Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hildegard of Bingen: Wellspring of Creativity

Hildegard of Bingen, whose feast day is today (September 17) is sometimes referred to as the patron saint of creativity. She has also been known as the patron saint of the culinary arts, having written many recipes including her "Cookies of Joy" recipe for "reducing bad humors" and "fortifying the nerves." Actually she is not an official patron saint of anything, which may be a good thing because to think of Hildegard merely as a “patron saint” is to gloss over her profound capabilities and influence.

Hildegard of Bingen was a polymath  an individual highly gifted in a variety of fields. She was skilled in the healing arts, having written two books on pharmaceutical herbs and the workings of the body. Her written works include theology, ethics, and biblical commentary. In addition, she composed music and wrote poetry. She was a visionary who brought religion, science, and art together.

St. Hildegard has a wide range of admirers today. She was recently been named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI (there are only 35 Doctors of the Church to date, and only four women). She is also of interest to feminist scholars and many in the New Age movement.  She claimed her knowledge came from divine visionary experiences, which may have lent credence to her words at a time when women had little voice. She challenged institutional corruption in the church and spoke out for social justice. There is even renewed interest in Hildegard’s music, with several modern recordings featuring her works.

A Pivotal Age

The Twelfth Century was a very dynamic period and St. Hildegard was right there in the thick of it, having lived from 1098 to 1179. Indeed, it was a pivotal time of shaking off many of the old ways and taking up new forms. Perhaps it is no wonder that the saint from Bingen is attracting more attention in our day when old forms are not working and our institutions which were developed during the Industrial Revolution are languishing and becoming ineffectual.

One example of how Hildegard’s understanding grew and developed as a result of her visionary mystical experiences is seen in the following quote in which she describes one of her visions:

"Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."

May we all come to see ourselves being borne up and empowered by the very breath of God. For people who want to celebrate a variety of life expressions,  for those who seek to participate in creativity, and for all of us who live in this pivotal age, it is good to spend some time today with such an incredible polymath as Hildegard of Bingen.

For more information check out the links below:

Image of St, Hildegard of Bingen from Abby of the Arts Dancing Monks Series


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