Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen and Mystic, 1179
We remember today a remarkable woman in the history of the church, Hildegard of Bingen, who died on this day in 1179. Hildegard was many things: visionary, monastic, preacher, doctor, herbalist, theologian, musician, composer, author, prophet, correspondent. While she certainly was not obscure in her lifetime, she became obscure in succeeding generations. It is only in the last few decades that she has emerged from the mists as the church has rediscovered the priestly, prophetic and pastoral ministry of women. In many ways, as she has become known to us in the 21st Century, we have discovered in her a very modern woman. Her concerns are our concerns, and she speaks to us with the same force and immediacy as she spoke to her contemporaries.
One of the things we find in Hildegard is a concern for creation and the relationship between God, humanity and the cosmos. With extraordinary insight she spoke of the effects of sin as rupturing not only humanity’s relationship with God, but also our relationship with creation. She saw in Christ the one who would restore and redeem not only our relationship with God, but also our relationship with creation.
It is unclear if our own Father Congreve, an early member of the Society and a contemporary of Father Benson, knew of Hildegard, but he came to much the same conclusion.
Writing in the 1890’s from South Africa, Father Congreve reminds us that “beauty is the purpose of God”. From Iona, off the coast of Scotland he wrote in 1908: Is there not a real fellowship of all created things, a unity of man with all creatures in the purpose to which the Creator formed them to contribute? … The coming of sin brought estrangement between man and nature. The happiness of their union in serving God was broken. Their primal fellowship in working together for God was changed into a fellowship in suffering, or into actual conflict, when sin brought disorder into the world. The history of redemption by Christ is the history of deliverance from a curse which fell, not upon man only, but upon the earth also….
Both Hildegard and Father Congreve would see as sin the damage that humanity has done to creation through our abuse of it. Both of them, Hildegard speaking from the 12th Century and Father Congreve speaking from the early 20th Century, have something to say to us today. Both of them remind us that we do not live in isolation. We are part of something much bigger and that our quest for God must go hand in hand with our quest to live in a right relationship with creation; a relationship not of estrangement, but of union, communion and harmony.
May these two saints of God open our eyes to see the beauty of the world around us, and inspire us to see in nature traces of the mind and love of God.
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