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The Life of Catherine of Sienna: By Her Confessor the Blessed Raymond of Capua
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Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Use this topic to post comments and thoughts "along the way," that might not fit into one of the other questions.


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
It seems that the author decided to divide his biography into three parts, which are more or less chronological:

- Part I: Her infancy and struggles until she became a Sister of Penance of St. Dominic and her Mystical Marriage.
- Part II: Her public activities, together with her extasies and revelations.
- Part III: Her political activities and her death.

However, each part seems to be divided into chapters thematically, which makes it sometimes difficult to follow, as there are repetitions, and sudden jumps in time. The same anecdote is told in several places, according to its pertinence to a given subject, while different anecdotes are inserted in non-chronological order.

Just now I have read about one half of the book, which means 18 chapters. I must still read 12 chapters (the latter ones are longer than the former).


message 3: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
There are aspects of this that I am struggling with. For example, I understand and respect voluntary poverty adopted as a way to separate oneself from attachment to the world and focusing on God, but to pray that one's family be impoverished shocks me.


message 4: by Manuel (last edited Jul 07, 2018 02:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
John wrote: "There are aspects of this that I am struggling with..."

I also find some of the mystical descriptions too gruesome. In general, I feel more empathy with the autobiography of St. Teresa de Jesús than with the biography of St. Catherine. A possible reason is that St.Teresa's is first hand, while we only get to know Catherine through her some time confessor, so it is really second hand. Even though he is a Blessed, he may not have been perfectly accurate. In fact, he actually says that in the first chapter of the second part.


message 5: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Manuel wrote: "John wrote: "There are aspects of this that I am struggling with..."

I also find some of the mystical descriptions too gruesome. In general, I feel more empathy with the autobiography of St. Teres..."


I have finished the first part, will read the second part next week and finish with the third part the following week. I am struggling with his description of Catharine as near perfect. With Teresa, we had a picture of a holy woman, devoted to God, yet a real woman, with the faults and failings common to human beings, yet overcome. Raymond depicts Catharine as basically sinless, though stopping short of claiming an immaculate conception; if she has a consistent sin Raymond seems to suggest it is scrupulosity. This is a mush more hagiographic style than we have read before and I am struggling to understand how to read it.


message 6: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
One aspect of Catharine's views that I am struggling with is her contempt for the body: "The soul united to God loves him as much as she detests the sensual part of her being." And yet, our senses were created by God and God saw that they were good. Can one really fully love God if one detests God's creation?

She says the "germ of sin is in her senses," which seems like a quasi-gnostic thought. My understanding is that the source of sin is the did-ordered will, which seems quite different.


message 7: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Myers | 268 comments Although we are warned in the intro to take into account the cultural context of her life and actions, I struggle with her extreme physical mortifications like others in this group. I can't help but compare her self-torture with teenagers I encountered during my teaching career, some who were "cutters," one who scarred her arms and legs rubbing them with pencil erasers. A boy who ran through a plate-glass window for the heck of it. Then there are all those who overdo the body-piercings and tattoos. How does their obvious acting out of their low self-esteem differ from Catherine's? I see it as over-scrupulosity as well as perhaps a failure to respect her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Too many people in our own culture use Jesus (or whatever deity they worship) as an excuse for doing terrible things. I haven't read far enough to know if this is something she eventually outgrows?


message 8: by Manuel (last edited Jul 08, 2018 12:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Madeleine wrote: "Although we are warned in the intro to take into account the cultural context of her life and actions, I struggle with her extreme physical mortifications like others in this group. I can't help bu..."

No, Catherine never outgrows her physical mortifications. Rather to the contrary, she ends up by stopping eating and drinking altogether (except for the Holy Communion), although she allegues that she has by then become physically unable to eat. Her keeping on living under these conditions is considered by her confessor as downright miraculous.

St. Teresa tells in her books that many nuns tried to apply on themselves excessive mortifications, which were forbidden by their Mother Superior or confessor when they could affect their health. Catherine's confessor tried to do the same, to no avail.

