On St. Hildegard: Cloistered Nun and Mystic

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in Castel Gandolfo.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year, the Venerable John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter titled “Mulieris dignitatem,” dealing with the valuable role that women have had and have in the life of the Church.

“The Church,” one reads there, “gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine ‘genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness” (No. 31).

In those centuries of history that we usually call medieval, several women are outstanding for their holiness of life and the richness of their teaching. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in the Rhineland in Bermersheim in 1098, in the region of Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, despite having permanently frail health.

Hildegard belonged to a noble and numerous family and, from her birth, she was vowed by her parents to the service of God. At 8 years of age, in order to receive an adequate human and Christian formation, she was entrusted to the care of the teacher Judith of Spanheim, who had withdrawn into a cloister near the Benedictine monastery of St. Disibod. A small women’s cloistered monastery was being formed, which followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Hildegard received the veil from Bishop Othon of Bamberg and, in 1136, on the death of Mother Judith, who had become the superior of the community, her fellow-sisters called Hildegard to succeed her. She carried out this task bringing to fruition her gifts as an educated woman, spiritually elevated and able to address competently the organizational aspects of cloistered life. A year or so later, also because of the growing number of young women who knocked on the door of the monastery, Hildegard founded another community in Bingen, named after St. Rupert, where she spent the rest of her life. The style with which she exercised the ministry of authority is exemplary for every religious community: It inspired a holy emulation in the practice of goodness, so much so that, as we see from testimonies of the time, the mother and the daughters competed in their reciprocal esteem and service.

Already in the years in which she was superior of the monastery of St. Disibod, Hildegard had begun to dictate the mystical visions she had received for some time to her spiritual adviser, monk Volmar, and to her secretary, a fellow sister to whom she was very devoted, Richardis of Strade. As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard, too, wanted to be subject to the authority of wise persons to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the fruit of illusions and that they did not come from God. She turned, therefore, to the person that at her time enjoyed the highest esteem of the Church: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I have already spoken in some catecheses. He calmed and encouraged Hildegard. However, in 1147 she received another very important approval. Pope Eugene III, who was presiding at a synod in Treviri, read a text dictated by Hildegard, presented to him by Archbishop Henry of Mainz. The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak publicly.

From that moment, Hildegard’s spiritual prestige grew increasingly, so much so that her contemporaries attributed to her the title of “Teutonic prophetess.” This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority. Every gift distributed by the Holy Spirit, in fact, is destined for the edification of the Church, and the Church, through her pastors, recognizes their authenticity.

I will speak once again next Wednesday about this great woman “prophetess,” who speaks with great timeliness also to us today, with her courageous capacity to discern the signs of the times, with her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today is being pieced together, her love of Christ and of his Church, suffering also at that time, wounded also at that time by the sins of priests and laymen, and that much more loved as Body of Christ. So St. Hildegard speaks to us; we will speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[In English, he said:]

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Sri Lanka. Our catechesis today deals with Saint Hildegard of Bingen, the great nun and mystic of the twelfth century. One of the outstanding women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard used her spiritual gifts for the renewal of the Church and the spread of authentic Christian living. Hildegard reminds us of the contribution which women are called to make to the life of the Church in our own time. Trusting in her intercession, I cordially invoke upon all of you God’s abundant blessings!

Here you can listen to 1st antiphone with psalm 109/110 from the vesper “o vis aeternitatis” at Abbey St. Hildegard.
Performing: Schola of the Benedictines Abbey St. Hildegard, Eibingen. Directed by Johannes Berchmanns Göschl and Sr. Christiane Rath OSB. Recorded 1997:

This entry was posted in Catholic Culture, Catholic Orders and Congregations, Church History, Devotion, Mysticism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to On St. Hildegard: Cloistered Nun and Mystic

  1. joyfulpapist says:

    This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority.

    Can we deduce that the seal of a false experience is boasting, exhibiting, and disobedience? I’m thinking of some of what our Australian neighbours call the acatholic movement – very strong on self promotion and promotion of their liberal credentials, and very weak on obedience.


  2. toadspittle says:

    “This is, dear friends, the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, source of every charism: The receiver of supernatural gifts never boasts, does not exhibit them and, above all, shows total obedience to ecclesial authority.”

