Hildegard von Bingen
1098-1179
Metaphysics, Virtue Ethics, Philosophy of Medicine, Philosophy of Religion



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Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess, philosopher, theologian, visionary, scientist/naturalist, poet and medical practitioner was one of the most well known scholars of her day.

Chronology

1098 She was the tenth child born to Mechtilde and Hildebert, a noble German family who served at the court of of Sponheim. From babyhood, she was sickly.

1101 At the age of three she began to experience visions. When she realized that this was not a common experience she began to hide hers. At an early age, she also exhibited remarkably precise visual recall of things around her.

1106 When she was eight years old, her parents offered her to the Church (a 'tithe" of the 10th child). This may have been a strictly religious act or it could be that they were finding it difficult to provide for this, their tenth child. They brought her to Jutta, an anchorite attached to the Church at Disibodenberg. Hildegard of Bingen lived with the anchorite in her single cell and was trained in prayer and the doing of simple crafts. She learned to read the Psalter in Latin but her education was, as a whole, quite rudimentary. In ensuing years she depended on secretaries to record her work and correspondence. At first, it was just the two of them, but in time a number of women were attracted to the anchorite and slowly a community developed around Jutta.

1136 Jutta died. Hildegard of Bingen was elected 'magistra' or teacher by the community.

1141 During Jutta's lifetime, Hildegard confided her vision to the anchorite and it is said to Volmer, a monk who later became her secretary. But Hildegard received a 'call from God' to write down her visions. It is recorded that she resisted, became very ill and finally accepted the command to write. Her well known work, Scivias was born. Her own description of this time is:

"But although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time a call to write, not out of stubbornness but out of humility, until weighed down by a scourge of god, I fell onto a bed of sickness."

This was a time when heresy was rife in the Church. She wanted approbation for her work and wrote to St. Bernard who interceded with the Pope who approved her work and writings. She continued her work.

1147-48 At the Synod of Trier Pope Eugenius III reads some of the writings of Hildegard of Bingen to the assembled bishops. He later urges her to write her visions.

1148 Some of her hymns, original compositions, are reported to be known in Paris.

1150 Hildegaard of Bingen decided to leave St. Disibod found a separate community in Rupertsberg which was some miles from the monastic church. The abbot opposed the community leaving but the archbishop intervened on the womens side.

1151  St. Rupert's is founded and 20 members of the community left Disibodenberg for Rupertsberg. The community was quite poor but over the ensuing years, Hildegard as Abbess, began to enlarge and better organize the monastery holdings so as to ensure its continued existence. Hildegaard complete the work Scrivias. From this year until 1158 she works on a natural history Physica and a medical book, Causae et Curae.

1155 She asks for and then in 1158 obtains legal separation from the Disiboldenberg monastery.

1158 She began her second major work, Liber vitae meritorum, which was a book of moral instruction or practical ethics.

1158 - 1171 Hildegard of Bingen traveled a great deal. She visited various monasteries, bot those of women and men, and preached in a number of Cathedrals in European cities. She preached to both members of religious orders and to diocesan clergy. At age 73 she ceased these travels.

1163 She began her last major work, Liber divinorum operum (Book of Divine Works).

1165 A new monastery at Eibingen was founded and she supervised both the new foundation and the one at Rupertsberg.

1173 Her long time secretary, Volmer, died.

1175 Hildegard of Bingen is still writing, administering, composing and in this year she responds to Wibert of Gembloux describing her visions.

1178 An excommunicated nobleman is buried in the convent cemetery. Church authorities demand that he be removed from sacred ground. Hildegaard was convinced he had been reconciled to God through confessions refuses. The monastery is placed under interdict - no Mass or other liturgical services.

1179 The Interdict is removed.

1179 Hildegard of Bingen dies on September 17.

Works of Hildegard of Bingen

1141ff. Scivias. Some images and text can be found at Scivias

1158ff. Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life's Merits)

1163ff. Liber divinorum operum (Book of the Divine Works)

1160 Hildegard of Bingen, An Explanation of the Rule of Saint Benedict, a work requested by some group of monastics, the name of which is unclear.

1170 An Explanation of the Athenasian Creed - partial text.

A play, Ordo Vitutum Latin and English text given

Other works:

  • Liber subtilitatum diversarum naturum creaturam (Book on the Subtleties of Many Kinds of Creatures)
  • Physica (Also known as Liber simplices medicinae, Book of Simple Medicine)
  • Causae et curae (also known as Liber compositae medicinae, Book of Compound Medicine)
  • Expositiones Evangeliorum (Discourses of the Gospels)
  • Litterae ignotae (Cryptic Writings)
  • Lingua ignota (Cryptic Language)
  • Vita Sancti Ruperti (Life of St. Rupert)
  • Vita Sancti Disibodi (Life of St. Disibod)
  • Solutiones triginta octo questionum (Solutions to Thirty-Eight Questions)
  • Epistolae (Letters)

You can listen to Hildegard's musical compositions:

Here is an antiphon O Verdant Maiden. Just click on the top image at Women's Voices .

Many additional sound clips can be found at Healing Chants

Secondary Sources:

Kate Robinson's work on the Seer, Prophetess of the Rhine.

Nancy Fieros Her music

Sabina Flanagan, Hildegard of Bingen: A Visionary Life Routledge, 1989.

Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine


This page was last updated 11/29/2014

Hildegard von Bingen is one of more than 100 women philosophers featured in Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers photo album and is among the 40 philosophers featured in Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers DVD Volume 1.

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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