Perhaps we should be careful not to judge her, as she is a saint and circumstances could be different for her.


message 9: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Madeleine wrote: "Although we are warned in the intro to take into account the cultural context of her life and actions, I struggle with her extreme physical mortifications like others in this group. I can't help bu..."

I think there is a clear difference between Catharine's extreme mortifications which, while I struggle to understand them, are clearly motivated by a desire to bind herself closer to God, and the self-abuse which is all to prevalent in our society and which I see as a scream for help from children who are cut off and lost.


message 10: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Manuel wrote: "Perhaps we should be careful not to judge her, as she is a saint and circumstances could be different for her."

Fair enough, but I struggle to understand the woman presented in this book. Whether the fault is mine or Raymund's I'm not sure.


Mariangel | 584 comments The author gives a similar answer to those who criticized Catherine because she didn't eat. He reminds us that each saint has a different calling and that they need to follow the path that Gods shows to them; that St. John the Baptist and other saints ate little or even nothing at times; while Jesus and the apostles did eat (and were criticized for it).

Of modern saints, the curé of Ars also ate very little, and then only bread and onions if I remember correctly. And I believe that there are more cases of saints who lived only on the Eucharist for some period of time, anyone recalls who?


message 12: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Myers | 268 comments I don't judge, just attempt to understand. God's ways are not our ways, and that is obvious!


message 13: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
John wrote: "Manuel wrote: "Perhaps we should be careful not to judge her, as she is a saint and circumstances could be different for her."

Fair enough, but I struggle to understand the woman presented in this..."


"Little rivulets ought not to change the course of majestic rivers; I have often said this formerly to those who censured Catharine, and I repeat it here, so that certain individuals may profit by it." Blessed Raymond of Capua, Part II, Chapter IV.

I am rebuked.


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
I have finished the book. Perhaps the 3 stars I am giving it are a reflection on the reader, rather than on the work.


Mariangel | 584 comments I just finished Part 2. The miracles were nice to read.


message 16: by Jill (new)

Jill A. | 719 comments Such a realistic commentary, that recipients of charity (e.g. her nursing care) can become surly and demanding.


I like her prayer to see the beauty in each soul.


I don't understand how taking a few nibbles of vegetables OUT OF OBEDIENCE TO HER CONFESSOR could sicken her so much that she has to make herself vomit.

Who is the "other Catherine" Christ visited in prison?


Why would St. Paul scold her so severely for glancing to see who's walking by? How is it "lying" to say you'd like to go; surely she did it in order not to offend those inviting her.

She says St. Dominic never sinned. Christ and Mary were unique in that.

She's spot on when she says sexual sins in marriage (not clear whether she's talking about adultery or lust toward a spouse) are worse because most people don't regard them as serious problems. How much more true in our society than hers!


message 17: by Bice (new)

Bice (bicebeechay) | 111 comments Yes who was the other Catherine?


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Bice wrote: "Yes who was the other Catherine?"

I think he meant Saint Catherine of Alexandria, saint and martir, presumed to be a princess:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catheri...


message 19: by Bice (new)

Bice (bicebeechay) | 111 comments Thanks Manuel,


message 20: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Myers | 268 comments I took her to be Catherine of Alexandria. I believe she was visited in prison, and was healed of some of her torments as a result.


message 21: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Myers | 268 comments "Such a realistic commentary, that recipients of charity (e.g. her nursing care) can become surly and demanding."

Having experienced this firsthand, I thought so too.


message 22: by Sheila (new)

Sheila Cronin Incidentally, St Joan of Arc claimed that St. Catherine of Alexandria was one of her 3 voices. The other two were St Michael, Archangel and St Margaret of Antioch.


