Letters of Catherine Benincasa
by Catherine Benincasa
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Ardour is the first trait which one feels in approaching the character of Catherine; but the second is fidelity. Neither the one nor the other flagged till the hour of her death. In the grave and tranquil words of this letter we can see, yet more clearly, perhaps, than in the fervid utterances of hours of excitement or crisis, how profound was her conception of the Church, how fixed her resolution to sacrifice herself for "that sweet Bride." Gregory has returned to Italy, and Catherine is knowing a brief respite from public responsibilities in the comparative retirement of Siena. But peace is not yet made with Florence, nor is the reform of the Church even begun. Her heart, however, refuses to harbour discouragement, and seeking as ever to hold others to the same steady pitch of faith and consecration which she herself maintained, she writes to the secretary of the Pope. He appears to have been a holy man who shared her aspirations, but he was evidently disheartened by the apparent failure of his efforts and by the necessary absorption in external things of a life dedicated to public affairs. Catherine's keen analysis leaves Nicholas of Osimo no excuse for indolence. Her letter, especially in the earlier portion, reads like a paraphrase of Newman's fine verses on "Sensitiveness":—

"Time was, I shrank from what was right For fear of what was wrong: I would not mingle in the fight Because the foe was strong:

"But now I cast that finer sense And sorer shame aside: Such dread of sin was indolence, Such aim at heaven was pride.

"So, when my Saviour calls, I rise, And calmly do my best, Leaving to Him, with silent eyes Of hope and fear, the rest.

"I step, I mount, where He has led; Men count my haltings o'er; I know them; yet, though self I dread, I love His precept more."

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

Dearest and most 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 a firm pillar, that shall never move, except in God; never avoiding or refusing the toils and labours laid on you in the mystical body of Holy Church, the sweet Bride of Christ— neither for the ingratitude and ignorance you found among those who feed in that garden, nor from the weariness that might afflict us from seeing the affairs of the Church get into a disorderly state. For it often happens that when a man is spending all his efforts on something, and it does not come about in the way or to the end that he wants, his mind falls into weariness and sadness, as if he reflected and said: "It is better for thee to give up this enterprise which thou hast begun and worked on so long, and it is not yet come to an end: and to seek peace and quiet in thy own mind." Then the soul ought to reply boldly, hungering for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, and decline personal consolation, and say: "I will not avoid or flee from labour, for I am not worthy of peace and quiet of mind. Nay, I wish to remain in that state which I have chosen, and manfully to give honour to God with my labour, and my labour to my neighbour." Yet sometimes the devil, to make our enterprises weary us, when we feel little peace of mind, will make a suggestion to the man, saying in his thought: "I am doing more harm in this thing than I am deserving good. So I would gladly run away from it, not on account of the labour, but because I do not want to do harm." Oh, dearest father, do not yield either to yourself or the devil, nor believe him, when he puts such thoughts into your heart and mind; but embrace your labour with gladness and ardent desire, and without any servile fear.

And do not be afraid to do wrong in this; for wrong is shown to us in a disordered and perverse will. For when the will is not settled in God, then one does wrong. The time of the soul is not lost because it may be deprived of consolations, and of saying its office and many psalms, and cannot say them at the right time or place, or with that peace of mind which it would itself wish. Nay, it is occupied wholly for God. So it ought not to feel pain in its mind—especially when it is labouring and working for the Bride of Christ. For in whatever way or concerning whatever matter we are labouring for her, it is so deserving and gives such pleasure to God, that our intellect does not suffice to see or imagine it.

I recall, dearest father, a servant of God to whom it was shown how pleasing this service is to Him; I tell this that you may be encouraged to bear labours for Holy Church. This servant of God, as I understood, having one time among others an intense desire to shed her blood and her life and annihilate her very consciousness for Holy Church, the Bride of Christ, lifted the eye of her mind to know that she had no being in herself, and to know the goodness of God toward her—that is, to see how God through love had given her being and all gifts and graces that follow from being. So, seeing and tasting such love and such depths of mercy, she saw not how she could respond to God except by love. But because she could be of no use to Him, she could not show her love; therefore she gave herself to considering whether she found anyone to love through Him, by whom she might show love. So she saw that God loved supremely His rational creatures, and she found the same love to all that was given to herself, for all are loved of God. This was the means she found (which showed whether she loved God or not) by which she could be of use. So then she rose ardently, full of charity to her neighbours, and conceived such love for their salvation that she would willingly have given her life for it. So the service which she could not render to God she desired to render to her neighbour. And when she had realized that it befitted her to respond by means of her neighbour, and thus to render Him love for love—as God by means of the Word, His Son, has shown us love and mercy—so, seeing that by means of desire for the salvation of souls, giving honour to God and labour to one's neighbour, God was well pleased—she looked then to see in what garden and upon what table the neighbour might be enjoyed.

Then Our Saviour showed her, saying: "Dearest daughter, it befits thee to eat in the garden of my Bride, upon the table of the most holy Cross, giving thy suffering, and crucified desire, and vigils and prayers, and every activity that thou canst, without negligence. Know that thou canst not have desire for the salvation of souls without having it for Holy Church; for she is the universal body of all creatures who share the light of holy faith, who can have no life if they are not obedient to My Bride. Therefore, thou oughtest to desire to see thy Christian neighbours, and the infidels and every rational creature, feeding in this garden, under the yoke of holy obedience, clothed in the light of living faith, and with good and holy works—for faith without works is dead. This is the common hunger and desire of that whole body. But now I say and will that thou grow yet more in hunger and desire, and hold thee ready to lay down thy life, if need be, in especial, in the mystical body of Holy Church, for the reform of My Bride. For when she is reformed, the profit of the whole world will follow. How? Because through darkness, and ignorance, and self- love, and impurities, and swollen pride, darkness and death are born in the souls of her subjects. So I summon thee and my other servants to labour in desire, in vigils, and prayer, and every other work, according to the skill which I give you; for I tell thee that the labour and service offered her are so pleasing to me, that not only they shall be rewarded in My servants who have a sincere and holy intention, but also in the servants of the world, who often serve her through self-love, though also many a time through reverence for Holy Church. Wherefore I tell thee that there is no one who serves her reverently—so good I hold this service— who shall not be rewarded; and I tell thee that such shall not see eternal death. So, likewise, in those who wrong and serve ill and irreverently My Bride, I shall not let that wrong go unpunished, by one way or another."

Then, as she saw such greatness and generosity in the goodness of God, and perceived what ought to be done to please Him more, the flame of desire so increased that had it been possible for her to give her life for Holy Church a thousand times a day, and from now till the final judgment day, it seemed to her that it would be less than a drop of wine in the sea. And so it really is.

I wish you, then, and summon you, to labour for her as you have always done; yea, you are a pillar, who have placed yourself to support and help this Bride. So you ought to be, as I said—so that neither tribulation nor consolation should ever stir you. Nor because many contrary winds are blowing to hinder those who walk in the way of truth, ought we for any reason to look back. Therefore I said that I desired to see you a firm pillar. Up, then, dearest and sweetest father: because it is our hour to give for that Bride honour to God and labour to her. I beg you, by the love of Christ crucified, to pray the holy father that he adopt zealously, without negligence, every remedy which can be found consistent to his conscience for the reform of Holy Church and peace to this great war which is damning so many souls, since for all negligence and lukewarmness God will rebuke Him most severely, and will demand the souls who through this are perishing. Commend me to him; and I ask him humbly for his benediction. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


The familiar but ever-noble theology with which this letter opens, leads first to a severe description of the unworthy and mercenary man, which is followed by a temperately wise discussion of the true use of worldly pleasures and goods. "Whatever God has made is good and perfect," says Catherine—"except sin, which was not made by Him, and so is not worthy of love." The modern religious Epicureanism which would applaud this sentiment would, however, be less contented with the sequel; for Catherine never forgets the anti-modern position that, though possession be legitimate to the Christian, it is, after all, "more perfect to renounce than to possess," and that the man who has preserved true detachment of mind towards this world's goods will, by inevitable logic, come to hunger, sooner or later, for detachment in deed.

