A major part of why Catharism was such a threat had to do with the perceived laxity of Catholic priests and bishops. While many priests married and bishops concerned themselves with wealth and politics, the Cathar bonhommes and bonnefemmes** were seen to live more restrained, holy lives. It’s no real wonder, then, that a lot of Hildegard’s preaching was directed at the clergy. She cited their corruption as the reason heresy flourished and exhorted them to study the Scriptures and actually learn and teach properly rather than being distracted by earthly pleasures.
She was not, however, entirely against earthly things, in part because that would have been to agree with the Cathars, who felt that the material world was entirely a creation of evil. No, Hildegard embraced material things as part of God’s creation and therefore good. Her understanding of marriage and marital sex as good things*** also contrasted strongly with Cathar views and was at least partly political.
Hildegard of Bingen was a significant figure in Catholic opposition to the Cathars. She strongly supported the papacy in its efforts at reform, using her standing as a prophetic figure to both reinforce the importance of the Church sacraments and the material word looked down on by the Cathars and to chastise the clergy, bringing them more in line with the Gregorian reform. Her holy position combined with her orthodoxy brought her out of her monastery to preach to the wider world against all common wisdom on women and preaching.
*She once wrote to Frederick Barbarossa that he was behaving “like a little boy or some madman” (letter 313) and told Abbot Helengerus, her direct superior, that “in some matters you are altogether useless” (letter 76r).
**The commonly used term perfecti was one imposed by outsiders and used to mock them.
***When many of her predecessors had claimed married couples should do their best only to have sex for the purposes of having children.
Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179: a Visionary Life. London: Routledge, 1989.
Baird, Joseph L. and Radd K. Ehrman, trans. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, 1998, 2004.
Newman, Barbara, ed. Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.