Saint Catherine of Genoa: Spiritual Dialogue
Part I, Chapter V
The Soul yields to the allurements of the Body and of Self-Love, and falls into the depths of sin. - Of the little satisfaction she takes in earthly things, and the trifles that are sufficient to content the Body. - Of the troubles of the Soul.
And thus they went traveling through the world, each seeking to gratify his own desires, and living according to his own pleasure. The Soul looked after the Body, and granted it many things that it esteemed necessary; but, day by day, its appetites increased, incited by Self-Love, which bound them closely together, that they might not become divided. Everything appeared to them reasonable and necessary. They were never willing to deny themselves anything, and if they were not permitted to obtain every day something new, some fresh nourishment, they murmured, and complained that they were injured. Thus was the Soul finally led into an unfathomable sea of earthly love and delight, which effected in her so great a transformation, that she could no longer think or speak of anything, except according to the will of the Body and Self-Love. If she wished to turn to her own concerns, overpowered by her disorderly appetites, she dared not speak; and, in her discontent, she thus reflected within herself:
"If they should lead me as far into their own country as I led them into mine, during the first week, who will rescue me from their power? Without doubt, they will, under the plea of necessity, do with me whatever they see fit."
Now this Soul, which still craved some support for her life, in order not to fall into despondency, as she had been created for love and happiness, trimmed her sail to the wind, although it was contrary, and finding herself no longer able to live in her own region, she still sustained herself, as best she could, saying, with some show of truth: "This beauty, pleasure, goodness, grandeur, and delight, together with all that adorns created things, furnish one means of knowing and tasting those that are divine;" and when she had tasted them she exclaimed: "Oh, how beautiful must be celestial things!"
And thus, still traveling with her two companions, she daily lost something of her natural, divine instinct, and fed on the husks for swine, as bestial as the body, so that, in a short time, the three found themselves on very good terms with one another.
While they were journeying on, in such great love and harmony, without any dissension, we may imagine what became of the rights of the superior reason. Nothing more was said about it. All their attention was turned to earthly things, to temporal pleasures, delights, and loves; and spiritual things seemed so unpalatable to them that they had no desire either to speak or hear of them, lest they should interfere with their earthly satisfactions. Thus they continued for some time, until nothing remained to the soul but a little compunction, which she seldom noticed, although at times she did so when it remained her of the risk she ran of losing everything at death. This thought caused her great fear, but when it left her she returned to the same course as before. One thing alone was against her, and that was, that although her companions and herself were all agreed to satisfy their appetites as fully as possible, yet they were not able to do so; for the soul having a boundless capacity, all finite and earthly things could neither satisfy her nor give her peace; the more she sought, the more restless she became, because she wandered farther every day from God, her true rest.
Yet earthly things so far blinded her that she believed she found peace here below; she strove, therefore, to keep herself continually occupied, in order to satisfy herself, and when she could not accomplish this in the manner she proposed, she became disgusted, and, in her interior blindness, tried something else. Thus passing from one thing to another, and from one hope to another, she forgot herself; and losing her time in these pursuits, she never obtained her wish, for so it was mercifully ordained by the Lord God. And certainly if man could find rest on earth, few souls would be saved, for they would become so absorbed in earthly things that they would make no effort to free themselves from them. The Soul, by her natural instinct, seeks enjoyment; and when she is blinded by the Body, she procures her pleasures through its means. So the Body leads her on from one thing to another, as they seek their food together; and though the Soul has an infinite capacity, and cannot, by means of the Body, find aught that will content her, yet she foolishly allows herself to be led by it, without receiving any satisfaction.
But the more the Body assimilates the Soul to itself, the more ways has it to enjoy and please itself with earthly things, since all its satisfaction comes through the condescension of the Soul; so that, if the Soul did not give her consent, the Body would have neither enjoyment nor delight. But as the Body is so closely united with the Soul, which cannot be contented with the things of earth, and as it cannot further her wishes, nor yield her the enjoyment she desires, therefore she is famished. And this is because the tastes of the Body are capable of satisfaction; for when its wants, of whatever nature, are appeased, the appetite is lost, and it can enjoy no more. It is true that it does not lose the desire to seek new pleasures in accordance with its natural tastes, but it can find nothing to satisfy it entirely; not, indeed, that the Soul will not condescend, nor that the health of the Body will not permit, but only because it has gone to the limit of its capacity, and hence both Soul and Body are ill at ease.
The Soul is disquieted because she finds herself in this vessel of the Body, so narrow and requiring so little to replenish it, although whenever it is empty, all created things seem insufficient to fill it. She is obliged to remain in it, although she is well nigh famished while urged on by her natural instinct for enjoyment. This happens by reason of the sympathy of the Soul when she wishes to procure enjoyment by means of the Body, for when she finds that the Body is satisfied with a trifle, and that it cannot further indulge itself because its desires are blunted, she is distressed by this, and also, because she cannot herself enjoy what still remains to be enjoyed. The more she gratifies her tastes, the less enjoyment she obtains from them; for it is in vain that man strives to regain his lost appetites, since he endangers his life thereby. Therefore the Soul addresses Self-Love, in the following words: