Letters of Catherine Benincasa
Catherine Benincasa

Part 2 out of 5

by the Holy Spirit. See then, these enjoy in this life the pledge of life

I wish you and the other ignorant sons to reach this light, for I see that
this perfection is lacking to you and to others. For were it not lacking
to you, you would not have fallen into such criticism and offence and
false judgment, as to say and believe that another man was guided and
mastered by the will of the creature and not of the Creator. My soul and
my heart grieve to see you wrong the perfection to which God has called
you, under pretence of love and odour of virtue. Nevertheless, these are
the tares which the devil has sowed in the field of the Lord; he has done
this to choke the seed of holy desire and doctrine sowed in your fields.
Will then to do so no more, since God has of grace given you great lights;
the first, to despise the world; the second, to mortify the body; the
third, to seek the honour of God. Do not wrong this perfection with
spiritual self-will, but rise from the table of penance and attain the
table of the desire of God, where the soul is wholly dead to its own will,
nourishing itself without suffering on the honour of God and the salvation
of souls, growing in perfection and not wronging it.

Therefore, considering that this condition cannot be had without light,
and seeing that you had it not, I said that I desired and desire to see
you in true and perfect light. Thus I pray you, by the love of Christ
crucified--you and Brother Antonio and all the others--that you struggle
to win it, so that you may be numbered among the perfect and not among the
imperfect. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. I
commend me to all of you. Bathe you in the Blood of Christ crucified.
Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


Thou seest, then, that such men enjoy in this life the pledge of life
eternal. They receive, not the payment, but the pledge--not waiting to
receive it till the enduring life, where is life without death, satiety
without disgust, and hunger without pain. For far is the pain of hunger,
since they have completely what they desire; and far is the disgust of
satiety, since that is the Food of Life without any lack. It is true that
in this life one begins to enjoy the pledge, in this way, that the soul
begins to be an-hungered for the food of the honour of God and the
salvation of souls. As it is an-hungered, so it feeds thereon; yes, the
soul nourishes itself on charity for the neighbour, for whom it has a
hungry desire. That is a food which never satisfies those nourished on it.
It never satiates, and therefore hunger lasts for ever. As a pledge is a
beginning of surety given to a man, through which he expects to receive
payment (not that the pledge is perfect in itself, but it gives assurance
through one's trust, that fulfilment will come), so the soul enamoured of
Christ, which has already received in this life the pledge of love for God
and its neighbour, is not perfect in itself, but awaits the perfection of
the life immortal. I say that this pledge is not perfect--that is, the
soul which enjoys it has not yet reached such perfection as not to feel
sufferings, in itself or others: in itself, from the wrong it does to God,
through the perverse law which is bound into our members; and in others,
from the wrong of the neighbour. It is, to be sure, perfect in grace, but
it has not the perfection of the saints, who are in the eternal life, as I
said; since their desires are free from suffering and ours are not. Dost
thou know how it is with the true servant of God, who nourishes him at the
table of holy desire? He is blessed and grieving, as was the Son of God
upon the wood of the Most Holy Cross: for the flesh of Christ was grieved
and tortured, and the soul was blessed, through its union with the Divine
Nature. So, through the union of our desire with God, ought we to be
blessed, and clothed with His sweet will; and grieving, through compassion
for our neighbour, casting from us sensuous joys and comforts and
mortifying our flesh.

But listen, daughter and dearest sister. I have spoken to thee and me in
general, but now I shall speak to thee and me in particular. I want us to
do two special things, in order that ignorance may not hinder our
perfection, to which God calls us; that the devil, under cloak of virtue
and love of the neighbour, may not nourish the root of presumption within
our soul. For from this we shall fall into false judgments; seeming to
ourselves to judge aright, we shall judge crookedly: often, if we followed
our own impressions, the devil would make us see many truths to lead us
into falsehood; and this, because we make ourselves judges of the minds of
our fellow-creatures, which are for God alone to judge.

This is one of the two things from which I wish that we should free
ourselves completely. But I want the lesson to be learned reasonably. This
is the reasonable way: if God expressly, not only once or twice, but more
often, reveals the fault of a neighbour to our mind, we ought never to
tell it in particular to the person whom it concerns, but to correct in
common the vices of all those whom it befalls us to judge, and to implant
virtues, tenderly and benignly. Severity in the benignity, as may be
needed. And should it seem that God showed us repeatedly the faults of
another, yet unless there were, as I said, a special revelation, keep on
the safer side, that we may escape the deceit and malice of the devil; for
he would catch us with this hook of desire. On thy lips, then, let silence
abide, and holy talk of virtues, and disdain of vice. And any vice that it
may seem to thee to recognize in others, do thou ascribe at once to them
and to thyself, using ever a true humility. If that vice really exists in
any such person, he will correct himself better, seeing himself so gently
understood, and will say that to thee which thou wouldest have said to
him. And thou wilt be safe, and wilt close the way to the devil, who will
be unable to deceive us or to hinder the perfection of thy soul. Know that
we ought not to trust in any appearances, but to put them behind our
backs, and abide only in the perception and knowledge of ourselves. And if
it ever happened that we were praying particularly for some fellow-
creatures, and in prayer we saw some light of grace in one of those for
whom we were praying, and none in another, who was also a servant of God--
but thou didst seem to see him with his mind abased and sterile--do not
therefore assume to judge that there is grave fault or lack in him, for it
might be that thy opinion was false. For it happens sometimes that when
one is praying for the same person, one occasion will find him in such
light and holy desire before God that the soul will seem to fatten on his
welfare; and on another occasion thou shalt find him when his soul seems
so far from God, and full of shadows and temptations, that it is toil to
whoso prays for him to hold him in God's presence. This may happen
sometimes through a fault of him for whom one is praying, but more often
it is due not to a fault, but to God's having withdrawn Himself from this
soul--that is, He has withdrawn Himself as to any feeling of sweetness and
consolation, though not as to grace. So the soul will have stayed sterile,
dry, and full of pain--which God makes that soul which is praying for it
perceive. And God does this in mercy to that soul which receives the
prayer, that thou mayest aid Him to scatter the cloud. So thou seest,
sweet my sister, how ignorant and worthy of rebuke our opinion would be,
if simply from these appearances we judged that there was vice in this
soul. Therefore, if God showed it to us so troubled and darkened, when we
have already seen that it was not deprived of grace, but only of the
sweetness of feeling God's presence--I beg thee, then, thee and me and
every servant of God, that we apply us to knowing ourselves perfectly,
that we may more perfectly know the goodness of God; so that, illumined,
we may abandon judging our neighbour, and adopt true compassion, hungering
to proclaim virtues and reprove sin in both ourselves and them, in the way
we spoke of before.

We have spoken of one thing, but now I tell thee of the other, which I beg
that we rebuke in ourselves: if sometimes the devil or our own very evil
construction of matters tormented us by making us want to send or see all
the servants of God walking in the same way that we are walking in
ourselves. For it frequently happens that a soul which sees itself advance
by way of great penance, would like to send all people by that same way;
and if it sees that they do not walk there, it is displeased and shocked,
feeling that they are not doing right: while sometimes it will happen that
the man is doing better and being more virtuous than his critic, although
he does not do as much penance. For perfection does not consist in
macerating or killing the body, but in killing our perverse self-will. And
in this way, of the will destroyed, submitted to the sweet Will of God, we
ought indeed to desire all men to walk. Good is penance and the maceration
of the body; but do not show me these as a rule for every one, since all
bodies are not alike, and also since it often happens that a penance begun
has to be given up from many accidents that may occur. If, then, we made
ourselves or others build on penance as a foundation, it might come to
nothing, and be so imperfect that consolation and virtue would fail the
soul; for, deprived of the thing which it loved and had made of prime
importance, it would seem to be deprived of God, and so would fall into
weariness and very great sadness and bitterness, and would lose in the
bitterness the activity and fervent prayer to which it was accustomed. So
thou seest what evil would follow from making penance alone one's chief
concern: we should be ignorant, and should fall into a critical attitude,
and become weary and very bitter; we should strive to give only a finished
work to God, who is Infinite Good that demands from us infinite desire. We
ought, then, to build our foundation on killing and destroying our own
perverse will; with that will submitted to the will of God, we shall
devote sweet, hungry, infinite desire to the honour of God and the
salvation of souls. Thus shall we feed at the table of that holy desire
which never takes offence either at itself or at its neighbour, but
rejoices and finds fruit in everything. Miserable woman that I am, I mourn
that I never followed this true doctrine; nay, I have done the contrary,
and therefore I feel that I have often fallen into irritation and a
judicial attitude toward my neighbour. Wherefore I pray thee, by the love
of Christ Crucified, that for this and for my every other infirmity,
healing may be found; so that thou and I may begin to-day to walk in the
way of truth, enlightened to build our true foundation on holy desire, and
not trusting in appearances and impressions; so that we may not lightly
neglect ourselves and judge the faults of our neighbours, unless by way of
compassion or general rebuke.

This we shall do if we nourish us at the table of holy desire: otherwise
we cannot. For from desire we have light, and light gives us desire; so
one nourishes the other. Therefore I said that I desired to see thee in
the true light. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God.
Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of
the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious Blood, with
desire to see thee clothed in true and perfect humility--for that is a
little virtue which makes us great in the sweet sight of God. This is the
virtue which constrained and inclined God to make His most sweet Son
incarnate in the Womb of Mary. It is as exalted as the proud are humbled;
it shines in the sight of God and men; it binds the hands of the wicked,
it unites the soul with God, it purifies and laves away the soil of our
sin, and calls on God to show us mercy. I will then, sweetest daughter,
that thou strive to embrace this glorious virtue, so that thou mayest pass
over the stormy sea of this world free from storm and peril.

Now comfort thee in this sweet and sincere virtue, and bathe thee in the
Blood of Christ crucified. And when thou canst empty thy time for prayer,
I pray thee to do it. And love tenderly every rational being. Then, I beg
and command thee not to fast, except, when thou canst, on the days
commanded by Holy Church. And when thou dost not feel strong enough to
fast then, do not observe them. At other times, do not fast, except when
thou feelest able, on Saturday. When this heat is over, fast on the days
of Holy Mary, if thou canst, and no more. And drink something beside water
every day. Labour hard to increase thy holy desire, and let these other
things alone for the future. Do not be anxious or depressed over us, for
we are all well. When it shall please the Divine Goodness, we shall see
one another again. I say no more to thee. Remain in the holy and sweet
grace of God. Comfort my sweet daughters, Ursula and Ginevra. Sweet Jesus,
Jesus Love.


Catherine had ample opportunity to suffer from those keenly critical
instincts of the respectable which she reproved in the last group of
letters. Her life was full of eager unconventionalities that drew down on
her the frequent distrust of her co-religionists and fellow-townsmen. We
cannot tell what special cause had excited the indignation of the loyal
friends to whom the following note is written; but we may enjoy the spirit
of fresh and pure humility in which Catherine gives them the difficult
injunction to acquiesce in any criticism made upon her.

The very matters which were later to be considered as proofs of her
sanctity, were during her lifetime grounds of suspicion. Some unknown,
exercised in his mind over the reports of her extraordinary abstinence,
took evidently what would to-day appear the somewhat impertinent course of
writing her a letter of remonstrance. Catherine's inability or reluctance
to eat as much as others was one of the most interesting marvels of her
life to her simple contemporaries. It is clear, that partly from the
extreme mortification which according to mediaeval custom she inflicted on
her flesh from childhood, her condition became at an early age thoroughly
abnormal. Salads and water were practically her only diet; the curious are
referred to the copious details furnished by her biographers. Meantime,
the present letter shows how reasonable was her own attitude in the
matter. It shows also with what gentle dignity she received criticism. The
little touch at the end--"I pray you not to be light in judging, if you
are not surely illumined in the sight of God"--is the only hint at a
natural impulse of resentment: unless one reads, as it is tempting to do,
a delicate irony in the opening portion of the letter.


