blessed-hildegard-von-bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church

Today is the feast day of St. Hildegard of Bingen, whom Pope Benedict made a Doctor of Church on October 7, 2012. I’ve a special interest in Hildegard, which is evolving into something of a devotion. I’ve written a couple things online about her, and also delivered a paper at an SBL annual meeting on her appropriation of Paul entitled “St. Hildegard of Bingen’s Premodern and Postmodern Paul”. I’ve also discussed St. Hildegard on The Sacred Page podcast.

First, “Hildegard of Bingen: Sibyl of the Rhine, Singing Still” (First Things’ On the Square, 16 September 2011). Excerpts:

It’s an age of widespread cultural and ecclesial malaise: the State encroaches ever more into the affairs of the church; the clergy is indolent and ineffective, oft corrupt and unchaste; the laity is poorly catechized; and Gnosticism advances. It’s the twelfth century, into which a Teutonic prophetess stepped, prepared to confront the spirits of the age with visions from on high. Nihil sub sole novum, and thus it’s worth considering on the occasion of St. Hildegard of Bingen’s feast day (tomorrow, Saturday, September 17) how her sauce for medieval geese might go well with our modern ganders. […]
 
Even if her knowledge of nature is not a matter of revelation, for Hildegard nature is not separate from the divine…Indeed, nihil sub sole novum, save the Incarnation, the only truly new thing in the world, in which we see the most extreme union of grace and nature, around which Hildegard’s entire theology revolves. The Creator is the incarnate Word who became man, and the form of man stands at the center of the cosmos as microcosm.
 
Her theology coupled with her iron personality made her an implacable enemy of the dualistic and gnostic Cathars. Their descendants are with us today, for the modernity in which we live and move and have our being is a Gnostic flight from any constraints of nature, a secularized version of grace destroying nature (and thus all too often human persons) by means of technology, an insanity running headlong into death that will heed no warnings from the Church, preferring the antipope in its belly; being Gnostic, our age cannot even conceive of the possibility of a visible Church. In contrast, Hildegard’s incarnational, sacramental vision takes seriously the concept of a visible, authoritative Church speaking truth about the goodness and harmony of God, nature and man as its microcosm.

Second, “St. Hildegard of Bingen: Doctor of the Church” (First Things’ On the Square, 4 October 2012)

One overlooked aspect of her work of which Benedict is certainly aware concerns her activity as an interpreter of Sacred Scripture. The oversight is as curious as it is lamentable. The reason for this neglect, I suspect, concerns her received status as a medieval “visionary” and modern conceptions of exegesis as a disciplined, purely rational historical exercise. St. Hildegard’s most popular work is the Scivias, her record of her divine intellectual visions, and it is easy to subtly write St. Hildegard off, I think, if we regard her only as a visionary (especially if we reduce her visions to neural epiphenomena generated by migraines).
 
St. Hildegard did much more with the Bible than impose her visions upon it: She prayed it as a Benedictine, exegeted it for her sisters as well as others, including monks and other males, and preached it in the chief cathedrals of Europe, such as those of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier. St. Hildegard models an approach to the theological exegesis of the Bible as sacred Scripture, not merely a historical artificact, having her nose in the details of the text with her mind and spirit fully engaged in the task while she reads in accord with the Church’s rule of faith.
 
For those interested in post-critical retrieval of the tradition, Hildegard models theological interpretation that assumes the harmony of faith and reason. Indeed, in this she is both medieval and modern, as the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, insists that “the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology.”

Third, a bit from my unpublished paper on Hildegard, delivered 19 November 2012 in the “Recovering Female Interpreters of the Bible” section at the SBL annual meeting:

St. Hildegard on the burning of heretics:

St. Hildegard was both behind and ahead of her times regarding the punishment of heretics. Although the burning of heretics occurred in her own time and place — four men and a girl were burned in Cologne in August of 1163, for instance,*1* while St. Hildegard and Elisabeth of Schönau were engaged in combatting heresy through visionary treatises, among other things — St. Hildgard reprobated the practice. The historian Philip Schaff writes, “[A]t a time when heretics were being burnt at Bonn and Cologne, [Hildegard] remonstrated against the death penalty for the heretic on the ground that in spite of his heresy he bore the image of God.”*2* She quite plainly said, “Do not kill them, for they are God’s image.” In this she is actually hearkening back to earlier Christian tradition. While St. Augustine certainly supported the right of the State to execute malefactors in principle,*3* he also displays grave discomfort with capital punishment, especially in certain of his letters, and believed the agents of the State could and should exercise mercy towards criminals facing capital sentences.*4* Indeed, St. Augustine did not advocate the execution of heretics, a practice that did not occur before the 11th century.*5* St. Hildegard then stands as a voice of Christian mercy between St. Augustine and the late Pope John Paul II, himself a dedicated opponent of capital punishment.

