CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- St. Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century German mystic, used her gifts to build up the church at a time of the trouble similar to today, Pope Benedict XVI said.
St. Hildegard is relevant today because of "her love for the Christ and his church, which was suffering in her time, too, and was wounded also then by the sins of priests and laypeople," the pope said.
She also is a good model for today because of her "love for creation, her medicine, her poetry and music that is being recreated today," the pope said Sept. 1 at his weekly general audience in Castel Gandolfo.
Holding his general audience for the first time in the town square outside the papal summer villa, Pope Benedict began by thanking women for the important role they "have played and still play in the church."
At the end of the audience, attended by an estimated 5,000 people, Pope Benedict walked down into the square to bless and shake hands with people in the front row, including newlyweds dressed in their wedding gowns and suits.
In his main audience talk, the pope gave a brief biography of St. Hildegard, saying that he would speak more about her at his next general audience.
Even in the Middle Ages, he said, "various feminine figures stand out for their holiness of life and the richness of their teaching."
St. Hildegard recounted her visions to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the pope said.
"As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard wanted to place herself under the authority of wise people in order to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the fruit of an illusion and did not come from God," he said.
St. Bernard reassured St. Hildegard that the visions were authentic and encouraged her to continue to write them down.
In 1147, Pope Eugene III read a text of Hildegard's visions, and he authorized her to publish them and to speak about them publicly, Pope Benedict said.
"The guarantee of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit" is that the person who receives the spiritual gift never takes advantage of it, but places herself at the service of the church, Pope Benedict said.
"Every gift given by the Holy Spirit is destined for the edification of the church, and the church must be the pastor in determining its authenticity," he said.