Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179)
Germany’s greatest mystic, scientist, and doctor, Hildegard was influential in theology, nature, medicine, cosmology, the human condition and the world-at-large. She also assumed ground-breaking roles for a woman of her time: artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian, scientist, doctor, and political critic. Named a saint and doctor of the church in 2012, she believed passionately in God’s presence and activity in creation, as well as being a life force within. One of her guiding concepts was “viriditas,” the greening power of God, a word which combines the Latin for “green” and “truth,” with connotations of vigor and freshness. While we can observe it in gardens and forests, Hildegard believed we could also cultivate it in our souls.[i]
During her seventies, Hildegard completed two medical texts, which catalogued over 280 plants, cross-referenced with their healing uses. She saw humans as “living sparks” of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. A poet and composer, Hildegard collected 77 of her lyric poems, each with a musical setting she composed in Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. Her numerous other writings include lives of saints; two treatises on medicine and natural history, reflecting a quality of scientific observation rare at that period; and extensive correspondence, in which are to be found further prophecies and allegorical treatises. She also for amusement contrived her own language.
Despite her vows of enclosure—which, in theory, restricted her to the cloister—she managed to remain very much in touch with the outside world. After approval of her book Scivias by Pope Eugenius in 1147, she began to receive visits from and correspond with hundreds of people throughout Europe, including Henry II of England, Louis VII of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the empress of Byzantium
Hildegard thought connection with nature brings people a “primordial joy.” More than eight hundred years after her death, her message rings so true that she could well be considered patroness of environmental awareness. Although she would’ve been appalled by the destruction to the planet, she would’ve cheered robustly for efforts to save it.
Excerpt from More Hidden Women of the Gospels by Kathy Coffey, Orbis, OrbisBooks.com, 800-258-5838.