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Liberating Marriage in an Age of Heresy: St. Hildegard of Bingen and Reform in the 12th Century Paperback – September 29, 2016
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About the Author
Reid J Turner is the author of The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society.
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The need for reform didn't stop there. In society, dozens of practices called for Church guidance. Feudal lords favored "endogamy, marrying within the extended family" (p. 2) which would preserve the family wealth by arranging for a marriage, say, between cousins. Many marriages were pledges made between two people, as there was no requirement for a marriage to take place in front of a priest.
In addition, marriage as an institution was under attack as large swaths of France and Italy and later, even parts of Hildegard's own Rhineland, fell under the influence of the Cathars, who detested both marriage and procreation.
Catharism was a revival of the old Gnostic and later Manichean beliefs in dual Gods. They believed there was one good God - the God of the New Testament - and one evil God. Everything around us on this earth was created by the wicked God, and it was soaked in foulness, including our physical bodies, which trapped our pure spirits. Nothing could be worse to a Cathar than to create another baby, which meant locking a pure spirit inside of flesh.
Although there was a sect of the Cathers who kept to a strict morality, the majority of Cathars did not avoid physical intimacy. "Sexual activity was generally condoned...so long as it did not lead to insemination" (p. 36), which meant the Cathars fell into various debaucheries.
Nor did they find anything truly wrong in this behavior. Cathers only regretted the experiences they had not had before receiving the final, and sole sacrament of the Cathars, which could only be given once.
Although some modern scholars scoff at the charges of immorality, "St. Hildegard and St. Bernard clearly accused the Cathars of promoting fortification" (p 37). It is notable also that so did the Italian Rainier Sacconi, who had lived as a Cather for 17 years.
In 1141 the abbess St Hildegard began to experience visions, which would eventually be compiled into her book 'Scivias', which was published in 1150. Like St Catherine of Siena, Hildegard advised the pope, and sent out a flood of letters guiding, chiding, and helping others.
St Hildegard is firm on the indissolubility of marriage. She noted that even if "either husband or wife breaks the law by fornication...(neither) the husband or wife can seek another marriage; either they shall stay together in righteous union, or they shall both abstain from such unions, as the discipline of Church practice shows" (p 81).
Miraculously, Hidegard had arrived at the exact time when someone like her was badly needed. Her prophecies and solid teaching on Church dogma influenced the reform movement in the Church regarding marriage.
"Historians generally agree that the recognition of the Church as the sole authority over Christian marriage occurred during the" (pp 82-3) time of Pope Alexander III (1159-81), just a decade after Hildegard published Scivias.
With the current confusion about "Amoris Laetitia", I found it cheering to read how God led the Church to the great Church reforms.
Reid Turner's earlier book was also about St. Hildegard, delving into her prophecies, which seem to eerily speak to our era. Next, I'm hoping for a biography of Hildegard by him.