Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast of
St. Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a couple who were of the noble class. She came into this world in 1098, in a little town called Bermersheim vor der Höhe, situated in the middle of the biggest wine-growing area of Germany.

She was a very sickly child, "being frequently scarcely able to walk and often deprived even of the use of her eyes,"1 but her parents promised her to the service of God nonetheless. So, on the Feast of All Saints of 1112, when she was eight years old, her parents sent her to live at the local Benedctine monastery known as Disibodenberg. Jutta von Sponheim, the abbess, taught her to read Latin and chant the Divine Office, and at some point during her stay at the abbey, Hildegard learned to play the psaltery, a zither-like instrument.

Jutta died in 1136, and Hildegard was elected to take her place. But Hildegard wanted independence from the Abbot of Disibodenberg, and elected to form a new abbey. The Abbot denied her request, so she appealed to the Archbishop Henry I of Mainz. In spite of the Archbishop's approval, the Abbot still denied her request, and only relented after Hildegard became very ill and took to her bed. After he relented, she moved with her nuns to the monastery of St. Rupertsberg in 1150. It was here that she wrote the world's first morality play -- Ordo Virtutum (Play of Virtues), about the struggle over a soul made by the Devil and the virtues. It was there, too, that she wrote her Symphonia -- a collection of seventy-seven plainchant songs -- antiphons, responsories, hymns, and sequences -- written to be sung during the Divine Office. You can listen to them below:

Then, in 1165, she and her sisters moved to the abbey which gives us the name by which St. Hildegard is known: Eibingen.

Eibingen Abbey

Now, why was the Abbot of Disibodenberg so reluctant to let her go? Likely because St. Hildegard was a money-maker: ever since she was a child, she was prone to having visions. About them, she said.

Up to my fifteenth year I saw much, and related some of the things seen to others, who would inquire with astonishment, whence such things might come. I also wondered and during my sickness I asked one of my nurses whether she also saw similar things. When she answered no, a great fear befell me. Frequently, in my conversation, I would relate future things, which I saw as if present, but, noting the amazement of my listeners, I became more reticent.

Great truths would enter her mind not through meditation or the practices of the mystics, but in an instant, as if by divine illumination. She said,

In this vision my soul, as God would have it, rises high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out among different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places. And because I see them this way in my soul, I observe them in accord with the shifting clouds and other created things. I do not hear them with my outward ears, nor do I perceive them by the thoughts of my own heart or by any combination of my five senses, but in my soul alone, while my outward eyes are open. So I have never fallen prey to ecstasy in the visions, but I see them wide awake, day and night... The light that I see is thus not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud that carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it "the reflection of the living Light." And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam within it.

Now whatever I have seen or learned in this vision remains in my memory for a long time, so that, when I have seen and heard it, I remember; and I see, hear, and know all at once, and as if in an instant I learn what I know. But what I do not see, I do not know, for I am not educated... And the words in this vision are not like words uttered by a human mouth, but like a shimmering flame, or a cloud floating in a clear sky.

Moreoever, I can no more recognize the form of this light than I can gaze directly on the sphere of the sun. Sometimes -- but not often -- I see within this light another light, which I call "the living Light." And I cannot describe when and how I see it, but while I see it all sorrow and anguish leave me, so that then I feel like a simple girl instead of an old woman.

When she was ordered to have these visions written down (a monk friend named Volmar acted as her secretary), they became known outside the convent and attracted lots of attention and new novices to the monastery. The Archbishop of Mainz declared the visions to be gifts from God, and Pope Eugene III read accounts of her visions and sent her an apostolic letter of greeting and blessing, urging her to continue writing down what she saw. People from all over began to come to the abbey to hear the words of the "Sibyl of the Rhine."

Her visions are contained first in a work called Scivias which consists of an introduction followed by three books: the first relating six visions, the second relating seven visions, and the third relating thirteen visions. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes Scivias like this:

The "Scivias" represents God on His Holy Mountain with mankind at its base; tells of the original condition of man, his fall and redemption, the human soul and its struggles, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the times to come, the son of perdition and the end of the world. The visions are interspersed with salutary admonitions to live in the fear of the Lord.

