The Medieval Review 16.11.03

Berndt, Rainer and Maura Zátonyi OSB, eds. Unversehrt und unverletzt: Hildegards von Bingen Menschenbildund Kirchenverständnis heute. Erudiri Sapientia, 12. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2015. pp. 729. €89.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-3-402-10440-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Debra L. Stoudt
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The majority of essays in this volume were presented at the international and interdisciplinary Hildegard conference held in Mainz in 2013, a year after Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Benedictine visionary a saint as well as a doctor of the Church. The work appears in the same series as Glaubensheil, part of the canonization documentation for Hildegard that was authored by Rainer Berndt and Maura Zátonyi, the editors of this volume; preparation of the documentation served as the impetus for the conference, whose aim was to give new, trend-setting impulses to scholarship dealing with Hildegard's writings and other activities (5). These proceedings, which include 26 contributions in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, build upon the foundation established by the 2013 volume (19); they further exemplify the renewed interest in Hildegard that has resulted from the official recognition of her status by the Church. [1]

The first part of the title, unversehrt und unverletzt, is excerpted from the Athanasian Creed, where the phrase refers to the Catholic faith. At the conclusion of their introductory remarks the editors align the former term with Hildegard as a human being and the latter with the Church (22); however, throughout the volume both "whole" and "undefiled" find resonance with a variety of concepts, including Hildegard's perception of humanity, her theology, and her understanding of the Church, as well as their reception today.

The brief introduction (15-22) provides a framework for the collection with its summary of the current state research concerning the saint. Berndt and Zátonyi identify specific questions that have been answered through recent scholarly efforts as well as those that remain. Many of the queries, both answered and unanswered, are explored further in this volume.

The editors' remarks are followed by Berndt's own essay, also part of the introduction. As the first paper presented, its opening paragraphs summarize events and scholarly accomplishments that sowed the seeds for the conference. Berndt stresses the significance of the canonization and doctorization for Hildegard research. He asserts that with these actions the Church has recognized Hildegard's teaching regarding the Christian faith as genuine and as a description of faith in the context of her times; the task at hand is to apply her theology to the Church in the twenty-first century (24). The essay proceeds to elucidate the volume's title through an examination of Hildegard's understanding of faith as it relates to the created world and the Church.

The subsequent twenty-five essays are divided into three groups: eight papers concerning philosophical questions, seven focused on historical contextualization, and ten dealing with theological perspectives. Since the acknowledged focus of the volume is the theological, the divisions are nominal at best; most essays straddle at least two of the three categories and a majority appear in the order in which they were presented at the conference, where no thematic grouping was apparent. Arguments grounded in the saint's three visionary texts are most frequent, but all of her writings as well as her Vita are cited by one or more contributor; the index of references to Hildegard's works in the volume (710-15) is especially helpful in this regard.

It is not possible to do justice here to the informative and thought-provoking contents of this volume, but the following summary demonstrates the breadth of subject matter and identifies a few specific themes. A common thread in several essays in the first (philosophical) section is the significance and nature of the virtues (and vices) in Hildegard's visionary, medical-scientific, and musical works (Stephan Ernst, Ortrun Riha, and Margot Fassler). The magistra's understanding of the incomprehensibility of God (Viki Ranff) and her perception of time (Maura Zátonyi) are examined, as is the process whereby her visual and aural experiences were transmitted to parchment as texts and musical compositions (Stefan Morent). The saint's potential indebtedness to theologians such as Honorius of Autun and John Scotus Eriugena (Marco Rainini) as well as to the music theorist Hermann of Reichenau (Morent) is posited, and her spiritual relationship with her amanuensis Volmar is compared to that of Heloise with Abelard (Constant J. Mews).

The second (historical) group includes treatments of broader medieval themes that subsequently focus on an aspect particular to Hildegard or her milieu: the impact of canon law and the prevalent social hierarchy on the Benedictine concept of order (Tilo Altenburg); devotional practices among religious women in the twelfth century vis-à-vis those promoted in the Rupertsberg community (Eva Schlotheuber); preaching by religious women and the magistra's own homiletic works and activities (Beverly M. Kienzle); and the contemporaneous concept of sainthood and its effect on the unsuccessful canonization process undertaken for Hildegard in the 1220s (André Vauchez). The remaining three essays provide insights into issues of text production and transmission: the significance of the illuminated Scivias manuscript, Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Ms. 1, and the fortuitous preparation of a parchment facsimile edition before the original disappeared during World War II (Michael Embach); new manuscript evidence for the French Vita of Hildegard, including an edition of the excerpt from Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CFM 12 (Laurence Moulinier); and the transmission and reception of Hildegard's writings at the abbey of St. Victor in Paris (Anette Löffler).

