Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor for the Church

26.08.2011

[L]ove transforms one into what one loves.
ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA, OP, The Dialogue

In a general audience in 2010, Benedict XVI said of Catherine of Siena:

Many put themselves at Catherine’s service and above all considered it a privilege to receive spiritual guidance from her. They called her “mother” because, as her spiritual children, they drew spiritual nourishment from her. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the exercise of spiritual motherhood by so many women, lay and consecrated, who nourish souls with thoughts of God, who strengthen the people’s faith and direct Christian life towards ever loftier peaks.[1]

Benedict XVI calls The Dialogue [of Divine Providence] “a masterpiece of spiritual literature”.[2] Many magisterial documents of the Holy See mention her, such as Mulieris Dignitatem, an apostolic letter by John Paul II on the dignity of women, or Sacramentum Caritatis, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Benedict XVI on the sacrament of the Eucharist.

François-Marie Léthel, a member of the Pontifical Academy Theology writes “Catherine was, together with Teresa de Ávila, the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970, yet the ecclesial reception of her doctorate is still not fully complete, especially in the world of academic theology.”[3] Despite the publication of Thomas McDermont’s study, Catherine of Siena: Spiritual Development in Her Life and Teaching,[4] where I first read Léthel’s passage, there is still a lot of work to do. Perhaps if more Christian theologians read her words, simply read them, they would be absorbed and transfigured by them and devote their time to the study of what she lovingly left for us — their love for God transformed into their love for Catherine and for her writings, given how her life and verbal expression mirror each other. She was declared a Doctor of the Church, that is, a theologian regarded as particularly authoritative. Yet, through her actions and works, she is also a Doctor for the Church, for a more united and devoted Church. A Church always yet to come, but that we are called to build in her company.

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience of 24 Nov. 2010, par. 11, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20101124_en.html.
[2] Ibid., par. 7.
[3] François-Marie Léthel, OCD, “Preface to Emanuele Massimo Muso’s ‘Gesù dolce, Gesù amore: Il Cristo di Caterina da Siena’” (STD diss., Pontificium Institutum Spiritualitatis Teresianum, 2005), p. vi.
[4] Thomas McDermont, OP, Catherine of Siena: Spiritual Development in Her Life and Teaching (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008).