SM writes: “I read your article about mandalas and how they are prayer ‘gimmicks.’ I was just wondering what you think about the artwork (mandalas) of St. Hildegard of Bingen, especially since she is now a Doctor of the Church. It seems to me that you are saying some of her practices were new age.”
Great question, SM, and one that gives me an opportunity to alert people to the fact that St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) – our newest Doctor of the Church – has been thoroughly hijacked by the New Age. They have distorted just about everything she ever wrote, painted, sang or said – which is really saying something because this was a brilliant woman who contributed much to her time and the Church.
A writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, Benedictine and visionary who also contributed a great deal to the science of herbal medicine, this latter attribute explains why you’ll find websites using her name to hawk all kinds of New Age elixirs and potions, rocks and ointment – all of which are based on distortions and misinterpretations of her many writings.
Another distortion are the drawings that SM is referring to. New Agers call them mandalas but they are not – they are simply mandala-like (see illustrations in this post). In fact, Hildegard didn’t even create them herself but merely oversaw their production.
This is why I’m recommending that you be very careful what you read about this saint and make sure it comes from an authentic Catholic source, which is particularly important when it comes to translations of her original writings. There are some translations out there that are erroneous and distort the meaning of her writings so make sure you get the book from a reputable Catholic publisher.
As this article published by Catholics United for the Faith recommends, ” . . . (E)xtreme caution should be used when reading modern biographies of St. Hildegard or collections of St. Hildegard.s writings which include modern commentary. Although St. Hildegard was a faithful Catholic herself, many heterodox Catholics and people involved with the New Age movement are unfairly trying to use her works to their own ends. Thus, while writers like Ronda Chervin and Sr. Prudence Allen are reliable, writers like Matthew Fox should be avoided. It is better, whenever possible, to read St. Hildegard.s own words or listen to performances of her music than to read a questionable commentary.”
For an entertaining and quick read on the life of St. Hildegard, try this article from Crisis Magazine.