Stigmata – signs of holiness or illness?

Francisco de Zurbarán - St Francis of Assisi R...
Francisco de Zurbarán – St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata – WGA26078 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stigmata are physical marks of Christ‘s crucifixion miraculously received on a person’s hands and feet. At least, this is what those who receive stigmata usually believe. Modern critics have suggested that physical or, perhaps, mental illness may come into play in the production of stigmata.

The phenomenon is found mostly in Catholicism, although not all stigmata are authenticated by the Catholic Church. And about 80% of stigmatics are women.

As with any kind of religious, especially mystical, phenomenon, it is difficult to ascertain when someone is just sick or misguided vs. intensely spiritual. Sometimes, in my opinion, the two combine. Physical or mental sickness may be a way of purifying or humbling a seeker. The big question, however, is whether the person gets better and realizes they’re off kilter, or whether they just continue in their nuttiness.

There is no shame in someone admitting that they have made errors in trying to figure out their spiritual life.  It would be very surprising indeed, if a seeker did not make mistakes. We all make mistakes in life. Mistakes in investing, in relationships, in parenting. Why would it be any different with the inner life? In fact, those pursuing the inner life are especially prone to making mistakes because of its subtle and private character.

But to return to the topic at hand, this is not to say that stigmata are false. However, any account that blindly accepts stigmata without a thorough investigation is, in my view, suspect.

Phenomena similar to stigmata occur in non-Christian religions. But it would be wrong to say these are equivalent to Christian stigmata because the Trinitarian doctrine of Christianity, and many more of its features, are unique.

Related » St. Francis of Assisi


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