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Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader

Order now at Amazon.com. Released March 2007 from Paraclete Press.

Dr. Katharina Wilson, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Georgia, author of Medieval Women Writers (UGA Press)
I just finished Dr. Butcher's manuscript, and I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In fact, it was one of those texts that, imperceptibly but irresistibly, draws you in until you fall in step with the author in her perambulations between the 12th and 21st centuries. Good medievalist that she is, her mode of presentation, analogical logic, if the favored form of medieval argumentation, but her transposition of this usually theological, legal or scientific methodology to seemingly banal events is nothing short of delightful. The introductory essay detailing Hildegard's life and accomplishments is engaging, her obvious affinity with her subject spiritually inspiring, and her presentation scholarly and lucid.

Where her true contribution to Hildegard studies lies, is in her genuinely masterful rendering of Hildegard's texts. With a keen eye for the multifaceted Latin of the source texts as well as the specifically Hildegardian cadence of her language, Butcher was able to create texts that, like the original, are epitomes of vigor, striking metaphoric expression, directness and immediacy. As I was reading them, I often felt I was reading Hildegard, the real Hildegard, for the first time.

Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University, author of The Jesus Creed
This book is a gift to the church. Carmen Acevedo Butcher brings Hildegard of Bingen to life for us. Women trapped in a man's world, such as many women were in the Middle Ages, found freedom in monasticism. None more so than Hildegard of Bingen. Carmen Butcher wisely selects and elegantly translates Hildegard's works, including her soaring music, spiritual visions, and selected letters. What strikes any reader today about Hildegard is her audacity born of faith and fostered in prayer. Hildegard confronted the powers of her day with words about the Living Word.

Br. Benet Tvedten, author of The View from a Monastery
For those who already know and admire her, this compilation of Hildegard's various works is an ideal reference. For those who are unacquainted with Hildegard of Bingen, this book is the best of introductions. Carmen Acevedo Butcher, besides her selections from Hildegard's own works, provides the reader with a biography of this remarkable medieval mystic. The English translations from Hildegard's Latin are engaging. Hildegard, a nun who died in the 12th century, speaks our own language today. She was instructed by God to "write down what you see and hear!" Carmen Acevedo Butcher has made it accessible to us in this fine book.

Jennifer Trafton, Managing Editor, Christian History and Biography
If you think a 12th-century nun famous in her time for apocalptic visions has nothing to say to us today, think again. In this finely written book, Carmen Butcher shows us a Hildegard who was endearingly human, battling self-doubt while tenaciously and creatively using her many talents to express God's love and energize the church. Butcher's translations make this fascinating medieval woman's words fresh and accessible to modern readers.

Graham Christian, The Library Journal (March 1, 2007)
Butcher, a scholar of medieval Christianity, offers fresh translations of selected writings by 12th-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen. A fearless advocate of the truth as she saw it and a correspondent of kings and popes, Hildegard was not only a nun but a poet and mystic of practically psychedelic visions. As Butcher reminds us, an album of her sacred songs, A Feather on the Breath of God, briefly went to the top of the Billboard charts 25 years ago, and Hildegard has proved durably appealing to feminists, Christians, and mystic seekers of all stripes. This brief and flowingly translated selection should renew her appeal. For most collections.

Teresa Polk has reviewed Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader at her Blog-by-the-Sea. Read the March 5, 2007, review.

The Jesus Creed blog, March 21, 2007. Scot McKnight reviewed Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader.
Hildegard, one person says, “was a remarkable woman in an age of remarkable men.” And Carmen Butcher, author of a beautiful study on St. Benedict, brings Hildegard of Bingen to life in this fresh translation and study of her life. Carmen was the college teacher of the year last year (Shorter College in Georgia) and next year she will be coming to North Park to give a lecture. She’s an expert medievalist, and has devoted her life to making fresh translation and access to some of the greats in the Catholic tradition. Hildegard of Bingen — a mystic and composer and naturalist and poet and preacher and political advisor — has become a favorite of many today from various traditions, and this book is a must-have for those who’d like to answer these two questions: Who was she? and What did she have to say? Here it is. Hildegard pressed the edges then (11th Century); she still does (Christopher Page and his Gothic Voices); you won’t agree with her always, but you will always be asked to think and pray and ponder. Thanks Carmen. We needed a book like this.