*1*See Henri Maisoneuve, Études sur les originesde l’Inquisition (Librairie J. Vrin: Paris, 1960): 111-112. The account from the Chronica Regia Coloniensis is translated by R.I. Moore, The Birth of Popular Heresy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975; repr. 1995): 38.
*2*Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 5, part 1, p. 464.
*3*See Augustine, De Ordine, II.4.12: “For what is fouler than the executioner? What is his cruel and barbarous purpose? But he has a necessary place within the well-ordered laws themselves of an orderly city. And though in his own person he does evil, the punishment of evildoers is not ascribed to him.” See also De lib. arb., I.4.9, and De civ. Dei, I.2.
*4*See Augustine, Letter 153 to Macedonius, 1.3, wherein the great Doctor reveals his attitude is driven by concerns for the sinner’s ultimate salvation. See also Letter 133 to Marcellinus, 1.1, Letter 100 to Donatus, 1-2, Letter 134 to Apringius, 4, and Sermon 13.8.
*5*See Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003). Zagorin writes, “The Decretum does not speak of killing heretics, and before the eleventh century, heresy, although penalized with various censures and excommunication, was not punishable by death. Thereafter we hear of heretics being killed by mobs, while the first execution for heresy by the secular authority is said to have occured at Orléans in 1022 at the order of King Robert the Pious of France.” (38).

On St. Hildegard as an interpreter of Scripture:

St. Hildegard has thus been many things to many people. One overlooked aspect of her work, however, concerns her activity as an interpreter of Sacred Scripture.*1* The oversight is as curious as it is lamentable. The reason for this neglect, I suspect, concerns her received status as a medieval “visionary” on one hand and modern conceptions of exegesis as a disciplined, purely rational historical-critical exercise on the other.*2* In the English-speaking world, St. Hildegard’s most popular work is the wonderful translation of the Scivias in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.*3* It is easy to subtly write St. Hildegard off, I think, if we regard her only as a visionary, especially if we reduce her visions to neural epiphenomena generated by migraines; are headaches a sufficient efficient cause of such genius?*4* But St. Hildegard did much more with the Bible than impose her visions upon it: She prayed it, exegeted it, and preached it. And so one of my goals in this brief paper is to recover another Hildegard, the Hildegard with her nose in the text and her mind fully engaged along with her spirit, even as we look at six sections of the Scivias.

*1*Bernard McGinn notes, “Surprisingly little has been written on Hildegard as an exegete” (“Hildegard of Bingen as Visionary and Exegete,” pp. 321-50 in Hildegard von Bingen in ihrem historischen Umfeld. Edited by Alfred Haverkamp. Mainz: von Zabern, 2000, 338 n. 51). Regarding Hildegard’s exegesis, McGinn’s piece is the first that should be consulted. See also Anne Clark Bartlett, “Commentary, Polemic, and Prophecy in Hildegard of Bingen’s Solutiones triginta octo quaestionum,” pp. 153-165 in Viator 23, 1992; Angela Carlevaris, “‘Scripturas subtiliter inspicere subtiliterque excribare’,” pp. 29-46 in Morgot Schmidt, ed., Tiefe Gotteswissens — Schönheit der Sprachgestalt bei Hildegard von Bingen (Stuttgart/Bad Cannstatt: 1995); and several recent works by Beverly Mayne Kienzle, including Hildegard of Bingen and Her Gospel Homilies: Speaking New Mysteries. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 12 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009); idem, editor and translator, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels (Cistercian Studies Series 241; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2011); idem, “Performing the Gospel Stories: Hildegard of Bingen’s Dramatic Exegesis in the Expositiones euangeliorum,” pp. 121-40 in Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts, ed. Elina Gertsman (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2009).
*2*Another potential reason concerns her status as a woman appropriated and appreciated in our own day chiefly (but not exclusively) by feminist scholars. If so, the irony is that feminist efforts to recover her also serve her marginalization among those who regard feminist and womanist scholarship as marginal.
*3*Trans. Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, introd. Barbara Newman, pref. Caroline Walker Bynum; Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1990.
*4*McGinn observes, “[A]ttempts to interpret Hildegards enigmatic comments on how she received her visions to fit the data of modern medicine, by claiming, for example, that she may have suffered from migraines of the ‘scintillating scotoma’ type, may be interesting mental exercises, but are ultimately unprovable” (“Hildegard of Bingen as Visionary and Exegete,” 327). The classic statement suggesting that St. Hildegard suffered from migraines was first put forth by Charles Singer in Studies in the History and Method of Science (2 vols.; Oxford 1917-1921) 1:1-55.