In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of
the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with
desire to see you persevere in holy desire, so that you may never look
back. For otherwise you would not receive your reward, and would
transgress the word of the Saviour, which says that we are not to turn
back to look at the furrow. Be persevering, then, and contemplate not what
is done, but what you have to do. And what have we to do? To turn our
affections constantly back toward God, despising the world with all its
joys, and loving virtue, bearing with true patience what the divine
goodness permits us; considering that whatever He gives is given for our
good that we may be sanctified in Him. We shall find in the Blood that the
truth is thus. So we ought to fill our memory with this glorious Blood,
which shows us so sweet a truth, that we may never be without the
recollection of it. Thus I want you to do, dearest daughters: that in this
life you shall persevere until death, and at the close of your life shall
receive the Eternal Vision of God. I say no more here.

I reprove thee, dearest my sweet daughter, because thou hast not kept in
mind what I told thee--not to answer anyone who should say to thee
anything about myself that seemed to thee less than good. Now I do not
wish thee to do so any more, but I wish both of you to reply to anyone who
narrated my faults to you in this wise--that they are not telling so many
that a great many more might not be told. Tell them to be moved by
compassion within their hearts in the sight of God, as they appear to be
by their tongues--and to pray the Divine Goodness earnestly for me, that
It will correct my life. Then say to them that it is the Highest Judge who
will punish my every fault, and reward every labour that shall be borne
for His Name. As to Monna Paula, I do not wish thee to be in the least
indignant with her: but think that she is acting like a good mother, who
wants to test her daughter to see whether she has virtue or not. I confess
truthfully that I have found little success in myself; but I have hope in
my Creator, who will make me correct myself and change my way of life.
Comfort you, and give yourselves no more pain; for we shall find ourselves
united in the fire of divine Charity, a union that shall be taken from us
neither by demon nor by creature. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy
and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest and most beloved father in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, a
useless servant of Jesus Christ, commend me to you: with the desire to see
us united and transformed in that sweet, eternal and pure Truth which
destroys in us all falsity and lying. I thank you cordially, dearest
father, for the holy zeal and jealousy which you have toward my soul: in
that you are apparently very anxious over what you hear of my life. I am
certain that nothing affects you except desire for the honour of God and
for my salvation, which makes you fear the assaults and illusions of
devils. As to your special fear, father, concerning my behaviour about
eating, I am not surprised; for I assure you, that not only do you fear,
but I myself tremble, for fear of devilish wiles. Were it not that I trust
in the goodness of God, and distrust myself, knowing that in myself I can
have no confidence. For you sent, asking me whether or no I believed that
I might be deceived, saying that if I did not believe so, that was a wile
of the devil. I answer you, that not only about this, which is above the
nature of the body, but about all my other activities also, I am always
afraid, on account of my frailty and the astuteness of the devil, and
think that I may be deceived; for I am perfectly well aware that the devil
lost beatitude, but not wisdom, with which wisdom, as I said, I recognized
that he might deceive me. But then I turn me, and lean against the Tree of
the Most Holy Cross of Christ crucified, and there will I fasten me; and I
do not doubt that if I shall be nailed and held with Him by love and with
profound humility, the devils will have no power against me--not through
my virtue, but through the virtue of Christ crucified.

You sent me word to pray God particularly that I might eat. I tell you, my
father, and I say it in the sight of God, that in all ways within my power
I have always forced myself once or twice a day to take food. And I have
prayed constantly, and do pray God and shall pray Him, that in this matter
of eating He will give me grace to live like other creatures, if it is His
will--for it is mine. I tell you, that often enough, when I have done what
I could, I enter within myself, to recognize my infirmity, and God, who by
most special grace has made me correct the sin of gluttony. I grieve much
that I have not corrected that miserable fault of mine through love. I for
myself do not know what other remedy to adopt, except that I beg you to
pray that Highest Eternal Truth, that He give me grace, if it is more for
His honour and the salvation of my soul, to enable me to take food if it
please Him. And I am sure that the goodness of God will not despise your
prayers. I beg you that if you see any remedy you will write me of it; and
provided it be for the honour of God, I will accept it willingly. Also I
beg you not to be light in judging, if you are not clearly illumined in
the sight of God. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace
of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


Belief in the wrath to come is sufficiently real to Catherine, and the
current demonology of her day slips readily from her tongue. These things
she accepted as she found them. But the atmosphere in which her spirit
breathes is the perception of the love of God. The spiritual history of
the race, from the creation to the coming of the Spirit and the perpetual
support of the soul in the Sacrament of the Altar, is to her a revelation
of the One encompassing Love, poured forth in fresh measure and under new
forms at each stage in the movement of human destiny.

And so, in this little letter, she invites us to enter with her the
"peaceful and profound sea" found in the words "God is Love." Elsewhere,
both in her Dialogue and in a letter to one Brother Matteo Tolomei, she
analyses with keen insight the relations which redeemed humanity can bear
to the Loving God; she tells us how the servant, obedient through fear,
may become the friend, obedient through gratitude and desire for spiritual
blessings; and how these lower loves, through the operation of the Holy
Spirit, may be transformed into the love of the son, who seeks God for His
own sake, "with nothing between." And how shall human love, when it has
reached this point, reflect the love of Him who "needs not man's work nor
His own gifts?" How become, not merely receptive, but active and creative?
Catherine gives the simple Christian answer: "God has loved us without
being loved, but we love Him because we are loved.... We cannot be of any
profit to Him, nor love Him with this first love. Yet God demands of us,
that as He has loved us without any second thoughts, so He should be loved
by us. In what way can we do this, then, since He demands it of us and we
cannot give it to Him? I tell you: through a means which He has
established by which we can love Him freely, and without the least regard
to any profit of ours: we can be useful, not to Him, which is impossible,
but to our neighbour.... To show the love we have to Him, we ought to
serve and love every rational creature.... Every virtue receives life from
love, and love is gained in love, that is, by raising the eye of our mind
to behold how much we are beloved of God. Seeing ourselves loved, we
cannot do otherwise than love.... So thou seest that we conceive virtues
through God and bring them to the birth for our neighbour."

Thus do Catherine's loftiest meditations end on the practical note. Her
fundamental thought, here as elsewhere, is strikingly akin to the thought
of St. Bernard. Love yourself not for your own sake, but for God! she
constantly repeats. To the same effect, Bernard describes at length the
progress of the soul till it reaches the highest stage, in which self-love
is so lost that even gratitude is left behind, and man loves himself and
God for the sake of God alone.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

To you, most beloved and dear father, through reverence of the most sweet
Sacrament, and son in Christ Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the
servants of Jesus Christ, write and send comfort in His precious Blood,
with desire to see you kindled, on fire, and consumed in His most ardent
charity, since I know that he who is on fire and consumed with this
charity sees not himself. This, then, I will that you do. I summon you to
enter through this most ardent charity, a sea that is peaceful and
profound. This I have just now found anew--not that the sea is new, but
that it is new to me in the feeling of my soul--in that word, God is Love.
And in this word, as the mirror reflects the face of man, and the sun its
light upon the earth, so it is reflected in my soul, that all His works
whatsoever are Love alone, for they are not wrought of anything save love.
Therefore He says, "I God am Love." From this a light is thrown on the
unsearchable mystery of the Incarnate Word, who by force of love was given
with such humility that it confounds my pride, and teaches us not to
regard His works, but the burning devotion of the Word given to us. He
says that we should do as he who loves: who, when his friend comes with a
present, looks not at the hands for the gift which he brings, but opens
the eye of love, and regards his heart and affection. So He wills that we
should do, when the Highest eternal goodness of God, sweet above all
things, visits our soul. It visits us then with measureless benefits. Let
memory act swiftly to receive the intention in the divine charity: and let
the will arise with most ardent desire, and receive and behold the
sacrificed Heart of sweet and good Jesus the Giver: and thus you shall
find you kindled and clothed with fire, and with the gift of the Blood of
the Son of God; and you shall be free from all pain and disease. This it
was which took away the pain of the holy disciples, when it behoved them
to leave Mary and one another, and gladly they endured that separation, to
sow the word of God. Run then, run, run.

Concerning the affairs of Benincasa, I cannot reply unless I am at Siena.
Thank Messer Nicolao for the charity which he has shown for them. Alessa
and I and Cecca, poor women, commend ourselves to you a thousand thousand
times. May God be ever in your soul, amen. Jesus, Jesus.

Catherine, servant of the servants of God.


In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest son in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the
servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood, with desire
to see you seek God in truth, not through the intervention of your own
fleshliness or of any other creature, for we cannot please God through any
intervening means. God gave us the Word, His Only-Begotten Son, without
regard to His own profit. This is true, that we cannot be of any profit to
Him; but the reverse is not the case, because, although we do not serve
God for our profit, nevertheless we profit just the same. To Him belongs
the flower of honour, and to us the fruit of profit. He has loved us
without being loved, and we love because we are loved: He loves us of
grace, and we Him of duty, because we are bound to love Him. We cannot be
of any profit to God just as we cannot love Him of grace, without duty.
For we are bound to Him, and not He to us, because before He was loved, He
loved us, and therefore created us in His Image and Likeness. There it is,
then: we cannot be of any profit to Him, nor love Him with this first
love. Yet I say that God demands of us, that as He has loved us without
any second thoughts, so He should be loved by us. In what way can we do
this, then, since He demands it of us, and we cannot give it Him? I tell
you: through a means which He has established, by which we can love Him
freely, and without the least regard to any profit of ours; that is, we
can be useful, not to Him, which is impossible, but to our neighbour. Now
by this means we can obey what He demands of us for the glory and praise
of His Name; to show the love that we have for Him, we ought to serve and
love every rational creature, and extend our charity to good and bad, to
every kind of people, as much to one who does us ill service and
criticises us as to one who serves us. For God is no respecter of persons,
but of holy desires, and His charity extends over just men and sinners.

One man, to be sure, He loves as a son, and one as a friend, and another
as a servant, and another as a person who has departed from Him, for whose
return He longs--these last are the wicked sinners who are deprived of
grace. But wherein does the Highest Father show His love to these? In
lending them time, and in time He gives them many opportunities, either to
repent of their sins, taking from them place and power to do as much ill
as they would, or He has many other ways to make them hate vice and love
virtue, the love of which takes away the wish to sin. And so, through the
time which God gave them in love, from foes they are made friends, and
have grace and are fit to become the Father's heirs.

He loves as sons those who serve Him in truth without any servile fear,
who have annulled and killed their self-will, and are through God obedient
till death to every rational creature: no mercenaries they, who serve Him
for their own profit, but sons; and they despise consolations and joy in
tribulations, and seek only in what way they can conform them to Christ
crucified, and nourish them on His shames and labours and sorrows. Such
men seek not God nor serve Him for sweetness or consolation, spiritual or
temporal, which they receive from God or the fellow-creature; they seek
not God for their own sakes, nor the neighbour, but God for God, inasmuch
as He is worthy of being loved, and themselves for God, for the glory and
praise of His Name; and they serve their neighbour for God, being of what
profit they may to Him. These men follow the footsteps of the Father,
rejoicing wholly in charity toward their neighbour, loving the servants of
God through the love with which they love their Creator; and they love
imperfect men through love that they should reach perfection, devoting to
them holy desire and continual prayers. They love wicked men, who lie in
the death of mortal sin, because they are rational beings, created by God,
and bought by the same Blood as they, wherefore they mourn over their
condemnation, and to rescue them would give themselves to bodily death. As
to the persecutors and slanderers and judges who take offence at them,
they love these both because they are creatures of God, as I said, and
also because they are the means and cause of testing their virtue, and
helping them reach perfection--especially as to that royal virtue
patience, a sweet virtue, which is never offended or disturbed, nor cast
down by any contrary wind or any molesting of men. Such men are those who
seek God with nothing between, and love Him truly as dear and lawful sons;
and He loves them as a true father, and shows them the secret of His
charity, to make them heirs of His eternal kingdom, wherefore they run,
refreshed by the Blood of Christ, kindled by the fire of divine charity,
by which they are perfectly illumined. Such men do not run in the path of
virtue after their own fashion, nay, but after the fashion of Christ
crucified, following in His steps. Were it possible for them to serve God
and win virtue without labour, they would not wish it. These men do not
act like the second kinds of men, the friend and the servant, for the
service of these last has some ulterior thought. Sometimes it has regard
to the man's own profit; one can reach great friendship in this way, when
he knows his need, and his benefactor, who, as he sees, can and will help
him. Yet first he was a servant, for he knew his own wrong-doing, on which
followed punishment; so from the fear of punishment he drives out his sin,
and lovingly embraces virtue, serving his Lord, whom he has wronged; and
he begins to draw hope from His benignity, considering that He wills not
the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live. If the man abode
in fear alone, it would not suffice to give him life, nor would he attain
to the perfect favour of his Lord; but he would be a mercenary servant.
Nor ought he to remain only in the love of the fruit and the consolation
which he might receive from his Lord, after he has been made a friend; for
this kind of love would not be strong, but would fail when it was deprived
of sweetness or consolation and joy of mind, or else when some contrary
wind struck it, of persecution or temptation from the devil; then at once
it would fail under temptations of the devil or vexations of the flesh. So
it would fall into confusion through being deprived of mental consolation;
and in the persecutions and insults wrought against it by fellow-
creatures, it would fall into impatience.

