Friday, May 11, 2012

Saint Hildegard

Among the anomalies we had occasion to learn about in my Roman Studium at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints this past winter was the curious case of the influential German medieval mystic and moastic foundress Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Her reputation for sanctity was already widely noted during her life, and after her death a number of miracles were attributed to her intercession. Accordingly, in 1228, responding to the request of Hildegard's Rupertsberg convent, a local process was initiated in Germany, the acts of which were duly sent under seal to Rome in 1233.
This was right at the period when the canonization process was becoming centeralized in Rome. In 1179 Pope Alexander III had written a pastoral letter to the King of Sweden, towards the end of which he reprimanded the Swedes for venerating as a martyr a man who had been killed while intoxicated. Even if there were miracles attributed to the person, the Pope insisted, it was not permissable to venerate someone as a saint without Roman authorization. This paragraph, known forever after by its opening word Audivimus ("We have heard"), was inserted by the Dominican canonist St. Raymond of Penyafort (1175-1275) into the Decretals promulgated by Pope Gregory IX in 1234.
Gregory IX was supportive of Hildegard's cause, but the local proces had been - to put it politely -poorly performed. Egregiously, the names of the witnesses were missing from the documentation sent to Rome, and so the depositions were deemed insufficient. The Pope sought unsuccessfully for the necessary information. So did Innocent IV in 1243 and John XXII in 1317. By then, however, the lack of any first-hand witnesses had rendered the whole process much more problematic. The curious result was that Hildegard - although widely thought of and even referred to as a "saint" (especially in her native Germany) - was never in fact formally canonized. Apparently unaware of this, the Bishops of her native Germany in 1978 petitioned the Holy See to declare her a Doctor of the Church! (She did make it into Outer Space, however, where an asteroid is named after her - asteroid898Hildegard).
Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI, who has already devoted two of his General Audience talks to her, finally fixed this unfortunate state of affairs and formally inscribed her name in the Church's roster of canonized saints. May this long-delayed honor to St. Hildegard be a blessing to the Church - as well as a timely reminder of the importance of keeping accurate paper work and doing one's job seriously and well!

1 comment:

  1. Get out your HILDEGARD CDs.KNOXVILLE could lead the land with the FIRST HILDEGARDE MUSIC FESTIVAL.