Saint Teresa of Jesus, known also as Saint Teresa of Avila, is one of the most extraordinary women in Holy Mother Church’s history.
Saint Teresa of Jesus was gifted with many mystical experiences both before and then after her entry into religious life as a Carmelite even before she had initiated the reform of the Order of Carmel to restore the order’s primitive rule, thereby founding the Order of Carmel Discalced (OCD). However, she was plagued early in her religious life with various scruples about the mystical experiences that she was privileged to receive from Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. One of the priests who counseled her in her struggle to discern the validity of her mystical experiences was Saint Peter of Alcantara, then sixty-one years age:
Leading a life of Christian perfection almost as rigidly as the primitive Carmelites, Teresa, a year after her return to the convent, was conscious of an immense and growing necessity that recent events had imposed: the need of an intellectual certainty that her mental prayer and all the supernatural phenomena that had blossomed out of it like gorgeous flowers from the secret garden of love were indeed the work of the Lord God, and not in any degree that of His enemy; that she was not deceiving herself or others. To complete the purgation of her soul, to fit it for its destiny, there had been need of humiliation from a friendly hand, and this the good Salcedo had dealt out in full measure. She had needed discipline, with patient understanding and moral certainty, from men who saw deeply into the significance and the implications of the Pasion of Christ, as the Jesuits did. She was grateful to them and to their Company to the end of her life; and if some of her later editors went so far in their hatred and jealousy of them as to leave out of her letters and other writings passages in which she expressed her gratitude and admiration, she was never guilty of any such omission even when certain conflicts and misunderstandings, as we shall see, arose between her and them. Yet there is no doubt that at this time they tried her angelic patience almost to the breaking point (as, according to her revelations, they were intended to do), and that she felt the need of some other direction.
In the vast and complex polity of the Catholic Church, each order has its own special work for which it was called into being; and each has its own bent and character, and the faults of its virtues. The Jesuits have been primarily men of will and of action: teachers, preachers, explorers, missionaries, lovers of God who proved their sincerity by accepting torture and death in every corner of the world. It was in the nature of things that such could rarely devote themselves to the complete life of contemplation, or to the quiet and lonely pursuit of philosophy. And Teresa at this stage needed two things: the reassurance of a contemplative who had progressed as far as she had, as good timid Father Alvarez had not; and the approval of men who knew scholastic philosophy and theology as expertly as only the Dominicans in that day knew them – for it was the especial glory of the order of Saint Dominic to have produced a Saint Thomas Aquinas, and their teaching at Salamanca was then in its heyday.
She found her advanced contemplative not in her own order, but among the Franciscans. It happened, providentially for her, that there came to Avila in August, 1560, a commissary of the Franciscan custodia or district of Saint Joseph, who was noted for sanctity and penance. Having restored his own convent in Alcantara (Extremadura) to the original austerity of the rule of Saint Francis, he had obtained permission from Pope Paul IV to found others of the same sort. For this purpose Friar Peter of Alcantara had come to Ávila, and dwelling at the house of the Lord of Loriana, was ministering to many devout persons who sought his advice and help.
One of his penitents was Doña Guiomar de Ulloa. She had known him years before in Plasencia. It now occurred to her that if any one could bring peace to the mind of her friend Sister Teresa and quiet the scruples of Father Alvarez, the Maestro Daza, and the Holy Cavalier, it was this emaciated friar whose books on mental prayer were so popular among the religious in Spain. Guiomar herself had no need of being reassured. “Such was her faith,” wrote Teresa, “that she could not help believing that what all the rest said was of the devil, was the spirit of God; and as she is a person of pretty good understanding, who knows how to keep a secret, and to whom the Lord had given favors aplenty in prayer, it pleased His Majesty to give her light where the learned men were ignorant. My confessors gave me permission to consult her about certain matters. . . .
This discreet widow went quietly to the Provincial of the Calced Carmelites and obtained permission to have Teresa at her home for eight days, that she might consult Father Peter while he was in Ávila. Teresa knew nothing of this until all was arranged.
