In May of this year, Pope Benedict announced that he will declare Saint Hildegard of Bingen a Doctor of the Church on October 7th.
Today, there are only 33 Doctors of the Church. The title is awarded to saints whose work the pope declares has been of great advantage to the Church, which has provided learning and is of great importance. St John of Ávila will also be declared a Doctor of the Church on the same day.
Saint Hildegard lived in western Germany between the end of the 11th century until 1179. She was an abbess (a leader of nuns), a preacher, composer, mystic, poet, writer of theological texts and wrote plays on moral issues. She is believed to have written the first ever morality play. She also claimed to have experienced visions.
What set her aside from other such theologians was that she did all this at a time when women were banned from performing such duties. Nevertheless, her works were accepted and she even went on tours preaching publicly and advised important people of the era. These included two popes, Eugene III and Anastasius IV and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick I (otherwise known as Barbarossa – Red Beard).
Saint Hildegard claimed to have seen her first vision when she was just three years old. She told people that she saw the light of good through all of her senses. When she was 42, she had a vision that she understood as God telling her to write down everything she saw and heard in her visions.
As Saint Hildegard was a humble person, she found it very difficult to tell people or write about her visions. Having understood God wanted her to do this, she fell ill from the psychological stress of having to do something which others may seem as arrogant.
Eventually with the help of a friend she documented her experiences in a work she called Vita (Latin for ‘life’). When the pope at the time, Pope Eugene III, heard about this work, he approved her to write down her visions, as he saw them as revelations from the Holy Spirit.
When she died, her nuns explained that they saw two streams of light over the spot where she was dying.
Saint Hildegard became a saint in the 17th century, but she has become particularly important to theology experts today. The reason for this is that her ability to make herself respected by the most important people of her time, in spite of the restrictions on women in those days.
As there is more equality between men and women today and the Catholic Church is being urged by many of its followers to become more egalitarian, Saint Hildegard’s example is today more relevant than ever.