Saint Hildegard of Bingen
Hello, Family and welcome. We’re Bob and Penny Lord, although Penny is directing everything from Heaven. We want to share with you today, a very special Super Saint, St. Hildegard of Bingen, a visionary, a mystic, a doctor of the Church, who is not well known in the United States, but is greatly admired and venerated in Germany and other European countries.
St. Hildegard is called the Sybil of the Rhine meaning seeress. She is not only venerated by the Roman Catholic Church, but also by the Anglican and Lutheran Church and many eastern religions. She is many things. She is a visionary and mystic. She is an author, a composer, a playwright, a person of great learning in many areas, including medicine. Truth be known, there’s not a whole lot that she was not adept at. During her lifetime, she was an advisor to Abbots, Bishops, Popes, Kings as well as the everyday people who asked for her help. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin at the beginning.
She was born in 1098, at Bermersheim, near Mainz. She was the tenth and last child of a noble family. Apparently from her earliest age, she was having visions, actually what we might consider inner locutions today. There was always a bright light followed by a voice. It was an interior voice which she understood rather than heard. She and everyone around her were convinced that she heard the voice of God.
Tradition at that time was to give the tenth child back as a tithe to God by sending her to a Convent. At 8 years old, Hildegard was placed in a Benedictine monastery under the care of Jutta von Sponheim, who was the abbess. Jutta was the youngest of four born into a very rich family in what is called the county of the Rhein-Palatinate. Jutta also was a very spiritual girl. She, too, joined the Benedictine Abbey as a young girl and chose to live a solitary life, in one room with only a small window from which food was passed in and out. A few years later, she was made Abbess of her community. Jutta was a visionary as well, and attracted many young women to her community.
Into this setting young Hildegard was placed and stayed cloistered with Jutta in that one room for the rest of Jutta’s life. Jutta taught her many things about God, (the Opus Dei) the Church, how to read and write and subsequently had the child reading the Psalms, the Canonical Hours, and gave her her first lessons in music, on a zither-like stringed instrument called the psaltery. Music became a great part of Hildegard’s life from that time on.
Jutta became aware of Hildegard’s gifts, especially her visions and locutions. She mentioned them to monks in other abbeys, who were also involved in Hildegard’s Benedictine education, but no one paid much attention to them at the time, except for one Volmar, who became Hildegard’s secretary and friend. Hildegard took her vows as a Benedictine to live in the monastery for life. When Jutta died in 1136, the nuns asked Hildegard to become the Magistra, the equivalent of Consul, teacher, professor. So she was not yet elected Abbess, but she was asked to lead the convent. She eventually came out of her solitary confinement and her wings began to spread.
It was during this time that she was impelled by the Holy Spirit to write down her visions. She tried to ignore the inner voices because she feared public opinion, even though she truly believed in what she had seen and heard. She said: “Up to my fifteenth year I saw much, and related some of the things seen to others, who would inquire with astonishment, whence such things might come. I also wondered and during my sickness I asked one of my nurses whether she also saw similar things. When she answered no, a great fear befell me. Frequently, in my conversation, I would relate future things, which I saw as if present, but noting the amazement of my listeners, I became more reticent.”
The command she was given was “O fragile one, ash of ash and corruption of corruption, say and write what you see and hear.” She writes: “But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness, but out of humility, until weighed down by a scourge of God, I fell onto a bed of sickness.” Eventually, she could not resist the constant urging, and began to write her visions in a book she titled Scivias (Know the Ways) in 1141 when she was “forty two years and seven months”, her own words.
You have to understand that her visions and locutions were not human. They were not voices and sights which she would see with her eyes and hear with her ears. They were a stream of consciousness. They were interior visions and voices. They would come at once and she knew what they were saying.
She wrote: “A shaft of light of dazzling brilliancy came from the opened heavens and pierced my heart like a flame that warms without burning, as the sun heats by its rays. And suddenly I knew and understood the explanation of the psalms, the gospels, and other Catholic books of the Old and New Testaments.” It was a full infusion of the Holy Spirit, which opened her mind and spirit to see in her heart all that the Lord wanted her to write and say.
During the heat of writing these visions, she wrote them down on a wax tablet as she received them from above, and her secretary, Volmar the monk, would put them into written form. She said “And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God. I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus.’”
It took ten years to complete this book. It represents a view of God on His Holy Mountain with man at the base. It tells of the original condition of man, his fall and redemption through Jesus on the Cross, as well as man’s ongoing struggles. It talks of the Mass, the times to come, the son of perdition and the end times. Actually, there’s not much that is not said in the book. And a lot of it has to do with our time. It’s very apocalyptic and not easy for the average person to understand. Sometimes you have to read a passage over and over two or three times before you can grasp its meaning. But the work is notably brilliant, and without doubt the words of God.