The first meeting of the two saints was probably in the church of Nuestra Señora de la Anunciación, near the north wall of Ávila, between the Mercado Chico and the Arco del Mariscal. It was one of the ironies of Spanish history that at the time when the Inquisition was seeking out Jewish Catholics of doubtful orthodoxy, this lovely memorial should have been built with Jewish money. The Bracamontes were a prolific and distinguished Jewish family, allied to several of the noble families of Spain – to those of la Cerda y Carvajal, Tellez Giron, Fernandes de Velasco; the Counts of Contamina and of Peñaranda de Bracamonte, the Dukes of Medina de Rioseca. Mosén Rubí, after a long sojourn in Flanders, returned to his native city to carry out the wishes of an aunt, a devout Catholic, who had left a fund for the building of a church; but the chapel he built in 1516 was so singular that the Inquisition ordered the work suspended for several years. Masonic writers find in it a resemblance to a lodge room of the Scottish rite. The Catholic ex-Mason Tirado y Rojas remarks on the pentagonal shape, the two columns at the entrance, the Masonic emblems on the triangular column that upholds the pulpit, the allegories on the chief choir seat, the hammer and compass on the arms of the Bracamontes. It was there, of all places, that Teresa first confessed to Fray Pedro de Alcántara.
Fray Pedro was then sixty-one, but looked older. In 1553, at the age of fifty-four, he had walked barefoot to Rome to get the permission of Pope Julius III to found some poor convents under strict discipline. Almost a skeleton of a man he was, without shoes and wrapped in a wretched old piece of sackcloth. Yet, like Francis of Assisi, he had been seen running through the woods, singing for sheer joy and proclaiming that he was the town crier of the Lord God.
He saw immediately that the woman kneeling beside him was a saint who had the love and courage to attempt to do what he had already done; and to encourage her he told her something of the mortifications by which he had gradually conquered the promptings of self.
“For forty years, I think it was he told me, he had slept only an hour and a half between night and day, and this was the hardest penance he had had at the beginning, this overcoming of sleep, and to do it he stayed always on his knees or on his feet. What sleep he had he took sitting, with his head leaning against a little board that he had thrust into the wall. Lie down he could not, even if he wanted to, for his cell, as is known, was no more than four and a half feet long. In all those years he never put up his hood, no matter how strong the sun or the rain might be, or anything on his feet, or any garment at all except a habit of sackcloth, with nothing else over his flesh, and this as scanty as he could endure, and a little mantle of the same stuff over it. He told me that in very cold weather he took it off, and left the door and little window of his cell open so that when he afterwards put on the mantle and closed the door, his body would be glad to be appeased with more shelter. To eat every third day was very usual for him. And he said to me, why was I astonished, for it was very possible for anyone who got himself accustomed to it. A companion of his told me that he had gone eight days without eating. It must have been when he was in prayer, for he had great raptures and impetuosities of love of God, of which I was once a witness.”
His poverty was extreme, and mortifications in youth, for he told me he had happened to be three years in one house of his Order without knowing a single friar, unless it was by his speech; for he never raised his eyes, and so he didn’t know the places where he had to go, except by walking behind the friars. This happened to him on journeys. At women he never looked; this for many years. He told me that now he didn’t care whether he saw or didn’t see; but he was very old when I came to know him, and so extremely thin, that he seemed to be made only of the roots of trees. With all this sanctity he was very affable, although of few words, unless he was asked a question. In those he was quite delightful, for he had a very beautiful understanding. . . .”
In one of their conversations, Peter mentioned casually that for twenty years he had worn a girdle of tin plate without ever taking it off.
Even before Teresa had finished her story, he saw what the situation was. “This holy man gave me light in everything, and explained it all to me, and told me not to be troubled, but to praise God, for it was surely His spirit, that nothing could be found more true and worthy of belief except the Faith itself. And he consoled himself much with me, and showed me all grace and favor, and ever after took great care of me, and confided his interests and affairs to me. . . . He was extremely sorry for me. He told me that one of the greatest afflictions on earth was one he had suffered, and that was the opposition of good men, and that plenty of it was still in store for me; and I always needed someone who would understand me, and there was no one in this city, but that he would speak to my confessor and to one of those who gave me most trouble, who was that married cavalier whom I have mentioned.”