These visions are a phantasmagoria that evokes what Ezechiel saw with his the four living creatures with four faces four wings, hooved feet that sparkled like brass, human hands, and wheels within wheels with eyes all around, or what St. John describes in his Apocalypse. It's all very abstruse, almost psychedelic, and gave rise to unique art, such as her depiction of the universe as a "cosmic egg":


She was also a natural philosopher, gathering together the 12th. century European world's knowledge about plants, the elements, trees, stones, fish, birds, animals, reptiles, and metals, which she collated in a volume known as Physica. As with other bestiary-type works of the time, the information contained in this book makes for fascinating reading in that some of it reflects what are, to us moderns, strange beliefs whose origins are hard to imagine. For ex., in her entry on mice, she writes that

[w]hen a mouse gives birth, she has difficulty in bringing forth the young. She goes, in pain, to the edge of some water and seeks very small stones there. She eats as many as she can hold in her throat, runs to her hole, and spits them out there. She breathes on them and gets on top of them. She warms them up and immediately gives birth. As soon as she has given birth she hates the stones and kicks them away. She then lies over her young, warming them. If it is possible to find those stones within the same month that she has rejected them, one can tie them over the umbilicus of a pregnant woman who is already in labor but not able to give birth. She will then give birth and, as soon as she does, they should be removed.

Seriously, what observations were made that led to this idea? Isn't it interesting?

In a book called Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures), she writes about diseases and how to treat them, with the always present medieval focus on bodily humors.2 Then there is Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life) about the virtues and vices. For her sisters, she wrote a commentary on the Athanasian Creed, and, in her later years, she wrote Liber Divinorum Operum (Book of Divine Works) containing ten visions focused on divine love, cosmology, history, and eschatology.

She also carried out correspondence with very illustrious figures of her time, including the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, with whom she had a falling out: he had been a great benefactor of hers, even inviting her to his palace to learn what she foresaw. But then he supported three antipopes instead of Pope Alexander III, and Hildegard had it out with him, calling him a madman.

Oh, and she invented an alphabet and language -- litterae ignotae and lingua ignota respectively (she uses some of her language's words mixed with Latin in her song O orzchis ecclesia). The purpose of the language, and who, aside from Hildegard herself, used it is unknown.

In the last year she lived, she had some trouble when a man who'd been excommunicated was buried in her convent's cemetery. It was demanded that his body be removed and buried elsewhere, but Hildegard knew that the man had repented and received Unction before dying and was, therefore, reconciled to the Church. So she refused. A sentence of interdict was put on her convent, but it was lifted after her case was made.

Hildegard died at the age of 81 on September 17, 1179. She was first buried at the convent in Rupertsberg, but then her relics were taken to Cologne, and finally to the parish church -- now named after her -- in Eibingen, where they can be venerated today.

She, like many early Saints, was never formally canonized, but she's been listed in the martyrology since the 16th century, and has been venerated since her death. Pope Benedict XVI extended her veneration to the entire Church in 2012 -- which effects canonization without the formal process -- and in that same year, named her a Doctor of the Church -- one of the four female Doctors out of thirty-seven Doctors so honored -- and she is known as "The Sibyl of the Rhine." Her feast is an optional memorial on the Novus Ordo calendar, and is not present on the traditional, 1962 liturgical calendar.

Caveat: One has to be careful when reading about St. Hildegard and doing research on her life. Feminists and New Agers have done to her what hippies and New Agers have done to St. Francis: they've taken surface details of her life and used them to turn her into an icon of their movements. St. Francis loved animals? Then he was a PETA-loving, obsessed-with-climate-change Greenpeacer who was just born too soon to sit in traffic to protest Big Oil! St. Hildegard spoke her mind? Then she was a fierce feminist! She was an herbalist (as was everyone in the Middle Ages)? Then she was a New Age witchy-pagan type! That illumination of the universe as a great cosmic egg shown above? "That actually represents vulva! And Hildegard was the first to write about female orgasm, so she must have been feminist" -- as if female orgasms aren't simply a lovely fact of life meant to be associated with procreation inside marriage and not the purpose of being that's only realized by feminists who haven't stopped yammering about them since 1970. She spoke about the Spirit of God "greening" the world and, so, was a pantheistic pagan? No, she simply knew that God willed creation into existence, continues to will its existence from moment to moment, and is the source of the "life force" that animates creatures.

