Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hildegard of Bingen A Great Intellectual


“Women’s experience systematically differs from the male experience upon which knowledge claims have been grounded” 
(Sandra Harding, quoted below).

Blogger: Since persons are constitutively relational, the experience of being male or female as complementary yields a complementary consciousness of reality: the human person imaging the divine. In that light, consider the thought of Sandra Harding and the theological contribution of St. Hildegard.

“The attempts to add understandings of women to our knowledge of nature and social life have led to the realization that there is precious little reliable knowledge to which to add them. A more fundamental project now confronts us. We must root out sexist distortions and perversions in epistemology, metaphysics, methodology and the philosophy of science – in the `hard core’ of abstract reasoning thought most immune to infiltration by social values…. Human experience differs according to the kinds of activities and social relations in which humans engage. Women’s experience systematically differs from the male experience upon which knowledge claims have been grounded. Thus the experience on which the prevailing claims to social and natural knowledge are founded is, first of all, only partial human experience only partially understood: namely, masculine experience as understood by men. However, when this experience is presumed to be gender-free – when the male experience is taken to be the human experience – the resulting theories, concepts, methodologies, inquiry goals and knowledge-claims distort human social life and human thought…. (Contributors to this volume) show how men’s understanding of masculine experience shape Aristotle’s biology and metaphysics, the very definition of `the problems of philosophy’ in Plato, Descartes, Hobbes and Rousseau, the `adversary method’ which is the paradigm of philosophic reasoning, contemporary philosophical psychology, individuation principles in philosophical ontology, functionalism in sociological and biological theory, evolutionary theory, the methodology of political science, Marxist political economy, and concept ions of `objective inquiry’ in the social and natural sciences. On the other hand, many of the contributors also begin the feminist `reconstructive project.’ They identify distinctive aspects of women’s experience which can provide resources for the construction of more representatively human understanding. Some of the essayists focus extensively on this reconstructive project, showing us what is required in social practice and in scientific inquiry to make women’s experience into a foundation for a more adequate and truly human epistemology, metaphysics, methodology and philosophy of science.;” Sandra Haring and Merrill B. Hintikka, Discovering Reality D. Reidel (1983) Introduction IX-X.

From the Osservatore Romano from May 11, 2012:

Hildegard of Bingen has finally been proclaimed a saint by the Church after centuries, even though she has been venerated as such since her death, especially within the Benedictine Order to which she belonged. She was a majestic and complex figure in the troubled 12th century, where her wise and prophetic presence played a very important role, one unprecedented for a woman. 

Nun, abbess, and founder of two new monasteries which she directed. Beginning in her mystic childhood experiences, she had the courage to make her prophetic visions known publicly – writing to the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, “You act like a child”. She was also courageous enough to write, next to the books of mysticism and theology, medical texts and analyses of natural phenomena, of the universe and of human beings, proposing new solutions and never-before-seen insights. 

Certain of being the bearer of the divine message, she dedicated herself to preaching, traveling around Germany, and even speaking in churches. She urged the Pope to a new reform, harshly criticizing them and explaining that the Holy Spirit spoke through her, herself a woman, because the Church, led by men, had betrayed in many ways her nature and her mission. 
In her prophetic vision human and divine reality were united in the same reality guaranteed by love,which she knew how to embody. She saw and described God as a “living light”, a light that is also part of human beings: she described herself as “shadow of the living light”.

It is not surprising then that feminist history and theology have devoted much effort in rediscovering this figure. It is not surprising either that her music, as Hildegard was also a good composer of sacred music, is found in feminists bookshops around the world and not just in the religious ones.
The mystic of Rhine is proof that within Christian culture it was possible for a woman -- obviously exceptional – to produce high quality culture and to be made heard by powerful figures. Benedict XVI in his reflections on female figures in the Middle Ages dedicated two speeches to her and took a cue from Hildegard, declaring that “theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity”.
Confirming the importance that the Pope has given to this woman (who combined mystical qualities with the intellectual characteristics of her time), her canonization which was proclaimed today, stands equivalent. She was so exceptional that in order to find a similiar figure so rich, from an intellectual point of view - leaving aside the two great Teresas, teachers of mysticism - we must look to another German saint, Edith Stein.

  Lucetta Scaraffia
May 11, 2012

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