TREATISE ON PURGATORY
Saint Catherine of Genoa was born in the Vicolo del
Filo in that city, in 1447. She was of the great Guelph family of Fiesca,
being the daughter of Giacomo Fiesca, at one time Viceroy of Naples, and
granddaughter of Roberto Fiesca, whose brother was Pope Innocent IV.
Another Fiesca was Pope Adrian V; for this family gave several princes to
the Church and many bold and skillful warriors and statesmen to the
state. The saint's mother, Francesca de Negro, was likewise of
Catherine, who was one of five children, was brought
up piously. Her earliest biography, written by the priest Cattaneo
Marabotto, who was her confessor in her latter years, and by her friend
Ettore Vernazza, relates that her penances were remarkable from the time
she was eight, and that she received the gift of prayer in her thirteenth
year. When she was thirteen she declared to her confessor her wish to
enter the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Genoa, a house of
Augustinian Canonesses of the Lateran in which her elder sister Limbania
had already taken the veil. He pointed out to her that she was still very
young and that the life of a religious was hard, but she met his
objections with a "prudence and zeal" which seemed to him "not human but
supernatural and divine ". So he visited the convent of her predilection,
to which he was confessor, and urged the mothers to accept her as a
novice. But they were obdurate against transgressing their custom by
receiving so young a girl. Catherine's disappointment gave her "great
pain, but she hoped the Lord Almighty would not forsake her."
She grew up to be very lovely: "taller than most
women, her head well proportioned, her face rather long but singularly
beautiful and well shaped, her complexion fair and in the flower of her
youth rubicund, her nose long rather than short, her eyes dark and her
forehead high and broad; every part of her body was well formed." About
the time she failed to enter the convent, or a little later, her father
died, and his power and possessions passed to her eldest brother Giacomo.
Wishing to compose the differences between the factions into which the
principal families of Genoa were divided—differences
which had long entailed cruel, distracting and wearing strife—Giacomo
Fiesca formed the project of marrying his young sister to Giuliano Adorni,
son of the head of a powerful Ghibelline family. He obtained his mother's
support for his plan, and found Giuliano willing to accept the beautiful,
noble and rich bride proposed to him; as for Catherine herself, she would
not refuse this cross laid on her at the command of her mother and eldest
brother. On the 13th of January, 1463, at the age of sixteen, she was
married to Giuliano Adorni.
He is described as a man of "strange and recalcitrant
nature" who wasted his substance on disorderly living. Catherine, living
with him in his fine house in the Piazza Sant' Agnete, at first entirely
refused to adopt his worldly ways, and lived "like a hermit", never going
out except to hear Mass. But when she had thus spent five years, she
yielded to the remonstrances of her family, and for the next five years
practiced a certain commerce with the world, partaking of the pleasures
customary among the women of her class but never falling into sin.
Increasingly she was irked and wearied by her husband's lack of spiritual
sympathy with her, and by the distractions which kept her from God.
Her conversion is dated from the eve of St. Bernard,
1474, when she visited the church of St. Bernard, in Genoa, and prayed,
so intolerable had life in the world become to her, that she might have
an illness which would keep her three months in bed. Her prayer was not
granted but her longing to leave the world persisted. Two days later she
visited her sister Limbania in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie,
and at Limbania's instance returned there on the morrow to make her
confession to the nuns' confessor. Suddenly, as she was kneeling down at
the confessional, "her heart was wounded by a dart of God's immense love,
and she had a clear vision of her own wretchedness and faults and the
most high goodness of God. She fell to the ground, all but swooning", and
from her heart rose the unuttered cry, "No more of the world for me! No
more sin!" The confessor was at this moment called away, and when he came
back she could speak again, and asked and obtained his leave to postpone
Then she hurried home, to shut herself up in the most
secluded room in the house, and for several days she stayed there
absorbed by consciousness of her own wretchedness and of God's mercy in
warning her. She had a vision of Our Lord, weighed down by His Cross and
covered with blood, and she cried aloud, "O Lord, I will never sin again;
if need be, I will make public confession of my sins." After a time, she
was inspired with a desire for Holy Communion which she fulfilled on the
feast of the Annunciation.
She now entered on a life of prayer and penance. She
obtained from her husband a promise, which he kept, to live with her as a
brother. She made strict rules for herself—to
avert her eyes from sights of the world, to speak no useless words, to
eat only what was necessary for life, to sleep as little as possible and
on a bed in which she put briars and thistles, to wear a rough hair
shirt. Every day she spent six hours in prayer. She rigorously mortified
her affections and will.
