Holy Father highlights 'special contribution' women make to theology

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Continuing his focus on the contribution of women to the Church, Pope Benedict XVI turned a second time to the medieval nun St. Hildegard of Bingen, whose life demonstrates that “women make a special contribution to theology.”

The Pope gave his general audience catechesis this morning in the Paul VI Hall, dedicating his teaching to a subject he began last week with a reflection on St. Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German Benedictine religious.

Speaking on the mystical visions that the saint had throughout her life, the Holy Father commented that “they were rich in theological content.” “They referred to the main events of the history of salvation and use a mainly poetic and symbolic language,” he noted. “For example, in her best known work entitled 'Scivias' (Know the Ways) she summarized the events of the history of salvation in thirty-five visions, from the creation of the world to the end of time.”

“In the central part of her work she develops the theme of the mystical marriage between God and humankind which came about in the Incarnation,” the Holy Father added.

“Even in this brief outline,” he continued, “we see how theology can receive a special contribution from women, because they are capable of speaking of God and of the mysteries of the faith with their specific intelligence and sensitivity.”

The Pope then exhorted all women “who undertake this service to do so with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their reflections with prayer and looking to the great riches - still partly unexplored - of the medieval mystical tradition, especially as represented by such shining examples as Hildegard of Bingen.”

She was also interested in “medicine and the natural sciences, as well as music,” the Pope noted. "For her, all of creation was a symphony of the Holy Spirit, Who is in Himself joy and contentment.”

“Hildegard's popularity led many people to consult her,” the Holy Father recalled. “Monastic communities, both male and female, as well as bishops and abbots all sought her guidance. And many of her answers remain valid, even for us.”

“With the spiritual authority she possessed, in the last years of her life Hildegard began to travel,” the Pope recounted. “She was considered to be a messenger sent by God, in particular calling monastic communities and clergy to a life in conformity with their vocation. Hildegard especially opposed the German Cathar movement.”

“The Cathars - their name literally means 'pure' - supported radical reform of the Church, principally to combat clerical abuses,” he explained. “She reprimanded them fiercely, accusing them of wanting to subvert the very nature of the Church and reminding them that the true renewal of the ecclesial community is not obtained by changing structures so much as by a sincere spirit of penance and a fruitful journey of conversion.”

“This is a message we must never forget,” the Holy Father emphasized.

In his concluding remarks, the Pontiff said: “Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit that He may bring saintly and courageous women to the Church, like St. Hildegard of Bingen, who using the gifts received from God, may make their precious and specific contribution to the spiritual growth of our communities.”

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