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Bible Book List
Faithful Through the Ages - Friday, March 6, 2015

Hildegard of Bingen - Directed by Divine Light

Quote: "These visions weren't fabricated by my own imagination, nor are they anyone else's. I saw these when I was in the heavenly places. They are God's mysteries. These are God's secrets."

A contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179) left behind a large portfolio of writings that sheds light on her inner thoughts as well as the world around her. The tenth child born into an aristocratic family, Hildegard grows up sickly and saintly. When she is a small girl she informs her nurse that a pregnant cow is carrying a white calf with colored spots on its head, back, and feet. For her accuracy she is given the calf as a pet. Soon after, she is sent away to study with the celebrated anchoress Jutta.

Like Jutta, Hildegard testifies to revelations and visions. On the death of Jutta, she assumes the leadership of the young women who have now joined together in community. In her early forties she testifies that God has given her the ability to comprehend the meaning of sacred texts and has commanded her to record the meaning given to her through visions. Seeking sanction as God's mouthpiece, she contacts Bernard of Clairvaux. He passes her request on to the pope, who encourages her to continue transcribing her visions. She begins publishing her visions as Scivias (know the ways [of the Lord]), which soon becomes popular.

The revelations, according to Hildegard, do not come during a dream or a trance, "but watchful and intent in mind I received them according to the will of God." She speaks with authority, yet when commanded by God to write down what she is seeing, she feels "wretched in my womanly condition" and an "unworthy servant":

Self-doubt made me hesitate. I analyzed others' opinions of my decision and sifted through my own bad opinions of myself . . . Then, when my good friends Richardis and Volmar urged me to write, I did. I started writing this book and received the strength to finish it, somehow, in ten years. These visions weren't fabricated by my own imagination, nor are they anyone else's. I saw these when I was in the heavenly places. They are God's mysteries. These are God's secrets. I wrote them down because a heavenly voice kept saying to me, "See and speak! Hear and write!"

Soon Hildegard relocates her nuns to the Rhine River in Bingen. Here her reputation flowers as she and her nuns write in a number of genres on a wide variety of topics, including plays, letters, music, and treatises on natural medicine. Throughout her ministry she criticizes corrupt clergy, warning people not to seek out priests for salvation, but to seek Christ and the Scriptures.

She also responds to more ordinary concerns as a Dear Abby of the day. She firmly counsels parents not to place children in convents without their consent. Nor is she prudish on the topic of sex, challenging the common belief that the woman is passive in the sex act. Indeed, the woman plays an active and manly role.

Along with visions are personal problems and struggles with demons. During Hildegard's long service as an abbess, a young nun, Richardis von Stade, becomes her beloved personal assistant. Due in part to an unexplained falling out (of which Hildegard writes that they both have sinned), Richardis arranges to move to another convent where she will become abbess. Hildegard claims that God has told her Richardis should not go. To the archbishop she writes: "Your curses and your malicious and threatening words are not to be heeded." To Richardis, after she has departed, Hildegard writes: "Why have you forsaken me like an orphan? I loved you for your noble bearing, your wisdom, your purity, your soul and all your life!" Hildegard relentlessly battles for her "daughter" to return, demanding such in a court of law. Richardis prevails, but the battle ends only at her death.

Unlike her cloistered sisters, Hildegard travels and preaches widely. In fact, despite her poor health, she conducts four preaching tours over a span of thirteen years, the final one completed during her seventy-fourth year. She visits monasteries and cathedrals, counseling and preaching to men more often than women. She corresponds with popes and bishops and heads of government as well as lesser clerics and laity. She also writes music and is now recognized as one of the great medieval composers.

Today's reading is from Parade of Faith: A Biographical History of the Christian Church by Ruth Tucker. © 2010 by Zondervan. Used with permission. All rights reserved. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.