and having ecstatic visions. When she was in her 40s she told a benedictine confessor about the visions and he sent word to the Archbishop. The Archbishop sent representatives to the priory and confirmed the veracity of her claims. The Archbishop sent a secretary to live with Hildegard and record her visions. The collection of these became known as the Scivias- a collection of more than 20 visions. With her newfound popularity, she left Disibodenberg to start a new convent. Here she would live in the larger community and became a popular preacher. Despite the unconventionality of a woman preaching and being an evangelist, Bernard of Clairvaux, a popular mystic as well, wrote vigorously and successfully on her behalf.
Before the 1950s or so you may have seen her name in a list of medieval Mystics, but she was studied primarily studied in the history of music. She left 77 lyrical poems complete with musical notation. There is no one in High medieval musical history with even close to that many extant poems, let alone with music.
She also studied the history of the natural sciences as she wrote treatises on her scientific observations and philosophy of the natural world.
But it was her mystical visions, use of allegory, and imagery that would put her in the forefront of a tradition that will include the likes of Dante, Aquinas, and Theresa of Avila.
She had been a saint for centuries after her death but by popular acclamation, that is by tradition instead of a declaration. It was not until 2012 that Pope Benedict XVI recognized Hildegard as an official saint by means of equivalent canonization, that is “a papal proclamation of canonization based on a standing tradition of popular veneration”. And this was part of a larger growing interest in Hildegard. She was also made an official Doctor of the Church. This august list includes all of the big A names, Jerome, Bede, Bellarmine, etc… Before 1970 there had been no women recognized as doctors in the Roman Catholic church, but by 2012 when Hildegard was recognized as such she was the 4th female Doctor along with Theresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Therese of Lisieux.
And if I can’t stress her modern popularity enough, let this suffice: in a Babysitters Club book one of the girls dresses up as Hildegard for Halloween. If that’s not cultural relevance….
A happy Feast of Hildegard von Bingen who died at the age of 81 on this, the 17th of September in 1179
The last word for today is from Psalm 8. You might recognize the remix from Romans:
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Christoper “Festus” Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man also named a Universal Doctor of the Church, but got it from an online school in Rome, Georgia. Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.