And on it goes. As an example, a trailer for a movie about her life is interspersed with these bits of text: "Germany in the 12th century.... A woman who broke with tradition and challenged the Church... Her name was Hildegard von Bingen... She was loved and admired...She was a healer...She was a prophet...She fought against injustice... She remained true to herself..." No, St. Hildegard did not "challenge the Church." At all. Quite the opposite: she wrote of obedience. She challenged an abbot about moving her convent, and she held fast to her conviction that the formerly excommunicated man had reconciled with the Church and deserved a Christian burial, but that's not "challenging the Church," Her authority, or Her teachings. The Hildegard of history, a woman who only allowed women from the nobility into her convent, and who said "it is fitting for a woman to always be timid  If she did not have fear, she would not be able to cultivate chaste modesty because likewise without fear a snake bites everything it can," was not an egalitarian feminist type in the least; she was not for female ordination, and she was very strongly protective of virginity and clerical celibacy. She did teach and preach, but not in a church. And she didn't "break with tradition," nor did she spend her time fighting "against injustice"; she fought against heresy, especially the heresies of the Cathars. Don't let foolishness spoil St. Hildegard (or SS. Francis or Julian of Norwich) for you!


Some may prepare for her feast by praying the Novena to St. Hildegard beginning on September 8 (Our Lady's birthday) and ending on September 16, the eve of St. Hildegard's feast.

As to ways to honor St. Hildegard, today is a good day for listening to St. Hildegard's music and opening the Book of Nature. About that, Hildegard wrote,

No creature has meaning
without the Word of God.
God's Word is in all creation, visible and invisible.
The Word is living, being,
spirit, all verdant greening,
all creativity.
This Word flashes out in
every creature.
This is how the spirit is in
the flesh -- the Word is indivisible from God.

Go outside, take a walk, and take in the beauty of the natural world, pondering how the Logos -- the Divine Order that is Christ Himself -- created, preserves, and "flashes out" in all you see.

As for foods for the day, St. Hildegard left us a few recipes, such as one for what are usually called "Cookies of Joy" because they alleviate melancholy. The recipe reads,

Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.

Youtuber Max Miller, whose channel is called Tasting History, made the recipe as she wrote it and apparently didn't find much joy in eating them: he said they were hard, wafer-like things that he wouldn't make again. Mind you, these "cookies" are made for health, as medicine, and not as "cookies" to be enjoyed with a cuppa tea. But if you want to try them as medicine, Mr. Miller gives measurements he used:

Cookies of Joy - Original

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt *

Mix the flour, spices, and salt, if using, and then stir in 1 cup water. You want a texture that's just a bit thicker than a pancake batter, so if you need more water, add more -- one tablespoonful at a time. Bake on parchment at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until crisp.

* Regarding the salt, Mr. Miller said that "that ingredient was often included in old dishes, but almost never actually makes it into recipes." So use or don't use as you wish.

For a modern take -- one that provides gustatory enjoyment that warrants the title of "cookie" -- try this one:

Cookies of Joy - Modernized

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Cream together the butter and the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients half at a time, mixing with each addition. Chill the dough for a half an hour, and at the 20 minute mark, pre-heat oven to 350F°. Take the cold dough and form walnut sized balls, place on greased and floured cookie sheet and press flat. Bake 12-15 minutes, 'til edges of are golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes, remove from cookie sheet and finish cooling on racks.

For the sake of completeness, I have to include the German recipe for these "Cookies of Joy," which are known as Hildegardplätzchen in Germany:


12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
4 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves

Melt the butter, then add it to a medium bowl with the sugar, honey, and egg yolks. Beat gently, then fold in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate the dough for an hour.

Flour a surface and roll out the cookie dough until about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 3" rounds and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375F for 10 minutes, or until golden-brown.

