Academic journal article Magistra

Hildegard of Bingen and Ramon Lull: Two Approaches to Medieval Spirituality

Academic journal article Magistra

Hildegard of Bingen and Ramon Lull: Two Approaches to Medieval Spirituality

Article excerpt

Two outstanding personalities in the history of medieval spirituality are Hildegard of Bingen and Ramon Lull. Hildegard is of interest because she is one of the strong and courageous women in history whose story has not been lost or silenced. For those who are particularly interested in a male perspective, emphasizing knighthood and the crusades, Lull is a good figure of investigation. The fact that he was a missionary to the Muslims also evokes much interest in him. Both Hildegard (1098-1179) and Lull (1232-1316) are important figures of the Middle Ages. Both seem to have been remarkable people and experienced many things in their lifetimes. In fact, for medieval times, Hildegard and Lull lived exceptionally long lives, eighty-one and eighty-four years respectively. Even though they are "only" about a century and a half apart in terms of time, their individual contexts were utterly different. Hildegard was a German nun; Lull was a Spanish knight and crusader. Their circumstances, lifestyles, endeavors, hopes and skills were different, which is why they are apt figures to be compared and contrasted.

It would be wrong, however, only to point out their differences. Indeed, Hildegard and Lull had many similarities as well. Both were well learned, both had a zeal for the Christian faith and both wrote books. First, the lives of Hildegard and Lull must be noted separately. Then some of the main differences between them and their contexts may be highlighted, as well as some of the key similarities which they share. Finally, one work of each, namely Hildegard's Scivias, and Lull's Book of the Lover and the Beloved, will be examined in order to illustrate their individual spiritualities and theologies.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard was born in 1098 to a wealthy family. Being the tenth child, her devout parents decided to "tithe" her into a monastic community to become a nun. At the young age of seven Hildegard entered the monastery of Disibodenberg, founded by Saint Disibod centuries earlier, and at fourteen she professed her vows thereby becoming a Benedictine nun.

Since earliest childhood, Hildegard had experienced visions of what she called "bright light," but she never told anyone about these experiences. Unlke many other mystics, Hildegard seldom if ever experienced ecstasy or a trance-like state or lack of control over her body and senses. Her visions were "inner" sights which she "saw" in her mind's eye while doing ordinary things, and which did not influence her in an extraordinary way. Besides her particular psychic gift of inner visions, or perhaps as a result of these visions, she endured headaches and other illnesses sporadically from childhood on and throughout her life.(1) Modern scholars believe that she might have suffered from a particular type of migraine headaches which caused her to "see" stars or bright lights at times.(2)

Being exposed to monastic life from such an early age entailed some privileges. Hildegard was able to enjoy an education far superior to that of other girls, yet still inferior to that of young boys intending to become monks. Her intellectual, psychological and emotional development was enhanced by spiritual leaders and academic tutors. Coming from a rich family meant that Hildegard had experienced relative luxury, perhaps enjoying the services of a maid. She did not know the harshness of poverty and hunger, nor did she have to do hard physical labor to earn her keep.

Young girls in religious communities usually spent their time reading and learning, occasionally copying manuscripts, spinning, weaving or sewing, and praying.(3) Therefore, besides being well educated, she was also familiar with a religious style of life from an early age and grew up in an environment where spirituality and an active devotional and liturgical life was advocated and encouraged.

Disibodenberg was a monastery which had houses for nuns and monks, and was therefore not as cloistered and separated as some communities exclusively of women. …

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