A Few Catholic Conundrums – Part 2: The Case of the Misplaced Stigmata

Yesterday, we began this short, two-part series with a look at how some Catholics get wrapped around the axle over such things as the proper handling of “soiled” altar cloths. See here. Today, we’ll examine another Catholic conundrum, which I’ll call “The Case of the Misplaced Stigmata.”

We’ll begin with a brief examination of the Catholic stigmata. Down through the centuries, a number of Catholics claimed to have received the “stigmata” (from the Latin “stigma”: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person; in (c)hristian tradition, marks corresponding to those left on Jesus’ body by the crucifixion). During the Middle Ages, penitential self-harm practices (self-mortification) were encouraged in monastaries and convents as part of extreme asceticism and mysticism. In this environment, some mystics claimed to have “received” the five marks of Jesus’ crucifixion; wounds on the hands and feet and a wound on the side. The first to claim the “gift” of stigmata was St. Francis of Assisi in 1224. Many others followed including, most famously, Catherine of Siena and Padre Pio (photo right). A Catholic source (see here) cites at least 321 stigmatics over the centuries. It should be noted that all of these stigmatics had wounds on the palms of their hands.

Okay, now let’s get to our conundrum. In a recent episode of the Catholic “Called to Communion” talk radio show, an interesting question came up via an email:

Called to Communion – EWTN Radio
Moderator: Thom Price, Host: David Anders
Podcast 4/24/19 – 2:24 mark

Thom Price: Katy from Illinois wants to know, “Why are stigmata wounds on the hands of the saints if Christ was actually nailed to the cross through his wrists, as the Shroud of Turin shows?”

Hmm. An interesting and very valid question. Historians and scientists hypothesize that the victims of Roman crucifixion were most probably nailed to wooden crosses through their wrists, otherwise the nails would have easily ripped through the soft tissue of the hands. The victims usually hung on a cross for several days before finally dying of asphyxiation. John 20:25 states the risen Jesus had wounds on His “hands,” but the Greek text uses the word, “cheir,” which can refer to either hands or wrists. Fanciful Medieval religious art portrayed Jesus exclusively with wounds through the palms of His hands and that was the model used by the stigmatics.

Host, David Anders, knows the listener has identified a conundrum and answers the question gingerly. He posits that, yes, nails through the palms would have been very unlikely, but since “that’s the way it has appeared in the moral imagination of the Latin church, it stands to reason, in my thinking, that if God were to grant the stigmata to an individual, that he would do it in the way that would be most recognizable to that person and perhaps to his contemporaries.”

Anders’ response is sheer sophistry and equivocation. The reality is the stigmatics guessed wrong and created wounds in the palms of their hands according to the widely-held misconception about the crucifixion. How did the mystic/ascetic religious celebrities create their wounds? A number of ways. It’s been documented that one of the most recent stigmatists, Padre Pio (photo right) aka Francesco Forgion (d. 1968), used carbolic acid.

Padre Pio ‘faked his stigmata with acid’


Hypocritical double standard: Why was monk Luther “neurotic” for daily confession, but John Paul II “saintly”?

I listen to “Called to Communion,” a Roman Catholic talk radio show, for about one hour every work day in order to keep abreast of what’s going on within the RCC. The advertised aim of the show is to convert Protestants to Catholicism. There’s no ecumenism going on during this show, folks. Host, David Anders, is pretty blunt in his attacks on the Gospel of grace.

Last week, I was listening to the 11/1/18 podcast of the show, and the discussion focused on Reformer, Martin Luther. As in MANY previous episodes, Anders described “heretic” Luther as an overly-scrupulous neurotic, who suffered from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. On what does Anders base that ad hominem smear?

Prior to breaking from Catholicism, Luther was an Augustinian monk. Luther took his legalistic religion very seriously, unlike most Catholics, and constantly compared how his thoughts, words, deeds, and acts of deliberate omission measured up to God’s Ten Commandments. Catholics are obligated to confess their sins to a priest at least once per year or incur a mortal sin (only 12% of contemporary Catholics obey this rule). Luther confessed his sins to a priest EVERY DAY and would often spend hours in the confessional recounting his offenses against God’s Law.

