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A Sound Theology: The Vital Position of Sound and Music to Hildegard of Bingen's Theology and Public Identity

Geraldine E Henderson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The twelfth-century nun Hildegard of Bingen heard God's voice as a child and developed a sensitivity to all sounds that led her to an increasing conviction of the power of sound. Later this sensitivity to sound issued in a body of religious writing about sound that this dissertation views as systematic, as an implicit “Theology of Sound” that can be legitimately extrapolated from the work. To trace how this theology emerged, Chapter One of this dissertation will give a brief biography and an overview of the chronology and context of Hildegard's work. In preparing for a construction of the theology, Chapter Two focuses on Hildegard's theological and philosophical antecedents, possible influences, and sources. The heart of the argument begins in Chapter Three with Hildegard's widest explorations of the symbolism and significance of sound references throughout all of her writings, both the positive and negative implications and the metaphorical and the concrete. As this chapter shows, she clearly saw vocal sound, divine and human, in crucial redemptive roles. Chapter Four narrows the field of study and looks at Hildegard's understanding of the places of importance occupied by God's voice and the allied human voice, and Christ as Word and the divine and human words. We begin to see how Hildegard synthesizes her beliefs and also to see how strong the associations between the divine and the human are for her. In some cases, it is difficult to see many differences between the two. Chapter Five emphasizes Hildegard's sense of a connection to God's voice in the transmission of her visions. The chapter also explores a sample of Hildegard's lyrics from the Symphonia and shows how they support her conviction of the importance of sound in the spiritual world. The chapter concludes by examining the way in which she effectively conflates her voice with the voice of God giving her an authority and power unusual for any woman in the Middle Ages.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Theology|Music|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Henderson, Geraldine E, "A Sound Theology: The Vital Position of Sound and Music to Hildegard of Bingen's Theology and Public Identity" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3117798.