Friday, December 16, 2011

New Saint and Doctor of the Church: The Sybil of the Rhine

Hildegard of Bingen receives a vision from heaven and dictates it to her secretary, the monk Volmar, in this illumination from the Liber Scivias.
In August, Pope Benedict declared that St. John of Avila will be the 34th Doctor of the Church.  It is now being reported that next October,  he will canonize Bl. Hildegard of Bingen, and declare her the 35th Doctor of the Church.

Bl. Hildegard (1098-1179) was dedicated by her parents to the Church at birth.  A lifelong mystic, she was three years old when she first began to receive visions.   At the age of eight, she was given to the care of an anchoress.  At 38, she was elected head of the convent that had grown up around the anchorage.  At the age of 42, she received the gift of instant understanding of religious texts, as well as a divine mandate to commit her visions to writing.  She sought and received ecclesiastical approval to carry out this mandate.  In the last year of her life, her convent was placed under interdict on account of her refusal to exhume from the cemetery the body of a man who had been excommunicated: the man had received the last sacraments and was therefore presumed reconciled.  She succeeded in having the interdict lifted and died in the odor of sanctity.

Although her formal education was very rudimentary, Hildegard of Bingen was a great and learned writer, producing works on theology, natural history, and medicine.  Men of affairs in the Church and in secular life sought her advice.  Under the influence of the Benedictine services to which she was exposed as a child, she was also a composer of music which is still performed and recorded down to this day.  Hildegard of Bingen was, in a word, a feminine counterpart of Albertus Magnus, the great Dominican Doctor of the Church, polymath and teacher of Aquinas, of whom it may be accurate to say that he knew everything there was to know in his day.  In fact, if she is simultaneously canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church, that will be another parallel with St. Albertus Magnus, who was both canonized and declared Doctor in 1931.  

Hildegard of Bingen might be a good saint to invoke in aid of the restoration of the liturgy to its former beauty.  Perhaps that is precisely what the Holy Father has in mind.


  1. When you say this is being reported, can you offer a source that one could check to learn more? Thanks very much, Father Tom Hoisington

  2. Sorry, forgot to link back to my source. I have now cured this omission.