    Whose voice is this, Joyful? Not yours evidently, as you question it. (My dictionary suggests it should be, ‘ecclesiastical,’ but anyway.)
    Never ‘boasting’ or ‘exhibiting’ one’s ‘gifts’ seems to knock blogging on the head. Good thing too, probably. Get something useful done, involving chickens, instead.

    And when it comes to ‘total obedience’ to anything, I get antsy. We are back to the Nazis and the fanatical Muslims here, aren’t we?
    ‘Ecclesial’ authority gave you Vatican 2 didn’t it?


  3. golden chersonnese says:

    Benedict said it, Toad. The original Italian:

    È questo, cari amici, il sigillo di un’esperienza autentica dello Spirito Santo, sorgente di ogni carisma: la persona depositaria di doni soprannaturali non se ne vanta mai, non li ostenta e, soprattutto, mostra totale obbedienza all’autorità ecclesiale.


    I suspect HF is making a reference to certain types who, over the last few decades, have re-fashioned Hildegard in their own likeness.


  4. piliersdelaterre says:

    Thankyou for the clarification of religious obedience- it seems much more nuanced than I presumed, but is it still different from a secular priest’s role which is a far more independent one ? (I don’t even mean the jesuits who seem to be more independent than most).


  5. golden chersonnese says:

    I believe feminists and New Agers grew rather fond of Hildegard in the 1980s; feminists because she was, well, a woman and such a large spiritual figure in the medieval Church and also because she was thought to have been disobedient to Church authorities. The New Agers liked her because of her natural medicine and music.

    I think the feminists played up her alleged disobedience for a while just as they did that of Blessed Mary of the Cross McKillop, who will be the first Australian-born person (of Scottish parents) to be canonised in Rome on 17 October.

    I have a feeling that HF mentioned obedience in the context of Hildegard for those reasons, to underline that she was obedient rather than the opposite. I’m not sure he would have any other reason for mentioning obedience if not for these things. This is not to say that the Pope is stressing obedience in his audience. It’s more like obiter dictum.

    Here’s a new age video:


  6. golden chersonnese says:

    Although it’s not all that New Age-ish, is it. 😦


  7. Brother Burrito says:

    Great video, mate!

    Your CP&S commission is to get on to the Vatican and get them to set up a free video streaming service for all the clips like that, that are for the greater glory of God.

    They could call it thoutube.va, or IAMDG.va, possibly.

    They allegedly have pots of money, and there’s no VAT in the Vatican.

    (When God asks the Pope if he will do something for him, his answer is always “I CAN”).


  8. golden chersonnese says:

    In the “old days”, if it was a papal project they probably would have called it “WeTube”.

    Here’s a pretty one, Brother Burro, with nice German ladies singing (you can tell by their pronunciation of Latin, is it true, Teresa?):


  9. golden chersonnese says:

    Brother Burro, that hit counter is going up rather fast, isn’t it? 🙂


  10. golden chersonnese says:
  11. golden chersonnese says:

    These are nice snippets too:


    “Deus misertus hominis” very fetching.


  12. Brother Burrito says:

    I clicked on your nostubus.va link, and I ended up in the middle of nowhere.

    That is very, very, deeply mystical, is that.


  13. Frere Rabit says:

    Toad, I find it deliciously ironic that you (and your occasionally commenting other half ) have taken delight in mocking me for exactitude – even if I have been unduly harsh at times in trying to insist CP&S writers got their facts straight – while now you take the same part, criticising in parenthesis a minor point of terminology: “(My dictionary suggests it should be, ‘ecclesiastical,’ but anyway.)”

    A pity that you are completely wrong in your criticism, and this is standard usage in context, conforms to the Latin equivalent in translation, and most Catholics would be familar with the term ‘ecclesial’ in this usage, as indeed would any Anglican. Sorry to make the point, but you did ask.


  14. toadspittle says:

    “(When God asks the Pope if he will do something for him, his answer is always “I CAN”).”<avers Burrogurru.

    We must unite in prayer then, that his next words (the Pope's, that is, not God's!) will not be…“But I won’t…”


  15. toadspittle says:

    To H**l with coding. I must stick to roman.


  16. toadspittle says:

    Rabit… a friendly word of advice.

