One of the greatest lies propagated by Western liberal media is that Pope Benedict XVI was a crusty old miser and “patriarchal” figure who upheld ideas and practices demeaning to women. This lie is, of course, most harmful to women, who—in Benedict XVI—had an advocate unlike any Pope in recent history. Nothing could be further from the truth than to accuse Benedict XVI of being an “enemy” of women. In fact, he was the Catholic Church’s greatest feminist. No greater testimony to Benedict XVI’s feminism exists than his inspiring Holy Women, a collection of his speeches on the mystical mistresses of the Catholic Church. More even than his elevation of St. Hildegard of Bingen to the status of a Doctor of the Church, these catechisms firmly establish Benedict XVI as an advocate for strong women and a Pope who, far from celebrating “patriarchy,” acknowledged the vices of men when compared to the virtues of women. Women can particularly take honest pride in what is perhaps the most powerful statement on behalf of women made by Pope Benedict XVI in the entire work:
“Those ‘strong women’ who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly bore the great light of the Gospel in the complex events of history…. We could liken them to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to the Crucified Jesus and to Mary his Mother, while the Apostles had fled and Peter himself had denied Him three times.”
These facts, often forgotten by men who like to think of themselves as brave, are not secrets, nor was Benedict the first to state them, though it could be argued that he was the first Pope in modern times to so seriously act on them. Their significance is, however, often overlooked by secular feminists who have succumbed to the male-dominated atheist philosophies of our age. For what is truly significant in these words of Benedict XVI is the fact that in that point of human history when circumstances were most dire, when the rational faculties of men failed to provide any answers, when every male instinct to be prudent and calculating was at its peak, in short—when male virtue failed at the time it was most necessary—it was the virtue of strong women which persevered and remains to this day a testimony of faith that shames men. After all—what greater testimony can there be to the superiority of women than the fact that when the living God appeared on Earth for a short time, men crucified Him, men rejected Him, men ran from Him though He had loved them, while women remained with Him, women never abandoned Him and women were the first to witness the resurrection? A patriarchal Pope would have written “like the Holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to the Crucified Jesus and to Mary, His Mother.” But Pope Benedict XVI, feminist, writes the truth: “while the Apostles had fled and Peter himself had denied Him three times.” It is a harsh truth for men and a glorious truth for women.
Benedict XVI’s entire book is, in fact, one long treatise shaming men, calling out to men: Behold these women whose faith was so strong that they resisted the temptation of their ages, and often fought against the patriarchs, the male-dominated societies that oppressed them, on behalf of God. The book collects Benedict XVI’s reflections on St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Klara of Asyria, St. Mechtylda von Hackenborn, St. Gertrud the Great, the Blessed Aniela of Foligno, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Brigida of Sweden, Margaret of Oingt, St. Julianna of Cornillon, St. Catherine of the Sien, Julianna of Norwich, St. Veronica Giuliani, St. Catherine of Bolonia, St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Joanne d’Arc.
Of all of these great women, of whom Benedict XVI speaks with great reverence and from whom he attempts to learn how to be a better man and show us all how we can improve our lives on the basis of their teachings, I wish to briefly discuss only one—St. Hildegard of Bingen. If one wishes to understand just how amazing this woman was, then the place to start is not with her mystical and scientific writings, but—in my opinion—with her amazing music.
My wife, who enjoys the music of Orthodox Romanian nuns but cannot seem to “get into” Hildegard’s music, tells me that it must be her pure Slavic blood as verses my corrupt Germanic blood, not to mention some sort of family pride, since my grandmother is named Hildegard. Indeed—there is something to it. Just as I have always immediately found a soul mate in each of the great German poets and writers, so too, the music of Hildegard of Bingen moves me in ways inexplicable. I can only imagine that my fellow German, Benedict XVI, found himself equally moved by this music. Hildegard of Bingen’s compositions are breathtaking and strip us of all pretenses to pride, knowledge, understanding—leaving us only to wonder at the majesty of the Mystery of Faith.
Yet for Hildegard of Bingen, the Mysteries of the Faith were not all Platonic. She was a scientist who conducted her own experiments and wrote treatises on physics and biology. She researched medicines and treatments for bodily ills. She even composed her own alternative alphabet. In short—she was exactly what Benedict XVI recognized her to be—a Doctor of the Church. A wise, learned and gifted woman of high intellectual powers.
Politically, what ought to be seen as particularly important for feminists—who supposedly declare their allegiance to the matter of female emancipation and women’s rights—is the fact of Hildegard’s lifelong struggles against patriarchy, against the power of greedy, small minded and calculating men who tried to stand between her and God. Any woman who honestly looks upon the life of Hildegard of Bingen cannot fail to see that she struggled mightily against a culture that did not recognize her gifts and was dominated by men who feared the power of a strong, intelligent and Godly woman. That Hildegard was able to achieve so much while remaining true to the Church—truer than the men of her times—is an amazing testimony to how strongly she resembled not only Mary by the Cross, but the women who first saw the risen Christ as opposed to the doubting men who did not believe them.
That Benedict XVI was an impassioned advocate of Hildegard of Bingen and of the mystical mistresses of the Catholic Church in general, testifies to his profound understanding of the primacy of the woman in Catholic theology. Naturally, one is free to disagree with this assessment, free to claim that Benedict XVI was “against” women. However, I have yet to see anyone anywhere try to make this claim by arguing that Benedict XVI’s principle philosophical work on the superiority of women in Catholic history is somehow unconvincing or untrue. Instead, the Mass media and the so-called feminist critics of Benedict XVI pretend that Sante e beate never existed. I encourage the millions of women who are subjected to this propaganda in secular schools and universities to seek out this book, or at the very least read the teachings of Benedict XVI on the above noted mystical mistresses. Once you have read this book, although you are free to have whatever opinion you would like, I trust you will no longer succumb to the silly view that Benedict XVI thought nothing of women or was somehow a “patriarchal” oppressor of women’s rights.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.