“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
There was a time when St. Hildegard would have probably agreed with these paradoxical but generally true shortcomings of the Holy Roman Empire. As an adult Hildegard had come to know a succession of Emperors, since they were in reality no more than Kings of Germany and she was as famous a German as they were. She especially detested Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for his determination to usurp the authority of the pope in ecclesiastical appointments. Hildegard received a gracious letter from the Emperor, in which he referred to her as “holy lady”, and “beloved lady”, requesting her prayers as a means of obtaining grace. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by fearlessly assuming her role as a prophet, of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God (very unusual for a woman in medieval times):
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you” (Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78).
She follows up with another letter in which explicitly insults the King (a guy who could make her life very difficult):
“…[I]n a mystic vision I see you like a little boy or some madman living before Living Eyes. Yet you still have time for ruling over worldly matters. Beware, therefore, that the almighty King does not lay you low because of the blindness of your eyes, which fail to see correctly how to hold the rod of proper governance in your hand. See to it that you do not act in such a way that you lose the grace of God” (Letter #45, p.78).
Hildegard soon learned that Pope Anastasius IV was negotiating a compromise with Frederick over certain ecclesial appointments, she quickly turned her attention to the elderly Pope:
“Listen, O man, to the one who loves the power of discernment, so that He Himself has established the great instrument of uprightness to fight against evil. But you are not exercising this faculty when you do not root out the evil which seeks to choke the good. Rather, you are allowing evil to raise itself up arrogantly.”
“…Wherefore, O man, you who sit in the Papal throne, you despise God when you embrace evil. For in failing to speak out against the evil of those in your company, you are certainly not rejecting evil. Rather, you are kissing it. And so the whole world is being led away by unstable error” (Baird, Joseph L. and Ehrman, Radd. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994, p.42). [emphasis mine]
Hildegard’s warnings against compromising Church authority went unheeded. Consequently, it should have been no surprise when in 1166 Frederick assembled his armies and marched on Rome accompanied by his personally-appointed Antipope, Paschal III, intent on seizing the papacy. The Emperor may have succeeded were it not for a sudden plague, a fever which incapacitated his troops.
PARALLELS WITH TODAY’S CHURCH
The twelfth-century was a time of intense conflict between the Church and the temporal rulers of the prevailing kingdoms: kings, queens, princes, feudal lords etc. At that time, it was all about the supremacy of the authority of the Church vs. the sovereignty of temporal rulers over their territories. The paramount question facing the Church was to whom the “keys of the Kingdom” truly belonged, a matter one would expect to not be disposed to compromise.
In today’s world the Church faces a similar situation, but with secular leaders: presidents, prime ministers, legislators, parliamentarians, judges, etc., who, like Barbarossa and his allies, are pressuring the Church to compromise its authority. In this case it is the Church’s moral authority on matters as important as sex, marriage, family, abortion, etc. How is the current papacy responding? Like the pontificate of Anastasius, is it failing to speak out against evil in light of its non-judgmental manner of dealing with public sinners?
In the aftermath of the upcoming Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October of this year, it is expected that the President of the Synod, Pope Francis, will issue a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Any compromise with today’s secular culture, like in Hildegard’s day, will likely create bigger problems for the Church later.
In The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, I demonstrate how four of the five beasts, which represent five successive historical periods that precede the time of the Antichrist, have occurred beginning in 1870 just as the twelfth century Doctor of the Church described them. The fourth epoch, the Black Pig, which began in 1991 and is the present era in which we live, is described by St. Hildegard as a time when world leaders will “…infringe the divine law, “ and “…plot to diverge from the holiness of God’s commands.” It is not the time for a non-confrontational, non-judgmental approach to society’s evils.