Reprinted from: THE LIFE AND
DOCTRINE OF SAINT CATHERINE OF GENOA, translated from Italian,
Christian Press Association Publishing Co., 1907
TREATISE ON PURGATORY
The divine fire which St. Catherine experienced in
herself, made her comprehend the state of souls in purgatory, and that
they are contented there although in torment.
The state of souls in purgatory. - They are exempt from
This holy soul, while still in the flesh, was placed in
the purgatory of the burning love of God, in whose flames she was purified
from every stain, so that when she passed from this life she might be
ready to enter the presence of God, her most sweet love. By means of that
flame of love she comprehended in her own soul the condition of the souls
of the faithful in purgatory, where they are purified from the rust and
stain of sins, from which they have not been cleansed in this world. And
as in the purgatory of that divine flame she was united with the divine
love and satisfied with all that was accomplished in her, she was enabled
to comprehend the state of the souls in purgatory, and thus discovered
As far as I can see, the souls in purgatory can have no
choice but to be there; this God has most justly ordained by his divine
decree. They cannot turn towards themselves and say: I have committed such
and such sins for which I deserve to remain here; nor can they say: Would
that I had refrained from them, for then I should at this moment be in
paradise; nor again: This soul will be released before me; or I shall be
released before her. They retain no memory of either good or evil
respecting themselves or others which would increase their pain. They are
so contented with the divine dispositions in their regard; and with doing
all that is pleasing to God in that way which he chooses, that they cannot
think of themselves, though they may strive to do so. They see nothing but
the operation of the divine goodness which is so manifestly bringing them
to God that they can reflect neither on their own profit nor on their
hurt. Could they do so, they would not be in pure charity. They see not
that they suffer their pains in consequence of their sins, nor can they
for a moment entertain that thought, for should they do so it would be an
active imperfection, and that cannot exist in a state where there is no
longer the possibility of sin. At the moment of leaving this life they see
why they are sent to purgatory, but never again, otherwise they would
still retain something private, which has no place there. Being
established in charity, they can never deviate therefrom by any defect,
and have no will or desire, save the pure will of pure love, and can
swerve from it in nothing. They can neither commit sin, nor merit by
refraining from it.
The joy of souls in purgatory. - The saint illustrates
their ever increasing vision of God. - The difficulty of speaking about
There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls
in purgatory, save that of the saints in paradise, and this peace is ever
augmented by the inflowing of God into these souls, which increases in
proportion as the impediments to it are removed. The rust of sin is the
impediment, and this the fire continually consumes, so that the soul in
this state is continually opening itself to admit the divine
communication. As a covered surface can never reflect the sun, not through
any defect in that orb, but simply from the resistance offered by the
covering, so, if the covering be gradually removed, the surface will by
little and little be opened to the sun and will more and more reflect his
So it is with the rust of sin, which is the covering of
the soul. In purgatory the flames incessantly consume it, and as it
disappears, the soul reflects more and more perfectly the true sun who is
God. Its contentment increases as this rust wears away, and the soul is
laid bare to the divine ray, and thus one increases and the other
decreases until the time is accomplished. The pain never diminishes,
although the time does, but as to the will, so united is it to God by pure
charity, and so satisfied to be under his divine appointment, that these
souls can never say their pains are pains.
On the other hand, it is true that they suffer torments
which no tongue can describe nor any intelligence comprehend, unless it be
revealed by such a special grace as that which God has vouchsafed to me,
but which I am unable to explain. And this vision which God revealed to me
has never departed from my memory. I will describe it as far as I am able,
and they whose intellects our Lord will deign to open will understand me.
Separation from God is the greatest pain of purgatory.
- In this, purgatory differs from hell.
The source of all suffering is either original or
actual sin. God created the soul pure, simple, free from every stain, and
with a certain beatific instinct toward himself. It is drawn aside from
aim by original sin, and when actual sin is afterwards added, this
withdraws it still farther, and ever as it removes from him its sinfulness
increases because its communication with God grows less and less.