Soon, guided by the Ladies of Mercy, she was devoting
herself to the care of the sick poor. In her plain dress she would go
through the streets and byways of Genoa, looking for poor people who were
ill, and when she found them she tended them and washed and mended their
filthy rags. Often she visited the hospital of St. Lazarus, which
harbored incurables so diseased as to be horrible to the sight and smell,
many of them embittered. In Catherine they aroused not disgust but
charity; she met their insults with unfailing gentleness.
Her earliest biography gives details of her religious
practices. From the time of her conversion she hungered insatiably for
the Holy Eucharist, and the priests admitted her to the privilege, very
rare in that period, of daily communion. For twenty-three years,
beginning in the third year after her conversion, she fasted completely
throughout Lent and Advent, except that at long intervals she drank a
glass of water mixed with salt and vinegar to remind herself of the drink
offered to Our Lord on the cross, and during these fasts she enjoyed
exceptional health and vigor. For twenty-five years after her conversion
she had no spiritual director except Our Lord Himself. Then, when she had
fallen into the illness which afflicted the last ten years of her life,
she felt the need for human help, and a priest named Cattaneo Marabotto,
who had a position of authority in the hospital in which she was then
working, became her confessor.
Some years after her conversion her husband was
received into the third order of St. Francis, and afterwards he helped
her in her works of mercy.
The time came when the directors of the great
hospital in Genoa asked Catherine to superintend the care of the sick in
this institution. She accepted, and hired near the hospital a poor house
in which she and her husband lived out the rest of their days. Her
prayers were still long and regular and her raptures frequent, but she so
arranged that neither her devotions nor her ecstasies interfered with her
care of the sick. Although she was humbly submissive even to the hospital
servants, the directors saw the value of her work and appointed her
rector of the hospital with unlimited powers.
In 1497 she nursed her husband through his last
illness. In his will he extolled her virtues and left her all his
Mrs. Charlotte Balfour underlined in her copy of the
saint's works an indicative extract from her teaching. "We should not
wish for anything but what comes to us from moment to moment," Saint
Catherine told her spiritual children, "exercising ourselves none the
less for good. For he who would not thus exercise himself, and await what
God sends, would tempt God. When we have done what good we can, let us
accept all that happens to us by Our Lord's ordinance, and let us unite
ourselves to it by our will. Who tastes what it is to rest in union with
God will seem to himself to have won to Paradise even in this life."
She was still only fifty-three years old when she
fell ill, worn out by her life of ecstasies, her burning love for God,
labor for her fellow creatures and her privations; during her last ten
years on earth she suffered much. She died on the 15th of September,
1510, at the age of sixty-three. The public cult rendered to her was
declared legitimate on the 6th of April, 1675. The process for her
canonization was instituted by the directors of the hospital in Genoa
where she had worked. Her heroic virtue and the authenticity of many
miracles attributed to her having been proved, the bull for her
canonization was issued by Clement XII on the 30th of April, 1737.
Saint Catherine's authorship of the 'Treatise on
Purgatory has never been disputed. But Baron von Hugel in his monumental
work the "Mystical Element in Religion as Studied in Saint Catherine of
Genoa and her Friends" concludes convincingly, after a meticulous
examination of the "Dialogue of the Blessed and Seraphic Saint Catherine
of Genoa," that its author was Battista Vernazza:" The entire "Dialogue"
then is the work of Battista Vernazza." Thus this work is not, as has been
thought, the saint's spiritual autobiography, nor indeed does it ever
claim to be other than what it is, her spiritual biography. It is the
life of her soul, dramatized by a younger woman who had known her and her
intimates, who had a singular devotion to her, and who was peculiarly
qualified to understand her experience.
Baron von Hugel believed that Saint Catherine first
became acquainted with the Genoese notary Ettore Vernazza during the
epidemic in Genoa in 1493, that is nineteen years after her conversion,
when she was forty-six years old and he in his early twenties. She wrote
of "a great compassion he had conceived when still very young, at the
time the pestilence raged in Genoa, when he used to go about to help the
poor ". Von Hugel describes him, after profound study of his life and
works, as "a man of fine and keen, deep and world-embracing mind and
heart, of an overflowing, ceaseless activity, and of a will of steel". He
was "the most intimate, certainly the most perceptive of Catherine's
disciples" and with Cattaneo Marabotto wrote the earliest life of her. In
1496 he married Bartolomea Ricci, and they had three daughters of whom
the eldest, Tommasa, had Saint Catherine for godmother.
