The present sorrowful letter is to a hermit who had sinned violently in youth, and repented passionately through many years of strictest discipline. Catherine pours out her heart to him. The words in which Shelley's Fury drives home to the agonizing Prometheus the apparent tragedy of existence were fulfilled before her eyes:
"Hypocrisy and custom make their minds The fanes of many a worship now outworn: * * * * The good want power but to weep barren tears, The powerful goodness want—worse need for them: The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom; And all best things are thus confused to ill."
With unflinching clear-sightedness she presents the situation, turning in vain to every quarter whence help might come. To the whole body of the priesthood; to the timid monastic orders; to pious laymen honestly devout, yet touched by no flame of sacrificial passion such as she felt might bring salvation. It is never the sins of the world that most torture Catherine: always, as here, the sins of the Church. She does not pause till she comes to the terrible climax: "I see the Christian religion lying like a dead man, and I neither mourn nor weep over him." It is the very light of most holy faith that has confused the vision of men. And again we hear the familiar refrain, "I believe that my iniquities are the cause of it."
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 an hungered for souls, on the table of the most holy Cross, in company with the humble and immaculate Lamb. I do not see, father, that this sweet food can be eaten anywhere else. Why not? Because we cannot eat it truly without enduring much; it must be eaten with the teeth of true patience and the lips of holy desire, on the Cross of many tribulations, from whatsoever side they may come—complaints, or the scandals in the world; and we must endure all things till death. Now is the time, dearest father, to show whether we are lovers of Christ crucified and rejoice in this food or not. It is time to give honour to God and our toils to our neighbour: toils, I say, of the body, with much endurance, and toils of the mind, with grief and bitterness offering tears and sweats, humble and continual prayer, and suffering desire, before God. For I do not see that in any other way the wrath of God may be pacified toward us, and His mercy inclined, and through His mercy the many sheep recovered who are perishing in the hands of devils, unless in the way I said, through great grief and compassion of heart, and the very greatest devotion in prayer.
Therefore I invite you, dearest father, on behalf of Christ crucified, to begin anew with me to lose ourselves, and to seek only the honour of God in the salvation of souls, without any slavish fear: never to slacken our steps either on account of our sufferings, or in order to please our fellow-creatures, or because we might have to bear death, or for any other reason; but let us run, as inebriate with love and grief over the persecution that is wrought upon the Blood of Christ crucified. For on whatever side we turn we see it persecuted. If I turn me toward ourselves, rotten members that we are, we are persecuting it with our many faults, and such stench of mortal sins and empoisoned self-love as poisons the whole world. And if I turn me to the ministers of the Blood of the sweet and humble Lamb, my tongue cannot even narrate their faults and sins. If I turn me to the ministers who are under the yoke of obedience, I see them so imperfect—the accursed root of self-love not being yet dead in them— that not one has come to the point of wishing to give his life for Christ crucified; but they have encouraged fear of death and pain rather than holy fear of God and reverence for the Blood. And if I turn me to the secular people who have already released their affections from the world, they have not exercised virtue enough to leave the place where they were, or suffer death rather than to do that which ought not to be done. They have behaved so through imperfection, or else they are doing so through prudence. If I had to teach them prudence, I should advise them that if they wanted to reach perfection they should rather choose death, and if they felt themselves weak, they should flee the place and cause of sin, just as far as we can. This same counsel, if any chance came in your way, I should think that you and every servant of God ought to give. For you know that it is never lawful for us to commit a little sin in any way, surely not for fear of suffering or death, since not even for accomplishing some great good. So, then, on whatever side we turn us, we find nothing but faults. For I do not doubt that if one single person had had perfection enough to give his life, during the events which have happened and are happening every day, the Blood would have called for mercy, and bound the hands of divine justice, and broken those Pharaoh- hearts which are hard as diamond stone; and I see no way in which they can break other than through blood.
Ah me, ah me, misfortunate my soul! I see the Christian religion lying a dead man, and I neither weep nor mourn over him. I see darkness invading the light, for by the very light of most holy faith, received in the Blood of Christ, I see men's sight become confused and the pupil of their eye dried up; so that we see them fall as blind men into the ditch, into the mouth of the wolf of Hell, stripped of virtue and dead by cold; being stripped of the love of God and their neighbour, and released from the bond of love, and lost to all reverence for God and for the Blood. Ah me! I believe that my iniquities have been the cause of it.
So I beg you, dearest father, to pray God for me, that He take from me so great iniquities, and that I be not the cause of so great ill: or may He give me death. And I beg you to lift these sons of ours as dead up to the table of the most holy Cross, and there do you eat this food, bathed in the Blood of Christ crucified. I tell you that if you and the other servants of God, and all of us, do not persuade ourselves with many prayers, and others, to correct themselves of evils so great, divine judgment will come, and divine justice will draw forth its rod. Indeed, if we open our eyes, one of the greatest judgments that we can know in this life is already befallen—that is, that we are deprived of light, and do not see the loss and ill of soul and body. He who does not see cannot correct himself, because he does not hate evil or love true good. So, not correcting himself, he falls from bad to worse. So it seems to me that we are doing, and we are at a worse point now than the first day. It is essential, then, that we should never stop, if we are true servants of God, in our much endurance and true patience, and in giving our toils to our neighbour, and honour to God, with many prayers and grieving desire; let sighs be food to us and tears our drink, upon the table of the Cross; for another way I do not see. Therefore I said to you that I desired to see you an hungered for souls upon the table of the most holy Cross.
I beg that your and my dearest sons be commended to you—those yonder, and those here. Nourish them and make them grow in great perfection, so far as your power goes. And let us strive to run, dead to all self-will, spiritual and temporal; that is, not seeking our own spiritual consolations, but only the food of souls, rejoicing in the Cross with Christ crucified and giving our life, if need be, for the glory and praise of His Name. I for my part die and cannot die, hearing and seeing the insults to my Lord and Creator; therefore I ask an alms from you, that you pray God for me, you and the others. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
LETTERS ANNOUNCING PEACE
Amid the horrors which darkened Europe during her last years, one episode of pure joy was vouchsafed to Catherine. The decisiveness of Urban brought to an end the vacillating negotiations of the Papal See with the Florentines, and peace was proclaimed at last.
The first of these notes announces the first step toward a satisfactory end—the observance of the Interdict, placed by Gregory upon the city, and contumaciously broken by the rebels. In the second, the news of the establishment of peace has just been brought. Catherine's first impulse is to bid the friends at home rejoice with her in news great in itself, and greater because it may clear the way for the realization of wider hopes. It is noteworthy that the instant the end for which she has long been straining is achieved, her loyal and aspiring spirit reverts to her old dreams, and summons her companions to resume prayer for a Crusade.
The arrival of the olive of peace, of which Catherine sends a portion to her friends, is the fit close to the long drama which had opened when Christ placed the Cross on her shoulder and the olive in her hand, and sent her to bear His command of reconciliation "to one and to the other people."
TO MONNA ALESSA WHEN THE SAINT WAS AT FLORENCE
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 and the others brides and faithful servants of Christ crucified, that you may constantly renew your wailing for the honour of God, the salvation of souls, and the reform of Holy Church. Now is the time for you to shut yourselves within self-knowledge, with continual vigil and prayer that the sun may soon rise; for the aurora has begun to dawn. The aurora has come in that the dusk of great mortal sins which were committed in the office being said and heard publicly, is now scattered, despite whoso would have hindered: and the interdict is observed. Thanks, thanks be to our sweet Saviour, who despises not humble prayer, nor the tears and burning desires of His servants! Since, then, He despises them not, nay, but accepts them, I summon you to pray and to have prayer offered to the Divine Goodness that He send us peace swiftly; that God may be glorified and so great an evil ended, and that we may find ourselves united, to tell the wonderful things of God.
Up! And sleep no more! Awaken, all of you, from the sleep of negligence! Have special prayers offered at such and such monasteries, and tell our Prioress to have all those daughters of hers offer special prayers for peace, that God may show mercy on us, and that I may not return without it. And for me, her poor daughter, that God will give me grace ever to love and to proclaim the truth, and that for that truth I may die. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO SANO DI MACO AND TO THE OTHER SONS IN CHRIST WHILE SHE WAS IN FLORENCE
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 true sons, really serving our sweet Saviour, that you may give more zealously thanks and praise to His name.