On St. Hildegard as medieval interpreter:

In what sense is Hildegard an interpreter at all? Whether ancient or modern, when we think of an interpreter, we usually think of someone who is actively and deliberately thinking and making judgments about what the text meant or means or both, generally along the lines set out by St. Augustine long ago in De doctrina christiana. But St. Hildegard, while gifted and educated if not learned, would not have understood her visions recorded in her Scivias in that way. In De doctrina christiana, St. Augustine presents a disciplined approach to theological interpretation (not that he would have known any other way of interpreting the Bible) relying both on the knowledge of the verbal signs of the Bible in its original and traditional languages as well as knowledge of the Church’s regula fidei; modern interpretation drops the metaphysics involved in the regula fidei but preserves the Augustinian emphasis on making sense of the verbal signs in their context. In my reading, St. Augustine leaves little room for the direct illumination of the biblical interpreter. But this is precisely what we find in St. Hildegard’s account of her visions:
Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch. And immediately I knew the meaning of the exposition of the Scriptures, namely the Psalter, the Gospel and the other catholic volumes of the Old and New Testaments, though I did not have the interpretation of the words of their texts or the division of the syllables or the knowledge of cases or tenses.*1*

Speaking very broadly, for St. Augustine and conservative Christians following him throughout the centuries in history, Scripture’s authority lies primarily in its inspiration in the past, and it is then the task of interpreters to apply critical tools to the text to determine what is meant. But for interpreters as diverse as Origen and Karl Barth, the moment of inspiration, so to speak, is in the present, when the believer encounters Christ in his or her encounter with the text. Indeed, perhaps the best patristic antecedent for St. Hildegard’s style of interpretation — words such as process or method would be misleading — is Origen of Alexandria,*2* whom St. Hildegard cites in at least one instance, although she describes him as an example of pride.*3* For Origen, interpretation is no mere mental exercise, not merely the arduous application of rigorous method to ancient texts for either academic or sacred purposes. Rather, for Origen, exegesis was a matter of deep prayer seeking the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit:

These mysteries which were made known and revealed to them [the prophets and apostles] by the Spirit, the prophets portrayed figuratively through the narration of what seemed to be human deeds and the handing down of certain legal ordinances and precepts. The aim was that not everyone who wished should have these mysteries laid before his feet to trample upon [Matt 7:6], but that they should be for the man who had devoted himself to studies of this kind with the utmost purity and sobriety and through nights of watching, by which means perchance he might be able to trace out the deeply hidden meaning of the Spirit of God, concealed under the language of an ordinary narrative which points in a different direction, and that so might become a sharer of the Spirit’s knowledge and a partaker of his divine counsel.*4*

But we ought not make too much of inspiration or illumination in the present moment; Origen certainly taught that “the Holy Spirit…enlightened the servants of the truth, that is, the prophets and apostles,”*5* and St. Hildegard herself emphasizes the inspiration of the biblical texts: “Now look and pay attention to the scriptures which take their roots from the root of the Holy Spirit and which are also written from the rationality that is God. Scripture is a mirror in which we gaze upon God in faith.”*6*

Origen and St. Hildegard are also similar in that both were monastics (as different as their monasticism and contexts were). Beverly Mayne Kienzle writes, “Benedictine life holds at its center the Scriptures and their interpretation through the spoken and written word as well as the ‘lived exegesis’ of the Rule and the Divine office—the opus Dei.”*7* These rhythms would have formed St. Hildegard and shaped her approach to Scriptural interpretation. And here we encounter another dimension of St. Hildegard as biblical interpreter, as she spent much time interpreting the Scripture for her Benedictine sisters, an activity which she cherished.*8* Examining her extant interpretation, St. Hildegard evinces knowledge of and resolves exegetical disputes for her hearers,*9* but in a less argumentative and more authoritative way as she “presents an authroitative poetic synthesis of the inner meaning of a passage for contemplative appropriation.”*10*

Thus, while she uses her intellect as an exegete and pays close attention to the details of the text,*11* she also relies on the illumination given her as a visionary, and not only with regard to the biblical texts with which she deals in the confines of the monastery and in the great pulpits of Europe, such as in the cathedrals of Trier and Mainz, but also with regard to texts like the Athanasian Creed.*12* McGinn asserts that her visions are best understood within the Augustinian category of the visio intellectualis, a mental picture which can be perceived and described using words; St. Hildegard is not a mystic whose experiences totally transcend the capacities of human language. As such, we have in St. Hildegard a real fusion of the spiritual and the rational (though, of course, the rational is something bigger and broader in the medieval world than in the modern world).