So you see, that this kind of love is not strong. Nay, he who loves with
this love does as St. Peter, who before the Passion loved Christ tenderly;
but he was not strong, therefore he failed in the time of the Cross: but
then, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, he separated him from the love
of sweetness, and lost fear, and reached a love strong, and tried in the
fire of many tribulations. Thence, having reached the love of a son, he
bore all such with true patience--nay, ran under them in great gladness,
as he had been going to a marriage feast and not to torment. This was
because he had been made a son. But had Peter remained absorbed in the
sweetness and the fear which he felt in the Passion and after the Passion
of Christ, he would not have reached such perfection as to be a son and
champion of Holy Church, a lover and seeker of souls. But note the way
that Peter took, and the other disciples, to gain power to lose their
servile fear and love of consolations, and to receive the Holy Spirit, as
had been promised them by the Sweet Primal Truth. Therefore says the
Scripture that they shut them in the house, and stayed there in vigil and
continual prayers; they stayed ten days, and then came the Holy Spirit.

Now this is the teaching which we and every rational creature ought to
receive; to shut ourselves into the house, and remain in vigil and
continual prayer: to stay ten days, and then we shall receive the
plenitude of the Holy Spirit. Who, when He was come, illumined them with
truth; and they saw the secret of the immeasurable love of the Word, with
the will of the Father, who willed naught but our sanctification. This has
been shown us by the Blood of that sweet and enamoured Word: who was
restored to His disciples, when the plenitude of the Holy Spirit came. He
came with the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, the mercy and
clemency of the Holy Spirit; so the truth of Christ is fulfilled, which He
spake to His disciples: I shall go and shall return to you. Then did He
return, because the Holy Spirit could not come without the Son and the
Father, because He was one thing with them. Thus He came, as I said, with
the power that is assigned to the Father, and the wisdom that is assigned
to the Son, and the benevolence and love that is assigned to the Holy
Spirit. Well did the Apostles show it, for suddenly through love they lost
their fear. So in true wisdom they knew the truth, and went with great
power against the infidels; they threw idols to the ground and drove out
devils. This was not with the power of the world, nor with bodily
fortitude, but with strength of spirit and the power of God, which they
had received through Divine grace. Now thus it will happen to those who
have arisen from the filth of mortal sin and the misery of this world, and
begin to taste the Highest Good and enamour themselves of His sweetness.
But as I have said, by remaining in fear alone, one would not escape hell;
but would do like the thief, who does not steal, because he is afraid of
the gallows; but he would not abstain from stealing if he did not expect
to be punished. It is just such a case when one loves God for the
sweetness of it; that is, one would not be strong and perfect, but weak
and imperfect.

The way to arrive at perfection is that of the disciples, as I said. That
is, as Peter and the others shut themselves into the house, so those have
done and should do who have attained the love of the Father, who are sons.
Those who wish to reach this state should enter the house, and shut
themselves in; that is, the house of the knowledge of themselves, which is
the cell that the soul should inhabit. Within this cell another cell is
found, that of the knowledge of the goodness of God in Himself. So from
knowledge of self the soul draws true humility, with holy hatred of the
wrong which it has done to its Creator, and by this it attains to true and
holy patience. And from the knowledge of God, which it finds in itself, it
wins the virtue of most ardent charity: whence it draws holy and loving
desires. In this wise it finds vigil and continual prayer--that is, while
it abides enclosed in so sweet and glorious a thing as is the knowledge of
itself and of God. It keeps vigil, I say, not only with the eye of the
body, but with the eye of the soul; that is, the eye of the intellect
never sees itself closed, but remains opened upon its Object and ineffable
Love, Christ crucified: and there it finds love, and its own guilt. For
that guilt, Christ gave us His Blood. Then the soul uplifts itself with
deepest devotion, to love what God loves and to hate what He hates. And it
directs all its works in God, and does everything to the glory and praise
of His Name. This is the continual prayer of which Paul says, "Pray
without ceasing." Now this is the way to rise from being only a servant
and a friend--that is, from servile fear and from tender love of one's own
consolation--and to arrive at being a true servant, true friend, true son.
For when one is truly made a son, he does not therefore lose being a
servant and true friend; but is a servant and friend in truth, without any
regard to himself, or to anything except pleasing God alone.

We said that they abode ten days, and then came the Holy Spirit. So the
soul, which wishes to arrive at this perfection, must observe ten days,
that is the ten commandments of the law. And with the legal commandments
it will observe the Counsels; for they are bound together, and the one
cannot be observed without the other. True, those who are in the world
must observe the Counsels mentally, through holy desire, and those who are
freed from the world must observe them both mentally and actually. Thus,
if the soul receives the abundance of the Holy Spirit, with true wisdom of
true and perfect light and knowledge, and with fortitude and power to make
it strong in every battle, it becomes mighty chiefly against itself,
lording it over its own fleshly nature. But all this you could not do if
you went roaming about, in much conversation, keeping far from the cell,
and neglecting the choir. Whence, considering this, I said to you when you
left me that you should study to flee conversation and to visit the cell,
and not to abandon the choir or the refectory (so far as might be possible
to you), and to keep vigil with humble prayer: and thus to fulfil my
desire, when I told you that I desired to see you seek God in truth,
without anything between. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and
sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

My dearest sister and daughter in Christ sweet Jesus. I Catherine, servant
and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious
Blood, with desire to see thee a true servant and bride of Christ
crucified. Servants we ought to be, because we are bought with His blood.
But I do not see that we can be of any profit to Him by our service; we
ought, then, to be of profit to our neighbour, because he is the means by
which we test and gain virtue. Thou knowest that every virtue receives
life from love; and love is gained in love, that is, by raising the eye of
our mind to behold how much we are beloved of God. Seeing ourselves loved,
we cannot do otherwise than love; loving Him, we shall embrace virtue
through the force of love, and shall hate vice and spurn it.

So thou seest that we conceive virtues through God, and bring them to the
birth for our neighbour. Thou knowest well that for the necessity of thy
neighbour thou bringest forth the child charity that is within thy soul,
and patience in the wrongs which thou receivest from him. Thou givest him
prayer, particularly to those who have done thee wrong. And thus we ought
to do; if men are untrue to us, we ought to be true to them, and
faithfully to seek their salvation; loving them of grace, and not by
barter. That is, do thou beware not to love thy neighbour for thine own
profit; for that would not be faithful love, and thou wouldst not respond
to the love which God bears thee. For as God has loved thee of grace, so
He wills that since thou canst not return this love to Him, thou return it
to thy neighbour, loving him of grace and not by barter, as I said.
Neither if thou art wronged, nor if thou shouldst see love toward thee, or
thy joy or profit lessened, must thou lessen or stint love toward thy
neighbour; but love him tenderly, bearing and enduring his faults; and
beholding with great consolation and reverence the servants of God.

Beware lest thou do like mad and foolish people who want to set themselves
to investigate and judge the deeds and habits of the servants of God. He
who does this is entirely worthy of severe rebuke. Know that it would not
be different from setting a law and rule to the Holy Spirit if we wished
to make the servants of God all walk in our own way--a thing which could
never be done. Let the soul inclined to this kind of judgment think that
the root of pride is not yet out, nor true charity toward the neighbour
planted--that is, the loving him by grace and not by barter. Then let us
love the servants of God, and not judge them. Nay, it befits us to love in
general every rational creature: those who are outside of grace we must
love with grief and bitterness over their fault, because they wrong God
and their own soul. Thus thou shalt be in accord with that sweet enamoured
Paul, who mourns with those who mourn, and joys with those who joy; thus
thou shalt mourn with those who are in mournful state, through desire for
the honour of God and for their salvation; and thou shalt joy with the
servants of God who rejoice, possessing God through loving tenderness.

Thou seest, then, that through charity to God we conceive virtues, and
through charity toward our neighbours they are brought to the birth. Being
thus--loving thy neighbour sincerely, without any falsity of love or
heart, freely, without any regard to thine own profit, spiritual or
temporal--thou shalt be a true servant, and respond by means of thy
neighbour to the love which thy Creator bears thee; thou shalt be a
faithful, not a faithless bride. Then does the bride fail in faith to her
bridegroom, when she gives to another creature the faith which she ought
to give to him. Thou art a bride, for Christ in His circumcision showed
that He would wed the human race. Thou, beholding love so ineffable,
shouldst love Him without any means that might be apart from God. Thus art
thou made the servant of thy neighbour, serving him in all things to the
measure of thy power. Verily thou art the bride of Christ, and shouldst be
the servant of thy neighbour. If thou art a faithful bride, since we can
neither be of profit nor of service to God by the love which we bear Him,
we ought, as I said, to serve our neighbour with true and heartfelt love.
In no other way nor wise can we serve Him. Therefore I said to thee that I
desired to see thee the true servant and bride of Christ crucified. I say
no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus


Neri di Landoccio dei Pagliaresi is one of the attractive group of
Catherine's secretaries, which included also Stefano Maconi and Barduccio
Canigiani. There is something very charming, wholly Italian and mediaeval,
in the thought of the three highly-born and gently-bred young Tuscans,
who, without leaving the world or taking religious vows, attached
themselves with a pure and passionate devotion to the person of the Beata
Populana, dedicated their time and powers to her service, caught the fire
of her ideals, and after her death followed her wishes for their future.
The faces that appear a little later in such pictures as Botticelli's
"Adoration of the Magi," help us to understand the type of these young

Of the three secretaries, Neri was the first to enter Catherine's service.
It was he who introduced to her most of the people who later became her
disciples, and many letters yet extant from one and another show that he
was devotedly loved by the little group. He was of a sensitive, subtle,
and despondent temperament--a reader of Dante, himself a poet, a man given
to self-torment, and, as his later life showed, with a tendency to
melancholia. He must have possessed tact, force, and probably charm, for
Catherine more than once sent him on important embassies--once as
harbinger of her own coming to Pope Gregory at Avignon, and again, at a
later time, to the corrupt and brilliant court of Queen Giovanna at
Naples. In obedience to the dying wish of his spiritual mother--who
probably well understood his needs--he became a hermit after her death.

Catherine writes to this fine but fearful soul with an exquisite
tenderness. "Confusion of mind," with its inhibiting sadness and
helplessness, is of all evils in the world the one most abhorrent to her
clear, decisive, intuitive nature. Against this, his besetting danger, she
seeks with all her customary vigour to protect her beloved disciple. The
love rather than the wrath of God was, as we have seen, ever the chief
burden of Catherine's teaching. Never did she dwell on it more earnestly
than here, as with searching insight into the unfathomable depths of the
Divine mercy, she writes firmly: "His truth is this, that He created us to
give us life eternal." Her words must have brought reassurance to any
darkened vision, while her practical counsels were never more adapted to
individual need than in these peculiarly gentle letters, written to one
whose temptations and spiritual perils were far different from her own.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest son in Christ sweet Jesus. I Catherine, servant and slave of the
servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious Blood: with desire
to see thee in the true light, that in the light may be known the truth of
thy Creator. His truth is this, that He created us to give us life
eternal. But because man rebelled against God, this truth was not
fulfilled, and therefore He descended to the greatest depths to which
descent is possible, when Deity assumed the vesture of our humanity. So we
see in this glorious light that God has been made man, and this He has
done to fulfil His truth in us: and He has shown this to us verily by the
Blood of the Loving Word, inasmuch that what we held by faith is proved to
us with the price of that Blood. The creature that has reason in itself
cannot deny that this is so.