Friar Peter, of course, kept his word. He went to see Father Alvarez and told him his opinion of Teresa: that her visions came from Almighty God, and that it was a mistake to make her resist them. The young Jesuit was probably relieved to have his doubts resolved by a man so holy and so much older and more experienced; and from that moment he ceased to harass the soul of his penitent.
Salcedo was not so easily persuaded. “The confessor had little need of it,” wrote Teresa; “the Cavalier so much, yet he wasn’t wholly convinced; still, it kept him from frightening me so much.”
When Friar Peter had finished these kind offices, he made Teresa promise to write him an account of whatever progress she might make in the spiritual life, and to remember him in her prayers; and so he took his departure from Ávila, leaving her “in very great comfort and joy.” She promptly gave thanks to her Lord, His Mother, and Saint Joseph, to whose never-failing intercession she attributed the coming of her consoler at that crisis – for was not Fray Pedro the commissary of Saint Joseph’s custodia? What a relief to know that she had not been deceiving herself and others!
Poor Teresa! Had she not learned often enough that there is no lasting heaven in this life? Very suddenly the divine comfort was withdrawn, and she seemed once more defenseless against her old fears and all the desolations of hell. This lasted for two or three weeks. It was bad enough to have physical pains alone, and mental sorrows alone; but when they came together “all favors that the Lord had done for me passed from my memory; there remained only such a remembrance of them as, if I had dreamed them, to give me pain; for my understanding became so torpid that it made me walk in a thousand doubts and suspicions, thinking that I had not known how to understand it, and that perhaps I had imagined it all through desire and that it was enough that I should deceive myself, without deceiving good people. I seemed so wicked to myself, that I thought all the evils and heresies that had been lifting up their heads were on account of my sins. This is a false humility which the devil invented to disquiet me, and to see if he could drag my soul to desperation.”
True humility brings peace and quiet and light to the soul, even though it grieves for having offended God; but “in that other humility which the devil brings there is no light for any good things, all seems as if God were putting it to fire and blood.” Though the soul still believes in God’s mercy, she believes without comfort, for the devil, unable to rob her of it, torments her with the thought of how unworthy she is. “It is an invention of the devil, one of the most tormenting and subtle and crafty that I have ever known of him.” It was like the temptations of Job. It was as if the devil had been given permission to play pelota with Teresa’s helpless soul. Prayer became only an additional torment; nothing availed.
“To my way of thinking it is a little bit like an imitation of hell. This is so, as the Lord gave me to understand in a vision; for the soul burns within herself, without knowing who has brought the fire or from where, or how to flee from it, or with what to kill it. Then if she tries to help herself by reading, it is as if she did not know how.”
Once, in such a state, Teresa read over part of the life of a saint four or five times without understanding any of it. “To hold a conversation then with anybody is worse, for the devil brings such a hateful spirit of wrath, that I would like to eat everybody up. Then as for going to my confessor, this is certain for what I am about to say befell me many times, that although they with whom I then dealt and still deal were so holy, they spoke such words to me and rebuked me with such harshness, that when I told them afterwards what they had said, they themselves were astonished, and they told me it was not in their power. For although they resolved not to do it again, for it afterwards brought them sorrow and even scruples when I had such trials of body and soul, and they determined to console me with sympathy, yet they could not. I do not say they spoke evil words that would offend God, but the most offensive that could be endured from a confessor. They meant to mortify me, and although at other times I rejoiced in it and was all for enduring it, at that time it was all torment for me.”
Yet she managed to keep herself busy doing good works of the more humble sort, until at last there came a moment when she plainly heard the voice of Christ saying, “don’t be wearied: don’t be afraid.” It was like the sun rising upon the darkness of her soul, dispelling all its clouds; and her soul “came forth again into quiet joy, like refined gold out of a crucible.” (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 158-164.)
