ST CATHERINE OF SIENA IN CHAUCER'S ENGLISH
A Cluster of Texts
everal important medieval contemplative texts translated or written in Middle English, Medieval English, show great similarities the one to the other. It is possible they owe their format in our English to a Norwich Benedictine, Adam Easton, O.S.B., who became a Cardinal and who knew Birgitta of Sweden, her daughter Catherine of Sweden, also Catherine of Siena, in Italy, and our Julian of Norwich, in England. Birgitta, Widow and mother of eight children, died in 1373, was canonized in 1391, and proclaimed Co-Patron of Europe, 1999; Catherine of Siena, Virgin, died in 1380, was canonized in 1461, was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1970, Co-Patron of Europe, 1999; Julian's sainthood is by popular acclamation. Linking these women also are Alfonso of Jaén, Birgitta's editor, appointed at her death to be Catherine's spiritual director, and William Flete, the English Augustinian Hermit, who is quoted in Julian of Norwich and who became Catherine of Siena's spiritual director. The texts in question are the Cloud of Unknowing and its related texts of spiritual direction and discernment of spirits, Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love, in the Paris and Sloane Manuscripts, Birgitta of Sweden's Liber Celestis, translated from Latin into Middle English, and the translation of St Catherine of Siena's Dialogo from Italian into English as The Orcherd of Syon.
The Orcherd of Syon in Its Brigittine Context
For this text of The Orcherd of Syon we have three manuscripts and a printed book, London, British Library, Harleian 3432, Cambridge, St Johns College, C25 (James 75), New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 162, and Wynkyn de Worde's 1519 printed edition. The English translation of Dominican Catherine of Siena's Book comes with a beginning and ending from Brigittine Syon Abbey, likening this Book to an orchard in which the nuns can walk and play for their recreation, thus returning to a Lost Paradise. We know that Syon House, as had Vadstena before it, had such an orchard for the nuns. The text also speaks of the 'first and foremost Abbess' of Syon Abbey as being Our Lady. Indeed, this is true. I have stayed at Syon Abbey and dined with the Abbess and Sisters. Each enters, eats and leaves in silence, pondering on all these things in our heart, bowing to the Abbess' chair. So also does the Lady Abbess, for she is bowing, too, to our Lady, whose representative she is. Reading the Orcherd of Syon it is important to remember this role of Our Lady.
Our Dominican mantellata and her Augustinian Hermit Spiritual Director
Barna da Siena, 1340, Mystic Marriages of Catherine of Alexandria to Christ, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Catherine of Siena and her Compagnia dell'Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala
Giovanni di Paolo, St Catherine invested with
Dominican Mantle, Cleveland Museum of Art
Series originally in Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, for Catherine of Siena's 1461 Canonization
Catherine gives cloak to beggar who is Christ, who returns it to her, Cleveland Museum of Art
Giovanni di Paolo, Catherine's Mystic Marriage, New
York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Giovanni di Paolo, Catherine Exchanges Hearts with Jesus, New York, Metropolitan Mueum of Art
Giovanni di Paolo, St Catherine Receiving Stigmata, Santa Cristina, Pisa, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Catherine Beseeching Christ to Recuscitate her
Mother, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Catherine of Siena persuades Pope Gregory XI to
leave Avignon and come to Rome
Unattributed without provenance on web, but clearly Giovanni di Paolo
Catherine of Siena's Letters are
marvellous and ferocious in the same breath. Dictated to her
Secretaries, sometime three of these at a time, Catherine
would typically begin with 'Carissimo
figliuolo in cristo dolce Gesù Io Caterina serva e schiava de'
servi di Gesù Cristo, scrivo a voi nel prezioso sangue suo' 'Most dear son in sweet Jesus Christ, I,
Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ,
write to you in his precious blood', and end with 'Permanete nella santa e dolce dilezione di
Dio. Gesù dolce, Gesù amore'
'Remain in the holy and sweet love of God. Sweet Jesus, loving
One of them recounts the inspiration for the Dialogo.
Catherine of Siena. Epistole devotissime de Sancta Catharina da Siena. 1500, Brigham Young University
To Friar Raymond of Capua, of the Order of Preachers
In the name of Jesus crucified and the benign Virgin Mary:
Most beloved and kindest father in our sweet Jesus Christ, I Catherine, handmaid and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, am writing to you in His precious blood, yearning to see you a follower and lover of the truth, so that you might be a true child of Christ crucified, who is that Truth, and a fragrant flower in the Order and in the mystical Body of the holy Church. And such you ought to be. You should not wish to turn your head because of the thorns of so many persecutions, for his is indeed mad who would abandon the rose for fear of its thorns. I would see you heroic, fearing no creature. I am sure that God, in his infinite mercy, will grant my wish.
