“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).
In light of the upcoming final session of the Synod of the Family, with the “shadow synod” lurking in the background: closed-door meetings and behind-the-scenes strategy sessions to ensure success in their determination to overturn Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried. What came to my mind was a particular vision of St. Hildegard’s as recalled by Pope Benedict XVI, which in turn brought to mind a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
PAPAL ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA, 2010
The focal point of Benedict’s Christmas speech were the revelations of a new series of sex abuse accusations against priests which had surfaced throughout Europe during the year. Recall that 2010 was the “Year of the Priest”; Benedict laments the unexpected irony:
“…[W]hen in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”
In her first book, Scivias, within which we find the vision of the five beasts, many of St.Hildegard’s twenty-six visions included references to matters relating to marriage and sexuality. Her language at times can be rather blunt, employing less than delicate phraseology. The visions of this twelfth-century Doctor of the Church can take the form of direct warnings from God, written in the style of an Old Testament prophet, “Thus saith the Lord…”, taking the form of a first-person oration by God Himself! This is uncommon in medieval mystical literature and more unusual in that it comes through the voice of a woman. An example of this comes from Book 1,Vision 2,Chapter 3, in which the text is specifically referring to prohibitions against incestual relationships (All quotations herein are taken from the following translation: Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abby of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.):
…[F]or the embraces of a man and woman related by blood would be wickedly enkindled into shameless fornication and ceaseless lust much more than those of unrelated people. I am explaining this by this person [Hildegard], …she is receiving this explanation not from human knowledge but from God.(p.82)
The Medieval scholars that stumbled across Hildegard’s little known Latin works in the late twentieth-century were astounded by the authority in her first-person voice of God. She discusses marriage in the Second Vision of Book One, the context of which covers the fall of Adam and Eve:
But if either husband or wife breaks the law by fornication, …they shall undergo the just censure of the spiritual magisterium. For the husband shall complain of the wife, or the wife of the husband, about their sin against their union before the Church and its prelates, according to the justice of God; but not so that 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.78)
This apparition is an excellent case study of how one should view private revelation in the way God has instructed us to:
“Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)
The Japanese bishops conference had not given it’s approval to the apparition when asked by the local bishop to do so, and had discouraged pilgrimages to the convent. However, the original enthusiastic approval by the late Bishop Ito has not been negated by the subsequent bishop. The generally accepted protocol in the Church is for the decision to approve an apparition, barring intervention from Rome, initially rests with the diocesan bishop.
Donal Anthony Foley, probably the wisest voice in matters of apparition discernment, has raised a number of questions about Akita, though none of which definitively undermines its authenticity. That a Vatican spokesman stated that no decision has been made regarding the apparition does not negate the bishop’s approval. Confusion over a comment by Cardinal Ratzinger doesn’t either. So we have an approved apparition, but with some reservations being made regarding its authenticity. Continue reading “Is Our Lady of Akita Controvertible?”→
John Piper is a well known evangelical author. I was a student of his many years ago. He holds a Ph. D from the University of Munich but quit teaching to become a minister. I was briefly on staff as an intern at his church in downtown Minneapolis. I viewed him as a man of integrity. He invited me to Thanksgiving dinner one year when I didn’t have the money to fly home.
I had already been exploring the Catholic Church after taking a course on the Early Church Fathers as a student at an evangelical seminary; but something that happened at Dr. Piper’s church pushed me over the edge. He was preaching on Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19: “so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”. The people in the pews gasped when he told them that he could not marry peoplewho were divorced with their former spouse still alive; nor could they be voting members of the church. Continue reading “The Synod and My Conversion”→