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Catherine of Siena: Spiritual Development
in Her Life and Teaching

reviewed by Carl Trutter, OP (St. Martin)

Catherine of Siena—Spiritual Development in Her Life and Teaching by Thomas McDermott, O.P., S.Th.D., Paulist Press, New York/Mahwah, NJ, 344 pp., 2008, $27.95.

St. Catherine has evoked so many published writings in English through the years.    One of the early historical works was by Augusta Theodosia Drane in 1915.  In more recent years we are privileged to have the publications of Kenelm Foster, Mary O’Driscoll, Suzanne Noffke, Sr. Mary Jeremiah and Giuliana Cavallini.

The latest work in English comes from Thomas K. McDermott, who had received his doctorate from the Angelicum and is now at Kenrick-Glennnon Seminary in St. Louis, MO (after having already served as prior provincial in Nigeria).

His theme centers around Catherine’s spiritual development in her life and teaching.  This development entails many vivid images; perhaps the most significant is that of “the Christ-Bridge.”   On this Bridge a person follows a sequence of mercenary servant, faithful servant, and finally friend or child.

Catherine’s teachings are imbued with powerful images—and not with abstract terminology.  These images include: the miraculous exchange of hearts, “my soul saw the divine Essence,” the mystical espousal and death, the heart of the traveler is “swallowed up and clothed in the fiery gift of the blood of God’s son,” Christ’s opened heart as a “channel of God’s love, blood, water, and fire.”  (And some of her images appear far too graphic for cerebral brains—such as mine.)

While the emphasis is upon her spiritual life, her mission with the Church is also evident in such sayings as “God eternal plucked out my heart and squeezed it out into holy Church” and the stigmata “signaled her entrance into the passion and death of Christ for the salvation of souls.”

I found the final sentence of this volume to be very valuable: “The rich and splendid life of Catherine of Siena validates the authenticity of our spiritual journey on the ‘bridge of Christ crucified,’ ‘the way of truth’.”           

This Catherine of Siena serves as a valuable contribution to our understanding of spirituality and mysticism in the Dominican tradition.     


Catherine of Siena

Since the time of St Dominic, more than 800 years ago, Dominicans have been living and sharing the message of the Gospel. Today thousands of sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates, and laity serve in more than 100 countries around the globe.
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