I will, then, that thy confusion be consumed and vanish in the hope of the
Blood, and in the fire of the immeasurable Love of God; and that nothing
remain but the true knowledge of thyself, in which thou shalt humble thee
and grow, and nourish light in thy soul. Is not He more ready to pardon
than we to sin? And is not He the Physician and we the sick, the Bearer of
our iniquities? And does not He hold confusion of mind as worse than all
other faults? Yes, truly. Then, dearest son, open the eye of thine
intellect in the light of most holy faith, and behold how much thou art
beloved of God. And from beholding His love, and the ignorance and
coldness of thy heart, do not fall into confusion; but let the flame of
holy desire increase, with true knowledge and humility, as I said. And the
more thou seest that thou hast not responded to such great favours as thy
Creator has shown thee, humble thyself the more, and say with holy
resolution: "What I have not done to-day, I will do now." Thou knowest
that confusion is wholly discordant with the doctrine which has always
been given thee. It is a leprosy that dries up soul and body, and holds
them in continual affliction, and binds the arms of holy desire, and does
not let one do what one would; and it makes the soul unendurable to
itself, disposing the mind to conflicts and varying fantasies; it robs the
soul of supernatural light, and darkens its natural light. So one falls
into great faithlessness, because one does not know the truth of God, in
which He has created us--that is, that He created us in truth to give us
life eternal. Then with living faith, with holy desire, and with hope in
the Blood of Christ, let the devil of confusion be defeated.

I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. I pray Him to
give thee His sweet benediction. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest and sweetest son in Christ sweet Jesus. I Catherine, servant and
slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious
Blood: with desire to see in thee the light of most holy faith, in order
that thou mayest never be shocked by anything that may happen to thee; but
may thy mind be pacified concerning all the mysteries of God, as thou
beholdest the ineffable love which moved Him to draw forth from Himself
reasonable creatures, and to give us His image and likeness, and to buy us
with the Blood of the humble and spotless Lamb. Thus doing, thou wilt hold
all that happens to thee in due reverence, and in true humility thou wilt
deny mere appearances, when sometimes through the illusion of the devil
things seem to thee to get out of their right proportion, through thy many
mental occupations and sweet physical torments. I say no more. Remain in
the holy and sweet grace of God. May Christ the Blessed give thee His
eternal benediction. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest and sweetest son in Christ sweet Jesus. I Catherine, servant and
slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to thee in His precious
Blood: with desire to see thee ever grow from virtue to virtue, till I
behold thee return to that sea of peace where thou shalt never have any
fear of being separated from God. For the foul perverse law that fights
against the Spirit shall be left on earth, and shall have rendered its due
thereto. I will, sweet my son, that while thou livest in this life thou
exert thee to live dead to all self-will, and in such death thou shalt win
virtue. Thus living, thou shalt resign to earth the law of perverse
desire. So thou shalt not fear lest God permit in thy case what He
permitted in that other, nor shalt thou suffer, because for a little while
the human part of thee is separated from me and from the rest of the
family. Comfort thee, and may that which Truth says abide in thy mind--
that not one person shall be lost out of His hands. I say out of His
hands, because all things are His. And I know that thou understandest me
without many words. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of
God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


"Teach us, O Lord, and enable us to live the life of saints and angels!"
cried Cardinal Newman. There is a lovely parallel to Catherine's prayer in
the Paternoster of Dante's blessed souls in Purgatory:

"Come del suo voler gli angeli tuoi
Fan sacrificio a te, cantando osanna,
Cosi facciano gli uomini de' suoi."

From the gentle thoughts on non-resistance with which this letter opens,
Catherine turns with transition as fine as sudden to the splendid figure
of the holy soul as a horse without bridle, running most swiftly "from
grace to grace, from virtue to virtue." One is accustomed by Plato--not to
speak of Browning in "The Two Poets of Croisic"--to the image of the soul
as a charioteer. Catherine's metaphor is less familiar but not less
forceful. The will, to her, is only free when pure: impure and sinful
desires, far from being the sign of liberty, are the bit and bridle that
hinder its fiery course toward God. The same thought, less vividly put, is
found in a modern theologian--Dr. Moberly. "The real consummation of
either moral or immoral character," he writes, "would exclude the
ambiguity which was offered as the criterion of free will.... Full power
to sin is not the key to freedom. On the contrary, all inherent power to
do wrong is a direct infringement of the reality of free-will.... Free-
will is not the independence of the creature, but rather his self-
realisation in perfect dependence. Freedom is self-identity with

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Dearest and most beloved daughters in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine,
servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, and your mother in
Christ, write to you and comfort you in the Precious Blood of the Son of
God, who was a gentle Lamb, spotless and slain not by power of nails or
lance, but by power of love and measureless charity which He felt and
still feels to His creatures. Oh, charity unspeakable of our God! Thou
hast taught me, Love most sweet, and hast shown me, not by words alone--
for Thou sayest that Thou dost not delight in many words--but by deeds,
in which Thou sayest that Thou dost delight, and which Thou dost demand
from Thy servants. And what hast Thou taught me, O Love Uncreate? Thou
hast taught me that I should bear, patiently like a lamb, not only harsh
words, but even blows harsh and hard and injury and loss. And with this
Thou dost will that I be innocent and spotless, harmful to no one of my
neighbours and brethren; not only in case of those who do not persecute
us, but in that of those who injure us; Thou dost will that we pray for
them as for special friends who give us a good and great gain. And Thou
dost will that we be patient and meek not only in injuries and temporal
losses, but universally, in everything that may be contrary to my will: as
Thou didst not will Thine own will to be done in anything, but the will of
Thy Father. How then shall we lift up our head against the goodness of
God, wishing that our perverted wills should be fulfilled? How shall we
not will that the will of God be fulfilled?

O Jesus, Most Sweet Love, make Thy will to be fulfilled in us ever, as in
Heaven by Thy Angels and saints! Dearest my daughter in Christ, this is
the meekness which our sweet Saviour wants to find in us: that we, with
hearts wholly peaceful and tranquil, be content with everything which He
plans and does concerning us, and wish neither times nor seasons in our
own way, but in His alone. Then the soul, so divested of its every wish
and clothed with the will of God, is very pleasing to God. Like an
unbridled horse, it runs most swiftly from grace to grace, from virtue to
virtue; for it has no bridle that holds or prevents it from running, since
it has severed from itself every inordinate appetite and impulse of its
own self-will, which are bands and bridles that do not allow the souls of
spiritual men to run.

The affairs of the Crusade are going constantly better and better, and the
honour of God is increasing every day. Increase constantly in virtue, and
furnish the ship of your soul, for our time draws near. Comfort and bless
Francesca, from Jesus Christ and me; and tell her to be zealous that I may
find her increased in virtue when I shall return. Bless and comfort all my
sons in Christ. Now this very day the ambassador of the Queen of Cyprus
came and talked to me. He is going to the Holy Father, Christ on earth, to
urge him concerning the affairs of the holy Crusade. And, moreover, the
Holy Father has sent to Genoa to urge them concerning the same thing.

Our sweet Saviour give you His eternal benediction! Remain in the holy and
sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


_Which letter is one of credentials, certifying that he may put faith in
all things said to him by Fra Raimondo of Capua. Wherefore the said Fra
Raimondo went to the said Messer John, and the other captains, to induce
them to go over and fight against the infidels should it happen that
others should go. And before leaving he had from them and from Messer John
a promise on the sacrament that they would go, and they signed it with
their hands and sealed it with their seals._

So runs the old heading to this letter. It is piquant to contemplate
Catherine writing to that picturesque gentleman, Sir John Hawkwood. Her
attitude of friendly and almost sisterly sympathy with the audacious free-
lance appears in her unwonted addition of the word "glory" to her usual
formula, "The honour of God and the salvation of souls," in the last
sentence. We are told that the letter and Fra Raimondo produced a real
impression, and that Hawkwood not only vowed himself to the Crusade, but
that, no Crusade occurring, he from this time bore arms only in regular
warfare. He who follows the Englishman's subsequent career may perhaps
wonder a little what "regular warfare" meant to his mind. Yet let us
remember to his credit that Hawkwood protested against the massacre of
Cesena--nor was this the only occasion on which his nature flashed for a
moment a chivalrous light. May his bones rest in peace in the Duomo of
Florence, that city to the gates of which he brought terror and dismay,
but which bore him no grudge, and at the end decreed him splendid
funerals, and sepulchre among her honoured sons!

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

To you, most beloved and dear brothers in Christ Jesus: I Catherine,
servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write in His precious
Blood: with desire to see you a true son and knight of Christ, in such
wise that you may desire to give your life a thousand times, if need were,
in service of sweet and good Jesus. This is a gift which would pay off all
our sins, which we have committed against our Saviour. Dearest and
sweetest brother in Christ Jesus, it would be a great thing now if you
would withdraw a little into yourself, and consider, and reflect how great
are the pains and anguish which you have endured by being in the service
and pay of the devil. Now my soul desires that you should change your way
of life, and take the pay and the cross of Christ crucified, you and all
your followers and companions; so that you may be Christ's company, to
march against the infidel dogs who possess our Holy Place, where rested
the Sweet Primal Truth and bore death and pains for us. I beg you, then,
gently in Christ Jesus, that since God and also our Holy Father have
ordered a crusade against the infidels, and you take such pleasure in war
and fighting, you should not make war against Christians any more--for
this is a wrong to God; but go against the infidels! For it is a great
cruelty that we who are Christians, and members bound in the Body of Holy
Church, should persecute one another. We are not to do so; but to rise
with perfect zeal, and to uplift ourselves above every evil thought.

I marvel much that you, having, as I heard, promised to be willing to go
to die for Christ in this holy crusade, are wanting to make war in these
parts. This is not that holy disposition which God demands from you if you
are to go to so holy and venerable a place. It seems to me that you ought
now, at this present time, to dispose you to virtue, until the time shall
come for us and the others who shall be ready to give their lives for
Christ: and thus you shall show that you are a manly and true knight.

There is coming to you this father and son of mine, Brother Raimondo, who
brings you this letter. Trust in what he tells you; because he is a true,
faithful servant of God, and will advise you and say to you nothing except
what will be to the honour of God and the safety and glory of your soul. I
say no more. I beg you, dearest brother, to keep in memory the shortness
of your time. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus,
Jesus Love.


Let us hope that the frivolous Monna Colomba listened to Catherine's
gentle but very explicit exhortations and turned away from her levities.
If she had a sense of humour--and it is a not uncommon possession of
light-minded elderly widows--she must have been lovingly entertained at
the pale virgin's identification of herself with those who "walk in the
way of luxuries and pleasures," and "set themselves up as an example of
sin and vanity." But Catherine's use of the first person in this
connection, strained though it may appear, is more than a figure of
speech, to soften the severity of her rebuke. We learn from the legend
that till the end of her life she never ceased to repent, bitterly and
with tears, for having at the age of twelve allowed an older sister to
dress her prettily, and blanch her hair after the fashion of the day. The
reason for this terrible lapse, as she told her confessor, was simply a
delight in beautiful things--but she always looked back on it with horror.

The application of the finding of Christ in the Temple, in this letter, is
curious, but not devoid of grace.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

To you, dearest sister and daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine,
servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write in His precious
Blood, with desire that I might see you a fruitful field, receiving the
seed of the Word of God, and bringing forth fruit for yourself and others.
I want to see you, who are now getting to be an old woman, and who are
free from worldly ties, a mirror of virtue to younger women, who are still
bound to the world by the tie of their husbands.

