St Robert Bellarmine and St Hildegard of Bingen

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Cardinal. Born during the Reformation at Montepulciano, Tuscany, in 1542, St Robert Bellarmine was a poet, musician and public speaker.

His systematic studies of theology began at Padua in 1567, where his teachers were adherents of Thomism. In 1569 he was sent to finish his studies at the University of Leuven in Flanders. There he was ordained, and obtained a reputation both as a professor and as a preacher. He was the first Jesuit to teach at the university, where the subject of his course was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. He also wrote a Hebrew grammar during this time. In 1576 he was appointed professor of theology at the Roman College. His lectures were the basis of his famous Dissertation on the Controversies of the Christian Faith. This work was a complete defence of Catholic teaching and became very popular. It was banned by the British government. Robert completed many other projects.

In 1592 he became rector of the Roman college, he was made provincial of Naples in 1594 and cardinal in 1598.

Robert lead a very ascetic personal life, living on bread and garlic, giving everything he owned, even the curtains from his apartment to the poor. In 1602 he became archbishop of Capus and was very involved in pastoral and welfare work.

He resigned his see in 1605 to become prefect of the Vatican library and an active member of several congregations.

His moderate views on the temporal powers of the papacy lost him the favour of Pope Sixtus V. He was sympathetic to Galileo but urged him to be cautious as he propounded his theory that idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe.

As an old man he withdrew from public life, and wrote several devotional books. St Robert wasn't very tall but he had a huge intellect. He prayed every day for the Protestants but never made personal attacks on them. He died in 1621. In 1930 he was canonised and the next year he was named a Doctor of the Church.

and St Hildegard of Bingen

Also called Hildegard von Bingen, byname Sibyl of the Rhine. Doctor of the Church, German abbess, visionary mystic, and composer. born in 1098, Böckelheim, West Franconia, died September 17, 1179.

Ellen Teague writes:

It is 12th century Germany and an eight-year-old girl from a noble family is sent to live in a small cloistered woman's monastery. She starts her ascetic and reclusive life marred by ill-health and blinding migraines. Yet, this girl becomes one of the most famous and extraordinary women of the Middle Ages - a revered Benedictine nun, a Saint and a Doctor of the Church. People today still connect with her music and her prophetic view of the human in the context of God's creation.

Hildegarde (1098-1179) spent most of her childhood walled into a room attached to the Benedictine Monastery of St Disibodenberg. She and other young novices lived with an anchoress named Jutta, adjacent to the church so they could follow the services. Constant exposure to the music probably inspired her own interest in composition. A small window linked them to the world, with food being passed in and refuse taken out. Days were spent in prayer, scripture study, contemplation, and doing needlework. After Jutta's death, when Hildegarde was 38, she was elected to head the community and moved it 25 miles away to Bingen, on the River Rhine. Here she lived to 81 years of age.

From childhood Hildegarde had seen visions but told only Jutta and a few others. However, in 1141, Hildegard had a vision that changed her life. In her own words: "And it came to pass ... when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming... and suddenly I understood the meaning of expositions of books."

She wrote to her famous contemporary St Bernard of Clairvaux, and he brought her to the attention of Pope Eugenius, who urged Hildegarde to write of her visions. In her first work Scivias ('Know the Ways of the Lord'), she wrote that human and divine reality are united in love. She described God as a "living light", a light that is also part of human persons. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegarde produced major works of theology.

She described a powerful vision of God who gives life to the whole creation. She wrote works on natural history and the healing powers of plants. She gave detailed descriptions of plants, trees, birds, animals, stones. For her, the entire creation was a symphony of the Holy Spirit who brought life. She preached throughout Germany and urged all the people of God - including popes - to make their own unique contributions to the spiritual development of their Church communities.

Many male and female monastic communities turned to her, as well as bishops and abbots. When the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa caused a schism in the Church by supporting at least three anti-popes against Pope Alexander III, Hildegarde reminded him that even the Emperor was subject to God's judgement. "You act like a child" she told him.

Hildegarde probably suffered from migraine, and her visions were linked to this condition. It is a tribute to her remarkable spirit and intellectual powers that she was able to turn a debilitating illness into the word of God, and create so much with it. She proved it was possible for a woman to make herself heard by those in power. Hildegarde was truly a woman ahead of her time - a visionary, Christian mystic, composer, philosopher, playwright, poet, naturalist, scientist, physician, herbalist and ecological activist. She was proclaimed a Saint and Doctor of the Church in 2012.

Did you know?

Hildegarde's sacred music and songs were initially performed in her own convent. She is the first composer whose biography is known and her music is undergoing a modern revival, with her CDs enjoying huge public success.