And because there is no good except by participation
with God, who, to the irrational creatures imparts himself as he wills and
in accordance with his divine decree, and never withdraws from them, but
to the rational soul he imparts himself more or less, according as he
finds her more or less freed from the hindrances of sin, it follows that,
when he finds a soul that is returning to the purity and simplicity in
which she was created, he increased in her the beatific instinct, and
kindles in her a fire of charity so powerful and vehement, that it is
insupportable to the soul to find any obstacle between her and her end;
and the clearer vision she has of these obstacles the greater is her pain.
Since the souls in purgatory are freed from the guilt
of sin, there is no barrier between them and God save only the pains they
suffer, which delay the satisfaction of their desire. And when they see
how serious is even the slightest hindrance, which the necessity of
justice causes to check them, a vehement flame kindles within them, which
is like that of hell. They feel no guilt however, and it is guilt which is
the cause of the malignant will of the condemned in hell, to whom God does
not communicate his goodness, and thus they remain in despair and with a
will forever opposed to the good will of God.
The difference between the state of the souls in hell
and that of those in purgatory. - Reflections of the saint upon those who
neglect their salvation.
It is evident that the revolt of mans will from that
of God constitutes sin, and while that revolt continues, mans guilt
remains. Those, therefore, that are in hell, having passed from this life
with perverse wills, their guilt is not remitted, nor can it be, since
they are no longer capable of change. When this life is ended, the soul
remains forever confirmed either in good or evil according as she has here
determined. As it is written: Where I shall find thee, that is, at
the hour of death, with the will either fixed on sin or repenting of it,
there I will judge thee. From this judgment there is no appeal, for
after death the freedom of the will can never return, but the will is
confirmed in that state in which it is found at death. The souls in hell,
having been found at that hour with the will to sin, have the guilt and
the punishment always with them, and although this punishment is not so
great as they deserve, yet it is eternal. Those in purgatory, on the other
hand, suffer the penalty only, for their guilt was cancelled at death,
when they were found hating their sins and penitent for having offended
the divine goodness. And this penalty has an end, for the term of it is
ever approaching. O misery beyond all misery, and the greater because in
his blindness man regards it not!
The punishment of the damned is not, it is true,
infinite in degree, for the all lovely goodness of God shines even into
hell. He who dies in mortal sin merits infinite woe for an infinite
duration; but the mercy of God has made the time only infinite, and
mitigated the intensity of the pain. In justice he might have inflicted
much greater punishment than he has done.
Oh, what peril attaches to sin willfully committed! For
it is so difficult for man to bring himself to penance, and without
penitence guilt remains and will ever remain, so long as man retains
unchanged the will to sin, or is intent upon committing it.
Of the peace and joy which are found in purgatory
The souls in purgatory are entirely conformed to the
will of God; therefore, they correspond with his goodness, are contented
with all that he ordains, and are entirely purified from the guilt of
their sins. They are pure from sins, because they have in this life
abhorred them and confessed them with true contrition, and for this reason
God remits their guilt, so that only the stains of sin remain, and these
must be devoured by the fire. Thus freed from guilt and united to the will
of God, they see him clearly according to that degree of light which he
allows them, and comprehend how great a good is the fruition of God, for
which all souls were created. Moreover, these souls are in such close
conformity to God, and are drawn so powerfully toward him by reason of the
natural attraction between him and the soul, that no illustration or
comparison could make this impetuosity understood in the way in which my
spirit conceives it by its interior sense. Nevertheless I will use one
which occurs to me.
A comparison to express with how great violence of love
the souls in purgatory desire to enjoy God.