Oh, dearest sons, God has heard the cry of His servants, who for so long have cried aloud before His face, and the lamentable cry which they have raised so long over the sons who were dead. Now are they risen again—from death they have come to life, and from blindness to light. Dearest sons, the lame walk, and the deaf hear, the blind eye sees and the dumb speak, crying aloud with a loud voice: "Peace, peace, peace!" with great gladness—seeing themselves return as sons into the obedience and favour of their father, their minds being reconciled. As people who now begin to see, they say: "Thanks be to Thee, Lord, who hast reconciled us with our holy father." Now the Lamb of God, sweet Christ on earth, is called holy, while before he was called a heretic and a Patarin. Now they receive him for a father, where before they refused him. I do not wonder, for the cloud is passed, and fair weather has come. Rejoice, rejoice, dearest sons, with very sweet weeping for thanksgiving, before the Highest Eternal Father, not calling yourselves content with this, but praying Him that soon may be raised the gonfalon of the most holy Cross. Rejoice, exult, in Christ sweet Jesus; let our hearts break, seeing the largess of the infinite goodness of God. Now peace is made, despite him who would hinder it. Discomfited is the devil of hell.
Saturday evening one olive came at one o'clock at night; and to-day at vespers came the other. And Saturday evening that friend of ours was caught with a companion, so that at one time heresy was thoroughly put an end to and peace came; now he is in prison. Pray God for him, that He give him true light and knowledge. Drown you and bathe you in the Blood of Christ crucified. Love, love one another. I send you some of the olive of peace. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO THREE ITALIAN CARDINALS
Catherine had ardently wished to see in the Seat of Peter a reformer, who should have courage to apply surgery to the festering wounds of the Church. She had her desire; Urban began at once a drastic policy of Church reform. But his domineering asperity proved unbearable to the College of Cardinals, and schism broke upon a horrified world.
This was the situation:—After the death of Gregory, the cardinals, of whom a large majority were French, when assembled in conclave in what was to them the barbarous city of Rome, had been terrified by the shouts of the populace demanding a Roman, or at least an Italian, for Pope. Resorting to stratagem, they reported as their choice the old Roman cardinal of San Pietro, who repudiated the false rumour with distress. Meantime, agreeing on compromise and finding a "dark horse," the Sacred College elected with all due solemnity the Archbishop of Bari, and by the usual formalities notified the Christian world of the election. They soon, as has been said, rebelled against the man of their choice, and, announcing that the election had been invalid because occasioned by fear, proceeded to appoint an antipope—Robert of Geneva, a man of personal charm but of evil life, known in history as Clement VII. The impudence of the reasons alleged by the cardinals for their action is well pointed out by Catherine. But Europe became divided in its allegiance, and war of words was soon followed by war of swords.
Catherine rose to the occasion. The rest of her tempestuous life was spent in the desperate defence of the cause of Urban—a man whom she rightly believed to be the lawful successor of Peter, yet concerning whose unlovely character she was, as we have already seen, under no illusions. The many letters which she wrote with the aim of convincing important personages of the validity of Urban's claims, are historical documents of high value. One feels in them all the amazement with which a woman whose native air was the mystical conception of an infallible Church, faced the realities of the ecclesiastical machine. But loyalty stood the test, and while never leaving the highest ground, Catherine proved herself capable of a statesmanlike treatment of the actual situation. The present letter is addressed to the three Italian members of the Sacred College, who, after holding at first by their countryman, were induced by the Frenchmen to betray him: it is a tissue of telling and convincing representations, interwoven with indignant rebuke and eloquent pleadings.
This was not the first time that a great Italian patriot had remonstrated with the churchmen of Italy. Catherine's letter invites inevitable comparison with that noble letter to Italian cardinals written by Dante on the occasion of the impending papal election that followed the death of Clement V. Dante, like Catherine, appealed to the cardinals on behalf of Rome and Italy: his plea, that they put an end to the Babylonian Captivity in Avignon and return to the Seat of Peter. That letter marked an early stage in the disgraceful abandonment of the Holy City; this of Catherine treats of the outcome of that great wrong. "Yet the wound will be healed," wrote Dante; "(though it cannot be otherwise than that the scar and brand of infamy will have burned with fire upon the Apostolic See and will disfigure her for whom heaven and earth had been reserved)—if ye who were the authors of this transgression will all with one accord fight manfully for the Bride of Christ, for the Throne of the Bride which is Rome, for our Italy, and that I may speak more fully, for the whole commonwealth of pilgrims upon this earth...." Over sixty years had passed since Dante wrote thus; they had been years of sin and shame. The words of Catherine, as she confronts a situation yet darker than he had faced, breathe a less assured courage. But her patriotism and her Christianity are of like temper with his own.
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:
Dearest brothers and fathers 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 turn back to the true and most perfect light, leaving the deep shadows of blindness into which you are fallen. Then you shall be fathers to me; otherwise not. Yes, indeed, I call you fathers in so far as you shall leave death and turn back to life (for, as things go now, you are parted from the life of grace, limbs cut off from your head from which you drew life), when you shall stand united in faith, and in that perfect obedience to Pope Urban VI., in which those abide who have the light, and in light know the truth, and knowing it love it. For the thing that is not seen cannot be known, and he who knows not loves not, and he who loves not and fears not his Creator loves himself with fleshly love, and whatever he loves, joys or honours and dignities of the world, he loves according to the flesh. Since man is created through love, he cannot live without love; either he loves God, or he loves himself and the world with the love that kills, fastening the eye of his mind darkened by self-love on those transitory things that pass like the wind. In this state he can recognize no truth nor goodness; he recognizes naught but falsehood, because he has not light. For truly had he the light, he would recognize that from such a love as this naught can result but pain and eternal death. It gives him a foretaste of hell in this life; for he who immoderately loves himself and the things of this world, becomes unendurable to himself.
Oh, human blindness! Seest thou not, unfortunate man, that thou thinkest to love things firm and stable, joyous things, good and fair? and they are mutable, the sum of wretchedness, hideous, and without any goodness; not as they are created things in themselves, since all are created by God, who is perfectly good, but through the nature of him who possesses them intemperately. How mutable are the riches and honours of the world in him who possesses them without God, without the fear of Him! for to-day is he rich and great, and to-day he is poor. How hideous is our bodily life, that living we shed stench from every part of our body! Simply a sack of dung, the food for worms, the food of death! Our life and the beauty of youth pass by, like the beauty of the flower when it is gathered from the plant. There is none who can save this beauty, none who can preserve it, that it be not taken, when it shall please the highest Judge to gather this flower of life by death; and none knows when.
Oh, wretched man, the darkness of self-love does not let thee know this truth. For didst thou know it, thou wouldst choose any pain rather than guide thy life in this way; thou wouldst give thee to loving and desiring Him who Is; thou wouldst enjoy His truth in firmness, and wouldst not move about like a leaf in the wind; thou wouldst serve thy Creator, and wouldst love everything in Him, and apart from Him nothing. Oh, how will this blindness be reproved at the last moment in every rational being, and much the more in those whom God has taken from the filth of the world, and assigned to the greatest excellence that can be, having made them ministers of the Blood of the humble and spotless Lamb! Oh me, oh me! what have you come to by not having followed up your dignities with virtue? You were placed to nourish you at the breasts of Holy Church; you were flowers planted to breathe forth the fragrance of virtue in that garden; you were placed as masts to strengthen this ship, and the Vicar of Christ on earth; you were placed as lights in a candlestick, to give light to faithful Christians, and to spread the faith. Well you know if you have done that for which you were created. Surely no; for self-love has prevented you from knowing that in truth alone, to fortify men and give a shining example of good and holy life, you were put in this garden. Had you known this you would have loved it, and clothed you in that sweet truth. Where is the gratitude which you ought to have for the Bride who has nourished you at her breast? I see in us naught but such ingratitude as dries up the fountain of pity. What shows me that you are ungrateful, coarse, and mercenary? The persecution which you, together with others, are inflicting on that sweet Bride, at a time when you ought to be shields, to ward off the blows of heresy. In spite of which, you clearly know the truth, that Pope Urban VI. is truly Pope, the highest Pontiff, chosen in orderly election, not influenced by fear, truly rather by divine inspiration than by your human industry. And so you announced it to us, which was the truth. Now you have turned your backs, like poor mean knights; your shadow has made you afraid. You have divided you from the truth which strengthens us, and drawn close to falsehood, which weakens soul and body, depriving you of temporal and spiritual grace. What made you do this? The poison of self-love, which has infected the world. That is what has made you pillars lighter than straw. Flowers you who shed no perfume, but stench that makes the whole world reek! No lights you placed in a candlestick, that you might spread the faith; but, having hidden your light under the bushel of pride, and become not extenders, but contaminators of the faith, you shed darkness over yourselves and others. You should have been angels on earth, placed to release us from the devils of hell, and performing the office of angels, by bringing back the sheep into the obedience of Holy Church, and you have taken the office of devils. That evil which you have in yourselves you wish to infect us with, withdrawing us from obedience to Christ on earth, and leading us into obedience to antichrist, a member of the devil, as you are too, so long as you shall abide in this heresy.
