Hildegard–Justice and Compassion

I am reading Matthew Fox’s new book, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times and I highly recommend it.  Hildegard (b. 1098) now joins Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux as a doctor in the church. I agree with Matt Fox. If the pope and his curia really understood Hildegard, they never would have elevated her to sainthood—maybe this is why it took eight centuries!

Hildegard wrote, drew mandalas, composed beautiful music (Listen to her Spiritus Sanctus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJEfyZSvg5c), and spoke truth to power, both secular and ecclesiastical leaders. Her writings indicate that she is indeed a saint for our time, truly a saint for our nation in 2012 amid the turmoil of a hotly contested election.

At the same time, I am avidly reading E. J. Dionne’s Our Divided Political Heart. Dionne makes the point that two poles have stretched our political thought—individualism and community. Individualism now holds sway as the philosophy of Russian-born Ayn Rand extols the virtues of rugged individualism. Community with its focus on the common good—a core value in Catholic teaching—has receded into the background fog, at least for the time being. This is basically what separates the visions of Obama and Romney.

Our 11th century saint addresses the political divide and warns us about the excesses of individualism. Hildegard’s focus is on justice and compassion. She calls justice the Daughter of the King. The root word for compassion is the same as for womb. Note the feminine energy. Incidentally, Merton’s poem Hagia Sophia speaks in the same vein. Wisdom is compassion and justice, both seen as “feminine,” or should we say non-patriarchal images. Hildegard’s words to the hard-hearted ones are:

Why should I do any work [for others]? Why should I wear myself out? Nothing excites me except what benefits me directly. Let God who created all things take care of these things [could this be Adam smith’s benign invisible hand?]. . . For if I am always busy with being compassionate, what good will it do me? What kind of life will I have if I pay attention to all the sad and happy people? I will take care of myself. Let others take care of themselves.

She critiques Ayn Rand and the WIFM (What’s In It For Me?) mentality. Hildegard goes on to say:

This sin hardens people so much that they do not wish to know the image of God [justice and compassion] nor recognize it in other people because without kindness they lack any kind of mercy and goodness.

These folks fall into envy which is like a snake’s poison which drives out all greenness.  (Hildegard refers to Christ as the Green Man because he brings life-giving sap and vitality to life. He is the true vine who nurtures us on the fruit of the vine and the grain of the field. (http://www.christosophia.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=7) This is the Cosmic Christ.

Matthew Fox writes:

Hildegard calls this utter lack of compassion and capacity to praise “the worst evil of all evils. It spares no one and shows no mercy. It despises men and draws back from God. It does not rejoice with men nor does it encourage humans to do good deeds. It is very hard and despises all things.” She further warns about how excess doesn’t satisfy the soul when she writes, “No one is able to be satisfied by abundance. You are only bored by it.”

This lack of compassion, the lack of the mother principle at work, is blatant greed which throws people into “a depression from which they are not lightly lifted” because they “dare to live without the verdancy of God’s grace.”

Hildegard truly is a saint for today!

(All citations from 100-101 of Fox’s Hildegard of Bingen.)


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