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Musicology, feminism, Catholicism, historical theology, Hildegard von Bingen


Hildegard von Bingen, a Christian mystic, influenced theology, philosophy, and music during the Middle Ages. Some people today claim her as a forerunner for women’s rights because her works gained such prominence people assume she had the authority to teach men in the church. However, this assertion places unnecessary strain on Hildegard, misreading her works and her place within the structure of the medieval Catholic church. Hildegard’s writings did not seek to equalize men and women. Rather, in her life and in her works, she appealed to her humility, virginity, and close relationship with the Holy Spirit to minister. This conception of her role in reflected in her musical works: Symphonia virginum and Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. Each of these works is a set of multiple songs on theology and relationship. These songs, her training, and her other works demonstrate her sanctioned ministry only extended to women at the convent. This was allowed by the Catholic church. She did have a sort of authority, but it was only under the ministry of grace, not ordination, that her works reached outside of the convent to both genders. Thus, the modern conception of Hildegard as feminist cannot be employed because her works did not reflect modern ideals of feminism, as she did not believe in the equality of men and women and she only officially ministered to women, not men. The work of feminist criticism can still have a place in reflecting on Hildegard’s story, but she is not feminist herself. To be feminist, Hildegard would have needed to push the boundaries of what the Catholic church allowed for women.





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