We need to be telling the truth. Harming the environment is not just “wrong” or “bad.” It’s evil. It is suicidal. It is evidence of a profound sickness within the human condition. It is sinful, it is blasphemy, that we persist in harming our environment in greedy and hyperconsumptive ways. Many non-Christians will recoil at this emphatic religious language, I know; and many Christians, lacking Hildegard’s prophetic vision, will simply be unable to accept the idea that despoiling the environment is sinful, let alone a form of blasphemy. Well, forgive me for taking an unpopular position here, but I have to be true to the dictates of my own conscience, even though I recognize, with sorrow and humility, that I am party to this global dynamic of the blaspheming of nature.
Hildegard sees a direct link between Divinity, nature, and sacrality. No impassable chasm between God and creation in this woman’s theology. And for this reason, I’ve been rather boldly predicting that Hildegard, as a newly minted Doctor of the Church, could eventually even supplant Francis of Assisi as the patron saint of the environment. Francis’s feast day is October 4 — just three days before Hildegard’s elevation to Doctor of the Church — so it seems to me that maybe this month is the time for a sanctity smackdown, as we consider just who deserves to be the first among patron saints of nature (yes, it’s okay for there to be more than one).
On the first Sunday in October, the Pope will declare Hildegard of Bingen a “Doctor of the Church” — a fancy title meaning, basically, that her writings are considered exemplary sources of Catholic theology and doctrine. Hildegard and an obscure Spanish mystic will get this honor this fall, and will be only the 34th and 35th persons to be so named in all of Catholicism. Most of the Doctors of the Church are obscure theologians, folks like Gregory Nazianzus or Peter Damian or Lawrence of Brindisi. Others are more recognizable: Thomas Aquinas, the Venerable Bede, and Augustine of Hippo are all members of this rather exclusive club. Before 1970, no woman had ever been declared a Doctor of the Church; Hildegard will be the fourth to receive the title, after Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, and Thérèse of Lisieux — all mystics, which is not surprising since throughout most of church history women rarely were recognized as theologians unless they were seen as mystics, that is to say, as visionaries who insisted that their authority as theologians and spiritual teachers came directly from God.