When Theology Becomes Doxology
More than six hundred years ago, a young Italian laywoman sent into a dark world a quiet but reverberating voice. Catherine of Siena lived within a century marked by insecurity and fear, war and economic distress, terrorizing disease, and corruption within the Church. Yet, her short life was one marked by a passion for the truth, intense care for humanity, and a fervent life of prayer. Whether administering care at the bedsides of plague victims or writing letters to feuding church leaders, she emphatically declared in word and deed: “The way has been made. It is the doctrine of Christ crucified. Whoever walks along this way…reaches the most perfect light.”(1) Catherine prayed with a similar intensity: “O eternal God, I have nothing to give except what you have given me, so take my heart and squeeze it out over the face of the Bride.”(2) In the frailty of her own life, which was racked with great illness and sorrow, Catherine’s ardent desire was that God would take her life as an offering, using her in whatever way to mend the brokenness she saw all around her.
Reading through a book of her collected prayers and letters recently, I was struck by a phrase the editor used to describe her. In Catherine’s prayers, the editor notes, “her theology becomes doxology.”(3) Namely, what Catherine professed to be true about God became in her prayers—and arguably in her life—an expression of praise to God. But shouldn’t all theology naturally lead us to doxology?
Throughout Christian story and verse we find lives touched by God’s goodness, moved by God’s mercy, transformed by God’s mighty presence. In these men and women, we find a profound correlation between profession and praise. This was certainly true of the young peasant girl who was used by God to bring into the world a child who would be named Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke we witness the thoughts of Mary erupt into song. She praises God for the things she knew to be true, for the promises that have touched her life, and the very character of the one to whom she sings:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty One has done great things for me–
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm…
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers (Luke 1:46-55).
Mary’s theology is intertwined in her doxology: God is a God who has acted in history and is present today. God is one who keeps promises and has indeed promised great things. Holy is his name.
When we come to know the God of heaven, when we see the Father’s character, when we glimpse the goodness of the Son or his merciful hand in our lives by the gift of the Spirit, there becomes within us a need to share it in word and deed. There becomes within us a need to praise God for all that we see and all that we know.
What do you know about God? What have you seen of this God’s character and known of His goodness? May this become your song. In your knowledge of God and in your knowing of Christ, may you find in word and deed, in prayer and song, your life a doxology to the truth of God’s holy name.
(1) Mary O’Driscoll, Ed., Catherine of Siena (New City Press: Hype Park, NY, 1993), 13.
(2) Ibid., 11.
(3) Ibid., ii.