Pope Pays Tribute to Women in the Church and Medievel Mystic Hildegard of Bingen
Speaking at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall on September 8, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to a subject he began last week, that of St. Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German Benedictine religious "who distinguished herself for her spiritual wisdom and the sanctity of her life". Referring to the mystical visions the saint received throughout her life, the Holy Father highlighted how "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. For example, in her best known work entitled 'Scivias' ('Know the Ways') she summarised 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".
"Even in this brief outline", Benedict XVI went on, "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". In this context he encouraged 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 mediaeval mystical tradition, especially as represented by such shining examples as Hildegard of Bingen".
Turning his attention to other writings by the saint, the Pope recalled how "two are particularly important because, like 'Scivias', they contain her mystical visions. They are the 'Liber vitae meritorum' (Book of Life's Merits) and the 'Liber divinorum operum' (Book of Divine Works) which is also known by the name of 'De operatione Dei'. The former ... underscores the profound relationship between man and God and reminds us that all creation, of which man is the apex, receives life from the Trinity. ... In the second work, considered by many to be her masterpiece, she again describes creation in its relationship with God and the centrality of man, revealing a powerful biblical-patristic kind of Christocentrism".
Hildegard was also interested in "medicine and the natural sciences, as well as music", said the Holy Father. "For her, all of creation was a symphony of the Holy Spirit, Who is in Himself joy and contentment". Said the pope, "Hildegard's popularity led many people to consult her. ... 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. ... 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. 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".
"I've been a factory worker, a translator, a teacher, an experimental physicist, a nuclear safeguards engineer, a writer, a waitress, a miniaturist, a paralegal, a nun, a minister, a short order cook, a ticket taker, an editor, a crafter, and a cotton candy twirler."
Who thought it was a good idea to turn the Roman Catholic liturgy on its heels—to tear out the magnificent pipe organs that accompanied solemn, meditative, Gregorian chant and replace them with a couple of guitars and folk music?
Well, I did.
And there I am with my “choir” on a Catholic campus in New York, in 1967. And, yes, those are staples down the centerfold of a religious magazine. The young man in black on my right, Bob C., was a seminarian at the time. He was lead guitar. I led the singing.
This Little Light of Mine. Kumbaya.
After the second Vatican council (1962-1965), we who embraced its spirit couldn’t be held back. The liturgy was one facet of Catholic life that has never been the same.
Before Vatican II’s aggiornamento—”bringing up-to-date”—priests in flowing vestments stood at the altar, their backs to the congregation, saying mass in Latin. After Vatican II, we held liturgies in apartments and at picnic tables; priests in Irish knit sweaters sat with us and consecrated bread from the deli. If a tasteless wafer of unleavened bread could be turned into the body of Christ, why not a brownie?
It made sense: The priest either had special powers or he didn’t. If he could transform bread and wine, he could transform danish and coffee. The scholarly priests among us told us that we weren’t being irreverent, but rather returning to the true spirit of the gospel, to the earliest days of the liturgy. With great delight, we believed them.
Campuses especially welcomed the changes. Chapels built for individuals in rows of pews were taken apart and remodeled to accommodate groups of people who hugged often while praying.
Many resisted, regretting the loss of Latin in the liturgy. Better a universal language that no one understands, they said, than the vernacular, like English, that only some understand. The vernacular prevailed.
The religious habit and lifestyle were also casualties of Vatican II. I was on a legislative council, much like Congress, who voted on big issues, like whether we’d modify our bonnets so we could get drivers licenses. [Last week's photo shows me in the full bonnet; above, five years later, I'm in a bonnet with its blinder sides cut away.]
I remember long hours of lobbying and heated discussions at meetings over the length of the habit skirt. What was the breakeven point between religious and lay? And by the way, did we really need that rule of silence at meals? Didn’t Jesus enjoy a good chat with his disciples?
Every day there was a new theology book to talk about, a new idea of God, a new cause to embrace. We believed sweeping the streets of the inner city had as much value as saying the Office. There was excitement—and maybe a false sense of heroism—as we bustled about, doing the work of Jesus the Social Worker.