Alas, alas, I perceive that we are unfruitful ground, for we are letting
the Word of God be smothered by the inordinate affections and desires of
the world, and are walking in the way of its luxuries and pleasures,
studying to please our fellow-beings rather than our Creator. And there is
a more wretched thing yet, for our own evil-doing is not enough for us;
where we ought to be an example of virtue and modesty, we set ourselves up
as an example of sin and vanity. And as the devil was not willing to fall
alone, but wanted a large company with him, so we are enticing other
people to those same vanities and amusements that we indulge in ourselves.
You ought to withdraw, by love of virtue and your salvation, from vain
diversions and worldly weddings--for they do not suit your condition--and
try to keep others away, who would like to be there. But you talk bad
talk, and entice young women, who are wanting to withdraw from going to
these things through love of virtue, because they see that it is wronging
God. I do not wonder, then, if no fruit appears, since the seed is
smothered as I said. Perhaps you would find some excuse in saying,
"Still, I have to condescend to my friends and relatives by doing this, so
that they will not be annoyed and irritated with me." So fear and
perverted self-indulgence sap our life, and often kill us; rob us of the
perfection to which God chose and calls us. This excuse is not acceptable
to God; for we ought not to condescend to people in a matter which wrongs
God and our own soul; nor to love or serve them, except in those matters
which come from God and befit our condition.

Oh me, miserable! Was it our relatives or friends or any fellow-being who
bought us? No; Christ crucified alone was the Lamb who with love
unsearchable sacrificed His Body, making Him our Purification and Healing,
our Food and Raiment, and the Bed where we can rest. He had no regard to
love of self nor fleshly joy, but abased Himself in pain, enduring shames
and insults, seeking the honour of the Father and our salvation. It ill
befits that we poor miserable men should hold by another way than that
held by the Sweet Primal Truth.

You know that God is not found in luxuries and pleasures. We perceive that
when Our Saviour was lost in the Temple, going to the Feast, Mary could
not find Him among friends or relatives, but found Him in the Temple
disputing with the doctors. And this He did to give us an example--for He
is our Rule, and the Way we should follow. Notice that it says that He was
lost when going to the Feast. Know, most beloved sister, that, as was
said, God is not found at feasts or balls or games or weddings or places
of recreation. Nay, going there is a very sure means of losing Him, and
falling into many sins and faults, and inordinate frivolous self-
indulgence. Since this is the reason that has made us lose God by grace,
is there any way to find Him again? Yes; to accompany Mary. Let us seek
Him with her, in bitterness and pain and distaste for the fault committed
against our Creator, to condescend to the will of men. It befits us then
to go to the Temple, and there He is found. Let our hearts, our minds, and
desires be lifted up with this Company of Bitterness, and let us go to the
Temple of our soul, and there we shall know ourselves. Then the soul,
recognizing itself not to be, will recognize the goodness of God towards
it, who is He who is. Then the will shall be uplifted with zeal, and shall
love what God loves and hate what God hates. Then, as it enters into
reason with itself, it will rebuke the memory which has held in itself the
gaieties and pleasures of the world, and has nor held nor retained the
favours and gifts and great benefits of God, who has given Himself to us
with so great fire of love. It will rebuke the mind, which has given
itself to understand the will of fellow-creatures, and the shows and
observances of the world, rather than the will of its Creator, and
therefore will and fleshly love have turned them to love and desire those
gross things of sense, which pass like the wind. The soul should not do
thus, but should note and know the will of God, which seeks and wants
naught but our sanctification, and has therefore given us life.

God has not set you free from the world, for you are smothered and drowned
in the world by your affections and inordinate desires. Now, have you more
than one soul? No. If you had two, you might give one to God and the other
to the world. Nor have you more than one body, and this gets tired over
every little thing.

Be a dispenser to the poor of your temporal substance. Submit you to the
yoke of holy and true obedience. Kill, kill your own will, that it may not
be so tied to your relatives, and mortify your body, and do not so pamper
it in delicate ways. Despise yourself, and have in regard neither rank nor
riches, for virtue is the only thing that makes us gentlefolk, and the
riches of this life are the worst of poverty when possessed with
inordinate love apart from God. Recall to memory what the glorious Jerome
said about this, which one can never repeat often enough, forbidding that
widows should abound in daintiness, or keep their face anointed, or their
garments choice or delicate. Nor should their conversation be with vain or
dissolute young women, but in the cell: they should do like the turtle-
dove, who, when her companion has died, mourns for ever, and keeps to
herself, and wants no other company. Limit your intercourse, dearest and
most beloved Sister, to Christ crucified; set your affection and desire on
following Him by the way of shame and true humility, in gentleness,
binding you to the Lamb with the bands of charity.

This my soul desires, that you may be a true daughter, and a bride
consecrated to Christ, and a fruitful field, not sterile, but full of the
sweet fruits of true virtues. Hasten, hasten, for time is short and the
road is long. And if you gave all you have in the world, time would not
pause for you from running its course. I say no more. Remain in the holy
and sweet grace of God. Pardon me if I have said too many words, for the
love and zeal that I have for your salvation have made me say them. Know
that I would far rather do something for you than merely talk. May God
fill you with His most sweet Favour. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


The following is one of the famous letters of the world. The record in art
and literature of the scene which it depicts has carried knowledge of
Catherine to many who otherwise would have but the vaguest idea of her
personality. The letter has been frequently translated, but most of the
translators have avoided the opening and closing paragraphs, with their
amazing, confused, and to our modern taste almost shocking metaphors.
Surely, however, we want the whole just as Catherine poured it out; full
of intense excitement, her emotions clearer than her ideas, lifted into a
region where taste and logic have no meaning, and using, to convey the
inexpressible feelings quickened by the events she describes, homeliest
figures of speech, such as her commercial surroundings naturally suggest
to her. For the matter of that, modern congregations sing with no

"Jesus let me still abide
In Thy heart and Wounded Side."

The reiteration of the figure of the Blood is here psychologically
inevitable. Catherine writes still quivering from close contact with the
victim of a mediaeval execution.

A young gentleman from Perugia, Niccolo Tuldo by name, had been condemned
to death for speaking critically of the Sienese Government. It does not
appear that he was a serious political conspirator, but simply a young man
whose aristocratic sympathies led him thoughtlessly to the use of haughty
or bitter speech. But a _parvenu_ Government is always sensitive. We hear
of a man at this time being condemned and executed because he had not
invited one of the Riformatori to a feast!

Death was lightly inflicted in those days: probably it was no more lightly
suffered than in our own. We have vivid accounts of the incredulity with
which Niccolo Tuldo received his sentence--incredulity leading to horror,
to rage, to rebellion, to black despair. Then Catherine went to him; her
own words tell the rest. As one reads of the wonderful effect of her
soothing presence, as one sees the terrified youth becoming quiet and
subdued, clinging wistfully to the spiritual strength of this frail woman,
and catching at the end not only her spirit of calm submission, but even
something of her exaltation, one is irresistibly reminded of another
scene--George Eliot's marvellous description in "Adam Bede" of Dinah's
ministry to Hetty in the prison. But this scene is real, that only
imagined; and here no third person, but the consoler herself, reveals the
meaning of the experience to her own spirit.

In bringing Niccolo Tuldo to so illumined an end that he recognized the
judgment-place as holy, and died in full accord with the will of God,
Catherine achieved a great marvel which only Christianity can compass: she
lifted one of those seemingly purposeless and cruel accidents of destiny
which stagger faith, into unity with the organic work of the world's

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Most beloved and dearest father and dear my son in Christ Jesus: I
Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to
you, commending myself to you in the precious Blood of the Son of God;
with desire to see you inflamed and drowned in that His sweetest Blood,
which is blended with the fire of His most ardent charity. This my soul
desires, to see you therein, you and Nanni and Jacopo my son. I see no
other remedy by which we may reach those chief virtues which are necessary
to us. Sweetest father, your soul, which has made itself food for me--(and
no moment of time passes that I do not receive this food at the table of
the sweet Lamb slain with such ardent love)--your soul, I say, would not
attain the little virtue, true humility, were it not drowned in the Blood.
This virtue shall be born from hate, and hate from love. Thus the soul is
born with very perfect purity, as iron issues purified from the furnace.

I will, then, that you lock you in the open side of the Son of God, which
is an open treasure-house, full of fragrance, even so that sin itself
there becomes fragrant. There rests the sweet Bride on the bed of fire and
blood. There is seen and shown the secret of the heart of the Son of God.
Oh, flowing Source, which givest to drink and excitest every loving
desire, and givest gladness, and enlightenest every mind and fillest every
memory which fixes itself thereon! so that naught else can be held or
meant or loved, save this sweet and good Jesus! Blood and fire,
immeasurable Love! Since my soul shall be blessed in seeing you thus
drowned, I will that you do as he who draws up water with a bucket, and
pours it over something else; thus do you pour the water of holy desire on
the head of your brothers, who are our members, bound to us in the body of
the sweet Bride. And beware, lest through illusion of the devils--who I
know have given you trouble, and will give you--or through the saying of
some fellow-creature, you should ever draw back: but persevere always in
the hour when things look most cold, until we may see blood shed with
sweet and enamoured desires.

Up, up, sweetest my father! and let us sleep no more! For I hear such news
that I wish no more bed of repose or worldly state. I have just received a
Head in my hands, which was to me of such sweetness as heart cannot think,
nor tongue say, nor eye see, nor the ears hear. The will of God went on
through the other mysteries wrought before; of which I do not tell, for it
would be too long. I went to visit him whom you know: whence he received
such comfort and consolation that he confessed, and prepared himself very
well. And he made me promise by the love of God that when the time of the
sentence should come, I would be with him. So I promised, and did. Then in
the morning, before the bell rang, I went to him: and he received great
consolation. I led him to hear Mass, and he received the Holy Communion,
which he had never before received. His will was accorded and submitted to
the will of God; and only one fear was left, that of not being strong at
the moment. But the measureless and glowing goodness of God deceived him,
creating in him such affection and love in the desire of God that he did
not know how to abide without Him, and said: "Stay with me, and do not
abandon me. So it shall not be otherwise than well with me. And I die
content." And he held his head upon my breast. I heard then the rejoicing,
and breathed the fragrance of his blood; and it was not without the
fragrance of mine, which I desire to shed for the sweet Bridegroom Jesus.
And, desire waxing in my soul, feeling his fear, I said: "Comfort thee,
sweet my brother; since we shall soon arrive at the Wedding Feast. Thou
shalt go there bathed in the sweet Blood of the Son of God, with the sweet
Name of Jesus, which I will never to leave thy memory. And I await thee at
the place of justice." Now think, father and son, his heart then lost all
fear, and his face changed from sorrow to gladness; and he rejoiced, he
exulted, and said: "Whence comes such grace to me, that the sweetness of
my soul will await me at the holy place of justice?" See, that he had come
to so much light that he called the place of justice holy! And he said: "I
shall go wholly joyous, and strong, and it will seem to me a thousand
years before I arrive, thinking that you are awaiting me there." And he
said words so sweet as to break one's heart, of the goodness of God.

I waited for him then at the place of justice; and waited there with
constant prayer, in the presence of Mary and of Catherine, Virgin and
martyr. But before I attained, I prostrated me, and stretched my neck upon
the block; but my desire did not come there, for I had too full
consciousness of myself. Then up! I prayed, I constrained her, I cried
"Mary!" for I wished this grace, that at the moment of death she should
give him a light and a peace in his heart, and then I should see him reach
his goal. Then my soul became so full that although a multitude of people
were there, I could see no human creature, for the sweet promise made to

Then he came, like a gentle lamb; and seeing me, he began to smile, and
wanted me to make the sign of the Cross. When he had received the sign, I
said: "Down! To the Bridal, sweetest my brother! For soon shalt thou be in
the enduring life." He prostrated him with great gentleness, and I
stretched out his neck; and bowed me down, and recalled to him the Blood
of the Lamb. His lips said naught save Jesus! and, Catherine! And so
saying, I received his head in my hands, closing my eyes in the Divine
Goodness, and saying, "I will!"