This is not the kind of blindness that springs from ignorance. It has not happened to you because people have reported one thing to you while another is so. No, for you know what the truth is: it was you who announced it to us, and not we to you. Oh, how mad you are! For you told us the truth, and you want yourselves to taste a lie! Now you want to corrupt this truth, and make us see the opposite, saying that you chose Pope Urban from fear, which is not so; but anyone who says it—speaking to you without reverence, because you have deprived yourselves of reverence— lies up to his eyes. For it is evident to anyone who wished to see, who it is that you presented as your choice through fear—that was Messer di Santo Pietro. You might say to me, "Why do you not believe us? We know the truth as to whom we chose better than you." And I reply, that you yourselves have shown me that you deserted the truth in many ways, so that I ought not to believe you, that Pope Urban VI. is not the true Pope. If I turn to the beginnings of your life, I do not recognize in you so good and holy a life that you would shrink from a lie for conscience' sake. What shows me that your life is badly governed? The poison of heresy. If I turn to the election ordained by your lips, we knew that you chose him canonically and not through fear. We have already said that he whom you presented to the people through fear was Messer di Santo Pietro. What proves to me the regular election with which you chose Messer Bartolommeo, Archbishop of Bari, who to-day is made in truth Pope Urban VI.? In the solemnity with which his coronation was observed, this truth is clear to us. That the solemnity was carried out in good faith is shown by the reverence which you gave him and the favours asked from him, which you have used in all sorts of ways. You cannot deny this truth except with plain lies.
Ah, foolish men, worthy of a thousand deaths! As blind, you do not see your own wrong, and have fallen into such confusion that you make of your own selves liars and idolaters. For even were it true (which it is not; nay, I assert again that Pope Urban VI. is the true Pope), but were it true what you say, would you not have lied to us when you told us that he was the highest pontiff, as he is? And would you not falsely have shown him reverence, adoring him for Christ on earth? And would you not have practised simony, in trying for favours and using them unlawfully? Yes, indeed. Now they, and you with them, have made an antipope, as far as your action and outward appearance go, since you consented to remain on the spot, when the incarnate demons chose the demon!
You might say to me: "No, we did not choose him." I do not know how I can believe that. For I do not believe that you could have borne to stay there otherwise, had you given your life for it; at least the fact that you suppressed the truth, and did not burst out with it—for this would not have been within your power—makes me inclined to think so. Although, perhaps, you did less wrong than the others in your intention, yet you did do wrong with all the rest. What can I say? I can say that he who is not for the truth is against the truth; he who was not at that time for Christ on earth, Pope Urban VI., was against him. Therefore I tell you that you did wrong, with the antipope: and I may say that he was chosen a member of the devil; for had he been a member of Christ, he would have chosen death rather than consent to so great an evil, for he well knows the truth, and cannot excuse himself through ignorance. Now you have committed all these faults in regard to this devil: that is, to confess him as Pope, which he surely is not, and to show reverence to whom you should not. You have deserted the light, and gone into darkness: the truth, and joined you to a lie. On what side soever, I find nothing but lies. You are worthy of torture, which, I tell you in truth and unburden my conscience thereof, unless you return to obedience with true humility, will fall upon you.
O misery upon misery, and blindness upon blindness, which does not let its wrong be seen nor the loss to soul and body! For had you seen it, you would not have deserted the truth so lightly, in servile fear, passionate all, like proud people and arbitrary, accustomed to pleasant and soft dealings from men! You could not endure, not only an actual correction indeed, but even a harsh word of reproof made you lift up rebellious heads. This is the reason why you changed. And it clearly reveals the truth to us; for, before Christ on earth began to sting you, you confessed him and reverenced him as the Vicar of Christ that he is. But this last fruit that you bear, which brings forth death, shows what kind of trees you are; and that your tree is planted in the earth of pride, which springs from the self-love that robs you of the light of reason.
Oh me, no more thus for the love of God! Take refuge in humbling you beneath the mighty hand of God, in obedience to His Vicar, while you have time; for when the time is passed there will be no more help for us. Recognize your faults, that you may be humble, and know the infinite goodness of God, who has not commanded the earth to swallow you up, nor beasts to devour you; nay, but has given you time, that you may correct your soul. But if you shall not recognize this, what He has given you as a grace shall turn to your great judgment. But if you will return to the fold, and feed in truth at the breast of the Bride of Christ, you shall be received in mercy, by Christ in heaven and by Christ on earth, despite the iniquity you have wrought. I beg that you delay no more, nor kick against the prick of conscience that I know is perpetually stabbing you. And let not confusion of mind, over the evil that you have wrought, so overcome you, that you abandon your salvation in weariness and despair, as seeming unable to find help. Not so must you do; but in living faith, hold firm hope in your Creator, and return humbly to your yoke; for the last sin of obstinacy and despair would be the worst, and most hateful to God and the world. Arise, then, into the light! For without light you would walk in darkness, as you have done up to now.
My soul considering this, that we can neither know nor love the truth without light, I said and say that I desire intensely to see you arisen from darkness, and one with the light. This desire reaches out to all rational beings, but much more to you three, concerning whom I have had the greatest sorrow, and marvel more at your fault than at all the others who have shared it. For did all desert their father, you should have been such sons as strengthened the father, showing the truth. Notwithstanding that the father might have treated you with nothing but reproof, you ought not therefore to have assumed the lead, denying his holiness in any way. Speaking entirely in the natural sense—for according to virtue we ought all to be equal—speaking humanly, Christ on earth being an Italian, and you Italian, I see no reason but self-love why passion for your country could not move you as it did the Ultramontanes. Cast it to earth now, and do not wait for time, since time does not wait for you—trampling such selfishness underfoot, with hate of vice and love of virtue.
Return, return, and wait not for the rod of justice, since we cannot escape the hands of God! We are in His hands either by justice or by mercy; better it is for us to recognize our faults and to abide in the hands of mercy, than to remain in fault and in the hands of justice. For our faults do not pass unpunished, especially those that are wrought against Holy Church. But I wish to bind myself to bear you before God with tears and continual prayer, and to bear with you your penitence, provided that you choose to return to your father, who like a true father awaits you with the open wings of mercy. Oh me, oh me, avoid and flee it not, but humbly receive it, and do not believe evil counsellors who have given you over to death! Oh me, sweet brothers! Sweet brothers and fathers you shall be to me, in so far as you draw close to truth. Make no more resistance to the tears and sweats which the servants of God shed for you, but wash you in them from head to foot. For did you despise them, and the eager sweet and grieving desires which are offered by them for you, you would receive much greater rebuke. Fear God, and His true judgment. I hope by His infinite goodness that He will fulfil in you the desire of His servants.
Let it not seem hard to you if I pierce you with the words which the love of your salvation has made me write: rather would I pierce you with my living voice, did God permit me. His will be done. And yet you deserve rather deeds than words. I come to an end, and say no more; for did I follow my will I should not yet pause, so full is my soul of grief and sorrow to see such blindness in those who were placed for a light: no lambs they, who feed on the food of the honour of God and the salvation of souls, and the reform of Holy Church; but as thieves they steal the honour which they ought to give to God, and give it to themselves, and as wolves they devour the sheep, so that I have great bitterness. I beg you by love of that precious Blood shed with such fiery love for you, that you give refreshment to my soul, which seeks your salvation. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God: bathe you in the Blood of the Spotless Lamb, where you shall lose all servile fear, and enlightened, you shall abide in holy fear. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO GIOVANNA QUEEN OF NAPLES
Giovanna of Naples was one of the most depraved, as well as one of the most romantic, figures of her time. In fascination, as in evil, she anticipates the type of the women of the renascence. Her many crimes had never prevented Catherine Benincasa from yearning over her with a peculiar tenderness, and we have many letters written by the daughter of the dyer of Siena to the great Neapolitan queen. Some of the earlier among these letters seem, curiously enough, not to have been without effect; for Giovanna not only replied to them, but gave her promise to join in a Crusade.
