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St. Hildegard’s radically simple approach to Church renewal

Hildegard of Bingen

Wolfgang Sauber | CC BY-SA 4.0

Philip Kosloski - published on 09/17/23

St. Hildegard believed that the Church needed to look internally to achieve true and lasting renewal.

During St. Hildegard’s life, many in the Catholic Church wanted to combat various abuses, and some wanted to radically alter everything about the faith.

This included the Cathars, who spread their erroneous beliefs throughout Europe.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a brief summary of the Cathars in a general audience in 2010 where he focused on St. Hildegard.

In a special way Hildegard countered the movement of German cátari (Cathars). They (cátari means literally “pure”) advocated a radical reform of the Church, especially to combat the abuses of the clergy.

In theory the idea of reforming the Church to combat abuses of the clergy seems to be a worthy and praiseworthy mission.

However, their approach undermined the beliefs of the faith and St. Hildegard wasn’t afraid to confront them, offering her own style of reform, as Pope Benedict XVI explained.

She harshly reprimanded them for seeking to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is obtained with a sincere spirit of repentance and a demanding process of conversion, rather than with a change of structures. This is a message that we should never forget. 

When faced with corruption in the Church, it’s tempting to throw everything out and start fresh, but St. Hildegard proposed a much simpler way of reform.

Instead of tearing down the old structures, she sought an internal renewal, which while simpler, is also much more difficult.

Her example is a powerful witness to us in today’s world, and as Pope Benedict XVI said, her method of renewal is “a message we should never forget.”

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