Then was seen God-and-Man, as might the clearness of the sun be seen. And
He stood wounded, and received the blood; in that blood a fire of holy
desire, given and hidden in the soul by grace. He received it in the fire
of His divine charity. When He had received his blood and his desire, He
also received his soul, which He put into the open treasure-house of His
Side, full of mercy; the primal Truth showing that by grace and mercy
alone He received it, and not for any other work. Oh, how sweet and
unspeakable it was to see the goodness of God! with what sweetness and
love He awaited that soul departed from the body! He turned the eye of
mercy toward her, when she came to enter within His Side, bathed in blood
which availed through the Blood of the Son of God. Thus received by God
through power--powerful is He to do! the Son also, Wisdom the Word
Incarnate, gave him and made him share the crucified love with which He
received painful and shameful death through the obedience which he showed
to the Father, for the good of the human race. And the hands of the Holy
Spirit locked him within.

But he made a gesture sweet enough to draw a thousand hearts. And I do not
wonder, for already he tasted the divine sweetness. He turned as does the
Bride when she has reached the threshold of her bridegroom, who turns back
her head and her look, bowing to those who have accompanied her, and with
the gesture she gives signs of thanks.

When he was at rest, my soul rested in peace and in quiet, in so great
fragrance of blood that I could not bear to remove the blood which had
fallen on me from him.

Ah me, miserable! I will say no more. I stayed on the earth with the
greatest envy. And it seems to me that the first new stone is already in
place. Therefore do not wonder if I impose upon you nothing save to see
yourselves drowned in the blood and flame poured from the side of the Son
of God. Now then, no more negligence, sweetest my sons, since the blood is
beginning to flow, and to receive the life. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


This is the first letter to Gregory which has come down to us; it may or
may not have been the first which Catherine wrote him. That she had had
relations with him earlier seems fairly certain. As early as 1372 we find
her writing to Gerard du Puy, a relative of the Pope and Papal Legate in
Tuscany. This letter is evidently a reply, and contains passages which she
apparently expected du Puy to share with Gregory. Perhaps Gregory had made
approaches to her through his cousin. There was nothing unlikely at that
time in such action on the part of a great churchman, who, man of the
world though he was, retained a sincere reverence for humble men and

Be this as it may, Catherine in her letter to Gerard du Puy writes
concerning the condition of the Church in the strain of indignant sorrow
which she was to hold till her death: "In reply to the first of the three
things you ask me, I will say that I believe that our sweet Christ on
earth should do away entirely with two things which ravage the Bride of
Christ. The first is the over-great tenderness and care for relatives,
which ought to be entirely mortified. The other is that over-great good
nature which is founded on too great mercy.... Christ holds three vices as
especially evil--impurity, avarice, and swollen pride, which reign in the
Bride of Christ among the prelates, who care for nothing but luxuries and
honours and vast riches. A strong justice is needed to correct them, for
too great pity is the greatest cruelty. As to the other question, I say:
When I told you that you should toil for Holy Church, I was not thinking
only of the labours you should assume about temporal things, but chiefly
that you and the Holy Father ought to toil and do what you can to get rid
of the wolfish shepherds who care for nothing but eating and fine palaces
and big horses. Oh me, that which Christ won upon the wood of the Cross is
spent with harlots! I beg that if you were to die for it, you tell the
Holy Father to put an end to such iniquities. And when the time comes to
make priests or cardinals, let them not be chosen through flatteries or
moneys or simony; but beg him, as far as you can, that he notice well if
virtue and a good and holy fame are found in the man; and let him not
prefer a gentleman to a tradesman, for virtue is the thing that makes a
man gentle." Savonarola could hardly say more.

This present letter must date from 1375, for the rebellion of the Tuscan
cities was gathering when she wrote. It is evident that Catherine at the
time had never met the Pope personally. She must, however, have gained
from hearsay a fairly just idea of his character; in the letter--one of
the most carefully composed which we have from her--we see her approaching
him with frankness, dignity, and courage, and also with a rare degree of
tact. It was one thing to speak her mind out through Gerard du Puy: it
must have been another to speak directly to the Head of Christendom. How
Catherine acquits herself the reader may judge. The hint that the "sweet
Christ on earth," the father of the faithful, lacks self-knowledge, is
made so delicately that offence could not be taken; yet as she proceeds
the indirect suggestion becomes unmistakable. Gregory is that weak prelate
in whom through self-indulgence holy justice is dead or dying; the smooth,
peaceable man, who to avoid incurring displeasure, shuts his eyes to the
corruption of the Church and the sins of her priests; he is the indolent
physician who anoints when he should cauterize. As soon as she deems his
mind prepared, comes the direct statement: "I hope by the goodness of God,
venerable father mine, that you will quench this [self-love] in yourself,
and will not love yourself for your own sake, nor your neighbour, nor
God." Nor does she shrink from more specific mention of the dangers which
beset him, in his devotion to the interests of "friends and parents," and
considerations of temporal policy.

It is with relief, here as ever, that Catherine passes from criticism
implied or explicit to a strain of high enthusiasm by which she tries to
rouse the soul to all of latent manhood it may possess. She heartens
Gregory with stirring appeal to the memories of his great predecessors--
yet more with impassioned reminder of that mystery of divine love and
sacrifice from which their strength was drawn. All that was possible to
them is possible to him, "for the same God is now that was then." "And if
up to this time we have not stood very firm," she says--associating
herself, as usual, with the weakness she would condemn--"I wish and pray
in truth that you deal manfully with the moment of time which remains,
following Christ, whose vicar you are." Gentle encouragement, and a
curious tone of almost maternal tenderness, pervade the rest of the
letter. In dealing with the political situation which Gregory confronted,
Catherine speaks without reserve. The suggestions concerning practical
matters with which the letter closes are lucid and to the point.
Altogether, it is a masterly document which the daughter of Jacopo
Benincasa despatches to the Head of Christendom. Reading it, one finds no
difficulty in understanding the influence which, as the sequel shows, she
established over the sensitive and religious if weak spirit of Gregory XI.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

To you, most reverend and beloved father in Christ Jesus, your unworthy,
poor, miserable daughter Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of
Jesus Christ, writes in His precious Blood; with desire to see you a
fruitful tree, full of sweet and mellow fruits, and planted in fruitful
earth--for if it were out of the earth the tree would dry up and bear no
fruit--that is, in the earth of true knowledge of yourself. For the soul
that knows itself humbles itself, because it sees nothing to be proud of;
and ripens the sweet fruit of very ardent charity, recognizing in itself
the unmeasured goodness of God; and aware that it is not, it attributes
all its being to Him who Is. Whence, then, it seems that the soul is
constrained to love what God loves and to hate what He hates.

Oh, sweet and true knowledge, which dost carry with thee the knife of
hate, and dost stretch out the hand of holy desire, to draw forth and kill
with this hate the worm of self-love--a worm that spoils and gnaws the
root of our tree so that it cannot bear any fruit of life, but dries up,
and its verdure lasts not! For if a man loves himself, perverse pride,
head and source of every ill, lives in him, whatever his rank may be,
prelate or subject. If he is lover of himself alone--that is, if he loves
himself for his own sake and not for God--he cannot do other than ill, and
all virtue is dead in him. Such a one is like a woman who brings forth her
sons dead. And so it really is; for he has not had the life of charity in
himself, and has cared only for praise and self-glory, and not for the
name of God. I say, then: if he is a prelate, he does ill, because to
avoid falling into disfavour with his fellow-creatures--that is, through
self-love--in which he is bound by self-indulgence--holy justice dies in
him. For he sees his subjects commit faults and sins, and pretends not to
see them and fails to correct them; or if he does correct them, he does it
with such coldness and lukewarmness that he does not accomplish anything,
but plasters vice over; and he is always afraid of giving displeasure or
of getting into a quarrel. All this is because he loves himself. Sometimes
men like this want to get along with purely peaceful means. I say that
this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when
necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with
ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and
many a time death follows from it.

Oh me, oh me, sweetest "Babbo" mine! This is the reason that all the
subjects are corrupted by impurity and iniquity. Oh me, weeping I say it!
How dangerous is that worm we spoke of! For not only does it give death to
the shepherd, but all the rest fall into sickness and death through it.
Why does that shepherd go on using so much ointment? Because he does not
suffer in consequence! For no displeasure visits one and no ill will, from
spreading ointment over the sick; since one does nothing contrary to their
will; they wanted ointment, and so ointment is given them. Oh, human
wretchedness! Blind is the sick man who does not know his own need, and
blind the shepherd-physician, who has regard to nothing but pleasing, and
his own advantage--since, not to forfeit it, he refrains from using the
knife of justice or the fire of ardent charity! But such men do as Christ
says: for if one blind man guide the other, both fall into the ditch. Sick
man and physician fall into hell. Such a man is a right hireling shepherd,
for, far from dragging his sheep from the hands of the wolf, he devours
them himself. The cause of all this is, that he loves himself apart from
God: so he does not follow sweet Jesus, the true Shepherd, who has given
His life for His sheep. Truly, then, this perverse love is perilous for
one's self and for others, and truly to be shunned, since it works too
much harm to every generation of people. I hope by the goodness of God,
venerable father mine, that you will quench this in yourself, and will not
love yourself for yourself, nor your neighbour for yourself, nor God; but
will love Him because He is highest and eternal Goodness, and worthy of
being loved; and yourself and your neighbour you will love to the honour
and glory of the sweet Name of Jesus. I will, then, that you be so true
and good a shepherd that if you had a hundred thousand lives you would be
ready to give them all for the honour of God and the salvation of His
creatures. O "Babbo" mine, sweet Christ on earth, follow that sweet
Gregory (the Great)! For all will be possible to you as to him; for he was
not of other flesh than you; and that God is now who was then: we lack
nothing save virtue, and hunger for the salvation of souls. But there is a
remedy for this, father: that we flee the love spoken of above, for
ourselves and every creature apart from God. Let no more note be given to
friends or parents or one's temporal needs, but only to virtue and the
exaltation of things spiritual. For temporal things are failing you from
no other cause than from your neglect of the spiritual.

Now, then, do we wish to have that glorious hunger which these holy and
true shepherds of the past have felt, and to quench in ourselves that fire
of self-love? Let us do as they, who with fire quenched fire; for so great
was the fire of inestimable and ardent charity that burned in their hearts
and souls, that they were an-hungered and famished for the savour of
souls. Oh, sweet and glorious fire, which is of such power that it
quenches fire, and every inordinate delight and pleasure and all love of
self; and this love is like a drop of water, which is swiftly consumed in
the furnace! Should one ask me how men attained that sweet fire and
hunger--inasmuch as we are surely in ourselves unfruitful trees--I say
that those men grafted themselves into the fruitful tree of the most holy
and sweet Cross, where they found the Lamb, slain with such fire of love
for our salvation as seems insatiable. Still He cries that He is athirst,
as if saying: "I have greater ardour and desire and thirst for your
salvation than I show you with My finished Passion." O sweet and good
Jesus! Let pontiffs shame them, and shepherds, and every other creature,
for our ignorance and pride and self-indulgence, in the presence of so
great largess and goodness and ineffable love on the part of our Creator!
He has revealed Himself to us in our humanity, a Tree full of sweet and
mellow fruits, in order that we, wild trees, might graft ourselves in Him.
Now in this wise wrought that enamoured Gregory, and those other good
shepherds: knowing that they had no virtue in themselves, and gazing upon
the Word, our Tree, they grafted themselves in Him, bound and chained by
the bands of love. For in that which the eye sees does it delight, when
the thing is fair and good. They saw, then, and seeing they so bound them
that they saw not themselves, but saw and tasted everything in God. And
there was neither wind nor hail nor demons nor creatures that could keep
them from bearing cultivated fruits: since they were grafted in the
substance of our Tree, Jesus. They brought forth their fruits, then, from
the substance of sweet charity, in which they were united. And there is no
other way.