It is a curiously tranquil letter to have been written in trance. Whatever the mysterious condition may have been, it evidently did not rob Catherine of her mental sanity and sobriety. The Doctor of Laws to whom it was addressed was a person of considerable importance in the public and legal life of his time. One cannot help suspecting a personal bearing in the severe description of the hard man—evidently a lawyer—who makes the poor wait before giving them counsel: yet, perhaps, the suspicion is unwarranted, and the letter carried to Misser Lorenzo nothing more searching than a general account of the temptations to which his profession was subject.

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

Dearest brother and 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 a lover and follower of truth and a despiser of falsehood. But this truth cannot be possessed or loved if it is not known. Who is Truth? God is the Highest and Eternal Truth. In whom shall we know Him? In Christ sweet Jesus, for He shows us with His Blood the truth of the Eternal Father. His truth toward us is this, that He created us in His image and likeness to give us life eternal, that we might share and enjoy His Good. But through man's sin this truth was not fulfilled in him, and therefore God gave us the Word His Son, and imposed this obedience on Him, that He should restore man to grace through much endurance, purging the sin of man in His own Person, and manifesting His truth in His Blood. So man knows, by the unsearchable love which he finds shown to him through the Blood of Christ crucified, that God nor seeks nor wills aught but our sanctification. For this end we were created; and whatever God gives or permits to us in this life, He gives that we may be sanctified in Him. He who knows this truth never jars with it, but always follows and loves it, walking in the footsteps of Christ crucified. And as this sweet loving Word, for our example and teaching, despised the world and all delights, and chose to endure hunger and thirst, shame and reproach, even to the shameful death on the Cross, for the honour of the Father and our salvation, so does he who is the lover of the truth which he knows in the light of most holy faith, follow this way and these footsteps. For without this light it could not be known; but when a man has the light, he knows it, and knowing it, loves it, and becomes a lover of what God loves, and hates what God hates.

There is this difference between him who loves the truth and him who hates it. He who hates the truth, lies in the darkness of mortal sin. He hates what God loves, and loves what God hates. God hates sin, and the inordinate joys and luxuries of the world, and such a man loves it all, fattening himself on the world's wretched trifles, and corrupting himself in every rank. If he has an office in which he ought to minister in some way to his neighbour, he serves him only so far as he can get some good for himself out of it, and no farther, and becomes a lover of himself. Christ the Blessed gave His life for us, and such a man will not give one word to serve his neighbour unless he sees it paid, and overpaid. If the neighbour happens to be a poor man who cannot pay, he makes him wait before telling him the truth, and often does not tell it to him at all, but makes fun of him; and where he ought to be pitiful and a father of the poor, he becomes cruel to his own soul because he wrongs the poor. But the wretched man does not see that the Highest Judge will return to him nothing else than what he receives from him, since every sin is justly punished and every good rewarded. Christ embraced voluntary poverty and was a lover of continence; the wretched man who has made himself a follower and lover of falsehood does just the contrary; not only does he fail to be content with what he has, or to refrain through love of virtue, but he robs other people. Nor does he remain content in the state of marriage, in which, if it is observed as it should be, a man can stay with a good conscience; but he plunges into every wretchedness, like a brute beast, without moderation, and as the pig rolls in filth, so does he in the filth of impurity.

But we might say: "What shall I do, who have riches, and am in the state of marriage, if these things bring damnation to my soul?" Dearest brother, a man can save his soul and receive the life of grace into himself, in whatever condition he may be; but not while he abides in guilt of mortal sin. For every condition is pleasing to God, and He is the acceptor, not of men's conditions, but of holy desire. So we may hold to these things when they are held with a temperate will; for whatever God has made is good and perfect, except sin, which was not made by Him, and therefore is not worthy of love. A man can hold to riches and worldly place if he likes, and he does not wrong God nor his own soul; but it would be greater perfection if he renounced them, because there is more perfection in renunciation than in possession. If he does not wish to renounce them in deed, he ought to renounce and abandon them with holy desire, and not to place his chief affections upon them, but upon God alone; and let him keep these things to serve his own needs and those of his family, like a thing that is lent and not like his own. So doing, he will never suffer pain from any created thing; for a thing that is not possessed with love is never lost with sorrow. So we see that the servants of the world, lovers of falsehood, endure very great sufferings in their life, and bitter tortures to the very end. What is the reason? The inordinate love they have for themselves and for created things, which they love apart from God. For the Divine Goodness has permitted that every inordinate affection should be unendurable to itself.

Such a man as this always believes falsehood, because there is no knowledge of truth in him. And he thinks to hold to the world and abide in delights, to make a god of his body, and of the other things that he loves immoderately a god, and he must leave them all. We see that either he leaves them by dying, or God permits that they be taken from him first. Every day we see it. For now a man is rich, and now poor; to-day he is exalted in worldly state, and to-morrow he is cast down; now he is well, and now ill. So all things are mutable, and are taken from us when we think to clasp them firmly; or we are snatched away from them by death.

So you see that all things pass. Then, seeing that they pass, they should be possessed with moderation in the light of reason, loved in such wise as they should be loved. And he who holds them thus will not hold them with the help of sin, but with grace; with generosity of heart, and not with avarice; in pity for the poor, and not in cruelty; in humility, not in pride; in gratitude, not in ingratitude: and will recognize that his possessions come from his Creator, and not himself. With this same temperate love he will love his children, his friends, his relatives, and all other rational beings. He will hold the condition of marriage as ordained, and ordained as a Sacrament; and will have in respect the days commanded by Holy Church. He will be and live like a man, and not a beast; and will be, not indeed ascetic, but continent and self-controlled. Such a man will be a fruitful tree, that will bear the fruits of virtue, and will be fragrant, shedding perfume although planted in the earth; and the seed that issues from him will be good and virtuous.

So you see that you can have God in any condition; for the condition is not what robs us of Him, but the evil will alone, which, when it is set on loving falsehood, is ill-ordered and corrupts a man's every work. But if he loves truth, he follows the footsteps of truth; so he hates what truth hates and loves what truth loves, and then his every work is good and perfect. Otherwise it would not be possible for him to share the life of grace, nor would any work of his bear living fruit.

So, knowing no other way, I said that I desired to see you a lover and follower of truth and despiser of falsehood; hating the devil the father of lies, and your own lower nature, that follows such a parent; and loving Christ crucified, who is Way, Truth and Life. For He who walks in Him reaches the Light, and is clothed in the shining garment of charity, wherein are all virtues found. Which charity and love unspeakable, when it is in the soul, holds itself not content in the common state, but desires to advance further. Thus from mental poverty it desires to advance to actual, and from mental continence to actual; to observe the Counsels as well as the Commandments of Christ; for it begins to feel aversion for the dunghill of the world. And because it sees the difficulty of being in filth and not defiled, it longs with breathless desire and burning charity to free itself by one act from the world so far as possible. If it is not able to escape in deed, it studies to be perfect in its own place. At least, it does not lack desire.

Then, dearest brother, let us sleep no more, but awaken from slumber. Open the eye of the mind in the light of faith, to know, to love, to follow that truth which you shall know through the Blood of the humble and loving Lamb. You shall know that Blood in the knowledge of yourself, that the face of your soul may be washed therein. And it is ours, and none can take it from us unless we choose. Then be negligent no more; but like a vase, fill yourself with the Blood of Christ crucified. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


These informal little notes were written probably in the autumn of 1377 while Catherine was making a visit to the feudal stronghold of the Salimbeni family, about twenty-three miles from Siena, among the foothills of Monte Amiata. The young "populana" was admitted to the intimate counsels of these great nobles, leaders of the opposition to the popular government with which her own sympathies would naturally have lain. It must have been a new experience to the town-bred girl—life in this castle-eyrie among the hills, where mercenary troops and rude peasants thronged the courtyard, and manners, one surmises, must have been at once more artful and more brutal than among her bourgeois friends. We hear of picturesque scenes, where men and women afflicted of demons are brought writhing into her presence, to be welcomed, cared for, and healed. She had the comfort of the company of several confessors; the first of these letters shows them labouring with homely eagerness, quaintly expressed, for the religious welfare of the wild soldiery. Absorbed, as ever, in the inward life, Catherine was as tranquilly at home here in the mountains, among the great ladies of the Salimbeni family, as in Siena or in the papal court.

