Treatise on Purgatory From The Life and Doctrine of Saint
Catherine of Genoa
of Hell, Heaven, Purgatory.
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> 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 all self-love.
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
The joy of souls in purgatory.—The saint illustrates their ever increasing
vision of God.—The difficulty of speaking about their state.
“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 light.
“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 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
“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 man’s will from that of God constitutes sin,
and while that revolt continues, man’s 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 wilfully 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
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
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
“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
Of the necessity of purgatory, and of its terrific character
“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
How God and the soul reciprocally regard each other in purgatory.—The saint
confesses that she has no words to express these things.
“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
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 suffer.
“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 annihilate. “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 defects.
“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 purgatory.
“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
“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 of God
“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 world 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 satisfied.
“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
“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
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 endeavours 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 he is.
“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.”
of Hell, Heaven, Purgatory.
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