    Don’t sweat the small stuff.

    I merely remarked, in passing, that my dictionary did not include the word ‘ecclesial.’ I more than half expected someone to say ‘No, Toad, that’s a perfectly good word.’ So be it.

    I suppose it’s the stake for Toad now. A martyr to language.

    (And don’t say ‘Sorry’ when you are not. It’s dishonest.)


  17. golden chersonnese says:

    Brother Burrito says:

    I clicked on your NosTubus.va link, and I ended up in the middle of nowhere.

    That is very, very, deeply mystical, is that.

    It took me to a Portuguese surfing blog, Brother Burrito. “Tubus Aeternus” I think the blog’s name was.

    Surfing, I suppose, could be a mystical experience, although most of us in this country can’t even swim. There seems to be something terribly meaningful for the lads and laddesses.

    I once knew someone who left his religious order to become a surfer and Reader in Mathematics.

    Some surfy quotes:

    – It can never be too big
    – Out of the water I am nothing. In the water the rest of the world means nothing.
    – I mean, that was defo head height man! Yeah.
    – Just one more .
    – I should have been here yesterday…

    All quite profound if you think about them, Brother Burro . . .


  18. golden chersonnese says:

    Teresa says:
    As for the new age and feminism you mentioned, I think you are right that Pope meant in this address of him also to warn against these extremities. But I would like to add that perhaps also to warn against the influence of Pentecostal Movement.

    Do you think so, Teresa?

    I can’t see anything about the pentecostals in HF’s as ever well-chosen words.

    In his words I see praise of women in the Church, mysticism and also a little raspberry for the infatuation with disobedience of the feminists and other progressives in the Church, who tried to make Hildegard their pin-up girl and their preserve.

    We might see next week when HF continues his talk on Hildegard.


  19. Brother Burrito says:

    Dear Rabit,

    Good of you to pop over. I have a favour to ask: I was recently composing some posts, gathering pictures from all over the web, when I was suddenly worried by the thought that I was stealing them. It stopped me in my tracks.

    As you are experienced in graphics/journalism, and if you have the time, could you knock up a little piece on blogging law and ethics? I am sure all Catholic bloggers everywhere will benefit.

    Host it here or back home. (We can always send the punters over)

    Maybe even Toadster will chip in.




  20. golden chersonnese says:

    I think we have to remember the progressives always try to justify their actions by saying that they are “prophetic” and always “led by the Spirit, who blows where He will, to justify their “independent actions”, shall we call it.

    In this way they blows raspberries at HF. Well, they just got a little raspberry back.


  21. golden chersonnese says:

    That ^ was in response to Teresa.


  22. Brother Burrito says:

    Raspberry fight!!

    I wish I knew how to spell the sound. Our Latin alphabet is clearly deficient, like the known laws of physics.

    PS, has anyone noticed any odd, shifty types hanging around? (dressed as arabs?). I’m still awaiting the arrival of those undercover Jesuits, and my Bishop. Hi Tom!


  23. golden chersonnese says:

    2 recommend button presses for Teresa ^


  24. teresa says:

    The liberals, instead, are little tyrants. They are against the Magisterium and say obedience is bad, but they dislike it very much when someone dares to oppose their own subject opinions. This video will say it:


  25. golden chersonnese says:

    Thanks, Teresa, the video is a hoot.

    “Orthodoxy? ‘Ortho’ means right and ‘doxy’ means teaching. Well, there is no right and no teaching in this class, right!”

    I think we will need to ask Toad to go and sort out those tyrannical liberals!

    Are the photos of Augustinian canons? Crazy scapulars!


  26. golden chersonnese says:

    That Emperor didn’t close them down like nearly all the other convents and monasteries (was it Emperor Joseph?).


  27. golden chersonnese says:

    Thanks Teresa


  28. Frere Rabit says:

    Toad: when you say, “I more than half expected someone to say ‘No, Toad, that’s a perfectly good word.’ So be it,” you seem to think we should respond to your barbs with decorum. That isn’t really what you expect, is it? Your rough and tumble world of hard journalism has left you so vulnerable? GIVE OVER!


  29. Brother Burrito says:


    He needs a friendly punch in the guts, that doesn’t quite kill him, to help him see.