Now that the Great Schism had broken forth, the adhesion of Giovanna to the cause of Urban, who was politically her subject, was of prime importance; and Catherine wrote her about the matter, not once, but many times. In her varied correspondence at this period, these letters have a peculiar interest, from the passionate personal feeling which pervades them. It is not only for the sake of the truth that Catherine pleads and argues, but for the sake of Giovanna's salvation; one would think that even the hardened old Queen must have been touched with the intense and tender solicitude of the following letter, even if she were not convinced by its irrefutable reasoning. As a matter of fact, Giovanna, after having for a time sided with Clement, did temporarily change her base and espouse the cause of Urban. Soon, however, she reverted to her former position. It is probable that for her, as for many European sovereigns, the matter was decided by considerations with which the naif question of the legitimacy of a papal election had little or nothing to do.
Dearest mother 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 grounded in the truth which we must know and love for our salvation. He who shall be grounded in the knowledge of the Truth, Christ sweet Jesus, shall win and enjoy peace and quiet of soul, in the ardour of that charity which receives the soul into this knowledge.
We should know this truth in two chief ways—although it befits us to know it in everything—that is, everything which exists should love itself in God and through God, who is Truth itself, and there is nothing without Him; otherwise it would escape from truth and would walk in falsehood, following the devil, who is the father thereof. I was saying that we ought to recognize truth especially in two ways. The first is, we should recognise the truth about God. He loves us unspeakably, and loved us before we were; nay, by love He created us—this was and is the truth—in order that we might have life eternal and enjoy His highest eternal good. What shows us that this is truly so? The Blood, shed for us with such fire of love. In the sweet Blood of the Word, the Son of God, we shall know the truth of His doctrine, which gives life and light, scattering every shadow of fleshly love and human self-indulgence, but knowing and following with pure heart the doctrine of Christ crucified, which is grounded in the truth. The second and last way is, that we ought to recognize the truth about our neighbour, whether he be great or humble, subject or lord. That is, when we see that men are doing some deed in which we might invite our neighbour to join, we ought to perceive whether it is grounded in truth or not, and what foundation he has who is impelled to do this deed. He who does not do this, acts as one mad and blind, who follows a blind guide, grounded in falsehood, and shows that he has no truth in himself, and therefore seeks not the truth. Sometimes it happens that people are so insane and brutal that they see themselves lose through such a deed the life of soul and body and their temporal possessions; and they do not care, for they are blinded, and do not know what they ought to know; they walk in darkness, with a feminine nature that lacks any firmness or stability.
Dearest mother,—in so far as you are a lover of truth and obedient to Holy Church I call you mother, but in no otherwise, nor do I speak to you with reverence, because I see a great change in your person. You who were a lady have made yourself a servant, and slave of that which is not, having submitted yourself to falsehood, and to the devil, who is its father; abandoning the counsels of the Holy Spirit and accepting the counsels of incarnate demons. You who were a branch of the true vine, have cut yourself off from it with the knife of self-love. You who were a legitimate daughter, tenderly beloved of her father, the Vicar of Christ on earth, Pope Urban VI., who is really the Pope the highest pontiff, have divided yourself from the bosom of your mother, Holy Church, where for so long a time you have been nourished. Oh me! oh me! one can mourn over you as over a dead woman, cast off from the life of grace; dead in soul and dead in body, if you do not escape from such an error. It appears that you have not known God's truth in the way I spoke of; for had you known it, you would have chosen death rather than to offend God mortally. Nor have you known truth about your neighbour; but in great ignorance, moved by your own passion, you have followed the most miserable and insulting counsel—having acted according to it—that I ever heard of. What greater shame can be incurred than that one who was a Christian, held to be a Catholic and virtuous woman, should act like a Christian who denies her faith, and depart from good and holy customs and the due reverence she has observed? Oh me! open the eye of your mind, and sleep no more in so great misery. Do not await the moment of death—after which it will not help you to make excuses, nor to say: "I thought to do good." For you know that you do ill, but like a sick and passionate woman, you let yourself be guided by your passions.
I am quite sure that the counsel came from someone beside yourself. Will, will to know the truth; who those men are, and why they make you see falsehood for truth, saying that Pope Urban VI. is not true Pope, and making you consider that the antipope, who is simply an antichrist, member of the devil, is Christ on earth. With what truth can they say that to you? Not with any; but they say it with entire falsity, lying over their heads. What can those iniquitous men say?—not men, but incarnate demons —since, on whatever side they turn, they must see that they have done nothing but ill. Even were it true—as it is not—that Pope Urban VI. was not the Pope, they would merit a thousand deaths for this alone, as liars discovered in their untruth; for had they chosen him through fear in the beginning, and not honestly with a regular election, and had presented him to us as a true Pope, see! they would have shown us a lie for truth, making us, and themselves at the same time, obey and reverence him whom we ought not. For they did do him reverence, and asked favours from him, and profited by them, as if they came from the highest pontiff, as they did. I say, that were it true that he was not the Pope—(which is not the case, by the great goodness of God, who has had mercy upon us)—for this reason alone they could not be too severely disciplined; but they deserve a thousand thousand deaths to pretend that they elected the Pope through fear, when it was not so. But they cannot speak the truth, being men founded in falsehood, for they cannot so hide it that its darkness and stench cannot be seen and felt. What they pretended is perfectly true: they did elect a Pope through fear after they had elected the true Pope, Messer Bartolomeo, Archbishop of Bari, who to-day is Pope Urban VI.: that was, Messer di Santo Pietro. But he, like a good man and just, confessed that he was not the Pope, but Messer Bartolomeo, Archbishop of Bari, who to-day is called Pope Urban VI., and revered by faithful Christians as highest pontiff and most just man, despite wicked men—not Christians, for they bear the name of Christ neither on their lips nor on their heart—but infidels who have deserted the faith and obedience of Holy Church and the Vicar of Christ on earth, branches cut off from the True Vine, sowers of schism and of greatest heresy.
Open, open the eye of your mind, and sleep no more in such blindness. You should not be so ignorant nor so separated from the true light as not to know the wicked life, with no fear of God, of those who have led you into so great heresy: for the fruits which they bear show you what kinds of trees they are. Their life shows you that they do not tell the truth; so do the counsellors they have about them, without and within, who may be men of knowledge, but they are not men of virtue, nor men whose life is praiseworthy, but rather to be blamed for many faults. Where is the just man whom they have chosen for antipope, if indeed our highest pontiff, Pope Urban VI., were not the true Vicar of Christ? What man have they chosen? A man of holy life? No, but an iniquitous man, a demon—and therefore he does the works of demons. The devil exerts himself to withdraw us from the truth, and he does the very same thing. Why did they not choose a just man? Because they knew well enough that a just man would have chosen death rather than to have accepted the papacy, since he would have seen no colour of truth in them. Therefore the demons took the demon, and the liars the lie. All these things show that Pope Urban VI. is truly Pope, and that they are without truth, lovers of the lie.
If you said to me, "My mind is not clear as to all these things," why do you not at least stay neutral? although it is as clear as can possibly be said. And if you are not willing to help the Pope with your temporal substance until you have more illumination—(help which you are in duty bound to give, because the sons ought to help the father when he is in need)—at least obey him in spiritual things, and in other things remain neutral. But you are behaving like a passionate woman; and hate, and spite, and the fear of losing him of whom you deprived yourself, which you caught from a cursed teller of tales, has robbed us of light and knowledge; for you do not know the truth, obstinately persevering in this evil; and in this obstinacy you do not see the judgment which is coming upon you.
Oh me! I say these words with heartfelt grief, because I tenderly love your salvation. If you do not change your ways, and correct your life, by abandoning this great error, and in regard to everything else, the highest Judge, who does not let sins pass unpunished unless the soul purifies them with contrition of heart and confession and satisfaction, will give you such a punishment that you will become a signal instance to cause anyone to tremble who should ever lift his head against the Holy Church. Wait not for this rod; for it will be hard for you to kick against the divine justice. You are to die, and know not when. Not riches, nor position, however great, nor worldly dignity, nor barons, nor people who are your subjects as to the body, shall be able to defend you before the highest Judge, nor hinder the divine justice. But sometimes God works through rascally men, in order that they may execute justice on His enemy. You have invited and invite the people and all your subjects to be rather against you than with you; for they have found little truth in your character—not the quality of a man with virile heart, but that of a woman without any firmness or stability, a woman who changes like a leaf in the wind.
