History in His Hands:
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is a wonder of the past, a historical phenomenon in her own right, and a direct challenge to all who bother to learn about her and from her now in the twenty-first century. In short, Hildegard’s life and writings pose a stark question: did God speak through this woman, not only to people of her day but to all mankind for all time, or was she one very sick woman?
Hildegard spent almost the whole of her long life in the valley of the Rhine, near where the River Main flows into it. The middle Rhineland valley is one of the most fertile parts of Germany, with a mild, temperate climate, where people have lived in communities for millennia. The Rhine forms a natural highway from its origins in the Alpen lands to its mouth in the English Channel and North Sea. The paradox of Hildegard’s life is that she was a solitary, contemplative soul, living on a major highway, so to speak, where she became the center of attention. . . .
Hildegard’s life changed radically when she was forty-two. She had the most powerful vision yet, one not just of lights and images, but of inspiration, of understanding, an infusion of knowledge about the meaning of Scripture and the whole content of the faith. She also received the command to write down what she learned. Feeling unequal to the task, Hildegard fell gravely ill. Volmar told her to write, and the abbot of the adjacent monastery concurred. Her illness lifted, and she began to write of what she had seen, in Latin, which she had not learned very well, working with Volmar, who assisted her for the next thirty years. Her first and greatest work, Scivias, tells in three books of God and all of his creation, of redemption, the Church, and the devil, and finally about the whole history of salvation. First the abbot read portions of it, then the archbishop of Mainz, then St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Pope himself, Eugenius (1145-1153), who read her writings himself out loud to a synod held in the German city of Trier. The word was out. A true prophetess lived on the Rhine. Hildegard’s solitude, as limited as it had been, was over. . . .
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