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St. Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen

Feast Day: September 17

The lives of saints are so instructive, in part, because they teach the basic truths of God’s will for us in often vivid fashion. The life of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) is no exception.

St. Hildegard was a Benedictine abbess in Germany. Although she has never been formally canonized, she was declared to be a doctor of the Church by then Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She was one of the first great German mystics and a real “renaissance” woman. She produced 69 musical compositions; wrote 400 letters to popes, emperors, abbots and abbesses; authored two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures; invented a language; wrote Gospel commentary and hagiography; produced three volumes of visionary theology; and composed perhaps the oldest surviving morality play, Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues).

At the same time, her story stands as a dramatic exhortation to trust God and to courageously persevere in doing his will, even in the face of opposition. For example, in 1136, St. Hildegard was elected to lead her monastery community. She felt compelled by God to move the monastery from a well-established stone complex to a more impoverished temporary edifice. However, the move was opposed by the abbot under whose authority the monastery operated.

Then, St. Hildegard fell victim to an illness that paralyzed her. No one could move her, including the abbot. St. Hildegard attributed the condition to God’s unhappiness at not following his will regarding moving the monastery. The abbot relented and granted his permission for the move, and she recovered shortly thereafter.

At another time, St. Hildegard hesitated to obey God’s directive, with equally severe consequences. She received visions throughout her life and had always been cautious about sharing them with others. At 42, however, she received a vision in which God instructed her to record all that she saw and heard. When she failed to do so out of fear, she again became physically ill until she complied.

In the end, her physical health was tied directly to her willingness to “be not afraid” when it came to obeying the will of God. It is a lesson we would all do well to learn – and live.