They have well in mind that when Pope Urban VI., true Pope, was created by a great and true election, and crowned with great solemnity, you held a great and high festival, as the child should do over the exaltation of the father, and the mother over that of the son. For he was both son and father to you; father, through his dignity to which he had come, son because he was your subject—that is to say, of your kingdom. Therefore you did well. Further, you commanded everyone to obey his Holiness as the highest pontiff. Now I see that you have turned about, like a woman who has no decision, and you will them to do the contrary. Oh, miserable passion! That evil which you have in yourself you wish to impart to them. How do you suppose that they can love you and be faithful to you, when they see that you are responsible for separating them from life and leading them into death, and casting them from truth into falsehood? You separate them from Christ in heaven and from Christ on earth, and seek to bind them to the devil, and to antichrist—lover and prophet of lies that he is, he and you and the others who follow him.
No more thus for the love of Christ crucified! You are in every way calling down the divine judgment. I grieve for it. If you do not hinder the ruin that is coming upon you, you cannot escape from the hands of God. Either by justice or by mercy, you are in His hands. Correct your life, that you may escape the hands of justice, and remain in those of mercy. And do not wait for the time, for an hour comes when you shall wish and cannot. O sheep, return to your fold; let you be governed by the Shepherd: else the wolf of hell shall devour you! Take back for your guards the servants of God, who love you in truth more than you yourself, and good, mature and discreet counsellors. For the counsel of incarnate demons, with the inordinate fear into which they have thrown you through terror of losing your temporal state—(which passes like the wind with no permanence, for either it leaves us, or we it through death)—has brought you where you are. You shall yet weep, if you change not your ways, saying: "Alas, alas! I am one who has robbed herself, on account of the fear into which I was thrown by villainous counsellors!" But there is yet time, dearest mother, to avert the judgment of God. Return to the obedience of Holy Church: know the ill that you have wrought: humble you under the mighty hand of God; and God, who has regard to the humility of His handmaid, shall show mercy upon us: He will placate His wrath over your faults; through the mediation of the Blood of Christ, you shall be grafted and bound in Him with the chain of that charity in which you shall know and love the truth. The truth shall set you free from lie: it shall scatter all shadows, giving you light and knowledge in the mercy of God. In this truth you shall be freed; in other wise, never.
And because the truth sets us free, I, having desire for your salvation, said that I desired to see you established in the truth, that it be not wronged by falsehood. I beg you, fulfil in yourself the will of God and the desire of my soul, for with all the depth and all the strength of my soul I desire your salvation. And, therefore, constrained by the Divine Goodness which loves you unspeakably, I have moved me to write to you with great sorrow. Another time, also, I wrote you on this same matter. Have patience if I burden you too much with words, and if I speak with you boldly, irreverently. The love which I bear to you makes me speak with boldness: the fault which you have committed makes me depart from due reverence, and speak irreverently. I could wish far rather to tell you the truth by speech than by writing, for your salvation, and chiefly for the honour of God; and I would far rather deal in deeds than in words with him who is to blame for it all, although the blame and the reason is in yourself, since there is no one, neither demon nor creature, who can force you to the least fault unless you choose. Therefore I said to you that you are the cause of it. Bathe you in the Blood of Christ crucified. There are scattered the clouds of self-love and servile fear, and the poison of hate and self-scorn. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO SISTER DANIELLA OF ORVIETO
Sister Daniella has found herself in straits again; constrained, it would seem, by the Spirit, to action not endorsed by her religious superiors. Possibly she wished, following the example of Catherine, to leave her cloister and take part in the public life of her time. Catherine herself had been in like straits during much of her early life. Well she knew, as St. Francis knew before her, the suffering of that inward conflict, when the Voice of God summons one way, and the voices of men, reinforced by that instinct of humility and obedience which the middle ages held so dear, insist upon another. She writes to her friend with comprehending sympathy. Daniella, as we have already seen, was a woman who understood her and whom she understood. And it must have been a relief to Catherine, at this point in her career, for once to encourage ardour instead of rebuking sin or seeking to inspire timidity. Our saint is so constantly on the side of obedience, when, as not infrequently happens, some weak brother or sister is restless under the yoke of vows, that we are sure she must know her woman when she writes: "Fear and serve God, disregarding yourself; and then do not care what people say unless it is to feel compassion for them."
We see at the end of the letter that Catherine is on the point of going to Rome. In fact, Urban had summoned her thither, being evidently alive to the advantages of the support of one so famed for sanctity. In Rome the remainder of her life was to be passed.
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 thee in true and very perfect light, that thou mayest know the truth in perfection. Oh, how necessary this light is to us, dearest daughter! For without it we cannot walk in the Way of Christ crucified, a shining Way that brings us to life; without it we shall walk among shadows and abide in great storm and bitterness. But, if I consider aright, it behoves us to possess two orders of this light. There is a general light, that every rational creature ought to have, for recognizing whom he ought to love and obey—perceiving in the light of his mind by the pupil of most holy faith, that he is bound to love and serve his Creator, loving Him directly, with all his heart and mind, and obeying the commandments of the law to love God above everything, and our neighbour as ourselves. These are the principles by which all men beside ourselves are held. This is a general light, which we are all bound by; and without it we shall die, and shall follow, deprived of the life of grace, the darkened way of the devil. But there is another light, which is not apart from this, but one with it—nay, by this first, one attains to the second. There are those who, observing the commandments of God, grow into another most perfect light; these rise from imperfection with great and holy desire, and attain unto perfection, observing both commandments and counsels in thought and deed. One should use this light with hungry desire for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, gazing therewith into the light of the sweet and loving Word, where the soul tastes the ineffable love which God has to His creatures, shown to us through that Word, who ran as enamoured to the shameful death of the Cross, for the honour of the Father and for our salvation.
When the soul has known this truth in the perfect light, it rises above itself, above its natural instincts; with intense, sweet and loving desires, it runs, following the footsteps of Christ crucified, bearing pains, bearing shame, ridicule and insult with much persecution, from the world, and often from the servants of God under pretext of virtue. Hungrily it seeks the honour of God and the salvation of souls; and so much does it delight in this glorious food, that it despises itself and everything else: this alone it seeks, and abandons itself. In this perfect light lived the glorious virgins and the other saints, who delighted only in receiving this food with their Bridegroom, on the table of the Cross. Now to us, dearest daughter and sweet my sister in Christ sweet Jesus, He has shown such grace and mercy that He has placed us in the number of those who have advanced from the general light to the particular—that is, He has made us choose the perfect state of the Counsels: therefore we ought to follow that sweet and straight way perfectly, in true light, not looking back for any reason whatever; not walking in our own fashion but in the fashion of God, enduring sufferings without fault even unto death, rescuing the soul from the hands of devils. For this is the Way and the Rule that the Eternal Truth has given thee; and He wrote it on His body, not with ink, but with His Blood, in letters so big that no one is of such low intelligence as to be excused from reading. Well thou seest the initials of that Book, how great they are; and all show the truth of the Eternal Father, the ineffable love with which we were created—this is the truth—only that we might share His highest and eternal good. This our Master is lifted up on high upon the pulpit of the Cross, in order that we may better study it, and should not deceive ourselves, saying: "He teaches this to me on earth, and not on high." Not so: for He ascended upon the Cross, and uplifted there in pain, He seeks to exalt the honour of the Father, and to restore the beauty of souls. Then let us read heartfelt love, founded in truth, in this Book of Life. Lose thyself wholly; and the more thou shalt lose the more thou shalt find; and God will not despise thy desire. Nay, He will direct thee, and show thee what thou shouldst do; and will enlighten him to whom thou mightest be subject, if thou dost according to His counsel. For the soul that prays ought to have a holy jealousy, and let it always rejoice to do whatever it does with the help of prayer and counsel.
