This biography, formerly titled Mercy My Mission, ... Read more
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Sep 30, 2009)
A woman named Angela recently wrote to me asking a question I have received several times before, but always hesitated to try to answer. She asks:
Will St. Faustina ever be named a "Doctor of the Church"? If St. Therese, the Little Flower, was given that title in the Church because of the wisdom she received from Christ and expressed in her autobiography, then why not Faustina?
Well, Angela, I don't have any "insider info" on any discussions on such matters taking place inside the Vatican. But I can offer what I hope is an educated and prudent guess: I think she will indeed be named a Doctor of the Church, and probably sooner rather than later.
In its long history, the Church has granted that title to only 33 men and women. Michael P. Riccards in The New Oxford Review (October, 2008) explained the three stringent requirements for the granting of that distinction, which can only be done by the Pope himself.
1. Holiness that is truly outstanding.
In other words, every Doctor of the Church must not only "talk the talk" but also "walk the walk," basing their teachings not only on their study and research, but also on living out their personal experience of the Merciful Lord. Thus, there is no Doctor of the Church that is not also a saint of the Church (which is not to say that some very eccentric and cantankerous saints have not been included on the list, notably the ancient biblical scholar St. Jerome!). Obviously, St. Faustina meets the "holiness" criterion.
2. Depth of Doctrinal Insight.
This means that a Doctor of the Church is someone who has penetrated the mysteries of the faith deeply, explained them with exceptional clarity and unfolded their implications for the life of the Church. Pope John Paul II described a Doctor of the Church as one whose writings not only conform with revealed truth, but also shed "new light on the mysteries of the Faith."
Many leading scholars are convinced that St. Faustina's writings do just that. In an article that appeared on this Divine Mercy website a few years ago, Felix Carroll quoted several theologians to this effect:
Sister Mary Ann Follmar, an author and expert on the Doctors of the Church, has read the Diary of St. Faustina many times and believes St. Faustina is a "shoe-in" for this distinguished ecclesiastical title.
"A Doctor of the Church is one who is recognized as a great teacher in the Church, and I think St. Faustina is a great teacher of the mystery of God's mercy," says Sr. Follmar, who teaches theology at Providence College.
Father Jan Machniak, chair of the Theology of Spirituality at the Papal Theological Academy in Krakow, Poland, agrees that St. Faustina is deserving of the title. He gave a talk on the topic in Krakow ... during the festivities marking the centennial of St. Faustina's birth. ...
Many say that St. Faustina, whose Diary includes a series of personal revelations she received from Jesus Christ in the 1930s, sheds light on the progress of the mystical life of the soul and gives an unparalleled understanding of the mystery of Divine Mercy.
Her Diary, written in simple language, "helps us to comprehend how God proceeds with souls," says Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC. "And it gives us a richer understanding of the relationship between mercy and love and the notion of merciful love as the source and ultimate reason for the whole of salvation."
This last point is worth emphasizing because the prophetic revelations received by St. Faustina from Jesus Himself recovered for the Church the truth that mercy is the greatest attribute of God, so that everything that God does toward His creatures can be described as an expression of His merciful love. As Jesus said to St. Faustina:
My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of my hands are crowned with mercy. (Diary, 300)
This theme was also picked up by Pope John Paul II, and became one of the main themes of His encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) in 1980 (see section 13: "The Bible, Tradition, and the whole faith life of the People of God provide unique proof ... that mercy is the greatest of the attributes and perfections of God.").
Even during her own lifetime, St. Faustina's principal spiritual director, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko, recognized her extraordinary insight into the mysteries of the faith. Given that she had only three semesters of elementary-level education, this insight could only be the fruit of the infused gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit:
I was amazed that she, a simple nun, with hardly any education, and without the time to read ascetic works, could speak so knowledgeably of theological matters, and such [difficult] ones as the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or the Divine Mercy and other attributes of God, with the expertise of a consummate theologian. (From the recollections of Fr. Sopocko).
3. An Extensive Body of Writings which the Church can Recommend as part of the Authentic and Life-giving Catholic Tradition.
Most of St. Faustina's written work, of course, is found in her Diary, which the Roman Breviary now states is "counted among the outstanding works of mystical literature." But of course, it is not only "mystical." The Diary is also theological and autobiographical. Moreover, I believe that the cause for the designation of St. Faustina as a Doctor of the Church will be speeded along by the fact that this Diary has already been given a thorough theological review by the Vatican during the investigation into her life and virtues for her canonization. That work was carried out by the Rev. Ignacy Rozycki, a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See. Father Rozycki's massive tome of 500 pages in French analyzes almost every theological theme in the Diary, and it shows not only that St. Faustina passes the test of Catholic orthodoxy, but also that she gives us new insights to ponder regarding the mysteries of the faith. For example, Fr. Rozycki wrote these reflections on Faustina's understanding of the merciful Heart of Jesus:
It is evident to every believing Catholic that the infinite Mercy of God is inexhaustible. The greatest sins, not only of an individual person but those of the entire world, will neither exhaust it, nor ever equal it. Likewise, the Divine-human mercy of the heart of Jesus is inexhaustible. Jesus speaks of it in revelation 56: "It [Divine Mercy] increases through giving itself" (Diary, 1273). At first glance this is an extraordinary argument, but in reality it is profoundly theological. It refers to the universally accepted contention of moral theology that all virtues grow through performance of those acts to which they incline. Consequently, we find no basis for the exhaustion of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus. In the whole history of Catholic theology, no one has given a deeper reason for the inexhaustibility of the Divine-human Mercy of the Heart of Jesus ( from Rev. Ignacy Rozycki, "Essential Features of the Devotion to The Divine Mercy" in Robert Stackpole, Ed., Pillars of Fire in my Soul: the Spirituality of St. Faustina. Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2003, pp. 100-101).
Finally, the Church often names someone a Doctor of the Church because that individual found a special way of expressing the Gospel message that is ideally suited to meet the needs — and cure the moral, spiritual, and intellectual ills — of the People of God. In other words, they are "doctors" not only in the sense of manifesting deep theological knowledge, but also in the sense of knowing how to apply that knowledge to the needs of souls. They are doctors in a medicinal-spiritual way, and not only in an abstract, theological way.
Pope John Paul II certainly believed that this is true about St. Faustina. In his homily on Mercy Sunday, 2001, he called the Divine Mercy message given to St. Faustina "the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies. ... Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium."
In short: yes, I do think that St. Faustina will be given the title of "Doctor of the Church" — perhaps in my lifetime (I just turned 50 years old!). Moreover, I am pretty sure that John Paul II, the Great Mercy Pope, also will be named a "Doctor of the Church." What an incredible privilege it has been to live during the time of that great Bishop of Rome — and the canonization of the great "Apostle of Divine Mercy," too!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come one, come all, to the North American Congress on Mercy! Inspired by the revelations of St. Faustina, the Mercy Congress will take place on Nov. 14-15, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the Mercy Congress and a Divine Mercy Networking Forum on Nov. 13, please visit mercycongress.org. You can register for either event or both by clicking here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.