The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


On 7th October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI designated the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen as Doctor of the Church. It was not before time, since Hildegard was the foremost holy woman of her age. She was born in AD1098 in Germany and died in 1179 at the age of 81.

Hildegard was from a noble family and was dedicated to God at her birth. At the age of eight she was in the care of other holy women who introduced her to monastic life. She succeeded her guardian mother Jutta of Spanheim as Prioress at the Benedictine Monastery at Disibodenberg and later became Abbess at Bingen on the River Rhine. She began to receive mystical visions and received counselling and tuition from the celebrated St Bernard of Clairvaux. The Pope authorised her to record her visions which had a rich theological content. Hildegard ‘the Blessed’ was an outstanding religious teacher and prophetess. Additionally she wrote extensively, was an artist, physician, poet, composer of music and philosopher. We would call her today a ‘Polymath’. She was influential politically and wrote botanical, medicinal and dietary texts.

Until 1970 no woman had ever been named as ‘Doctor of the Church’. The term is used for particular saints in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and some others. Anglicans prefer the usage as ‘Teacher of the Faith’. Both epithets are appropriate since the word Doctor is derived from the Latin Docere - meaning ‘to teach’. The women now so designated are:

St Theresa of Avila

St Catherine of Siena

St Theresa of Lisieux

And now Hildegard of Bingen (despite the fact that she was never officially canonised).

In general the accolade ‘Doctor of the Church’ is accorded to those whose teachings and writings have been held to be of great advantage to the Christian Church. The honour is rarely given and only to those who are acknowledged as having great learning and sanctity. Of the Western Church the four original Doctors were - St Ambrose, St Augustine, St Jerome and Pope Gregory I. There have been many later additions, including St Thomas Aquinas and the Venerable Bede. Terms analogous to Doctor are - Teacher, Lecturer, Minister, Rabbi and Imam - always an honourable calling.

Rod Dawson

Summer Edition 2013

Doctors of the Church