Mariangel | 584 comments I am finished. I agree with other posters that St Catherine is not easy to relate to nowadays, since the style of this hagiography focuses only on her sanctity, but it seems to me that many biographies were written in this style in the past (I read a bio of Louis Agassiz that was close to a hagiography). I found it interesting nevertheless.


message 24: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "How is it "lying" to say you'd like to go; surely she did it in order not to offend those inviting her."

Is it okay to tell an untruth if you have a "good" reason?


message 25: by Jill (new)

Jill A. | 719 comments I don't even see it as an untruth. Not related to an objectively-determinable fact, just a decision/preference. I sometimes say yes or no unreflectively then decide that's not really best, or even what I mean/prefer. I wouldn't call that a "lie" in any sense.


message 26: by Jill (new)

Jill A. | 719 comments There are a lot of theological errors and inconsistencies on the part of the author, e.g. he calls Catherine rather than Christ "the Savior." She exhorts her followers to love one another--and to have no affection for anyone/anything but union with God. In dialogue with her, Christ seems to say his justice demands punishment of sinners ("Leave me alone, he deserves damnation" yet there is also much about his mercy. As it stands, sounds like these poor souls would go to hell unless Catherine snatched them away by her fervent holy prayer. That can't be exactly right.

Easier to identify with her miracles of healing and exorcism, because Christians are exercising these gifts on our day.

Reliance on the sword to "defeat" schismatics, crusades are incomprehensible to me.

I like her begging for the gift of tears.

I wonder why she is dialoguing with Satan rather than Christ as she lies dying. And surely making a general confession twice in a short span of time betrays scrupulosity, not holiness.

I find it interesting that Raymond highlights patience as the most important virtue. Humility more often occupies this place, though of course Catherine displayed both.


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "Reliance on the sword to "defeat" schismatics, crusades are incomprehensible to me."

Having been born in Spain, where we needed an 800 year crusade to nrecover our land and our religion from the muslims, crusades are not incomprehensible to me (:-)

Catherine's crusade wouldn't have been directed against schismatics. It was a way to join efforts and relegate schism to a second place in the mind of people, by launching a crusade against the muslim domination of the Holy Land. But it never came out.


message 28: by Jill (new)

Jill A. | 719 comments Raymond says a schismatic-held castle was re-taken and schismatic leaders were "taken prisoner and many put to death." That bothered me. Perhaps not what Catherine wanted or advocated, she mainly wept and prayed.


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "Raymond says a schismatic-held castle was re-taken and schismatic leaders were "taken prisoner and many put to death." That bothered me. Perhaps not what Catherine wanted or advocated, she mainly w..."

Yes, but that wan't Catherine's crusade. It was the fight for power between both sides.


message 30: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
I have finished and the additional materials in the version of the book I read, which may have been added by the English translator but there are no explanatory notes so I can't be sure, make it clear that Raymond's biography is written as part of the campaign for Catharine's sainthood.

I am puzzled why that took almost 300 years to happen.


message 31: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Manuel wrote: "Jill wrote: "Reliance on the sword to "defeat" schismatics, crusades are incomprehensible to me."

Having been born in Spain, where we needed an 800 year crusade to nrecover our land and our religi..."


Chronicles magazine has an article in a recent issue that argues just that - https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/20... - behind a paywall, and I am not a subscriber, but if anyone is interested I will forward a copy to you. The author's point is that the crusades are depicted as a doomed failure, but that in the middle ages and up until the modern era, the crusades were much more than just he efforts to free the Holy Land, but also included efforts against schismatics, the efforts to free Spain, the efforts to conquer and convert the Baltics and to re-conquer the Balkans - In general these efforts were successful and good.


message 32: by Manuel (last edited Jul 20, 2018 01:46AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
John wrote: "The author's point is that the crusades are depicted as a doomed failure."