  30. Frere Rabit says:

    Burro, as much as I would like to oblige you, I am neither qualified for the task you suggest nor remotely enthused by the prospect!

    I have popped in here just now, between the long preparation work at the beginning of term for a heavy teaching schedule, and a very late night supper. I will not be contributing more than the occasional comment on this blog, for reasons already stated, and do not regard myself as any kind of authority beyond castigating the Toad from time to time, as someone has to do it, just to keep him suitably aggrieved and curmudgeonly.


  31. Brother Burrito says:

    Fair do’s (What is the correct spelling for that common expression?)

    Thanks and good ‘luck’.

    God love you.


  32. Frere Rabit says:

    No idea. If it’s not in Toad’s excellent “Hello” sub-editor’s dictionary, we’ll abandon the expression altogether.


  33. toadspittle says:

    Poor old Rabit.
    He just doesn’t get it. The exquisitely kind folk on CP&S, excepting, of course, the carrot-crunching and contumacious Conejo, ALWAYS treat me with the utmost decorum, and I try to reciprocate. And occasionally succeed.

    In view of this, I am thinking of entering the ‘Your Prayers’ section of the blog and suggesting a few decades of the Rosary (a thousand, maybe?) for preserving the sanity of Rabit’s students. Oremus.

    Can you imagine!


  34. toadspittle says:

    “He (Toad) needs a friendly punch in the guts, that doesn’t quite kill him,
    to help him see.”
    Opines Burruguru.

    Well BB is a noted medical man, so we must suppose his diagnosis is sound.

    Wouldn’t be out of place in requesting a bit of anesthesia in advance, though, would I?

    Still, saddening to think of a young burro relishing the prospect of beating up on a toad who is probably old enough to be his grandfather. (Ruthless playing of the ‘ageism’ card by Toad here.)

    Surely compromising the Origin of the Species somewhat, the notion of an Ass having a Toad for a grandfather. Shows what nonsense ‘evolution’ is, dunnit!


  35. yoda says:

    I am sure Burrito meant a metaphorical ‘kick’, not a literal one.

    Delivered by a fourth party.

    Burrito asked me to tell you all that he is away today at a wedding. There will be too much barley available so his wife will have to drink it for him. And then ride him home. Doesn’t bear picturing such a thing.

    Do pop over to my den of vulgarity. Like all British pubs, the service is awful.



  36. Frere Rabit says:

    Oh, poor Toad! “The kind folk on CP&S, excepting, of course, the carrot-crunching and contumacious Conejo…” OK “ecclesiastical” everybody! Lose “ecclesial” please. We can’t have a hurt Toad can we?


  37. toadspittle says:

    Good grief! Rabit’s still rabbiting on about ‘ecclesial! Who, in Christendom, himself excepted, gives a ‘tinker’s cuss?’ (excuse the obscenity.)

    OK, OK, I’m sorry!

    Prick up those floppy ears, Bunny Boy, and listen to the alarm bells! The Good Ship Catholicism’s on fire!

    Hawking has Hitchened up with Dawkins and the atheists are happily squawking “No God! No God! Official! Official! Stephen says!”

    It all seems to have caught you on the hop, as usual… for God’s sake do something! Pray, or something! Nix the bickering and start dickering!


  38. toadspittle says:

    Very true Teresa.

    Hawking is not the first, nor will he be the last atheist. Indeed, in that regard, he is not original.
    But then, neither he, nor I, ever said he was.


  39. toadspittle says:

    I have long been of the opinion that anything popular is, almost invariably, no good. So the notion that numbers of the faithful are growing world-wide fails to impress me.

    And the idea that most of the new believers are Muslims, impresses me even less.

    And God help the Swedes.


  40. omvendt says:

    Says Brother Burrito:

    “He needs a friendly punch in the guts, that doesn’t quite kill him, to help him see.”


    A gentle recommendation compared to Avicenna’s advice concerning the treatment of those who struggle with logic: “… (he) should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.” 😉


  41. toadspittle says:

    Omvendt offers…
    “A gentle recommendation compared to Avicenna’s advice concerning the treatment of those who struggle with logic: “… (he) should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.” ;-)”

    A warm welcome, guests and newcomers, to Catholicism, Pure & Simple 😉

    And there’s more where this came from!


