The Dialogue of Catherine of Sienna (Listening to the Saints)

Over the past few years I have worked through various classics of Christian spirituality as part of my daily devotional.  I have found it incredibly life-giving to, in addition to reading scripture, to read the words of these saints of Christ who have gone before us.  Most recently I read Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogue which she wrote around 1377.

This is not really a review, rather it is a list of quotes, in the order they came in the text, that struck me with a few words on each on why they struck me.   Remember, this dialogue is written in first person from God’s perspective so the voice the reader hears is that of God speaking to Catherine.  Despite that, when I comment on it I will take it as Catherine’s words.

“because love of Me and of her neighbor are one and the same thing, and, so far as the soul loves Me, she loves her neighbor, because love towards him issues from Me.”Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 533-534). . Kindle Edition.

There is an equivalence between loving God and loving neighbor, you cannot claim to love God if you do not love neighbor.

“I use the word temporal for the things necessary to the physical life of man; all these I have given indifferently, and I have not placed them all in one soul, in order that man should, perforce, have material for love of his fellow. I could easily have created men possessed of all that they should need both for body and soul, but I wish that one should have need of the other, and that they should be My ministers to administer the graces and the gifts that they have received from Me.” Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 555-558). . Kindle Edition.

I found the idea that God gave out gifts to different people to force us to rely on each other to be quite beautiful.

Wherefore, all of you, vessels made of this stuff, were corrupted and not disposed to the possession of eternal life — so I, with My dignity, joined Myself to the baseness of your human generation, in order to restore it to grace which you had lost by sin; for I was incapable of suffering, and yet, on account of – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 782-784). . Kindle Edition.

At the moment that the soul receives Holy Baptism, original sin is taken away from her, and grace is infused into her, and that inclination to sin, which remains from the original corruption, as has been said, is indeed a source of weakness, but the soul can keep the bridle on it if she choose. Then the vessel of the soul is disposed to receive and increase in herself grace, more or less, according as it pleases her to dispose herself willingly with affection, and desire of loving and serving Me; and, in the same way, she can dispose herself to evil as to good, in spite of her having received grace in Holy Baptism. Wherefore when the time of discretion is come, the soul can, by her free will, make choice either of good or evil, according as it pleases her will; and so great – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 802-810). . Kindle Edition.

Not only did I give you liberty, but, if you examine, you will see that man has become God, and God has become man, through the union of the divine with the human nature – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 827-828). . Kindle Edition.

The first and third quote here push us to the central truths of God as Trinity and Jesus as fully God and fully human.  Catherine is totally in line with the church fathers here, echoing Athanasius and others.  The second quote reminds me that she is definitely a medieval Roman Catholic and it presents a Catholic understanding of grace.

A false Christian is punished more than a pagan, and the deathless fire of divine justice consumes him more, that is, afflicts him more, and, in his affliction, he feels himself being consumed by the worm of conscience, though, in truth, he is not consumed, because the damned do not lose their being through any torment which they receive – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 834-837). . Kindle Edition.

The traditional view of hell is apparent in Catherine, though not everyone receives equal punishment.

And do you know why they cannot desire good? Because the life of man ended, free-will is bound – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 1253-1254). . Kindle Edition.

So you see that in those bonds of love in which they finished their life, they go on and remain eternally. They are conformed so entirely to My will, that they cannot desire except what I desire, because their free-will is bound in the bond of love, in such a way that, time failing them, and, dying in a state of grace, they cannot sin any more. And their will is so united with Mine, that a father or a mother seeing their son, or a son seeing his father or his mother in Hell, do not trouble themselves, and even are contented to see them punished as My enemies – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 1287-1291). . Kindle Edition.

One book I want to read is Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa for in it he writes of how we continue to grow closer to God for all eternity, an idea I have encountered elsewhere.  Catherine apparently does not hold this, instead you are frozen in your attitudes at the moment of death.  I wonder if this is an Eastern vs. Western difference with Catherine giving the Catholic view.  I find the Eastern one more appealing.

You see then, that the transformation is not in His Face, when He comes to judge with My Divine Majesty, but in the vision of those who will be judged by Him. To the damned He will appear with hatred and with justice. And to the saved with love and mercy – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 1317-1320). . Kindle Edition.

Still on the topic of hell and afterlife, the idea here is not that there are two different locations but that God is everywhere and to some this leads to hatred of God (those in hell) and to others this is love (those in heaven).

For the soul, from her nature, always relishes good, though it is true that the soul, blinded by self-love, does not know and discern what is true good, and of profit to the soul and to the body. And, therefore, the Devil, seeing them blinded by self-love, iniquitously places before them diverse and various delights, colored so as to have the appearance of some benefit or good; and he gives to everyone according to his condition and those principal vices to which he sees him to be most disposed — of one kind to the secular, of another to the religious, and others to prelates and noblemen, according to their different conditions – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 1398-1403). . Kindle Edition.