The resisters warned us that once we removed our veils and shortened our skirts, soon we’d be in lay clothes with only a lapel pin to indicate that we were nuns.
Slippery slope, we cried! A fallacy! That will never happen!
But they were right. I was a member of the order for almost eighteen years. By the end of that period, I wore nothing distinguishing except a small cross on my lapel.
I lost track of Bob C. and don’t know where he is today. Maybe he’s a bishop in New Jersey, or maybe he’s a husband and father of three living in Philadelphia. Looking at the stats, the chances are very great that, like me, he’s no longer in religious life.
There’s a sadness to aggiornamento—we were never able to complete it. We managed to pick away at the externals of both the liturgy and religious life but we never got to the real issues. New popes intervened and called a halt just as we were about to tackle the exclusion of women from the leading sacrament, intolerance of the gay and lesbian lifestyles, outdated notions of birth control and other matters of life and death.
We fought to change the Church and then walked away, leaving those who loved it as it was with the remnants of our botched attempt.
I have to wonder if we should have started the revolution at all.
Her blog: http://minichino.com/wordpress/
If you look at older guides of Examination
of Conscience, you will often see listed as one
of the questions “Have I provided an adequate
Catholic education for my children?” The Catholic Church
has always regarded this as one of the primary duties of
a Catholic parent – to provide for a solid education in the
Catholic Faith. Until recently, it was considered to be
mortally sinful for parents not to send their children to
Catholic school if it was available. Among the reasons
that the Church wanted her students in her schools in
addition to learning the Faith well was that she knew the
great benefits and importance of the children attending
daily Mass and being exposed to priests and religious
brothers and nuns.
Times have changed. It is not the 1950s or the 1800s
or the 1500s. Most (not all, however) in our parish
choose to home school their children. The sacrifice in-
volved in such an endeavor is usually very great and
shows how seriously the parents take that obligation of
providing a solid Catholic education for their children. I
commend you for your commitment and fine work. For
all of our parents, whether you home school or send
your children to other schools, part of the duty from the
“old days” still remains. All parents should see that their
children attend daily Mass as frequently as possible.
Given your particular situation, you may not be able to
get them to daily Mass as was the common practice at
Catholic schools in the past, but certainly at least a mini-
mum regularity of daily Mass attendance is possible for
home school families. Those who send children to
schools might need to be more creative but certainly
options are there – Saturday Masses, late afternoon &
evening Masses, holidays, etc. At ICC, that is one of the
primary reasons why we schedule a few extra weekday
Masses at otherwise non-traditional times, such as Tues-
day at 5:15 p.m.
Contact with the clergy is also an important part of
forming a child in the Catholic Faith. It is not easy, but we
try to make sure that the priests teach or have regular contact with all of the classes offered. Catechism classes
will start soon, which you can read about elsewhere in this
bulletin. We have tried to be creative this year to schedule
all the classes on the same night and only twice a month
since we know that most of our families drive a fair dis-
tance to get to the Church. This schedule, which I believe
will be the most convenient for the greatest number of
people will be dependant upon the availability of some
qualified seminarians from Our Lady of Guadalupe Semi-
nary helping us teach the classes (as of the bulletin dead-
line I had not received final confirmation but I expect to
receive it very soon). The class times have been staggered
a bit to allow both priests the ability to be involved in all
the classes. Having priests and seminarians teaching all
Catechism classes is rare but we feel it is important for us
to be there. With the quality of teaching that the children
will receive combined with what I believe is a very conven-
ient and a not-burdensome schedule, I hope that all of our
families with children will participate in the Catechism
classes this year. I also hope that you will make weekday
Mass attendance a regular part of your child’s formation,
if you are not already doing so.
— LOST CITY — Johnny Cash breaks the quiet of a remote, peaceful valley in the Ozarks, a few miles from this aptly named village in Cherokee County.
“A Boy Named Sue” accompanies the yaps of a puppy named Argus — and the peal of bells calling white-robed monks to prayer on a nearby hilltop.
Andrew Smith finds himself at work with his hammer and chisel in a makeshift studio — a long way from Scotland and the Florence Academy of Fine Art.
