Pope Benedict XVI — amid recent pronouncements about the need for "adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth" — has indicated that the twelfth-century composer, theologian, and poet Hildegard von Bingen would be made a Doctor of the Church, with an official canonization to follow. Interestingly, it's an open question whether Hildegard achieved sainthood in an earlier era. A commission gathered evidence of her miracles in 1233, but four years later Pope Gregory IX found fault with the format of the presentation and asked for more detail. The commission revised its work, adding reports of new miracles attributable to Hildegard's influence. Evidently, the amended submission either disappeared in transit or was never sent, for in 1243 Pope Innocent IV inquired again about the status of the case. At that point, the process stalled. In the fourteenth century, there was another attempt to declare Hildegard a saint, followed by another mysterious delay. Reports Johannes Trithemius: "Having carefully read over the testimonies submitted to him, [Pope John XXII] made no difficulty about canonizing the virgin, as I am assured by the apostolic writing, although this event, longed for by many, was not brought to pass." As Anna Silvas writes, in her book Jutta and Hildegard, Hildegard began to be widely recognized as a saint, whether or not John XXII or a later pope was able to complete the official process. Her feast day was celebrated in Rupertsberg, the site of Hildegard's convent, and her name appeared in the sixteenth-century Roman Martyrology.
It would seem that Benedict XVI has decided to clear up the confusion once and for all, in recognition of Hildegard's singular historical status. In an audience last year, he praised "this great woman, this 'prophetess' who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ." One week later, he spoke of Hildegard again, stressing her willingness to "combat the abuses of the clergy." He also quoted a remarkable letter that Hildegard wrote to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, assuming the voice of God to reprimand him for his schismatic resistance to Pope Alexander III: "You will be sorry for this wicked conduct of the godless who despise me! Listen, O King, if you wish to live! Otherwise my sword will pierce you!"