Be comforted, my dear Father, in the sweet bride of Christ, for the more you suffer tribulation and bitterness, so much the more divine truth promises that you will enjoy sweet consolations. This will be your sweetness: the reformation of good and holy shepherds who are the flower of glory, that is, who give forth a sweet odor and the glory of virtue to God. Such a flower is the reformation of the ministers. But the fruit of the bride of Christ does not need to be reformed, for it is neither diminished nor destroyed by the defects of her ministers. Rejoice, then, in the present bitterness, for the Truth has promised us refreshment after it.... Such has been the consolation I had on receiving dear Daddy's letter and yours. I had tasted bitterness both for the injury done to the Church and for your bitterness, which I had felt in the depths of my being on the feast of S. Francis. And I rejoiced as well, for your thoughts brought us close. So, when I had read and understood the letters, I besought a servant of God to offer tears and sweat before God for the Church and for Daddy's weakness.
By divine grace, there suddenly swelled in me a desire and an extraordinary joy. I awaited the morning and the Mass (which was that of Our Lady on Saturday). At Mass I went to my place with full self-awareness, abasing myself before God by reason of my imperfections. Ecstatic with anxious desires, gazing with the eye of the mind on eternal Truth, I made four petitions then and there, placing myself and the Holy Father before the Bride of Truth.
First, the reformation of the holy Church.
Thereupon God, letting himself be constrained by my tears and bound by the cord of my desire, said: "Dearest daughter, I have seen how stained is her face with uncleanness and self-love and how swollen with pride and avarice are those who are suckled at her breast. Dry your tears and your sweat. Draw from the spring of my divine charity and wash her face. For I promise you that her beauty is not to be restored by the knife, nor with cruelty, nor by war, but by peace, by humble and constant prayers, by sweat and tears, poured out with the anxious desires of my servants. Thus will I fulfill that desire which you have cherished so long, and you will lack my providence in nothing."
Even if we suppose that the salvation of all the world is contained in this answer, nevertheless my prayer extended itself even more particularly, precisely for the salvation of all the world. Then God showed with how much love he had created man and said: "Now you see that everyone assaults me. You see, daughter, with how many different sorts of sins they assail me, and especially with that miserable, abominable self-love, whence all evil comes, with which they have poisoned the whole world. Therefore you, my servants, must first prepare yourselves by many prayers. Thus you will mitigate the wrath of the divine judgment. You know that no one can escape my hands. Open the eye of your mind and look at my hand." Raising my eyes, I saw the whole universe grasped in his hand."
Then he said: "I want you to know that no one can be taken from me; for all remain, either by justice or mercy, and thus all are mine. Because they have all gone forth from me, I will show them mercy by means of my servants.
As the flame of my desire increased, I was joyous and sad at once and gave thanks to the divine goodness, recognizing that God had shown me the defects of his creatures that I might be constrained to more solicitude and a greater desire.
My holy, loving flame grew so warm that I despised the watery sweat which broke out, for I greatly desired to sweat blood. I said to myself: "My soul, you have wasted your whole life. Therefore many evils have come into the world and into the holy Church, in general and in particular. I want you to heal them by a bloody sweat.."
Whereupon my soul, spurred on by holy desire, stirred herself and opened the eyes of her understanding and looked at herself in the divine intellect. She saw and tasted how we are cherished and how we ought to seek the glory and praise of the name of God in the salvation of souls.
To this task Eternal Truth called, indeed, compelled you in answering my third petition, that is, my hunger for-your salvation, when he said: "Daughter, I will that you seek this for him with all solicitude. But not you, nor he, nor anyone else could achieve this without many persecutions, as I will send them to you.
"Tell him: If anyone desires to honor me in the holy Church, let him beget a love for patient long-suffering. This will show me that he and my other servants are truly seeking to honor me. Thus he will be my dearly-beloved child and will rest on the bosom of my only-begotten Son, whom I have made a bridge so that all may come together to taste the fruit of your labors. Know, my children that the way was destroyed by the sin of Adam so that no one man could reach his goal. My truth was not fulfilled: that truth which had created him in my image and likeness so that he might have eternal life to share and taste and enjoy me, who am the eternal Goodness.
"That sin sowed the thorns and nettle of many tribulations and produced a river that batters the desolate land with its waves. Therefore I have given my Son as a bridge so that you will not be drowned in crossing the stream. Open the eye of your understanding and see that it reaches from heaven to earth, because, indeed, from earth no bridge could be constructed great enough to span the river and give you life. This bridge unites the height of heaven, that is, the divine nature, with the earth of your humanity.
It behooves you, therefore to keep to the way of the bridge, seeking the glory of my name in the salvation of souls, bearing with patience the many wearying steps, following in the footsteps of that kind and loving Lord. You are my workers whom I have sent to toil in the vineyard of my Church, for I wish to show mercy to the world.
"But heed that you take not the path beneath the bridge, for it is not the way of truth. Those who pass beneath the bridge are the wicked sinners for whom I ask you to pray to me and for whom I demand your sweat and tears, for they languish in the darkness of mortal sin.