Let us suppose that in the whole world there were but
one loaf to appease the hunger of every creature, and that the bare sight
of it would satisfy them. Now man, when in health, has by nature the
instinct for food, but if we can suppose him to abstain from it and
neither die nor yet lose health and strength, his hunger would clearly
become increasingly urgent. In this case, if he knew that nothing but the
loaf would satisfy him, and that until he reached it his hunger could not
be appeased, he would suffer intolerable pains, which would increase as
his distance from the loaf diminished; but if he were sure that he would
never see it, his hell would be as complete as that of the damned souls,
who, hungering after God, have no hope of ever seeing the bread of life.
But the souls in purgatory have an assured hope of seeing him and of being
entirely satisfied; and therefore they endure all hunger and suffer all
pain until that moment when they enter into eternal possession of this
bread, which is Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Saviour, and our Love.
Of the marvelous wisdom of God in the creation of
purgatory and of hell.
As the purified spirit finds no repose but in God, for
whom it was created, so the soul in sin can rest nowhere but in hell,
which by, reason of its sins, has become its end. Therefore, at that
instant in which the soul separates from the body, it goes to its
prescribed place, needing no other guide than the nature of the sin
itself, if the soul has parted from the body in mortal sin. And if the
soul were hindered from obeying that decree (proceeding from the justice
of God), it would find itself in a yet deeper hell, for it would be
outside of the divine order, in which mercy always finds place and
prevents the full infliction of all the pains the soul has merited.
Finding, therefore, no spot more fitting, nor any in which her pains would
be so slight, she casts herself into her appointed place.
The same thing is true of purgatory: the soul, leaving
the body, and not finding in herself that purity in which she was created,
and seeing also the hindrances which prevent her union with God, conscious
also that purgatory only can remove them, casts herself quickly and
willingly therein. And if she did not find the means ordained for her
purification, she would instantly create for herself a hell worse than
purgatory, seeing that by reason of this impediment she is hindered from
approaching her end, which is God; and this is so great an ill that in
comparison with it the soul esteems purgatory as nothing. True it is, as I
have said, like hell; and yet, in comparison with the loss of God it is as
Of the necessity of purgatory, and of its terrific
I will say furthermore: I see that as far as God is
concerned, paradise has no gates, but he who will may enter. For God is
all mercy, and his open arms are ever extended to receive us into his
glory. But I see that the divine essence is so pure - purer than the
imagination can conceive - that the soul, finding in itself the slightest
imperfection, would rather cast itself into a thousand hells than appear,
so stained, in the presence of the divine majesty. Knowing, then, that
purgatory was intended for her cleaning, she throws herself therein, and
finds there that great mercy, the removal of her stains.
The great importance of purgatory, neither mind can
conceive nor tongue describe. I see only that its pains are as great as
those of hell; and yet I see that a soul, stained with the slightest
fault, receiving this mercy, counts its pains as naught in comparison with
this hindrance to her love. And I know that the greatest misery of the
souls in purgatory is to behold in themselves aught that displeases God,
and to discover that, in spite of his goodness, they had consented to it.
And this is because, being in the state of grace, they see the reality and
the importance of the impediments which hinder their approach to God.
How God and the soul reciprocally regard each other in
purgatory. - The saint confesses that she has no words to express these
All these things that I have said, in comparison with
those which have been represented to my mind (as far as I have been able
to comprehend them in this life), are of such magnitude that every idea,
every word, every feeling, every imagination, all the justice and all the
truth that can be said of them, seem false and worthless, and I remain
confounded at the impossibility of finding words to describe them.
I behold such a great conformity between God and the
soul, that when he finds her pure as when his divine majesty first created
her he gives her an attractive force of ardent love which would annihilate
her if she were not immortal. He so transforms her into himself that,
forgetting all, she no longer sees aught beside him; and he continues to
draw her toward him, inflames her with love, and never leaves her until he
has brought her to that state from whence she first came forth, that is,
to the perfect purity in which she was created.