Bu this is what they weren't! Even if in the long range the Christian kingdoms in the Middle Orient were finally conquered and fell back in muslim hands, the current high number of Christians there (which is quickly dwindlind now) was an aftermath of the crusades. Also for pilgrims going to the Holy Land (there were many at any time) the crusades provided some security. Before, they were easily attacked by thiefs, outlaws and petty chiefs, who robbed their property, sold them as slaves or killed them. This was one of the secondary reasons for the first crusades, and in this they were successful for some time.


message 33: by John (new)

John Seymour | 1968 comments Mod
Manuel wrote: "John wrote: "The author's point is that the crusades are depicted as a doomed failure."

Bu this is what they weren't! Even if in the long range the Christian kingdoms in the Middle Orient were fin..."


But I don't think you would disagree that that is how they are commonly understood.


Manuel Alfonseca | 1635 comments Mod
Of course!


Fonch | 1446 comments Manuel wrote: "John wrote: "There are aspects of this that I am struggling with..."

I also find some of the mystical descriptions too gruesome. In general, I feel more empathy with the autobiography of St. Teres..."


I totally agree in this point and i would have to say in my previous messages.


Fonch | 1446 comments John wrote: "Manuel wrote: "John wrote: "There are aspects of this that I am struggling with..."

I also find some of the mystical descriptions too gruesome. In general, I feel more empathy with the autobiograp..."

Perfect nobody might say it more perfect than you.


Fonch | 1446 comments Manuel wrote: "Madeleine wrote: "Although we are warned in the intro to take into account the cultural context of her life and actions, I struggle with her extreme physical mortifications like others in this grou..."

I come back otherwise agree with Alfonseca i am closer to other kinds of saintness i thought in Saint Therese of Jesus, Saint Therese of Lisieux and cases as G.K. Chesterton and Caryll Houselander. These are the opposite case to Catherine of Siena at least very different to Raymond of Capua descriptions..


Fonch | 1446 comments Mariangel wrote: "The author gives a similar answer to those who criticized Catherine because she didn't eat. He reminds us that each saint has a different calling and that they need to follow the path that Gods sho..."

I do not know if Saint Liduvine, and Anna Catherine Emmerich who has the views o the Jesus Christ`s passion. There is other Saint Catherine (well i suppose that there will be more Saint Catherines). I am thinking in Saint Catherine of Alexandria the nemesis of Hypatia a christian philosopher, who was murdured in the Dicletian`s persecution.


Fonch | 1446 comments Jill wrote: "There are a lot of theological errors and inconsistencies on the part of the author, e.g. he calls Catherine rather than Christ "the Savior." She exhorts her followers to love one another--and to h..."
I totally agree and more when nowadays there are more persecutions of Christians in the worls murdered by muslims. The idea, or the mid of the muslims is that all is conquered by them it is for them. It is a religion from the beggining spreads employing the violence.


message 40: by Madeleine (new)

Madeleine Myers | 268 comments I finished the book (but just skimmed through the appendix). I have mixed feelings about the way Blessed Raymond portrayed Catherine. I know she had many devoted followers who loved her dearly, but like other mystics, she had her detractors and denouncers and those who thought she was a witch. I kept asking myself what would I think of her if I were one of her neighbors? Would I find her unpleasant, or be inspired by her visions and miracles to follow her. A friend of mine put it into a kind of perspective that accommodates both impressions when she said "Mystics are just 'out there.'" Somewhere between the angels and us. Hard to relate. I felt great sympathy for her when she lovingly tended the woman with leprosy who responded with hateful abuse. I know from experience that caregivers often find the person they care for resentful and abusive, that Mother Teresa would say, "Do it anyway." For that episode alone, I believe she would win me over. And I am awed by this glimpse of the mystical union and preview of heaven that many of the saints have shared with us. The book has been difficult, but important for Catholics who try to live the faith--to see how far most of us fall short!


Mariangel | 584 comments Madeleine wrote: "I kept asking myself what would I think of her if I were one of her neighbors? Would I find her unpleasant, or be inspired by her visions and miracles to follow her. "

That's a great question. I agree that her patience and care for the sick woman would (and actually did) win people over.


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