Little Tommasa was a sensitive, loving, bright child
with a turn for writing, as she shewed in a few simple lines of verse
which she wrote to her "most holy protectress" and "adored mother" when
she was only ten. Was she addressing her godmother, or her mother in the
flesh who died not long afterwards? Her father, after his wife's death,
sent her and her little sister Catetta to board in that convent of
Augustinian canonesses in which Saint Catherine had not been allowed to
take the veil. Perhaps the nuns had been taught by the saint that very
young girls may have a true vocation to religion, for Tommasa was only
thirteen when, on the 24th of June, 1510, she received in their house the
habit of an Augustinian Canoness of the Lateran and changed her name to
Battista. She spent all the rest of her ninety years on earth in that
convent in Genoa.
Twelve weeks after her reception Saint Catherine
died, and Baron von Hugel tentatively identifies Battista with an unnamed
nun to whom, and to six other friends and disciples of the saint,
Battista's father among them, "intimations and communications of her
passage and instant complete union with God" were vouchsafed at the
moment of her death.
Battista's literary remains include many letters,
spiritual canticles and sonnets, and several volumes of spiritual
dissertations in which are "all but endless parallels and illustrations"
to the teachings of Saint Catherine. She wrote also three sets of
"Colloquies," and in one of them relates certain of her own spiritual
experiences. In all her writings, but especially in these narrations,
Baron von Hugel notes the influence of Catherine's doctrine and spiritual
The "Dialogue" reproduces the incidents of the
saint's spiritual life as these are recorded in her earliest biography,
and its doctrine is that embodied in the "Treatise on Purgatory and in
her recorded sayings, from which even its language is in large part
derived. That its matter has passed through another mind, Battista's,
gives it an added interest: there is the curious, vivid dramatization;
there is, in some passages, a poignant and individual quality; and there
is an insight which proves that Battista herself was also a mystic, one
who had spent all her days in the spiritual companionship of Saint
Catherine. We are shewn not only the saint but also her reflection in the
mirror which was Battista's mind. "A person", says Von Hugel, speaking of
Battista at the time when she wrote the "Dialogue," "living now
thirty-eight years after Catherine's death, in an environment of a kind
to preserve her memory green.... Battista, the goddaughter of the heroine
of the work, and the eldest, devoted daughter of the chief contributor to
the already extant biography; a contemplative with a deep interest in,
and much practical experience of, the kind of spirituality to be
portrayed and the sort of literature required; a nun during thirty-eight
years in the very convent where Catherine's sister, one of its
foundresses, had lived and died, and where Catherine herself had desired
to live and where her conversion had taken place."
The "Dialogue," long generally accepted as
Catherine's own account of her spiritual life, has been allowed by the
highest authorities to embody, with her "Treatise on Purgatory," the
saint's doctrine. These two treatises and the earliest biography,
translated into several languages, spread that doctrine and devotion to
her throughout the Catholic world in the centuries between her death and
her canonization. The bull which canonized her alludes to the "Dialogue"
as an exposition of her doctrine: "In her admirable "Dialogue" she
depicts the dangers to which a soul bound by the flesh is exposed."
The Vicomte Theodore Marie de Bussierne includes the
"Dialogue "with the "Treatise on Purgatory" in his translation into
French of the saint's works, published in 1860. It was from this
translation that Mrs. Charlotte Balfour translated the first half of the
"Dialogue" into English. She meant to make an English version of all the
saint's works but had worked only on the "Dialogue" at the time of her
death. Her work has been carefully collated with the Italian original and
revised where necessary, the edition used being that included in the
beautiful "Life and Works" of Saint Catherine which was printed in Rome
in 1737, the year of her canonization, by Giovanni Battista de Caporali,
and dedicated to Princess Vittoria Altoviti de' Corsini, the Pope's niece.
As here printed, the whole Dialogue may be regarded as translated from
Battista Venazza's original work. Mrs. Balfour would certainly have
wished to acknowledge her debt to Monsieur de Bussierne's French version.
The latter part of the Dialogue and the whole "Treatise on Purgatory"
have been directly translated from the 1737 Italian edition of the
Saint Catherine's earliest biography concludes with
the following words:
"It remains for us to pray the Lord, of His great
goodness and by the intercession of this glorious Seraphin, to give us His
love abundantly, that we may not cease to grow in virtue, and may at last
win to eternal beatitude with God who lives and reigns for ever and ever."
TREATISE ON PURGATORY
How by Comparing it to the Divine Fire which
she Felt in Herself, this Soul Understood what Purgatory was like and how
the Souls there were Tormented.1
The state of the souls who are in Purgatory, how
they are exempt from all self-love.