"These go by the way of the torrent and are swept to eternal damnation if they do not take up my yoke and place it on their necks. Some there are who draw back from the bank from fear of punishment and withdraw from mortal sin; they feel the thorns of many tribulations and therefore escape from the river.
If they do not into negligence nor fall asleep in self-love they attain the bridge and begin to mount on high through love of virtue. But if they persist in self-love and negligence, every occasion turns against them and at the breath of a contrary wind they return to their vomit."
When I had seen in how many ways a soul might drown, a voice said to me: "Behold those who cross by the bridge of Christ crucified." I saw many of them who ran free-footed because they did not bear the weight of self-will. These were the true children who, abandoning themselves, went forward with anxious desire seeking only the honor of God and the salvation of souls.
Beneath the feet of the desire which they cherished for Christ crucified (who was the bridge), the water ran The thorns were trampled under foot and harmed them not, that is, in their well-ordered love they did not consider the thorns of many persecutions but bore with patience the prosperity of the world which is made up of those thorns which bring death to the soul that embraces the world with disordinate love. These despised the thorns as though they were so much poison and desired nothing else than to delight in the cross with Christ, for he was their object.
Others were who went slowly. Why did they go slowly? Because they placed before the mind's eye not Christ crucified but the consolations they derive from Christ crucified which gives them an imperfect love. They frequently dawdle on their journey as Peter did before the Passion, when he had considered only the delights of conversation with Christ and therefore advanced less since the object of his consolation had been taken away. But when he was stronger, after that consolation had been lost, he neither wished to know nor sought anything other than Christ crucified.
So, too, these travelers are weak and they slow down in their journey when they center their attention on the object of delight and their own consolations. Hence when the prickings of temptations arise from the devil, or creatures, or within themselves from a spiritual tenderness they have, they see themselves deprived of that which they love, walk more slowly and grow weak and faint on the way of Christ crucified.
The reason is that they willed to seek the Father and to taste the delights of his many consolations, for no suffering falls to the Father, but does indeed to the Son. Therefore they said that they were following the Father. It was obvious that they could not remedy their weakness if they did not follow the Son.
The Eternal Truth said: "I say that no one can come to me if not through the means of my only-begotten Son, for he it is who has made the path which you must follow. He is Way, the Truth and the Life. Those who hold to this way taste and know the truth and taste the ineffable love that I have shown for them in the sufferings that he has borne for them. Know well that if I had not loved you, I would not have given such a redeemer. But because I love you eternally, I gave over to the opprobrious death of the Cross my only begotten Son who by his obedience and death overcame the disobedience of Adam and the death of mankind.
"Thus they know my truth and, knowing it, follow it and so attain enduring life, for they have held to the way of Christ crucified. They have passed through the portal of truth and find themselves in the placid sea with those who share true delight. You see, my daughter, that they cannot be made strong in any other way. They could not unite themselves with the spouse of my Truth nor attain to the perfection which I have chosen for them if not by this path. Any path other than this is imperfect and beset with pain, for pain, spiritual or temporal, arises only from self-will. He who has no self-will is freed of every pain afflicting him. Only the intolerable pain of the offense against me remains but it is a tempered pain, for it is seasoned with the flavor of charity which makes the soul prudent and which no pain can sever from my benign will."
There were others who had begun to ascend (those who had begun to know their faults only through fear of the suffering which purused them after the offence, thus they were raised from sin by fear of pain, the sort of fear that is imperfect) but I saw many of them turn from that servile fear to the perfect sort. These advanced with care to the second and to the final stage. But there are many marked by that servile fear who sat down at the entrance to the bridge. These have been overtaken by weariness and react so tepidly that they do not attain to the spark of self-knowledge and of the goodness of God in them. Thus they remain in their tepidity.
Of this sort of person, the divine Truth said: "See, daughter, how impossible it would be for those who do not go forward not to turn back. And this is the cause: the soul cannot live without love. What the soul loves, it strives to know and serve. If it does not strive to know itself, where will it know better the generosity and abundance of my charity? Who knows not, loves not;(46) and who knows me not, serves not. By the very fact that a soul is deprived of me, it remains without love and returns to the worst and vilest in itself.
"These are like the dog who, when it has eaten, vomits. Then, casting its eye on its vomit, seeks it and so feeds itself in a filthy way. So, too, these negligent one, mired in such tepidity, out of a fear of punishment have vomited forth the rottenness of sin by a holy confession, thus beginning to will to follow the way of truth. Whence, by not going forward, it is inevitable that they turn back. The mind's eye is caught by their vomit. They are drawn away from the consideration of pain and turn to gazing at sensual delights, and so lose their fear. They seek again their vomit and feed their affections and desires on their own filth. They are much more reprehensible and worthy of punishment than the others.
