St. Hildegard von Bingen and St. John of Avila were recently named the 34th and 35th Doctors of the Church. Word On Fire Research Assistant Jack Thornton discusses Pope Benedict XVI's announcement.
On October 7th, Pope Benedict XVI marked the beginning of the Synod on the New Evangelization by declaring St. Hildegard von Bingen and St. John of Avila as the 34th and 35th Doctors of the Church. The fact that only 35 figures have been named as Doctors of the Church indicates how significant this announcement is. The title of Doctor of the Church is bestowed on those whose writings the Church recognizes as particularly important in the development of doctrine and theology.
St. Hildegard was born the tenth child in a noble family in what is now Germany around the year 1098. From a very early age she experienced mystical visions, which continued throughout her life. She became an anchorite nun at a young age where she learned Latin, and studied Scripture, music and natural science. She eventually became the prioress of her community and, from all accounts, managed her community with grace and wisdom. She wrote extensively on natural science and medicine, composed poetry, morality plays and some of the more influential musical pieces of the early classical tradition, in addition to eventually writing accounts of her visions, Scriptural exegesis and theological treatises.
At first she was reluctant speak of or write about her visions since she worried that they were illusions or did not come from God, but eventually she dictated some of them to her confidants. Later she received encouragement to write from St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Eugenius III, and, out of humble respect for their approval and support, she wrote several great theological works, spoke publicly on a number of topics all over Germany, and corresponded with many of the most important clergy and political figures in Europe. One topic of particular interest, that was especially evident in her lectures and letters, was her call for a reform of the clergy...