The Medieval Review 14.12.05

Berndt, Rainer, and Maura Zátonyi. Glaubensheil: Wegweisung ins Christentum gemäß der Lehre Hildegards von Bingen. Erudiri Sapientia: Studien sum Mittelalter und zu seiner Rezeptionsgeschichte, 10. Münster: Aschendorff, 2013. Pp. 363. €54.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9783402104378 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Debra L. Stoudt
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The canonization and recognition of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) as Doctor of the Church took place in May and October 2012 respectively. These events represent the culmination of the case for the sanctity of the Benedictine magistra first argued in 1227. Glaubensheil comprises three of the twelve chapters in the Positio super canonizatione ac ecclesiae doctoratu, the documentation prepared primarily by German scholars in German and presented in Italian translation in support of the "causa Hildegardis." [1] The excerpts are re-ordered in this volume to form a cohesive exploration of Hildegard's works, her theological teachings, and the personal characteristics that informed the canonization process, namely her virtues, reputation, and miracles. The genesis of the monograph is summarized in the foreword (7) and described in greater detail in the introduction (15-23), which concludes with commentary on the twenty-first-century relevance and impact of the saint's Christocentric interpretation of humanity and the world.

Part I (27-106) presents Hildegard's literary legacy, which is remarkable in its scope, variety of form, and originality of thought and expression. The works are introduced in groups, beginning with the three principal writings, i.e., the visionary Sciuias, Liber vite meritorum, and Liber divinorum operum, followed by the letters, the Expositiones Evangeliorum, musical works, naturopathic-medical works, and concluding with the linguistically experimental writings. Specific themes are highlighted in the synopses: salvation history in the visionary works, the Ordo virtutum and the Physica; Hildegard's role as prophet in the epistolary works; and the importance of the liturgy in the sermons as well as the Symphonia. A chronological table of the writings supplemented by comments regarding their ordering completes the introduction to her oeuvre. The second chapter explores the content of the writings from the perspective of Hildegard's religious vocation and the contours of her belief system, both of which are informed by monastic tradition, specifically that of the Benedictines, liturgy, and Holy Scripture. The magistra's interpretations of Scripture and of nature are examined through the lens of her visionary experiences. For Hildegard an understanding of the Word and the world is not merely an exegetical exercise; rather, its purpose is realized in practical application, which is facilitated by the uirtutes (77). The final chapter addresses the originality of the saint's writings, tracing her reception of the Apostles, Church Fathers, and contemporaneous religious authors and concluding with an examination of her role as prophet and the ramifications of this role for inspired Scripture exegesis (105).

Part II (109-237) considers Hildegard's teachings through topics frequently included in the theological summae of her day: an understanding of God and the Trinity, the relationship between humankind and God (theological anthropology), salvation history, and the sacraments. The existence of God, also commonly discussed in twelfth-century compendia, is assumed in Hildegard's theology and requires no explanation (117). Knowledge and understanding of God are derived from that which God has created (119), and the saint's perception of humanity as created in the image and likeness of God is rooted in inherent dichotomies: reason and will, body and spirit, male and female. Her characterization of salvation history exhibits numerous influences, but its distinctive manifestations in the visionary works demonstrate her freshness of thought. The sacraments serve as salvific places and moments; given the Christocentric nature of her theology, it is not surprising that the Eucharist assumes the primary role among them. Medieval theological summa literature provides the context for a discussion of Hildegardian cosmology, the theme of the second chapter, and the magistra's three visionary writings, viewed as a coherent whole, are characterized as a single cosmological summa (164). Humanity's place is at the center of creation, as depicted in illuminations in the Lucca manuscript of the Liber divinorum operum. Within the cosmic framework God interacts with humanity and is seen, heard, and experienced through visions, music, and the sacrament of communion. Part two culminates in a description of the instructions inherent in the saint's writings; their purpose is to lead humanity to salvation, a goal accomplished through God's love. This love enables humanity to reject sin and accept responsibility for the world it inhabits. Love of God manifests itself in two remarkable images described in the Sciuias: Christ, God Incarnate, as the man who is the color of sapphire, and the Church as the mother of the faithful. The virtues, introduced earlier as part of Hildegard's theological anthropology, serve to embolden humankind to partake of God's love and emulate Christ (221). Only through surrender to God can believers truly and eternally abide at the center of creation (237).

