Pages

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Have a Joyful St Hildegard of Bingen Day in London



Statue of Saint Hildegard, n.d. Abbey Church of St. Hildegard, Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany, 1900–09.
(Image: Abbey Church of St. Hildegard, Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany)



In the United Kingdom we have been bombarded with a series of articles in so-called "respectable" newspapers and journals which can probably be best summarised as "No Popery".

Some of the rhetoric and statements would have made Joseph Goebbels blush. Of course they know that the Pope will not sue. They also know that there will be no adverse reaction unlike what they would fear if they insulted Islam.


The greater the "story", they can generate, the higher their circulation and earning power and sense of self-worth. Truth is not a consideration.

And so we go on. As does the Pope

On Friday 17th September 2010 the Pope will be in London. It is the Feast of St Hildegard of Bingen. It is a saint whom he greatly admires.

Perhaps with that thought in mind on 8th September 2010 the Pope resumed his catechesis on the life of St Hildegard of Bingen, part of a larger series on prominent women Catholics in the Middle Ages.

In reading his talk (like many of his talks), one is struck by the way the Pope reveals his true views about many aspects of modern life and of current situations. This particular talk is no exception.

Like St Hildegard he is called in old age to travel and to preach and give counsel far from home and in a perhaps hostile environment. Again like her he will be required to preach to the Great and the Good. The words may be prophetic like St Hildegard. We have it on the authority of the Archbishop of Westminster that in London he will deliver a very important speech.

Let us look at the Pope`s talk on St Hildegard

1. First her preaching was founded on Scripture. She interpreted it "in the light of God". She applied it to "the various circumstances of life". By doing so her listeners felt encouraged "to practice a coherent and committed style of Christian living".

Again this is a frequent "Benedictine" theme: how to preach well and the importance of good preaching.

Even when she took a severe tone in her preaching, "All listened to her eagerly, ...They considered her a messenger sent by God."

Good preaching is dependent on the good moral character of the preacher.

Catholics will not take lessons from Mr Tatchell about the evils of child abuse in the Catholic Church when he has publicly advocated the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual activity to 14 years and has not withdrawn that position. Christian divines of all Churches in the Victorian era struggled for the establishment of a legal age of consent in sexual relations as a requirement of the protection of children and a civilised society. Until recently their successful work was hailed by all as a great triumph for civilised behaviour.

Likewise as regards Mr Hary, most Catholics will not act on his words despite his crocodile tears. They can spot a phoney a mile off. Especially when he has been repeatedly called on to produce his evidence for his false assertions and has signally failed to do so. Catholics, like all Christians, are seekers after Truth. They are not seekers after Lies

And Miss Burchill is no Hildegard despite how highly she rates her own talents

Good preachers are like good Popes. They hold the Truth as being the Primary concern. They refine their person out of existence to be the oracles of the Truth and to let the Word speak. Their primary concern is the exaltation of the Word and not the Self

2. Women can and do make an important and particular contribution to theology. The Pope wishes to encourage a major contribution of women to, amongst other things, his favourite subject, theology.

3. He extols the Medieval mystical tradition. He calls for more study into that part of theology which he says is "unexplored".

Amongst the criticisms made of Pope John Paul II while he was alive by his contemporary theologians were (a) he had a medieval mindset; and (b) he was a mystical theologian.

These criticisms were often made by those who advocated a return to "the spirit of Vatican II" He was accused of being out of touch and that he wished to "turn the clock back". Hadn`t the "medieval mumbo-jumbo" been cleared out and jettisoned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to return to a purer form of theology and Church life ?

Benedict XVI, like John Paul II, wants the Church to re-discover this period of its life when the Church was a vibrant [but imperfect] institution. Hence the lectures on the Medieval Church.

Like John Paul II, he wishes to rescue the Middle Ages from "the prejudices that still today are leveled upon that epoch" Ignorance, prejudice and pride in a notion of human progress all combine to cut off mankind and the Church from the accumulated wisdom to be found in Tradition.

What the lectures disclose is that the same problems as today were mainly encountered by the medieval Church. Perhaps we should look there for a resolution of the present problems.

