01 September 2012

O quam mira res es…

Very interesting take on Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s elevation to the status of thirty-fourth Doctor of the Church next month by Pope Benedict XVI, here. Though, yes, he is (as he himself declares) projecting twenty-first century modernist values back onto Saint Hildegard’s artistic work, as I have been wont to do at times (and all of the problems and caveats which come with that), I believe he makes an excellent point. Saint Hildegard may have been incredibly diffident, humble and self-effacing in her prose, but she was favoured with insights into the nature of God and creation through her visions, which were not always convenient or favourable to those in positions of power, whether princes or priests. She was relentless in proclaiming a return ‘to the first dawn of justice’, and indeed, much of her language - even when writing to exalted churchmen, Cardinals and Popes (such as Eugenius) - takes on a subversive, apocalyptic tone. I am sadly not familiar with her artwork or music at all, though from Mr McColman’s descriptions and interpretations they seem to have had a similarly subversive edge. Saint Hildegard in particular displays the bipolarity remarked upon by Chesterton when he spoke of Christian saints and soldiers, that she could be at once meek and militant, humble and hard-line, reverential and revolutionary: rather than staking out a mushy and uncertain middle ground, she was (like many of her fellow saints) most at home on the ragged edges.

Already Saint Hildegard enjoys recognition by both the Catholic Church and by the Church of England in the Calendar of Saints. I am not particularly surprised by Pope Benedict’s choice to elevate Saint Hildegard to the status of Doctor of the Church (his admiration for the Teutonic prophetess is well-documented), but I am quite gratified by it. As a saint, she may have been easy to dismiss (as Dorothy Day once put it), but as a Doctor of the Church, her intellectual and artistic legacies may come to be more thoroughly appreciated among the Catholic laity (and, hopefully, the Anglo-Catholic laity as well), and that will be all to the good.

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