The non-existent patroness of philosophers

Bernardo_Daddi_-_St_Catherine_of_Alexandria_with_Donor_and_Christ_Blessing_-_WGA05852Today is the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the patroness of philosophers.

There is only one problem. She probably didn’t exist.

But the legend is fantastic and fascinating.

She was brought before the emperor and tried to convince him about Christ. He was flabbergasted and brought in fifty of his philosophers to argue with this woman.

But the emperor’s attempt to win Catherine over backfired.

She ended up convincing the philosophers who professed their belief in Christ before the emperor. They subsequently lost their heads – philosopher martyrs!

The emperor sent her to jail. (There are some reports that he didn’t kill her right away because he wanted her as his consort – typical macho emperor.)

But Catherine could not be stopped. She converted the jailor, two hundred of the imperial guard, and even the emperor’s wife – all of whom were martyred for the faith.

The frustrated emperor tried to kill her by placing her between two spiked wheels. She touched them and they broke into thousands of pieces and killed some bystanders. (She’s also the patroness of wheelwrights!)

Finally he had her beheaded.

But the story doesn’t end there. Angels came and carried her body off to Mount Sinai where there is now an Orthodox monastery – St. Catherine’s.

There is much we could learn from St. Catherine’s story.

I particularly call to mind two women philosophers who influenced me – Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil. But I also recall women theologians, including the Catalan Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades who recently wrote a book on Weil and Dorothy Day, Por amor a la justicia, which I hope I can find and read some day soon.

But I think Robert Ellsberg puts it well, at the end of his meditation of St. Catherine in All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time:

She [Catherine] may continue to represent the subversive power of women’s wisdom, a voice which many would like to silence lest it subvert the whole world with its irrefutable logic. So Catherine continues to inspire and illuminate us with her edifying story, like the light emanating from a distant star which no longer exists.

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