Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine

Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine

Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine

Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine


Barbara Newman reintroduces English-speaking readers to an extraordinary and gifted figure of the twelfth-century renaissance. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was mystic and writer, musician and preacher, abbess and scientist who used symbolic theology to explore the meaning of her gender within the divine scheme of things.

With a new preface, bibliography, and discography, Sister of Wisdom is a landmark book in women's studies, and it will also be welcomed by readers in religion and history.


When Sister of Wisdom was first published a decade ago, I noted with chagrin that, despite a wave of popular interest, “Hildegard studies in this country remain at an embryonic stage.” In the intervening years, that situation has changed dramatically in some ways and scarcely at all in others.

Happily, most of the Latin editions cited in this book are now or soon will be obsolete, as the volumes of Hildegard’s complete oeuvre make their way into the Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis. When Sister of Wisdom first appeared, only the two illuminated volumes of the Scivias had been critically edited in that series. The Liber vite meritorum, Liber divinorum operum, two volumes of Epistolae, and the Vita Sanctae Hildegardis have now joined them, with the Physica and the remaining Epistolae to follow. My own critical edition of the Symphonia has been published by Cornell University Press, while the Ordo virtutum is available in a new bilingual edition by Peter Dronke. In addition, many of Hildegard’s books can now be read in English translation, and anthologies have appeared to ease readers gently into her formidable opus. The story of her life has been recounted in a critical biography by Sabina Flanagan and no fewer than three historical novels. Similarly, listeners a decade ago could choose among only four serious recordings of Hildegard’s music. Now there are at least seventeen recordings—not counting the many “adaptations” and original compositions inspired

1. In Sister of Wisdom I refer to this text as De operatione Dei [On the Activity of God], following a scribal title in the Ghent manuscript (Universiteitsbibl. Cod. 241). But subsequent scholars and editors have continued to prefer the title Liber divinorum operum [Book of Divine Works], which was apparently the one Hildegard intended.

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