It was not, however, until Saint Teresa of Avila received spiritual counsel from a Dominican friar, Father Pedro Ibanez, that she received the theological exactitude for which she had been searching concerning her mystical experiences. Father Ibanez wrote a detailed memorandum explaining why he had concluded that Saint Teresa de Jesus was a genuine mystic:
This temptation, nevertheless, had reminded her of her need for theological exactitude. She sought it and found it among the Dominicans at the Royal Monastery of Saint Thomas, where she and her father had gone so often to confession. She was certainly acquainted with the then subprior of the monastery, Fray García of Toledo, who left a description of her, saying that her face was “more like that of an angel than that of a human creature.” Scion of the Counts of Oropesa, he had gone to Mexico in 1535 with the Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza, had joined the Dominican Order, and had toiled there until 1545, when he returned to Spain. He had been subprior at Santo Tomás since 1555. Just when he became acquainted with Teresa is uncertain; it is known, however, that he occasionally heard her confession, and that toward the end of 1560 he introduced her to one of his lectors, Fray Pedro Ibáñez, who was considered the best theologian in his order and one of the best in Europe. He was well acquainted with Teresa in the latter part of 1560, if not before.
It probably took this expert very little time to see that what he had to deal with was not diabolical delusion, but extraordinary sanctity. However, like a prudent man, he had her write him out a full account of her method of prayer.
The report completely satisfied him. He gave her the assurance she desired, that her visions and ecstasies came from God and not from the devil. He was probably the author of the famous memorandum on the state of her soul in 1560:
“1. The end of God is to bring a soul to Himself, and that of the devil to separate it from God. Our Lord never uses means that separate one from Him, nor the devil those that bring one to God. All the visions and other things that take place in her draw her nearer to God, and make her more humble, obedient, etc.
“2. It is the teaching of Saint Thomas and of all the saints that the angel of light is recognized by the peace and quiet he leaves in the soul. Never does she have these things without great peace and joy afterwards, so much that all the pleasures of the earth put together seem to her not like the least of them.
“3. She has no fault or imperfection for which she is not reprehended by the one who speaks within her.
“4. Never did she ask or desire these things, except to accomplish in everything the will of God our Lord.
“5. All the things he tells her go according to the divine Scripture and to what the Church teaches, and are very true in all scholastic rigor.
“6. She has great purity of soul, great sincerity, most fervent desires to please God, and on the other hand, to trample under foot anything there may be of the world.
“7. They have told her that all she should ask of God, being just, she would have. Much she has asked, and things not to be written here, for they would take too long, and our Lord has granted them all.
“8. When these things are of God, they are always ordained for the good of oneself, or the community, or someone. She has experience of her improvement, and of that of many other persons.
“9. No one speaks with her, unless of depraved disposition, without being moved to devotion by her affairs, even though she doesn’t tell them.
“10. Each day she goes on increasing in the perfection of her virtues, and they always teach her things of greater perfection. And so, in all her course of time, she has gone on improving, in her visions themselves, in the way Saint Thomas mentions.
“11. Never do they tell her novelties, but things of edification, nor do they tell her nonsensical things. Some persons they have told her were full of devils; but only so she might understand what a soul is like when it has mortally offended God.
“12. It is the devil’s way, when he tries to deceive people, to advise them to keep silent about what he tells them; but they have told her to communicate it to learned men who are servants of the Lord, and that if she concealed it, the devil might perhaps deceive her.
“13. The improvement of her soul with these things is great, and the good edification she gives with her example, so that more than forty nuns in her house practice recollection.
“14. These things ordinarily come to her after long mental prayer, and while very absorbed in God and inflamed with His love, or communicating.
“15. These things give her the greatest desire to be right, and not to be deceived by the devil.
“16. They cause the most profound humility in her; she knows that what she receives is from the hand of the Lord, and how little she has of her own.
“17. When she is without those things, things which occur are in the habit of causing her pain and trouble; when that comes, there is no memory of anything, but only a great desire to suffer, and she enjoys this so much that it is astonishing.