This is what I wish to see in you. And if up to this time, we have not
stood very firm, I wish and pray in truth that the moment of time which
remains be dealt with manfully, following Christ, whose vicar you are,
like a strong man. And fear not, father, for anything that may result from
those tempestuous winds that are now beating against you, those decaying
members which have rebelled against you. Fear not; for divine aid is near.
Have a care for spiritual things alone, for good shepherds, good rulers,
in your cities--since on account of bad shepherds and rulers you have
encountered rebellion. Give us, then, a remedy; and comfort you in Christ
Jesus, and fear not. Press on, and fulfil with true zeal and holy what you
have begun with a holy resolve, concerning your return, and the holy and
sweet crusade. And delay no longer, for many difficulties have occurred
through delay, and the devil has risen up to prevent these things being
done, because he perceives his own loss. Up, then, father, and no more
negligence! Raise the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, for with the
fragrance of the Cross you shall win peace. I beg you to summon those who
have rebelled against you to a holy peace, so that all warfare may be
turned against the infidels. I hope by the infinite goodness of God that
He will swiftly send His aid. Comfort you, comfort you, and come, come, to
console the poor, the servants of God, your sons! We await you with eager
and loving desire. Pardon me, father, that I have said so many words to
you. You know that through the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
I am certain that if you shall be the kind of tree I wish to see you,
nothing will hinder you.

I beg you to send to Lucca and to Pisa with fatherly proposals, as God
shall instruct you, supporting them so far as can be, and summoning them
to remain firm and persevering. I have been at Pisa and at Lucca, up to
now, influencing them as much as I can not to make a league with the
decaying members that are rebelling against you: but they are in great
perplexity, because they have no comfort from you, and are constantly
urged to make it and threatened from the contrary side. However, up to the
present time, they have not wholly consented. I beg you also to write
emphatically to Messer Piero: and do it zealously, and do not delay. I say
no more.

I have heard here that you have appointed the cardinals. I believe that it
would honour God and profit us more if you would take heed always to
appoint virtuous men. If the contrary is done, it will be a great insult
to God, and disaster to Holy Church. Let us not wonder later if God sends
us His disciplines and scourges; for the thing is just. I beg you to do
what you have to do manfully and in the fear of God.

I have heard that you are to promote the Master of our Order to another
benefice. Therefore I beg you, by the love of Christ crucified, that if
this is so you will take pains to give us a good and virtuous Vicar. The
Order has need of it, for it has run altogether too wild. You can talk of
this with Messer Niccola da Osimo and the Archbishop of Tronto; and I will
write them about it.

Remain in the sweet and holy grace of God. I ask you humbly for your
blessing. Pardon my presumption, that I presume to write to you. Sweet
Jesus, Jesus Love.


There is less formality here than in the first letter to Gregory.
Catherine in writing to the Pope soon felt herself as much at home as a
child in her earthly father's house. The little pet name, "Babbo," which
she habitually uses to him, could be translated only by "Daddy"--which
would sound so strange in English ears that it seems best to let the
Italian stand. There is something touching as well as entertaining in the
spirit of childlike freedom to which such a term bears witness.

The Anti-Papal League has become a grim reality. The un-Christian pomp and
arrogance of ruling prelates, the mean cruelty of William of Noellet in
refusing to allow corn to be imported from the Papal States in Tuscany in
time of famine, the harshness and lack of tact in the policy of Gregory
toward his unsatisfactory children, were all forces potent to destroy
among the rebels any strong sense of committing a religious crime in their
opposition to the Church. Catherine stands as mediator between the two
parties. Not for a moment condoning the sin of a rebellion heinous indeed
in her eyes, she yet does not allow the Pope to forget that the chief
cause of the trouble has been the unjust and iniquitous things which the
Florentines have endured from the Legates--men "whom you know yourself"--
so she writes with vigorous plebeian candour--"whom you know yourself to
be incarnate demons"! Let God's vicegerent, then, show forth the love of
God, and find in the divine attitude toward rebellious man an example for
his own attitude toward his rebellious cities. Conciliation is to her mind
the only wisdom. There is practical sagacity in her remark in another
letter: "On with benignity, father! For know that every rational creature
is more easily conquered by love and benignity than by anything else: and
especially these Italians of ours in these parts. I do not see any other
way in which you can conquer them, but if you do this you can do anything
you like with them."

The beautiful opening meditation on the Love of God as shown in creation
and redemption is then no mere general exordium, but in close dramatic
unity with the sequel of the letter. The Augustinian theology, however
alien to our modern modes of thought, has, as she puts it, a nobility not
to be ignored. As presented briefly here, and more grandly by Dante in the
seventh canto of the _Paradiso_, it represents the supreme effort of the
law-reverencing mind of the Latin Church to formulate the methods of
Infinite Love. In the curious figure of the Tournament, we have a
characteristic play of mediaeval fancy. As Langland puts it, a little

"Then was Faith in a fenestre, and cryed: Ah! Fili David!
As doth an heraude of armes when adventrous cometh to jousts.
Olde Jewes of Jerusalem for joy they sungen,
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Then I frayned at Faith what all that fare meant,
And who should joust in Jerusalem: 'Jesus,' he said,
'And fetch that the fiend claimeth: Piers' fruit the Plowman.'
'Is Piers in this place?' quoth I: and he winked at me,--
'This Jesus of His gentrice will joust in Piers' armes,
In his helme and in his habergeon, humana natura.'"

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Most holy and most reverend my father in Christ Jesus: I Catherine your
poor unworthy daughter, servant and slave of the servants of Christ, write
to you in His precious Blood; with desire to see you a good shepherd. For
I reflect, sweet my "Babbo," that the wolf is carrying away your sheep,
and there is no one found to help them. So I hasten to you, our father and
our shepherd, begging you on behalf of Christ crucified to learn from Him,
who with such fire of love gave Himself to the shameful death of the most
holy Cross, to rescue that lost sheep, the human race, from the hands of
the demons; because, through man's rebellion against God, they were
holding it for their own possession.

Then comes the Infinite Goodness of God, and sees the evil state and the
loss and the ruin of these sheep, and sees that they cannot be won back by
wrath or war. So, notwithstanding that it has been wronged by them--since
man deserved an infinite penalty for his disobedient rebellion against
God--Highest and Eternal Wisdom will not do thus; but finds an attractive
way, the most gentle and loving possible to find. For it sees that the
heart of man is in no wise so drawn as by love, because he was made by
love. This seems to be the reason why he loves so much, that he was made
by nothing but love, both his soul and his body. For by love God created
him in His Image and Likeness, and by love his father and mother gave him
substance, conceiving and bearing a son. God, therefore, seeing that man
is so ready to love, throws the book of love straight at him, giving him
the Word His Only-Begotten Son, who takes our humanity, to make a great
peace. But justice wills that vengeance should be wrought for the wrong
that has been done to God: so comes Divine Mercy and unspeakable Charity,
and to satisfy justice and mercy condemns His Son to death, having clothed
Him in our humanity--that is, with the clay of Adam, who sinned. So by His
death the wrath of the Father is pacified, having wrought justice on the
person of His son: so He has satisfied justice and has satisfied mercy,
releasing the human race from the hands of demons. This sweet Word jousted
in His arms upon the wood of the most holy Cross, death making a
tournament with life, and life with death: so that by His death He
destroyed our death, and to give us life He sacrificed the life of His
body. So then with love He has drawn us, and has conquered our malice with
His benignness, in so much that every heart should be drawn to Him: since
greater love one cannot show--and this He Himself said--than to give one's
life for one's friend. And if He commends the love which gives one's life
for a friend, what, then, shall we say of that most burning and complete
love which gave its life for its foe? For we through sin had been made
foes of God. Oh, sweet and amorous Word, who with love hast found thy
flock once more, and with love hast given Thy life for them, and hast
brought them back into the fold, restoring to them the Grace which they
had lost!

Holiest sweet "Babbo" mine, I see no other way for us, and no other help
in winning back your sheep, which have left the fold of Holy Church in
rebellion, not obedient nor subject to you, their father. I pray you
therefore, on behalf of Christ crucified, and I will that you do me this
grace, to overcome their malice with your benignity. Yours we are, father!
I know and recognize that they all feel that they have done wrong; but
although they have no excuse for their evil deeds, nevertheless it seemed
to them that they could not do otherwise on account of the many sufferings
and unjust and iniquitous things that they endured from bad shepherds and
governors. For, breathing the stench of the life of many rulers whom you
know yourself to be incarnate demons, they fell into the worst of fears,
so that they did like Pilate, who, not to lose the government, killed
Christ; so did they, for not to lose the state, they persecuted you. I ask
you, then, father, to show them mercy. Do not have regard to the ignorance
and pride of your sons; but with the food of love and of your benignity,
inflicting such sweet discipline and benign reproof as shall please your
Holiness, restore peace to us miserable children who have done wrong. I
tell you, sweet Christ on earth, on behalf of Christ in Heaven, that if
you do thus, without any strife or tempest, they will all come, grieving
for the wrong they have done, and will put their heads in your bosom. Then
you will rejoice, and we shall rejoice, because by love you have restored
the wandering sheep to the fold of Holy Church. And then, sweet my
"Babbo," you will fulfil your holy desire and the will of God, by making
the holy Crusade, which I summon you in His Name to do swiftly and without
negligence. They will turn to it with great eagerness; they are ready to
give their life for Christ. Ah me, God, sweet Love! Raise swiftly,
"Babbo," the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, and you will see the wolves
become lambs. Peace, peace, peace, that war may not delay this happy time!
But if you will wreak vengeance and justice, take them upon me, poor
wretch, and give me any pain and torment that may please you, even to
death. I believe that through the stench of my iniquities many evils have
happened, and many misfortunes and discords. On me, then, your poor
daughter, take any vengeance that you will. Ah me, father, I die of grief
and cannot die! Come, come, and resist no more the will of God that calls
you; and the hungry sheep await your coming to hold and possess the place
of your predecessor and champion, Apostle Peter. For you, as the Vicar of
Christ, should rest in your own place. Come, then, come, and delay no
more; and comfort you, and fear not for anything that might happen, since
God will be with you. I ask humbly your benediction, for me and for all my
sons; and I beg you to pardon my presumption. I say no more. Remain in the
holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


"Ahi, Constantin, di quanto mal fu matre,
Non la tua conversion, ma quella dote
Che da te prese il primo ricco patre!"

"For ever since Holy Church has aimed more at temporal than at spiritual
things, matters have gone from bad to worse." Catherine's sorrowful
denunciations of the sins of the Church recall the thought of Dante, the
thought of Petrarch--which is also the thought of all the great saints,
seers, and loyal Catholics, to whom through the Christian ages the
shortcoming of their spiritual mother has meant grief beyond words. The
lovely conception of Holy Church as a garden, borrowed though it be from
Holy Writ, she has made peculiarly her own by constant repetition. We
recognize in it the womanly imagination which, we are told, always found
refreshment in wreathing fragrant flowers and walking abroad through the
fields and woods.

Catherine in this letter presents explicitly her threefold policy: reform
of the Church, return to Rome, the initiation of a Crusade. In her little
letter to Sir John Hawkwood, we have already seen her devotion to this
last cause. A Crusade in the fourteenth century was not to be.
Nevertheless, Catherine never showed more political wisdom than in this
matter, and it was the one aim of her life in which she wholly failed. We
have in the Legenda Minore a racy account of a personal interview with
Gregory on the subject, in which she presented cogent considerations to
him. She shrewdly suggested that the mercenary troops who ravaged Italy,
and were "the very cause and nourishment of war," would gladly turn their
arms against the infidel, "For there are few people so wicked that they
are not willing to serve God by indulging their taste: all men would
gladly expiate their sins by doing what they enjoy." Behind all such
considerations of policy, however, lay, as we clearly see, the intense
desire that the infidels should be saved. And not for their own sake only.
Desperate and desolate as she beheld the worldliness of Christian folk,
and their remoteness from the faith and ardour of an earlier time,
Catherine ventured to dream that new converts, won from the peoples that
sat in darkness, might revive the spiritual life of Christendom by the
infusion of spiritual passion strong in young purity. "Oh, what joy it
would be," she wrote to Gregory, "could we see the Christian people
convert the Infidel! For when they had once received the Light, they might
reach great perfection, like a young plant which has escaped the wintry
cold of faithlessness, and expands in the warmth and light of the Holy
Spirit; so they might bear flowers and fruits of virtue in the mystical
body of Holy Church; so that the fragrance of their virtue might help us
to drive away the sins and vice, the pride and impurity, which abound to-
day among the Christian people, and above all among those high in Holy

It was a strange dream, and hopeless; but it was the dream of a saint.

