In the Middle Ages confession could be an unpleasant experience; penances were severe and could last years. Priests had been taught that if a penance accorded was not in proportion to the gravity of the sin, a portion of the temporal punishment would be transferred to the priest. But around the middle of the twelfth-century priests were encouraged to develop a gentler approach to confession.
French scholar Pierre Payer, an expert on the penitential literature of the period, called it a “pastoral revolution”, where the focus of preaching and the confessional was to educate and counsel rather than admonish and punish. Confession would become, according to Payer, “…one of the most intimate of human relationships that was institutionalized in the Christian Church”.*
Another “pastoral revolution” may be taking place in the Church with the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation AmorisLaetitia, in which Pope Francis introduces a new development in pastoral discernment:
“[Seminarians and future priests] need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.” (link)
“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).
The history of the cathedral of the Diocese of Oakland is instructive for understanding the early influence of the Second Vatican Council on the subsequent design of many Catholic churches. The recently-installed bishop of Oakland at the time, His Excellency Floyd Begin, the Diocese’ first bishop, had attended every session of the Council and returned in 1964 determined to renovate the existing cathedral, built in 1893, rather than spend a large sum on of money on a new one.
INFLUENCE OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
St. Francis de Sales became known as the “…first cathedral in the United States to be completely remodeled according to the liturgical spirit of the Second Vatican Council”. (All quotations herein are from: Jeffrey M. Burns and Mary Carmen Bautista, We are the Church: A History of the Diocese of Oakland. Strasbourg: Editions du Singe, 2001). The enthusiastic bishop had a bold plan for remodeling the Cathedral:
“With the priest now facing the people, the bishop found the venerable stained glass windows behind the alter distracting. ‘The rather colorful windows in the sanctuary impeded the vision of the service, just like the headlights of an oncoming car do.’ The stained glass windows were covered over by redwood paneling. The interior was whitewashed and the exterior was painted in a creme color [it was red brick]. The alter rail was removed as were all the statues, except for that of Jesus. In sum, the remodeled building followed Vatican II directives and created ‘…an atmosphere conducive to participation, worship, and prayer.'”
About eighty percent of my book is a study of history from the late-nineteenth century to the present. I began the project when I had a hunch about the second era, the era of the Yellow Lion. St. Hildegard’s explanation of the symbolism of that time almost perfectly describes the militaristic period of 1914-1945. The challenge then was to see if the historical era that preceded it and the one that followed it matched her explanation of the respective beast’s symbolism.
Since I did not want to force square pegs into round holes, I was hoping to find obvious matches between the animal symbols and the respective historical periods. After consulting numerous histories of the periods in question, I became somewhat discouraged and considered hanging it up; there were similarities but no obvious matches. The specific characteristics of each period must be present from its beginning to its end; and the sequence of eras must follow each other in the right order for Hildegard’s vision to have been realized.
Historians naturally will view history differently from each other. One might place a higher level of importance on social history, another on politics, and another on economics. I realized that the writing of history is unavoidably a very subjective effort, everyone has their personal agenda and biases. Then I recalled the work of the great British historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). Dawson, a Catholic, had a powerful bias, he viewed history from a distinctly Catholic perspective, not as a Church historian, but a Catholic historian. Dawson believed that: