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Letters of Catherine Benincasa by Catherine Benincasa

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Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.


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

"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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

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

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.


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


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


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.


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.

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