But the general subject of this letter is the "Santissima Pazienza," which is still frequently invoked by the common folk of Siena: and Catherine's analysis searches deep. Patience could hardly have been one of the virtues most native to the woman's valiant spirit, and one feels in her keen and solemn meditations that she had herself known the bitter and corroding power of the sin "that burns and does not consume," and that "makes the soul unendurable to itself." It is with convincing fervour and fulness that she presents impatience as the permanent condition of the lost. The little discussion of impatience in human relations, and of the "proud humility" resorted to by a soul ravaged by a sense of neglect, has also a very personal note. But it is still more clear in the letter that Catherine's had become the disciplined nature which can "endure a restless mind with more reverence than a tranquil one," if such be the will of God, and which has entered deeply into the joy that awaits the meek.
Monna Agnese must have stood in special need of these touching exhortations: she was a woman sorrowfully tried. Her son had been beheaded in 1372, in punishment for heinous sin; and now her only daughter had died. "For the which thing," writes Catherine, with one of her own inimitable phrases, "I am deeply content, with a holy compassion."
In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:
Dearest daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His Precious Blood, with the desire to see you established in true patience, since I consider that without patience we cannot please God. For just as impatience gives much pleasure to the devil and to one's own lower nature, and revels in nothing but anger when it misses what the lower nature wants, so it is very displeasing to God. It is because anger and impatience are the very pith and sap of pride that they please the devil so much. Impatience loses the fruit of its labour, deprives the soul of God; it begins by knowing a foretaste of hell, and later it brings men to eternal damnation: for in hell the evil perverted will burns with anger, hate and impatience. It burns and does not consume, but is evermore renewed -- that is, it never grows less, and therefore I say, it does not consume. It has indeed parched and consumed grace in the souls of the lost, but as I said it has not consumed their being, and so their punishment lasts eternally. The saints say that the damned ask for death and cannot have it, because the soul never dies. It dies to be sure to grace, by mortal sin; but it does not die to existence. There is no sin nor wrong that gives a man such a foretaste of hell in this life as anger and impatience. It is hated by God, it holds its neighbour in aversion, and has neither knowledge nor desire to bear and forbear with its faults. And whatever is said or done to it, it at once empoisons, and its impulses blow about like a leaf in the wind. It becomes unendurable to itself, for perverted will is always gnawing at it, and it craves what it cannot have; it is discordant with the will of God and with the rational part of its own soul. And all this comes from the tree of Pride, from which oozes out the sap of anger and impatience. The man becomes an incarnate demon, and it is much worse to fight with these visible demons than with the invisible. Surely, then, every reasonable being ought to flee this sin.
But note, that there are two sources of impatience. There is a common kind of impatience, felt by ordinary men in the world, which befalls them on account of the inordinate love they have for themselves and for temporal things, which they love apart from God; so that to have them they do not mind losing their soul, and putting it into the hands of the devils. This is beyond help, unless a man recognizes himself, how he has wronged God, and cuts down that tree of Pride with the sword of true humility, which produces charity in the soul. For there is a tree of Love, whose pith is patience and goodwill toward one's neighbour. For, just as impatience shows more clearly than any other sin that the soul is deprived of God -- because it is at once evident that since the pith is there, the tree of Pride must be there -- so patience shows better and more perfectly than any other virtue, that God is in the soul by grace. Patience, I say, deep within the tree of Love, that for love of its Creator disdains the world, and loves insults whencesoever they come.
