Friday, September 3, 2021

Learning from St. Hildegard


One of the four women doctors of the church is Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179), Benedictine abbess and saint with modifiers before her name showing the fullness of life she was able to live: theologian, preacher, composer, knowledgeable in medicine, therapist, animal and plant life scholar.

She is especially suited to our age because of her great love for the environment the way of growing closer to the creator. She was not mentioned in Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si but fits easily into what the Pope envisioned. 

She introduced us to Viriditas an important concept in understanding her thinking. It is the greening of God's creation: growth, life but also the poetic images of vigor, freshness vitality, fecundity, lushness. We are meant to cultivate this greenness in our lives. It's the greening power of God. Existing in all of creation.  

In a diocesan bulletin, a priest introduces the readers to the Saint and her teachings. She from an early age had visions that she expressed in pictures and analyzed theologically. During her lifetime she was considered a prophet, and mystic.

The saint describes in Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works) her outlook on life. God made us in his image, central to his creation and we contain within ourselves all the different aspects of creation in a microcosm. Consequently, we must aspire and search for God. Not the largest in size but our souls are what give us strength. 

Those who are sincere will be aware of God's existence, be God orientated with a spiritual and secular desire for him. We are his greatest masterpiece and learn this from his creation. God makes himself known thru his creation which was made for human beings.

The saint was also interested in scientific inquiry into the natural world which was rare at that time. The saint shows this aspect of her interest in her book Causes and Cures and the Physica. These books show us the cause and treatment of diseases with natural remedies and treatments.

Her books on natural science can be considered as a medieval version of an encyclopedia of nature. The saint-like many other theologians believed that human beings were the pinnacle of God's creation. She recounts the healing power of herbs, trees, fish, birds, and animals. In particular, she mentions the health benefits of animals as pets.

What does this interest in the natural world that Hildegarde expressed in her study of plants and animals mean for us? As important as humans are they are not able to live independently from creation in this world; her insight was we need each other to live.

The saint tells us that if other creatures should disappear even humans cannot live. This makes us realize again the gratitude and humble attitude we should have before God. 

The saint sees God becoming man to lead us to a life of perfection and in harmony with his creation. She would want us to stay close to nature for both health of body and mind.

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