Thou didst write me, and as I understood from thy letter it seems that thou art troubled in heart. And this is not a slight feeling; nay, it is mighty, stronger than any other, when on the one side thou dost feel thyself called by God in new ways, and His servants put themselves on the contrary side, saying that this is not well. I have a very great compassion for thee; for I know not what burden is like that, from the jealousy the soul has for itself; for it cannot offer resistance to God, and it would also fulfil the will of His servants, trusting more in their light and knowledge than in its own; and yet it does not seem able to. Now I reply to thee simply according to my low and poor sight. Do not make up thy mind obstinately, but as thou feelest thyself called without thine own doing, so respond. So, if thou dost see souls in danger, and thou canst help them, do not close thine eyes, but exert thyself with perfect zeal to help them, even to death. And never mind about thy past resolutions to silence or anything else—lest it be said to thee later: "Cursed be thou, that thou wast silent." Our every principle and foundation is in the love of God and our neighbour alone; all our other activities are instruments and buildings placed on this foundation. Therefore thou shouldst not, for pleasure in the instrument or the building, desert the principal foundation in the honour of God and the love of our neighbour. Work, then, my daughter, in that field where thou seest that God calls thee to work; and do not get distressed or anxious in mind over what I have said to thee, but endure manfully. Fear and serve God, with no regard to thyself; and then do not care for what people may say, except to have compassion on them.
As to the desire thou hast to leave thy house and go to Rome, throw it upon the will of thy Bridegroom, and if it shall be for His honour and thy salvation, He will send thee means and the way when thou art thinking nothing about it, in a way that thou wouldst never have imagined. Let Him alone, and lose thyself; and beware that thou lose thee nowhere but on the Cross, and there thou shalt find thyself most perfectly. But this thou couldst not do without the perfect light; and therefore I said to thee that I desired to see thee in the true and most perfect light, beyond the common light we talked of.
Let us sleep no more! Let us wake from the slumber of negligence, groaning with humble continual prayers, over the mystical Body of Holy Church, and over the Vicar of Christ! Cease not to pray for him, that Christ may give him light and fortitude to resist the strokes of incarnate demons, lovers of themselves, who seek to contaminate our faith. It is a time for weeping.
As to my coming thy way, pray the highest eternal Goodness of God to do what may be for His honour and the salvation of the soul, and pray especially, for I am on the point of going to Rome, to fulfil the will of Christ crucified and of His Vicar. I do not know what way I shall take. Pray Christ sweet Jesus to send us by that way which is most to His honour, in peace and quiet of our souls. I say no more to thee. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO STEFANO MACONI
"To Stefano di Corrado Maconi, her ignorant and most ungrateful son": "To Stefano Maconi, her most ungrateful and unworthy son, when she was at Rome": so run the superscriptions to these letters. Doubtless, they headed copies made by the hand of Stefano himself. We have seen in connection with Catherine's letters to his mother how constantly after their first meeting this young disciple had been with her. Long before this, he had become the best-beloved of the "Famiglia," and next to herself its most important member. He did not, however, for some reason, accompany her to Rome, and Catherine's heart yearned over him during the last weary months. From the first, she had perceived in his frank and joyous temperament the germs of high spiritual perfection, and had sought to draw him to the monastic life. "Cut the bonds that hold thee, and do not merely loosen them," she wrote in one of the first letters to Stefano that we possess: "Resist no longer the Holy Spirit that is calling thee—for it will be hard for thee to kick against Him. Do not let thyself be withheld by thine own lukewarm heart, or by a womanish tenderness for thyself, but be a man, and enter the battlefield manfully." Stefano, however, despite his personal devotion to Catherine, felt for a long time no vocation for the cloister. She continued, as we see in these letters, to urge him with increasing insistence: but his hesitation was ended only by her death. He hastened to Rome at the last, urgently summoned, in time to see her living and to receive her last words. Her dying request did what her entreaties during life had failed to do; the brilliant young noble became a Carthusian monk. At a later time he was made General of the Order. Devotion to the memory of Catherine was the inspiration of his life after she left him.
The letters in this group were all written after Catherine had reached Rome. They form a strong contrast to the more formal and elaborate documents which she was at this time despatching to dignitaries, concerning the ecclesiastical situation. Their serene spiritual fervour bears witness to the "central peace" subsisting at the heart of the "endless agitation" of her active life. In their intimate messages, moreover, to home friends and disciples, they throw a charming light on what may be called the domestic side of her character.
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 a true guardian of the city of thy soul. Oh, dearest son, this city has many gates! They are three—Memory, Intellect, and Will, and our Creator allows all of them to be battered, and sometimes opened by violence, except one—that is, Will. So it happens at times that the intellect sees nothing but shadows; the memory is occupied with vain and transitory things, with many and varied reflections and impure thoughts; and likewise all the sensations of the body are ill-regulated and ravaging. So it is perfectly clear that no one of these gates is in our own free possession, except only the Gate of Will. This belongs to our liberties, and has for its Watch Free-will. And this gate is so strong that nor demon nor creature can open it if the watch does not consent. And while this gate is not open—that is, while it does not consent to what Memory and Intellect and the other gates experience—our city keeps its free privileges for ever. Let us, then, recognize, my son, let us recognize so excellent a benefit and so unmeasured a largess of charity as we have received from the Divine Goodness, that has put us in free possession of so noble a city.
Let us strive to hold good and zealous watch, keeping at the side of our Watch Free-will, the dog Conscience, who when anyone comes at the gate must awake Reason by its barking, that she may discern whether it be friend or foe: so that the watch may let friends enter, ordering good and holy inspirations to do their work, and may drive away the foes, locking the Gate of Will, that it consent not to admit the evil thoughts that come to the gate every day. And when thy city shall be demanded of thee by the Lord, thou canst give it up, sound, and adorned with true and royal virtues, thanks to His grace. I say no more here.
As I wrote on the first day of the month to all the sons in common, we arrived here on the first Sunday in Advent with much peace. 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 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 risen above childishness, and become a manly man; risen from enjoying the milk of consolations, mental and actual, and set to eat the hard musty bread of many tribulations in mind and body, of conflicts with devils and injuries from thy fellows, and of any other kind that God might be pleased to grant thee. I desire to see thee rejoicing in such, and hasting to meet them with kindling desire and sweet gratitude to the divine goodness, when it may please Him to show thee such great gifts— which will be whenever He shall see thee fit to receive them. Rouse thee, my son, rouse thee from thy lukewarmness of heart; steep it in the Blood, that it may burn in the furnace of divine charity, so that it may attain to abominate all childish deeds, and be on fire to be all manful, to enter on the battlefield to do great works for Christ crucified, fighting manfully. For Paul says that none shall be crowned save such as have manfully fought. So he who sees himself abide away from the Field has cause for weeping. Now I say no more here.
I had thy letter, and saw it gladly. Concerning the affair of the Proposal, I reply that thy disposition pleases me much; and we must be glad of the sweet games that our sweet God plays with His creatures, to persuade them to the end for which we were all created: so that when the sweet medicine and ointment of consolations does not help, He sends us tribulations, cauterizing the wound that it may not suppurate. I will willingly take pains about thy affair, for the love of God and thy salvation, as soon as these festivals and holy days are past.
I will try to obtain the Indulgences that thou askest me for with the first I shall demand. I do not know when—for I have worn out the clerks of the court. One must hold one's self a little back.
I am writing a letter to Matteo: give it to him. And comfort him, and go to find him sometimes, to warm him up to the enterprise that is begun. I have heard of the illness which God has sent ... and, considering his need, I beg and constrain thee as much as I can that thou and thy brothers bring it about that the Company of the Virgin Mary give him aid, as much as thou canst get. Catarina is very much to be pitied, to find herself alone and poor without any refuge; so be zealous to show this charity. I am writing of this to Pietro, too. Let me perceive that you have not shown any negligence.
I say no more to thee. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. All this family comfort thee in Christ, and be the negligent and ungrateful writer commended to thee. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
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 cut thy bonds, and not simply set thyself to loosening them, for it takes some time to loosen, and this thou art not sure of having, so swiftly it passes from thee. It is better, then, to cut them thoroughly, with a true and holy zeal. Oh, how blessed my soul will be when I shall see that thou hast cut thyself off from the world in deed and thought, and from thy own fleshly instincts, and hast united thyself to life eternal: a union that is of such joy and sweetness and suavity that it quenches all bitterness and renders light every heavy weight! Who, then, shall hold us from drawing the sword of hate and love, and cutting self from self with the hand of free will? As soon as this sword has cut, it is of such virtue that it unites. But thou wilt say to me, dearest son: "Where is this sword found and wrought?" I reply to thee, Thou findest it in the cell of self- knowledge, where thou dost conceive hatred of thine own sin and frailty, and love of thy Creator and thy neighbour, with true and sincere virtues. Where is it wrought? In the fire of divine charity, on the anvil of the Body of the sweet and loving Word, the Son of God. Then ignorant indeed, and worthy of great rebuke, is he who has weapons in his possession to defend himself with, and who throws them away.