Catholics like Anders brand Luther as hyper-scrupulous and neurotic, but the Holy Spirit was revealing to the monk his sinful depravity and his absolute inability to obey his way into Heaven. Luther would eventually trust in the promises of God’s Word and become spiritually reborn by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Luther was finally able to rest in God’s forgiveness and salvation through Christ.

Anders naturally pushes his church’s false gospel, which states that people can successfully obey their way into Heaven with the help of sacramental grace, but in order to keep their sanity while on this legalistic treadmill, Catholics seriously downplay the extent of their sin. Most Catholics will tell you with a great degree of sincerity that they do a pretty good job of obeying the Ten Commandments.

It’s interesting, though, that there have been many Catholics over the ages who, like Luther, also had a sharp awareness of their sinfulness. However, rather than repenting of their sin and trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone, these Catholics practiced various methods of severe asceticism including painful self-mortification as part of their penance or as attempts to master the flesh. Mother Teresa wore a pain-inducing “cilice” (see here) daily. Catherine of Siena starved herself to death by restricting her food intake to only a daily communion wafer. Pope John Paul II flagellated himself daily and also, like Luther, went to confession every day. I wrote all of the above to ask this: Isn’t it contradictory for Anders and other Catholic apologists to slander monk Luther as being overly-scrupulous, neurotic, and an obsessive-compulsive when many Catholic saints, who these apologists extol with great gusto, were slaves of their legalistic religion to an even greater degree than monk Luther? Why was Luther’s daily confession a sign of neurosis, but John Paul II’s daily confession a sign of sanctity?

Another of Catholicism’s self-mortification practices

The Roman Catholic church teaches its members to offer up their pain and suffering to God as an atonement, united with Christ’s atonement, for personal sins and the sins of others.

“Offering up our troubles to God is a great way to remember that, in our faith, suffering is never wasted or meaningless when it’s united with Christ’s suffering on the Cross, for atonement for sins.” – from “Prayers for Offering Up Suffering,” ourcatholicprayers.com

Not content with natural aches, pains, and illnesses, zealous Roman Catholics began to inflict pain and suffering upon themselves as acts of penance for themselves or others or as attempts to mortify the flesh, via the following examples:

  • Wearing hair shirts
  • Sleeping on the bare floor
  • Wearing a cilice – a metal contraption worn around the thigh which inflicted pain. See my post here.
  • Practicing self-flagellation – Catholics used a “flagrum,” a specially made whip, or ropes or belts to whip themselves. See my post here.
  • Walking barefoot – The “discalced” (shoeless) religious orders require their members to go barefoot or wear only sandals.
  • Practicing extreme fasting leading to illness and even death – St. Catherine of Siena is one of several saints who fasted to death

Lest anyone think these practices ended with the dark ages, mother Teresa wore a cilice daily and both she and pope John Paul II regularly scourged themselves.

The other day, I had googled “strange Catholic practices” and came across another method of self-mortification that I wasn’t aware of known as the “confraternity of the cord” (see bottom articles). Catholics can join a confraternity (i.e., pious association) created to honor specific saints (St. Francis, St. Joseph, St. Thomas, etc.) in which the members constantly wear a cord or belt (aka “cincture”) around their waist (presumably underneath their clothing). The cord can be tightened to cause discomfort and the resulting sufferings can be offered up to God. Confraternity cords are still available from Catholic religious orders (see here) and from Catholic religious supply houses (see here).

God’s Word directs believers to fast, but nowhere in Scripture are believers instructed to harm themselves as an act of penance or piety. That kind of harmful behavior was found among pagan religionists like the priests of Baal in 1 Kings, chapter 18:

“And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” – 1 Kings 18:26-28

These days, Catholic self-mortification practices are not widely publicized for obvious reasons. The only reason we’re aware that mother Teresa and JPII harmed themselves in acts of daily “piety” is because of their extremely high public profile.

