Book Review: Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint For Our Times, by Matthew Fox

 “Those who have lived well for their own time have lived well for all times.”

I recently read Matthew Fox’s book, Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times.  It took me several tries of picking it up and starting, to finally complete it.  Who is Hildegard of Bingen?

Hildegard was a 12th century woman born near Mainz, Germany, and raised from the age of eight by a “holy woman, Jutta”. Together they joined the Benedictine Monastery where Jutta became the leader of a small group of women that developed at the monastery.  When Jutta died, Hildegard became the leader at age 38.  For the rest of her life, till her death at age 81, she led and grew this female monastic group, wrote books, poetry, letters, music and even an opera, in spite of poor health. Her music is still being recorded today.

Scholars recognize Hildegard as the “only female systematic exegete of the Middle Ages.” Much of her writing dealt with biblical and spiritual concepts such as creation, salvation, wisdom, contemplation, commentaries on the gospels and other writings, and exegesis of John 1 and the book of Revelation. Hildegard also wrote on medicine, drawing on elements of nature for cures to common human ailments.  She was “green” before that was a thing.

Matthew Fox has written several other books about Hildegard and sees her messages from the 12th century as extremely relevant to the post-modern times we live in today. In this book, Fox takes a look at specific themes that Hildegard addressed in her lifetime and compares them with contemporary themes and with authors who came much later, such as Einstine and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also points out how very contemporary her passions for nature and the feminine voice are.

What made this book difficult for me at first was learning to read Hildegard’s ways of expressing herself.  For example, her call for “the emergence of the Divine Feminine to balance a healthy Sacred Masculine” seemed strange. As a woman who grew up in Evangelical Christianity and accepted without question the male headship over women for many years, her emphasis on “divine feminine” was a foreign concept to me.

However, I have come to admire Hildegard as a woman who did not stifle her intellectual and spiritual gifts. She bravely impacted the world of her day. Her life inspires women of our time to realize the desire be contributing thinkers, welcome or not. Fox regards Hildegard as a “herald of good news”, recognizing that a herald is one who “announces” or “gives notice of”. He points out that her main theme is to “wake up” and experience the Kingdom of God, which Jesus pointed out, “is among you.” Indeed, her messages are relevant for us today.

 

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