Part III (241-309) profiles Hildegard as an individual, a Benedictine, and a saint; the vita prepared by Gottfried of Disibodenberg and Theodoric of Echternach as well as the letters serve as sources for the portrayal. The virtues are revisited, first those present in Hildegard's writings, followed by those evident in her personal life. Her reputation of holiness (fama sanctitatis), key to the canonization cause, is confirmed by the witness of these virtues and her roles as lucerna Ecclesiae (270) and a blessing (benedictio) (273) to believers. The reports of her miracles (303-09) contextualize her acts as words and deeds undertaken to the glory of God in order to strengthen faith and demonstrate charity.

The four-page epilogue addresses topics for further consideration, including authorial intent, reception by modern readers, and the salvific nature of God's love through creation and the Incarnation. The relevance of Hildegard's message to the Church today and the centrality of faith, noted in the introduction, are revisited briefly as well. The volume concludes with an extensive (although not comprehensive) bibliography and a register of works and individuals cited. Given the repetition and interrelatedness of themes, a keyword index would have been helpful.

The book includes five plates: the Hildegard shrine, two images from her writings, and depictions of the monasteries at Rupertsberg and Eibingen, which are inserted into part two and whose significance for the volume is unclear. In their place an illumination from the Liber diuinorum operum depicting the centrality of humanity in the cosmos, might have been more appropriate.

The authors reflect on the magistra's creativity, but they do not explore the more provocative and distinctive aspects of her theology, e.g., the feminist overtones of her theology and the concept of uiriditas. Likewise, Hildegard's authority within her own community is not addressed; she is identified as "abbess" with no reference to the spiritual superiority of the abbot of Disibodenberg, to which she remained subject throughout her life. [2]

A scholarly work replete with cogent analyses and careful research, this volume must also be classified as hagiography, which its composition and publication as part of the "causa Hildegardis" validates. Since the case for sanctity stands on the merits of the candidate's words and actions, the authors' approach is almost exclusively text-immanent. The Latin text of the quotations from Hildegard's writings as well as those of her contemporaries is provided in the footnotes. Numerous and frequently extensive, these citations comprise at least a quarter of the entire volume. Secondary literature is occasionally referenced in the text and footnotes and is acknowledged in the bibliography; it is not discussed in any detail and plays no significant role in the authors' analyses.

The significance of the volume lies in its elucidation of aspects of the magistra's teachings, her theological interpretations grounded in but divergent from those of her contemporaries, and the pervasive message of salvation in her oeuvre. Each of the three parts of the volume contributes to a programmatic presentation of Hildegard's life and works constructed to highlight her intellectual abilities, orthodoxy, coherence of thought, and holiness. A text prepared as part of the canonization process cannot do otherwise. Hildegard is portrayed as a religious woman worthy of Pope Benedict XVI's words of praise from his declaration of her as Doctor of the Church, cited in the introduction (23), and vital to the message of love and hope for today's Church in Pope Francis's encyclical Lumen fidei, referenced on the final page of the epilogue (314).

The eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of Hildegard of Bingen in 1979 and the nine-hundredth anniversary of her birth twenty years later occasioned a succession of scholarly as well as popular publications about the twelfth-century Benedictine. Her canonization and doctorization have introduced another groundswell of literary activity, one to which this volume makes a valued contribution.



1. The positio was published as Urbis et orbis extensionis cultus et concessionis tituli doctoris ecclesiae universalis in honorem Hildegardis Bingensis monialis professae Ordinis Sancti Benedicti (1098-1179) Positio super canonizatione ac ecclesiae doctoratu (Rome: Tipogr. Nova Res, 2012). The documentation has spawned a second publication to date: Das Leben der heiligen Hildegard von Bingen: Vita sanctae Hildegardis, trans. Monika Klaes-Hachmöller, Hildegard von Bingen Werke 3 (Beuron: Beuroner Kunstverlag, 2013).

2. Anna Silvas discusses this circumstance in Jutta and Hildegard: The Biographical Sources, Brepols Medieval Women Series (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 111-112; Silvas is not included in the bibliography of this volume.

Copyright (c) 2014 Debra L. Stoudt

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