St Catherine of Genoa:

Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) was a Catholic saint and mystic, admired for her work among the sick and the poor and spent most of her life and her means serving the sick, especially during the plague which ravaged Genoa in 1497 and 1501. She died in that city in 1510. Catherine’s thought on purgatory, for which she is particularly known, and her way of describing it, is original in some features for the period. Her writings also became sources of inspiration for other religious leaders such as Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales.

Treatise on Purgatory:


The state of the souls who are in Purgatory, how they are exempt from all self-love.

This holy Soul2 found herself, while still in the flesh, placed by the  fiery love of God in Purgatory, which burnt her, cleansing whatever in her  needed cleansing, to the end that when she passed from this life she might  be presented to the sight of God, her dear Love. By means of this loving  fire, she understood in her soul the state of the souls of the faithful who  are placed in Purgatory to purge them of all the rust and stains of sin of  which they have not rid themselves in this life. And since this Soul,  placed by the divine fire in this loving Purgatory, was united to that  divine love and content with all that was wrought in her, she understood  the state of the souls who are in Purgatory. And she said:

The souls who are in Purgatory cannot, as I understand, choose but be  there, and this is by God’s ordinance who therein has done justly. They  cannot turn their thoughts back to themselves, nor can they say, “Such sins  I have committed for which I deserve to be here “, nor, “I would that I had  not committed them for then I would go now to Paradise”, nor, “That one  will leave sooner than I”, nor, “I will leave sooner than he”. They can  have neither of themselves nor of others any memory, whether of good or  evil, whence they would have greater pain than they suffer ordinarily. So  happy are they to be within God’s ordinance, and that He should do all  which pleases Him, as it pleases Him that in their greatest pain they  cannot think of themselves. They see only the working of the divine  goodness, which leads man to itself mercifully, so that he no longer sees  aught of the pain or good which may befall him. Nor would these souls be in  pure charity if they could see that pain or good. They cannot see that they  are in pain because of their sins; that sight they cannot hold in their  minds because in it there would be an active imperfection, which cannot be  where no actual sin can be.

Only once, as they pass from this life, do they see the cause of the  Purgatory they endure; never again do they see it for in another sight of  it there would be self. Being then in charity from which they cannot now  depart by any actual fault, they can no longer will nor desire save with  the pure will of pure charity. Being in that fire of Purgatory, they are  within the divine ordinance, which is pure charity, and in nothing can they  depart thence for they are deprived of the power to sin as of the power to  merit.


What is the joy of the souls in Purgatory. A comparison to shew how they see God ever more and more. The difficulty of speaking of this state.

I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a  soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day  this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the  hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the  fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to  the divine inflowing. A thing which is covered cannot respond to the sun’s  rays, not because of any defect in the sun, which is shining all the time,  but because the cover is an obstacle; if the cover be burnt away, this  thing is open to the sun; more and more as the cover is consumed does it  respond to the rays of the sun

It is in this way that rust, which is sin, covers souls, and in Purgatory  is burnt away by fire; the more it is consumed, the more do the souls  respond to God, the true sun. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up  to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the time be accomplished the one  wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does not lessen but only the time  for which pain is endured. As for will: never can the souls say these pains  are pains, so contented are they with God’s ordaining with which, in pure  charity, their will is united.

But, on the other hand, they endure a pain so extreme that no tongue can be  found to tell it, nor could the mind understand its least pang if God by  special grace did not shew so much. Which least pang God of His grace  shewed to this Soul, but with her tongue she cannot say what it is. This  sight which the Lord revealed to me has never since left my mind and I will  tell what I can of it. They will understand whose mind God deigns to open.


Separation from God is the chief punishment of Purgatory. Wherein Purgatory differs from Hell.

All the pains of Purgatory arise from original or actual sin. God created  the soul pure, simple and clean of all stain of sin, with a certain  beatific instinct towards Himself whence original sin, which the soul finds  in itself, draws it away, and when actual is added to original sin the soul  is drawn yet further away. The further it departs from its beatific  instinct, the more malignant it becomes because it corresponds less to God.

There can be no good save by participation in God, who meets the needs of  irrational creatures as He wills and has ordained, never failing them, and  answers to a rational soul in the measure in which He finds it cleansed of  sin’s hindrance. When therefore a soul has come near to the pure and clear  state in which it was created, its beatific instinct discovers itself and  grows unceasingly, so impetuously and with such fierce charity (drawing it  to its last end) that any hindrance seems to this soul a thing past  bearing. The more it sees, the more extreme is its pain.

