Bingen: A saint for our times
Namaste Publications £11.99
THE Dominican Order's and
the Roman Catholic Church's loss has become the US Episcopal
Church's gain as Matthew Fox, "silenced" by the Vatican in 1993,
has continued to plough the furrow of his interests in creation
spirituality in general, and Hildegard of Bingen in particular. His
most recent book has an ambitious subtitle, as the author claims to
"unleash" Hildegard's power in the 21st century.
This explains his approach.
He puts the 11th-century German mystic into dialogue with figures
as diverse as Einstein and Dorothee Sölle, with the American poet
Mary Oliver, and Howard Thruman, who was Martin Luther King's
spiritual teacher; he demonstrates how she can be considered a
herald of the divine feminine, a green prophet, an eco-warrior,
and, ultimately a church reformer - indeed, a Trojan horse entering
the gates of the Vatican.
So far, so good - depending
on where the reader stands. But, equally, so far, so bad. Is Fox
fair to take his own enthusiasms and find them endorsed by a figure
who, truth be told, lived one thousand years ago? Is his passionate
advocacy an overstatement of his own case? If we are to believe his
material, then the answer is no. Hildegard was indeed remarkably
prescient, and the written legacy is intelligent, creative, and
free of the trappings that she would have acquired had she
undergone a traditional theological formation in a male monastery.
Hers was a free spirit.
But my anxiety remains.
Despite Hildegard's achievement, does the conceit work? She may,
indeed, have much to say to our generation, but was she really
answering all our questions before we even had the imagination to
ask them? Does this book tell us more about Fox himself than about
One excellent feature: in
his final chapter, Fox lists 35 spiritual practices to be employed
in the spirit of Hildegard. Now, that's more like it.
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.