The Woman Who Told the Pope to go to Hell

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: September 15, 2019
Sermon Series on Mystics – Hildegard of Bingen
Wisdom Readings: Proverbs 4:6-7, Black Elk, Hildegard of Bingen
Sermon: “The Woman Who Told the Pope To Go To Hell”

Wisdom Readings

Proverbs 4:6-7

6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.

Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the west, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm.

Hildegard of Bingen

Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining


Before computers, before Captian Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, before architect Maya Lin, before RGB, before Mozart, before John Wesley, before Nostradamus, before Martin Luther nailed his 95 statements on the door at Wittenberg, before Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, before King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table…but AFTER General Maximus became a slave who became a gladiator who defied an emperor…lived a woman who was as smart as IBM’s Watson; a woman who could have outwitted the Kobayashi Maru; a woman who designed and built monasteries; a woman who spoke out against patriarchal structures; a woman who wrote operas; a woman who preached social principles and whose theological beliefs started a movement; a woman whose prophetic visions unveiled church corruption; a woman who was truly the first Protestant; a woman whose paintings still inspire awe; a woman who led thousands of monastic nuns on their quest—Hildegard of Bingen, the woman who defied not just an emperor but also the Pope.

Hildegard the rebel lived during the First Crusades in the 12th century and even then, admonished humanity for being conquestors of nature and implored people to instead nurture Mother Earth. Hildegard grew up with a Celtic theological background, a theology rooted in wisdom. In the 12th century, most of Europe accepted Catholic theology rooted in the theology of original sin—that we are born with sin because Eve ate an apple and shared it with Adam—therefore we are all doomed. Even to this day the concept of original sin shapes so much theology in mainline Christian denominations and I believe is a main reason why religious people get so stuck in who is a sinner, what is a sin and why religious people focus so much on sex and not on what Christ spoke out against—corruption and greed. But that is another sermon for October’s stewardship month…

Today, we encounter Hildegard of Bingen, who died 940 years ago on September 17th, Her theology regarding nature, medicine, cosmology and the feminine mystique were revolutionary in her day and have evolved to help us in present day. Her music, writings and artwork continue to inspire—and until a few months ago, I knew very little about this mystic who I believe is one of the most influential people to ever walk the planet. She was silenced by the church, for women who speak up in church are often labeled heretics.

Hildegard had every obstacle placed in front of her. She lived during a time period when, especially as a woman, having visions and speaking her convictions could have led to being branded demon-possessed and executed in the name of God. Hildegard was very vocal about the controlling patriarchy—she informed the Emperor he was acting like a baby because he was ignoring injustice; admonished her superiors, the priests, saying they were acting like donkeys, because they just blindly followed corrupt leaders; exhorted the community to care for the earth and believed in the healing properties of plants. She preached all over Germany about church corruption. And when the Pope gave the order to forbid Hildegard and her nuns from singing, she told him to go to Hell. Hildegard had no fear.

I literally could go on and on about what an inspiration she was to men and women in who needed hope in a time of fearful theology. Hildegard was known for her visions, and I wish we could experience a vision of Hildegard, BE in her presence and HEAR her words when told music was banned, that her community of faith could no longer celebrate the Office Hours music liturgy which was the heart and soul of monastery life….Maybe if we just close our eyes we can all experience Hildegard:

HILDEGARD: “Because I have refused to exhume the body of the excommunicated youth who was given sanctuary and buried in our convent cemetery, the prelates acting on behalf of the archbishop, banned our community from celebrating the Office Hours. My authority and judgement have been violated, so I, though in my 80th year, must reply to this interdict. In order to remain obedient, we have left off singing the chants. My sisters and I have been struck down with such great bitterness, held back by such monstrous harshness, and suppressed at length by such tremendous weight of authority. But I heard these words in a vision . . . And I heard the voice which comes from the living light bringing forth the different forms of praise, about which David sang in the psalms: “Praise God in the sound of the trumpet; praise God in the psalterium and cithara… “Let every spirit praise the Lord.” In these words, we are instructed about the interior life through exterior things: namely, just how to give form to the Offices serving the interior of human beings and direct them as much as possible towards the praises of the Creator.

The holy prophets, mindful of that divine sweetness and praise…wanted also to be aroused by these things themselves…so composed psalms and canticles which were sung in order to kindle the devotion of the listener.

In imitation of the holy prophets, the studious and wise through this same art, invented several kinds of instruments so they could sing to the delight of their souls, by joining their hands while bending with the modulations of their voices.

Therefore, consider carefully that just as the body of Christ was born of the Holy Spirit, just so is the song of praise according to the heavenly music, radiated by the Holy Spirit in the Church. The body is truly the garment of the soul, which has a living voice; for that reason it is fitting that the body simultaneously with the soul repeatedly sing praises to God through the voice….Therefore, those of the Church who have imposed silence on the singing of the chants for the praise of God… have unjustly stripped God of the grace and comeliness of God’s own praise.

Since all the arts are brought to life by that breath of life which God breathed into the bodies of all, therefore, it is just that God be praised in all things.

And I will sing this antiphon which was revealed to me in a vision and gives musical form to divine mysteries, urged with a divine lightness of touch into the playful, joyous, twirling movement of God’s provident, creative, and life-giving Wisdom.

The Trinitarian imagery comes to the fore in the distillation of a perfume, a heavenly quality, out of God’s fertile, creative goodness: the overflowing, vibrant, fresh greenness of health and life. This Wisdom “creates the cosmos by existing within it, (…) an ambiance enfolding it and quickening it from within”

O Wisdom’s energy!
Whirling, you encircle
and everything embrace
in the single way of life.
Three wings you have:
one soars above into the heights,
one from the earth exudes,
and all about now flies the third.
Praise be to you, as is your due, O Wisdom.

In the words of Hildegard, “We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.”

Hildegard freed herself from the power based hierarchical structures that limited the Divine. She dared people to “declare who you are,” saying “it is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there; you must be prepared to leap.”

Her voice still challenges the structure of the church today. Will we continue to follow a theology based on original sin? Will we continue to live in a world interpreted for us by others? The spirit of Hildegard resides in all of us, may we speak out against oppressors and dare to live!