"I am offended, then, so wickedly by my creatures. So, my children, I will that you do not slacken in you desires, but rather that you increase them by feeding at the table of holy desire. May my true servants rouse themselves and learn of me, the Word, to put the stray sheep on their shoulders, carrying them with care and with many vigils and prayers. Thus you cross over through me, the bridge. You will be true spouses and children of my Truth, and I will pour my wisdom into you together with the light of faith. This will give you perfect knowledge of the faith and you will acquire every perfection."
It pleased the benign loving-kindness of God to manifest himself and his secrets. (Before such things, dearest father, the tongue is tied, the intellect is obscured its vision is so weakened.) Desire suffers agonies in that all the powers of the soul cry out with one voice, wishing to leave the earth with its manifold imperfections. The soul wishes to turn towards and to achieve its goal, to enjoy with the inhabitants of the Heavenly City the supreme eternal Trinity, where one sees praise and glory given to God. In that city shine forth the virtue, the ardent hunger and desire of true ministers and perfect religious, who will take their place in that life as a burning light placed on the lampstand of the Church to illumine the world.
Alas, dear Father, what a difference between these and the ones we see today' He lamented the latter, Saying: "They are like the floy, who is such an ugly creature that after he has fed on sweet and delightful viands takes no care of himself but goes on to wallow in disgusting and unclean things. So, too, these wicked men have sat down to taste the sweetness of my blood and heedlessly rise up from the table of the altar. From preaching and administering my body and the other sacraments (which are redolent with sweet and gentle delight, inasmuch as my body gives life to him who tastes it in truth, and without which man cannot live); these, I say wallow in uncleanness of body and soul. This iniquity stinks in my nostrils and even the devils are disgusted at so miserable a sin."
Dearest father, after the divine Goodness had answered the three petitions, as has been said, he responded to the fourth, which asked special providence with regard to something that had happened to a certain creature. I cannot write of this to you but will speak to you of it, if God has not shown me the mercy to take my soul from my body before I see you. The body has a law unto itself which wars against the spirit. You know well that I speak the truth: It would be a boon for me to be separated from the body.
As I was saying, eternal Truth deigned to grant the fourth petition and to calm the anxious desire which prompted it: "Daughter, my providence will never be lacking to one who wishes it. There are those who have perfect hope in me. They call on me in truth, not merely with their lips but with true attachment and with the light of holy faith. Those who cry out to me "Lord! Lord!" merely in words will enjoy neither me nor my providence. If they do not seek me by the exercise of other virtues, I shall not know them. They will be acknowledged by me not with mercy but with justice.
1"I tell you that my providence shall not be lacking if they will hope in me. I wish you to come to me with patience. It pleases me to carry them as the eagle carries her young as well as the other creatures whom I made with such tender love in my own image and likeness."
As I opened my mind's eye in obedience to the command given from the depths of his charity, behold! he appeared as the highest eternal truth and as the One who had created and redeemed by the blood of his Son all rational creatures. With that same love he had given them all things. Tribulation and consolation alike -- everything was given through love and to provide for the salvation of men and for no other purpose.
He said: "The blood shed for you shows that this is the truth, but those blinded by self-love are burning with great impatience, judging badly in hate and to their own destruction that which I do through love and for their own good and to save them from eternal punishment and to give them the fruit of eternal life.
"Why do they resent me and hate that which they should revere? Why do they wish to criticize my hidden judgments, which are all correct? These act like a blind man who would judge well or badly following his small, feeble sources of information from the senses of touch, taste and hearing, and will not listen to him who has the light. They will go on stupidly trusting to the sense of touch, deceived as it is, since it does not have the light to discern color. Taste is deceived as well, for the blinded one does not see the filthy insects which infest his food. The ear is deceived by the pleasure of the sound, for the blind one does not guard himself and can be lured to his death. Such is the course of those who, blinded by the loss of the light of reason and knowing only the sensible delights of the world, pay dearly for it.
"Because such persons are blind they are not aware that they are donning a shirt of cloth bristling with the thorns and nettles of suffocating misery, so much so that the heart afflicted by them is intolerable to itself. Thus into the maw of a desire which loves inordinately they toss tidbits for it to consume, and this is a beast filthy with mortal sins which make the soul unclean. Whence, if they do not walk with the light of faith to purify their souls in the blood, they will thereby have eternal death.
"Hearing is self-love, which makes so sweet a sound that the soul rushes straight to the love of its own sensuality. Because it cannot see, it is deceived by the sound and the person is pushed into the ditch, bound by the fetters of sin and in the hands of his enemies. Since such persons are blinded by their own self-love, with the confidence they have placed in their self-centered love and knowledge, they do not attain to me who am their way and their guide, their life and light. Who walks with me and through me can neither be deceived nor walk in darkness.
"They do not trust me -- who wish nothing other than their sanctification, and who give and permit everything through love. They are continually scandalized in me -- and I bear it with patience, for I love them without being loved in return. They persecute me with great impatience, hatred, murmurings and many infidelities. Blind though they be, they set themselves to pry into my hidden judgments which are rendered justly and lovingly.