Because the souls in Purgatory are without the guilt of sin, there is no  hindrance between them and God except their pain, which holds them back so  that they cannot reach perfection. Clearly they see the grievousness of  every least hindrance in their way, and see too that their instinct is  hindered by a necessity of justice: thence is born a raging fire, like that  of Hell save that guilt is lacking to it. Guilt it is which makes the will  of the damned in Hell malignant, on whom God does not bestow His goodness  and who remain therefore in desperate ill will, opposed to the will of God.


Of the state of the souls in Hell and of the difference between them and those in Purgatory. Reflections of this saint on those who are careless of their salvation.

Hence it is manifest that there is perversity of will, contrary to the will  of God, where the guilt is known and ill will persists, and that the guilt  of those who have passed with ill will from this life to Hell is not  remitted, nor can be since they may no longer change the will with which  they have passed out of this life, in which passage the soul is made stable  in good or evil in accordance with its deliberate will. As it is written,  “Ubi te invenero,” that is in the hour of death, with the will to sin or  dissatisfaction with sin or repentance for sin, “Ibi te judicabo.” Of which  judgment there is afterwards no remission, as I will shew:

After death free will can never return, for the will is fixed as it was at  the moment of death. Because the souls in Hell were found at the moment of  death to have in them the will to sin, they bear the guilt throughout  eternity, suffering not indeed the pains they merit but such pains as they  endure, and these without end. But the souls in Purgatory bear only pain,  for their guilt was wiped away at the moment of their death when they were  found to be ill content with their sins and repentant for their offences  against divine goodness. Therefore their pain is finite and its time ever  lessening, as has been said.

O misery beyond all other misery, the greater that human blindness takes it  not into account!

The pain of the damned is not infinite in quantity because the dear  goodness of God sheds the ray of His mercy even in Hell. For man dead in  sin merits infinite pain for an infinite time, but God’s mercy has allotted  infinity to him only in time and has determined the quantity of his pain;  in justice God could have given him more pain.

O how dangerous is sin committed in malice! Hardly does a man repent him  thereof, and without repentance he will bear its guilt for as long as he  perseveres, that is for as long as he wills a sin committed or wills to sin  again.


Of the peace and the joy there are in Purgatory.

The souls in Purgatory have wills accordant in all things with the will of  God, who therefore sheds on them His goodness, and they, as far as their  will goes, are happy and cleansed of all their sin. As for guilt, these  cleansed souls are as they were when God created them, for God forgives  their guilt immediately who have passed from this life ill content with  their sins, having confessed all they have committed and having the will to  commit no more. Only the rust of sin is left them and from this they  cleanse themselves by pain in the fire. Thus cleansed of all guilt and  united in will to God, they see Him clearly in the degree in which He makes  Himself known to them, and see too how much it imports to enjoy Him and  that souls have been created for this end. Moreover, they are brought to so  uniting a conformity with God, and are drawn to Him in such wise, His  natural instinct towards souls working in them, that neither arguments nor  figures nor examples can make the thing clear as the mind knows it to be in  effect and as by inner feeling it is understood to be. I will, however,  make one comparison which comes to my mind.


A comparison to shew with what violence and what love the souls in Purgatory desire to enjoy God.

If in all the world there were but one loaf of bread to feed the hunger of  all creatures, and if they were satisfied by the sight of it alone, then  since man, if he be healthy, has an instinct to eat, his hunger, if he  neither ate nor sickened nor died, would grow unceasingly for his instinct  to eat would not lessen. Knowing that there was only that loaf to satisfy  him and that without it he must still be hungry, he would be in unbearable  pain. All the more if he went near that loaf and could not see it, would  his natural craving for it be strengthened; his instinct would fix his  desire wholly on that loaf which held all that could content him; at this  point, if he were sure he would never see the loaf again, he would be in  Hell. Thus are the souls of the damned from whom any hope of ever seeing  their bread, which is God, the true Savior, has been taken away. But the  souls in Purgatory have the hope of seeing their bread and wholly  satisfying themselves therewith. Therefore they suffer hunger and endure  pain in that measure in which they will be able to satisfy themselves with  the bread which is Jesus Christ, true God and Savior and our Love.


Of God’s admirable wisdom in making Purgatory and Hell.

As the clean and purified spirit can find rest only in God, having been  created for this end, so there is no place save Hell for the soul in sin,  for whose end Hell was ordained by God. When the soul as it leaves the body  is in mortal sin, then, in the instant in which spirit and body are  separated, the soul goes to the place ordained for it, unguided save by the  nature of its sin. And if at that moment the soul were bound by no  ordinance proceeding from God’s justice, it would go to a yet greater hell  than that in which it abides, for it would be outside His ordinance, in  which divine mercy has part so that God gives the soul less pain than it  deserves. The soul, finding no other place to hand nor any holding less  evil for it, casts itself by God’s ordinance into Hell as into its proper  place.

