Theologian Thursday: St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Catherine of Siena was (surprise, surprise) a Christian mystic. I think it's important to note here that most important women in the church of the middle ages--like Teresa of Avila, Joan of Arc, and Julian of Norwich--were all mystics. My opinion on this is that, because they were women and therefore basically not taken seriously as thinkers or leaders in the church (or anywhere), they had to rely on personal and mystical interactions with God to gain credibility. No one would listen to them if they just said the things they said. But if they framed their words as messages directly from God, well, who would argue with that? That's not to say that they faked their experiences, but it's interesting that there are very few (if any) women who had an impact on the church at this time who did not practice mysticism, while their are plenty of men who did not.


Catherine was born in Siena, Italy, and was very religious from a young age. She actually took a vow of celibacy at age 7 (I know, right?). Later in life, she would say that she had entered into a "mystical marriage" with Jesus. She became a Dominican at 16 and lived as an anchorite for several years before a vision of the Divine mysteries which resulted in her receiving a mandate from God that she not separate herself from the world, but go be among the needy. It is said that on the fourth Sunday of Lent in 1375 she received the stigmata.

She worked for the reunification of the church, and bring the Holy See back to Rome from France. She also worked with the poor and the sick, and taught both men and women in the holy order.

Catherine is also known for her extreme fasting, which many scholars conclude was closer to anorexia than anything.

What you should read:

  • You can read many of her writings HERE.

Ratings:(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality: 
Catherine was committed to her life of service to God, regardless of her gender. She taught both men and women, cared for the needy, and blatantly refused marriage. In fact, she was supposed to marry her sister's widower, but starved herself until her family relented. A little dramatic, maybe, but certainly dedicated.
Environmental Sensibility: 
I sincerely believe in the correlation between gender equality and environmental sensibility--that if a person treats women as equal and good creations, that they will view the rest of creation as good and important as well. So while Catherine still lived in a time when the environment was not so important, her believe in the goodness of all people and nature leads me to believe she was on the right track.
Heretical Tendencies: 
Although she had some difficulties during the schism in the church, I think for the most part she was pretty orthodox, even though that always seems a little weird when it comes to mysticism.
General Badassery: 
Catherine was a cool lady. Some of her spiritual practices were a little out there (not sure if I can call an eating disorder badass) but she was all-in and feisty. I like that in a saint.

And a quote:
"You are rewarded not according to your work or your time but according to the measure of your love."