Meantime, good Monna Lapa grumbled as of old over the separation from her daughter; and evidently Catherine's sister mantellate were also disconsolate. She writes them very gently, very simply, trying to reconcile them by the reminder of like sorrows borne by that first group of disciples to whom she and her friends loved to compare themselves. To her beloved Alessa she expresses herself more freely, giving just the details of health and mental state that intimate love would crave. These were sad days in her private life; for she had parted from Fra Raimondo, who had been called to other service. Her words to Alessa reflect her sadness, and also her entire submission. It is noticeable that she respects the secrets of her hosts with dignity, giving no hint on the matters that occupied her beyond the reticent statement to her mother: "I believe that if you knew the circumstances you yourself would send me here."

This is not the only time by any means that Catherine had to meet similar complaints. Wherever she bore her strong vitality, limitless sympathy and peculiar charm, new friends gathered around her and clung to her with an unreasoning devotion that cried out in exacting hunger for her presence, and often proved to her a real distress. For Catherine, swiftly responsive as she was to individual affections, perfect in loyalty as she always showed herself, moved, nevertheless, in a region where unswerving service of a larger duty might at any moment force her to refuse to gratify, at least in outward ways, the personal claim. This was very hard for her friends to understand; one is sorry for them. At the same time, one feels more than a little pathos in her efforts to bring these simpler minds into understanding sympathy with that high sense of vocation which underlay all her doings: "Know, dearest mother, that I, your poor little daughter, am not put on earth for anything else than this; to this my Creator has chosen me. I know you are content that I should obey Him." But Monna Lapa never was quite content—not to the very end.


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

Dearest mother and 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 so clothed in the flames of divine charity that you may bear all pain and torment, hunger and thirst, persecution and injury, derision, outrage and insult, and everything else, with true patience; learning from the Lamb suffering and slain, who ran with such burning love to the shameful death of the Cross. Do you then keep in companionship with sweetest Mother Mary, who, in order that the holy disciples might seek the honour of God and the salvation of souls, following the footsteps of her sweet Son, consents that they should leave her presence, although she loved them supremely: and she stays as if alone, a guest and a pilgrim. And the disciples, who loved her beyond measure, yet leave her joyously, enduring every grief for the honour of God, and go out among tyrants, enduring many persecutions. And if you ask them: "Why do you carry yourselves so joyously, and you are going away from Mary?" they would reply: "Because we have lost ourselves, and are enamoured of the honour of God and the salvation of souls." Well, dearest mother and daughter, I want you to do just so. If up to now you have not been, I want you to be now, kindled in the fire of divine charity, seeking always the honour of God and the salvation of souls. Otherwise you would fall into the greatest grief and tribulation, and would drag me down into them. Know, dearest mother, that I, your poor little daughter, am not put on earth for anything else; to this my Creator has elected me. I know you are content that I should obey Him. I beg you that if I seemed to stay away longer than pleased your will, you will be contented; for I cannot do otherwise. I believe that if you knew the circumstances you yourself would send me here. I am staying to find help if I can for a great scandal. It is no fault of the Countess, though; therefore do you all pray God and that glorious Virgin to send us a good result. And do you, Cecca, and Giustina, drown yourselves in the Blood of Christ crucified; for now is the time to prove the virtue in your soul. God give His sweet and eternal benediction to you all. 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 daughters 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 obedient daughters, united in true and perfect charity. This obedience and love will dissipate all your suffering and gloom; for obedience removes the thing which gives us suffering, that is our own perverse will, which is wholly destroyed in true holy obedience. Gloom is scattered and consumed by the impulse of charity and unity, for God is true charity and highest eternal light. He who has this true light for his guide, cannot miss the road. Therefore, dearest daughters, I want, since it is so necessary, that you should study to lose your own will and to gain this light.

This is the doctrine which I remember has always been given you, although you have learned little of it. That which is not done, I beg you to do, dearest daughters. If you did not, you would abide in continual sufferings, and would drag poor me, who deserve every suffering, into them too.

We must do for the honour of God as the holy apostles did. When they had received the Holy Spirit, they separated from one another, and from that sweet mother Mary. Although it was their greatest delight to stay together, yet they gave up their own delight, and sought the honour of God and the salvation of souls. And although Mary sends them away from her, they do not therefore hold that love is diminished, or that they are deprived of the affection of Mary. This is the rule that we must take to ourselves. I know that my presence is a great consolation to you. Nevertheless, as truly obedient, you should not seek your own consolation, for the honour of God and the salvation of souls: and do not give place to the devil, who makes it look to you as if you were deprived of the love and devotion which I bear to your souls and bodies. Were it otherwise, true love would not be built on you. I assure you that I do not love you otherwise than in God. Why do you fall into such unregulated suffering over things which must necessarily be so? Oh, what shall we do when it shall befit us to do great deeds if we fail so in the little ones? We shall have to be together or separated according as things shall befall. Just now our sweet Saviour wills and permits that we be separated for His honour.

You are in Siena, and Cecca and Grandma are in Montepulciano. Frate Bartolomeo and Frate Matteo will be there and have been there. Alessa and Monna Bruna are at Monte Giove, eighteen miles from Montepulciano; they are with the Countess and Monna Lisa. Frate Raimondo and Frate Tommaso and Monna Tomma and Lisa and I are at Rocca among the Free-lances. And so many incarnate demons are being eaten up that Frate Tommaso says that his stomach aches over it! With all this they cannot be satisfied, and they are hungry for more, and find work here at a good price. Pray the Divine Goodness to give them big, sweet and bitter mouthfuls! Think that the honour of God and the salvation of souls is being sweetly seen. You ought not to want or desire anything else. You could do nothing more pleasing to the highest eternal will of God, and to mine, than feeling thus. Up, my daughters, begin to sacrifice your own wills to God! Don't be ready always to stay nurselings—for you should get the teeth of your desire ready to bite hard and musty bread, if needs be.

I say no more. Bind you in the sweet bands of love, so you will show that you are daughters—not otherwise. Comfort you in Christ sweet Jesus, and comfort all the other daughters. We will come back as soon as we can, according as it shall please the Divine Goodness. 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 follow the doctrine of the Spotless Lamb with a free heart, divested of every creature-love, clothed only with the Creator, in the light of most holy faith. For without the light thou couldst not walk in the straight way of the Slain and Spotless Lamb. Therefore my soul desires to see thee and the others clean and virile, and not blown about by every wind that may befall. Beware of looking back, but go on steadily, holding in mind the teaching that has been given thee. Be sure to enter every day anew into the garden of thy soul with the light of faith to pull up every thorn that might smother the seed of the teaching given thee, and to turn over the earth; that is, every day do thou divest thy heart. It is necessary to divest it over and over; for many a time I have seen people who seemed to have divested themselves, whom I have found clothed in sin, by evidence rather of deed than of words. The opposite might appear by their words, but deeds showed their affections. I want, then, that thou shouldst divest thy heart in truth, following Christ crucified. And let silence abide on thy lips. I have taken note; for I believe that the other woman holds to it very little. I am very sorry for that. If it is so, as it seems to me, my Creator wills that I should bear it, and I am content to do so: but I am not content with the wrong done to God.

Thou didst write me that God seemed to constrain thee in thy orisons to pray for me. Thanks be to the Divine Goodness, who shows such unspeakable love to my poor soul! Thou didst tell me to write thee if I were suffering and had my usual infirmities at this time. I reply that God has cared for me marvellously, within and without. He has cared very much for my body this Advent, causing the pains to be diverted by writing; it is true that, by the goodness of God, they have been worse than they used to be. If He made them worse, He saw to it that Lisa was cured as soon as Frate Santi fell ill—for he has been at the point of death. Now, almost miraculously, he has grown so much better that he can be called cured. But apparently my Bridegroom, Eternal Truth, has wished to put me to a very sweet and genuine test, inward and outward, in the things which are seen and those which are not—the latter beyond count the greater. But while He was testing us, He has cared for us so gently as tongue could not tell. Therefore I wish pains to be food to me, tears my drink, sweat my ointment. Let pains make me fat, let pains cure me, let pains give me light, let pains give me wisdom, let pains clothe my nakedness, let pains strip me of all self-love, spiritual and temporal. The pain of lacking consolations from my fellow-creatures has called me to consider my own lack of virtue, recognizing my imperfection, and the very perfect light of Sweet Truth, who gives and receives, not material things, but holy desires: Him who has not withdrawn His goodness toward me for my little light or knowledge, but has had regard only to Himself, the One supremely Good.

