A Pilgrim's Catechism
The Occasional Thoughts of a 21st-Century Roman Catholic on Journey
Towards the Reign of God
Giotto di Bondone: St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Cappella Bardi, Santa Croce, Florence, 1325
What are the stigmata?
“Stigmata,” from the Latin word for “marks,” for Christians, refers to the wounds of Christ result from his passion and crucifixion, on his head, from the crown of thorns; in his side, from the lance; and in his hands (or wrists) and feet, from the nails. The word “stigmata” referring to the wounds of Christ is first used in the Latin Vulgate version of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body (Galatians 6:17).” The stigmata, phenomena interestingly associated principally with the Roman Catholic Church, may be some or all of the wounds of Christ, or the pain associated with them, as experienced by a believer. The most famous of the stigmatists and the first authenticated case, is St. Francis of Assisi. Since St. Francis there have been hundreds of similar occurrences. It has been argued that many of them are miraculous but there have as well been instances of fraud and the stigmata have been produced by hypnosis. Most stigmatists are women.
God creates the world in the one act that is his being and is present constantly to the world in the creative act which is also a life-sharing act. God is present to every human being in every situation offering, through the Word, a share in his life in the Spirit, and growth in that life.
The stigmata, understood as authentic and hence not created by hoax or through hypnotic intervention or self-delusion, do not nevertheless come directly from God who does not act, as do finite beings, here and there, now and then. Authentic stigmata are the response of the person possessing them to the great gift of God’s life offered to every human being in every situation. The stigmatist in their deep desire to be united with God produces themselves Christ’s wounds or the pain associated with them. This helps to explain why the wounds are sometimes in the wrists and sometimes in the palms of the hands and the wound in the side can be on the left or the right. It has been suggested that the crucifix before which the stigmatist prays may play a part in the stigmatist’s experience. In this case the wound in the side could be a mirror image. The piercing of the side, with the outpouring of blood and water, found only in John’s gospel, may actually not be factual but a literary figure to present John’s understanding of baptism and Eucharist having their origin from the Cross.