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Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church: A Spiritual Reader Paperback – January 2, 2013
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For those who already know and admire her, this compilation of Hildegard's various works is an ideal reference. For those who are unacquainted with Hildegard of Bingen, this book is the best of introductions. Carmen Acevedo Butcher, besides her selections from Hildegard's own works, provides the reader with a biography of this remarkable medieval mystic. The English translations from Hildegard's Latin are engaging. Hildegard, a nun who died in the 12th century, speaks our own language today. She was instructed by God to "write down what you see and hear!" Carmen Acevedo Butcher has made it accessible to us in this fine book. -- Br. Benet Tvedten, author of The View from a Monastery
I just finished Dr. Butcher's manuscript, and I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In fact, it was one of those texts that, imperceptibly but irresistibly, draws you in until you fall in step with the author in her perambulations between the 12th and 21st centuries. Good medievalist that she is, her mode of presentation, analogical logic, if the favored form of medieval argumentation, but her transposition of this usually theological, legal or scientific methodology to seemingly banal events is nothing short of delightful. The introductory essay detailing Hildegard's life and accomplishments is engaging, her obvious affinity with her subject spiritually inspiring, and her presentation scholarly and lucid.
Where her true contribution to Hildegard studies lies, is in her genuinely masterful rendering of Hildegard's texts. With a keen eye for the multifaceted Latin of the source texts as well as the specifically Hildegardian cadence of her language, Butcher was able to create texts that, like the original, are epitomes of vigor, striking metaphoric expression, directness and immediacy. As I was reading them, I often felt I was reading Hildegard, the real Hildegard, for the first time. -- Dr. Katharina Wilson, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Georgia
If you think a 12th-century nun famous in her time for apocalptic visions has nothing to say to us today, think again. In this finely written book, Carmen Butcher shows us a Hildegard who was endearingly human, battling self-doubt while tenaciously and creatively using her many talents to express God's love and energize the church. Butcher's translations make this fascinating medieval woman's words fresh and accessible to modern readers. -- Christian History and Biography, Jennifer Trafton, Managing Editor
This book is a gift to the church. Carmen Acevedo Butcher brings Hildegard of Bingen to life for us. Women trapped in a man's world, such as many women were in the Middle Ages, found freedom in monasticism. None more so than Hildegard of Bingen. Carmen Butcher wisely selects and elegantly translates Hildegard's works, including her soaring music, spiritual visions, and selected letters. What strikes any reader today about Hildegard is her audacity ¬ born of faith and fostered in prayer, Hildegard confronted the powers of her day with words about the Living Word. -- Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
From the Back Cover
“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.” —St. Hildegard of Bingen
She was a Benedictine abbess, artist, composer, dietician, naturalist, poet, traveling preacher, mystic, and political consultant. Meet the incomparable St. Hildegard of Bingen, recently proclaimed a “Doctor of the Church.” Nourishing, challenging, and idea-bursting, her writings will stir and awaken your soul.
This essential reader captures the vibrant spirit and intelligence of Hildegard with selections from her songs, theological texts, liturgical music, and letters. Combined with an introduction to St. Hildegard’s life and era, a map of her Germany, a chronology of her life, and a thorough bibliography/discography, St. Hildegard of Bingen is the ideal doorway into this fascinating medieval mystic.
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Her songs can be especially moving, and Butcher says we may take that as a sign of being written in happy times. "But there were no such periods for this nun. She lived from illness to illness, conflict to conflict, responsibility to responsibility, and perhaps that is why we feel close to her, because, despite Hildegard's many accomplishments, her life was clearly filled with the daily grind we all experience; and she through it."
One example, her song "The Most Sanguine Moment" (Note: she did not give them titles -- this is from the translator):
When the Creator actually spilled
His blood on the elements,
earth, air, water, and fire
collapsed with grief,
shook from sadness.
Now, Father, with this gift
anoint our weaknesses.
Her letters show a very human side, and she never hesitated to direct people (including royalty and Popes) as she thought best. Her drama seems unusual to our modern ears, but is worth reading as it is the earliest known morality play ever recorded.
It is in the theological works where her mystic self, as seen in visions, is most clear. She has tremendous visions which she describes in detail, and then explains. Giant people, piles of excrement, and speaking fire, water, earth, and air, are all part of what she sees. At times, her visions seem grand for the simple lessons, but at times they make us rethink our most basic beliefs. In explaining how one vision teaches us about the soul's power, she says, "A person's physical body is bigger than their literal heart, just as the soul is stronger than the body. This is what I mean: A person's heart lies hidden within their body, just as the physical body is surrounded by and hidden in the soul's powers, which cover the entire globe. Your body is in your soul, not your soul in your body."
In both her visions and her life, she was willing to turn things upside down to help profess God's word. Although she battled with Church leaders, she was greatly respected and is now recognized as a Saint. In 2012, Pope Benedict the XVI recognized her as a Doctor of the Church, meaning one to study as well as imitate.
As such, this book is a great introduction as it provides a wide selection of her work, and just enough background to give it some context.