I beg thee by the love of Jesus Christ crucified, dearest my daughter, do not slacken in prayer: nay, redouble it—for I have greater need thereof than thou seest—and do thou thank the Goodness of God for me. And pray Him to give me grace that I may give my life for Him, and to take away, if so please Him, the burden of my body. For my life is of very little use to anyone else; rather is it painful and oppressive to every person, far and near, by reason of my sins. May God by His mercy take from me such great faults, and for the little time that I have to live, may He make me live impassioned by the love of virtue! And may I in pain offer before Him my dolorous and suffering desires for the salvation of all the world and the reformation of Holy Church! Joy, joy in the Cross with me! So may the Cross be a bed where the soul may rest: a table where may be tasted heavenly food, the fruit of patience with quietness and assurance.

Thou didst send to me saying ... I was consoled by this thing, both by her life, hoping that she is correcting herself and living with less vanity of heart than she has done till now, and also by the children's having been brought to the light of Holy Baptism. May God give them His sweetest grace, and grant them death if they are not to be good! Bless them, and comfort her, in Christ sweet Jesus: and tell her to live in the holy and sweet fear of God, and to recognize the grace she has received from God, which has not been small but very great. Were she to be ungrateful, it would much displease God, and perhaps He would not leave her unpunished.

I commend to thee ... I have had no news at all of them, I do not know why. The will of God be done! Our Saviour has put me on the Island, and the winds beat from every side. Let everyone rejoice in Christ crucified, however far one from the other. Shut thee into the house of self- knowledge. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


There is no evidence as to the date of this letter, but the tone is such that Catherine's latest editor is probably right in placing it after the return of the Pope to Italy. It suggests that a long relation is drawing to a close, and closing, so far as Catherine is concerned, in disappointment. Never, in her earlier relations with Gregory, would she have gone such lengths as here, in her amazing hint that he would better resign the Papacy if he finds himself unable to sustain the moral burdens it imposes. The Pope is at Rome, but he has changed his sky and not his mind. Catherine's letter is a brief and powerful summary of oft-reiterated pleas. In the solemnity and authority of its adjurations, in the distinctness of its accusations, it is surely one of the most surprising epistles ever written by a devout and wholly faithful subject to her acknowledged head. Such a letter proceeds, indeed, from a spiritual region where all earthly distinctions—ecclesiastical as well as intellectual or social—are lost to sight, and the illiterate daughter of the dyer can rebuke and exhort as by her natural right him whom with unwavering faith she believed to be the God-appointed father of all Christian people. Catherine's patience, one feels, is near the breaking point: and heart- break for her is in truth not many years away.

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

Most holy and sweet father, your poor unworthy daughter Catherine in Christ sweet Jesus, commends herself to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you a manly man, free from any fear or fleshly love toward yourself, or toward any creature related to you in the flesh; since I perceive in the sweet Presence of God that nothing so hinders your holy, good desire and so serves to hinder the honour of God and the exaltation and reform of Holy Church, as this. Therefore, my soul desires with immeasurable love that God by His infinite mercy may take from you all passion and lukewarmness of heart, and re-form you another man, by forming in you anew a burning and ardent desire; for in no other way could you fulfil the will of God and the desire of His servants. Alas, alas, sweetest "Babbo" mine, pardon my presumption in what I have said to you and am saying; I am constrained by the Sweet Primal Truth to say it. His will, father, is this, and thus demands of you. It demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church; declaring that brutes should not be fed with the food of men. Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honour to God and health to your soul would it be.

Another demand that His will makes is this: He wills that you make peace with all Tuscany, with which you are at strife; securing from all your wicked sons who have rebelled against you whatever is possible to secure without war—but punishing them as a father ought to punish a son who has wronged him. Moreover, the sweet goodness of God demands from you that you give full authority to those who ask you to make ready for the Holy Crusade—that thing which appears impossible to you, and possible to the sweet goodness of God, who has ordained it, and wills that so it be. Beware, as you hold your life dear, that you commit no negligence in this, nor treat as jests the works of the Holy Spirit, which are demanded from you because you can do them. If you want justice, you can execute it. You can have peace, withdrawing from the perverse pomps and delights of the world, preserving only the honour of God and the due of Holy Church. Authority also you have to give peace to those who ask you for it. Then, since you are not poor but rich—you who bear in your hand the keys of Heaven, to whom you open it is open, and to whom you shut it is shut—if you do not do this, you would be rebuked by God. I, if I were in your place, should fear lest divine judgment come upon me. Therefore I beg you most gently on behalf of Christ crucified to be obedient to the will of God, for I know that you want and desire no other thing than to do His will, that this sharp rebuke fall not upon you: "Cursed be thou, for the time and the strength entrusted to thee thou hast not used." I believe, father, by the goodness of God, and also taking hope from your holiness, that you will so act that this will not fall upon you.

I say no more. Pardon me, pardon me; for the great love which I bear to your salvation, and my great grief when I see the contrary, makes me speak so. Willingly would I have said it to your own person, fully to unburden my conscience. When it shall please your Holiness that I come to you, I will come willingly. So do that I may not appeal to Christ crucified from you; for to no other can I appeal, for there is no greater on earth. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. I ask you humbly for your benediction. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


This letter confirms what history elsewhere indicates—that Gregory, after his return to Italy, turned against Catherine. She no longer addresses her "dear Babbo" personally, with the old happy familiarity; rather, she sends through Fra Raimondo formal and almost tremulous messages to "his Holiness, the Vicar of Christ." Raimondo, apparently from his connection with her, is evidently included in the papal displeasure. Catherine writes to give him courage and comfort; in her touching advice as to the best way of preparing one's self to meet contentions and injustice, we may recognize the secret source of her own rare self-control.

Catherine's attitude toward the angered Pope is a compound of contrition and firmness. No words could express swifter readiness to accept rebuke or a more passionate humility: none could more vigorously maintain the unwelcome convictions which had given offence. There are various surmises as to the exact occasion of the misunderstanding to which this letter refers: were we to add one, we might suspect that the audacity of the preceding letter had been too much, even for Gregory. But the general situation speaks for itself. Gregory was strong enough, under her inspiration, to make the great physical and moral effort of returning to Italy: he was, as we have seen, not strong enough to cope with what he found there. Enfeebled by ill-health, hampered by his lack of knowledge of Italian, rendered desperate by the difficulties he encountered, it is small wonder that, as many another weak nature would have done, he turned in rage or cold displeasure against the instrument of his return. There is a story that Gregory on his deathbed warned the bystanders against Catherine, and whether it be true or not, it suggests the contemporary impression as to his tone toward her during his last days. Here is sad ending to a relation that during its earlier phases possessed a singular beauty. How sorely Catherine must have been hurt we may well imagine. Her brief triumph was all turned to bitterness: less, we may be sure, from her personal loss of the Pope's confidence—though she was human enough to feel this keenly—than from the utter failure of the hopes she had built on his return.

In this letter her genuine self-abasement before Gregory's displeasure changes with dramatic suddenness to another tone. The accuser becomes the judge once more, and speaks with the old authority: "God demands that you do this—as you know that you were told." Her personal feeling for the man breaks forth in the appeal: "To whom shall I have recourse should you abandon me? Who would help me?" But in the same breath comes her magnificent assurance, that though she may offend Christ's Vicar, the Head of the Church, she may yet flee with confidence to Christ Himself, and rest secure upon the bosom of His Bride.

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

Dearest and sweetest 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 a true combatant against the wiles and vexations of the devil, and the malice and persecution of men, and against your own fleshly self-love, which is an enemy that, unless a man drives it away by virtue and holy hate, prevents him from ever being strong in the other battles which we encounter every day. For self-love weakens us, and therefore it is imperative that we drive it away with the strength of virtue, which we shall gain in the unspeakable love that God has shown us, through the Blood of His only-begotten Son. This love, drawn from the divine love, gives us light and life; light, to know the truth when necessary to our salvation and to win great perfection, and to endure with true patience and fortitude and constancy until death—for by such fortitude, won from the light that makes us know the truth, we win the life of divine grace. Drink deep, then, in the Blood of the Spotless Lamb, and be a faithful servant, not faithless, to your Creator. And fear not, nor turn back, for any battle or gloom that may come upon you, but persevere in faith till death; for well you know that perseverance will give you the fruit of your labours.

