Today's Church Needs Holy Women, Says Pope

Notes St. Hildegard’s Contribution to Theology

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 8, 2010 ( The Church of our time needs “holy and courageous women” who value the gifts God has given them and make a valuable and specific contribution to spiritual growth, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall, during which he continued last week’s reflection on a 12th-century nun and mystic, St. Hildegard of Bingen.

The Holy Father focused on the writings of the saint, who is “distinguished for her spiritual wisdom and holiness.”

He explained how “Hildegard’s mystical visions are rich in theological content. They make reference to the main events of the history of salvation, and adopt a primarily poetic and symbolic language.”

And he noted how her work is marked by the “characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity.”

Citing just a few brief sections of her writings, the Pope said that “already […] we see how theology as well can receive a particular contribution from women, because they are capable of speaking of God and of the mysteries of the faith with their specific intelligence and sensitivity. Hence, I encourage all those [women] who carry out this service to do so with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great wealth, in part yet unexplored, of the Medieval mystical tradition, above all that represented by luminous models, such as, specifically, Hildegard of Bingen.”

Defending an epoch

In the same vein, Benedict XVI defended the Middle Ages, noting how Hildegard “manifests a variety of interests and the cultural vivacity of women’s monasteries in the Middle Ages, contrary to the prejudices that still today are leveled upon that epoch. Hildegard was involved with medicine and the natural sciences, as well as with music, being gifted with artistic talent. She even composed hymns, antiphons and songs. […] For her, the whole of creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit, who in himself is joy and jubilation.”

Hildegard was a wise and audacious spiritual leader, the Holy Father continued. He noted how abbots, bishops, monks and nuns sought her advice. She was even fearless in rebuking the emperor himself, Frederick Barbarossa, when he started a schism. She reminded the emperor that he, too, is subject to God, and wrote him as God speaking: “Listen, O king, if you wish to live! Otherwise my sword will run you through.”

Benedict XVI concluded his reflection with an appeal that the faithful invoke the Holy Spirit “so that he will raise up in the Church holy and courageous women, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, who, valuing the gifts received from God, will make their precious and specific contribution to the spiritual growth of our communities and of the Church in our time.”

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