Saint Catherine and Bible Interpretation

Forty years ago today (October 4, 1970), Saint Catherine of Siena was proclaimed “Doctor of the Church”.  Many are unaware of the tremendous miracles Christ worked through her: instant cures of the sick and lame, deliverance of the possessed, raising the dead, bearing the stigmata invisibly during her life and visibly at her death.  Volumes could be written of the great power that went-out from her. Blessed Raymond of Capua, her confessor and later the head of the Dominican Order, records some of them in the official biography of her life.  Even less known is what she said about biblical exegesis and Christ’s reasons for choosing her to save souls and heal his Church so publicly.  Healing of the Church, the salvation of souls, and biblical exegesis are inseparable.

Biblical Interpretation in Crisis

Biblical interpretation (technically called “exegesis”) is in crisis, and before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger testified to this repeatedly; even giving talks entitled as such.   With biblical interpretation in crisis, it is no wonder that the Church is in crisis and the salvation of souls is not taken as seriously as it should.  For Church leaders to be blind to the true light of Scripture and its unity would be the very definition of the blind leading the blind…and everyone getting lost.  The Church proclaims Doctors for the special light they give to the Church through their holy lives and eminent doctrine.  The Doctors lead us into a deeper penetration of the mystery of Christ; leading us to see and giving us all a greater desire to seek and experience the saving love of Jesus Christ.

At her canonization in 1461, the Pope declared, “No one came close to Saint Catherine without becoming more learned and holy.”  This is because through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was fully alive in her, working his miracles and giving her light to explain the Scriptures.  Not just the physically blind, but the spiritually dead regained their sight.  From heaven, Jesus permitted Catherine, his mystical bride, to share his light with the rest of us.  The light that Christ gave to the world through her in the 14th Century (1346-1380) shows us what it takes if we want real healing in the Church today.  For this reason the Church in 1970 presented to us her doctrine as having an eminent character for the good of the Church today.

In view of the great mystics who have lived in our own times, like Padre Pio, who showed in themselves and in our times that miracles are real and not myths; in view of the many universally and locally approved Marian apparitions of our times and their accompanying miracles, should not Saint Catherine, a worker of miracles, be heard when she speaks about the right way to read the Scriptures? When she performed great miracles in Christ?  Is not also being a “Doctor of the Church” enough for her to be heard by those who today claim themselves to be learned, experts?  While many ‘experts’ searched only books and followed the methods of the day, she did the most important part; she sought the source of the Scriptures with all her heart and He chose to dwell in her in great power and wisdom. He initiated her more fully than the others into the true depths and unity of the Scriptures because she possessed the Author.

What Christ told Saint Catherine about “The Learned”

When in a vision Christ spoke to Saint Catherine of his desire to send her into the world for its re-evangelization, in humility she asked how and why she, a woman, would be sent when “it is not highly considered by men, and also because it is not good, for decency’s sake, for a woman to mix with men”.[1] Christ’s reply is very telling.  In part, Christ replied:

You must know that in these latter days there has been such an upsurge of pride, especially in the case of men who imagine themselves to be learned or wise, that my justice cannot endure them any longer, without delivering a just chastisement upon them that will bring them to confusion…To confound their arrogance, I will raise up women ignorant and frail by nature but endowed with strength and divine wisdom.  Then, if they will come to their senses and humble themselves, I will behave with the utmost mercy towards them, that is to say, towards those who, according to the grace given them, receive my doctrine, offered them in fragile but specially chosen vessels, and follow it reverently…For indeed it is only just that those who try to exalt themselves should be humbled.[2]

In Saint Catherine’s book, The Dialogue, which God the Father revealed to her during several mystical unions (ecstasies), God speaks to her about interpreting the Scriptures and about “the learned” who lead people astray because they will not interpret Holy Scripture with the light the Holy Spirit gives those who love God more than themselves:

Every light that comes from Holy Scripture has come and still comes from that light.  This is why the foolish, proud, and learned people go blind even though it is light, because their pride and the cloud of selfish love have covered and blotted out this light.  So they read Scripture literally rather than with understanding. They taste only its letter in their chasing after a multiplicity of books, never tasting the marrow of Scripture because they have let go of the light by which Scripture was formed and proclaimed.

…For one cannot share what one does not have in oneself, and because these persons’ life is darksome, they often share the light of Holy Scripture in darkness.  You will find the opposite in my servants, for they share the light within them in hunger and longing for others’ salvation.[3]

According to Saint Catherine, Doctor of the Church, the mark then of the true exegete is zeal for the salvation of souls and so a spirit of sacrifice for others (“hunger and longing”) that they not suffer eternal loss.  The exegete should understand Saint Catherine’s doctrine of “The Bridge” as being a doctrine the Church reaffirms with her; a doctrine that warns if we are not striving forward to realize the power of God to save us, if we are not loving God more than ourselves by seeking how to surrender more fully to him, then we will eventually fall back into sin. The Scriptures themselves are the testimony of God’s power to save us and the words of Scripture are life-giving.  Jesus’ words are spirit and life and essential for learning to surrender to God’s love.

Holy Women to Humble the Arrogant Today

At Vatican II, Mother Church reconfirmed for us Saint Catherine’s admonitions.  It reaffirmed that “Sacred Scripture is to be read and interpreted in the same Spirit by whom it was written” (Dei Verbum, 12.3); “Spirit” being a clear reference for the need to be guided by the Holy Spirit (as the official Latin text makes more clear than some English texts). Following this lead, John Paul the Great also makes the same points that Saint Catherine made concerning how to read the Scriptures. In his “Theology of the Body” (TOB), he references “the Saducees” to make a subtle reminder that the Church continues to ask “Saducees” within and without the Church to learn and know the power of God.  In TOB 65:3 he writes about the Saducees who will not believe in the resurrection of the body and states: “Here Christ meets men who consider themselves experts and competent interpreters of the Scriptures.  Jesus responds to these men  — the Saducees — that mere literal knowledge of Scripture is not enough.  Scripture is above all a means for knowing the power of the living God, who reveals himself in it, just as he revealed himself to Moses in the bush.” [4]

The explosion of Marian apparitions (“the Woman”) these past 150 years, and a predominance of women seers — even young girls! — is easily written-off by “the learned”, just as the learned tried to write-off Saint Catherine in her time. Saint Catherine had daily visions and visitations from God her entire life which the learned theologians mocked as impossible. Still the fruit of many of the modern Marian apparitions, and women mystics, those approved and some still under investigation, is that the faithful are amending their lives en masse despite the “darksome” interpretations of Scripture from many pulpits which deny or mitigate God’s power in the Scriptures.  Through these apparitions and mystics, respecting the pastoral admonitions of the bishops and the Vatican, the faithful are rediscovering the authenticity of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ miracles and those of the Old Testament.  They are growing in faith and love of Jesus Christ who has become more real to them because of women who point to Jesus instead of to themselves.

Saints and especially the Doctors are themselves living reflections of Christ’s life. Through their lives Christ makes himself more present and understandable to us.  Why not study them if you wish to understand the Scriptures? They are the ones the Church recommends for you to understand things properly.  On this 40th anniversary of Saint Catherine being made Doctor, it is worth finding her Dialogue and allowing her to make Scripture come alive for you; “that you may know God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent” (John 17:3).

[1] Blessed Raymond of Capua, Life of Saint Catherine, TAN Publishers, 108.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3]] Saint Catherine, The Dialogue, trans. by Suzanne Noffke, OP, Paulist Press, chap. 85, p. 157.

[4] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them, trans. Waldstein, Pauline Books.

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