Land der Hildegard - Hildegard von Bingen

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Stepping into the Public Eye

Her Life › Years of study in the hermitage › Stepping into the Public Eye

Navigationsbaum: Her Life › Years of study in the hermitage › Stepping into the Public Eye

The Vita states that Abbot Kuno of Disibodenberg and the Archbishop of Mainz, Henry I, supported Hildegard with her new work. However, the prophet herself still did not seem sure about her own role. In 1146 or 1147, she decided to take a courageous step and passed the decision about her prophetic gift to the hands of one of the most powerful men of her time – the Cistercian Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (about 1090-1153). From 1146 to the beginning of 1147, Bernard was in the Rhineland in order to call the believers to the crusades when a letter from Hildegard reached him:

„Father, I am greatly disturbed by a vision which has appeared to me through divine revelation“

she writes. She describes what she sees with her „inner eyes“ and asks:

„Please give me your opinion on this matter. (…) Good and gentle father, I have been placed in your care so that you might reveal to me through our correspondence whether I should speak these things openly or keep silence.“

With great excitement Hildegard must have awaited Bernard’s response. This, however, was – due to the „press of business“, as he writes it – very brief.

„We rejoice in the grace of God which is in you. And, further, we most earnestly urge and beseech you to recognize this gift as grace (…). When the learning and anointing (which reveals all things to you) are within, what advice could we possibly give?“

With a request for thought he ended the letter. Hildegard did not receive a negative judgment, but with these few and vague, almost ironic words she could not silence potential opponents.

Despite this, she was soon known as a prophet far beyond the borders of the Empire. From November 1147 to February 1148, Pope Eugenius III held a synod in Trier. This is where also the Archbishop of Mainz was heading and he used the opportunity to tell the Pope about Hildegard. „Such great news“ astonished him so much that he initiated an investigation of the matter. After the investigation commission questioned Hildegard and received parts of her work Scivias, they returned to Trier and to Eugenius III. There, the Pope read from her writings and announced a positive judgment, which Bernard of Clairvaux, who was present, also recommended:

„Ever so kindly and wisely, the most worthy Father of Fathers gave him his approval. He sent the holy virgin a respectful letter in which he, in the name of Christ and St. Peter, gave her permission to reveal everything she had learned from the Holy Spirit and urged her to put it in writing.“

Such an authorization had never been given by a Pope before! This description from Hildegard’s Vita is however not verified by more documents. The respective letter, in the case that it did actually exist, was never handed down. Researchers believe that this was never written down in the form of such an authorization. It is more likely that Eugenius III got to know of Hildegard and her writings during the synod and gave them his endorsement in an oral form. However, even without this written authorization, Hildegard had gained public attention.