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Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa
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CHAPTER IX

Of her wonderful knowledge of God and of herself.

This servant of God had an almost incredible knowledge of herself. She was so purified and enlightened, so united with and transformed into God, her Love, that what she said seemed to be uttered not by a human tongue, but rather by one angelic and divine; which proves the truth that numble souls, thirsting after God, can often grasp what the mere human intellect can never attain or comprehend. She was accustomed to say: “If it were possible for me to suffer as much as all the martyrs have suffered, and even hell itself, for the love of God, and in order to make satisfaction to him, it would be after all only a sort of injury to God, in comparison with the love and goodness with which he has created, and redeemed, and, in a special manner, called me. For man, unassisted by God’s grace, is even worse than the devil, because the devil is a spirit without a body, while man, without the grace of God, is a devil incarnate. Man has a free will, which, according to the ordination of God, is in nowise bound, so that he can do all the evil that he wills; to the devil, this is impossible, since he can act only by the divine permission; and when man surrenders to him his evil will, the devil employs it, as the instrument of his temptation.”

And hence she said: “I see that whatever is good in myself, in any other creature, or in the saints, is truly from God; if, on the other hand, I do any thing evil, it is I alone who do it, nor can I charge the blame of it upon the devil or upon any other creature; it is purely the work of my own will, inclination, pride, selfishness, sensuality, and other evil dispositions, without the help of God I should never do any good thing. So sure am I of this, that if all the angels of heaven were to tell me I have something good in me, I should not believe them.”

This holy soul knew in what true perfection consists, and had, moreover a knowledge of all imperfections. There is nothing surprising in this, for her interior eye was enlightened, her affections purified, and her heart wholly united to God, her Love, in whom she saw things wonderful and hidden from human sense. She said, therefore: “So long as any one can speak of divine things, enjoy and understand them, remember and desire them, he has not yet arrived in port; yet there are ways and means to guide him thither. But the creature can know nothing but what God gives him to know from day to day, nor can he comprehend beyond this, and at each instant remains satisfied with what he receives. If the creature knew the height to which God is prepared to raise him in this life, he would never rest, but on the contrary would feel a certain craving, a vehement desire to reach quickly that ultimate perfection, and would think himself in hell until he had obtained it.”

Even at the beginning of her conversion, this holy and devout soul, inflamed with divine love, was wont to exclaim: “Oh! Lord, I desire thee wholly, for in thy clear and strong light I see that the soul can never be at peace until she has attained her last perfection. Oh, sweet Lord! if I believed that I should lose one spark of thee, I could no longer live.” Again she said: “It appeared to me, as I noted from time to time, that the love wherewith I loved my sweet Love, grew greater day by day, and yet, at each step, I had thought it as perfect as it could be, for love has this property that it can never perceive in itself the least defect. But as my vision grew clearer, I beheld in myself many imperfections which, had I seen them in the beginning, I should have esteemed nothing, not even hell itself, too great or painful that would have rid me of them. In the beginning they were hidden from me, for it was the purpose of God to accomplish his work by little and little, in order to keep me humble, and enable me to remain among my fellow creatures. And finally, seeing a completed work entirely beyond the creature, I am compelled to say what before I could not say, and confess how clear it is to me that all our works are even more imperfect than any creature can fully understand.”

This holy creature was accustomed to use the words: “Sweetness of God; purity of God,” and other beautiful expressions of the same kind. Sometimes she uttered expressions like these: “I see without eyes, hear without understanding, feel without feeling, and taste without tasting. I know neither form nor measure; for without seeing I yet behold an operation so divine that the words I first used, perfection, purity, and the like seem to me now mere lies in the presence of the truth. The sun which once looked so bright is now dark; what was sweet is now bitter, because sweetness and beauty are spoiled by contact with creatures. Nor can I any longer say: ‘My God, my All.’ Everything is mine, for all that is God’s seems to be wholly mine. Neither in heaven nor on earth shall I ever again use such words, for I am mute and lost in God. Nor can I call the saints blessed, nor the blessed holy, for I see that their sanctity and their beatitude is not theirs, but exists only in God. I see nothing good or blessed in any creature if it be not wholly annihilated and absorbed in God, so that he alone may remain in the creature and the creature in him.

“This is the beatitude that the blessed might have, and yet they have it not, except in so far as they are dead to themselves and absorbed in God. They have it not in so far as they remain in themselves and can say: ‘I am blessed.’ Words are wholly inadequate to express my meaning, and I reproach myself for using them. I would that every one could understand me, and I am sure that if I could breathe on creatures, the fire of love burning within me would inflame them all with divine desire. O thing most marvelous! So great is my love for God, that beside it all love for the neighbor seems only hypocrisy. I can no longer condescend to creatures, or if I do so, it is only with pain, for to me the world seems only to live in vanity.”

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