Catherine of Siena

Some quotations from letters (available here

What is the fruit of the soul? Hatred of itself and love of Me. This hate and love are the issue of self-knowledge; then the soul knows its faulty self to be nothing, and it sees in itself My goodness, which keeps its will good; and it sees what a person I have made it, in order that it may serve Me in greater perfection, and judges that I have made it for the best, and for its own greatest good. Such a man as this, dearest daughter, does not wish for time to suit himself, because he has learned humility; knowing his infirmity, he does not trust in his own wish, but is faithful to Me. He clothes him in My highest and eternal will, because he sees that I neither give nor take away, save for your sanctification; and he sees that love alone impels Me to give you sweetness and to take it from you. For this cause he cannot grieve over any consolation that might be taken from him within or without, by demon or fellow-creature–because he sees that, were this not for his good, I should not permit it.


There is no sin nor wrong that gives a man such a foretaste of hell in this life as anger and impatience. It is hated by God, it holds its neighbour in aversion, and has neither knowledge nor desire to bear and forbear with its faults. And whatever is said or done to it, it at once empoisons, and its impulses blow about like a leaf in the wind. It becomes unendurable to itself, for perverted will is always gnawing at it, and it craves what it cannot have; it is discordant with the will of God and with the rational part of its own soul. And all this comes from the tree of Pride, from which oozes out the sap of anger and impatience. The man becomes an incarnate demon, and it is much worse to fight with these visible demons than with the invisible. Surely, then, every reasonable being ought to flee this sin.


So then–in the time of labours and persecutions, of insults and injuries inflicted by one’s neighbour, of mental conflicts and deprivation of spiritual consolations, by the Creator or the creature, (by the Creator in His gentleness, when He withdraws the feeling of the mind, so that it does not seem as if God were in the soul, so many are its pains and conflicts–and by fellow-creatures, in conversation or amusement, or when the soul thinks that it loves more than it is loved)–in all these things, I say that the soul perfected by humility says: “My Lord, behold Thy handmaid: be it done unto me according to Thy word, and not according to what I want with my senses.” So it sheds the fragrance of patience, around the Creator and its fellow-creature and itself. It has peace and quiet in its mind, and it has found peace in warfare, because it has driven far from it its self-will founded in pride, and has conceived divine grace in its soul. And it bears in its mind’s breast Christ crucified, and rejoices in the Wounds of Christ crucified, and seeks to know naught but Christ crucified; and its bed is the Cross of Christ crucified. There it annuls its own will, and becomes humble and obedient.


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 a real bride of Christ crucified, running away from everything which might hinder thee from possessing this sweet and glorious Bridegroom. But thou couldst not do this if thou wert not among those wise virgins consecrated to Christ who had lamps with oil in them, and light was within. See, then, if thou wishest to be a bride of Christ, thou must have lamp, and oil, and light. Dost thou know what this means, daughter mine? By the lamp is meant our heart, because a heart ought to be made like a lamp. Thou seest that a lamp is wide above and narrow below, and so the heart is made, to signify that we ought always to keep it wide above, through holy thoughts and holy imaginations and continual prayer; always holding in memory the blessings of God, and chiefly the blessing of the Blood by which we are bought. For Blessed Christ, my daughter, did not buy us with gold or silver or pearls or other precious stones; nay, He bought us with His precious Blood. So one wants never to forget so great a blessing, but always to hold it before one’s eyes, in holy and sweet gratitude, seeing how immeasurably God loves us: who did not shrink from giving His only begotten Son to the opprobrious death of the Cross, to give us the life of grace.

I said that a lamp is narrow below, and so is our heart: to signify that the heart ought to be narrow toward these earthly things–that is, it must not desire nor love them extravagantly, nor hunger for more than God wills to give us; but ever thank Him, seeing how sweetly He provides for us so that we never lack anything.