When the soul beholds within herself the amorous flame
by which she is drawn toward her sweet Master and her God, the burning
heat of love overpowers her and she melts. Then, in that divine light she
sees how God, by his great care and constant providence, never ceases to
attract her to her last perfection, and that he does so through pure love
alone. She sees, too, that she herself, clogged by sin, cannot follow that
attraction toward God, that is, that reconciling glance which he casts
upon her that he may draw her to himself. Moreover, a comprehension of
that great misery, which it is to be hindered from gazing upon the light
of God, is added to the instinctive desire of the soul to be wholly free
to yield herself to that unifying flame. I repeat, it is the view of all
these things which causes the pain of the suffering souls in purgatory,
not that they esteem their pains as great (cruel thought they be), but
they count as far worse that opposition which they find in themselves to
the will of that God whom they behold burning for them with so ardent and
so pure a love.
This love, with its unifying regard, is ever drawing
these souls, as if it had no other thing to do; and when the soul beholds
this, if she could find a yet more painful purgatory in which she could be
more quickly cleansed, she would plunge at once therein, impelled by the
burning, mutual love between herself and God.
How God makes use of purgatory to complete the
purification of the soul. - That she acquires therein a purity so great
that if she were yet to remain after her purification she would cease to
From that furnace of divine love I see rays of fire
dart like burning lamps towards the soul; and so violent and powerful are
they that both soul and body would be utterly destroyed, if that were
possible. These rays perform a double office; they purify and they
Consider gold: the oftener it is melted, the more pure
does it become; continue to melt it and every imperfection is destroyed.
This is the effect of fire on all materials. The soul, however, cannot be
annihilated in God, but in herself she can, and the longer her
purification lasts, the more perfectly does she die to herself, until at
length she remains purified in God.
When gold has been completely freed from dross, no
fire, however great, has any further action on it, for nothing but its
imperfections can be consumed. So it is with the divine fire in the soul.
God retains her in these flames until every stain is burned away, and she
is brought to the highest perfection of which she is capable, each soul in
her own degree. And when this is accomplished, she rests wholly in God.
Nothing of herself remains, and God is her entire being. When he has thus
led her to himself and purified her, she is no longer passable, for
nothing remains to be consumed. If when thus refined she should again
approach the fire she would feel no pain, for to her it has become the
fire of divine love, which is life eternal and which nothing mars.
The desire of souls in purgatory to be purified from
every stain of sin. - The wisdom of God in veiling from them their
At her creation the soul received all the means of
attaining perfection of which her nature was capable, in order that she
might conform to the will of God and keep herself from contracting any
stain; but being directly contaminated by original sin she loses her gifts
and graces and even her life. Nor can she be regenerated save by the help
of God, for even after baptism her inclination to evil remains, which, if
she does not resist it, disposes and leads her to mortal sin, through
which she dies anew.
God again restores her by a further special grace; yet,
she is still so sullied and so bent on herself, that to restore her to her
primitive innocence, all those divine operations which I have described
are needful, and without them she could never be restored. When the soul
has reentered the path which leads to her first estate, she is inflamed
with so burning a desire to be transformed into God, that in it she finds
her purgatory. Not, indeed, that she regards her purgatory as being such,
but this desire, so fiery and so powerfully repressed, becomes her
This final act of love accomplishes its work alone,
finding the soul with so many hidden imperfections, that the mere sight of
them, were it presented to her, would drive her to despair. This last
operation, however, consumes them all, and when they are destroyed God
makes them known to the soul to make her understand the divine action by
which her purity was restored.
How joy and suffering are united in purgatory
That which man judges to be perfect, in the sight of
God is defect. For all the works of man, which appear faultless when he
considers them feels, remembers, wills and understands them, are, if he
does not refer them to God, corrupt and sinful. For, to the perfection of
our works it is necessary that they be wrought in us but not of us. In the
works of God it is he that is the prime mover, and not man.