Another melancholia-defeating recipe that Mr. Miller made and did enjoy was Violet Wine, given by St. Hildegard like this:

Anyone oppressed by melancholy with a discontented mind, which then harms his lungs, should cook violets in pure wine. He should strain this through a cloth, add a bit of galingale, and as much licorice as he wants, and so make spiced wine. When he drinks it, it will check the melancholy, make him happy, and heal his lungs.

The measurements Mr. Miller used:

Violet Wine

1/2 cup dried violets
2 cups white wine
1 slice galingale root (ginger root is the closest thing easily found in most places if you must substitute)
1/4 tsp powdered licorice

Mix violets and wine and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Strain. Add the galingale and licorice and let sit for two hours.

To read some of St. Hildegard's works, see this site's Catholic Library.


Apostolic Letter

Proclaiming Saint Hildegard of Bingen,
professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict,
a Doctor of the Universal Church

Benedictus PP. XVI E
For Perpetual Remembrance 

1. A “light for her people and her time”: in these words Blessed John Paul II, my Venerable Predecessor, described Saint Hildegard of Bingen in 1979, on the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of this German mystic. This great woman truly stands out crystal clear against the horizon of history for her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching. And, as with every authentic human and theological experience, her authority reaches far beyond the confines of a single epoch or society; despite the distance of time and culture, her thought has proven to be of lasting relevance.

In Saint Hildegard of Bingen there is a wonderful harmony between teaching and daily life. In her, the search for God’s will in the imitation of Christ was expressed in the constant practice of virtue, which she exercised with supreme generosity and which she nourished from biblical, liturgical and patristic roots in the light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Her persevering practice of obedience, simplicity, charity and hospitality was especially visible. In her desire to belong completely to the Lord, this Benedictine Abbess was able to bring together rare human gifts, keen intelligence and an ability to penetrate heavenly realities.

2. Hildegard was born in 1098 at Bermersheim, Alzey, to parents of noble lineage who were wealthy landowners. At the age of eight she was received as an oblate at the Benedictine Abbey of Disibodenberg, where in 1115 she made her religious profession. Upon the death of Jutta of Sponheim, around the year 1136, Hildegard was called to succeed her as magistra. Infirm in physical health but vigorous in spirit, she committed herself totally to the renewal of religious life. At the basis of her spirituality was the Benedictine Rule which views spiritual balance and ascetical moderation as paths to holiness. Following the increase in vocations to the religious life, due above all to the high esteem in which Hildegard was held, around 1150 she founded a monastery on the hill of Rupertsberg, near Bingen, where she moved with twenty sisters. In 1165, she established another monastery on the opposite bank of the Rhine. She was the Abbess of both.

Within the walls of the cloister, she cared for the spiritual and material well-being of her sisters, fostering in a special way community life, culture and the liturgy. In the outside world she devoted herself actively to strengthening the Christian faith and reinforcing religious practice, opposing the heretical trends of the Cathars, promoting Church reform through her writings and preaching and contributing to the improvement of the discipline and life of clerics. At the invitation first of Hadrian IV and later of Alexander III, Hildegard practised a fruitful apostolate, something unusual for a woman at that time, making several journeys, not without hardship and difficulty, to preach even in public squares and in various cathedral churches, such as at Cologne, Trier, Liège, Mainz, Metz, Bamberg and Würzburg. The profound spirituality of her writings had a significant influence both on the faithful and on important figures of her time and brought about an incisive renewal of theology, liturgy, natural sciences and music. Stricken by illness in the summer of 1179, Hildegard died in the odour of sanctity, surrounded by her sisters at the monastery of Rupertsberg, Bingen, on 17 September 1179.

3. In her many writings Hildegard dedicated herself exclusively to explaining divine revelation and making God known in the clarity of his love. Hildegard’s teaching is considered eminent both for its depth, the correctness of its interpretation, and the originality of its views. The texts she produced are refreshing in their authentic “intellectual charity” and emphasize the power of penetration and comprehensiveness of her contemplation of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, humanity and nature as God’s creation, to be appreciated and respected.

