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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422


VILLEGAS, Diana L.. Examining Catherine of Siena's controversial discernments about papal politics. Herv. teol. stud. [online]. 2021, vol.77, n.2, pp.1-9. ISSN 2072-8050.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) contributed important wisdom to Christian spirituality on discernment, yet her own discernment regarding her engagement in papal politics has not been studied. From the perspective of Christian spirituality studies, this article examines the critical text of her letters in relationship with historical events to offer a description of the instances where Catherine's discernment differed from that of others committed to a spiritual journey and to seeking the good of the church. Catherine's view of God's will regarding the papal interdict of Florence controverted that of several ecclesial leaders more likely to be right. Catherine's advocacy for the crusade differed from the advice Birgitta of Sweden gave Gregory XI, advice corroborated by history. Two of Catherine's spiritual mentors made decisions they discerned to be right regarding missions on which they were sent by the pope, whereas Catherine reproached them for these choices. Furthermore, Catherine was certain that the election of Urban VI had been blessed by God, whereas another saint considered Clement VII to be the true pope. The above analysis is followed by an examination of influences on Catherine's experience of seeking and implementing God's will, seeking to account for the divergence between her discernment and that of others. In conclusion, while Catherine was confident in her union with God and, therefore, God's guidance, she was also influenced by her unbending beliefs about truth and by the manner these beliefs were conditioned by her personality and sociocultural context.CONTRIBUTION: This article contributes to scholarship in Christian spirituality on the spirituality of Catherine of Siena and on discernment, studying Catherine of Siena's discernment regarding papal politics where she differed from others whose discernment can be interpreted as more likely to be congruent with God's will. The reasons for her controversial discernment are explored

Keywords : discernment; Catherine of Siena and discernment; discernment and beliefs; Catherine of Siena letters; finding God's will; female mystics; later Middle Ages.

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