To return to our matter which is the Purgatory of the soul separated from  the body when it is no longer clean as it was created. Seeing in itself the  impediment which can be taken away only by means of Purgatory, it casts  itself therein swiftly and willingly. Were there not the ordinance it thus  obeys, one fit to rid it of its encumbrance, it would in that instant beget  within itself a hell worse than Purgatory, for it would see that because of  that impediment it could not draw near to God, its end. So much does God  import that Purgatory in comparison counts not at all, for all that it is,  as has been said, like Hell. But compared to God, it appears almost  nothing.


Of the necessity of Purgatory. How terrible it is.

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all  mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to  receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such  purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is  even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a  thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine  Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained  to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to  have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment  which is the stain of sin.

No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of  Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as  in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection  accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding  its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory  endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have  willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other  pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see  the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.


How God and the souls in Purgatory look at each other. The saint acknowledges that in speaking of these matters she cannot express herself.

All these things which I have surely in mind, in so much as in this life I  have been able to understand them, are, as compared with what I have said,  extreme in their greatness. Beside them, all the sights and sounds and  justice and truths of this world seem to me lies and nothingness. I am left  confused because I cannot find words extreme enough for these things.

I perceive there to be so much conformity between God and the soul that  when He sees it in the purity in which His Divine Majesty created it He  gives it a burning love, which draws it to Himself, which is strong enough  to destroy it, immortal though it be, and which causes it to be so  transformed in God that it sees itself as though it were none other than  God. Unceasingly He draws it to Himself and breathes fire into it, never  letting it go until He has led it to the state whence it came forth, that  is to the pure cleanliness in which it was created.

When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such  loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its  most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine  light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it,  lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full  perfection, doing this of His pure love. But the soul, being hindered by  sin, cannot go whither God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with  which He would draw it to Himself. Again the soul perceives the  grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul’s  instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I  say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain  they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account of their pain; most  great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves  going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with  extreme and pure love for them.

Strongly and unceasingly this love draws the soul with that uniting look,  as though it had nought else than this to do. Could the soul who understood  find a worse Purgatory in which to rid itself sooner of all the hindrance  in its. way, it would swiftly fling itself therein, driven by the  conforming love between itself and God.


How God uses Purgatory to make the soul wholly pure. The soul acquires in Purgatory a purity so great that were it well for it still to stay there after it had been purged of sin, it would no longer suffer.

I see, too, certain rays and shafts of light which go out from that divine  love towards the soul and are penetrating and strong enough to seem as  though they must destroy not only the body but the soul too, were that  possible. Two works are wrought by these rays, the first purification and  the second destruction.

Look at gold: the more you melt it, the better it becomes; you could melt  it until you had destroyed in it every imperfection. Thus does fire work on  material things. The soul cannot be destroyed in so far as it is in God,  but in so far as it is in itself it can be destroyed; the more it is  purified, the more is self destroyed within it, until at last it is pure in  God.

When gold has been purified up to twenty-four carats, it can no longer be  consumed by any fire; not gold itself but only dross can be burnt away.  Thus the divine fire works in the soul: God holds the soul in the fire  until its every imperfection is burnt away and it is brought to perfection,  as it were to the purity of twenty-four carats, each soul however according  to its own degree. When the soul has been purified it stays wholly in God,  having nothing of self in it; its being is in God who has led this cleansed  soul to Himself; it can suffer no more for nothing is left in it to be  burnt away; were it held in the fire when it has thus been cleansed, it  would feel no pain. Rather the fire of divine love would be to it like  eternal life and in no way contrary to it.


Of the desire of souls in Purgatory to be wholly cleansed of the stains of their sins. The wisdom of God who suddenly hides their faults from these souls.

The soul was created as well conditioned as it is capable of being for  reaching perfection if it live as God has ordained and do not foul itself  with any stain of sin. But having fouled itself by original sin, it loses  its gifts and graces and lies dead, nor can it rise again save by God’s  means. And when God, by baptism, has raised it from the dead, it is still  prone to evil, inclining and being led to actual sin unless it resist. And  thus it dies again.

Then God by another special grace raises it again, yet it stays so sullied  and so turned to self that all the divine workings of which we have spoken  are needed to recall it to its first state in which God created it; without  them it could never get back thither. And when the soul finds itself on the  road back to its first state, its need to be transformed in God kindles in  it a fire so great that this is its Purgatory. Not that it can look upon  this as Purgatory, but its instinct to God, aflame and thwarted, makes  Purgatory.