"They do not know even themselves, and therefore maintain a false vigilance. For he who knows not himself cannot truly know me and my justice. Would you have me show you how much the world is in error concerning my mysteries? Then open the eye of your understanding and look at me."
While I looked at him with anxious desire, he showed me the damnation of one whose case was known to me and for whom I had prayed. He said: "I would have you know that to free him from the eternal damnation in which he was languishing, I permitted this event so that he might have life with his blood in my blood, for I had not forgotten the reverent love he showed toward my most gentle mother Mary. I have shown him mercy, which the ignorant hold to be cruelty.
All this befalls them because of their self-love, which has taken away their light so that they do not know the truth. If they would lift the cloud, let them know and love. Thus they will hold all things in reverence and in the time of harvest they will garner the fruit.
But in everything, in this matter and in all else, my children, I will fulfill your desire with long-suffering patience. My providence will be with them in lesser or greater measure to the extent that they confide in me. The fact that I give in overflowing measure does not bind them. I shall do this to fulfill the desire of my servants who beseech me for their sakes. For this reason I do not depreciate those who humbly petition me for their sakes or for others. I invite you to seek mercy for them and for all the world. Conceive, my children, and bring forth the child of the human race with hatred and displeasure of sin and with ardent and painful love."
Dearest and kindest father, as I saw and heard so much from the benign First Truth, it seemed as though my heart had left my body. I groan and cannot die.
Have pity for your miserable daughter who lives in so much pain for so great an offense against God. I have nowhere to flee, were it not that the Holy Spirit has provided me interiorly with a route of escape through writing. All things in gentle Christ Jesus comfort us and our pains are eased. We accept with great solicitude and without negligence his gentle invitation.
Kind father, cheer up, for you have been called to him so sweetly. Persevere with joy and patience, without crippling pain. Will to wed yourself to Truth and to console my soul in yourself. Otherwise you could not have grace and you would bring great bitterness to me. Hence I would say that I desire to see you a seeker and lover of truth. I say no more. Persevere in the sweet, holy love of God.
Bless you, Friar Matthew, in Christ sweet Jesus. This letter and I must send you I have written in my own hand on the Isle of the Rock with many sighs and floods of tears, in as much as the eye, seeing, saw not.
I was full of wonder at myself and at the goodness of God as I considered his mercy towards men and his providence. That providence was poured out in abundance for my comfort. For, since I was deprived in my ignorance of the consolation of being able to write, God gave me consolation and taught me. In coming down from the height of contemplation I was like one whose heart labors as though it would burst. I no longer wished to live a life of darkness. In a wonderful way this ability caused me to stop and consider just as a teacher who gives an example to his pupil. As soon as you had left with John the Evangelist and Thomas Aquinas, I fell asleep and began to learn.
Forgive me for writing so much, but the hands and tongue are one with the heart. Sweet Jesus, Loving Jesus.
Translation by Bertrand Mahoney, O.P. of Letter CCLXXII from the edition of P.M. Lodovico Ferretti, O.P., Lettere di S. Caterina Siena, 1927, vol. iv.
Following Catherine's death a magnificent manuscript in two volumes was commissioned by Cristofano di Gano, one of her disciples, in which all of Birgitta's Revelationes in Latin are translated into Tuscan Italian for the benefit of Catherine's Compagnia dell'Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala.
Giovanni di Paolo, St Catherine Dictating to Raymond of Capua, Detroit Institute of Arts
Cosimo Rosselli, St Catherine as Founding Third and Second Dominican Orders, with Tobit and the Angel, Saints Peter Damian or Thomas Aquinas, Dominic, Lorenzo, National Gallery of Scotland
German Woodblock of Catherine's Death, her Mother and Disciples Around Her
Birgitta of Sweden gives her completed Revelationes to her editor, Bishop Hermit Alfonso of Jaén, the friend and associate of Cardinal Adam Easton, Benedictine of Norwich. From Lubeck: Ghotan, 1492 editio princeps.
Pinturicchio, Catherine's 1461 Canonization by Pope Pius II (Aeneas Piccolomini), Duono, Siena, 1502-8
The Dialogo/Orcherd of Syon
I have translated 'ghostly' as 'spiritual'. There is no way to translate the medieval use of 'creature' as created by God, though that word to us is more negative and derogatory than positive and lovely. The gentle reader can be advised to either read the initial 'Calendar' as a precis of the whole, or to begin immediately with the text, rather than this outline. Its original author/translator counsels lectio divina, choosing which avenue to read, and not necessarily in a linear sequence.
He wrote a long panegyric on St. Catherine at her death, which, with another of his works, is preserved in the public library at Siena. For at least nineteen years he led a most holy and austere life in this wood, and is said by Torellus to have returned to England, immediately after St. Catherine's death in 1383, and, after introducing the reform of Lecceto, to have died the same year. Others say he died in 1383, but there is no mention of his death in the book of the dead at Lecceto, and the exact date of it is uncertain. He was considered a saint by his contemporaries.
