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Benedict XVI formally recognises Hildegard of Bingen as a saint

By on Friday, 11 May 2012

An icon of St Hildegard by Fr Richard Cannuli (CNS)

An icon of St Hildegard by Fr Richard Cannuli (CNS)

Benedict XVI has added Hildegard of Bingen to the Church’s formal list of saints and permitted Catholics worldwide to celebrate her feast day with a Mass and special readings.

The Vatican announced yesterday that the Pope had formalised the Church’s recognition of the 12th-century German Benedictine mystic, “inscribing her in the catalogue of saints”.

The Pope’s order regarding St Hildegard recognises her widespread fame of holiness and that Catholics have venerated her for centuries.

In a 2010 series of audience talks about women’s contributions to the Church, Pope Benedict dedicated two talks to St Hildegard. He said she was a worthy role model for Catholics today because of “her love for Christ and his Church, which was suffering in her time, too, and was wounded also then by the sins of priests and lay people”.

In St Hildegard’s time, there were calls for radical reform of the Church to fight the problem of abuses made by the clergy, the Pope had said. But she “reproached demands to subvert the very nature of the Church” and reminded people that “a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence”.

In addition, the Pope noted, modern Catholics can learn from her “love for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated today”.

During a meeting yesterday with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Pope Benedict signed 17 decrees furthering the Causes of dozens of individuals,

He advanced the Causes of 19th-century America Bishop Frederic Baraga of Marquette and of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St Elizabeth in New Jersey, who died in 1927.

The decrees for both of the American candidates for canonisation recognise that they heroically lived the Christian virtues and are “venerable”. Before they can be beatified, the Vatican must recognise that a miracle has occurred through their intercession.

Fr Baraga was ordained a priest in Slovenia in 1823 but left for America in the early 1830s to serve among the Ojibwa and Ottawa in Michigan. Beginning in 1835 he worked in the Upper Peninsula, where his constant travels to Indian villages even in the harsh winter months earned him the nickname “Snowshoe Priest”. He was named the first bishop of Upper Michigan in 1857. In 1866, two years before his death, he moved the headquarters of the diocese from Sault Ste Marie on the eastern end of the peninsula to centrally located Marquette, where it remains today.

Sister Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1901. After attending Bayonne public schools, she began studies at the College of St Elizabeth in Convent Station, graduating in 1923. Two years later she entered the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station. She wrote a series of spiritual conferences, which were collected and published after her death as a book, Greater Perfection. She died in 1927 at the age of 26.

Announcing the decrees signed by the Pope, the Vatican also formally acknowledged that Pope Benedict signed a decree on March 14 recognising the heroic virtues of Fr Felix Varela, a Cuban born priest who died in Florida in 1853. The move was announced in the United States and Cuba in April.

Among the decrees there also were two recogniszing miracles, paving the way for the beatifications of Capuchin Brother Thomas of Olera, Italy, who died in Austria in 1631, and of Italian Salesian Sister Maria Troncatti, a missionary who died in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1969 at the age of 86. She had served in South America for almost 50 years.

Other decrees recognised the martyrdom of Odoardo Focherini, an Italian who died in a Nazi prison camp in 1944 after being arrested while helping Jews escape capture by the Nazis, 14 Franciscan friars killed in Prague in 1611 and 22 Spaniards killed during the Spanish civil war in the 1930.

  • baige867

  • Mary Sharratt

    A long time admirer of Hildegard and her legacy, I am delighted that she is finally getting this official recogntion. Her ethereal music, her philosophy of natural medicine, her transcendent visions of the divine as manifest in the natural world have made her an icon to people of diverse faith backgrounds. I hope this new burst of fame allows many more people to be inspired by her life and work.

  • Benedict Carter

    St. Hildegard was an astonishing character and would have been in any age. St. Hildegard, pray for us. 