A last act of love is done by God without help from man. So many hidden  imperfections are in the soul that, did it see them, it would live in  despair. But in the state of which we have spoken they are all burnt away,  and only when they have gone does God shew them to the soul, so that it may  see that divine working which kindles the fire of love in which its imperfections have been burnt away.


How suffering in Purgatory is coupled with joy.

Know that what man deems perfection in himself is in God’s sight faulty,  for all the things a man does which he sees or feels or means or wills or  remembers to have a perfect seeming are wholly fouled and sullied unless he  acknowledge them to be from God. If a work is to be perfect it must be  wrought in us but not chiefly by us, for God’s works must be done in Him  and not wrought chiefly by man.

Such works are those last wrought in us by God of His pure and clean love,  by Him alone without merit of ours, and so penetrating are they and such  fire do they kindle in the soul, that the body which wraps it seems to be  consumed as in a furnace never to be quenched until death. It is true that  love for God which fills the soul to overflowing, gives it, so I see it, a  happiness beyond what can be told, but this happiness takes not one pang  from the pain of the souls in Purgatory. Rather the love of these souls,  finding itself hindered, causes their pain; and the more perfect is the  love of which God has made them capable, the greater is their pain.

So that the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest happiness and endure the  greatest pain; the one does not hinder the other.


The souls in Purgatory are no longer in a state to acquire merit. How these souls look on the charity exercised for them in the world.

If the souls in Purgatory could purge themselves by contrition, they would  pay all their debt in one instant such blazing vehemence would their  contrition have in the clear light shed for them on the grievousness of  being hindered from reaching their end and the love of God.

Know surely that not the least farthing of payment is remitted to those  souls, for thus has it been determined by God’s justice. So much for what  God does as for what the souls do, they can no longer choose for  themselves, nor can they see or will, save as God wills, for thus has it  been determined for them.

And if any alms be done them by those who are in the world to lessen the  time of their pain, they cannot turn with affection to contemplate the  deed, saving as it is weighed in the most just scales of the divine will.  They leave all in God’s hands who pays Himself as His infinite goodness  pleases. If they could turn to contemplate the alms except as it is within the divine will, there would be self in what they did and they would lose  sight of God’s will, which would make a Hell for them. Therefore they await  immovably all that God gives them, whether pleasure and happiness or pain,  and never more can they turn their eyes back to themselves.


Of the submission of the souls in Purgatory to God’s will.

So intimate with God are the souls in Purgatory and so changed to His will,  that in all things they are content with His most holy ordinance. And if a  soul were brought to see God when it had still a trifle of which to purge  itself, a great injury would be done it. For since pure love and supreme  justice could not brook that stained soul, and to bear with its presence  would not befit God, it would suffer a torment worse than ten purgatories.  To see God when full satisfaction had not yet been made Him, even if the  time of purgation lacked but the twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable  to that soul. It would sooner go to a thousand hells, to rid itself of the  little rust still clinging to it, than stand in the divine presence when it  was not yet wholly cleansed.


Reproaches which the souls in Purgatory make to people in the world.

And so that blessed1 soul, seeing the aforesaid things by the divine light,  said: “I would fain send up a cry so loud that it would put fear in all men  on the earth. I would say to them: ‘Wretches, why do you let yourselves be  thus blinded by the world, you whose need is so great and grievous, as you  will know at the moment of death, and who make no provision for it  whatsoever?’

“You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God’s mercy, which is, you say,  very great, but you see not that this great goodness of God will judge you  for having gone against the will of so good a Lord. His goodness should  constrain you to do all His will, not give you hope in ill-doing, for His  justice cannot fail but in one way or another must needs be fully satisfied.

“Cease to hug yourselves, saying: ‘I will confess my sins and then receive  plenary indulgence, and at that moment I shall be purged of all my sins and  thus shall be saved.’ Think of the confession and the contrition needed for  that plenary indulgence, so hardly come by that, if you knew, you would  tremble in great fear, more sure you would never win it than that you ever  could.”


This Soul shews again how the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory are no hindrance at all to their peace and their joy.

I see the souls suffer the pains of Purgatory having before their eyes two  works of God.

First, they see themselves suffering pain willingly, and as they consider  their own deserts and acknowledge how they have grieved God, it seems to  them that He has shewn them great mercy, for if His goodness had not  tempered justice with mercy, making satisfaction with the precious blood of  Jesus Christ, one sin would deserve a thousand perpetual hells. And  therefore the souls suffer pain willingly, and would not lighten it by one  pang, knowing that they most fully deserve it and that it has been well  ordained, and they no more complain of God, as far as their will goes, than  if they were in eternal life.