Smith earlier served as an apprentice to Alexander Stoddart, court sculptor to the Queen of England. He studied at world-class art schools in Philadelphia and Italy. One commission took him to Lugano, Switzerland.
His latest project has brought him here.
Smith has been commissioned by the Benedictines of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey to make two carvings. They will adorn the new church that is rising at their property on Roach Mountain, east of Fort Gibson Lake.
Clear Creek Abbey was founded in 1999 by monks from Fontgombault, a thousand-year old monastery in France. The abbot of Fontgombault told the architect — Smith’s father, Notre Dame University professor Thomas Gordon Smith — to design a monastery “that will last a thousand years.”
So Andrew Smith hopes the carvings he is creating now, using limestone from Batesville, Ark., will contribute to the worship and “beauty of holiness” at Clear Creek for a long time.
“We are delighted to have Andrew Smith with us at Clear Creek Abbey this summer,” said Philip Anderson, abbot of the monastery. “He is a very gifted young sculptor, who after finishing his studies in Florence has been commissioned to carve two monumental capitals for the front door of our church under construction.”
Capitals are the decorative elements at the top of a column.
A graduate student from Australia staying at the monastery also visited Smith’s studio this week.
“I think his carvings rock,” Lyle Cooney-Pead said.
Like the architecture of the church, the capitals are in the Romanesque style. The Romanesque was used in the early Middle Ages, when monasteries were among the main institutions in Western culture.
Smith described the scenes he is carving.
“They show the narrative of salvation history, beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, then their sin and expulsion from the garden,” Smith said. “This leads to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter seven, ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.’ Then (the capitals) depict as the central scene the Annunciation. That is the moment when the angel, Gabriel, appears to the Virgin Mary and asks her to be the mother of the Messiah.”
The monastery at Clear Creek is dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title of the Annunciation.
Each capital will be 15 inches tall, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. They will rest on columns 12 feet tall. Smith is working from plaster models he uses as a guide in carving the sculptures in stone.
Smith said he was moved by the comments of a young monk after he looked at the plaster models.
“The brother drew several theological ideas out of the sculptures I had never thought of,” Smith said. “He was able to interact with the sculpture I made. I’m honored that (these works of art) can be used as objects of contemplation by the monks in drawing closer to God.”
Smith’s conversation is laced with classical and literary references, and a well-thought-out philosophy of art. His profession and his culture are the fruit of an upbringing in an artistic and intellectual family, and of what he calls the “poetic education” he received as a high school student at St. Gregory’s Academy, a boarding school near Scranton, Pa.
Smith’s largest commission to date was a project for the college bookstore at California State University at Stanislaus. It depicts six California authors, including John Steinbeck and William Saroyan, in symposium with the classical authors Homer and Sappho.
“I’m more interested in human beings than I am in shape,” Smith said. “I really enjoy, when I make a portrait of a historical figure, getting to know and understand that person, to have that knowledge be an inspiration for my art.”
He has even put his knowledge of Johnny Cash and his music to use in carving a bust of the singer.
Smith looks at sculpture and art in a distinctly traditional way. He rejects as “false opposites” a supposed contradiction between abstract art and realism. Sitting in his un-air-conditioned studio on the banks of Clear Creek one hot afternoon recently, he ruminated on such philosophical questions between drags on a Pall Mall cigarette.
“All art is automatically abstract,” Smith said. “My dog, Argus, wouldn’t understand that a statue 12 inches high represents a human being. It doesn’t smell like a human being or walk like a human being.
“Humans have a unique ability to think in abstract terms. A representational artist is always making abstractions of what is in nature when he carves a statue or paints a picture. This is because, as human beings, we always come to understand things in a roundabout way: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .’ We can start to know things through parables, through what philosophers call analogy.”
Smith said that despite the heat of his first Oklahoma summer, he likes living here.
“There are a lot more live music events than most places I’ve lived,” he said. “I enjoyed the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah. I really like the products of the Marshall and Choc breweries. And the chicken fried steak around here is to die for.”
Reach Kirk Kramer at 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.