On the eve of the upcoming Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI will declare St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of Avila as Doctors of the Church.
“These two great witnesses of the faith lived in very different historical periods and came from different cultural backgrounds,” the Pope said when he announced the upcoming declaration last spring.
“But the sanctity of life and depth of teaching makes them perpetually present: the grace of the Holy Spirit, in fact, projected them into that experience of penetrating understanding of divine revelation and intelligent dialogue with the world that constitutes the horizon of permanent life and action of the Church.”
The Church confers the title of “Doctor of the Church” upon a saint whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church, and who is of “eminent learning” and “great sanctity”. Other Doctors of the Church include St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila.
St. John of Avila was a 16th century Spanish priest, mystic, preacher and scholar. He was the spiritual advisor of two Doctors of the Church – St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Born of a wealthy family of Jewish descent in 1499, he renounced his wealth to become a missionary and was known for his fiery sermons denouncing evil. He was briefly imprisoned during the Inquisition in Seville which only made him more popular. After his death in 1569, his letters and writings quickly became Spanish classics.
St. Hildegard was a 12th century German nun, writer, composer, philosopher and mystic, as well as an abbess and founder of several monasteries. Pope Benedict called her “an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music.” Born in 1098, her parents dedicated her to God from birth. Best known for her mystical visions, her best known work entitled Scivias, sums up the history of salvation from the creation of the world to the end of time in 35 visions. Pope Benedict described these visions as having “a rich theological content” that elaborate on the theme of the mystical marriage between God and man. She was also learned in medicine, the sciences and music. In spite of being plagued by illness all her life, she died in 1179 at the age of 81.
Although both of these great saints lived hundreds of years ago, Pope Benedict says “the sanctity of their life and the profundity of their doctrine render them perennially relevant.”
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