I was saying that anger and impatience were of two kinds, one general and one special. We have spoken of the common kind. Now I talk of the more particular, of the impatience of those who have already despised the world, and who wish to be servants of Christ crucified in their own way; that is, in so far as they shall find joy and consolation in Him. This is because spiritual self-will is not dead in them: therefore they imperiously demand from God that He should give them consolations and tribulations in their own way, and not in His; and so they become impatient, when they get the contrary of what their spiritual self-will wants. This is a little offshoot from Pride, sprouting from real Pride, as a tree sends out a little tree by its side, which looks separated from it, but nevertheless it gets the substance from which it springs from the same tree. So is self-will in the soul which chooses to serve God in its own way; and when that way fails it suffers, and its suffering makes it impatient, and it is unendurable to itself, and takes no pleasure in serving God or its neighbour. Nay, if any one came to it for comfort or help it would give him nothing but reproaches, and would not know how to be tolerant to his need. All this results from the sensitive spiritual self-will that grows from the tree of Pride which was cut down, but not uprooted. It is cut down when the soul uplifts its desire above the world, and fastens it on God, but has fastened there imperfectly; the root of Pride was left, and therefore it sent up an offshoot by its side, and shows itself in spiritual things. So, if it misses consolations from God, and its mind stays dry and sterile, it at once becomes disturbed and depressed, and, under colour of virtue -- because it thinks itself deprived of God -- it begins to complain, and lays down the law to God. But were it truly humble and had true hate and knowledge of itself, it would deem itself unworthy of the visitation of God to its soul, and worthy of the pain that it suffers, in being deprived, not of God's grace in the soul, but of its consolations. It suffers, then, because it has to work in its chains; yes, spiritual self-will suffers under the delusion that it is wronging God, while the trouble is really with its own lower nature.
Therefore the humble soul, which has freely uprooted with eager love the root of Pride, has annulled its own will, seeking ever the honour of God and the salvation of souls. It does not mind sufferings, but endures a restless mind with more reverence than a quiet one; having a holy respectful knowledge that God gives and grants this to it for its good, that it may rise from imperfection to perfection. That is the way to make it attain perfection, for it recognizes better thereby its own defects and the grace of God, which it finds within, in the goodwill that God has given it to hate its mortal sin. Also, by meditating on its defects and faults, old and new, it has conceived hatred for itself, and love for the Highest Eternal Will of God. Therefore it bears these things with reverence, and is content to endure inwardly and outwardly, in whatever way God grants it. Provided that it can be filled and clothed with the sweetness of the will of God, it rejoices in everything; and the more it sees itself deprived of the thing it loves, whether the consolations of God, as I said, or of its fellows, the more gladsome it grows. For many a time it happens that the soul loves spiritually; but if it does not find the consolation or satisfaction from the beloved that it would like, or if it suspects that more love or satisfaction is given to another than to itself, it falls into suffering, into depression of mind, into criticism of its neighbour and false judgment, passing judgment on the mind and intention of the servants of God, and especially on those from whom it suffers. Thence it becomes impatient, and thinks what it should not think, and says with its tongue what it should not say. In such suffering as this, it likes to resort to a proud humility, which has the aspect of humility, but is really an offshoot of Pride, springing up beside it -- saying to itself: "I will not pay these people any more attention, or trouble myself any more about them. I will keep entirely to myself; I do not wish to hurt either myself or them." And it abases itself with a perverted scorn. Now it ought to perceive that this is scorn, by the impulse to judge that it feels in its heart, and by the complaints of its tongue. It ought not then to do so; for in this fashion it will never get rid of the root of Pride, nor cut off the little son at the side, which hinders the soul from attaining the perfection at which it has aimed. But it ought to kneel at the table of the Most Holy Cross, to receive the food of the honour of God and the salvation of souls, with a free heart, with holy hatred of itself, with passionate desire: seeking to gain virtue by suffering and sweat, and not by private consolations either from God or its fellows; following the footsteps and the teaching of Christ Crucified, saying to itself with sharp rebuke: "Thou shouldst not, my soul, thou that art a member, travel by another road than thy Head. An unfit thing it is that limbs should remain delicate beneath a thorn-crowned Head." If such habits became fixed, through one's own frailty, or the wiles of the devil, or the many impulses that shake the heart like winds, then the soul ought to ascend the seat of its conscience, and reason with itself, and let nothing pass without punishment and chastisement, hatred and distaste for itself. So the root shall be pulled up, and by displeasure against itself the soul will drive out displeasure against its neighbour, grieving more over the unregulated instincts of its own heart and thoughts than over the suffering it could receive from its fellows, or any insult or annoyance they could inflict on it.