I have understood from a certain servant of God who holds you in continual prayer before Him, that you have met very great battles, and that gloom has fallen upon your mind through the crafts and wiles of the devil, who wishes to make you see wrong as right and right as wrong; this he does in order that you may fail in your going and not reach the goal. But comfort you, for God has provided and shall provide, and His providence shall not be lacking. Be sure that in all things you have recourse to Mary, embracing the holy Cross, and never let yourself fall into confusion of mind, but sail in a stormy sea in the ship of divine mercy. I understand: if from men religious or secular, even in the mystical body of Holy Church, you have suffered persecution or displeasure, or have been visited with the indignation of the Vicar of Christ, either on your own account, or if you have had something to bear on my account with all these people— you are not to resist, but bear it patiently, leaving at once, and going into your cell, there to know yourself in holy meditation; reflecting that God is making you worthy to endure for the love of truth, and to be persecuted for His Name, deeming yourself in true humility worthy of punishment and unworthy to gain results. And do all the things that you have to do prudently, holding God before your eyes; do and say what you have to say and do in the Presence of God and of your own thought with the help of holy prayer. There shall you find the Master, the Holy Spirit, rich in clemency, who shall pour upon you a light of wisdom that shall make you discern and choose what shall be to his honour. This is the doctrine given to us by the Sweet Primal Truth, caring for our need with measureless love.

If it happened, dearest father, that you found yourself in the presence of his Holiness the Vicar of Christ, our very sweet and holy father, humbly commend me to him. I hold myself in fault before his Holiness for much ignorance and negligence which I have committed against God, and for disobedience against my Creator, who summoned me to cry aloud with passionate desire, and to cry before Him in prayer, and to put myself in word and in bodily presence close to His Vicar. In all possible ways I have committed measureless faults, on account of which, yes, on account of my many iniquities, I believe that he has suffered many persecutions, he and Holy Church. Wherefore if he complains of me he is right, and right in punishing me for my defects. But tell him that up to the limits of my power I shall strive to correct my faults, and to fulfil more perfectly his obedience. So I trust by the divine goodness that He will turn the eyes of His mercy upon the Bride of Christ and His Vicar, and upon me, freeing me from my defects and ignorance; but upon His Bride, by giving her the refreshment of peace and renewal, with much endurance (for in no way without toils can be uprooted the many thorny faults that choke the garden of Holy Church), and that God will give him grace in those parts where he wants to be a manly man, and not to look back, for any toil or persecution that may befall him from his wicked sons; constant and persevering, let him not avoid weariness, but let him throw himself like a lamb into the midst of the wolves, with hungry desire for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, putting far from him care for temporal things, and watching over spiritual things alone. If he does so, as divine goodness demands of him, the lamb will lord it over the wolves, and the wolves will turn into lambs; and thus we shall see the glory and praise of the name of God, the good and peace of Holy Church. In no other way can these be won; not through war, but through peace and benignity, and such holy spiritual punishment as a father should inflict on a son who does wrong.

Alas, alas, alas, most holy father! The first day that you came to your own place, you should have done so. I hope in the goodness of God and in your holiness that what is not done you will do. In this way both temporalities and spiritualities are won back. God demanded that you do this—as you know that you were told—that you care for the reformation of Holy Church, punishing its sins and establishing good shepherds; and that you make holy peace with your wicked sons in the best way and most pleasing to God that could be done; so that then you might see to uplifting with your arms the standard of the most holy Cross against the infidels. I believe that our negligence and our not doing what could be done—not cruelly nor quarrelsomely, but in peace and benignity—(always punishing a man who has done wrong, not in proportion to his deserts, for he could not endure what he deserves, but in proportion to what the sick man is in a condition to bear)—are, perhaps, the reason why such disaster and loss and irreverence toward Holy Church and her ministers has befallen. And I fear that unless a remedy is found by doing what has been left undone, our sins may deserve so much that we shall see greater misfortunes; such I say as would grieve us much more than to lose temporal possessions. Of all these evils and sorrows, wretched I am the cause, through my little virtue and my great disobedience.

Most holy father, look in the light of reason and truth at your displeasure against me, not as punishment, but as displeasure. To whom shall I have recourse should you abandon me? Who would help me? To whom do I flee, should you cast me out? My persecutors pursue me, and I flee to you, and to the other sons and servants of God. Should you abandon me, assuming displeasure and wrath against me, I will hide me in the wounds of Christ crucified, whose Vicar you are: and I know that He will receive me, for He wills not the death of a sinner. And, when I am received by Him, you will not drive me out; nay, we shall abide in our own place to fight manfully with the weapons of virtue for the sweet Bride of Christ. In her I wish to end my life, with tears, with sweats, with sighs, giving my blood and the marrow of my bones. And should all the world drive me out, I will not care, reposing with plaints and great endurance on the breast of that sweet Bride. Pardon, most holy father, all my ignorance, and the wrong that I have done to God and to your Holiness. It is Truth that excuses me and sets me free; Truth Eternal. Humbly I ask your benediction.

To you, dearest father (Raimondo), I say: when it is possible to you, keep a manly heart in the presence of his Holiness, without any pain or servile fear; remain first a while in your cell, in the presence of Mary and of the most holy Cross, in holy and humble prayer, in true knowledge of yourself, with living faith and will to endure; and then go (to the Pope) in security. And do what you can for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, to the point of death. Announce to him what I write you in this letter as the Holy Spirit shall guide you. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


In March, 1378, Gregory died, and was succeeded by the Archbishop of Bari, who took the name of Urban VI. The sensitive, cultured, vacillating Frenchman gave place to a Neapolitan of coarse physique—a man personally virtuous, but, as history shows us, extraordinarily harsh and violent in disposition. "It seems," the Prior of the Island of Gorgona wrote with alarming candour to Catherine, "that our new Christ on earth is a terrible man."

Catherine was at Florence at the time—having been sent thither by Gregory, who, however alienated from her personally, seems till the end to have valued her services. The following is the first letter from her to Urban which we possess. It is evident that she has as yet little knowledge of the new Pope at first hand. She writes to him in much the same strain as that in which she was accustomed to address his predecessor; only the sense of a new hearer inspires her, after the rather dull opening of the letter, with fresh fervour in recapitulating the sins and woes of the Church. Possibly, also, there is a little more insistence than usual on the plea that mercy temper justice, in the case of the rebellious Tuscan cities. The sensible policy for such a situation could hardly be better summed up than in her concise phrase: "Receive from a sick man what he can give you."

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

Most holy and dear 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 founded upon true and perfect charity, so that, like a good shepherd, you may lay down your life for your sheep. And truly, most holy father, only he who is founded upon charity is ready to die for the love of God and the salvation of souls: because he is free from self-love. For he who abides in self-love is not ready to give his life; and not to speak of his life, apparently he is not willing to bear the least little pain: for he is always afraid for himself, lest he lose his bodily life and his private consolations. So he does whatever he may do imperfectly and corruptly, because his chief impulse, through which he acts, is corrupt. In whatever state he may be, shepherd or subject, he shows little virtue. But the shepherd who is established in true charity does not do so; his every work is good and perfect, because his impulse is absolutely one with the perfection of divine charity. Such a man as this fears neither the devil nor his fellow-beings, but only his Creator; he does not mind the detractions of the world, nor shames, nor insults, nor jests, nor the criticisms of his subordinates; who take offence, and turn to criticizing when they are reproved by their prelate. But like a manly man, clothed in the fortitude of charity, he does not care.

