CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: WRITING WITH HILDEGARD OF BINGEN

Have you ever thought of writing as a duty? The 12th-century German visionary Hildegard of Bingen introduced this idea to me. In the preface to her best-known work, the Scivias, Hildegard describes a series of visions God gave to her. One of these visions included the instruction to write down all that she had seen. But Hildegard hesitated. In the passages below, Hildegard recounts what happened when she refused the duty God gave her to write down her visions:

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But I, although I had seen and heard these things, nevertheless because of the doubt and bad opinion and divers remarks of men, refused for a long time the duty of writing, not in obstinacy but in humility, until I fell on a bed of sickness, cast down by the scourge of God, until at length I was compelled to write by many infirmities.

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When Hildegard didn’t write, she fell ill! Finally, she began setting down her visions:

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I said and wrote [these visions and words] not according to the curious invention of my heart, nor of any man, but as I saw, heard, and perceived them in a heavenly way, through the secret mysteries of God. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, “Cry aloud therefore, and write thus.”

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It took Hildegard of Bingen ten years to write down her visions, and they still inspire and challenge the Church today. Let that be an encouragement if you, like me, are a slow and sometimes reluctant writer.

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Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Benedictine abbess, a visionary, and a writer. Read a selection of her visions here.

Reflection: Have you ever felt that God has given you the duty to “cry aloud” and write something? Have you ever hesitated or refused?