This holy Soul2
found herself, while still in the flesh, placed by the fiery love of God
in Purgatory, which burnt her, cleansing whatever in her needed
cleansing, to the end that when she passed from this life she might be
presented to the sight of God, her dear Love. By means of this loving
fire, she understood in her soul the state of the souls of the faithful
who are placed in Purgatory to purge them of all the rust and stains of
sin of which they have not rid themselves in this life. And since this
Soul, placed by the divine fire in this loving Purgatory, was united to
that divine love and content with all that was wrought in her, she
understood the state of the souls who are in Purgatory. And she said:
The souls who are in Purgatory cannot, as I
understand, choose but be there, and this is by God's ordinance who
therein has done justly. They cannot turn their thoughts back to
themselves, nor can they say, "Such sins I have committed for which I
deserve to be here ", nor, "I would that I had not committed them for
then I would go now to Paradise", nor, "That one will leave sooner than
I", nor, "I will leave sooner than he". They can have neither of
themselves nor of others any memory, whether of good or evil, whence they
would have greater pain than they suffer ordinarily. So happy are they to
be within God's ordinance, and that He should do all which pleases Him,
as it pleases Him that in their greatest pain they cannot think of
themselves. They see only the working of the divine goodness, which leads
man to itself mercifully, so that he no longer sees aught of the pain or
good which may befall him. Nor would these souls be in pure charity if
they could see that pain or good. They cannot see that they are in pain
because of their sins; that sight they cannot hold in their minds because
in it there would be an active imperfection, which cannot be where no
actual sin can be.
Only once, as they pass from this life, do they see
the cause of the Purgatory they endure; never again do they see it for in
another sight of it there would be self. Being then in charity from which
they cannot now depart by any actual fault, they can no longer will nor
desire save with the pure will of pure charity. Being in that fire of
Purgatory, they are within the divine ordinance, which is pure charity,
and in nothing can they depart thence for they are deprived of the power
to sin as of the power to merit.
What is the joy of the souls in Purgatory. A
comparison to shew how they see God ever more and more. The difficulty of
speaking of this state.
I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be
compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in
Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these
souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's
rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and
more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. A thing which is
covered cannot respond to the sun's rays, not because of any defect in
the sun, which is shining all the time, but because the cover is an
obstacle; if the cover be burnt away, this thing is open to the sun; more
and more as the cover is consumed does it respond to the rays of the sun
It is in this way that rust, which is sin, covers
souls, and in Purgatory is burnt away by fire; the more it is consumed,
the more do the souls respond to God, the true sun. As the rust lessens
and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the
time be accomplished the one wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does
not lessen but only the time for which pain is endured. As for will:
never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with
God's ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united.
But, on the other hand, they endure a pain so extreme
that no tongue can be found to tell it, nor could the mind understand its
least pang if God by special grace did not shew so much. Which least pang
God of His grace shewed to this Soul, but with her tongue she cannot say
what it is. This sight which the Lord revealed to me has never since left
my mind and I will tell what I can of it. They will understand whose mind
God deigns to open.
Separation from God is the chief punishment of
Purgatory. Wherein Purgatory differs from Hell.
All the pains of Purgatory arise from original or
actual sin. God created the soul pure, simple and clean of all stain of
sin, with a certain beatific instinct towards Himself whence original
sin, which the soul finds in itself, draws it away, and when actual is
added to original sin the soul is drawn yet further away. The further it
departs from its beatific instinct, the more malignant it becomes because
it corresponds less to God.
There can be no good save by participation in God,
who meets the needs of irrational creatures as He wills and has ordained,
never failing them, and answers to a rational soul in the measure in
which He finds it cleansed of sin's hindrance. When therefore a soul has
come near to the pure and clear state in which it was created, its
beatific instinct discovers itself and grows unceasingly, so impetuously
and with such fierce charity (drawing it to its last end) that any
hindrance seems to this soul a thing past bearing. The more it sees, the
more extreme is its pain.
Because the souls in Purgatory are without the guilt
of sin, there is no hindrance between them and God except their pain,
which holds them back so that they cannot reach perfection. Clearly they
see the grievousness of every least hindrance in their way, and see too
that their instinct is hindered by a necessity of justice: thence is born
a raging fire, like that of Hell save that guilt is lacking to it. Guilt
it is which makes the will of the damned in Hell malignant, on whom God
does not bestow His goodness and who remain therefore in desperate ill
will, opposed to the will of God.
Of the state of the souls in Hell and of the
difference between them and those in Purgatory. Reflections of this saint
on those who are careless of their salvation.
