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Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a woman of superb literary and scientific accomplishments at a time period when women were usually neither. She was born to a noble family in Germany, and was placed in the care of a female anchorite (think of it as a solo nun) named Jutta early in her life. In 1116 she became a Benedictine nun, and twenty years later, at the death of Jutta, became head of the Benedictine women who claimed Jutta as their superior. She was extremely influential, counting Pope Eugenius III and Emperor Barbarossa (who later died in the Crusades) as admirers. Her most famous writing is called Divine Works; excerpts follow:

"God cannot be seen but is known through the divine creation, just as our body cannot be seen because of our clothing. And just as the inner brilliance of the sun cannot be seen, God cannot be perceived by mortals."

"As long as we enjoy the things of the flesh, we can never fully grasp the things of the spirit . . . Whoever shows devout faith in the divine promise . . . by scorning earthly things, and by revering heavenly things, will be counted as righteous among the children of God."

"When we live according to our soul's desire, we deny ourselves out of love of God, and become strangers to the lusts of the flesh."

"Zeal for goodness is like a day when we can ponder everything in our mind, while laziness is like a night where we can no longer see anything at all. Just as the night is often moonlit and then later overshadowed if the moon goes under, our deeds are all mixed up. Sometimes they are luminous and at other times they are dark."

"If our soul, under the body's urging, does evil with the body, the power of our soul will be darkened, because the light of the truth is missing. But if later the soul feels humiliated by sin and rises up again in opposition to the desires of the flesh, it will henceforth assault that flesh and hinder its evil deeds."

"Indeed, the soul sustains the flesh, just as the flesh sustains the soul. For, after all, every deed is accomplished by the soul and the flesh. And, therefore, the soul can achieve with the body good and holy things and be revived as a result."

"In this connection, it often happens that our flesh may feel bored when it cooperates with the soul. In such a case, therefore, the soul may give in to its fleshly partner and let the flesh take delight in earthly things. Similarly, a mother knows how to get her crying child to laugh again. Thus the soul accomplishes good deeds with the body, even though there may be some evil mixed up with them. The soul lets this happen so as not to overburden the flesh too much." [I am not quite sure about this one, but include it because it causes one to think. I seem to see this played out in my own life, for instance, when I watch television when I am tired instead of praying or reading the Bible.]

Believe it or not, here is her recipe for spice cookies (put in modern measurements): 3/4 cup butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks), 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ground cloves. Mix, form walnut-sized balls, and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remember, this recipe is at least 900 years old.

2006 Mark Nickens

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