“18. They make her rejoice and console herself with trials, murmurings against her, sicknesses, and she has terrible ones, too, of the heart, and vomitings, and many other afflictions, all of which leave her when she has the visions.
“19. With all this she does very great penance, with fasting, discipline, and mortifications.
“20. Both the things of earth that can give her some pleasure, and the trials, of which she has endured many, she bears with equal mind, without losing the peace and quiet of her soul.
“21. She has such a firm purpose of not offending the Lord, that she has taken a vow never to leave undone anything she understands to be more perfect, or anything she is told by any who so understands; and although she holds those of the Company [of Jesus] to be saints, and thinks that through their means our Lord has granted her so many favors, she told me that if she knew it was greater perfection not to consult them, she would never again speak with them or see them, even though it was they who have quieted her and set her feet on the road of these things.
“22. The love she has for God, and her feeling of His presence and being dissolved in His love, is certainly astonishing, and with them she is accustomed to be enraptured almost all day.
“23. When she hears God spoken of with strong devotion, she is often likely to be enraptured, and not to be able to resist, no matter how hard she tries, and then she remains in such a state that it causes the greatest devotion in those who see her.
“24. She cannot endure that anyone converse with her who does not tell her faults and reprehend her, which she receives with great humility.
“25. With these things she cannot tolerate it when those who are in a state of perfection do not try to live according to their rule.
“26. She is wholly free from affection for relatives, from wishing to speak with people, a friend of solitude; has great devotion to the saints, and on their feasts and mysteries which the Church holds up to view, is filled with the greatest tenderness for our Lord.
“27. If all those of the Company and all the servants of God on earth tell her, or should tell her, that it is the devil, she fears and trembles before her visions commence; but once she is in mental prayer and recollection, she will not be persuaded that it is anyone but God who is with her and speaks with her, even if they cut her into a thousand pieces.
“28. God has given her so strong and valorous a spirit that it is astonishing. She used to be timid; now she tramples all the demons under foot. She is quite beyond the trifles and silly foolery of women. Quite free from scruples. Is utterly honest.
“29. With this our Lord has given her the gift of most happy tears, great compassion for those about her, knowledge of her own faults, much regard for good persons, and abasement of herself. And I say, certainly, that she has helped many persons, and I am one of them.
“30. Commonly keeps God in mind and is aware of His presence.
“31. They have told her nothing [in her raptures] that has not been so and has not come to pass, and this is a very strong argument.
“32. These things cause her an admirable clarity of understanding, and an illumination in the things of God.
“33. That they told her to look into the Scriptures and that it would be found that no soul that desired to please God had been deceived so long a time.”
Another very acute analysis of Teresa’s mystical states was made during her lifetime or shortly afterward by her Jesuit biographer, Father Ribera. Elaborating on the famous chapter in which Saint Ignatius tells how to discern good and evil spirits, he answers his own question, “What credit should we give to the revelations of Doña Teresa?” by a series of other interrogations:
Are the revelations true? Do they conform to Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church? Do they contain any untruth, even if true in general? What effect do they have on the mystic? What is her temperament? Is she discreet, of good judgment? Has she any illness likely to affect her reason? Is she melancholy, impulsive, too passionate in loving and hating, too imaginative? Is she very young, new in the service of God, inexperienced in spiritual matters? Is she proud, desirous of being esteemed, eager to publish her affairs and to talk about them? Does she mention her revelations to many persons? Does she tell about them without being asked? Is she more attached to her own opinion than to those of others? Does she believe what is told her in her revelations and does she follow it, even though learned and spiritual men tell her the contrary? Is she undesirous of asking the opinions of others on the things she thinks have been revealed to her? Does she go to prayer with curiosity, desiring to have these revelations? Does she question our Lord about herself or others, asking for a revelation in reply? In her manner of life and conversation, is she eccentric and different from most others in her state of life? Have her revelations been approved and tested by competent persons?
