When Biases Trump Brains II – Lisa Miller stumbles again

Lisa MillerLisa Miller is exactly what Newsweek wants in a religion writer.  She is a liberal anti-Catholic and not terribly well prepared to write about her topics.  In other words, she’ll lead similarly prepared readers to exactly the right – that is wrong – conclusions and leave them feeling good about their prejudices.

Ms. Miller recently wrote a piece in Newsweek about St. Hildegard of Bingen because the Pope spoke about Hildegard at a Wednesday General Audience.   I think she simply wanted to use the occasion to attack the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and bash men.  Here is a taste: “At every step, Hildegard argued and pleaded with, disobeyed, and circumvented her male superiors on behalf of her sisters and herself.”  Blah blah blah.

I won’t trouble you with her whole piece.  If you want to, read it at Newsweek.  Just don’t but the issue.

Here are some amusing and not so amusing snippets that you should know about.

Miller suggests that Hildegard was – wait for this original liberal thought – a lesbian!

Liberals don’t seem to be able to understand that love isn’t automatically sex.   I assume Miller hasn’t read Hildegard’s book of visions called the Scivias:

A woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My [i.e., God’s] sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed. (Scivias, 279)

I guess that’s a “No” vote from Hildegard.

Eventually Miller lurches into an attack on the Archdiocese of New York because the archdiocesan newspaper didn’t promote a film about Hildegard.  That’s a side show.  She was just reacting to what a man did in Rome, that’s all.

But this part is a real hoot.  After twisting Hildegard into something like a dominatrix, she opines (my emphases):

How infuriating, then, that Hildegard has not been formally canonized, though her feast day is celebrated in Benedictine communities and in Germany, the land of her birth. How doubly infuriating that when Pope Benedict XVI mentioned her in a speech last month, he made her an example of Christian submission. She showed “total obedience to the ecclesiastical authorities,” he said.

If Hildegard isn’t venerated as a saint, how does she have a feast day?  But her beef may be with the issue of formal canonization.

Hildegard died in 1179.   The right to canonize was not even reserved by Popes for Popes until a decree was issued by Alexander III in 1170.  There was an early canonization by a Pope of Ulrich of Augsburg in the late 10th century, but the formal process of canonization would not be developed until centuries after Hildegard was dead.

For many centuries saints were deemed to be saints by the fame of their sanctity and popular piety enduring over time.

You know… from the people.

Formal canonization – first through the stage of beatification – is an extricate and exacting process of collecting proofs (documents and testimonies) which are then organized as for a court trial. They are subjected to the scrutiny of experts for gaps in the information, flaws, the veracity of the content, the historical and theological import.  A presentation is made of all the evidence arguing that the person lived a life of heroic virtue, which is scrutinized again and voted on my experts.  Then the members of the Congregation for Causes of Saints reviews everything and votes on the findings.

For a formal process involves looking not only every the person wrote and did, but also just about everything said or written about that person too.  And it must all be done according to a precise procedure.

Furthermore, the “Actor” in a cause has to foot the bill for all of this, all the way through to the end.   If Miller is so infuriated by the injustice done to all the women of the world because SAINT Hildegard hasn’t had a big modern ceremony, would she be willing to do that?  Foot the bill?  If not, she should probably fold her hands in her lap and sit quietly.

The irony is that she suggests that the Pope should just do things solely by his Fiat.  But if he did, she would criticize him for doing something solely by his Fiat.   In the meantime, by which I mean a very long time, Hildegard has been venerated because of a movement from below, among the people of her time down through the centuries, not because of formality and a male hierarchy.    Lisa Miller, being an ideologue, is muddled and missed that part.

There really isn’t a need for a formal declaration of canonization since SAINT Hildegard of Bingen has been venerated in the Catholic Church for a quite a while now.  She is listed in the 2005 Roman Martyrology for On 17 September:

7. In monasterio Montis Sancti Ruperti prope Bingium in Hassia, sanctae Hildegardis, virginis, quae, scientia rerum naturae et medicinae necnon arte musica perita, quam mystica contemplatione experta erat, pie in libris exposuit ac descripsit. (p. 521)

The Roman Martyrology is for the whole world, not just Benedictine communities and Germany.  She can look for a confirmation that the great abbess is considered a saint in the fifth Tome of the monumental Acta Sanctorum for the month of September.

By the way… St. Augustine of Hippo didn’t get a big ceremony either.  Lutherans and misogynists everywhere should be outraged!

For further evidence that Miller is a but fuzzy about who Hildegard was, this one actually drew forth a laugh as I read it and then set my imagination to it:

What would Hildegard have thought of the long investigation of American nuns, expected to conclude this year? The Roman hierarchy launched the inquisition hoping to root out “a certain secular mentality” and “a certain feminist spirit,” as one cleric put it. God forbid that communities of women attempt to claim power for themselves.

Yes indeed.  What would St. Hildegard of Bingen really say to the Leadership Council of Women Religious who, in their networking with various liberal groups have been complicit in promoting the weirdest sorts of heresies, federal funding for abortion, the twisting and abandoning of the apostolates, lesbianism and earth-mother-goddess worship.  What would Hildegard say to the LCWR about straight-arming SNAP concerning grounded allegation of sexual abuse of minors by women religious?

What would Hildegard say about the Apostolic Visitation?  “You are lucky I’m not running it.”

Not content with running down men, Miller ends on a low note:

Vision [the movie about Hildegard] is a reminder that saints and sisters have refused to be docile in every era. Even the Virgin Mary, that most sublime of biblical women, was depicted in medieval stories and plays as a funny, lovable, potty-mouthed BFF—“a human, approachable, supremely adorable woman who stood by humanity like a mother but loved it like a mistress,” writes Marina Warner in her 1976 book Alone of All Her Sex. “The Virgin often swears in miracle plays.” The Roman Catholic Church says it loves its women; the church itself takes a feminine pronoun: “she.” But being female, the story of Hildegard shows, often means fighting for parity against men in charge.