Nor, therefore, does he suppress the flame of holy desire, nor cast from him the pearl of justice, lucid and one with mercy, which he bears upon his breast. Were justice without mercy, it would abide in the shadows of cruelty, and would turn into injustice. And mercy without justice toward one's subordinate would be like ointment on a wound that ought to be cauterized: if ointment is applied without cauterizing it rots more than it heals. But when both are joined they give life to the prelate who uses them, and health to the subject if he is not a member of the devil, entirely unwilling to correct himself. However, if the subject failed to correct himself a thousand times over, the prelate ought not to give up correcting him, and his virtue will be none the less because that wicked man does not profit by it. In this way works the pure and clean charity of a soul that cares for itself not for its own sake, but for God, and seeks God for the glory and praise of His name, in so far as it sees that He is worthy of being loved for His infinite goodness—nor seeks its neighbour for its own sake, but for God, wishing to render him that service which it cannot render to God. For it recognizes that He is our God, who has no need of us. Therefore it studies with great zeal to be useful to its neighbour, and especially to the subjects committed to it. And it does not draw back from pursuing the salvation of their souls and bodies for any ingratitude found in them, nor for the threats or flatteries of man; but, in truth, clothed in the wedding garment, follows the doctrine of the Spotless Humble Lamb, that gentle and good Shepherd who, as one enamoured, ran for our salvation to the shameful death of the most holy Cross. The unspeakable love which the soul has conceived for Christ crucified does all this. Most holy father, God has placed you as a shepherd over all His sheep who belong to the whole Christian religion; He has placed you as the minister of the Blood of Christ crucified, whose Vicar you are; and He placed you in a time in which wickedness abounds more among your inferiors than it has done for a long time, both in the body of Holy Church, and in the universal body of the Christian religion. Therefore it is extremely necessary for you to be established in perfect charity, wearing the pearl of justice, as I said; that you may not mind the world, nor poor people used to evil, nor any injuries of theirs; but manfully correct them, like a true knight and just shepherd, uprooting vices and implanting virtues, ready to lay down your life if needs be. Sweetest father, the world cannot bear any more; vices are so abundant, especially among those who were put in the garden of Holy Church to be fragrant flowers, shedding the fragrance of virtue; and we see that they abound in wretched, hateful vices, so that they make the whole world reek! Oh me! where is the purity of heart and perfect charity which should make the incontinent continent by contact with them? It is quite the contrary: many a time the continent and the pure are led by their impurities to try incontinence. Oh me! where is the generosity of charity, and the care of souls, and distribution to the poor and to the good of the Church, and their necessities? You know well that men do quite the contrary. Oh me miserable! With grief I say it —your sons nourish themselves on the wealth they receive by ministering the Blood of Christ, and are not ashamed of being as money-changers, playing with those most sacred anointed hands of yours, you Vicar of Christ: without speaking of the other wretched deeds which they commit. Oh me! where is that deep humility with which to confound that pride of sensuality of theirs, by which in their great avarice they commit simonies, buying benefices with gifts, or flatteries, or money, dissolute and vain adornments, not as clerics, but worse than seculars! Oh me, sweet my Babbo, bring us a remedy! And give refreshment to the desperate desires of the servants of God, who die and cannot die. They wait with great desire that you as a true shepherd should put your hand to correcting these things, not only with words but with deeds, while the pearl of justice, joined to mercy, shines on your breast; correcting in truth, without any servile fear, those who nourish them at the breast of the sweet Bride of Christ, the ministers of the Blood.

But truly, most holy father, I do not see how this can be well done if you do not make over anew the garden of your Bride, stocking it with good virtuous plants; taking pains to choose a troop of very holy men, in whom you find virtue and no fear of death. Do not aim at grandeur, but let them be shepherds who rule their flocks with zeal. And a troop of good cardinals, who may be upright columns of yours, helping you to bear the weight of many burdens, with divine help. Oh, how blessed will be my soul then, when I shall see that which is hers given back to the Bride of Christ, and those nourished at her breast regarding not their own good, but the glory and praise of the Name of God, and feeding on the food of souls at the table of the holy Cross. I have no question that then your lay subjects will correct themselves—for they will not be able to help it, constrained by the holy and pure life of the clergy. We are not, then, to sleep over it, but manfully and without negligence to do what you can, even unto death, for the glory and praise of the Name of God.

Next I beg you, and constrain you by the love of Christ crucified, as to those sheep who have left the fold—I believe, for my sins—that by the love of that Blood of which you are made minister, you delay not to receive them in mercy, and with your benignity and holiness force their hardness; give them the good of bringing them back into the fold, and if they do not ask it in true and perfect humility, let your Holiness fulfil their imperfection. Receive from a sick man what he can give you. Oh me, oh me, have mercy on so many souls that perish! Do not consider the scandal which occurred in this city, in which surely the devils of hell busied themselves, to hinder the peace and quiet of souls and bodies: but Divine Goodness saw to it that no great harm came from the great evil, but your sons pacified themselves, and now ask of you the oil of mercy. Grant that it seems to you, most holy father, that they do not ask it in those conciliatory ways nor with that heartfelt distaste for the sin they committed which they should, as it would please your Holiness to have them—yet, oh me, do not give up! For they will make better sons than other people. Oh me, Babbo mine, I do not want to stay here any longer! Do with me then what you will. Show me this grace and favour, poor wretch that I am, knocking at your door. Do not deny me the easy little things that I ask you for your sons; so that, having made peace, you may raise the standard of the most holy Cross. For you see well that the infidels have come to summon you. I hope by the sweet goodness of God that He will fill you with His burning charity, so that you shall know the loss of souls, and how much you are bound to love them: and so you shall increase in eager zeal to set them free from the hands of the devil, and shall seek to heal the mystical body of Holy Church, and the body of the universal Christian religion; and especially to reconcile your sons, winning them with benignity, with as much use of the rod of justice as they are fit to bear, and no more. I am certain that unless we have the virtue of charity, this will not be done; and therefore I said that I wished to see you established in true and perfect charity. Not that I do not believe that you are in charity, but because we can grow in the perfection of charity since we are always pilgrims and strangers in this life, I said that I wished this perfection in you, that you feed it constantly with the flame of holy desire, and shed it upon your subjects, like a good shepherd. I beg you to do so. And I will stay, and labour till I die, in prayer and in whatever way I can, for the honour of God and for your peace and that of your sons.

I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Pardon my presumption, most holy father; but love and grief are my excuse before your Holiness. I ask you humbly for your benediction. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


Catherine turned without difficulty from public cares to the needs and problems of the little group of disciples in the restricted life of Siena. To her eyes, there was no great nor small; the one drama was as important as the other, since both were God's appointed schools of character. She was, as we have already seen, wise in the lore of Christian friendship. How thoroughly she understood the tendencies likely to appear in a limited group of good people, bound closely together in faith and life, these letters, among others, bear witness. Not only in religious communities, but wherever such a group exists, similar conditions arise. The life of the affections becomes of leading importance; too often it is unregulated, and runs to morbid extremes; on the other hand, the peculiarly provincial temptation to carping mutual scrutiny as well as to overwrought sensitiveness, is sure to be at play. All her life long Catherine combated these dangers, in the strength at once of a large mind and of a gentle heart. The first of these letters puts in beautiful form the ideal of a truly consecrated affection. The second repeats her familiar warning against a critical temper, and her favourite plea for that generous tolerance which puts the highest possible construction on one's neighbour's conduct. Tolerance, one surmises, was to her peculiarly swift and lofty spirit one of the most difficult among the virtues. Yet, or rather therefore, no one has ever presented more emphatically the relief afforded by the great permission and command, "Judge not."



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

Dearest sons 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 bound in the bands of charity, for I consider that without this bond we cannot please God. This is the sweet sign by which the servants and sons of Christ are recognized. But think, my sons, that this bond must be clean, and not spotted by self-love. If thou lovest thy Creator, love and serve Him in so far as He is highest and eternal good, worthy of being loved, and not for thine own profit, for that would be a mercenary love, like a miser who loves money because of his avarice. So let your love for your neighbour be clean. Love, love one another; you are neighbours one of the other. But be on your guard, for if your love were founded in your own profit or in the private affection which you might have for one another, it would not endure, but would fail, and your soul would find itself empty. The love which is founded in God must be of such a sort that it has to love with regard to virtue, and inasmuch as the friend is a creature made in the image of God. For while delight in him whom I love, or profit from him may grow less, if one abides in God love does not fail, because one loves with regard to virtue and the honour of God, and not to one's own personality. I say that if one abides in God, even if virtue should fail in him who loves, yet love does not turn away. The love of the virtue which is not there fails to be sure; but it does not fail in so far as a man is a creature of God, His member, bound in the mystical body of the Holy Church. Nay, there grows within one a love made up of great and true compassion, and with desire he brings his friend to the birth, with tears and sighs and continual prayers in the sweet Presence of God. Now this is the affection which Christ left to His disciples, which never lessens or grows languid, and is not impatient for any injury it receives; there is no spirit of criticism in it nor displeasure, because it loves the friend, not for himself, but for God. It does not judge nor want to judge the will of men, but the will of its Creator, which seeks and wills naught but our sanctification. And it joys in what God permits, of whatsoever kind it be, since it seeks naught but the honour of its Creator and the salvation of its neighbour. Truly may we say that such men are bound in the bond of charity with the band which held God-and-Man fast and nailed on the wood of the most holy and sweet Cross.