These works were born from a deep mystical experience and propose a perceptive reflection on the mystery of God. The Lord endowed her with a series of visions from childhood, whose content she dictated to the Benedictine monk Volmar, her secretary and spiritual advisor, and to Richardis von Stade, one of her women religious. But particularly illuminating are the judgments expressed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who encouraged her, and especially by Pope Eugene III, who in 1147 authorized her to write and to speak in public. Theological reflection enabled Hildegard to organize and understand, at least in part, the content of her visions. In addition to books on theology and mysticism, she also authored works on medicine and natural sciences. Her letters are also numerous — about four hundred are extant; these were addressed to simple people, to religious communities, popes, bishops and the civil authorities of her time. She was also a composer of sacred music. The corpus of her writings, for their quantity, quality and variety of interests, is unmatched by any other female author of the Middle Ages.

Her main writings are the Scivias, the Liber Vitae Meritorum and the Liber Divinorum Operum. They relate her visions and the task she received from the Lord to transcribe them. In the author’s view her Letters were no less important; they bear witness to the attention Hildegard paid to the events of her time, which she interpreted in the light of the mystery of God. In addition there are 58 sermons, addressed directly to her sisters. They are her Expositiones Evangeliorum, containing a literary and moral commentary on Gospel passages related to the main celebrations of the liturgical year. Her artistic and scientific works focus mainly on music, in the Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum; on medicine, in the Liber Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum and in the Causae et Curae, and on natural sciences in the Physica. Finally her linguistic writings are also noteworthy, such as the Lingua Ignota and the Litterae Ignotae, in which the words appear in an unknown language of her own invention, but are composed mainly of phonemes present in German.

Hildegard’s language, characterized by an original and effective style, makes ample use of poetic expressions and is rich in symbols, dazzling intuitions, incisive comparisons and evocative metaphors.

4. With acute wisdom-filled and prophetic sensitivity, Hildegard focused her attention on the event of revelation. Her investigation develops from the biblical page in which, in successive phases, it remains firmly anchored. The range of vision of the mystic of Bingen was not limited to treating individual matters but sought to offer a global synthesis of the Christian faith. Hence in her visions and her subsequent reflections she presents a compendium of the history of salvation from the beginning of the universe until its eschatological consummation. God’s decision to bring about the work of creation is the first stage on this immensely long journey which, in the light of sacred Scripture, unfolds from the constitution of the heavenly hierarchy until it reaches the fall of the rebellious angels and the sin of our first parents.

This initial picture is followed by the redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, the activity of the Church that extends in time the mystery of the Incarnation and the struggle against Satan. The definitive Coming of the Kingdom of God and the Last Judgement crown this work.

Hildegard asks herself and us the fundamental question, whether it is possible to know God: This is theology’s principal task. Her answer is completely positive: through faith, as through a door, the human person is able to approach this knowledge. God, however, always retains his veil of mystery and incomprehensibility. He makes himself understandable in creation but, creation itself is not fully understood when detached from God. Indeed, nature considered in itself provides only pieces of information which often become an occasion for error and abuse. Faith, therefore, is also necessary in the natural cognitive process, for otherwise knowledge would remain limited, unsatisfactory and misleading.

Creation is an act of love by which the world can emerge from nothingness. Hence, through the whole range of creatures, divine love flows as a river. Of all creatures God loves man in a special way and confers upon him an extraordinary dignity, giving him that glory which the rebellious angels lost. The human race may thus be counted as the tenth choir of the angelic hierarchy. Indeed human beings are able to know God in himself, that is, his one nature in the Trinity of Persons. Hildegard approached the mystery of the Blessed Trinity along the lines proposed by Saint Augustine. By analogy with his own structure as a rational being, man is able to have an image at least of the inner life of God. Nevertheless, it is solely in the economy of the Incarnation and human life of the Son of God that this mystery becomes accessible to human faith and knowledge. The holy and ineffable Trinity in supreme Unity was hidden from those in the service of the ancient law. But in the new law of grace it was revealed to all who had been freed from slavery. The Trinity was revealed in a special way in the Cross of the Son.