Now in this way, our heart will really be a lamp. But reflect, daughter mine, that this would not be enough were there no oil within. By oil is meant that sweet little virtue, profound humility: for it is fitting that the bride of Christ be humble and gentle and patient; and she will be as humble as she is patient, and as patient as she is humble. But we cannot attain this virtue of humility except by true knowledge of ourselves, knowing our misery and frailty, and that we by ourselves can do no good deed, nor escape any conflict or pain; for if we have a bodily infirmity, or a pain or conflict in our minds, we cannot escape it or remove it–for if we could we should escape from it swiftly. So it is quite true that we in ourselves are nothing other than infamy, misery, stench, frailty, and sins; wherefore, we ought always to abide low and humble. But to abide wholly in such knowledge of one’s self would not be good, because the soul would fall into weariness and confusion; and from confusion it would fall into despair: so the devil would like nothing better than to make us fall into confusion, to drive us afterward to despair. We ought, then, to abide in the knowledge of the goodness of God in Himself, perceiving that He has created us in His image and likeness, and re-created us in grace by the Blood of His only-begotten Son, the sweet incarnate Lord; and reflecting how continually the goodness of God works in us. But see, that to abide entirely in this knowledge of God would not be good, because the soul would fall into presumption and pride. So it befits us to have one mixed with the other–that is, to abide in the holy knowledge of the goodness of God, and also in the knowledge of ourselves: and so we shall be humble, patient, and gentle, and in this way we shall have oil in our lamp.


Perfection is this: that the Word, the Son of God, fed at the table of holy desire for the honour of God and for our salvation; and with this desire ran with great zeal to the shameful death of the Cross, avoiding neither toil nor labour, not drawing back for the ingratitude and ignorance of us men who did not recognize His benefits, nor for the persecution of the Jews, nor for mockery or insults or criticism of the people, but underwent them all, like our captain and true knight, who was come to teach us His way and rule and doctrine, opening the door with the keys of His precious Blood, shed with ardent love and hatred against sin. As says this sweet, loving Word, “Behold, I have made you a way, and opened the door with My blood. Be you then not negligent to follow it, and do not sit yourselves down in self-love, ignorantly failing to know the Way, and presumptuously wishing to choose it after your own fashion, and not after Mine who made it. Rise up then, and follow Me: for no one can go to the Father but by Me. I am the Way and the Door.”

Then the soul, enamoured and tormented with love, runs to the table of holy desire, and sees not itself in itself, seeking private consolation, spiritual or temporal, but, as one who has wholly destroyed his own will in this light and knowledge, refuses no toil from whatever side it comes. Nay, in suffering, in pain, in many assaults from the devil and criticisms from men, it seeks upon the table of the Cross the food of the honour of God and the salvation of men. And it seeks no reward, from God or from fellow-creatures; such men serve God, not for their own joy, and the neighbour not for their own will or profit, but from pure love. They lose themselves, divesting them of the old man, their fleshly desires, and array them in the new man, Christ sweet Jesus, following Him manfully. These are they who feed at the table of holy desire, and have more zeal for slaying their self-will than for slaying and mortifying the body. They have mortified the body, to be sure, but not as a chief aim, but as the tool which it is, to help in slaying self-will; for one’s chief aim ought to be and is to slay the will; that it may seek and wish naught save to follow Christ crucified, seeking the honour and glory of His Name, and the salvation of souls. Such men abide ever in peace and quiet; there are none who can offend them, because they have cast away the thing that gives offence–that is, self-will. All the persecutions which the world and the devil can inflict run away beneath their feet; they stand in the water, made fast to the twigs of eager desire, and are not submerged. Such a man as this rejoices in everything; he does not make himself a judge of the servants of God, nor of any rational creature; nay, he rejoices in every condition and every type that he sees, saying, “Thanks be to Thee, eternal Father, that Thou hast many mansions in Thy House.” And he rejoices more in the different kinds of men that he sees than he would do in seeing them all walk in the same way, for so he sees the greatness of God’s goodness more manifest. He joys in everything, and gets from it the fragrance of roses. And even as to a thing which he may expressly see to be sin, he does not pose as a judge, but regards it rather with holy true compassion, saying, “To-day it is thy turn, and to-morrow mine, unless it be for divine grace which preserves me.”






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