Hence it is manifest that there is perversity of
will, contrary to the will of God, where the guilt is known and ill will
persists, and that the guilt of those who have passed with ill will from
this life to Hell is not remitted, nor can be since they may no longer
change the will with which they have passed out of this life, in which
passage the soul is made stable in good or evil in accordance with its
deliberate will. As it is written, "Ubi te invenero," that is in the hour
of death, with the will to sin or dissatisfaction with sin or repentance
for sin, "Ibi te judicabo." Of which judgment there is afterwards no
remission, as I will shew:
After death free will can never return, for the will
is fixed as it was at the moment of death. Because the souls in Hell were
found at the moment of death to have in them the will to sin, they bear
the guilt throughout eternity, suffering not indeed the pains they merit
but such pains as they endure, and these without end. But the souls in
Purgatory bear only pain, for their guilt was wiped away at the moment of
their death when they were found to be ill content with their sins and
repentant for their offences against divine goodness. Therefore their
pain is finite and its time ever lessening, as has been said.
O misery beyond all other misery, the greater that
human blindness takes it not into account!
The pain of the damned is not infinite in quantity
because the dear goodness of God sheds the ray of His mercy even in Hell.
For man dead in sin merits infinite pain for an infinite time, but God's
mercy has allotted infinity to him only in time and has determined the
quantity of his pain; in justice God could have given him more pain.
O how dangerous is sin committed in malice! Hardly
does a man repent him thereof, and without repentance he will bear its
guilt for as long as he perseveres, that is for as long as he wills a sin
committed or wills to sin again.
Of the peace and the joy there are in Purgatory.
The souls in Purgatory have wills accordant in all
things with the will of God, who therefore sheds on them His goodness,
and they, as far as their will goes, are happy and cleansed of all their
sin. As for guilt, these cleansed souls are as they were when God created
them, for God forgives their guilt immediately who have passed from this
life ill content with their sins, having confessed all they have
committed and having the will to commit no more. Only the rust of sin is
left them and from this they cleanse themselves by pain in the fire. Thus
cleansed of all guilt and united in will to God, they see Him clearly in
the degree in which He makes Himself known to them, and see too how much
it imports to enjoy Him and that souls have been created for this end.
Moreover, they are brought to so uniting a conformity with God, and are
drawn to Him in such wise, His natural instinct towards souls working in
them, that neither arguments nor figures nor examples can make the thing
clear as the mind knows it to be in effect and as by inner feeling it is
understood to be. I will, however, make one comparison which comes to my
A comparison to shew with what violence and what
love the souls in Purgatory desire to enjoy God.
If in all the world there were but one loaf of bread
to feed the hunger of all creatures, and if they were satisfied by the
sight of it alone, then since man, if he be healthy, has an instinct to
eat, his hunger, if he neither ate nor sickened nor died, would grow
unceasingly for his instinct to eat would not lessen. Knowing that there
was only that loaf to satisfy him and that without it he must still be
hungry, he would be in unbearable pain. All the more if he went near that
loaf and could not see it, would his natural craving for it be
strengthened; his instinct would fix his desire wholly on that loaf which
held all that could content him; at this point, if he were sure he would
never see the loaf again, he would be in Hell. Thus are the souls of the
damned from whom any hope of ever seeing their bread, which is God, the
true Savior, has been taken away. But the souls in Purgatory have the
hope of seeing their bread and wholly satisfying themselves therewith.
Therefore they suffer hunger and endure pain in that measure in which
they will be able to satisfy themselves with the bread which is Jesus
Christ, true God and Savior and our Love.
Of God's admirable wisdom in making Purgatory and
As the clean and purified spirit can find rest only
in God, having been created for this end, so there is no place save Hell
for the soul in sin, for whose end Hell was ordained by God. When the
soul as it leaves the body is in mortal sin, then, in the instant in
which spirit and body are separated, the soul goes to the place ordained
for it, unguided save by the nature of its sin. And if at that moment the
soul were bound by no ordinance proceeding from God's justice, it would
go to a yet greater hell than that in which it abides, for it would be
outside His ordinance, in which divine mercy has part so that God gives
the soul less pain than it deserves. The soul, finding no other place to
hand nor any holding less evil for it, casts itself by God's ordinance
into Hell as into its proper place.
To return to our matter which is the Purgatory of the
soul separated from the body when it is no longer clean as it was
created. Seeing in itself the impediment which can be taken away only by
means of Purgatory, it casts itself therein swiftly and willingly. Were
there not the ordinance it thus obeys, one fit to rid it of its
encumbrance, it would in that instant beget within itself a hell worse
than Purgatory, for it would see that because of that impediment it could
not draw near to God, its end. So much does God import that Purgatory in
comparison counts not at all, for all that it is, as has been said, like
Hell. But compared to God, it appears almost nothing.
