My recent post on Saint Catherine of Siena prompted several quizzical—not to say unhappy— letters. There seems a common conviction that Catherine’s title “Doctor of the Church” is long-standing. In tandem with that misbelief comes confidence that the very title refutes any claim that the saint was illiterate. Surely the scholarship is faulty! Let us look. “Doctor” is an honorific that ranks Catherine alongside the founding luminaries in the Church’s intellectual history: Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory I, and Jerome. Because it grants her theological and doctrine significance equal to these four giants (plus some thirty other Doctors, including ones from the East), there exists the impression that her “doctorate” is a venerable tradition that goes way back. Continue Reading
St. Catherine of Siena
Unraveling the cat’s cradle of Catherine of Siena’s “writings” yields a twisty path into the politics of saint-making. The Saint Catherine of popular imagination is a composite of biography and invention. Glossed by shared cultural assumptions and aims, the hybrid is taken as historic. Idealization and legend are cherished as fact. Referring to Catherine’s productivity as writings is the customary way of naming it. Categorized among medieval women writers, the saint is sometimes depicted at a writing desk with pen in hand. Continue Reading
Fra Filippo’s resplendent Madonna della Cintola, in the previous post, sent me to a favorite passage in The Waning of the Middle Ages. Johan Huizinga‘s portrait of the linchpins of the medieval world—the ideas that bound together religion, art, and literature—has a few things to say about relics. The significance of them to the culture that embraced them is an integral part of medieval civilization.
The distinctly corporeal conception of the saints was accentuated by the veneration of their relics, not only permitted by the Church but forming an integral part of religion.Continue Reading