In London, the Pope will speak in two venues built in the early Middle Ages: Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall. It is hard to see how the Pope can not at least allude to the great historical surroundings. Both structures predate the foundation of England and the British State and lie at the very heartof the area which constitutes the nerve centre of the Government of the United Kingdom. A few hundred years away lie the Houses of Parliament, the Supreme Court and Number 10 Downing Street with the whole of Whitehall. Not far away within walking distance is Buckingham Palace.

4. Hildegard is held up as "a luminous model". As well as preacher and theologian, she was a writer on medicine and the natural sciences, writer of hymns, liturgist, creator of good monasteries and convents, wise and skilful counsellor, advocate of Church reform, and reprover of Clerical abuse. She excelled in all she laboured at. The implication is presumably that non-clerical members of the Church can also fufil these roles.

5. In the week when one was engulfed by the news (in the same newspapers criticising the Pope) that Sir Stephen Hawking had declared that God either did not create the Universe or was not essential to the creation of the Universe, the Pope responded and more but not directly.

"Described in ["Liber vitae meritorum" (Books of Merits of Life)] is the unique and powerful vision of God who vivifies the cosmos with his strength and his light. Hildegard stresses the profound relationship between man and God and reminds us that the whole of creation, of which man is the summit, receives life from the Trinity."

Hawking seems to have changed his mind and position on the matter. His position reduces the emergence of man to a mere chance event lost in the great cosmos, and capable of being repeated in other parts of the cosmos merely as the result of chance and not design. Previously Hawking did not rule out God as the Creator.

In response, Benedict reminds us that the contemplation by the Church of the Trinity as Creator is not a matter of recent vintage. He cites Hildegard, who like Hawking, is one and is recognised as such as one of the great intelects of her own time. "The Trinity as Creator" has been continuously held by the Church since Hildegard and before, for the lifetime of the Church and even before that:

"In the second work, considered by many her masterpiece, she again describes creation in its relationship with God and the centrality of man, manifesting a strong Christo-centrism of a biblical-patristic hue. The saint, who presents five visions inspired by the Prologue of St. John's Gospel, reports the words that the Son addresses to the Father:

"All the work that you willed and that you entrusted to me, I have brought to a good end, and behold that I am in you, and you in me, and that we are but one thing" (Pars III, Visio X: PL 197, 1025a)

6. In a time when secular authorities intervene in matters religious and especially today when the secular Press (and many non-Catholic journalists who write for them) criticises the Church and argues for intervention in Church matters, it is encouraging to be remiinded of the wise words of St Hildegard:

"And when the emperor Frederick Barbarossa caused an ecclesial schism by opposing three anti-popes to the legitimate Pope Alexander III, Hildegard, inspired by her visions, did not hesitate to remind him that he also, the emperor, was subject to the judgment of God. With the audacity that characterises every prophet, she wrote these words to the emperor as God speaking:

"Woe, woe to this wicked behavior of evil-doers who scorn me! Listen, O king, if you wish to live! Otherwise my sword will run you through!"
This Pope may be shy and retiring. But he does not lack courage. He speaks his mind. And he will continue to do so come what may.

7. The main crisis which the Pope has to cope with is the clergy child abuse crisis. Those who are not friends of the Church are of course more than willing to offer suggested remedies. As well as the appropriate criticism. False friends indeed.

The Pope again draws attention to the Life of St Hildegard. The clergy in her time were guilty of many abuses.

The Pope points out:

"Above all she called monastic communities and the clergy to a life in keeping with their vocation. In a particular way, Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They -- Cathar literally means "pure" -- advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy. She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget."

Genuine reform is achieved not by changing structures. In Britain we know that. How many times has the creaking National Health Service been subjected to "structural reform" (another one on the way looks likely). Like the great Tower of Babel of old, we have seen the "great schemes of improvement" wrought by Government and man crumble into the dust.

Changing structures may give the impression of action this day and satisfy people`s requirements for "a quick fix" in the political sphere. But the Pope is not in the business of human politics. His aspirations are higher.

