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September 17

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Feast of Hildegarde of Bingen


According to both biblical and extra-biblical sources, during the first several centuries of the early church, the involvement of women was strong. Historically we know that they did all types of apostolic work and had apostolic influence. The letters of Paul reveal the names of many women who were active disciples. This changed as the medieval Church incorporated a gender hierarchy.  The fact that she was a woman living in the twelfth century was no serious hindrance to Hildegard von Bingen. She was a German Benedictine abbess, composer, healer and author, and one of the first female composers whose works are still intact. In an era where few women were allowed or able to read and write, Hildegard wrote songs, poems, theological texts and medicinal guides and even invented her own alphabet. Beginning in her sixties, she went on four lengthy tours through the local countryside, preaching, with papal approval, to clergy and laity alike. While many of her actions are feminist, Hildegard’s religious writings often reinforce the patriarchal ideas of the time in accordance with church beliefs. What makes Hildegard extraordinary is she did all this at a time when women rarely did these things. She stands out as a visionary and strong intellectual power of the Middle Ages.


O, You who are ever
giving life to all life,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,

You are our true life,
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart

from its ancient sleep.

Hildegard of Bingen


To get to know Hildegard, read her writings. Some images will strike you as exotic or bizarre, but the wisdom of her moral injunctions and religious insights deserves consideration and reflection.

(Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age by Fiona Maddock
Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century by Matthew Fox)

Suggested Reading

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:28

I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is [also] a minister of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well.
Romans 16:1-2

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one’s self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.

I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God’s kindness.
Hildegard of Bingen

There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.
Hildegard of Bingen

The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured, it must not be destroyed.
Hildegard of Bingen

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?
Hildegard of Bingen

Like billowing clouds,
like the incessant gurgle of the brook,
the longing of the soul can never be stilled.
Hildegard of Bingen