This is how she chooses to end an article?

Leave the reader with the image of the Mother of God as a “potty-mouthed BFF”?

Readers of Newsweek may enjoy how you affirm their bigoted prejudices, Lisa Miller, but I think you have no class.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Biased Media Coverage, The Drill, The Last Acceptable Prejudice, Throwing a Nutty and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Jenny says:

    The Anchoress had a take on this article earlier this week:


    I find articles like Miller’s quite sad.

  2. Fr_Marc says:

    It is really sad to see how radical feminists, esoterics and other obscure people try to pocket St. Hildegard, the prophetissa teutonica. But with the time, I got used to it.
    I grew up in the little town of Eibingen, Germany, where the relics of St. Hildegard are venerated. I celebrated my first holy mass after my ordination to the priesthood in the parish church of St. Hildegard this year and gave this year’s address on the saint’s feast-day.
    People should stop having fantasies about Hildegard and start reading her writings.

    A very interesting reading for all the feminist Hildegardians out there is the article “Hildegard of Bingen on Gender and the Priesthood” by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP, which appeared in “Church History”, vol. 63, in 1994…

  3. RichR says:

    For those, like myself, who didn’t know…..

    BFF = Best Friend Forever

  4. Jenny: Thanks for that link. GMTA.

  5. Mariana says:


    Thanks! I thought it meant something particularly vile!

  6. Scitoviasdomini says:

    The issue of Hildegard’s “canonization” needs to be clarified. There are, indeed, acta canonizationis that were drawn up for Hildegard in the first decades of the 13th century (they have been published by Herder in a Latin-German edition, together with her Vita, ed. by M. Klaes). The process broke down, however, and was never completed. It was briefly revived in the 14th century, but again to no avail. Finally, in the 16th century, her cult was authorized and she was entered into the Martyrologium, even though the canonization process was never formally concluded. (Unfortunately for those of us who study her in the U.S., Robert Bellarmine’s feast takes precedence on Sept. 17.)

    Unfortunately for Miller, she really chose the wrong scholar to pick on when attacking the Pope. Her information about Hildegard is drawn from the film she saw; the Pope’s information comes from long decades of studying Hildegard’s own time and her contemporaries (recall that his Habilitationsschrift was on Joachim [a late contemporary of Hildegard] and Bonaventure). Indeed, his early academic familiarity with Hildegard (at a time before she had entered the mainstream canon), though never made explicit, is readily evident from the influence of her apocalyptic visions on his own vision of a radically rescaled, dispossessed, and practically disestablished Church of the future recorded in the fourth essay of Glaube und Zukunft (1971).

  7. She also opposed the ordination of women, and extensively attacked the idea. I have published an article on this issue:


  8. chcrix says:

    Yes RichR, thanks. I too was imagining something horrible not something banal.

    I think a lot of the problem people have (and it is not always liberals) is that educational standards have been so debased in recent memory that they can’t conceive of people who actually think differently than they do. I think it is because they are not exposed to enough thought of other eras.

    I first came to this conclusion when reading a series of historical detective novels set in ancient Rome. I thought they were terrible, and I came to realize that it was because the protagonist simply had the viewpoint of a late 20th century American or Brit. He wasn’t an ancient Roman, and it was clear that the author was incapable of visualizing a person with a world view fundamentally different from her own.

    Miller in this article is showing the same weakness. She can’t imagine that Hildegard of Bingen actually held views that would be considered bizarre to a contemporary ‘feminist’. She is in a sense trapped by her own circumscribed exposure to other cultures and periods. Rather amusing to think that liberals call themselves ‘inclusive’.

  9. Matthew the Penitent says:

    On the bright side, NEWSWEEK is in trouble and going under like a lot of liberal ‘zines.

  10. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    Saint Hildegarde would be more of a traditionalist, IN HABIT, not at all what the Leadership Council of Women Religious would like.
    “What would Hildegard say about the Apostolic Visitation? “You are lucky I’m not running it.””
    I think about sums it up.
    Once again, people are reading someone else’s translations and editing, reading “their spin” on it. You want to learn from our mothers and fathers in faith, go to the originals, they are still around to be studied. Hildegarde didn’t write a whole bunch of stuff personally, she had scribes for that. But she did more than one letter to powerful men secular and ecclesiastical and called them to task.
    She’s not a “new age” Teutonic “mother-goddess” figure, but a real flesh and blood woman that had gifts and talents as wells a personal crosses, but served the Lord her G-d, with everything she had.
    A great role model, and one of my personal patron saints

  11. Tominellay says:

    Shame on NEWSWEEK…Doesn’t that magazine have an editor?

  12. Furthermore, the “Actor” in a cause has to foot the bill for all of this, all the way through to the end.

    Who is the “actor” in a cause for sainthood?

  13. mpolo says:

    As I recall from German lives of saints, which I don’t have time to look up at the moment, St. Hildegard was the first woman that they tried to get through the canonization process once it was formalized. The case didn’t make it all the way through. I think there were up to three attempts to do it. In the end, she was made a Saint by antiquity of cult.

  14. anna 6 says:

    What Benedict actually said about Hildegard…
    “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.”
    The pope devoted 2 weeks of catechesis at his general audiences discussing her extraordinary life and contributions to the church, but Lisa Miller apparently feels the he “dissed” her.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    I am so glad you published this blog information. I am tired of the liberals taking over the traditional saints and manipulating the lives and holiness for their own agendas. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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