To Gregory xi
There is less formality here than in the first letter to Gregory. Catherine in writing to the Pope soon felt herself as much at home as a child in her earthly father's house. The little pet name, "Babbo," which she habitually uses to him, could be translated only by "Daddy" -- which would sound so strange in English ears that it seems best to let the Italian stand. There is something touching as well as entertaining in the spirit of childlike freedom to which such a term bears witness.

The Anti-Papal League has become a grim reality. The un-Christian pomp and arrogance of ruling prelates, the mean cruelty of William of Noellet in refusing to allow corn to be imported from the Papal States in Tuscany in time of famine, the harshness and lack of tact in the policy of Gregory toward his unsatisfactory children, were all forces potent to destroy among the rebels any strong sense of committing a religious crime in their opposition to the Church. Catherine stands as mediator between the two parties. Not for a moment condoning the sin of a rebellion heinous indeed in her eyes, she yet does not allow the Pope to forget that the chief cause of the trouble has been the unjust and iniquitous things which the Florentines have endured from the Legates -- men "whom you know yourself" -- so she writes with vigorous plebeian candour -- "whom you know yourself to be incarnate demons"! Let God's vicegerent, then, show forth the love of God, and find in the divine attitude toward rebellious man an example for his own attitude toward his rebellious cities. Conciliation is to her mind the only wisdom. There is practical sagacity in her remark in another letter: "On with benignity, father! For know that every rational creature is more easily conquered by love and benignity than by anything else: and especially these Italians of ours in these parts. I do not see any other way in which you can conquer them, but if you do this you can do anything you like with them."

The beautiful opening meditation on the Love of God as shown in creation and redemption is then no mere general exordium, but in close dramatic unity with the sequel of the letter. The Augustinian theology, however alien to our modern modes of thought, has, as she puts it, a nobility not to be ignored. As presented briefly here, and more grandly by Dante in the seventh canto of the Paradiso, it represents the supreme effort of the law-reverencing mind of the Latin Church to formulate the methods of Infinite Love. In the curious figure of the Tournament, we have a characteristic play of mediaeval fancy. As Langland puts it, a little differently:

"Then was Faith in a fenestre, and cryed: Ah! Fili David! As doth an heraude of armes when adventrous cometh to jousts. Olde Jewes of Jerusalem for joy they sungen,
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Then I frayned at Faith what all that fare meant,
And who should joust in Jerusalem: 'Jesus,' he said, 'And fetch that the fiend claimeth: Piers' fruit the Plowman.' 'Is Piers in this place?' quoth I: and he winked at me, -- 'This Jesus of His gentrice will joust in Piers' armes, In his helme and in his habergeon, humana natura.'"

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary:

Most holy and most reverend my father in Christ Jesus: I Catherine your poor unworthy daughter, servant and slave of the servants of Christ, write to you in His precious Blood; with desire to see you a good shepherd. For I reflect, sweet my "Babbo," that the wolf is carrying away your sheep, and there is no one found to help them. So I hasten to you, our father and our shepherd, begging you on behalf of Christ crucified to learn from Him, who with such fire of love gave Himself to the shameful death of the most holy Cross, to rescue that lost sheep, the human race, from the hands of the demons; because, through man's rebellion against God, they were holding it for their own possession.

Then comes the Infinite Goodness of God, and sees the evil state and the loss and the ruin of these sheep, and sees that they cannot be won back by wrath or war. So, notwithstanding that it has been wronged by them -- since man deserved an infinite penalty for his disobedient rebellion against God -- Highest and Eternal Wisdom will not do thus; but finds an attractive way, the most gentle and loving possible to find. For it sees that the heart of man is in no wise so drawn as by love, because he was made by love. This seems to be the reason why he loves so much, that he was made by nothing but love, both his soul and his body. For by love God created him in His Image and Likeness, and by love his father and mother gave him substance, conceiving and bearing a son. God, therefore, seeing that man is so ready to love, throws the book of love straight at him, giving him the Word His Only-Begotten Son, who takes our humanity, to make a great peace. But justice wills that vengeance should be wrought for the wrong that has been done to God: so comes Divine Mercy and unspeakable Charity, and to satisfy justice and mercy condemns His Son to death, having clothed Him in our humanity -- that is, with the clay of Adam, who sinned. So by His death the wrath of the Father is pacified, having wrought justice on the person of His son: so He has satisfied justice and has satisfied mercy, releasing the human race from the hands of demons. This sweet Word jousted in His arms upon the wood of the most holy Cross, death making a tournament with life, and life with death: so that by His death He destroyed our death, and to give us life He sacrificed the life of His body. So then with love He has drawn us, and has conquered our malice with His benignness, in so much that every heart should be drawn to Him: since greater love one cannot show -- and this He Himself said -- than to give one's life for one's friend. And if He commends the love which gives one's life for a friend, what, then, shall we say of that most burning and complete love which gave its life for its foe? For we through sin had been made foes of God. Oh, sweet and amorous Word, who with love hast found thy flock once more, and with love hast given Thy life for them, and hast brought them back into the fold, restoring to them the Grace which they had lost!

Holiest sweet "Babbo" mine, I see no other way for us, and no other help in winning back your sheep, which have left the fold of Holy Church in rebellion, not obedient nor subject to you, their father. I pray you therefore, on behalf of Christ crucified, and I will that you do me this grace, to overcome their malice with your benignity. Yours we are, father! I know and recognize that they all feel that they have done wrong; but although they have no excuse for their evil deeds, nevertheless it seemed to them that they could not do otherwise on account of the many sufferings and unjust and iniquitous things that they endured from bad shepherds and governors. For, breathing the stench of the life of many rulers whom you know yourself to be incarnate demons, they fell into the worst of fears, so that they did like Pilate, who, not to lose the government, killed Christ; so did they, for not to lose the state, they persecuted you. I ask you, then, father, to show them mercy. Do not have regard to the ignorance and pride of your sons; but with the food of love and of your benignity, inflicting such sweet discipline and benign reproof as shall please your Holiness, restore peace to us miserable children who have done wrong. I tell you, sweet Christ on earth, on behalf of Christ in Heaven, that if you do thus, without any strife or tempest, they will all come, grieving for the wrong they have done, and will put their heads in your bosom. Then you will rejoice, and we shall rejoice, because by love you have restored the wandering sheep to the fold of Holy Church. And then, sweet my "Babbo," you will fulfil your holy desire and the will of God, by making the holy Crusade, which I summon you in His Name to do swiftly and without negligence. They will turn to it with great eagerness; they are ready to give their life for Christ. Ah me, God, sweet Love! Raise swiftly, "Babbo," the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, and you will see the wolves become lambs. Peace, peace, peace, that war may not delay this happy time! But if you will wreak vengeance and justice, take them upon me, poor wretch, and give me any pain and torment that may please you, even to death. I believe that through the stench of my iniquities many evils have happened, and many misfortunes and discords. On me, then, your poor daughter, take any vengeance that you will. Ah me, father, I die of grief and cannot die! Come, come, and resist no more the will of God that calls you; and the hungry sheep await your coming to hold and possess the place of your predecessor and champion, Apostle Peter. For you, as the Vicar of Christ, should rest in your own place. Come, then, come, and delay no more; and comfort you, and fear not for anything that might happen, since God will be with you. I ask humbly your benediction, for me and for all my sons; and I beg you to pardon my presumption. I say no more. Remain in the holy and sweet grace of God. Sweet Jesus, Jesus Love.

to gregory xi
Top of Page
Top of Page