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Santa Catalina De Siena (1951)

by Sigrid Undset(Favorite Author)
4.19 of 5 Votes: 1
review 1: Those looking for a critical biography of Catherine of Siena should go elsewhere. Undset’s portrait is unflinchingly that of a devotee, albeit a devotee who does acknowledge contemporary criticism of her subject. As a whole, this is a biography written by a master of literary fiction. It truly is great. Nowhere are Undset’s powers better employed than in describing the Sienese world into which Catherine Benincasa was born: “Life was like a brightly coloured tissue, where violence and vanity, greed and uninhibited desire for sensual pleasure, the longing for power, and ambition, were woven together in a multitude of patterns. But through the tissue ran silver threads of Christian charity, deep and genuine piety in the monasteries and among the good priests, among the ... morebrethren and sisters who had dedicated themselves to a life of helping their neighbours. The well-to-do and the common people had to the best of their ability provided for the sick, the poor and the lonely with unstinted generosity. In every class of the community there were good people who lived a quiet, modest and beautiful family life of purity and faith. (5)She explores fully the very interesting relationship with Raimondo of Capua, her confessor, and the discussion of the ecstatic visions experienced by Catherine: “When Raimondo of Capua had become her father confessor, Catherine told him that from that day she began to learn of the way the saints had lived, and especially of the life of St. Dominic and the Desert Fathers, though no one had taught her except the Holy Spirit.” (11)What emerges, however, is a portrait of a woman who knows the truth of her purpose, and who legitimately seems to have lived a life consistent with her message. Examples of this are omnipresent throughout the book. In one of her visions, she questioned her mission to Jesus and her capability of performing it. In her vision, Jesus replied, “All things are possible for God who has created everything from nothing. I know that you say this from humility, but you must know that in these days pride has grown monstrously among men, and chiefly among those who are learned and think they understand everything. It was for this reason that at another period I sent out simple men who had no human learning, but were filled by Me with divine wisdom, and let them preach. To-day I have chosen unschooled women, fearful and weak by nature, but trained by Me in the knowledge of the divine, so that they may put vanity and pride to shame. If men will humbly receive the teachings I send them through the weaker sex I will show them great mercy, but if they despise these women they shall fall into even worse confusion and even greater agony.” (51)Her quote criticizing the Pope: “If the blind leads the blind both fall into the abyss; doctor and patient hurry to hell together.” (188)Catherine of Siena is an extraordinary subject. The time in which she lived was beset with extraordinary achievements and misery. She was, herself, extraordinarily influential and brave, but at the same time humble. This is a very moving portrait, and does the live of on of the most influential women in the history of western civilization justice.
review 2: This is probably the best biography of Catherine that I have read (though I have yet to read Bl. Raimondo of Capua's work). Undset has a clear understanding of what life was like in the middle ages and clearly explains it in her book. There are so many things I hadn't really understood. For instance, I assumed Lappa (Catherine's mom) was selfish and just wanted to get her way when she was so insistent that Catherine marry. I hadn't realized how perilous life in a medieval Italian town could be, how plagued by robbers and raiders. I had no idea how important strong son-in-laws were to a large prosperous family when the law was always changing and always ineffective. The author takes the miracles of Catherine as fact, siting that there were witnesses and the miracles are as well documented as any events of that age. To not accept them, she contends, is to let prejudice get in the way of evidence. Though she does offer psychic powers as a possible explanation. I could have done without that, but Undset was writing in the 1940's, when information about psychic phenomenon was new and exciting, before there were psychic hot lines and morning shows. All in all this is a great book about Catherine's family life, her life among the Caterinati and those who would defame her, and her political life. less
Reviews (see all)
Most well written biography I have ever read. Finished it in 2 days.
I loved this--Undset's storytelling was quite compelling.
An excellent biography of St. Catherine of Siena.
Excellent biography. Great spiritual reading.
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