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A great intellectual

· The equivalent canonization of Hildegard of Bingen ·

Hildegard of Bingen has finally been proclaimed a saint by the Church after centuries, even though she has been venerated as such since her death, especially within the Benedictine Order to which she belonged. She was a majestic and complex figure in the troubled 12th century, where her wise and prophetic presence played a very important role, one unprecedented for a woman. Nun, Abbess, and Foundress of two new monasteries which she directed with a firm hand. Beginning in her mystic childhood experiences, she had the courage to make her prophetic visions known publicly – writing to the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, “You act like a child”. She was also courageous enough to write books on mysticism and theology, medical texts as well as analyses of natural phenomena, of the universe and of the human being, proposing new solutions and unprecedented insights.

Certain of being the bearer of the divine message, she dedicated herself to preaching, travelling around Germany, and even speaking in churches. She urged the Popes to reform, harshly criticizing them and explaining that the Holy Spirit spoke through her, a woman, because the Church, led by men, had betrayed in many ways her nature and her mission.

In her prophetic vision, human and divine reality were united in the same reality secured by love. She saw and described God as a “living light”, a light that is also part of the human person: she described herself as “shadow of the living light”. It is not surprising then that feminist history and theology have devoted much effort to rediscovering this figure.

Hildegard was also a good composer of sacred music, and cds of her music are to be found in bookshops around the world and not just religious ones. The mystic of the Rhine proves that within Christian culture it was possible for a woman — obviously exceptional – to produce high quality culture and to make herself heard by those in power. Benedict XVI in his reflections on female figures of the Middle Ages dedicated two speeches to Hildegard and, referring to her, said that “theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity”. The equivalent canonization stands as proof of the importance that the Pope gives to this woman who combined mystical qualities with the true and proper intellectual characteristics of her time. She was so exceptional that in order to find another of like stature, on the intellectual level — leaving aside the two great Teresas: teachers of mysticism — we must look to another German Saint, Edith Stein.

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