A second “space” in which God becomes known is his word, contained in the Books of the Old and New Testament. Precisely because God “speaks”, man is called to listen. This concept affords Hildegard the opportunity to expound her doctrine on song, especially liturgical song. The sound of the word of God creates life and is expressed in his creatures. Thanks to the creative word, beings without rationality are also involved in the dynamism of creation. But man of course is the creature who can answer the voice of the Creator with his own voice. And this can happen in two ways: in voce oris, that is, in the celebration of the liturgy, and in voce cordis, that is, through a virtuous and holy life. The whole of human life may therefore be interpreted as harmonic and symphonic.

5. Hildegard’s anthropology begins from the biblical narrative of the creation of man (Gen 1:26), made in the image and likeness of God. Man, according to Hildegard’s biblically inspired cosmology, contains all the elements of the world because the entire universe is recapitulated in him; he is formed from the very matter of creation. The human person can therefore consciously enter into a relationship with God. This does not happen through a direct vision, but, in the words of Saint Paul, as “in a mirror” (1 Cor 13:12). The divine image in man consists in his rationality, structured as intellect and will. Thanks to his intellect, man can distinguish between good and evil; thanks to his will, he is spurred to action.

Human beings are seen as a unity of body and soul. The German mystic shows a positive appreciation of corporeity and providential value is given even to the body’s weaknesses. The body is not a weight from which to be delivered. Although human beings are weak and frail, this “teaches” them a sense of creatureliness and humility, protecting them from pride and arrogance. Hildegard contemplated in a vision the souls of the blessed in paradise waiting to be rejoined to their bodies. Our bodies, like the body of Christ, are oriented to the glorious resurrection, to the supreme transformation for eternal life. The very vision of God, in which eternal life consists, cannot be definitively achieved without the body.

The human being exists in both the male and female form. Hildegard recognized that a relationship of reciprocity and a substantial equality between man and woman is rooted in this ontological structure of the human condition. Nevertheless the mystery of sin also dwells in humanity, and was manifested in history for the first time precisely in the relationship between Adam and Eve. Unlike other medieval authors who saw Eve’s weakness as the cause of the Fall, Hildegard places it above all in Adam’s immoderate passion for her.

Even in their condition as sinners, men and women continue to be the recipients of God’s love, because God’s love is unconditional and, after the Fall, acquires the face of mercy. Even the punishment that God inflicts on the man and woman brings out the merciful love of the Creator. In this regard, the most precise description of the human creature is that of someone on a journey, homo viator. On this pilgrimage towards the homeland, the human person is called to a struggle in order constantly to choose what is good and avoid evil.

The constant choice of good produces a virtuous life. The Son of God made man is the subject of all virtues, therefore the imitation of Christ consists precisely in living a virtuous life in communion with Christ. The power of virtue derives from the Holy Spirit, poured into the hearts of believers, who brings about upright behaviour. This is the purpose of human existence. In this way man experiences his Christ-like perfection.

6. So as to achieve this goal, the Lord has given his Church the sacraments. Salvation and the perfection of the human being are not achieved through the effort of the will alone, but rather through the gifts of grace that God grants in the Church.

The Church herself is the first sacrament that God places in the world so that she may communicate salvation to mankind. The Church, built up from “living souls”, may rightly be considered virgin, bride and mother, and thus resembles closely the historical and mystical figure of the Mother of God. The Church communicates salvation first of all by keeping and proclaiming the two great mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which are like the two “primary sacraments”; and then through administration of the other sacraments. The summit of the sacramental nature of the Church is the Eucharist. The sacraments produce the sanctification of believers, salvation and purification from sin, redemption and charity and all the other virtues. However, to repeat, the Church lives because God within her has manifested his intraTrinitarian love, which was revealed in Christ. The Lord Jesus is the mediator par excellence. From the Trinitarian womb he comes to encounter man and from Mary’s womb he encounters God. As the Son of God, he is love incarnate; as the Son of Mary, he is humanity’s representative before the throne of God.