From all these tests which wise directors had found so useful in trapping impostors, paranoiacs, and Illuminati, Ribera finds her emerging triumphant. All the predictions made in her visions were fulfilled, and all were for God’s service, and had to do with high and noble things. The raptures made her love God, abhor sin, improve each day in virtue. Her personality had nothing of the exaltèe in it: she was “very sane and acute and solid of judgment, with a great discretion, a very good temperament, far removed from melancholy.” She never asked our Lord for a revelation but once, and blamed herself much for that; on the contrary, she asked our Lord to lead her by another road. She told her revelations only to persons who might undeceive her, if she was deceived; was very secret, and pained when her advisers betrayed her secret. Finally, her visions were tested and approved as genuine by many learned and spiritual persons. “Some will say,” adds Father Ribera rather quaintly, “that she is a woman. Yes, but before God there are no men or women, but only creatures.”
Teresa had good reason now to believe that she was safe. Having passed every test, she was ready for whatever God wished her to do. What was it to be?
The answer seems to have come to her by a process of reasoning that began with a vision of hell, the description of which is one of the most vivid passages of her Autobiography:
“After a long time, in which the Lord had given me many of the favors I have described, and others very great, I was one day in prayer when I found myself, without knowing how, in a state where I seemed to be in the middle of hell. I understood that the Lord wished me to see there the place which the demons had prepared for me, and which I merited by my sins. This lasted a very short time, but I think that if I lived many years I could never forget it. The entrance seemed to me like an alley very long and straight, sort of an oven very low and dark and narrow. The ground seemed to me of a water like mud, very filthy and of pestilential odor, and many vile reptiles in it. On the side there was a concavity placed in a wall, like a cupboard, where I saw myself shut up very tightly. All this was delightful to behold in comparison to what I felt there. This that I have said would be hard to exaggerate.
“I wouldn’t know how even to begin to exaggerate this, nor could it be understood; but I felt a fire in my soul, which I don’t understand how to say what it is like. The most unbearable bodily pains, and I have suffered very grievous ones in this life, and as the doctors say, the worst that can happen here – the shrinking of my sinews . . . and others caused by the devil – all is nothing in comparison with the agonizing of the soul, a sense of constraint, a stifling, an anguish so keen, and with a sorrow so abandoned and afflicted, that I don’t know how to describe it. For to say it is as if the soul were being always pulled up by the roots, is little, for that is as if someone else were putting an end to our life; but here it is the soul herself that seems to be cutting herself to pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to express that interior fire, and that despair over such very heavy torments and pains. I did not see who gave them to me, but I felt myself burn and crumble up into pieces, as it seemed to me; and I say that that interior fire and desperation is the worst.
“Being in such a pestilential place, so helpless even to hope for consolation, there was no sitting down, or lying down, or any room at all, although they had put me in this as in a hole made in the wall; for those walls, which are frightful to look upon, tightened themselves, and everything was suffocating, there was no light, but everywhere the blackest darkness. I do not understand how it can be that without any light everything can be seen that is painful to look upon. . . . I don’t know how it was, but I understood it to be a great favor, and that the Lord wished me to see with my own eyes the place from which His mercy had saved me.” All the torments she had ever read or imagined about hell were nothing to what she then felt; they were like mere pictures compared to reality itself. “And being burned here is very little in comparison to that fire there.
“It left me so frightened that even now, as I write about it almost six years later, the natural warmth leaves my body, here where I am. And so I don’t remember any times since that I have had trouble or pain, without thinking that everything that can be suffered here is nothing, and so it rather seems to me that we complain without cause. And so I say again that it was one of the greatest favors the Lord has done for me, for it has been of much help to me, not only in losing my fear of tribulations and contradictions in this life, but in giving me strength to endure them and to give thanks to the Lord who delivered me, as it now seems to me, from evils so everlasting and terrible.” (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 164-170.)
Saint Teresa of Avila’s extraordinary love of God and the destiny that he had in store for her as the indomitable reformer of the Carmelites who would be influenced by Saint of Alcantara and Blessed John of Avila, who had been an early spiritual director of Saint John of God, made her respected by many. However, she would also be opposed firmly and experience several defeats in her efforts to establish the Discalced Carmelites and the Convent of Saint Joseph in honor of Our Lord’s foster-father to whom she was singularly devoted in supplication for her temporal and spiritual needs. As she herself was influenced by saints, she would in turn influence a saint, Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz), in the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites among priests, a subject to be discussed in a brief reflection for his feast day, November 24, which is also the commemoration of Saint Chrysogonus.