None of his works have been printed: they consist of six manuscripts; (1) an epistle to the provincial of his order; (2) a letter to the doctors of the province; (3) an epistle to the brethren in general; (4) predictions to the English of calamities coming upon England (in this he prophesied that England would lose the Catholic faith); (5) divers epistles; (6) a treatise on remedies against temptations. A fifteenth century manuscript of this last is now in the University Library at Cambridge, to which it was presented by George I.
About 1493, Wynkyn de Worde printed The Lyf of saint Katherin of Senis the blessid virgin, edited by Caxton; which is a free translation, by an anonymous Dominican, with many omissions and the addition of certain reflections, of the Legenda, the great Latin biography of St. Catherine by her third confessor, Friar Raymond of Capua, the famous master-general and reformer of the order of St. Dominic (d. 1399). He followed this up, in 1519, by an English rendering by Brother Dane James of the Saint's mystical treatise the Dialogo: "Here begynneth the Orcharde of Syon; in the whiche is conteyned the reuelacyons of seynt Katheryne of Sene, with ghostly fruytes and precyous plantes for the helthe of mannes soule." This was not translated from St. Catherine's own vernacular, but from Friar Raymond's Latin version of the latter, first printed at Brescia in 1496. From the first of these two works, the Lyf, are selected the passages--the Divers Doctrines devout and fruitful--which Pepwell here presents to us; but it seems probable that he was not borrowing directly from Caxton, as an almost verbally identical selection, with an identical title, is found in the British Museum, MS. Reg. 17 D.V., where it follows the Divine Cloud of Unknowing.
DOCTRINES OF ST. KATHERIN OF SEENES
HERE FOLLOWETH DIVERS DOCTRINES DEVOUT AND FRUITFUL, TAKEN OUT OF THE LIFE OF THAT GLORIOUS VIRGIN AND SPOUSE OF OUR LORD, SAINT KATHERIN OF SEENES. AND FIRST THOSE WHICH OUR LORD TAUGHT AND SHEWED TO HERSELF, AND SITH THOSE WHICH SHE TAUGHT AND SHEWED UNTO OTHERS
THE first doctrine of our Lord is this:
"Knowest thou not, daughter, who thou art and who I am? If thou know well these two words, thou art and shalt be blessed. Thou art she that art nought; and I am He that am ought. If thou have the very knowledge of these two things in thy soul, thy ghostly enemy shall never deceive thee, but thou shalt eschew graciously all his malice; and thou shalt never consent to any thing that is against My commandments and precepts, but all grace, all truth, and all charity thou shalt win without any hardness."
The second doctrine of our Lord is this:
"Think on Me, and I shall think on thee."
In declaring of which doctrine she was wont to say that:
"A soul which is verily united to God perceiveth not, seeth not, nor loveth not herself, nor none other soul, nor hath no mind of no creature but only on God."
And these words she expoundeth more expressly, and saith thus:
"Such a soul seeth herself, that she is very nought of herself, and knoweth perfectly that all the goodness, with all the mights of the soul, is her Maker's. She forsaketh utterly herself and all creatures, and hideth herself fully in her Maker, our Lord Jesu; in so much that she sendeth fully and principally all her ghostly and bodily workings in to Him; in whom she perceiveth that she may find all goodness, and all perfection of blessedness. And, therefore, she shall have no will to go out from such inward knowledge of Him for nothing. And of this unity of love, that is increased every day in such a soul, she is transformed in a manner in to our Lord, that she may neither think, nor understand, nor love, nor have no mind but God, or else in God. For she may not see herself, nor none other creature, but only in God; nor she may not love herself, nor none other, but only in God; nor she may have no mind of herself nor of none other, but only in God, nor she may have no mind but only of her Maker. And therefore," she said, "we shall have none other business but only to think how we may please Him, unto whom we have committed all our governance both in body and soul."
The third doctrine of our Lord is this; in obtaining of virtue and ghostly strength:
"Daughter, if thou wilt get unto thee virtue and also ghostly strength, thou must follow Me. Albeit that I might by My godly virtue have overcome all the power of the fiends by many manner ways of overcoming, yet, for to give you ensample by My manhood, I would not overcome him but only by taking of death upon the Cross, that ye might be taught thereby, if ye will overcome your ghostly enemies, for to take the Cross as I did; the which Cross shall be to you a great refreshing in all your temptations, if ye have mind of the pains that I suffered thereon. And certainly the pains of the Cross may well be called refreshing of temptations, for the more pain ye suffer for My love, the more like ye be to Me. And if ye be so like to Me in passion, needs ye must be like to Me in joy. Therefore for My love, daughter, suffer patiently bitter things, and not sweet things; and doubt in no wise, for thou shalt be strong enough for to suffer all things patiently."