Of the necessity of Purgatory. How terrible it is.
When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and
yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before
us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine
essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the
soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather
cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the
presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that
Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself
therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid
itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.
No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand,
the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in
Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least
stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it
were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the
least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain
which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases
God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness,
is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is
because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the
hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.
How God and the souls in Purgatory look at each
other. The saint acknowledges that in speaking of these matters she cannot
All these things which I have surely in mind, in so
much as in this life I have been able to understand them, are, as
compared with what I have said, extreme in their greatness. Beside them,
all the sights and sounds and justice and truths of this world seem to me
lies and nothingness. I am left confused because I cannot find words
extreme enough for these things.
I perceive there to be so much conformity between God
and the soul that when He sees it in the purity in which His Divine
Majesty created it He gives it a burning love, which draws it to Himself,
which is strong enough to destroy it, immortal though it be, and which
causes it to be so transformed in God that it sees itself as though it
were none other than God. Unceasingly He draws it to Himself and breathes
fire into it, never letting it go until He has led it to the state whence
it came forth, that is to the pure cleanliness in which it was created.
When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn
by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the
glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it.
And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it,
nor from leading it, lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight,
to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love. But the soul, being
hindered by sin, cannot go whither God draws it; it cannot follow the
uniting look with which He would draw it to Himself. Again the soul
perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine
light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves
to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets
in the souls the pain they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account
of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than
to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see
to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them.
Strongly and unceasingly this love draws the soul
with that uniting look, as though it had nought else than this to do.
Could the soul who understood find a worse Purgatory in which to rid
itself sooner of all the hindrance in its. way, it would swiftly fling
itself therein, driven by the conforming love between itself and God.
How God uses Purgatory to make the soul wholly
pure. The soul acquires in Purgatory a purity so great that were it well
for it still to stay there after it had been purged of sin, it would no
I see, too, certain rays and shafts of light which go
out from that divine love towards the soul and are penetrating and strong
enough to seem as though they must destroy not only the body but the soul
too, were that possible. Two works are wrought by these rays, the first
purification and the second destruction.
Look at gold: the more you melt it, the better it
becomes; you could melt it until you had destroyed in it every
imperfection. Thus does fire work on material things. The soul cannot be
destroyed in so far as it is in God, but in so far as it is in itself it
can be destroyed; the more it is purified, the more is self destroyed
within it, until at last it is pure in God.
When gold has been purified up to twenty-four carats,
it can no longer be consumed by any fire; not gold itself but only dross
can be burnt away. Thus the divine fire works in the soul: God holds the
soul in the fire until its every imperfection is burnt away and it is
brought to perfection, as it were to the purity of twenty-four carats,
each soul however according to its own degree. When the soul has been
purified it stays wholly in God, having nothing of self in it; its being
is in God who has led this cleansed soul to Himself; it can suffer no
more for nothing is left in it to be burnt away; were it held in the fire
when it has thus been cleansed, it would feel no pain. Rather the fire of
divine love would be to it like eternal life and in no way contrary to
Of the desire of souls in Purgatory to be wholly
cleansed of the stains of their sins. The wisdom of God who suddenly hides
their faults from these souls.
The soul was created as well conditioned as it is
capable of being for reaching perfection if it live as God has ordained
and do not foul itself with any stain of sin. But having fouled itself by
original sin, it loses its gifts and graces and lies dead, nor can it
rise again save by God's means. And when God, by baptism, has raised it
from the dead, it is still prone to evil, inclining and being led to
actual sin unless it resist. And thus it dies again.
Then God by another special grace raises it again,
yet it stays so sullied and so turned to self that all the divine
workings of which we have spoken are needed to recall it to its first
state in which God created it; without them it could never get back
thither. And when the soul finds itself on the road back to its first
state, its need to be transformed in God kindles in it a fire so great
that this is its Purgatory. Not that it can look upon this as Purgatory,
but its instinct to God, aflame and thwarted, makes Purgatory.
A last act of love is done by God without help from
man. So many hidden imperfections are in the soul that, did it see them,
it would live in despair. But in the state of which we have spoken they
are all burnt away, and only when they have gone does God shew them to
the soul, so that it may see that divine working which kindles the fire
of love in which its imperfections have been burnt away.
How suffering in Purgatory is coupled with joy.