Although Saint Teresa of Avila had great charity for all, she gave no quarter to any false religions and, loathing Protestantism while being charitable to those in error, made no distinctions among the different Protestant sects as they were all “Lutherans” to her:
As Teresa reflected upon the experience afterwards, she began to think of all the miserable souls who had gone there, and were going there, and would go there. This thought filled her with grief, and with a burning desire to save them from such a fate, as she herself had been saved. “From then on I had the greatest sorrow for the many souls that condemn themselves to hell, especially those Lutherans, for they were already members of the Church by baptism, and . . . I thought that to save even one of them from such very grievous torments I would endure many deaths very joyfully.”
In the heart of a woman who had looked on hell there was no room for that hatred that some of her fellow countrymen had conceived for the misguided wretches of the north who were burning Catholic churches, slaying priests, and desecrating the body of Christ. What Christian could be unconcerned when the Turks reached Malta and made themselves masters of the Mediterranean? And what Spaniard could fail to be alarmed over the great conspiracy in France, involving not only the Queen of England but the Lutherans of Germany, to seize power and set up a Calvinistic government? This so-called Conspiracy of Amboise was the beginning of the long series of eight Huguenot wars; within a year the soil of France would be drenched with the blood of helpless priests and nuns. And even in 1560 Teresa must have heard of the anarchy and depravity that Luther himself noted as consequences of his “reform” in Germany. Yet this woman was so purified of human weakness that she did not share to the slightest degree in that sadistic impulse that gives a sinner pleasure when he can find someone he thinks worse than himself on whom to visit the punishment his secret conscience tells him his own guilt deserves. The worst Catholics could righteously consign the Lutherans to death and to hell. But the best ones, the saints, felt pity and sorrow rather than hatred. And so, instead of denouncing Protestants, Teresa loved them with such utter tenderness that she was willing to die in torments for them, if only it would restore them to the sacraments of Christ’s Church. She began to fast, and to keep weary vigils, and punish her poor body in a thousand ways for those Lutherans who had forgotten that Christ came to show men how to do penance.
She made no distinction between Calvinists and other sects. They were all “Lutherans” to her. “Come to know the injuries of France from those Lutherans,” she wrote, “and how this miserable sect went on increasing, I was much fatigued, and as if I could do anything, or were anything, I wept with the Lord and implored Him to remedy so much evil. I think that I would lay down a thousand lives to save one soul of the many I saw being lost. And as I saw myself a woman and wicked and incapable of being of any use for His service, all my anxiety was, and still is, that since He has so many enemies and so few friends, that those be good ones: and so I resolved to do that little bit that I can and that is in me, which is to follow the evangelical counsels with all the perfection I can. . . .” She prayed meanwhile for “the champions of the Church and the preachers and learned men who defend her,” and she hoped in this way to “aid in so far as we can this Lord of mine Whom those on whom He has heaped so much good have so afflicted that I think these traitors want to put Him on the cross again today and not to let Him have a place to lay His head.”
“O my Redeemer, how can my heart help being much wearied to think of this! How is this now of the Christians? Must they always be the ones who tire You most? Those for whom You do the best works, those who owe You most, those whom You choose for Your friends, those among whom You walk and to whom You communicate Yourself by the sacraments? Aren’t they enough, Lord of my soul, the torments the Jews give You? Surely, Lord, anyone who leaves the world now does nothing: since they have so little regard for You, what are we to expect? Do we perhaps deserve that they treat us better? Perhaps we have done more for them, so that Christians may keep friendship? What is this? What do we expect now, we who by the Lord’s goodness are without that pestilential scab, when they already belong to the devil? A good punishment they have earned from his hands, and with his pleasures they have won eternal fire. There they go, though I can’t help breaking my heart to see so many souls as are lost. . . .”
