URC Daily Devotion Saturday 29th April 2023 Hildegard of Bingen
Saturday 29th April 2023 Hildegard of Bingen 1098 – 1179
Hildegard receiving a vision Unknown author – Miniature from the Rupertsberg Codex of Liber Scivias.
Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history. She has been considered by scholars to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. Hildegard’s convent elected her as mother superior in 1136. She founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. Hildegard wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal works, as well as letters, hymns, and antiphons for the liturgy. She wrote poems, and supervised miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She is noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota.
Hildegard had an intense friendship with another nun, Ricardis, and wrote demeaning herself whilst, at the same time, giving learned commentary on a range of subjects. In an age which severely limited women’s education and academic interests Hildegard stands out. The acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even a well-connected abbess and acknowledged prophet, does not fit the stereotype of her time. Her preaching was not limited to the monasteries; she preached publicly in 1160 in Germany. She conducted four preaching tours throughout Germany, speaking to both clergy and laity in chapter houses and in public, mainly denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform.
Although the history of her formal canonization is complicated, regional calendars of the Roman Catholic church have listed her as a saint for centuries. On 7 October 2012 Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church, in recognition of “her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching.”
St Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Hildegade is an interesting figure. A powerful Abbess who often put herself down, yet displayed formidable learning and authority. A woman with intense feelings towards another nun yet who wrote the most fierce condemnation of sexual relationships between those of the same sex (Scivias 78). A preacher calling for reform of morals yet who wrote passionate poetry to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A devoted daughter of the Church who had no issues getting an Archbishop to overrule her abbot or write to popes. A nun who wanted no distinctions of social rank in her convents, yet banned postulants unless they were from the nobility! Hildegard knew how to get her own way; she knew how to have authority in a patriarchal world. Her nuns were devoted to her; one isn’t sure what her bishops felt! She knew how to stay rooted within the tradition yet also called for its reform
As Reformed Christians we pride ourselves on living out the Reformation tag that the Reformed Church is always being reformed by the Word of God. We find we struggle as we wrestle with being loyal to the tradition yet finding new ways in which the Word speaks to us. Over the last hundred years or so the ordination of women, acceptance of divorce and remarriage, the place of lgbt folk in the life of the Church, and the insights that the two third world bring, have all been ways in which this struggle between faithfulness and reform have played out for us.
Like Hildegard we can all be full of contradictions. We can be radical in some ways and deeply conservative in others. We can be contradictory in our approaches to ethics, Scripture, tradition, and authority – just as Hildegard was. We can infuriate those around us, and no doubt the historians yet to come, but we strive, just as Hildegard did, just as all our saints have done, to be faithful to the One who calls us.
Holy Spirit, comforting fire, life of all creation. Anointing the sick, cleansing body and soul, fill this body!
Holy Spirit, sacred breath, fire of love, sweetest taste, beautiful aroma, Fill this heart!
Holy Spirit, filling the world, from the heights to the deep, raining from clouds, filling rivers and sea, fill this mind!
Holy Spirit, forgiving and giving, uniting strangers, reconciling enemies, seeking the lost, and enfolding us together, fill these gathered here!
Holy Spirit, bringing light into dark places, igniting praise, greatest gift, our Hope and Encourager, Holy Spirit of Christ, I praise you! Amen.
Hildegard of Bingen
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the Minister for Digital Worship and member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Kirkwall, Orkney.