I wrote a while back about my adventures reading St. Catherine of Siena’s “Dialogue” and how reading Louis de Wohl’s book about her (“Lay Siege to Heaven”) actually helped me slog through it. But I’ll admit that on the whole, I wasn’t left with a very nice taste in my mouth.
First of all, the “Dialogue” is kind of a weird and uncomfortable format for me. According to reports, she dictated the majority of it while in a prayerful trance– so when you talk about what “she” says in the Dialogues, you end up saying very awkward things like:
“What Catherine says… or, rather… what Catherine says that God says to her? How should I say this?”
“God says in the Dialogue… well, I mean… this is what He says to Catherine and it’s technically private revelation so you aren’t’ bound to accept this as what God directly says… I mean…Goodness this is hard.”
I didn’t ‘hate’ the text, but it didn’t really resonate with me, either. It just felt… flat. And that’s not really what I wanted when picking up a spiritual text.
Then, my formation director (she’s so great!) suggested I take a look at a different translation of the work, entitled “Little Talks With God” by Paraclete Press.
What a difference! Gone was the “macerations of the flesh” talk and the flowery, mystical prose that I’ve come to associate with overly-saccharine 19th-century French popular piety (*cough* Therese *cough*). This translation rang less with impenetrable mysticism and more with rational, though lofty, metaphor– which admittedly is much more palatable for me.
The best part, though, was that I realized halfway through that my previous reading of St. Catherine had been hindered by the fact that I generally read modern translations of the Bible (NRSV preferred, or NAB). I was shocked to realize that “Little Talks” was ripe with Biblical parallels– mostly from the Pauline Epistles– that were totally lost on me in the old translation.
I cannot speak to the scholarly accuracy of this modern translation, so if you are looking to study Catherine formally, I can’t say one way or another whether it wold help. -BUT- Reading through this version was, for me, a far more positive and enriching experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a more “accessible” personal reading of St. Catherine.