I do not want thee to be of these ignorant people, but I want thee to hasten in thy whole manhood, and respond to Mary, who calls thee with greatest love. The blood of these glorious martyrs, buried here in Rome as to the body, who gave blood and life with so fiery love for the love of Life, is hot with longing, summoning thee and the others that you come to suffer, for glory and praise of the Name of God and Holy Church, and for the trial of your virtues. For to this Holy Land, wherein God revealed His dignity, calling it His garden, He has called His servants, saying: "Now is the time for them to come, to test the gold of virtue." Now let us not play the deaf man. Were our ears stopped by cold, let us cleanse us in the Blood, hot because it is mingled with fire, and all deafness shall be taken away. Hide thee in the Wounds of Christ crucified; flee before the world, leave thy father's house; flee into the refuge of the Side of Christ crucified, that thou mayest come to the Land of Promise. This same thing I say also to Pietro. Place you at the table of the Cross, and there, refreshed by the Blood, take the food of souls, enduring pains and shames, insults, ridicule, hunger, thirst, and nakedness: glorying, with that sweet Paul the Chosen Vessel, in the shame of Christ crucified. If thou shalt cut thee free, as I said, endurance shall be thy glory, otherwise not, but it shall be a pain to thee, and thy shadow will make thee afraid.
My soul, considering this, as an hungered for thy salvation. I desire to see thee cut thyself free, and not set thyself to loosen, that thou mayest run thee more swiftly. Clothe thee in the Blood of Christ crucified. I say no more to thee. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God.
I had thy letters, and had great consolation from them, over Battista's being healed, because I have hope that he will yet be a good plant, and for the compassion I felt for Monna Giovanna. But I rejoiced very much more that God has sent thee a way of extricating thyself from the world, and also over the good disposition of which thou writest me, that the Lords and our other citizens have toward our sweet "Babbo," Pope Urban VI. May God by His infinite mercy preserve it, and increase ever their reverence and obedience toward him. While thou and the others shall be there, be zealous to sow the truth and confound falsehood as far as your power extends.
Commend me closely to Monna Giovanna and Currado. Comfort also Battista and the rest of the family. Comfort all those sons of mine, and tell them also particularly to pardon me if I do not write to them, because it seems somewhat difficult. Comfort Messer Matteo: tell him to send us word of what he wants, first, because I have forgotten it, and Fra Raimondo went away so soon that we could not get it from him. Then I will zealously do all I can. And tell Frate Tommaso that I do not write to him because I do not know whether he is there, but if he is there, comfort him, and tell him to give me his blessing. Our Lisa and all the family commend themselves to thee. Neri does not write thee because he has been at the point of death; but now he is cured.
May God give thee His sweet eternal blessing. Tell Pietro to come here if he can, for something that is of importance. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love!
Give all these letters, or have them given. And pray God for us. As to these few letters bound by themselves, give them just as they are to Monna Catarina di Giovanni, and let her distribute them.
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 arise from the lukewarmness of thy heart, lest thou be spewed from the mouth of God, hearing this rebuke, "Cursed are ye, the lukewarm! Would you had at least been ice-cold!" This lukewarmness proceeds from ingratitude, which comes from a faint light that does not let us see the agonizing and utter love of Christ crucified, and the infinite benefits received from Him. For in truth, did we see them, our heart would burn with the flame of love, and we should be famished for time, using it with great zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls. To this zeal I summon thee, dearest son, that now we begin to work anew.
I send thee a letter that I am writing to the Lords, and one to the Company of the Virgin Mary. See and understand them, and then give them; and then ... And talk to them fully concerning this matter that is contained in the letters, begging each of them, on behalf of Christ crucified and me, that they deal zealously, just so far as they can, with the Lords and whoever has to do with it, that the right thing may be done in regard to Holy Church, and the Vicar of Christ, Urban VI. It weighs upon me very much, for my part, that it should please them to have confidence in this matter, for the honour of God, and the spiritual and temporal profit of the city. Do thou be fervent and not tepid in this activity, and in quickening thy brothers and elders of the Company to do all they may in the affair of which I write. If you are what you ought to be, you will set fire to all Italy, and not only yonder.
I say no more to thee. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Comfort ... all these, thy brothers, and thy sister, comfort thee in Christ, and all are waiting for thee. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO CERTAIN HOLY HERMITS WHO HAD BEEN INVITED TO ROME BY THE POPE
From early years, Catherine had cherished the simple-hearted desire that the affairs of Christ's people be put in the hands of His truest followers. Now, in this last period of her life, surrounded by the corruption and intrigue of the papal court, her thoughts turned more and more wistfully to the reserves of spiritual passion and insight that lingered in the hearts of obscure "servants of God" living in monasteries or in hermits' cells.
To invite these holy men to Rome—to gather them around Urban, and so show by triumphant witness of those in nearest fellowship with God on which side lay God's truth—was doubtless the political idea of a very unworldly saint. Nevertheless, it commended itself to the Pope. At his request, then, though probably by her own suggestion, Catherine wrote to sundry of those eremites with whom she had long held spiritual converse, summoning them to the Holy City. Her letters were a thrilling call to the champions of Christ, to cast off timidity and indolence, and betake them swiftly to the field where difficulties and troubles, and it might be a martyr's death, was waiting them.
In the third of the letters that follow, Catherine gives a touching picture of two bewildered hermits—Dominican "dogs of the lord" from the gentle Umbrian plain—who obeyed the call. "Old men, and far from well, who have lived such a long time in their peace," they have made the laborious journey, and are now valiantly suppressing their homesickness, and unsaying their involuntary complaints. But not all the hermits summoned were equally docile. Visionary raptures could hardly be looked for in the streets of the metropolis: dear was the seclusion of wood and cell. Father William Flete, whom Catherine had always persisted in admiring, despite his failings, flatly declined to stir; so did his comrade, Brother Antonio. The Abbot of St. Antimo, another person for whom she had always entertained a deep respect, although he came, appears from her letters to have played the part of a coward.
We cannot be surprised if peaceable Religious who had lived their long days in unbroken quiet objected to enter the unpleasant whirlpool of Roman politics. A similar attitude on the part of eremites of culture is not unknown to-day. But their refusal was a blow to Catherine. She could hardly have drawn the natural conclusion that a recluse life unfitted men to fight for practical righteousness, but she did feel deeply troubled. From early youth she had been, as we have repeatedly seen, alive to the dangers of selfishness and indolence peculiarly incident to the contemplative life; at the same time she had firmly believed that, did the flame of intercession only burn bright enough, this life might be profoundly sacrificial. Now her best-beloved recluses did not stand the test in the hour of trial, and their naif egotism disappointed her unspeakably. Her grief, her amaze, her all but scathing contempt for a religion that declined to forego its inward comforts even at the dramatic summons of a crisis in the Church, find expression in these letters. Doubtless the "great refusal" thus offered by men whom she had trusted helped to darken her last months. Not even in the hearts of her intimates, not even among the elect of God, was Catherine to find here on earth a continuing city.
TO BROTHER WILLIAM OF ENGLAND AND BROTHER ANTONIO OF NIZZA AT LECCETO
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 so lose yourselves that you shall seek nor peace nor quiet elsewhere than in Christ crucified, becoming an-hungered upon the table of the Cross, for the honour of God, the salvation of souls, and the reformation of Holy Church, whom to-day we see in so great need that to help her one must come out from one's wood and renounce one's self. If one sees that he can bear fruit in her, it is no time to stay still nor to say, "I should forfeit my peace." For now that God has given us the grace of providing Holy Church with a good and just shepherd, who delights in the servants of God, and wishes them near him, and expects to be able to purify the Church and uproot vices and plant virtues, without any fear of man, since he bears himself like a just and manly man, we others ought to help him. I shall perceive whether we have in truth conceived love for the reformation of Holy Church; for if it is really so, you will follow the will of God and of His Vicar, will come out of your wood, and make haste to enter the battlefield. But if you do not do it, you will be in discord with the will of God. Therefore I pray you, by the love of Christ crucified, that you respond swiftly without delay to the request that the Holy Father makes of you. And do not hesitate because of not having a wood, for there are woods and forests here. Up, dearest sons, and sleep no more, for it is time to watch! I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love! In Rome, on the fifteenth day of December, 1378.