We desire good, but do not always know what the good is.

And if tribulations on man’s account, or infirmity, or poverty, or change of worldly condition, or loss of children, or of other much loved creatures (all of which are thorns that the earth produced after sin) come upon them, they endure them all with the light of reason and holy faith, looking to Me, who am the Supreme Good, and who cannot desire other than good, for which I permit these tribulations through love, and not through hatred – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 1458-1461). . Kindle Edition.

Those in Christ are able to persevere in the face of trials.

Wherefore were it possible for them to have virtue without toil they would not want it. They would rather delight in the Cross, with Christ, acquiring it with pain, than in any other way obtain Eternal Life. Why? Because they are inflamed and steeped in the Blood, where they find the blaze of My charity, which charity is a fire proceeding from Me, ravishing their heart and mind and making their sacrifices acceptable – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2071-2074). . Kindle Edition.

For Catherine, as for most traditional spiritual writing, there is no easy path to growing in God.  More than that, those who truly desire to grow closer to Jesus, in virtue, would not want an easy path if there was one!  I find that challenging to my laziness and quickness to cut corners.

Every light that comes from Holy Scripture comes and came from this supernatural light. Ignorant and proud men of science were blind notwithstanding this light, because their pride and the cloud of self-love had covered up and put out the light. Wherefore they understood the Holy Scripture rather literally than with understanding, and taste only the letter of it, still desiring many other books; and they get not to the marrow of it, because they have deprived themselves of the light, with which is found and expounded the Scripture; and they are annoyed and murmur, because they find much in it that appears to them gross and idiotic – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2104-2109). . Kindle Edition.

Wherefore, I say to you, that it is much better to go for counsel for the salvation of the soul, to a holy and upright conscience, than to a proud lettered man, learned in much science, because such a one can only offer what he has himself, and, because of his darkness, it may appear to you, that, from what he says, the Scriptures offer darkness. The contrary will you find with My servants, because they offer the light that is in them, with hunger and desire for the soul’s salvation – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2111-2114). . Kindle Edition.

Spiritual people, those close to Jesus, do not always appear to be the smartest or most glamorous.  Look for such servants of Jesus though, for they will give you true counsel.

When, therefore, she sees herself to be ineffably loved by Me, she loves every rational creature with the self-same love with which she sees herself to be loved. And, for this reason, the soul that knows Me immediately expands to the love of her neighbor, because she sees that I love that neighbor ineffably, and so, herself, loves the object which she sees Me to have loved still more – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2210-2212). . Kindle Edition.

to Me, because I have loved you without being Myself loved, and without any consideration of Myself whatsoever, for I loved you without being loved by you — before you existed; it was, indeed, love that moved Me to create you to My own image and similitude. This love you cannot repay to Me, but you can pay it to My rational creature, loving your neighbor without being loved by him and without consideration of your own advantage, whether spiritual or temporal, but loving him solely for the praise and glory of My Name, because he has been loved by Me – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2217-2220). . Kindle Edition.

Is our love for others driven by selfishness or a true concern for them?  As we receive unconditional, undeserved love from God we repay this love to others in the same way.

It is therefore impossible to fulfill the law given by Me, the Eternal God, without fulfilling that of your neighbor, for these two laws are the feet of your affection by which the precepts and counsels are observed, which were given you, as I have told you, by My Truth, Christ crucified – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2225-2227). . Kindle Edition.

because she is stripped of mercenary love, that is of love for Me based on interested motives, and is clothed in perfect light, loving Me in perfect purity, with no other regard than for the praise and glory of My Name, serving neither Me for her own delight, nor her neighbor for her own profit, but purely through love alone. Such as these have lost themselves, and have stripped themselves of the Old Man, that is of their own sensuality, and, having clothed themselves with the New Man, the sweet Christ Jesus, My Truth, follow Him manfully. These are they who sit at the table of holy desire, having been more anxious to slay their own will than to slay and mortify their own body – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2448-2453). . Kindle Edition.

More on love of neighbor and what true love is.

The just man does not turn his head to admire his past virtues, because he neither can nor will hope in his own virtues, but only in the Blood in which he has found mercy; and as he lived in the memory of that Blood, so in death he is inebriated and drowned in the same – Catherine of Siena, Saint (2010-06-20). The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena (Kindle Locations 2941-2943). . Kindle Edition.

How often do we turn to remember our past triumphs!  Catherine would say a true holy person does not do that..

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