It was put into finished form by her abbot and presented to the Bishop of Mainz, who declared it was from God. But that was not enough for Hildegard. She needed more. She wrote a letter to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, also a doctor of the Church. Through a long, lengthy letter, she basically asked his approval of the work she was doing. His answer was much shorter, but to the point. Without going into too much detail, he told her that he believed her work was God-centered. He actually took some of her work to the Synod of Trier and presented it to Pope Eugenius III, who studied it and was so impressed; he read her writings aloud to the Cardinals at the Synod. He gave her his blessing and the title German Prophetess.
As a result of the Pope’s vocal approval of Hildegard and his subsequent l etter of blessing to her, she and her monastery became very popular. Many aspirants came to join their community. They outgrew their comfortable little convent. They were running out of room for all the new people who were coming as a result of Hildegard’s popularity. The convent was in a constant state of construction. Under these conditions, plus her day job of running the convent, it took her an additional three years after the Pope acknowledged her, to finish the book.
She felt the need for a more austere, smaller community, where she could concentrate on more prayer, less distraction and all that the Lord had to tell her. Her first attempt at independence of sorts came when Abbot Kuno asked her to be prioress of the community. She said the Lord told her to move to a poorer convent in Rupertsburg, about 30 kilometers away, which would allow the nuns more austerity in their life styles and growth. The abbot refused. Hildegard, who by this time had developed quite a reputation on her own, went over the Abbot’s head to the Archbishop who gave her permission to take her nuns and move.
Apparently, she believed she did not move quickly enough for the Lord. Hildegard was struck down with an illness which paralyzed her and made her a prisoner of her bed. She claimed this was God’s way of punishing her for not following the Lord’s command at once. The situation became so bad; Abbot Kuno could not lift her out of the bed. Finally, in frustration, he gave the nuns permission to move to Rupertsburg, at which time Hildegard was released from the bondage of her bed.
In 1150, Hildegard and about twenty of her nuns moved to the Monastery in Rupertsburg, which was near Bingen. This was good as the monk Volmar, who was her secretary or scribe, was also her confessor there. However, when she left the convent of Disibodenberg, it began to fall out of popularity, because everyone wanted to follow Hildegard. The move to the new convent in Rupertsburg was not without immediate problems. The convent and grounds were extremely run down, as Hildegard wanted. However, she may not have communicated this to the nuns who went with her. The Lord gave her a vision of what it would be like, and this was described as beautiful and desirable to her sisters until they actually arrived.
There was a lot of disappointment among many of the nuns. A few of them left. You must remember that for the most part, they came from well-to-do families, and never wanted for anything. She writes: “…so they said, ‘What is the point of this that noble and wealthy nuns should move from a place where they wanted for nothing, to such poverty?’”
This was a new and unacceptable situation for them. But for Hildegard, in this new convent, she was actually the Abbess. In her former convent, one of the monks was in charge. She was really loved by all, especially the Archbishop of Mainz, who bent over backwards to make the new convent the beautiful place which Hildegard described to the nuns, and made them happy. This was a time when her charismatic personality began to break through the clouds.
In the years to come, the Rupertsburg convent became the convent of choice for wealthy families to send their daughters. As their blessings multiplied, the Rupertsburg convent became too small. But Hildegard was not about to leave it. Some years later, she opened another abbey in Eibingen, a short distance across the Rhine River from Rupertsburg, and was abbess of both abbeys.
Hildegard wrote two more major volumes on her visions, “Book of Life’s Merits” and “Book of Divine Works”. These were composed during her years at the Abbey at Rupertsburg. She described each of her visions, the particulars of which could be difficult to comprehend, and would follow with a theological explanation, based on “the voice of the Living Light.” The first volume, “Book of Life’s Merits” took about five years to write. Her last volume on her visions, “Book of DivineWorks” took her almost ten years to complete. All these volumes were enormous undertakings. In these books, the Lord would give Hildegard a particular vision, after which He would give her an outline of what they meant, almost a study guide.
Hildegard did not limit her evangelical work to writing, as did most women of that time. Because of her popularity, she was beyond any questions about her authority, and her right to speak. She went on the road in her evangelical work. She was probably the first female evangelist of her time. She gave many lectures, not only in monasteries, but to the general public as well. She went on four different lecture tours in Germany in 1160, speaking not only to clergy but to laity as well. The thrust of her lectures was clerical corruption. She was well accepted everywhere she went. She was actually a trail blazer, going into an area where women of any kind, even popular ones like her, were not allowed by the standards of her time. She paved the way for other women to speak out and be heard on matters of the Church, including Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Mother Teresa, Mother Angelica and our own Penny Lord.