TO BROTHER ANDREA OF LUCCA TO BROTHER BALDO AND TO BROTHER LANDO SERVANTS OF GOD IN SPOLETO, WHEN THEY WERE SUMMONED BY THE HOLY FATHER
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:
Dearest fathers 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 eager and ready to do the will of God, in obedience to His Vicar, Pope Urban VI., in order that by you and the other servants of God help may be brought to His sweet Bride. For we see her in such bitter straits that she is attacked on every side by contrary winds; and you see that she is especially attacked by wicked men, lovers of themselves, by the perilous and evil wind of heresy and schism, which can contaminate our faith. Was she ever in so great a need as now, when those who ought to help her have attacked her, and darkness is shed abroad by those whose task it is to enlighten? They should nourish us with the food of souls, ministering the Blood of Christ crucified which gives the life of grace; and they drag it from men's mouths, ministering eternal death, like wolves who feed not the flock, but devour them. And what shall the dogs do—the servants of God, who are placed in the world as guardians, that they may bark when they see the wolf come, to awaken the chief shepherd? What are they to bark with? With humble and continual prayer, and with the living voice. In this way they shall terrify the demons, visible and invisible, and the heart and mind of our chief Shepherd, Pope Urban VI., shall awaken; and when he shall be wakened, we do not doubt that the mystical body of Holy Church and the universal body of the Christian religion shall be helped, and the flock recovered, and saved from the hands of devils. You ought not to draw back for any reason: not for suffering that you expected, nor for shames nor persecution, nor ridicule that might be cast at you; not for hunger, thirst, or death a thousand times were it possible; not for desire of quiet, nor of your consolations, saying: "I wish my soul's peace, and I can cry out in prayer before the face of God (without going to Rome)"; nay, by the love of Christ crucified. For it is not now the hour to seek one's self for one's self, nor to flee pains in order to possess consolations; nay, it is the hour to lose one's self, since the Infinite Goodness and Mercy of God has seen to the necessity of Holy Church, and given her a just and good shepherd, who wishes to have these dogs around him, which shall bark constantly for the honour of God; fearing lest he sleep, and not trusting in his vigil, unless they are always ready to bark to waken him. You are among those whom he has chosen. Therefore I beg and constrain you in Christ sweet Jesus, that you come swiftly, to fulfil the will of God, who wills thus, and the holy will of the Vicar of Christ, that is calling you and the others.
You need not be afraid of luxuries or of great consolations; for you are coming to endure, and not to enjoy yourselves, except with the joy of the Cross. Lean your head out, and come forth into the Field, to fight genuinely for truth; holding before the eye of your mind the persecution wrought to the Blood of Christ, and the damnation of souls; in order that we may be more inspired for the battle, so that we may look back for no possible cause. Come, come! and do not linger, waiting for the hour, for the hour does not wait us. I am sure that the Infinite Goodness of God will make you know the truth. And yet I know that many, even among those who are servants of God, will go to you and oppose this holy and good work, thinking to speak well, in saying: "You will go, and nothing will be done." And I, like a presumptuous woman, say that something will be done; if our principal desire is not now to be fulfilled, at least the way will be cleared. And even if nothing at all should be done, we have shown in the sight of God and our fellow-men that we have done what we could; our own conscience has been aroused and unburdened. So that it is well in any case. The more opposition you shall have, the clearer sign it is to you that this is a good and holy work; since as we have seen, and continue to see constantly, great, holy, and good works meet more opposition than little ones, because they have larger results; and therefore the devil hinders them in every way he can, especially by means of the servants of God, through obscure deceits, under colour of virtue. I have said this to you in order that you should not give up coming for any reason, but should present yourselves with prompt obedience at the feet of his Holiness.
Drown you in the Blood of Christ, and may our own will die in all things. I say no more to you. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Commend me to all the servants of God near you, that they may pray the Divine Goodness to give me grace to lay down my life for His Truth. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.
TO BROTHER ANTONIO OF NIZZA OF THE HERMIT BROTHERS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE AT THE CONVENT OF LECCETO NEAR SIENA
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 founded upon the Living Rock, Christ sweet Jesus, so that the building you shall raise on it may never be overthrown by any contrary wind that may strike you, but may endure wholly solid, firm, and stable, even till your death upon the Way of Truth. Oh, how we need this true and royal foundation—not known of my ignorance! for did I truly know it, I should not build upon myself, who am worse than sand, but upon that Living Rock I spoke of. Following Christ upon the way of shame and outrage and insult, I should deprive me of every consolation from whatever source, within or without, to conform myself with Him. I would not seek myself for my own sake, but would care only for the honour of God, the salvation of souls, and the reform of Holy Church, whom I see in so great need! Me miserable, who am doing quite the contrary! But though I do wrong, dearest son, I would not that you and the others did; nay, I desire to see you founded on this Rock. Now the hour is come that proves who is a servant of God, and whether men shall seek themselves for their own sake, and God for the private consolation they find in Him, and their neighbours for their own sake in so far as they see consolations in them—yes, or no, and whether we are to believe that God may be found only in one place and not in another. I do not see that this is so—but find that to the true servant of God every place is the right place and every time is the right time. So when the time comes to abandon his own consolations and embrace labours for the honour of God, he does it; and when the time comes to flee the wood for need of the honour of God, he does it, and betakes him to public places, as did the blessed St. Antony, who although he supremely loved solitude, yet deserted it many times to comfort the Christians. And so I might tell of many other saints. This has always been the habit of the true servants of God, to emerge in time of need and adversity, but not in the time of prosperity—nay, that they flee. There is no need to flee just now, through fear lest our great prosperity make our hearts sail away in the wind of pride and vainglory; for there is no one who can glory now otherwise than in labours. But light seems to be failing us, dazzled as we are by our consolations and the hope we place in special revelations— things which do not let us know the truth rightly, though we act in good faith. But God, who is highest and eternal Goodness, gives us perfect and true light. I enlarge no more on this matter.
It appears, from the letter which Brother William has sent me, that neither he nor you is coming here. I do not intend to reply to this letter: but I grieve much over his simplicity, for little honour to God or edification to his neighbour results from it. For if he is unwilling to come from humility and fear of forfeiting his peace, he ought to exercise the virtue of humility, by asking permission from the Vicar of Christ humbly and with gentleness, entreating his Holiness graciously to permit him to stay in his wood, for his greater peace, nevertheless, as one truly obedient, submitting the matter to his will. Thus he would be more pleasing to God, and would secure his own good. But he seems to have done just the contrary, alleging that a person who is bound to divine obedience ought not to obey his fellow-creatures. As to other people, I should care very little; but that he should include the Vicar of Christ, this does grieve me much, to see him so discordant with truth. For divine obedience never prevents us from obedience to the Holy Father: nay, the more perfect the one, the more perfect is the other. And we ought always to be subject to his commands and obedient unto death. However indiscreet obedience to him might seem, and however it should deprive us of mental peace and consolation, we ought to obey; and I consider that to do the opposite is a great imperfection, and deceit of the devil. It appears from what he writes that two servants of God have had a great revelation, to the effect that Christ on earth, and whoever advised him to send for these servants of God, followed human and not divine counsel, and that it was rather the instigation of the devil than the inspiration of God that made them wish to drag their servants from their peace and consolations: adding that if you and the others came you would lose your spiritual life, and thus would be of no help in prayer, and unable to stand by the Holy Father in spirit. Now really, the spiritual life is quite too lightly held if it is lost by change of place. Apparently God is an acceptor of places, and is found only in a wood, and not elsewhere in time of need! Then what shall we say —we who, on the one hand, wish that the Church of God be reformed, the thorns uprooted, and the fragrant flowers the servants of God planted there; and, on the other hand, we are told that to send for them, and drag them from their mental peace and quiet in order that they may come to help that little Ship is a wile of the devil? At least, let a man speak for himself, and not speak of the other servants of God—for among the servants of the world we are not to count ourselves. Not thus have done Brother Andrea of Lucca, nor Brother Paolina, those great servants of God, old men and far from well, who have lived such a long time in their peace: but at once, with all their weariness and disabilities they put themselves on the road, and have come, and fulfilled their obedience: and although desire constrains them to return to their cells, they are not therefore willing to throw off the yoke, but say: "What I have said, be it unsaid!" —disregarding their self-will and their personal consolations. One comes here to endure: not for honours, but for the dignity of many labours, with tears, vigils and continual prayers; thus should one do. Now let us not weigh ourselves down with more words. May God by His mercy send us clear vision, and guide us in the way of truth, and give us true and perfect light, that we may never walk among shadows. I beg you, you and the Bachellor, and the other servants of God, to pray the Humble Lamb that He make me walk in His Way. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.