Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

9
SANTA CATERINA AND SAN BERNARDINO Their Teachings on the Family

Santa Caterina and San Bernardino: the writings of these two great saints, whose memories we celebrate today, must be read from several perspectives. Both of them were eminent theologians, doctors of the Catholic faith. They earned this recognition in different ways. Caterina, as far as I can judge, is the first Christian mystic to divide her hours between ecstatic conversations with God, and sweeping the floor, washing dishes, and performing the other chores which families traditionally impose upon their daughters. God Himself, according to her biographer Raimondo da Capua, once cut short her ecstasy, and ordered her to go to eat with her family, to reenter the world, and take stock of its needs.1 Her mystical marriage with Christ, which she celebrated probably in 1367, meant no divorce from earthly society. On the contrary, it prepared her for her mission to the world. Caterina became, as Raimondo affirms in an elaborate pun, a catena, a chain, binding the whole earth to the heavenly kingdom, in love, peace and joy.2

Bernardino was a saint of a different sort. He did not shift his gaze repeatedly from heaven above to the world below. There is no report in his biographies of impassioned conversations with God. His chief

____________________
1
S. Caterina da Siena. Vita scritta daI B. Ramondo da Capua, confessore della santa, trans. P. G. Tinagli O. P. ( Siena, 1934) (I Classici Cristiani, nn. 47-49), II, 1, 174. "Vai: è l'ora di desinare, e i tuoi vogliono andare a tavola: vai! Stai con loro, e poi ritorna da me."
2
Ibid., Prologo, p. 37.

-174-

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