And a medieval interpreter St. Hildegard was. She stands within the great medieval tradition of interpreting Scripture according to the fourfold sense, codified after her by St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. ST I.1.10) but operative well before her from the patristic period. And so in her Gospel homilies she praises Ss. Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome for using spiritalis intepretatio to transform the old law into spiritalis intellectus, an idea inspired also by Origen.*13* Kienzle asserts that spiritual meaning undergirds all of St. Hildegard’s interpretation, which like most medieval exegesis was “tropological in its aims but typological in its concept and method.”*14*

*1*Scivias, “Declaration,” p. 59.
*2*But see Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels, 10.
*3*Ibid. Hildegard names Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome as interpreters; but cites Origen as an example of pride. Praises the first four interpreters for changing the old law/Testament into spiritalis intellectus through spiritalis intepretatio.
*4*De princ. IV.2.7, tr. G.W. Butterworth, Origen on First Principles, Being Koetschau’s Text of the De principiis Translated into English, Together with an Introduction and Notes (London: SPCK, 1936).
*5*Ibid.
*6*Ep. 186r in Epistolarium pars secunda XCI-CCLr, ed. L. Van Acker, CCCM 91A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1993), 420.4-8, trans. and quoted by McGinn, 338.
*7*Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels, 12
*8*Indeed, her secretary, Volmar, mentions in his only extant letter that St. Hildegard sisters longed for her noua interpretatio Scripturarum when she was absent. See McGinn, 339.
*9*Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels, 9.
*10*McGinn, 340.
*11*McGinn 337.
*12*See McGinn, 331.
*13*See. Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels, 10.
*14*Kienzle, Hildegard of Bingen: Homilies on the Gospels, 10. McGinn writes that St. Hildegard’s visions “were accepted as confirming, enriching, and elucidating traditional monastic theology, especially in the key areas of cosmology, anthropology, salvation history, and eschatology. Hildegard utilized these visions to construct her own form of a monastic theology based upon the spiritual (i.e., allegorical and tropological) interpretation of a divinely-revealed text. Through most of the trilogy the major text to be exegeted is not the Bible itself, but rather the account of ‘true visions’ (uere uisiones) she received from the Almighty” (332-33).

Modern and Postmodern Pauls

One can find two Pauls in modernity, representative of two kinds of modernity. The Paul of Protestant Orthodoxy is thoroughly modern in the sense that early Protestantism is modern. Believing that Paul’s teaching in Romans and Galatians was sufficient to judge the shortcomings of late medieval teaching on salvation and sufficient to justify breaking with Rome, the perceived promoter and guardian of that teaching, Paul became envisioned as the first systematic theologian whose writings were to be systematized and indeed whose gospel, especially as presented in Romans, was to provide the hermeneutical key for all of Scripture. Did not Calvin himself write, “If a man understands [Romans], he has a sure road opened for him to the understanding of the whole Scripture”? Focusing on Romans 3:21-26, soteriology in Protestant Orthodoxy became an affair in which an angry God punishes his Son capitally so that his wrath against individual sinners might be quelled, making possible a relationship based on faith as trust.*1*

But this emphasis on a truncated conception of justification led later to the undoing of many of Protestant Orthodoxy’s assumptions and convictions. For if justification of the individual sinner is Paul’s defining dogma, his principal principle, then what of those books in the corpus Paulinum in which one fails to find forensic justification? Coupled with traditional German Lutheran disdain for Catholicism (thinking here of the concept of Frühkatholismus) and Jews, later scholars in the heyday of 19th- and early 20th-century scholarship decided it impossible that Paul wrote six of the thirteen letters ascribed to him in the New Testament. Many lacked any emphasis on justification; others were thought to be too Catholic with their emphasis on church order and dogma (e.g., Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Titus); another was thought too apocalyptic (i.e., 2 Thessalonians). The result of this period of ferment was a picture of Paul as something of an idealist and religious genius similar to the portrayals of Jesus being presented. Paul, like Jesus, was seen as a champion of freedom against the constraints of hierarchy and dogma and law and the weirdness of the mysticism found in Catholicism and Judaism.