These works, which God effects in the soul by himself
alone, which are the last operations of pure and simple love in which we
have no merit, so pierce and inflame the soul that the body which envelops
her seems to be hiding a fire, or like one in a furnace, who can find no
rest but death. It is true that the divine love which overwhelms the soul
gives, as I think, a peace greater than can be expressed; yet this peace
does not in the least diminish her pains, nay, it is love delayed which
occasions them, and they are greater in proportion to the perfection of
the love of which God has made her capable.
Thus have these souls in purgatory great pleasure and
great pain; nor does the one impede the other.
The souls in purgatory are not in a state to merit. -
How they regard the suffrages offered for them in this world.
If by repentance the souls in purgatory could purify
themselves, a moment would suffice to cancel their whole debt, so
overwhelming would be the force of the contrition produced by the clear
vision they have of the magnitude of every obstacle which hinders them
from God, their love and their final end.
And, know for certain that not one farthing of their
debt is remitted to these souls. This is the decree of divine justice; it
is thus that God wills. But, on the other hand, these souls have no longer
any will apart from that of God, and can neither see nor desire aught but
by his appointment.
And if pious offerings be made for them by persons in
this world, they cannot now note them with satisfaction, unless, indeed,
in reference to the will of God and the balance of his justice, leaving to
him the ordering of the whole, who repays himself as best pleases his
infinite goodness. Could they regard these alms apart from the divine will
concerning them, this would be a return to self, which would shut from
their view the will of God, and that would be to them like hell. Therefore
they are unmoved by whatever God gives them, whether it be pleasure or
pain, nor can they ever again revert to self.
Of the submission of the souls in purgatory to the will
So hidden and transformed in God are they, that they
rest content with all his holy will. And if a soul, retaining the
slightest stain, were to draw near to God in the beatific vision, it would
be to her a more grievous injury, and inflict more suffering, than
purgatory itself. Nor could God himself, who is pure goodness and supreme
justice, and the sight of God, not yet entirely satisfied (so long as the
least possible purification remained to be accomplished) would be
intolerable to her, and she would cast herself into the deepest hell
rather than stand before him and be still impure.
Reproaches of the soul in purgatory to persons in this
And thus this blessed Soul, illuminated by the divine
ray, said: Would that I could utter so strong a cry that it would strike
all men with terror, and say to them: O wretched beings! why are you so
blinded by this world that you make, as you will find at the hour of
death, no provision for the great necessity that will then come upon you?
You shelter yourselves beneath your hope in the mercy
of God, which you unceasingly exalt, not seeing that it is your resistance
to his great goodness which will be your condemnation. His goodness should
constrain you to his will, not encourage you to persevere in your own.
Since his justice is unfailing it must needs be in some way fully
Have not the boldness to say: I will go to confession
and gain a plenary indulgence and thus I shall be saved. Remember that the
full confession and entire contrition which are requisite to gain a
plenary indulgence are not easily attained. Did you know how hardly they
are come by, you would tremble with fear and be more sure of losing than
of gaining them.
Showing that the sufferings of the souls in purgatory
do not prevent their peace and joy.
I see that the souls in purgatory behold a double
operation. The first is that of the mercy of God; for while they suffer
their torments willingly, they perceive that God has been very good to
them, considering what they have deserved and how great are their offences
in his eyes. For if his goodness did not temper justice with mercy
(satisfying it with the precious blood of Jesus Christ), one sin alone
would deserve a thousand hells. They suffer their pains so willingly that
they would not lighten them in the least, knowing how justly they have
been deserved. They resist the will of God no more than if they had
already entered upon eternal life.
The other operation is that satisfaction they
experience in beholding how loving and merciful have been the divine
decrees in all that regards them. In one instant God impresses these two
things upon their minds, and as they are in grace they comprehend them as
they are, yet each according to her capacity. They experience thence a
great and never-failing satisfaction which constantly increases as they
approach to God. They see all things, not in themselves nor by themselves,
but as they are in God, on whom they are more intent than on their
sufferings. For the least vision they can have of God overbalances all
woes and all joys that can be conceived. Yet their joy in God does by no
means abate their pain.