This is the sweet and holy fashion observed by those who are wholly inspired of Christ; for in this wise they have uprooted perverted pride, and that marrow of impatience of which we said above that it was very pleasing to the devil, because it is the beginning and occasion of every sin; and on the contrary that as it is very pleasing to the devil, so it is very displeasing to God. Pride displeases Him and humility pleases Him. So greatly did the virtue of humility please Him in Mary that He was constrained to give her the Word His Only-Begotten Son and she was the sweet mother who gave Him to us. Know well, that until Mary showed by her spoken words her humility and pure will, when she said: "Ecce Ancilla Domini, be it done unto me according to Thy word" -- the Son of God was not incarnate in her; but when she had said this, she conceived within herself that sweet and Spotless Lamb -- the Sweet Primal Truth showing thereby how excellent is this little virtue, and how much the soul receives that offers and presents its will in humility to its Creator. So then -- in the time of labours and persecutions, of insults and injuries inflicted by one's neighbour, of mental conflicts and deprivation of spiritual consolations, by the Creator or the creature, (by the Creator in His gentleness, when He withdraws the feeling of the mind, so that it does not seem as if God were in the soul, so many are its pains and conflicts -- and by fellow-creatures, in conversation or amusement, or when the soul thinks that it loves more than it is loved) -- in all these things, I say that the soul perfected by humility says: "My Lord, behold Thy handmaid: be it done unto me according to Thy word, and not according to what I want with my senses." So it sheds the fragrance of patience, around the Creator and its fellow-creature and itself. It has peace and quiet in its mind, and it has found peace in warfare, because it has driven far from it its self-will founded in pride, and has conceived divine grace in its soul. And it bears in its mind's breast Christ crucified, and rejoices in the Wounds of Christ crucified, and seeks to know naught but Christ crucified; and its bed is the Cross of Christ crucified. There it annuls its own will, and becomes humble and obedient.
For there is no obedience without humility, nor humility without charity. This is shown by the Word, for in obedience to His Father and in humility, He ran to the shameful death of the Cross, nailing and binding Him with the nails and bands of charity, and enduring in such patience that no cry of complaint was heard from Him. For nails were not enough to hold God- and-Man nailed and fastened on the Cross had Love not held Him there. This I say that the soul feels; therefore it will not joy otherwise than with Christ crucified. For could it attain to virtue and escape Hell and have eternal life, without sufferings, and have in the world consolations spiritual and temporal, it would not wish them; but it desires rather to suffer, enduring even unto death, than to have eternal life in any other way: only let it conform itself with Christ crucified, and clothe it with His shames and pains. It has found the table of the Spotless Lamb.
Oh, glorious virtue! Who would not give himself to death a thousand times, and endure any suffering through desire to win thee? Thou art a queen, who dost possess the entire world; thou dost inhabit the enduring life; for while the soul that is arrayed in thee is yet mortal, thou makest it abide by force of love with those who are immortal. Since, then, this virtue is so excellent and pleasing to God and useful to us and saving to our neighbour, arise, dearest daughter, from the sleep of negligence and ignorance, casting to earth the weakness and frailty of thy heart, that it feel no suffering nor impatience over anything that God permits to us, so that we may not fall either into the common kind of impatience, or into the special kind, as we were saying before, but serve our sweet Saviour manfully, with liberty of heart and true perfect patience. If we do otherwise, we shall lose grace by the first sort of impatience, and by the second we shall hinder our state of perfection; and you would not attain that to which God has called you.
It seems that God is calling you to great perfection. And I perceive it by this, that He takes away from you every tie that might hinder it in you. For as I have heard, it seems that He has called to Himself your daughter, who was your last tie with the outer world. For which thing I am deeply content, with a holy compassion, that God should have set you free, and taken her from her labours. Now then, I want that you should wholly destroy your own will, that it may cling to nothing but Christ crucified. In this way you will fulfil His will and my desire. Therefore, not knowing any other way in which you could fulfil it, I said to you that I desired to see you established in true and holy patience, because without this we cannot reach our sweet goal. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.