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Dr. Hildegaard I Presume

St Hildegard of Bingen
St Hildegard of Bingen

On October 7, 2012 St. Hildegard of Bingen will be named a Doctor of the church by Pope Benedict the XVI. My first thought when I heard of this was “Excellent, I think we have a Hildegard cookbook in the store.” (more on that later). My second thought was what exactly is a “Doctor” of the Church?

Doctor of the Church is an official designation given by the Pope to holy men and women whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church. This is not to say that everything they wrote is formally “de Fida” (of the Faith), but rather that their writings and preachings are orthodox and useful to “Christians of any age” Requirements related to the designation include:

  • Exceptional holiness
  • Depth of doctrinal insight
  • An extensive body of writings

Once Hildegaard is added we will have 34 Doctors of the Church. The first 30 were all men, starting with St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, who were designated Doctors of the Church on September 20, 1295. In 1970 Pope Paul VI named the first women as Doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, (Sept 27), St. Catherine of Sienna (Oct 4). Pope John Paul II named the final woman, Therese of Lisieux on October 19, in 1997.

Okay, but who was Hildegard, and what did she do that merits such recognition? She was a 12th century abbess, with an astonishing array of talents. She was a mystic, composer, naturalist and visionary. She was such a presence in her time that many people sought her advice; monastic communities, Bishops and Abbots alike. She had the unique position of being a woman in her age to whom others would listen and pay attention, especially as she called church leadership away from corruption. Pope Benedict addressed her virtues in 2010 during an general audience at Castel Gandolpho when he said:

” I shall speak again next Wednesday about this great woman, this “prophetess” who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ. Thus St Hildegard speaks to us; we shall speak of her again next Wednesday.”

She did not have an easy road to sainthood. In fact, her process to canonization took so long it failed four times. Ultimately she was named saint by Pope Benedict XVI on May 10, 2012 in a process known as “equivalent canonization”.

In the Decree related to her being inscribed in the catalog of saints it is cited that, “Benedict XVI in his reflections on female figures of the Middle Ages dedicated two speeches to Hildegard and, referring to her, said:

“theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity”.

The equivalent canonization stands as proof of the importance that the Pope gives to this woman who combined mystical qualities with the true and proper intellectual characteristics of her time.” (L’Osservatore Romano, May 11, 2012)

For the Music lover, Hildegard’s music is available on I tunes and CD. Christopher Morrissey has written a great article “A Beginners Guide to the Music of St. Hildegard of Bingen” that can help you explore her musical works.

Oh yes, about the cookbook. St. Hildegard believed “foods of joy” revitalized us and helped preserve good health in every sphere-physical, spiritual, and psychological. Famed French chef Jany Fournier-Rosset mined from Hildegard’s writings a collection of over 175 healthful, tasty recipes. You’ll find everything from simple jams to chestnut souffle, from spiced wine to Tunisian ratatouille. Plus, there are special bread-making instructions, jam making tips, lists of ingredients with definitions, a glossary, measurement tables, and list of sources. Find St. Hildegard’s Kitchen.

Welcome St. Hildegard, may we come to know you more in the time ahead.


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