  42. toadspittle says:

    In fact, Omvendt, your last comment so perfectly encapsulates the NeoCath mentality of Catholicism Pure & Simple, you should consider running it on the sides of buses.


  43. kathleen says:

    Toad says:
    “I have long been of the opinion that anything popular is, almost invariably, no good. ”

    Does that include secularism, materialism and indifference (at best) towards religion, so currently popular in the West today Toad?


  44. toadspittle says:

    Teresa: You aver…

    “Toad, thus it is not exciting nor interesting, what Hawkings, Dawkins, or Hitchens say. All stale things, mixed with more vitriol.”

    Not to you, for sure, and not greatly for me. But we are but two among legion. It will sell papers.
    And, as the jolly old ditty goes, “A spoonful of vitriol makes the medicine go down.” And look, we are back to bellicose, bellypunching Burruguru and his prescription for life! It’s a miracle!

    (Be a good song to play for the pope when he arrives!)


  45. toadspittle says:

    Kathleen, in a word, yes. Though I would be inclined to question whether ‘indifference’ can ever be said to be ‘popular.’

    But mainly I refer to all television, all movies where blazing cars cartwheel at three hundred miles an hour, and ‘books that are bestsellers.’ And virtually all music since say, 1960, all fast-food restaurants and all ‘Megachurches,’ all TV evangelists. and all drinks that have a little umbrella in them, and all Neo-cons and the Tea Party, and Sara Palin.
    I like CP&S because it not not popular yet. It may well become so, if Omvendt decides to take up my advertising proposal (see above) In which case, I will stop liking it.


  46. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad says:
    A warm welcome, guests and newcomers, to Catholicism, Pure & Simple.
    And there’s more where this came from!

    What an insurpassably unexemplary Toad.


  47. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    “What an insurpassably unexemplary Toad.”

    I really don’t follow. What do you mean?


  48. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad says:
    I really don’t follow. What do you mean?

    Well, dear Toad, you’ve expressed discomfort with Bernini and now with Avicenna.

    Do Toads breathe only recently rarefied air?


  49. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    (he) should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.” 😉 ”

    Well, if the above is a typical sample of Avicenna, I, or anybody, except Omvendt and possibly Burro the blustering Bullyboy, would need to be rather odd not to be somewhat discomforted.
    Why anyone would think it anything other than a teeny-weeny bit insane to run the sadistic ravings of an 11th century Muslim in a 21st century Catholic blog, with every sign of approval, beats me. (As Burro would enjoy doing.)
    But it takes all sorts, do it not? And all adds to the fun!

    As to Bernini, I wasn’t the least discomforted. And I’m sure he had a good chuckle as he was cheerfully chipping away!


  50. golden chersonnese says:

    What a literalist Toad.


  51. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:



  52. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese:

    Literalist. Never been called that before. Don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

    But, just think. If I’d been idiotic enough to put the Avicenna quote on here (it purports to be about logic, after all) can you imagine the bloody uproar – literally the squeals of rage, and accusations of ‘hate’ and ‘bitterness?’

    I can.

    Andsotobed. Sweet dreams. Burro can dream about punching people. Omvent, well…


  53. toadspittle says:

    Whoops! It just struck me that I’d better make it completely clear that in no way am I complaining about the Burro/Omvendt blustering and swaggering.
    In fact I love it. It’s just the job for the image of CP&S. (and it’s funny. 😉


  54. golden chersonnese says:

    I see today that zenit.org has the whole text of Pope Benedict’s weekly audience on 8 September 2010, in which he continues to talk of St Hildegard.

    He makes a rather pointed reference to what St Hildegard apparently said to German Cathars, who wanted to reform (restructure?) the Church to rid it of “clerical abuses”. This is what Benedict said:

    In a particular way, Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They — Cathar literally means “pure” — advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy. She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget.

    Last week the Pope was stressing the obedience of St Hildegard in response to the claims made by progressives that they are obeying rather the Holy Spirit when they choose to disobey Church authorities.

    Today, St Hildegard is helping him to respond again to the progressives, who say that the Church must be “restructured” in order to deal with clerical abuse. The Pope is saying that structural change is not relevant here, but that what is required is “a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion”.

    See full text: http://www.zenit.org/article-30294?l=english


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