The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena
The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena was dictated to her secretaries as conversations she had with God, the Supreme and Eternal heavenly father, with whom she conversed in moments of ecstacy.
Catherine believed that through humility and constant prayer, her soul was able to unite with God, in order to communicate the love of God for his creatures and to instruct other people in the path leading to an intimate relationship.
Her book is organized into four treatises: Divine Providence, Discretion, Prayer, and Obedience.
The first three treatises offer direction for living a life of faith which moves a person to a closer spiritual relationship with God.
Within the writings are scripture references, the creeds and doctrines of the church, and expositions of virtues with their corresponding sins.
The reader learns that suffering and virtues are the fruit of living by faith.
The Treatise of Obedience is particularly directed toward those living under the guidance of an abbot, priest, or a spiritual director.
This section validates the work of these leaders, in spite of their own sin and human shortcomings.
There are several images developed to help explain the theology of this book.
In one example, God is quoted often with “My Divine Majesty” as a reference to God’s self. In another example Jesus is called the “Bridge” between earth and heaven.
This path was broken by the sin of Adam.
Those who follow the road which crosses this bridge are given fortitude, wisdom, truth, and love.
Those who chose to go under the bridge are the wicked who drown in the river.
The steps to reach the bridge are references to the pierced feet of Christ, his pierced side, and his mouth.
God informs that “The Bridge reaches from heaven to earth…this Bridge, My only-begotten Son, has three steps…these pierced feet are steps by which you can arrive at his side…to taste the love of his heart…having passed the second step, the soul reaches out to the third…to find the mouth, where she finds peace from the terrible war she has been waging with her sin.”
The three steps also represent the progress through the three states of the soul.
These states are imperfect, perfect, and most perfect.
The most perfect state is the arrival at unitive love, when the soul unites with God.
The book includes numerous references to the sacrifice of Christ with a longer phrase, “the Body and Blood of My only-begotten Son,” or a shortened phrase of “the Blood.”
This blood often refers to the sacrament of baptism.
Indeed the Blood represents a cleansing and purifying tool, so the person trusting in the Blood, becomes acceptable to God.
The message “I have washed you and re-created you in the Blood of My only-begotten Son,” shows the grace of God in accepting sinners who trust in the blood, his Son.
God reveals the consistent experience of suffering which is endured and graciously accepted by the believer.
To one extreme, God says “All sufferings… are insufficient to punish one smallest fault.”
On the other extreme, God says “My mercy is greater without any comparison than all the sins any creature can commit.”
God’s message also frequently describes the importance of love for neighbor, even stating “There cannot be love for me without love for neighbor.”
Dialogue promotes general ideas for practical Christianity and the process for living a life which is directed toward God.
God explains that “Thus you see, that in seeing they know, and in knowing they love, and in loving they deny and lose their self-will.”
This describes the process of learning through the intellect about the love for God, then learning self-denial in order to substitute God’s will for human will.
The result of adopting God’s will is a focus on caring for neighbor.
The instructions and encouragement found in this work are consistent with traditional biblical and church teachings.
A person following these instructions will emphasize humility and the virtues of Christian living.
They will imitate the selfless, sacrificial lifestyle of Christ, forsaking worldly values, for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.
I agree that these teachings are useful for a person looking for a closer relationship with God.
The style of writing includes long sentences with numerous phrases.
This makes it more difficult to read.
Throughout the book, one finds significant repetition of concepts and phrases.
Although the concepts portrayed in Dialogue are idealistic goals God offers for the life of the Christian disciple, the book does not present many specific concrete suggestions for developing a personal devotional practice.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).
St. Catherine of Siena. The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena (New York City: Magisterium Press, 2015) is reviewed by Paul Sherwood.