Know that what man deems perfection in himself is in
God's sight faulty, for all the things a man does which he sees or feels
or means or wills or remembers to have a perfect seeming are wholly
fouled and sullied unless he acknowledge them to be from God. If a work
is to be perfect it must be wrought in us but not chiefly by us, for
God's works must be done in Him and not wrought chiefly by man.
Such works are those last wrought in us by God of His
pure and clean love, by Him alone without merit of ours, and so
penetrating are they and such fire do they kindle in the soul, that the
body which wraps it seems to be consumed as in a furnace never to be
quenched until death. It is true that love for God which fills the soul
to overflowing, gives it, so I see it, a happiness beyond what can be
told, but this happiness takes not one pang from the pain of the souls in
Purgatory. Rather the love of these souls, finding itself hindered,
causes their pain; and the more perfect is the love of which God has made
them capable, the greater is their pain.
So that the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest
happiness and endure the greatest pain; the one does not hinder the
The souls in Purgatory are no longer in a state to
acquire merit. How these souls look on the charity exercised for them in
If the souls in Purgatory could purge themselves by
contrition, they would pay all their debt in one instant such blazing
vehemence would their contrition have in the clear light shed for them on
the grievousness of being hindered from reaching their end and the love
Know surely that not the least farthing of payment is
remitted to those souls, for thus has it been determined by God's
justice. So much for what God does as for what the souls do, they can no
longer choose for themselves, nor can they see or will, save as God
wills, for thus has it been determined for them.
And if any alms be done them by those who are in the
world to lessen the time of their pain, they cannot turn with affection
to contemplate the deed, saving as it is weighed in the most just scales
of the divine will. They leave all in God's hands who pays Himself as His
infinite goodness pleases. If they could turn to contemplate the alms
except as it is within the divine will, there would be self in what they
did and they would lose sight of God's will, which would make a Hell for
them. Therefore they await immovably all that God gives them, whether
pleasure and happiness or pain, and never more can they turn their eyes
back to themselves.
Of the submission of the souls in Purgatory to
So intimate with God are the souls in Purgatory and
so changed to His will, that in all things they are content with His most
holy ordinance. And if a soul were brought to see God when it had still a
trifle of which to purge itself, a great injury would be done it. For
since pure love and supreme justice could not brook that stained soul,
and to bear with its presence would not befit God, it would suffer a
torment worse than ten purgatories. To see God when full satisfaction had
not yet been made Him, even if the time of purgation lacked but the
twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable to that soul. It would sooner go
to a thousand hells, to rid itself of the little rust still clinging to
it, than stand in the divine presence when it was not yet wholly
Reproaches which the souls in Purgatory make to
people in the world.
And so that blessed1
soul, seeing the aforesaid things by the divine light, said: "I would
fain send up a cry so loud that it would put fear in all men on the
earth. I would say to them: 'Wretches, why do you let yourselves be thus
blinded by the world, you whose need is so great and grievous, as you
will know at the moment of death, and who make no provision for it
"You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God's
mercy, which is, you say, very great, but you see not that this great
goodness of God will judge you for having gone against the will of so
good a Lord. His goodness should constrain you to do all His will, not
give you hope in ill-doing, for His justice cannot fail but in one way or
another must needs be fully satisfied.
"Cease to hug yourselves, saying: 'I will confess my
sins and then receive plenary indulgence, and at that moment I shall be
purged of all my sins and thus shall be saved.' Think of the confession
and the contrition needed for that plenary indulgence, so hardly come by
that, if you knew, you would tremble in great fear, more sure you would
never win it than that you ever could."
This Soul shews again how the sufferings of the
souls in Purgatory are no hindrance at all to their peace and their joy.
I see the souls suffer the pains of Purgatory having
before their eyes two works of God.
First, they see themselves suffering pain willingly,
and as they consider their own deserts and acknowledge how they have
grieved God, it seems to them that He has shewn them great mercy, for if
His goodness had not tempered justice with mercy, making satisfaction
with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, one sin would deserve a thousand
perpetual hells. And therefore the souls suffer pain willingly, and would
not lighten it by one pang, knowing that they most fully deserve it and
that it has been well ordained, and they no more complain of God, as far
as their will goes, than if they were in eternal life.
The second work they see is the happiness they feel
as they contemplate God's ordinance and the love and mercy with which He
works on the soul.
In one instant God imprints these two sights on their
minds, and because they are in grace they are aware of these sights and
understand them as they are, in the measure of their capacity. Thus a
great happiness is granted them which never fails; rather it grows as
they draw nearer God. These souls see these sights neither in nor of
themselves but in God, on whom they are far more intent than on the pains
they suffer, and of whom they make far greater account, beyond all
comparison, than of their pains. For every glimpse which can be had of
God exceeds any pain or joy a man can feel. Albeit, however, it exceeds
the pain and joy of these souls, it lessens them by not a tittle.
