Karen Scott: Catherine Of Siena, Preaching & The Bible

Professor Karen Scott (DePaul University) delivers a lecture on the use of the Bible in the Middle Ages: “Catherine Of Siena, Preaching & The Bible: How Ordinary Catholics Connected With Scripture In The Middle Ages”. The lecture was delivered on 21 May, 2014, at DePaul University.


Karen Scott, associate professor of History & Catholic Studies at DePaul, discusses her study of Catherine of Siena, the medieval lay mystic & church reformer. While Catherine was uneducated & most probably did not read the Bible in Latin or Italian, she was not just a passive recipient of the sermons she heard in 14th-century Italy.

Her access to Scripture through liturgy & preaching was extensive. Dr. Scott’s study of Catherine’s biblical knowledge identifies the some-200 different biblical passages quoted in writings that she dictated in Italian between 1370 & 1380 (23 from the Old Testament; 63 from Acts & the New Testament letters, mostly Paul; & 114 from the Gospels.

The internal evidence demonstrates that Catherine’s access to Scripture was predominantly oral, through hearing (& sometimes mishearing) the vernacular preaching available to all devout lay people in 14th-century Italy. While she retained & retold relatively few Bible stories, she focused on a set number of short, pithy, & memorable sayings that she reused in many ways in different letters, treatises, & prayers. She selected those sayings that best conveyed her own religious & political messages, and she employed them to communicate her “good news” effectively to different kinds of audiences.

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