The first doctrine of this glorious virgin is this:
"A soul which is verily mete to God, as much as it hath of the love of God, so much it hath of the hate of her own sensuality. For of the love of God naturally cometh hate of sin, the which is done against God. The soul, therefore, considering that the root and beginning of sin reigneth in the sensuality, and there principally is rooted, she is moved and stirred highly and holily with all her mights against her own sensuality; not utterly to destroy the root, for that may not be, as long as the soul dwelleth in the body living in this life, but ever there shall be left a root, namely of small venial sins. And because she may not utterly destroy the root of sin thus in her sensuality, she conceiveth a great displeasaunce against her sensuality, of the which displeasaunce springeth an holy hate and a despising of the sensuality, by the which the soul is ever well kept from her ghostly enemies. There is nothing that keepeth the soul so strong and so sure as doth such an holy hate. And that felt well the Apostle, when he said: Cum infirmor, tonc fortior sum et potens; that is: When I am sick and feeble in my sensuality by hate of sin, then am I stronger and mightier in my soul. Lo, of such hate cometh virtue, of such feebleness cometh strength, and of such displeasaunce cometh pleasaunce. This holy hate maketh a man meek, and to feel meek things of himself. It maketh him patient in adversity, temperate in prosperity, and setteth him in all honesty of virtue, and maketh him to be loved both of God and man. And where this holy hate is not, there is inordinate love, which is the stinking canal of all sin, and root of all evil concupiscence. Do therefore," she saith, "your business to put away such inordinate love of your own self, out of your hearts, and plant therein holy hate of sin. For certain that is the right way to perfection, and amendment of all sin."
Here is a common answer which she used to say to the fiends:
"I trust in my Lord Jesu Christ, and not in myself."
Here is a rule how we shall behave us in time of temptation:
"When temptation," she saith, "ariseth in us, we should never dispute nor make questions; for that is," she saith, "that the fiend most seeketh of us for to fall in questions with him. He trusteth so highly in the great subtlety of his malice, that he should overcome us with his sophistical reasons. Therefore a soul should never make questions, nor answer to the questions of the fiend, but rather turn her to devout prayer, and commend her to our Lord that she consent not to his subtle demands; for by virtue of devout prayer, and steadfast faith, we may overcome all the subtle temptations of the fiend."
Here is a good conceit of this holy maid to eschew the temptations of the fiend:
"It happeneth," she said, "that otherwhile the devout fervour of a soul loving our Lord Jesu, either by some certain sin, or else by some new subtle temptations of the fiend, waxeth dull and slow, and otherwhile it is brought to very coldness; in so much that some unwitty folks, considering that they be destitute from the ghostly comfort the which they were wont to have, leave therefore the ghostly exercise that they were wont to use of prayer, of meditations, of reading, of holy communications, and of penance doing; whereby they be made more ready to be overcome of the fiend. For he desireth nothing else of Christ's knights, but that they should put away their armour by the which they were wont to overcome their enemies. A wise knight of our Lord Jesu should not do so. But thus, the more he feeleth himself dull and slow, or cold in devotion, the rather he should continue in his ghostly exercise, and not for to make them less, but rather increase them."
Here is another doctrine of this holy maid, the which she used to say to herself in edifying of others:
"Thou vile and wretched creature, art thou worthy any manner of comfort in this life? Why hast thou not mind of thy sins? What supposest thou of thyself, wretched sinner? Is it not enough to thee, trowest thou not, that thou art escaped by the mercy of our Lord from everlasting damnation? Therefore thou shouldest be well apaid, wretch, though thou suffer all the pains and darkness of thy soul all the days of thy life. Why art thou, then, heavy and sorrowful to suffer such pains, sith by God's grace thou shalt escape endless pains with Christ Jesu without any doubt, and be comforted endlessly, if thou bear these pains patiently. Whether hast thou chosen to serve our Lord only for the comfort that thou mayst have of Him in this life? Nay, but for the comfort that thou shalt have of Him in the bliss of heaven. Therefore arise up now, and cease never of thy ghostly exercise that thou hast used, but rather increase to them more."
Here is an answer by the which she had a final victory of the fiend, after long threats of intolerable pains:
"I have chosen pain for my refreshing, and therefore it is not hard to me to suffer them, but rather delectable for the love of my Saviour, as long as it pleaseth His Majesty that I shall suffer them."
Here is a doctrine of the said virgin, how we should use the grace of our Lord:
"Who so could use the grace of our Lord, he should ever have the victory of all things that falleth to him. For as often," she said, "as any new thing falleth to a man, be it of prosperity or adversity, he should think in himself thus: Of this will I win somewhat. For he that can do so, shall soon be rich in virtue."