But think, sons mine, that you would never reach this perfect union did you not hold as your object Christ crucified, and follow His footsteps. For in Him you will find this love, who has loved you by grace and not by duty. And because He loves by grace, He has never grown languid in His love, neither for our ingratitude nor ignorance nor pride nor vanity, but ever persevering, even to the shameful death of the Cross, freeing us from death and giving us life. Now so do you, my sons, learn—learn from Him. Love, love one another, with pure and holy love, in Christ sweet Jesus. I say no more, because I hope to see you again soon, when it shall please the divine goodness. 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 sons 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 strong and persevering till the end of your life. For I consider that without perseverance no one can please God, or receive the crown of reward. He who perseveres is always strong, and fortitude makes him persevere.

We have absolute need of the gift of fortitude, for we are besieged by many foes. The world, with its delights and deceits; the devil, with many vexing temptations, who lights upon the lips of men, making them say insulting and critical things, and who often makes us lose our worldly goods—and this he does solely to recall us from devoted charity to our neighbour; the flesh, astir in our own senses, seeking to war against the spirit. Yes, truly, all these foes of ours have besieged us; yet we need feel no servile fear, because they are discomfited through the Blood of the Spotless Lamb. We ought bravely to reply to the world and resist it, disparaging its delights and honours, judging it to have in itself no abiding stability whatever. It shows us long life, with youth a-blossom and great riches; and they are all seen to be vanity, since from life we come to death, from youth to age, from wealth to poverty; and thus we are always running toward the goal of death. Therefore we need to open the eye of the mind, to see how miserable he is who trusts in the world. In this wise one will come to despise and hate what first he loved. To the wiles of the devil we can reply manfully, seeing his weakness; for he can conquer no one who does not wish to be conquered. One can reply to him then with lively faith and hope, and with holy hatred of one's self. For in such hate one will become patient toward every tempting vexation and tribulation of the world, and will bear these things with true patience, from what side soever they come, if one shall hate one's own fleshliness and love to abide on the Cross with Christ crucified.

From living faith one will derive a will in accord with that of God, and will quench in heart and mind the human instinct of judging. The will of God alone shall judge, which seeks and wills naught but our sanctification. In this wise one is not shocked at his neighbour and does not criticize him. Nor does he pass judgment on a man who talks against him: he condemns himself alone, seeing that it is the will of God which permits such men to vex him for his good. Ah, how blessed is the soul which clothes itself in a judgment so gentle! He does not condemn the servants of this world who do him injury; nor does he condemn the servants of God, wishing to drive them in his own way, as many presumptuous, proud men do, who under cloak of the honour of God and the salvation of souls, are shocked by the servants of God, and assume a critical attitude under cover of this cloak, saying: "Such words do not please me." And so a man becomes disturbed in himself, and also makes others disturbed with his tongue, claiming that he speaks through the force of love—and so he thinks he does. But if he will open his eyes, he will find the serpent of presumption under a false aspect, which plays the judge, judging in its own fashion, and not according to the mysteries and the holy and diverse ways in which God works with His creatures. Let human pride be ashamed, and consent to see that in the House of the Eternal Father are many mansions. Let it not seek to impose a rule upon the Holy Spirit: for He is the Rule itself, Giver of the Rule: nor let it measure Him who cannot be measured. The true servant of God, arrayed in His highest eternal will, will not do thus; nay, he will hold in reverence the ways and deeds and habits of God's servants, since he judges them fixed not by man, but by God. For, just because things are not pleasing to us and do not go according to our habits, we ought to be predisposed to believe that they are pleasing to God. We ought not to judge anything at all, nor can we, except what is manifest and open sin. And even this the soul enamoured of God and lost to itself does not assume to judge, except in displeasure for the sin and wrong done to God; and with great compassion for the soul of him who sins, eagerly willing to give itself to any torture for the salvation of that soul.

Now I summon you to this perfection, dearest sons; do you study with true and holy zeal to acquire it. And reflect that every stage in perfection which you reach will advance you in this holy and true judgment, free from offence or pain. So, on the contrary, false judgment betrays you into every sort of pain, and fault-finding and ruinous faithlessness toward the servants of God. All this proceeds from the personal passion and rooted pride which impels us to judge the will of our fellow-man. So such a man is always looking back, and does not persevere in gracious love of his neighbour, and never has strong and persevering love. Nay, his is like the imperfect love felt by the disciples of Christ before the Passion; for they loved Him, rejoicing much in His presence; but because their love was not founded in truth, but pleasure and self-indulgence were in it, it failed when His presence was taken away; and they did not know how to bear pain with Christ, but fled in fear. Beware, beware, lest this happen to you. You rejoice much in the presence of a friend, and in absence you make a fire of straw; for when the presence is taken away, every little wind and rain quenches it, and nothing remains except the black smoke of a dark conscience. All this happens because we have made ourselves judges of the will of our fellows, and the habits and ways of the servants of God, not according to His sweet will. Now no more thus, for love of Christ crucified! but be faithful sons, strong and persevering in Christ sweet Jesus. Thus shall you discomfit the temptation of the devil, and the words which he says, lighting on the lips of men.

Our last enemy—that is, our miserable flesh with its sense-appetites—is overcome by the flesh of Christ, scourged and nailed on the wood of the most holy Cross, by mastering it with fast and vigil and continuous prayer, with burning sweet and loving desire. Thus sweetly shall we conquer and discomfit our foes by the power of the Blood of Christ. Thus shall you fulfil His will and my desire, which grieves when it beholds your imperfection. I hope by His infinite goodness that He will console my desire in you. Therefore I beg that you be not negligent, but zealous; do not shift about in the wind like a leaf, but be firm, stable, and constant; loving one another with true brotherly charity, bearing one another's faults. By this I shall perceive whether you love God and me, who desire naught but to see you in true unity. Drown you in the Blood of Christ crucified and hide you in His sweetest Wounds. I say no more.

Let the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli be commended to you. And never mind because I am not there, for good sons do more when the mother is not present than when she is, because they want to show the love they have for her, and to enter more fully into her favour.

I beg you, Sano, to read this letter to all the children. And do you all pray God for us, that He grant us to complete what is begun to His honour and the salvation of souls; for we wish no other desire nor work, in despite of any who may wish to hinder it. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. May God fill you with His sweetest favour. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


With all her longing to suffer for her faith, Catherine was only once, so far as we know, exposed to physical violence. This was on the occasion of which she is here speaking. She is still in Florence, faithful under the new Pope as under the old to her efforts to bring about the passionately desired peace. In a tumult in the disordered city, it came to pass that her life was threatened, and she took refuge with her "famiglia," in a garden without the walls. Hither her enemies pursued her, but as they drew near, fell back of a sudden, awestruck, as she herself here tells us, by her words and bearing. The danger was averted, and Catherine had met one of the disappointments of her life. [Footnote: As she herself expresses it, "The Eternal Bridegroom played a great joke on me."] There is an almost childlike simplicity in her account of the inner side of the experience. Nothing could be more genuine than her grief that the crown of martyrdom was not granted her—few things more lovely than her confiding account of the fine joys which the mere hope of martyrdom, brief and frustrated though it were, awakened in her spirit. Nor can she know even so supremely isolated an experience without insisting that it be shared by those she loves, and returning thanks for the great mercy which her "dear sons and daughters" have received.

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

Dearest 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 a faithful servant and bridegroom of truth, and of sweet Mary, that we may never look back for any reason in the world, nor for any tribulations which God might send you: but with firm hope, with the light of most holy faith, pass through this stormy sea in all truthfulness; and let us rejoice in endurance, not seeking our own glory, but the glory of God and the salvation of souls, as the glorious martyrs did, who for the sake of truth made them ready for death and for all torments, so that with their blood, shed for love of the Blood, they built the walls of Holy Church. Ah, sweet Blood, that dost raise the dead! Thou givest life, thou dost dissolve the shadows that darken the minds of reasonable creatures, and dost give us light! Sweet Blood, thou dost unite those who strive, thou dost clothe the naked, thou dost feed the hungry and give to drink to those who thirst for thee, and with the milk of thy sweetness thou dost nourish the little ones who have made themselves small by true humility, and innocent by true purity. Oh, holy Blood, who shall receive thee amiss? The lovers of themselves, because they do not perceive thy fragrance.