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    There is a special providence that Pope Benedict, the first German pontiff in centuries, should be the one to restore Hildegard’s extraordinary theological accomplishments to the wider attention of the universal Church.  As a student of medieval theologies of history and reformist apocalypticism, Joseph Ratzinger would certainly have been amongst the cadre of German scholars of the middle twentieth century who began the Hildegard renaissance.  They focused, however, not on her more celebrated traits today–her music and herbal medicine–but on her ambitious and original visions of salvation history.  A hallmark especially of her more mature and sophisticated theology was a tension between a pessimistic realization of the corruption that enfeebled both secular and sacred authority all around her and an optimistic vision of a future for the Church, reformed and renewed.  Indeed, it is that vision of reform, which rejects the entanglements of Church and State as leading only to corruption and embraces a Church both lessened in worldly stature and strengthened in prophetic holiness, that the future pope may have found most admirable.  One can see influences of such a vision of reform in Ratzinger’s own ideas about the future state of the Church, described in a 1969 radio address titled “What Will the Church Look Like in 2000?” and published in his volume Glaube und Zukunft (Faith and the Future).

    As a student and scholar of Hildegard’s theology, I find it especially welcome that this confirmation of universal cultus is only the first step in the Pope’s plans to honor her.  Later this year, he will declare her a Doctor of the Church, only the fourth woman ever to be lifted to that office.  It is my fervent hope that the Church will take notice of this remarkable woman and take the time to listen to her melodic voice, calling us across the ages to return the Church to “the first dawn of justice”.

  • Parasum

    “In addition, the Pope noted, modern Catholics can learn from her “love
    for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated

    ## “[H]er medecine” ??? That seems unlikely, given the state of medicine in her time & for long after.

    Does anyone know whether it is she who is said to have been made the fourth woman doctor of the Church – and if not her, who ? TY.

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    While the technical aspects of Hildegard’s unique applications of humour theory may not be as applicable today, her philosophy of “slow medicine” as it’s called certainly does–see for example the work of Victoria Sweet.  Furthermore, her ideas of the human being as a microcosm of creation can certainly offer fertile areas of exploration in the philosophy of medicine and science.

  • gillibrand

    I am confused- she is my Roman Martyrology in Latin from 1928 as a saint.

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    Last week’s action was intended precisely to clarify what has long been a confusing situation for Hildegard, the kinda-sorta unofficial saint.  At her death on September 17, 1179, the medieval papacy had only just begun to centralize what would become the judicial process of canonization.  The nuns of Hildegard’s abbey, together with the clergy in nearby Mainz and Trier, were eager, however, to advance her cause; and for this reason they set about documenting Hildegard’s life and miracles (in her Vita), composing a liturgical office for her celebration, and commissioning several deluxe manuscripts of her visionary corpus.  In 1227/1228, under Pope Gregory IX, they began the official proceedings for canonization; the local report was completed in 1233 and sent to Rome.  Pope Gregory sent the report back in 1237 with a request that a second commission revise the report, as it lacked sufficient detail in recording Hildegard’s miracles.  It should be noted also that the completion rate for thirteenth-century canonization processes was only about 50%; and that by this time, the “popular” saints were not old Benedictines (not a single one of whom was canonized between 1198 and 1461) but the new Franciscans and Dominicans.

    In 1243, Pope Innocent IV requested the revised report, which we now possess as the Canonizatio sanctae Hildegardis.  At that point, however, the process seems to have fallen into dormancy.  In the early years of the 14th century, it is reported that, at the request of the monks at Sponheim, Pope John XXII issued an indulgence for the celebration of Hildegard’s cult in their diocese, though details are sketchy. Several other indulgence letters for other German dioceses and monasteries–especially Mainz and Hildegard’s own Abbey on the Rupertsbeg–also exist from the 14th century; but there was never an official promulgation of the cult.

    Veneration of Hildegard as a saint was continuous in the areas around Bingen and Mainz; and in the sixteenth century–possibly in response to Protestant use of Hildegard’s prophecies–her name was included in the Roman martyrology (thus why you found it in your 1928 copy).  In 1940, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints authorized her cult in all German dioceses.  What the Pope issued last week, then, was what is called an “equivalent canonization”, a process by which a de facto saint’s veneration is authorized to the universal church.

  • Benedict Carter

    Extremely informative. Thank you. 

  • jiejie

  • baoni779