The brilliance of 19th-century scholars is not to be doubted, even as we evaluate them critically. Fortunately, however, we in the guild have evaluated them, and, while respecting their achievements, have raised serious questions about certain of their assumptions and results. As he did with his seminal, earth-shattering book on Jesus, Albert Schweitzer was the first in the modern period to challenge modern assumptions and conclusions pertaining to Paul in his book The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle.*2* Schweitzer’s work here is directly antecedent to the “new perspective on Paul” launched largely by E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977*3* and furthered since by scholars we all know. The achievements of this movement largely consist in breaking various aspects of the Bultmannian/Lutheran stranglehold on Paul. Paul is now understood as a Jew who loved his Judaism, who never relinquished his concern for Israel, a follower of Jesus with much to say about sacraments and mysticism.

Before delving into St. Hildegard, I wish to remark on two areas of particular interest for the present investigation:

(1) The postliberal situation in Pauline studies — perhaps a broader and better term than postmodern — has also caused some reevaluation of critical judgments regarding the authenticity of the disputed Paulines. I am thinking here especially of Luke Timothy Johnson’s wonderful New Testament introduction, The Writings of the New Testament,*4* in which he raises real questions regarding regnant paradigms, especially regarding the influence of the concept of Frühkatholismus, “early Catholicism,” to suggest that one might justifiably conclude Paul wrote certain of the “deutero-Paulines.” Put bluntly, perhaps Paul was indeed enough of a Catholic to have expounded upon the mystical Church in Ephesians, or to have concerned himself with bishops, priests, and deacons in the Pastorals.

(2) The postliberal situation in Pauline studies has permitted fresh investigation of Paul’s understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel; thanks to work like that of Richard Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul*5*, Paul now can be regarded as an interpreter of the Scriptures of Israel engaging in what can only be called spiritual exegesis. On one hand, different interpreters in Jewish and Christian history — Philo, Josephus, various rabbis, Paul, Augustine, Hildegard, Aquinas — do different things with Scripture, and the particularities of their approaches and work must be delineated. On the other hand, broadly speaking, there is much continuity between how the New Testament writers interpreted the Scriptures of Israel and how later Christians in the patristic and medieval periods interpreted the Bible. Whether Paul or Hildegard, Mark or Aquinas, one encounters spiritual exegesis — or we might say allegory — in their texts.

*1*While one finds this view in post-Reformation Christianity, whether Protestant, evangelical, or Catholic, it is not quite what Luther and Calvin taught at their best and at their most developed. Luther himself often speaks in language more reminiscent of traditional Christus Victor soteriology, that Christ has conquered sin, death, hell, and the devil for us, while Calvin can sound sacramental, especially when discussing the concept of union with Christ achieved in Baptism (cf. his commentary on Romans 6 and Institutes III.1). In short, the profound personal and (perhaps) ontological concepts Luther and Calvin assumed disappeared in later Protestantism.
*2*London: A. & C. Black, 1931; Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
*3*Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977.
*4*3d ed; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.
*5*New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

St. Hildegard on St. Paul and Priestly Celibacy:

St. Hildegard, in God’s voice, asserts that priests should maintain apostolic chastity, for this is the direct word of God and the example of Christ:

Let them not look to an earthly marriage, for they have chosen a spiritual one. How? By entering into My service. And if any of them suffers from the burning lust of the flesh, let him subdue his body with abstinence and fasting and chastise himself with cold and scourging. And if after all he defiles himself with a woman, let him fly from that contamination as from a burning fire or a deadly poison and cleanse his wounds with bitter penance; for I wish to be served in chastity. How? Because My Son was the height of chastity, and He represented in Himself all ecclesiastical ranks. […] He gave Himself as a burnt-offering in chastity; so let those who seek to offer a burnt-offering to Him on the altar imitate His chastity.