Some people were perhaps aghast by the Pope`s Letter to the People of Ireland regarding the child abuse crisis when he called for penance and true conversion. Again he stresses the importance of these in dealing with the reform of the clergy.

Mutterschaft aus dem Geiste und dem Wasser.
Manuscript illumination from Scivias (Know the Ways) by St Hildegard of Bingen (Disibodenberg: 1151)

8. Here is the Pope`s talk in full:

"Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to take up again and continue the reflection on St. Hildegard of Bingen, an important woman of the Middle Ages, who is distinguished for her spiritual wisdom and holiness. Hildegard's mystical visions are like those of the prophets of the Old Testament: Expressing herself with the cultural and religious categories of her time, she interpreted sacred Scripture in the light of God, applying it to the various circumstances of life.

Thus, all those who listened to her felt exhorted to practice a coherent and committed style of Christian living. In a letter to St. Bernard, the Rhenish mystic says:

"The vision enthralled my whole being: I do not see merely with the eyes of the body, but mysteries appear to me in the spirit ... I know the profound meaning of what is expressed in the Psalter, in the Gospels and in other books, which were shown to me in the vision. This burns like a flame in my breast and in my soul, and teaches me how to understand the text profoundly" (Epistolarium pars prima I-XC: CCCM 91).

Hildegard's mystical visions are rich in theological content. They make reference to the main events of the history of salvation, and adopt a primarily poetic and symbolic language. For example, in her best known work, titled "Scivias," that is, "Know the Ways," she summarizes in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation, from the creation of the world to the end times.

With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard, specifically in the central section of her work, develops the subject of the mystical marriage between God and humanity accomplished in the Incarnation. Carried out on the tree of the cross was the marriage of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with the grace of being capable of giving God new children, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c.).

Already from these brief citations we see how theology as well can receive a particular contribution from women, because they are capable of speaking of God and of the mysteries of the faith with their specific intelligence and sensitivity.

Hence, I encourage all those [women] who carry out this service to do so with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great wealth, in part yet unexplored, of the Medieval mystical tradition, above all that represented by luminous models, such as, specifically, Hildegard of Bingen.

The Rhenish mystic is also author of other writings, two of which are particularly important because they report, as does "Scivias," her mystical visions: They are the "Liber vitae meritorum" (Books of Merits of Life) and the "Liber divinorum operum" (Book of Divine Works), also called "De operatione Dei."

Described in the first is the unique and powerful vision of God who vivifies the cosmos with his strength and his light. Hildegard stresses the profound relationship between man and God and reminds us that the whole of creation, of which man is the summit, receives life from the Trinity.

The writing is centered on the relationship between virtues and vices, in which the human being must daily face the challenge of vices, which distance him from the way to God, and the virtues, which favor him. It is an invitation to move away from evil to glorify God and to enter, after a virtuous existence, in the life "full of joy."

In the second work, considered by many her masterpiece, she again describes creation in its relationship with God and the centrality of man, manifesting a strong Christo-centrism of a biblical-patristic hue. The saint, who presents five visions inspired by the Prologue of St. John's Gospel, reports the words that the Son addresses to the Father:

"All the work that you willed and that you entrusted to me, I have brought to a good end, and behold that I am in you, and you in me, and that we are but one thing" (Pars III, Visio X: PL 197, 1025a).

Finally, in other writings Hildegard manifests a variety of interests and the cultural vivacity of women's monasteries in the Middle Ages, contrary to the prejudices that still today are leveled upon that epoch. Hildegard was involved with medicine and the natural sciences, as well as with music, being gifted with artistic talent. She even composed hymns, antiphons and songs, collected under the title "Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum" (Symphony of the Harmony of the Celestial Revelations), which were joyfully performed in her monasteries, spreading an atmosphere of serenity, and which have come down to us.

For her, the whole of creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit, who in himself is joy and jubilation.

The popularity with which Hildegard was surrounded moved many persons to seek her counsel. Because of this, we have available to us many of her letters. Masculine and feminine monastic communities, bishops and abbots turned to her. Many of her answers are valid also for us.