Spring Arbor Catholic Quarterly (March 2007)
Most translated collections of Hildegard fall into one of two categories: stilted, academic language, or New Age phrasings that feel equally as irrelevant today. This dynamic new “reader” is different. Medievalist and poet Carmen Butcher has created translations that are nuanced with the subtlety of Hildegard's spiritual concerns. The poetry of Hildegard's phrasings comes through as never before.

Curled Up With a Good Book, © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2007
If the Pope were to look for another woman saint to be named as a Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen would be a great candidate. A Benedictine abbess of two monasteries of nuns in Germany near the Rhine River, St. Hildegard lived from 1098 to 1179 - during the time of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard of Clarivaux, also a follower of the Rule of St. Benedict. St. Hildegard was a great mystic and preacher, unusual in that she publicly preached to clergy and laypeople when this was an unusual occurrence. She was not a rebel speaking against the Church but rather a firm believer who had permission from the Pope and bishops to preach to build up and encourage all Christians, no matter their rank in society, to live as good Christians. St. Hildegard had many visions which Church authorities ordered her to write down. She did not rely on herself, fearing she might be deceived by the devil, but always discussed the visions with her confessor, who was a Benedictine monk. St. Hildegard most likely experienced severe migraines, yet she was able to learn about theology, nature, medicines and philosophy. She wrote music and plays; indeed, she was one of the early writers of morality plays. Because of her holiness, nobles and peasants alike sought St. Hildegard’s advice. High churchmen, like Pope Eugene III, sought her advice and encouraged her preaching. He read part of her visions at a synod meeting of bishops he was attending. She stood up to Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor who was challenging the Church’s authority. St. Hildegard lived to be 81 years old, unusual for people in those days. She was not canonized by the Church through the canonization process that we know of, but acclaimed a saint by all of the people of God. Her feast day is September 17th.

Carmen Acevedo Butcher has translated Hildegard’s words into this modern English reader that even teenagers and young adults can relate to. Prior to the seven chapters comprising the reader is a short biography of St. Hildegard. At the beginning of each chapter, Butcher provides an introduction to the work she is translating. She provides examples from Hildegard’s songs in chapter one; some of these songs have been put to music and are available as CDs, and Butcher provides a list of these in her bibliography. Hildegard’s songs (in Latin) are very moving and mesmerizing to hear, and she created her own musical notation. In chapter two, Butcher provides examples from Hildegard’s theological work Scivias, “a very orthodox handbook for good Christian living.” Hildegard follows the example of St. Augustine, according to Butcher. In chapter three, Butcher presents Hildegard’s The Play of Virtues, a morality play acted out by Hildegard’s nuns in the 11th and 12th centuries, before the popularity of morality plays in the 14th century. She was ahead of her times with her play about the devil trying to seduce a soul and how the virtues try to help the soul against the devil. In chapter four, Butcher provides some selections from Hildegard’s letters to various people. Chapter five showcases examples from Physica and Causes and Cures, books that Hildegard wrote about medicine and health. She gives remedies for overeating, uses of garlic and apples, and other medical aids. Chapter six is on The Book of Life’s Merits, which is about Hildegard’s visions “on the temptations every Christian encounters and how God can help.” She presents vices and their counter-virtues to show how one should live. Chapter seven is on another work of theology, The Book of Divine Works, which is about God’s love for humanity and for creation. Butcher provides two appendices, the first being a chronology of Hildegard’s life and the second a bibliography of her works, those about her, and a list of the recordings of her music.

Carmen Butcher writes with a down-to-earth style that speaks to modernists or post-modernists the works of St. Hildegard. She also provides great introductions to the various works of the saint. Too bad St. Hildegard’s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict was not included, although some quotes are. This work is highly recommended to those interested in the works of St. Hildegard of Bingen or those interested in Benedictine spirituality. This reader will speak to the soul; the person reading it just has to listen.