The human person can have an experience of God. Relationship with him, in fact, is not lived solely in the sphere of rationality, but involves the person totally. All the external and internal senses of the human being are involved in the experience of God. “But man was created in the image and likeness of God, so that he might act through the five bodily senses; he is not divided by them, rather through them he is wise, knowledgeable and intelligent in doing his work (...). For this very reason, because man is wise, knowledgeable and intelligent, he knows creation; he knows God — whom he cannot see except by faith — through creation and his great works, even if with his five senses he barely comprehends them” (Explanatio Symboli Sancti Athanasii in PL 197, 1073). This experiential process finds once again, its fullness in participation in the sacraments.

Hildegard also saw contradictions in the lives of individual members of the faithful and reported the most deplorable situations. She emphasized in particular that individualism in doctrine and in practice on the part of both lay people and ordained ministers is an expression of pride and constitutes the main obstacle to the Church’s evangelizing mission to non-Christians.

One of the salient points of Hildegard’s magisterium was her heartfelt exhortation to a virtuous life addressed to consecrated men and women. Her understanding of the consecrated life is a true “theological metaphysics”, because it is firmly rooted in the theological virtue of faith, which is the source and constant impulse to full commitment in obedience, poverty and chastity. In living out the evangelical counsels, the consecrated person shares in the experience of Christ, poor, chaste and obedient, and follows in his footsteps in daily life. This is fundamental in the consecrated life.

7. Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorization of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

By virtue of her reputation for holiness and her eminent teaching, on 6 March 1979 Cardinal Joseph Höffner, Archbishop of Cologne and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, together with the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops of the same Conference, including myself as Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and Freising, submitted to Blessed John Paul II the request that Hildegard of Bingen be declared a Doctor of the Universal Church. In that petition, the Cardinal emphasized the soundness of Hildegard’s doctrine, recognized in the twelfth century by Pope Eugene III, her holiness, widely known and celebrated by the people, and the authority of her writings. As time passed, other petitions were added to that of the German Bishops’ Conference, first and foremost the petition from the nuns of Eibingen Monastery, which bears her name. Thus, to the common wish of the People of God that Hildegard be officially canonized, was added the request that she be declared a “Doctor of the Universal Church”.

With my consent, therefore, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints diligently prepared a Positio super Canonizatione et Concessione tituli Doctoris Ecclesiae Universalis for the Mystic of Bingen. Since this concerned a famous teacher of theology who had been the subject of many authoritative studies, I granted the dispensation from the measures prescribed by article 73 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus. The cause was therefore examined and approved by the Cardinals and Bishops, who met in Plenary Session on 20 March 2012. The proponent (ponens) of the cause was His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. At the audience of 10 May 2012, Cardinal Amato informed us in detail about the status quaestionis and the unanimous vote of the Fathers at the above-mentioned Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 27 May 2012, Pentecost Sunday, I had the joy of announcing to the crowd of pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Saint Peter’s Square the news of the conferral of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church upon Saint Hildegard of Bingen and Saint John of Avila at the beginning of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and on the eve of the Year of Faith.

Today, with the help of God and the approval of the whole Church, this act has taken place. In Saint Peter’s Square, in the presence of many Cardinals and Prelates of the Roman Curia and of the Catholic Church, in confirming the acts of the process and willingly granting the desires of the petitioners, I spoke the following words in the course of the Eucharistic sacrifice: “Fulfilling the wishes of numerous brethren in the episcopate, and of many of the faithful throughout the world, after due consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with certain knowledge and after mature deliberation, with the fullness of my apostolic authority I declare Saint John of Avila, diocesan priest, and Saint Hildegard of Bingen, professed nun of the Order of Saint Benedict, to be Doctors of the Universal Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I hereby decree the present Letter to be perpetually valid and fully effective, and I establish that from this moment anything to the contrary proposed by any person, of whatever authority, knowingly or unknowingly, is invalid and without force.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, under the ring of the Fisherman, on 7 October 2012, in the eighth year of my Pontificate.

Benedictus PP. XVI


1 Catholic Encyclopedia

2 Research written up in a paper called "Are the correct herbal claims by Hildegard von Bingen only lucky strikes? A new statistical approach" concluded that "The finding that medical claims provided by a medieval author are significantly related to modern herbal use supports the importance of traditional medicinal systems as an empirical source."

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