For example, to a women's religious community, Hildegard wrote thus:

"The spiritual life must be taken care of with much dedication. In the beginning the effort is bitter. Because it calls for the renunciation of fancies, the pleasure of the flesh and other similar things. But if it allows itself to be fascinated by holiness, a holy soul will find sweet and lovable its very contempt for the world. It is only necessary to intelligently pay attention so that the soul does not shrivel" (E. Gronau, Hildegard. Vita di una donna profetica alle origini dell'eta moderna, Milan, 1996, p. 402).

And when the emperor Frederick Barbarossa caused an ecclesial schism by opposing three anti-popes to the legitimate Pope Alexander III, Hildegard, inspired by her visions, did not hesitate to remind him that he also, the emperor, was subject to the judgment of God. With the audacity that characterizes every prophet, she wrote these words to the emperor as God speaking:

"Woe, woe to this wicked behavior of evil-doers who scorn me! Listen, O king, if you wish to live! Otherwise my sword will run you through!" (Ibid., p. 412)

With the spiritual authority with which she was gifted, in the last years of her life Hildegard began to travel, despite her advanced age and the difficult conditions of the journeys, to talk of God to the people. All listened to her eagerly, even when she took a severe tone: They considered her a messenger sent by God.

Above all she called monastic communities and the clergy to a life in keeping with their vocation. In a particular way, Hildegard opposed the movement of German Cathars. They -- Cathar literally means "pure" -- advocated a radical reform of the Church, above all to combat the abuses of the clergy.

She reproved them harshly for wishing to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change of structures, but by a sincere spirit of penance and an active path of conversion. This is a message that we must never forget.

Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he will raise up in the Church holy and courageous women, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, who, valuing the gifts received from God, will make their precious and specific contribution to the spiritual growth of our communities and of the Church in our time."

Wisdom (or Sophia, Mother Wisdom).
Manuscript illumination from Scivias (Know the Ways) by Hildegard of Bingen (Disibodenberg: 1151)



9 In these times it might be worthwhile recalling the words of the Blessed who will be celebrated by the Pope when he comes to visit Britain in the next few days. Blessed John Newman was writing at a time when anti-Catholicism in Britain was much more fierce than what we experience today. Unpleasant that it is. The whole of British society was against the Catholic Church and its adherents. Ridicule, hatred and abuse were at a much higher level.

Again, like Hildegard, Newman was one of the great intellects and talented individuals of his time. His literary works were celebrated and admired in his day and by his contemporaries. His work has already "lasted". They will be remembered when those of the present scribbling detractors are forgotten.

In 1850-1, militant anti-Catholicism had compelled John Henry Newman to prepare a series of Lectures entitled Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England which were delivered in 1851

First he analysed the situation. Next he proposed remedies, In the following extract he sets out how to deal with antagonism and antipathy

For Protestantism, we should now read "Secularism" or "anti-Catholicism"

What is particularly interesting is his description of "the Metropolis" and its power. The words have prescience. They are still relevant today despite what those in the Metropolis may think.


"I grant the whole power of the Metropolis is against us, and I grant it is quite out of the question to attempt to gain it over on our side. It is true, there are various individual members of Parliament who are our co-religionists or our friends, but they are few among many; there are newspapers which act generously towards us, but they form a small minority; there are a few Protestant clergy who would be not quite carried away by the stream, if left to themselves. Granted: but still, I am forced to allow that the great metropolitan intellect cannot be reached by us, and for this simple reason, because you cannot confront it, you cannot make it know you. I said your victory was to be in forcing upon others a personal knowledge of you, by your standing before your enemies face to face.

But what face has a metropolitan journal? How are you to get at it? how are you to look into it? whom are you to look at? who is to look at you? No one is known in London; it is the realm of the incognito and the anonymous; it is not a place, it is a region or a state.

There is no such thing as local opinion in the metropolis; mutual personal knowledge, there is none; neighbourhood, good fame, bad repute, there is none; no house knows the next door. You cannot make an impression on such an ocean of units; it has no disposition, no connexion of parts."

