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Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa
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CHAPTER XXIII

Of self-love and of divine love, and of their conditions.

This illuminated Soul said that she saw a vision of self-love, and beheld that its master and lord was the demon; and she said that self-hate would be a better name for it, because it makes man do all the evil that it wills, and in the end precipitates him into hell. She beheld it in man, as it were by essence, both spiritually and corporally, and in each of these ways it seemed so entirely incorporated with him that it appeared to her almost impossible that he should be purified in this life.

She said also: “The true self-love has these properties: First, it cares not whether it injures either its own soul and body or those of its neighbor, nor does it value the goods and reputation of either itself or others; for the sake of accomplishing its ends it is as rigorous with itself as with others, and will submit to no possible contradiction. When it has resolved upon any action, it remains unmoved by either promises or threats, how great soever they may be, but perseveres in its course, caring neither for slavery nor poverty, for infamy nor weakness, for purgatory, death, nor hell, for it is so blind that it cannot see these things or recognize their importance. If one should say to man that if he would abandon his self-love he would acquire riches, gain health, possess in this world all that heart can desire, and be certain of heaven hereafter, he would yet repel them all, because his heart is unable to value any good, either temporal or eternal, which does not bear the impress of self-love; everything else he despises and counts for nothing, while to this he becomes a slave, going wherever it wills, and so submissive that he has no other choice. He neither speaks, thinks, nor understands aught else. If he is called mad and foolish, he cares nothing for it, nor is he offended by the derision or others. He has shut his eyes and closed his ears to all else, and holds them as if they were not.”

She said moreover: “Self-love is so subtle a robber that it commits its thefts, even upon God himself, without fear or shame, employing his goods as if they were its own, and assigning as a reason that it cannot live without them. And this robbery is hidden under so many veils of apparent good that it can hardly be detected except by the penetrating light of true love, which always desires to remain uncovered and bare, both in heaven and earth, because it has nothing shameful to conceal.

“And, therefore, self-love never understands the nature of pure love; for pure love sees not how the things which it knows as they are in truth could possibly be possessed or appropriated; nothing would displease it so much as to find anything which it could call its own; the reason of this is that pure love sees not, nor can it ever see, anything but truth itself, which, being by its nature communicable to all, can never be monopolized by any. Self-love, on the other hand, is in itself an obstacle to truth, and neither believes it nor beholds it, but rather, confiding in itself, holds truth as an enemy and an alien.

“But the spiritual self-love is much more perilous than the corporal, for it is bitter poison whose antidote is hard to find. It is yet more artfully veiled, and passes sometimes as sanctity or necessity, or again, as charity or pity, hiding itself beneath almost infinite disguises, the sight of which causes my heart almost to faint within me.

“Behold also what blindness self-love occasions between God and man, and know that no evil can be so great as this; yet man does not perceive it, but seems to hold it as salutary, and to rejoice over what ought rather to make him weep.

“There is no doubt that, if man could perceive the many difficulties thrown by self-love in the way of his own good, he would no longer allow himself to be deceived by it; and its malignity is the more to be dreaded because it is so powerful that were but one grain of it in the world would be sufficient to corrupt all mankind. Wherefore I conclude that self-love is the root of all evils which exist in this world and in the other. Behold Lucifer, whose present state is the result of following the suggestions of his self-love; and in ourselves it seems to me even worse. Our father Adam has so contaminated us that to my eyes the evil appears almost incurable, for it so penetrates our veins, our nerves, our bones, that we can neither say nor think nor do anything which is not full of the poison of this love—not even those thoughts and deeds which are directed toward the purification of the spirit.

“For so great and hopeless an infirmity no remedy can be found but God, and if he does not heal us in this world by his grace, our defects must needs be cleansed hereafter by the fire of purgatory; it being necessary, before it is possible for us to behold the pure face of God, that we should be freed from all our stains. And, therefore, when I see how rigorous and severe is this purgation, and that it is not in man’s power to escape from self-love, or to see and understand the dangers of its hidden venom as it is necessary that he should, I long to cry out in a voice that should even pierce the heavens, ‘God help me, God help me,’ and continue this cry so long as life remains to me.

“Consider, then, that if this love is of such force that it makes man regardless of life or death, heaven or hell, how incomparably greater must that divine love be, which God himself infuses by his great goodness into our hearts. This love, unlike the other, has an eye not only to the welfare of our souls and bodies, but to those of our neighbor, and is careful to preserve his honor and his goods. It is benignant and gentle in all things and to all men; it renounces its self-will, and accepts instead the will of God, to whom it always submits. God, moreover, by his incomparable love, so inflames, purifies, illuminates, and fortifies its will that it no longer fears anything but sin, because that alone displeases God; and, therefore, rather than commit the least sin, it would choose to undergo the most atrocious torments that can be imagined.

“This is one of the effects of the divine love which gives man such liberty, peace, and contentment that he seems almost to enjoy heaven while yet in this life, and is so absorbed that he can neither speak, nor think, nor desire aught beside.

“This divine love, which thus separates us from the world and from ourselves in order to unite us to God, is our only true and proper love. When, then, it has been thus infused into our hearts, what more can we desire in this world or in the other? Death becomes a thing longed after, and hell loses its terrors for the soul which loves; for it dreads nothing but sin, which alone can separate it from its beloved. Oh, if men, and especially those who love, could only know how great and heavy a thing it is to offend God, they would know it to be the greatest hell that could be suffered: he who has once enjoyed this sweet and gentle love, and lost it through any fault of his, would suffer agonies like those of the condemned souls, and esteem no toils too great by which he might once more regain it. Long experience has taught me that the love of God is our life, our bliss, and our repose, and that self-love is continual weariness, misery, and death both in this world and in the other.”

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