She concludes by applying all she has said of the
souls in Purgatory to what she feels, and has proved in her own soul.
This form of purgation, which I see in the souls in
Purgatory, I feel in my own mind. In the last two years I have felt it
most; every day I feel and see it more clearly. I see my soul within this
body as in a purgatory, formed as is the true Purgatory and like it, but
so measured that the body can bear with it and not die little by little
it grows until the body die.
I see my spirit estranged from all things, even
things spiritual, which can feed it, such as gaiety, delight and
consolation, and without the power so to enjoy anything, spiritual or
temporal, by will or mind or memory, as to let me say one thing contents
me more than another.
Inwardly I find myself as it were besieged. All
things by which spiritual or bodily life is refreshed have, little by
little, been taken from my inner self, which knows, now they are gone,
that they fed and comforted. But so hateful and abhorrent are these
things, as they are known to the spirit, that they all go never to
return. This is because of the spirit's instinct to rid itself of
whatever hinders its perfection; so ruthless is it that to fulfill its
purpose it would all but cast itself into Hell. Therefore it ever
deprives the inner man of all on which it can feed, besieging it so
cunningly that it lets not the least atom of imperfection pass unseen and
As for my outer man, it too, since the spirit does
not respond to it, is so besieged that it finds nothing to refresh it on
the earth if it follow its human instinct. No comfort is left it save
God, who works all this by love and very mercifully in satisfaction of
His justice. To perceive this gives my outer man great peace and
happiness, but happiness which neither lessens my pain nor weakens the
siege. Yet no pain could ever be inflicted on me so great that I would
wish to depart from the divine ordinance. I neither leave my prison nor
seek to go forth from it: let God do what is needed! My happiness is that
God be satisfied, nor could I suffer a worse pain than that of going
outside God's ordinance, so just I see Him to be and so very merciful.
All these things of which I have spoken are what I
see and, as it were, touch, but I cannot find fit words to say as much as
I would of them. Nor can I say rightly what I have told of the work done
in me, which I have felt spiritually. I have told it however.
The prison in which I seem to myself to be is the
world, my chains the body, and it is my soul enlightened by grace which
knows the grievousness of being held down or kept back and thus hindered
from pursuing its end. This gives my soul great pain for it is very
tender. By God's grace it receives a certain dignity which makes it like
unto God; nay, rather He lets it share His goodness so that it becomes
one with Him. And since it is impossible that God suffer pain, this
immunity too befalls the souls who draw near Him; the nearer they come to
Him, the more they partake of what is His.
Therefore to be hindered on its way, as it is, causes
the soul unbearable pain. The pain and the hindrance wrest it from its
first natural state, which by grace is revealed to it, and finding itself
deprived of what it is able to receive, it suffers a pain more or less
great according to the measure of its esteem for God. The more the soul
knows God, the more it esteems Him and the more sinless it becomes, so
that the hindrance in its way grows yet more terrible to it, above all
because the soul which is unhindered and wholly recollected in God knows
Him as He truly is.
As the man who would let himself be killed rather
than offend God feels death and its pain, but is given by the light of
God a zeal which causes him to rate divine honor above bodily death, so
the soul who knows God's ordinance rates it above all possible inner and
outer torments, terrible though they may be, for this is a work of God
who surpasses all that can be felt or imagined. Moreover God when He
occupies a soul, in however small a degree, keeps it wholly busied over
His Majesty so that nothing else counts for it. Thus it loses all which
is its own, and can of itself neither see nor speak nor know loss or
pain. But, as I have already said clearly, it knows all in one instant
when it leaves this life.
Finally and in conclusion, let us understand that God
who is best and greatest causes all that is of man to be lost, and that
Purgatory cleanses it away.
END OF THE TREATISE ON PURGATORY
chapter headings are unlikely to have been written by Saint Catherine, who
would hardly refer to herself as a saint as do the headings to Chapter IV
2 At least
the word "holy" and perhaps all this introductory paragraph were probably
added by whoever wrote the chapter headings.
epithet, and perhaps all this sentence down to "said", have probably been
added by an editor.
First Published 1946
By Sheed And Ward, Inc.
63 Fifth Avenue
Nihil Obstat: Ernestus C. Messenger, Ph.D,
Imprimatur: E. Morrogh Bernard
Westmonasterii, die 18 Decembris 1945
Printed In Great Britain