Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Hildegard of Bingen

Paralleling the USCCB Fortnight for Freedom, today’s worthy woman alternative is the doctor-to-be, Hildegard of Bingen. Her apostolate as a musician and composer is the most interesting aspect of her life … to me anyway. Others admire her as a mystic, a feminist symbol, or a Benedictine. Given her criticism of corrupt bishops, I’m a bit surprised she wasn’t more deeply persecuted in her day. Perhaps it helped to have friends and patrons in powerful places.

She is probably the most well-known of the worthy women so far in this series. Because of that I will refrain from rehashing old information about the woman. I recommend the film (reviewed here) and any number of books about her. And recordings, especially by Sequentia.

As an elderly abbess, Hildegard did have a run-in with the hierarchy, and though we don’t have the complete details, it seems like something of a wrong note.

She permitted a nobleman knight to be buried in her community’s cemetery, but the local bishop objected. He insisted that the body be dug up; the person had been excommunicated. Hildegard assured that the man had reconciled with the Church before his death and had received the sacraments. The bishop insisted on disinterring the body. The abbess resisted. The convent was placed on interdict: no sacraments for the entire community. And more, the sisters were to refrain from singing.

Hildegard complied with the interdict, but still refused to surrender the body. She appealed to higher authority, namely the Archbishop of Mainz, and eventually, the punishment was lifted. However, the archbishop chided Hildegard for an action for which his brother bishop had, he felt, legitimate questions. The abbess in turn objected to the punishment as a means of coercion:

Before you close the mouth of a community, … (you) have to consider to be led by the eagerness of justice and not by indignation, unjust emotions or feelings of vengeance.

It is illustrative that eagerness is put in opposition to emotions. It seems that both sides in the burial dispute were stubborn and insistent. It is difficult when people in the church come to such an impasse. We do not tend to behave well in such instances. The urge to insist on our way is perhaps more eager than the discernment of justice. Would that we had more worthy women, and men, too, to lead the way.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Saints, Two Weeks of Worthy Women. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Hildegard of Bingen

  1. Jen says:

    She also had a large correspondence with St. Bernard of Clarivaux. I like Anonymous 4’s recordings of her music, as well.

  2. Wonderfully written post on an amazing woman.

  3. Thank you for this great article! The interdict happened very late in Hildegard’s life–this great polymath might have died an excommunicant!

    My novel ILLUMINATIONS based on Hildegard’s life is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’d be happy to send you a review copy, if you’re interested!

  4. Pingback: Two Weeks of Worthy Women: Teresa of Avila « Catholic Sensibility

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