The Roman Catholic Church in all its history has granted but two of its women the title of doctor: Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena. The date was October 4, 1970; the pontiff, Paul VI. Six centuries lie between the living voice of Catherine and that date, but history bears persistent evidence from then until now of her power to attract an audience. Her own disciples were the first to spread her works, both for the value they saw in them and for the support they would lend to the cause of her canonization. Her Dialogue and Raymond of Capua's biography of her were among the first books to see print, not only in her native Italy but in Spain, Germany, and England as well. Century by century new editions and translations have made their appearance and the catalogue of biographical, interpretive, and critical works has continued to grow and will be swelled again in this sixth centenary of Catherine's death. And the interest is not generated by mere historical curiosity but by the perennial relevance of this extraordinary woman.
Catherine lived in a century when Church and society and her own Dominican Order were in chaos. It was also a great century for mysticism. But while her Dominican contemporaries in the north— Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, Henry Suso—were caught up in the speculative, Catherine's impact was inherently practical. She was the center of a group ("la bella brigata," she called them) drawn from many levels of society and many religious traditions, and they regarded her as teacher and spiritual guide. And through her influence on Raymond of Capua she was to be a major force in Dominican reform even after her death. Even those who exploited her saw her as a woman to be reckoned with.