The final (theological) section begins with remarks made by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop emeritus of Mainz, at a public presentation during the conference. These provide the volume's only details about Hildegard's life along with an overview of her literary and other accomplishments, which preface Lehmann's observations regarding aspects of creation theology in her works. Intended for a broader audience and especially useful to those less familiar with Hildegard, this essay might have been more appropriately placed in the introduction, where it could have served as an informative supplement to the two components of that part of the volume. The focus of subsequent essays in this group ranges from overarching themes, e.g., Hildegard's interpretation of the Christian faith (Fabrizio Mandreoli), the Antichrist and the end times (Gian Luca Potestà), and of the role of the liturgy and its rites in her writings (Hanns Peter Neuheuser), to the exploration of specific doctrinal concepts in Hildegard's writings: the Immaculate Conception (Hildegard Gosebrink) and the Incarnation (Anneliese Meis). Two earlier motifs are revisited from different perspectives: the virtues in conjunction with depictions of the allegorical figures of Church and Synagogue (Dirk Ansorge) and the Athanasian Creed in an examination of Hildegard's Explanatio Symboli Sancti Athanasii (José Luis Narvaja). Bringing the collection full circle to the Church today is an inquiry into the significance and impact of twelfth-century papal councils on Hildegard's works, which concludes with parallels between her ecclesiology and that promulgated by the Second Vatican Council (Peter Walter). The final essay describes the concert in the crypt of the Mainz cathedral that was part of the conference and provides a detailed examination of the text and melody of several of the saint's songs performed during the event (Helmut Föller). The observations regarding the theoretical underpinnings of the magistra's music serve to integrate the essay into the theological group, but the comments regarding pieces not by Hildegard seem tangential given the focus of this volume. Perhaps a more fitting scholarly coda to this collection could have been provided.

Complementing the content is an impressive bibliography of some 100 pages. The compiler(s) deserve particular recognition for this resource: although not exhaustive, the bibliography contains representative scholarly contributions in various European vernaculars, which reflects the premise of the conference, the diversity of its participants, and Hildegard's universal appeal. The volume concludes with several useful indices. The sole images are six plates of Nonnenkronen, nuns' crowns, which accompany Schlotheuber's essay and provide a graphic representation of this spiritual practice. Additional illustrations would have been welcome, especially in conjunction with the descriptions of specific visions in the Scivias or the Liber divinorum operum, but the illuminations from these works are well known and available online. [2]

The strength of this volume lies in the sheer amount of knowledge gathered between its covers, the variety of topics presented, and the effective presentation of Hildegard's ideas in their twelfth-century context. The collection will be of interest and value to a broad readership, and even those well versed in Hildegardiana will undoubtedly discover new information and identify points worthy of further study. Interdisciplinarity is a consistent hallmark among the contributions, whereas the understanding of the magistra's ideas by the Church today and the application of them in the twenty-first century receive less thorough treatment. There is occasional unevenness in presentation. Some essays present Latin quotations from Hildegard's works in the text, while others include the vernacular translation. Various authors refer to Hildegard as "abbess," a position she never held. Scholars will find the indices of Scriptural reference, authors, works, personal and place names, and manuscripts invaluable. Lacking, however, is a subject index, which would have underscored the many recurring motifs such as virtues and (vices), Benedictine traditions, the concept of creation, and commentary regarding the Athanasian Creed.

The magnitude of the bibliography makes apparent the wealth of Hildegard scholarship. One recent wave appeared in the last decades of the twentieth century, coinciding with the anniversary of the saint's death in 1979 and that of her birth in 1998. Although research has not abated much since, a second wave leading up to and resulting from Hildegard's canonization and recognition as Doctor of the Church is now apparent. These events have occasioned not only the positio and related documentation but also a new series of German translations of Hildegard's writings edited by the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard near Rüdesheim. In light of this academic abundance, one might wonder how much more can be said about this remarkable medieval religious woman. The contents of this volume demonstrate that there remain fascinating and stimulating avenues to explore in the life and writings of the twelfth-century saint from Bingen.



1. The conference program is archived at Three papers presented were not submitted for publication her, but five contributions were added. The table of contents of this volume currently is available via RI-Opac as well as the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and may be a useful supplement to this review.

2. The Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard website provides small-scale images of the Scivias illuminations along with commentary in German by Maura Zátonyi at A digital version of the Lucca manuscript of the Liber divinorum operum, Bibliotheca Governativa MS 1942, can be accessed through the Internet Culturale, a web portal of the Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale, at

Copyright (c) 2016 Debra L. Stoudt

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