Here followeth notable doctrines of this holy maid, taken of her sermon which she made to her disciples before her passing, and the first was this:
"What so ever he be that cometh to the service of God, if he will have God truly, it is needful to him that he make his heart naked from all sensible love, not only of certain persons but of every creature what that ever he be, and then he should stretch up his soul to our Lord and our Maker, simply, with all the desire of his heart. For an heart may not wholly be given to God, but if it be free from all other love, open and simple without doubleness." And so she affirmed of herself, that it was her principal labour and business from her young age unto that time, ever for to come to that perfection. Also she said that she knew well that to such a state of perfection, in the which all the heart is given to God, a soul may not come perfectly without meditation of devout prayer, and that the prayer be grounded in meekness, and that it come not forth and proceed by any trust of any manner of virtue of him that prayeth, but alway he should know himself to be right nought. For she said that that was ever her business, to give herself to the exercise of prayer, so for to win the continual habit of prayer; for she did see well that by prayer all virtues are increased, and made mighty and strong; and, without prayer, they wax feeble and defail. Wherefore she induced her disciples that they should busy them to prayer perseverauntly; and therefore she told them of two manner of prayers: Vocal and Mental. Vocal prayers, she said, should be kept certain hours in the night and in the day ordained by holy Church; but mental prayer should ever be had, in act or in habit of the soul. Also she said that, by the light of quick faith, she saw clearly and conceived in her soul that what that ever befell to her, or to any others, all cometh from God, not for hate but for great love that He hath to His creatures; and by this quick faith she conceived in herself a love and a readiness to obey as well to the precepts of her sovereigns, as to the commandments of God, ever thinking that their precepts should come from God, either for need of herself, or else for increase of virtue in her soul. Also she said, for to get and purchase purity of soul, it were right necessary that a man kept himself from all manner of judgments of his [neighbour, and from all idle speaking of his] neighbour's deeds; for in every creature we should behold only the will of God. And therefore she said that in no wise men should deem creatures; that is, neither despise them by their doom nor condemn them, all be it that they see them do open sin before them; but rather they should have compassion on them and pray for them, and despise them not, nor condemn them. Also she said that she had great hope and trust in God's providence; for, she said, she knew well by experience that the Divine providence was and is a passing great thing, for it wanteth never to them that hopeth in it.
So Pepwell and MS. Reg. 17 D.V.; Caxton has: "Thou art she that art not, and I am he that am"; which is nearer to the Latin.
Caxton reads: I escape gracyously all his snares."
Cf. Dante, Par. xxxiii. 100-105:--
" A quella luce cotal si diventa,
Che volgersi da lei per altro aspetto,
È impossibil che mai si consenta;
Però che il ben, ch'è del volere obbietto,
Tutto s'accoglie in lei, e fuor di quella
È difettivo ciò che lì è perfetto."
" Such at that light does one become, that it were impossible ever to consent to turn from it for sight of ought else, For the good, that is the object of the will, is wholly gathered therein, and outside it that is defective which there is perfect."
So Pepwell: Caxton has: "yf thou wilt gete the vertu of ghostely strength."
Pepwell and the MS. add: "and temptations" (Caxton: "of temptacyons"); which is clearly out of place. Cf. Legenda, SS 104 (Acta Sanctorum, Aprilis, tom. iii.).
2 Cor. i. 7.
Mated. Caxton has: "vertuously y-mette." Cf. Legenda, SS 101: "Talis anima sic Deo conjuncta."
2 Cor. xii. 10.
"And the cause and the rote" (Caxton).
Caxton has: "It happed she sayde that other whyle deuoute feruour of a sowle leuyng oure lorde Jhesu other by somme certeyne synne, or ellys by newe sotyll temptacyons of the fende wexyth dull and slowe, and other whyle it is y-brought to veray coldenesse." Pepwell and the MS. are entirely corrupt: "It happeneth (she sayth) that otherwhyle a synner whiche is leuynge our Lord Jhesu by some certeyn synne, or ellys by some certeyn temptacyons of the fende," &c. The original of the passage runs thus: "Frequenter enim (ut inquiebat) contingit animae Deum amanti quod fervor mentalis, vel ex divina providentia, vel ex aliquali culpa, vel ex haustis adinventionibus inimici, tepescit, et quandoque quasi ad frigiditatem usque deducitur" (Legenda SS 107).
So Caxton; Pepwell has: "leaving."
Caxton has: "seeth"; the Latin text: quantumcumque videat seu sentiat.
So the MS.; Pepwell reads: "were feble and fayle"; and Caxton: "wexed feble and defayled."
Caxton reads: "prayng" (praying).
So Caxton: Pepwell and MS. have: "in."
Latin, Praelatorum suorum (i.e. of her ecclesiastical superiors), Legenda, SS 361.
Omitted in Pepwell and in MS.
Judge. Cf. above, p. 14.
"Also she sayd that she hadde alwaye grete hope and truste in Goddes prouydence, and to this same truste she endured her dysciples seyng unto theym that she founde and knewe" (Caxton).