Catholic friend, the Lord does not require you to harm yourself. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Repent of your sin and pray to Jesus Christ to be your Savior by faith alone, and come out of Catholicism. Jesus atoned for ALL of your sins if you will only accept Him. After you have trusted in Christ, ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.

Confraternities of the Cord

Top 10 Bizarre Aspects of Catholicism

Chasing after a spiritual “high” by following the “mystics”

Teresa of Avila: An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement
By Carolyn A. Greene
Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2017, 19 pages, $1.95

Within the evangelical church, we see trends and gimmicks come and go. Others stay around for awhile. Some hip pastor dreams up a new, “cutting edge” spirituality technique and then appears on TBN hawking his new book and the next thing you know “progressive” pastors all over the country are climbing on board so they don’t get left behind at the “last year’s news” station.

Such is the case with the “contemplative prayer” (aka “spiritual formation” and “centering prayer”) movement. It wasn’t enough just to read God’s Word and go to the Lord in simple prayer. No, as Christianity in America began moving farther and farther away from doctrine-based faith to subjective experientialism, “cutting edge” pastors began looking into methods for their congregations to “deepen” their prayer/worship “encounter.” But there was no need to reinvent the wheel. “Hip” pastors read accounts of the old Roman Catholic mystics and discovered exactly what they were looking for.

Cloistered monastic religious orders encouraged their monks and nuns to practice forms of extreme asceticism including self-mortification (flagellation, chronic fasting, sleep deprivation, etc.). Under these conditions, the mystics often fell into deep swoons and trances and claimed to experience ecstasies and the miraculous phenomena of levitation, bi-location, and stigmata as well as being visited by Jesus and/or the “Blessed Virgin.”

One such Catholic mystic was the celebrated “saint,” Teresa of Avila, Spain (1515-1582). In this pamphlet, Carolyn Greene refers to some of the writings of Teresa to illustrate her “otherworldly” experiences. This short pamphlet is not a thorough exposé of “contemplative prayer” or of the alleged experiences of Teresa, but serves only as a brief introduction.

Many “hip” pastors and church leaders have jumped onto the “contemplative prayer” band wagon. They extol the writings of Teresa and other Catholic mystics as guides for their followers to experience a deep, subjective, often trance-like “encounter” while in prayer/meditation. This technique began in the “emerging church” with people like Brian McLaren and Richard Foster and has since spread into mainstream “evangelicalism” through people like Sarah Young, Rick Warren, Dallas Willard, Tim Keller, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer.

Contemplative/centering prayer promotes emptying the mind and experiencing a self-induced trance similar to the TM trancendental meditation practices taught in Hinduism. I believe voluntarily surrendering control of one’s mind exposes an individual to demonic influences. In contrast, God’s Word commands that we are to be ever sober and vigilant rather than slaves of hypnotic euphoria.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:22-24

The other great danger of the contemplative prayer movement is that it serves as a bridge between evangelical Christians and Roman Catholicism. Teresa of Avila was a faithful follower of Roman Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation through sacramental grace and merit. If your pastor proposes a contemplative/centering prayer initiative, it’s definitely time to find a new church.

For many resources that examine the dangers of contemplative spirituality and Roman Catholicism, see the link to Lighthouse Trails Publishing below.

Lighthouse Trails Publishing

Sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1652, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” purports to show the “saint” in the throes of swooning ecstasy as an angel prepares to thrust a golden lance into her heart.