His remedies :

"And now, what are our duties at this moment towards this enemy of ours? How are we to bear ourselves towards it? what are we to do with it? what is to come of the survey we have taken of it? with what practical remark and seasonable advice am I to conclude this attempt to determine our relation to it? The lesson we gain is obvious and simple, but as difficult, you will say, as it is simple; for the means and the end are almost identical, and in executing the one we have already reached the other.

Protestantism is fierce, because it does not know you; ignorance is its strength; error is its life. Therefore bring yourselves before it, press yourselves upon it, force yourselves into notice against its will. Oblige men to know you; persuade them, importune them, shame them into knowing you. Make it so clear what you are, that they cannot affect not to see you, nor refuse to justify you. Do not even let them off with silence, but give them no escape from confessing that you are not what they have thought you were. They will look down, they will look aside, they will look in the air, they will shut their eyes, they will keep them shut. They will do all in their power not to see you; the nearer you come, they will close their eyelids all the tighter; they will be very angry and frightened, and give the alarm as if you were going to murder them. They will do anything but look at you. They are, many of them, half conscious they have been wrong, but fear the consequences of becoming sure of it; they will think it best to let things alone, and to persist in injustice for good and all, since they have been for so long a time committed to it; they will be too proud to confess themselves mistaken; they prefer a safe cruelty to an inconvenient candour.

I know it is a most grave problem how to touch so intense an obstinacy, but, observe, if you once touch it, you have done your work. There is but one step between you and success. It is a steep step, but it is one. It is a great thing to know your aim, to be saved from wasting your energies in wrong quarters, to be able to concentrate them on a point. You have but to aim at making men look steadily at you; when they do this, I do not say they will become Catholics, but they will cease to have the means of making you a by-word and a reproach, of inflicting on you the cross of unpopularity. Wherever Catholicism is known, it is respected, or at least endured, by the people. Politicians and philosophers, and the established clergy, would be against you, but not the people, if it knew you. A religion which comes from God approves itself to the conscience of the people, wherever it is really known.

I am not advocating, as you will see presently, anything rude in your bearing, or turbulent, or offensive; but first I would impress upon you the end you have to aim at. Your one and almost sole object, I say, must be, to make yourselves known. This is what will do everything for you: it is what your enemies will try by might and main to hinder. They begin to have a suspicion that Catholicism, known to be what it really is, will be their overthrow. They have hitherto cherished a most monstrous idea about you. They have thought, not only that you were the vilest and basest of men, but that you were fully conscious of it yourselves, and conscious, too, that they knew it. They have fancied that you, or at least your priests, indulged in the lowest sensuality, and practised the most impudent hypocrisy, and were parties to the most stupid and brutish of frauds; and that they dared not look a Protestant in the face.
Accordingly, they have considered, and have thought us quite aware ourselves, that we were in the country only on sufferance; that we were like reputed thieves and other bad characters, who, for one reason or another, are not molested in their dens of wickedness, and enjoy a contemptuous toleration, if they keep within bounds. And so, in like manner, they have thought that there was evidence enough at any moment to convict us, if they were provoked to it. What would be their astonishment, if one of the infamous persons I have supposed stood upon his rights, or obtruded himself into the haunts of fashion and good breeding?

Fancy, then, how great has been their indignation, that we Catholics should pretend to be Britons; should affect to be their equals; should dare to preach, nay, to controvert; should actually make converts, nay, worse and worse, not only should point out their mistakes, but, prodigious insolence! should absolutely laugh at the absurdity of their assertions, and the imbecility of their arguments. They are at first unable to believe their ears, when they are made sensible that we, who know so well our own worthlessness, and know that they know it, who deserve at the least the hulks or transportation, talk as loudly as we do, refuse to be still, and say that the more we are known, the more we shall be esteemed. We, who ought to go sneaking about, to crouch at their feet, and to keep our eyes on the ground, from the consciousness of their hold upon us,—is it madness, is it plot, what is it, which inspires us with such unutterable presumption? They have the might and the right on their side. They could confiscate our property, they could pack us all out of the kingdom, they could bombard Rome, they could fire St. Peter's, they could batter down the Coliseum, they could abolish the Papacy, if they pleased. Passion succeeds, and then a sort of fear, such as a brutal master might feel, who breaks into fury at the first signs of spirit in the apprentice he has long ill-treated, and then quails before him as he gets older. And then how white becomes their wrath, when men of their own rank, men of intelligence, men of good connexions, their relations or their friends, leave them to join the despised and dishonoured company! And when, as time goes on, more and more such instances occur, and others are unsettled, and the old landmarks are removed, and all is in confusion, and new questions and parties appear in the distance, and a new world is coming in,—when what they in their ignorance thought to be nothing turns out to be something, they know not what, and the theodolite of Laputa has utterly failed, they quake with apprehension at so mysterious a visitation, and they are mad with themselves for having ever qualified their habitual contempt with some haughty generosity towards us. A proud jealousy, a wild hate, and a perplexed dismay, almost choke them with emotion.