So, dearest and sweetest father, let us divest us and clothe us in truth, so we shall be faithful lovers. I tell you that today I will to begin again, in order that my sins may not hold me back from such a good as it is to give one's life for Christ crucified. For I see that in the past, through my faults, this has been denied me. I had desired very much, with a new intensity, increased in me beyond all custom, to endure without fault for the honour of God and the salvation of souls and the reformation and good of Holy Church, so that my heart was melting from the love and desire I had to lay down my life. This desire was blessed and grievous; blessed it was for the union that I felt with truth, and grievous it was for the oppression which I felt from the wrong against God, and the multitude of demons who overshadowed all the city, dimming the eye of the mind in human beings. Almost it seemed that God was letting them have their way, through justice and divine discipline. Therefore my life could not but dissolve in weeping, fearful for the great evil which seemed on the point of coming, and because peace was hindered for this reason. But in this great evil, God, who despises not the desire of His servants, and that sweet mother Mary, whose name was invoked with pained and dolorous and loving desires, granted that in all the tumult and the great upheaval that occurred, we may almost say that there were no human deaths, except those which justice inflicted. So the desire I had that God would show His providence and destroy the power of the demons that they might not do so much harm as they were ready to do, was fulfilled; but my desire to give my life for the Truth and the sweet Bride of Christ was not fulfilled. But the Eternal Bridegroom played a great joke on me, as Christopher will tell you more fully by word of mouth. So I have reason to weep, because the multitude of my iniquities was so great that I did not deserve that my blood should give life, or illumine darkened minds, or reconcile the sons with the father, or cement a stone in the mystical body of Holy Church. Nay, it seemed that the hands of him who wanted to kill me were bound. My words, "I am she. Take me, and let this family be," were a sword that pierced straight through his heart. O Babbo mine, feel a wonderful joy in yourself, for I never experienced in myself such mysteries, with so great joy! There was the sweetness of truth in it, the gladness of a clean and pure conscience; there was the fragrance of the sweet providence of God; there was the savour of the times of new martyrs, foretold as you know by the Eternal Truth. Tongue would not suffice to tell how great the good is that my soul feels. I seem to be so bound to my Creator that if I gave my body to be burned I could not satisfy the great mercy which I and my cherished sons and daughters have received.

All this I tell you that you may not conceive bitterness; but may feel an unspeakable delight, with softest gladness; and that you and I may begin to sorrow over my imperfection, because so great a good was hindered by my sin. How blessed my soul would have been had I given my blood for the sweet Bride, and for love of the Blood and the salvation of souls! Now let us rejoice and be faithful lovers.

I will not say more on this subject; I let Christopher tell this and other things. Only I want to say this: do you pray Christ on earth not to delay the peace because of what has happened, but make it all the more promptly, so that then the other great deeds may be wrought which he has to do for the honour of God and the reformation of Holy Church. For the condition of things has not been changed by this—nay, for the present the city is pacified suitably enough. Pray him to act swiftly; and I ask him this in mercy, for infinite wrongs against God which happen through the situation will thus be put an end to. Tell him to have pity and compassion on these souls which are in great darkness: and tell him to release me from prison swiftly; for unless peace is made it does not seem as if I could get out; and I would wish then to come where you are, to taste the blood of the martyrs, and to visit his Holiness, and to find myself with you once more, telling of the admirable mysteries which God has wrought at this time; with gladness of mind, and joyousness of heart, and increase of hope, in the light of most holy faith. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


By this time Catherine has evidently more than an inkling of the character of the man she is addressing. Gregory had been, if anything, only too susceptible to influences from varying quarters: Urban's arbitrary and headstrong nature resented any interference. He was making extraordinary blunders in tact and policy; but woe to the audacious person who sought to point them out!

Catherine's letters to this new Pope, if less familiarly affectionate than those to the old, show the same amazing combination of candour and reverence. True to her constant principles in the interpretation of character, she insists on putting the best possible construction on his actions, ascribing his impatient vehemence and bad temper to a noble and partially impersonal cause. One suspects that Urban had lost his temper with poor Fra Bartolomeo because the friar had used too great freedom of speech rather than too little, as Catherine suggests. Despite her generosity, however, she can rebuke pungently enough, as this letter shows. On another occasion, we find her sending to Urban a tangible allegory in the form of bitter oranges, candied within and gilded without, doubtless by her own hands, with a pretty letter to point the moral. And again she wrote: "Mitigate a little, for the love of Christ crucified, those sudden impulses which nature forces on you. In holy virtue, throw nature aside. As God has given you a great heart naturally, so I beg and want you to make it great supernaturally: with zealous desire for virtue and the reform of Holy Church, do you establish the manly heart you have gained in true humility. In this way you will have both natural and supernatural gifts—for the one without the other would avail little, but would rather inspire us with wrath and pride: and when it came to correcting our intimates it would slacken its pace and become cowardly."

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

Most holy and sweet 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 a true and royal ruler of your flock, whom you have to nourish with the Blood of Christ crucified. Your Holiness has to see to it with great diligence to whom you administer that Blood, and by what means it is given; that is, I say, most holy father, that when shepherds are to be appointed in the garden of Holy Church, let them be people who seek God, and not benefices: and let the means of asking for the post be such as act openly in the truth and not in falsehood.

Most holy father, have patience when you are talked to about these things. For they are only said to you for the honour of God and for your salvation, as a son ought to speak who loves his father tenderly, and cannot bear that anything should be done which should turn to the loss or shame of his father; but watches constantly, with intent earnestness, because he sees well that his father, who has to rule a large family, can see no more than one man sees. So if his lawful sons were not earnest in caring for his honour and welfare, he would be deceived many a time and oft. So it stands, most holy father. You are father and lord of the universal body of the Christian religion; we are all under the wings of your Holiness: as to authority, you can do everything, but as to seeing, you can do no more than one man; so your sons must of necessity watch and care with clean hearts and without any servile fear over what may be for the honour of God and the safety and honour of you and the flocks that are beneath your crook. And I know that your Holiness is very desirous of having people to help you; but you must be patient in listening to them.

I am certain that two things must give you pain and make your mind angry, and I am not in the least surprised. The one is that when you hear that sins are committed, it hurts you that God should be wronged, for the wrong and the faults displease you, and you experience a piercing of your heart. In this case we ought not to be patient, or to refrain from grieving over the wrongs that are shown to God. No; for so it would seem as if we conformed us to these same vices. The other thing that might hurt you is when the son who comes to tell you what he feels to be turning into wrong against God and loss to souls and little honour to your holiness, commits such ignorance that he conscientiously obliges himself, in the presence of your Holiness, not to tell you clearly the absolute truth as it is; for nothing should be secret nor hidden from you.

I beg you, holy father, that when your ignorant son offends in this point, your pain should be without any excitement on your part: correct him in his ignorance. I say this, because according to what Master Giovanni told me of Brother Bartolomeo, he annoyed you and made you angry by his faults and his scrupulous conscience; for which he and I have been extremely sorry, since he thought that he had offended your Holiness. I beg you, by the love of Christ crucified, to punish in me every pain that he may have given you; I am ready for any discipline and correction which shall please your Holiness. I believe that my sins were the reason why he showed himself so ignorant, therefore I ought to bear the penalty; and he is very desirous to come penitently to you wherever it might please your Holiness. Have patience to bear his faults and mine. Bathe you in the Blood of Christ crucified; comfort you in the sweet flame of His charity. Pardon my ignorance.

I ask you humbly for your benediction. I thank the Divine Goodness and your Holiness for the favour that you granted me on the day of St. John. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


Catherine has missed her chance at martyrdom. Schism is threatening, and she knows it: "I seem to have heard that discord is arising yonder between Christ on earth and his disciples: from which thing I receive an intolerable grief.... For everything else, like war, dishonour, and other tribulations, would seem less than a straw or a shadow in comparison with this. Think! For I tremble only to think of it ... I tell you, it seemed as if my heart and life would leave their body through grief." So she writes, out of trance, to the Cardinal Pietro di Luna—himself destined to become later the antipope Benedict XIII.

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