After quoting the Torah twice and Matthew once on the subject, with extended exhortation, St. Hildegard then turns to Paul, quoting and explaining two statements from 1 Timothy:

“A bishop therefore should be blameless, the husband of one wife” [1 Timothy 3:2]. What does this mean? One who is superior to others in a spiritual office must regulate his life so that no scandal of offenses or reproach will be found in it. How? A priest should not have two roles and be at the same time the husband of a physical wife and of a spiritual spouse; but he should be the husband of one wife, namely the holy Church, which is one in My Son because she arose as one Church in Him. But though the Church is one, she has many husbands, entering into marriage with the priests of My Son who are daily in His service; yet she remains an intact virgin, for in her the faith is uncorrupted. And therefore Paul, My vessel, did not say she was the wife of one husband; for she is joined in marriage to all those priests who will arise in My Only-Begotten till the last day, when the immortal and unfailing nuptials will take place. And those who minister to the altar under the priests are also husbands of the same wife, as Paul said, offering My faithful doctrine to humanity:
 
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, who rule well their children and their houses” [1 Timothy 3:12]. What does this mean? Let those who render service to the priests and assist them be the husbands of one wife by faithful marriage. And who is this wife? The chaste Bride who can be injured by no corruption, as a woman is corrupted when she loses the flower and innocence of virginity, which she had at the beginning of her marriage when not yet corrupted by her husband. So let these bridegrooms live so faithfully with this righteous wife as to offer good examples of virtue to those regenerated by their help in the Spirit and water; let them live to labor in their office, which lies within the rampart of the Church, with faithful care, as a secular man devotes his care to maintaining his children and his house.
 
For My friend Paul displays that Bride to the priests and the other ministers of My altar so that they will choose her as their wife and not seek a carnal spouse. For neither Paul nor My Son’s other disciples nor the rest of the Fathers who were their followers ever served as an example to them that they should take a carnal spouse and desert the spiritual wife, who had been their first choice. For a priest who is so stubborn in sin that he does the will of his flesh and illicitly takes a wife commits adultery; for he deserts his true wife, the Church, who was betrothed to him by his spiritual office, and as his will pleases unchastely marries another. It may be difficult for him to restrain his ardor, but let him restrain himself from these desires for the sake of heavenly love, as My Son shows in the Gospel, saying: [Matt 19:12 is quoted]

Two issues present themselves: (1) Pauline authorship of the Pastorals; and (2) spiritual interpretation. Obviously St. Hildegard lived before the critical revolution in biblical studies, so for her there would be no question regarding authorship. Leaving aside the significant literary issues of vocabulary and style, the question for scholars today is whether we can conceive of a Paul who would be concerned with Church order and offices in this manner and to this degree. I happen to think we can, for the general reasons Luke Timothy Johnson articulates in Writings of the New Testament: The structure one finds in the Pastorals is not so different from structures one finds in Judaism of the day, specifically synagogues, or in Greco-Roman collegia, and charismata (as seen in the authentic Paulines) and structure are not necessarily exclusive. I also detect an issue here similar to the issues surrounded the criterion of dissimilarity in historical Jesus studies: If Judaism before Paul and early Christianity after Paul had rudimentary but real structures, would it not stand to reason that Paul himself might not have had a concern for structure and order? As the case with Jesus, in seeking a Paul neither Jewish nor Catholic, either by accident or design, perhaps modern scholarship has ignored significant elements of the authentic Paul.

More interesting is St. Hildegard’s spiritual treatment of these Pauline statements. While spiritual interpretation–allegory, broadly speaking, which included typology, although the distinction isn’t made firmly until the Reformation, unless Antiochene theoria is understood as an analogue to western typology–was the way in which the Church was able to preserve the Scriptures of Israel as Christian Scripture, as the Old Testament, allegorizing the New Testament was not unheard of, and among interpreters beyond Origen. Ss. Irenaeus, Chrysostom, and Augustine, among others, all allegorize the parable of the Good Samaritan, seeing it as an allegory of salvation history. Therefore we should not be surprised to see St. Hildegard feeling free (thinking she is under God’s direction in doing so) to read these Pauline verses spiritually. Perhaps the oddest part is that St. Hildegard is here allegorizing a letter as opposed to a Gospel, but, on the other hand, New Testament letters presume narratives (or, put differently, they have narrative substructures), and these verses Hildegard quotes bear on the story of the Church. St. Hildegard’s allegorizing works within the rules of the medieval game, which assumes the unity of Scripture, Tradition, and Church, which assumes the normative nature of presbyteral celibacy. As St. Augustine had said in De doctrina christiana, interpretations of Scripture should not contradict the regula fidei, and for St. Hildegard as a western Latin Christian the medieval regula fidei included priestly celibacy, which, indeed, was an ancient custom in both east and west.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing. She is truly amazing—a shining example for young people, especially girls. I have two daughters who know a little of her because of her music. I think they’re ready to learn more of this amazing story.

    Godspeed,
    R. Hill
    San Leandro CA

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