Blood will flow

This week, many are eagerly gearing up for Easter Sunday. People who never go toFlagg church any other time of the year will show up on Sunday. There will be ham dinners with family afterwards along with colored eggs and Easter baskets for the children. I’m a Christian who doesn’t adhere to any liturgical calendar. Every day in the Lord is the same to me. Millions of people will commemorate Christ’s resurrection on Easter all over the world although the vast majority have not accepted Him as Savior. Jesus and Easter are part of their cultural, religious heritage but they have no saving relationship with Christ. They don’t see themselves as sinners without a plea and haven’t reached out in faith to the Savior who died for them. If pressed they would probably say they’re basically “good” people who deserve to go to Heaven. As Christians, let’s use the opportunity of Easter to tell our friends and family about the resurrection of our Savior and the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Centuries ago, many Roman Catholics practiced severe forms of self-mortification including self-flagellation, wearing hair shirts and cilices, sleep deprivation, etc. Self-mortification was an act of penance; pain and sufferings were offered up to God as reparations for sin. The cobblestone streets of medieval Europe were often stained with the blood of Catholic flagellant sects. The practice peaked during “Holy Week,” especially on Good Friday. Extreme forms of self-mortification have generally lost favor, although pope John Paul II was known to have whipped himself with a belt regularly as a “spiritual discipline.” Self-flagellation is still very much alive in pockets of Catholic culture. Flagellants stage processions in Mexico and the Philippines during Holy Week. Every year on Good Friday in the Philippines there are Catholic men who have themselves nailed to crosses in imitation of Jesus (see reports below).

God’s Word talks about fasting and denying fleshly desires but nowhere in the Bible are believers instructed to harm themselves. Pain inducing, self-mutilation has its roots in pagan worship:

“At noon Elijah began to taunt (the prophets of Baal). “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely (Baal) is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” – 1 Kings 18:27-28

I’m so thankful for my Savior. He paid the COMPLETE penalty for our sins on that cross on Calvary. And He rose from the grave conquering sin and death. All we must do is accept Him as Savior. Inflicting pain upon yourself won’t save. Sacraments and church membership won’t save. Going to church once in a while or even every Sunday won’t save. Only the blood of Jesus Christ, shed once for all time on Calvary, has power to save. Our own blood and efforts are powerless. Accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith today and ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that preaches God’s Word without compromise.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” – John 1: 12-13


Filipinos flagellate, crucify themselves in Holy Week ritual

Acts of love, not pain, make this week holy

Does Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio wear a “cilice”?

During the Middle Ages the idea that self-deprivation led to higher levels of sanctity andcilice holiness grew in popularity within Catholicism. In monasteries and convents, self-deprivation often led to extreme forms of asceticism as practitioners attempted to quell the desires of the flesh and offer penance for sins through self-inflicted pain and suffering. Adherents slept on cold floors, wore hair shirts, heavy chains, coarse ropes, or “cilices” (a metal-wire device secured around the thigh that inflicts pain with inward-pointing spikes). Self-scourging (flagellation) also became quite popular. Some famous “saints” went to an early grave as a result of voluntary starvation.

Some would argue these extreme examples of asceticism were confined to a less-enlightened, bygone era but forms of self-mortification are practiced right up to the present day in Catholicism. Reports surfaced in 2010 that “saint” Karol “John Paul II” Wojtyla, had regularly whipped himself with a belt and “blessed” Anjeze “mother Teresa” Bojaxhiu wore a cilice every day.

Defending Wojtyla’s self-scourging, “cardinal” Jose Saraiva Martins said, “It does seem like something from another age, but it is not. It is an instrument of perfection, not just in religious life, but in human life. It is not acting against oneself, but striving to perfect oneself.”

I wonder if the current pope, Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio also inflicts pain upon himself as part of a “spiritual” discipline? I’m a little naive when it comes to self-mortification protocol. Maybe a Catholic can help us out? Do Catholic men flagellate themselves and Catholic women wear cilices or are both practices gender neutral?

Yes, accepting Jesus as Savior and following Him as Lord may mean physical persecution. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  The Bible does talk about self-denial and fasting but nowhere does the Bible teach Christians should inflict pain upon themselves. In contrast, the Bible identifies such practices with pagan idolatry:

“At noon Elijah began to taunt (the worshippers of Baal). “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” – 1 Kings 18:27-28

Catholics believe in salvation by sacramental grace and merit and mistakenly believe that by inflicting pain and suffering upon themselves they can affect spiritual perfection leading to their salvation.

I am so grateful the Lord freed me from the chains of Roman Catholicism and saved me by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Related terms: corporal penitence, corporal discipline