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Most holy and dear and sweet father in Christ sweet Jesus: I your unworthy
daughter Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ,
write to you in His precious Blood. With desire have I desired to see in
you the fulness of divine grace, in such wise that you may be the means,
through divine grace, of pacifying all the universal world. Therefore, I
beg you, sweet my father, to use the instrument of your power and virtue,
with zeal, and hungry desire for the peace and honour of God and the
salvation of souls. And should you say to me, father--"The world is so
ravaged! How shall I attain peace?" I tell you, on behalf of Christ
crucified, it befits you to achieve three chief things through your power.
Do you uproot in the garden of Holy Church the malodorous flowers, full of
impurity and avarice, swollen with pride: that is, the bad priests and
rulers who poison and rot that garden. Ah me, you our Governor, do you use
your power to pluck out those flowers! Throw them away, that they may have
no rule! Insist that they study to rule themselves in holy and good life.
Plant in this garden fragrant flowers, priests and rulers who are true
servants of Jesus Christ, and care for nothing but the honour of God and
the salvation of souls, and are fathers of the poor. Alas, what confusion
is this, to see those who ought to be a mirror of voluntary poverty, meek
as lambs, distributing the possessions of Holy Church to the poor: and
they appear in such luxury and state and pomp and worldly vanity, more
than if they had turned them to the world a thousand times! Nay, many
seculars put them to shame who live a good and holy life. But it seems
that Highest and Eternal Goodness is having that done by force which is
not done by love; it seems that He is permitting dignities and luxuries to
be taken away from His Bride, as if He would show that Holy Church should
return to her first condition, poor, humble, and meek as she was in that
holy time when men took note of nothing but the honour of God and the
salvation of souls, caring for spiritual things and not for temporal. For
ever since she has aimed more at temporal than at spiritual, things have
gone from bad to worse. See therefore that God, in judgment, has allowed
much persecution and tribulation to befall her. But comfort you, father,
and fear not for anything that could happen, which God does to make her
state perfect once more, in order that lambs may feed in that garden, and
not wolves who devour the honour that should belong to God, which they
steal and give to themselves. Comfort you in Christ sweet Jesus; for I
hope that His aid will be near you, plenitude of divine grace, aid and
support divine in the way that I said before. Out of war you will attain
greatest peace; out of persecution, greatest unity; not by human power,
but by holy virtue, you will discomfit those visible demons, wicked men,
and those invisible demons who never sleep around us.

But reflect, sweet father, that you could not do this easily unless you
accomplished the other two things which precede the completion of the
other: that is, your return to Rome and uplifting of the standard of the
most holy Cross. Let not your holy desire fail on account of any scandal
or rebellion of cities which you might see or hear; nay, let the flame of
holy desire be more kindled to wish to do swiftly. Do not delay, then,
your coming. Do not believe the devil, who perceives his own loss, and so
exerts himself to rob you of your possessions in order that you may lose
your love and charity and our coming be hindered. I tell you, father in
Christ Jesus, come swiftly like a gentle lamb. Respond to the Holy Spirit
who calls you. I tell you, Come, come, come, and do not wait for time,
since time does not wait for you. Then you will do like the Lamb Slain
whose place you hold, who without weapons in His hand slew our foes,
coming in gentleness, using only the weapons of the strength of love,
aiming only at care of spiritual things, and restoring grace to man who
had lost it through sin.

Alas, sweet my father, with this sweet hand I pray you, and tell you to
come to discomfit our enemies. On behalf of Christ crucified I tell it
you: refuse to believe the counsels of the devil, who would hinder your
holy and good resolution. Be manly in my sight, and not timorous. Answer
God, who calls you to hold and possess the seat of the glorious Shepherd
St. Peter, whose vicar you have been. And raise the standard of the holy
Cross; for as we were freed by the Cross--so Paul says--thus raising this
standard, which seems to me the refreshment of Christians, we shall be
freed--we from our wars and divisions and many sins, the infidel people
from their infidelity. In this way you will come and attain the
reformation, giving good priests to Holy Church. Fill her heart with the
ardent love that she has lost; for she has been so drained of blood by the
iniquitous men who have devoured her that she is wholly wan. But comfort
you, and come, father, and no longer make to wait the servants of God, who
afflict themselves in desire. And I, poor, miserable woman, can wait no
more; living, I seem to die in my pain, seeing God thus reviled. Do not,
then, hold off from peace because of the circumstance which has occurred
at Bologna, but come; for I tell you that the fierce wolves will put their
heads in your bosom like gentle lambs, and will ask mercy from you,
father. I say no more. I beg you, father, to hear and hark that which Fra
Raimondo will say to you, and the other sons with him, who come in the
Name of Christ crucified and of me; for they are true servants of God and
sons of Holy Church. Pardon, father, my ignorance, and may the love and
grief which make me speak excuse me to your benignity. Give me your
benediction. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus


The last letter tells us that Catherine had sent to the Pope her beloved
Confessor, who was later to become her biographer--Fra Raimondo of Capua.
It is evident that the simple Italian priest and his companions have
become somewhat daunted by the conditions they have encountered at
Avignon; and, indeed, the subtlest temptations and most perplexing
problems that Europe could furnish were doubtless focussed at the Papal
Court. Just what the difficulties were which Raimondo had confided to
Catherine and which called forth this spirited answer, we do not know, but
we can easily imagine their nature. A holy man of considerable learning,
Fra Raimondo was also of mild disposition, much inclined to sigh over
dangers and blench before exposure. Catherine, on more than one occasion,
showed herself the better man of the two. There was a militant strain in
her bright nature; she was really the "Happy Warrior"--

"Whose powers shed round him in the common strife
Or mild concerns of ordinary life
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw."

So, in this letter, we find the daughter encouraging the father, with
reflections much in the temper of Browning:

"Was the trial sore,
Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
Why come temptations but for man to meet,
And master, and make crouch beneath his feet,
And so be pedestalled in triumph!"

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Reverend father in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of
the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with
desire to see you and the other sons clothed in the wedding garment that
covers all our nakedness. That is a protection which does not let the
blows of our adversary the devil pierce our flesh with mortal wound, but
makes us rather strengthened than weakened by every blow of temptation or
molesting of devils or fellow-creatures or our own flesh, rebellious to
the spirit. I say that these blows not only do not hurt us, but they shall
be precious stones and pearls placed on this garment of most burning

Now suppose there should be a soul that did not have to endure many
labours and temptations, from whatever direction and in whatever wise God
may grant them. No virtue would be tested in it; for virtue is tested by
its opposite. How is purity tested and won? Through the contrary--that is,
through the vexations of uncleanliness. For were a man unclean already,
there would be no need for him to be molested by unclean reflections, but
because it is evident that his will is free from all depraved consenting,
and purified from every spot by his holy and true desire to serve his
Creator, therefore the devil, the world, and the flesh molest him. Yes,
everything is driven out by its opposite. See how humility is won through
pride. When a man sees himself molested by that vice of pride, at once he
humbles himself, recognizing himself to be faulty--proud: while had he not
been so molested he would not have known himself so well. When he has
humbled and seen himself, he conceives hatred in such wise that he joys
and exults in every pain and injury that he bears. Such a one is like a
manful knight, who does not avoid blows. Nay, he holds him unworthy of so
great grace, as it seems to him to be, to bear pain, temptations and
vexations for Christ crucified. All is through the hate he has for
himself, and the love he has conceived for virtue.

So you see that we are not to flee nor to grieve in the time of darkness,
since from the darkness light is born. O God, sweet Love, what sweet
doctrine Thou givest, that through the contrary of virtue, virtue is won!
Out of impatience is won patience; for the soul that feels the vice of
impatience becomes patient over the injury received, and is impatient
toward the vice of impatience, and is more hurt because it is hurt than
over anything else. And so out of the very contrary its perfection comes
to be won. It is not aware of this; it finds itself become perfect in many
storms and temptations. In no other wise does one ever arrive at the
harbour of perfection.

Yea, meditate on this: that the soul can never receive nor desire virtue,
unless it has cravings, vexations and temptations to endure with true and
holy patience for the love of Christ crucified. We ought, then, to joy and
exult in the time of conflicts, vexations and shadows, since from them
proceeds such virtue and delight. Oh me, my son given me by Mary that
sweet mother, I do not want you to fall into weariness or confusion
through any vexations that you might feel in your mind; but I want you to
keep that good and holy and true faithful will which I know that God in
His mercy has given you. I know that you would rather die than offend Him
mortally. Yes, I want that out of the shadows should issue knowledge of
yourself, free from confusion; out of your goodwill should issue knowledge
of the infinite goodness and unspeakable charity of God; and in this
knowledge may our soul abide and fatten. Reflect that through love He
keeps your will good, and does not let it run by its own consent or
pleasure after the suggestions of the devil. And so, through love, He has
permitted to you and me and His other servants, the many vexations and
deceits of the devil and fellow-creatures and our own flesh, solely in
order that we might rise from negligence, and reach perfect zeal, true
humility and most ardent charity: humility which comes from knowledge of
self, and charity which comes from knowledge of the goodness of God. There
is the soul inspired and consumed by love.

Joy, father, and exult; and comfort you, without any servile fear, and
fear not, for any thing that you should see happen. But comfort you: for
perfection is near you. And answer the devil saying: "That power against
you did not work through me, since it was not in me; it works through
grace of the infinite pity and mercy of God." Yes, through Christ
crucified you shall be able to do all things. Carry on all your works with
living faith; and do not wonder should you see some contrary circumstance
present itself which seemed to oppose your work. Comfort you, comfort you,
because the Sweet Primal Truth has promised to fulfil your and my desire
for you. Slay yourself through your burning desire, with the Lamb that was
slain; rest you upon the Cross with Christ crucified. Rejoice in Christ
crucified; rejoice in pains; steep yourself in shames for Christ
crucified; graft your heart and your affection into the tree of the most
holy Cross with Christ crucified, and make in His wounds your habitation.
And pardon me, cause and instrument that I am of your every pain and
imperfection; for were I an instrument of virtue, you and others would
breathe the fragrance of virtue. And I do not say these words because I
want you to suffer, for your suffering would be mine; but that you may
have compassion, you and the other sons, upon my miseries. I hope and
firmly hold, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He will put limit
and end to all those things that are apart from the will of God.

Reflect that I, poor miserable woman, abide in the body, and find me
through desire continually away from the body. Oh me, sweet and good
Jesus! I die and cannot die, my heart breaks and cannot break, from the
desire that I have of the renewal of Holy Church, for the honour of God
and the salvation of every creature; and to see you and the others arrayed
in purity, burned and consumed in His most ardent charity!

Tell Christ on earth not to make me wait longer; and when I shall see him,
I shall sing with Simeon, that sweet old man: "Nunc dimittis servum tuum,
Domine, secundum verbum tuum, in pace." I say no more; for did I follow my
wish, I should begin again at once. Make me see and feel you bound and
fastened into Christ sweet Jesus, in such wise that nor demon nor creature
can ever separate you from so sweet a bond. Love, love, love one another.
Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


From the comparative quiet of her home Catherine looks off to far
horizons, surveying the religious and political world. She can encourage
Fra Raimondo, yet the sword has pierced her heart. This letter is full of
sickening recognition of evils that hold grave prevision of worse


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