All this because they have not taken the trouble to know us as we are in fact:—however, you would think that they had at last gained an opening for information, when those whom they have known become the witnesses of what we are. Never so little; the friends who have left them are an embarrassment to them, not an illumination; an embarrassment, because they do but interfere with their received rule and practice of dealing with us. It is an easy thing to slander those who come of the old Catholic stock, because such persons are unknown to the world. They have lived all their days in tranquil fidelity to the creed of their forefathers, in their secluded estate, or their obscure mission, or their happy convent; they have cultivated no relations with the affairs or the interests of the day, and have never entered into the public throng of men to gain a character. They are known, in their simplicity and innocence and purity of heart, and in their conscientiousness of life, to their God, to their neighbour and to themselves, not to the world at large.

If any one would defame them, he may do it with impunity; their name is not known till it is slandered, and they have no antecedents to serve as a matter for an appeal. Here, then, is the fit work for those prudent slanderers, who would secure themselves from exposure, while they deal a blow in defence of the old Protestant Tradition. Were a recent convert, whose name is before the world, accused of some definite act of tyranny or baseness, he knows how to write and act in his defence, and he has a known reputation to protect him; therefore, ye Protestant champions, if there be an urgent need at the moment for some instance of Catholic duplicity or meanness, be sure to shoot your game sitting; keep yourselves under cover, choose some one who can be struck without striking, whom it is easy to overbear, with whom it is safe to play the bully. Let it be a prelate of advanced age and of retired habits, or some gentle nun, whose profession and habits are pledges that she cannot retaliate. Triumph over the old man and the woman. Open your wide mouth, and collect your rumbling epithets, and round your pretentious sentences, and discharge your concentrated malignity, on the defenceless. Let it come down heavily on them to their confusion; and a host of writers, in print and by the post, will follow up the outrage you have commenced.

But beware of the converts, for they are known; and to them you will not be safe in imputing more than the ordinary infirmities of humanity. With them you must deal in the contrary way. Men of rank, men of station, men of ability, in short, men of name, what are we to do with them! Cover them up, bury them; never mention them in print, unless a chance hint can be dropped to their disadvantage. Shake your heads, whisper about in society, and detail in private letters the great change which has come over them. They are not the same persons; they have lost their fine sense of honour, and so suddenly, too; they are under the dominion of new and bad masters. Drop their acquaintance; meet them and pass them by, and tell your friends you were so pained you could not speak to them; be sure you do nothing whatever to learn from them anything about the Catholic faith; know nothing at all about their movements, their objects, or their life. Read none of their books; let no one read them who is under your influence; however, you may usefully insert in your newspapers half sentences from their writings, or any passing report, which can be improved to their disadvantage. Not a word more; let not even their works be advertised. Ignore those who never can be ignored, never can be forgotten; and all for this,—that by the violation of every natural feeling, and every sacred tie, you may keep up that profound ignorance of the Catholic Religion which the ascendency of Protestantism requires."


By coming to Britain at this time in part-pilgrimage to honour Blessed John Newman and to speak in London , the Pope will be fulfilling the prescriptions of John Henry Newman to advance the cause of the Church in Britain.

We should be eternally grateful to him and should welcome him with great enthusiasm. And in the way of his great Bavarian compatriot, St Hildegard,  joyfully

See also