The Equivalent Canonization of Hildegard of Bingen
Lucetta Scaraffia

A great intellectual

Hildegard of Bingen has finally been proclaimed a saint by the Church after centuries, even though she has been venerated as such since her death, especially within the Benedictine Order to which she belonged. She was a majestic and complex figure in the troubled 12th century, where her wise and prophetic presence played a very important role, one unprecedented for a woman. Nun, Abbess, and Foundress of two new monasteries which she directed with a firm hand. Beginning in her mystic childhood experiences, she had the courage to make her prophetic visions known publicly — writing to the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, "You act like a child". She was also courageous enough to write books on mysticism and theology, medical texts as well as analyses of natural phenomena, of the universe and of the human being, proposing new solutions and unprecedented insights.

Certain of being the bearer of the divine message, she dedicated herself to preaching, travelling around Germany, and even speaking in churches. She urged the Popes to reform, harshly criticizing them and explaining that the Holy Spirit spoke through her, a woman, because the Church, led by men, had betrayed in many ways her nature and her mission.

In her prophetic vision, human and divine reality were united in the same reality secured by love. She saw and described God as a "living light", a light that is also part of the human person: she described herself as "shadow of the living light". It is not surprising then that feminist history and theology have devoted much effort to rediscovering this figure.

Hildegard was also a good composer of sacred music, and CDs of her music are to be found in bookshops around the world and not just religious ones. The mystic of the Rhine proves that within Christian culture it was possible for a woman — obviously exceptional — to produce high quality culture and to make herself heard by those in power. Benedict XVI in his reflections on female figures of the Middle Ages dedicated two speeches to Hildegard and, referring to her, said that "theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity". The equivalent canonization stands as proof of the importance that the Pope gives to this woman who combined mystical qualities with the true and proper intellectual characteristics of her time. She was so exceptional that in order to find another of like stature, on the intellectual level — leaving aside the two great Teresas: teachers of mysticism — we must look to another German Saint, Edith Stein.

What is an equivalent canonization?

Pope Benedict XVI extended to the Universal Church the liturgical worship in honour of St Hildegard of Bingen. This is a typical case of "equivalent canonization". But what does that mean? In his work De Servorum Dei beatificazione et de Beatorum canonizatione, Benedict XIV formulated the doctrine on equivalent canonization; when the Pope enjoins the Church as a whole to observe the veneration of a Servant of God not yet canonized by the insertion of his feast into the Liturgical Calendar of the universal Church, with Mass and the Divine Office. With this Pontifical act — writes Fabijan Veraja in his book Le cause di canonizzazione dei santi (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1992) — Benedict XVI perceives the extremes of a true canonization, that is, of a definitive judgment from the Pope on the sanctity of a Servant of God. This judgement, however, is not expressed with the usual formula of canonization, but through a decree obliging the entire Church to venerate that Servant of God with the cultus reserved to canonized saints. Many examples of this form of canonization date back to the Pontificate of Benedict XIV: Saints Norbert; Bruno; Felice de Valois; Queen Margaret of Scotland; King Stephen of Hungary; Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia; and Pope Gregory VII.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 May 2012, page 11

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