Which concludes with an application of all that has
been said concerning the souls in purgatory to what the saint experiences
in her own soul.
This process of purification to which I see the souls
in purgatory subjected, I feel within myself, and have experienced it for
the last two years. Every day I see and feel it more clearly. My soul
seems to live in this body as in a purgatory which resembles the true
purgatory, with only the difference that my soul is subjected to only so
much suffering as the body can endure without dying, but which will
continually and gradually increase until death.
I feel my spirit alienated from all things (even
spiritual ones) that might afford it nourishment or give it consolation. I
have no relish for either temporal or spiritual goods through the will,
the understanding, or the memory, nor can I say that I take greater
satisfaction in this thing than in that.
I have been so besieged interiorly, that all things
which refreshed my spiritual or my bodily life have been gradually taken
from me, and as they departed, I learned that they were all sources of
consolation and support. Yet, as soon as they were discovered by the
spirit they became tasteless and hateful; they vanish and I care not to
prevent it. This is because the spirit instinctively endeavors to rid
itself of every hindrance to its perfection, and so resolutely that it
would rather go to hell than fail in its purpose. It persists, therefore,
in casting off all things by which the inner man might nourish himself,
and so jealously guards him, that no slightest imperfection can creep in
without being instantly detected and expelled.
As for the outward man, for the reason that the spirit
has no correspondence with it, it is so oppressed that nothing on earth
can give it comfort according to its human inclinations. No consolation
remains to it but God, who, with great love and mercy accomplishes this
work for the satisfaction of his justice. I perceive all this, and it
gives me a great peace and satisfaction; but this satisfaction does by no
means diminish my oppression or my pain. Nor could there possibly befall
me a pain so great, that it could move me to swerve from the divine
ordination, or leave my prison, or wish to leave it until God is
satisfied, nor could I experience any woe so great as would be an escape
from his divine decree, so merciful and so full of justice do I find it.
I see these things clearly, but words fail me to
describe them as I wish. What I have described is going on within my
spirit, and therefore I have said it. The prison which detains me is the
world; my chains, the body; the soul, illuminated by grace, comprehends
how great a misery it is to be hindered from her final end, and she
suffers greatly because she is very tender. She receives from God, by his
grace, a certain dignity which assimilates her to him, nay, which makes
her one with him by the participation of his goodness. And as it is
impossible for God to suffer any pain, it is so also with those happy
souls who are drawing nearer to him. The more closely they approach him
the more fully do they share in his perfections.
Any delay, then, causes the soul intolerable pain. The
pain and the delay prevent the full action both of what is hers by nature,
and of that which has been revealed to her by grace; and, not able as yet
to possess and still essentially capable of possessing, her pain is great
in proportion to her desire of God. The more perfectly she knows him, the
more ardent is her desire, and the more sinless is she. The impediments
that bar her from him become all the more terrible to her, because she is
so wholly bent on him, and when not one of these is left she knows him as
As a man who suffers death rather than offend God does
not become insensible to the pains of death, but is so illuminated by God
that his zeal for the divine honor is greater than his love for life, so
the soul, knowing the will of God, esteems it more than all outward or
inward torments, however terrible; and this for the reason that God, for
whom and by whom the work is done, is infinitely more desirable than all
else that can be known or understood. And inasmuch as God keeps the soul
absorbed in himself and in his majesty, even though it be only in a slight
degree, yet she can attach no importance to anything beside. She loses in
him all that is her own, and can neither see nor speak, nor yet be
conscious of any injury or pain she suffers, but as I have said before it
is all understood in one moment as she passes from this life. And finally,
to conclude all, understand well, that in the almighty and merciful God,
all that is in man is wholly transformed, and that purgatory purifies him.