She wrote, and wrote and wrote. She wrote books. She wrote books on herbal medicines. And while she was writing the book on medicines, she also wrote a Morality Play put to music, the first Morality play. Actually, she invented the form. She wrote seventy songs to go with her play. She created an actual language, which was not used very much. She composed music to be used during religious ceremonies. She wrote letters, almost 400 of them. She wrote to four different popes, to abbots, statesmen and monarchs such as Frederick Barbarossa. She was invited to appear before this red-headed prince of the German people. To a great degree, her letters took the form of homilies, and prophecies, as well as symbolic discourses. Some of her letters lit into what she considered avarice and greed on the part of priests and monks.
She had no problem in letting someone have it if she thought they deserved it. In our time we had Mother Angelica, Mother Teresa, and again our own Penny Lord who had no problem standing up to anyone, telling it like it is. Most of her letters were to regular people asking for her help, to counsel them and/or pray for them. Hildegard had granted that certain nobles could be buried on the grounds of the Abbey. Most of these people had been benefactors, or relatives of benefactors. It was an unusual policy, but acceptable because of
Hildegard’s stature in the religious community. This came to be a problem towards the end of her life. A nobleman who had been excommunicated was buried in the convent cemetery. There was an uproar from the local church officials as well as the Archbishop of Mainz for her to remove the body. She maintained that the man had been absolved of his sins and brought back into the favors of the Church.
Nobody agreed with her, and so when she continued to hold her stand, her convent was put into the state of interdict, which means the nuns could not pray the Divine Office, receive Communion, or celebrate Mass. This was a terrible burden to put on the nuns, but Hildegard was sure she was correct. She even had visions which confirmed her actions. However, it went on until months before she died. Through much prayer and correspondence, she was able to have the interdict removed.
Hildegard lived a long life, an active life. We said earlier that she was sick all her life. Our research doesn’t show what she actually died of but towards the end, she was racked with pain and had to be carried around. On September 17, 1179, at the age of 81, the Lord took her home. She was immediately proclaimed a Saint by the German people, and for that matter, many hierarchy in the Church in Europe. But she was not canonized a Saint for over a thousand years!!
Her cause was opened in 1226, and Pope Gregory IX began the canonization process in January 1227. So what happened? Nobody knows for sure. One possibility is that hers was either the first or one of the first causes for Canonization submitted in the history of the Church. It was before St. Francis or St. Anthony, or any of our Super Saints’ causes were opened. Maybe they didn’t know what to do.
In researching a chronology of the history of the Cause for her Canonization, many attempts were made over 1000 years to get her Cause opened, but they all failed. Her name was entered into the Roman catalog of Saints in the Fifteenth Century. So for the last 600 years, we’ve been officially calling her a Saint, but the process lingered. The longer it took, the fewer original sources were to be found. It just went on and on. The German bishops pushed her cause in 1998, the 900th anniversary of her birth, but still there were roadblocks. All of these were legalese; having to do with procedure that they could never resolve.
Finally, in 2010, a German Pope, Benedict XVI took the bull by the horns, and pushed for the process to be completed. He said in effect that this had been going on too long, almost a thousand years, and that he was going to canonize her on May 10, 2012 and declare her a Doctor of the Church on the eve of the Year of Faith, October 7, 2012 which he did. Halleluiah, thank You God.
Family, what we’ve given you here is the slightest taste of the life of an outstanding woman. There’s so much more to learn about her. Find out more about her. Her own book of visions, Scivias, has been translated into English. There are many biographies of St. Hildegard also. Women of the Church, she is someone you should be proud of, look up to, and emulate.
She wrote millions of words in a period of close to ninety years of life. It would be impossible to give you even a glimmer of the things the Lord gave her. But we would like to give you some words to live by that St.
Hildegard wrote in Vision Six of Book Two regarding the Eucharist, which has always been the focus of Bob and Penny Lord’s Ministry. “Hear then o human. As long as you need help, and as long as you can help others, My Son’s Passion will appear before Me in in mercy, and His body and blood will be consecrated on the altar to be received by believers for their salvation and the purgation of their crimes. For when My Only-Begotten was in the world in the body, His body was physically sustained by wheat and wine; and therefore His body and blood now is consecrated on the altar in the oblation of wheat and wine, that the faithful may be refreshed in soul and body. For My Son miraculously redeemed humanity from Adam’s perdition and now mercifully absolves people from the daily evil into which they often lapse.”
Penny Lord was called “an indomitable woman of faith.” I think she and St. Hildegard are sharing their love of God and of their Faith in Heaven. We love you. God bless you.
We love you!!