The second work they see is the happiness they feel as they contemplate  God’s ordinance and the love and mercy with which He works on the soul.

In one instant God imprints these two sights on their minds, and because  they are in grace they are aware of these sights and understand them as  they are, in the measure of their capacity. Thus a great happiness is  granted them which never fails; rather it grows as they draw nearer God.  These souls see these sights neither in nor of themselves but in God, on  whom they are far more intent than on the pains they suffer, and of whom  they make far greater account, beyond all comparison, than of their pains.  For every glimpse which can be had of God exceeds any pain or joy a man can  feel. Albeit, however, it exceeds the pain and joy of these souls, it  lessens them by not a tittle.


She concludes by applying all she has said of the souls in Purgatory to what she feels, and has proved in her own soul.

This form of purgation, which I see in the souls in Purgatory, I feel in my  own mind. In the last two years I have felt it most; every day I feel and  see it more clearly. I see my soul within this body as in a purgatory,  formed as is the true Purgatory and like it, but so measured that the body  can bear with it and not die little by little it grows until the body die.

I see my spirit estranged from all things, even things spiritual, which can  feed it, such as gaiety, delight and consolation, and without the power so  to enjoy anything, spiritual or temporal, by will or mind or memory, as to  let me say one thing contents me more than another.

Inwardly I find myself as it were besieged. All things by which spiritual  or bodily life is refreshed have, little by little, been taken from my  inner self, which knows, now they are gone, that they fed and comforted.  But so hateful and abhorrent are these things, as they are known to the  spirit, that they all go never to return. This is because of the spirit’s  instinct to rid itself of whatever hinders its perfection; so ruthless is  it that to fulfill its purpose it would all but cast itself into Hell.  Therefore it ever deprives the inner man of all on which it can feed,  besieging it so cunningly that it lets not the least atom of imperfection pass unseen and unabhorred.

As for my outer man, it too, since the spirit does not respond to it, is so  besieged that it finds nothing to refresh it on the earth if it follow its  human instinct. No comfort is left it save God, who works all this by love  and very mercifully in satisfaction of His justice. To perceive this gives  my outer man great peace and happiness, but happiness which neither lessens  my pain nor weakens the siege. Yet no pain could ever be inflicted on me so  great that I would wish to depart from the divine ordinance. I neither  leave my prison nor seek to go forth from it: let God do what is needed! My  happiness is that God be satisfied, nor could I suffer a worse pain than  that of going outside God’s ordinance, so just I see Him to be and so very  merciful.

All these things of which I have spoken are what I see and, as it were,  touch, but I cannot find fit words to say as much as I would of them. Nor  can I say rightly what I have told of the work done in me, which I have  felt spiritually. I have told it however.

The prison in which I seem to myself to be is the world, my chains the  body, and it is my soul enlightened by grace which knows the grievousness  of being held down or kept back and thus hindered from pursuing its end.  This gives my soul great pain for it is very tender. By God’s grace it  receives a certain dignity which makes it like unto God; nay, rather He  lets it share His goodness so that it becomes one with Him. And since it is  impossible that God suffer pain, this immunity too befalls the souls who  draw near Him; the nearer they come to Him, the more they partake of what  is His.

Therefore to be hindered on its way, as it is, causes the soul unbearable  pain. The pain and the hindrance wrest it from its first natural state,  which by grace is revealed to it, and finding itself deprived of what it is  able to receive, it suffers a pain more or less great according to the  measure of its esteem for God. The more the soul knows God, the more it  esteems Him and the more sinless it becomes, so that the hindrance in its  way grows yet more terrible to it, above all because the soul which is  unhindered and wholly recollected in God knows Him as He truly is.

As the man who would let himself be killed rather than offend God feels  death and its pain, but is given by the light of God a zeal which causes  him to rate divine honor above bodily death, so the soul who knows God’s  ordinance rates it above all possible inner and outer torments, terrible  though they may be, for this is a work of God who surpasses all that can be  felt or imagined. Moreover God when He occupies a soul, in however small a  degree, keeps it wholly busied over His Majesty so that nothing else counts  for it. Thus it loses all which is its own, and can of itself neither see  nor speak nor know loss or pain. But, as I have already said clearly, it  knows all in one instant when it leaves this life.

Finally and in conclusion, let us understand that God who is best and  greatest causes all that is of man to be lost, and that Purgatory cleanses  it away.