Today the 12th Century comes into focus as the church honors one of the most amazing and influential saints, Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Prophet, Musician, and Renewer of the Church.
St. Hildegard was born in the Rhineland Valley, and from early ages began having visions and dreams that rocked the world of her family and friends. She was of noble birth, and the 10th child born, and because of these two factors her family felt it was important to “tithe” her to the church for a monastic future.
This practice is odd, but was apparently widespread in the Middle Ages…which, coincidentally, might be why so many crappy church leaders appeared in the Middle Ages, having been “tithed” and not truly called.
Luckily for the church and the world (and, perhaps, annoyingly for church leaders in her day) Hildegard was called, trained as a Benedictine, and eventually became Abbess at Disibodenberg.
Under her watch the convent grew and grew, and in 1150 a new convent was built to keep up with the growth. Only 15 years later, another one had to be built…Hildegard was apparently all about growing disciples.
You want to know something else she was all about? Calling people out.
From Popes to peasants, Hildegard spared no words on the political and moral shortcomings of the day. She wrote a number of books ranging from apocalypses to expository pieces on the Rule of St. Benedict. She also found time to squeeze in a book on the natural sciences, body ailments, and a musical.
Yes…she wrote a musical.
She also wrote a number of hymns still preserved today, even with musical notation. She wrote hymns elevating nature, full of stunning imagery and apocalyptic language.
St. Hildegard died at the age of 81 having lived a life of purpose, prophecy, and prose.
St. Hildegard is a reminder to me, and to the whole church, that sometimes “church growth” doesn’t happen through fancy gimmicks and advertising tricks. Humans might like that, but they fade over time.
St. Hildegard attracted people to her way of being through her living, her honest work, her penchant for not suffering fools, and her reverence for nature.
Let those with ears, hear.
-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-critique on fancy-schmancy church growth strategies all my own