It was no mere literary hyperbole, this weariness and pain of the heart that Teresa endured. According to Fray Luis de León, she suffered acute physical pain whenever she heard of the atrocities committed by Protestants against the English or German monasteries. But this was not enough. She must also take upon herself voluntary anguish and privations for those who were unwilling to do their share to “make up the full measure of the sufferings of Christ” of which Saint Paul wrote so mysteriously. She must be perfect, nothing less than perfect.
It seemed to her that perfection for a Carmelite must consist in living up to the spirit and letter of the founders of the Order. The primitive rule observed by the recluses on Mount Carmel had been framed for contemplatives almost eremitical, in groups large enough for the communal life necessary for discipline and small enough for the solitude required for mental prayer; the ideal number was thirteen to sixteen. In Teresa’s time the order had departed so far from this ideal that in Ávila, for example, there were 180 nuns, only a few of whom lived as true contemplatives, and that, of course, with the greatest difficulty among the distractions of visits, conversations, and news. .” (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 170-173.)
Saint Teresa of Avila mourned for the loss of souls caused by the Protestant Revolution and its spread, but he sought to keep the distractions of that wretched revolutions’ effects from disturbing the spirit of contemplation and recollection to which the Carmelites were called originally but from which most in the order had departed. This is a lesson for us not be engrossed in the affairs of the world so that we can concentrate more attentively on the interior life prayer.
As noted earlier, Saint Teresa of Avila suffered much in the way of persecution from the members of the Order of Carmel even though she had the permission of her bishop and of the pope himself to found the Convent of San Jose according to the original, primitive rule of the Carmelites that called for strict poverty and of being discalced. A turning point in her travails when a tribunal was convened to denounce her as a false mystic and a renegade religious who thought herself and her “innovation” to superior to the long-established rule of life for the Order of Carmel that itself was a deviation from the more perfect way that Saint Teresa of Avila wanted to restore.
Although Saint Teresa had supporters on the tribunal who were Jesuit priests, neither of the Jesuits spoke in defense out of fear of their nascent work being stopped by way of retribution from the others on the tribunal. It was left to one Dominican, Father Domingo Baez, to defend her in such an eloquent manner that began the months-long process of her vindication and her moving permanently into the Convent of San Jose with the Discalced Carmelite women who waiting for Madre Teresa de Jesus to settle there once and for all:
On the morning of August 25, the day after the foundation, the Corregidor of Ávila, the muy magnifico Señor García Suárez Carvajal, summoned certain of the regidores, together with the Procurador General Quiñones, the Mayordomo Flores and the Notary Public Pedro de Villaquirán, to discuss the enormity which all the town was denouncing. They decided that “since it has now just come to our notice that certain women who say that they are Carmelite nuns have taken a house that is subject to a quitrent to this city, and have placed altars and said Mass in it; and being, as there are, many monasteries of friars and nuns, and poor people who suffer need, Resolved, that to remedy the matter and to provide for it, the gentlemen regidores who are in this city be called and assembled, to make provision for it, tomorrow, Wednesday, at nine o’clock in the morning, and that the learned men of this city be summoned.”
The Corrigidor went to the new monastery of San José, and knocking majestically on the door demanded entrance in the name of the Republic, while a crowd of other officials and townspeople looked on to see what would happen.
One of the four terrified women inside, probably Sister Ursula, spoke through the door, asking what they wanted. The Corregidor replied that the people did not desire another convent in the city, and that they must leave at once and return to their homes.
“We will leave only by command of the one who put us here,” said the nun.
“Open the doors or I will break them down!”
The valiant women barricaded themselves in as best they could with pieces of board left over from the recent repairs, and made ready to resist to the last. The Corregidor was furious. Undoubtedly he would have forced his way in if he had not happened to see the Blessed Sacrament on the altar near the front entrance. Being a good Catholic, he then desisted and went away, not, however, without a few parting threats.
The regidores and letrados met on Wednesday morning, appointed Alonso Year and Perálvarez Serrano to wait upon the Bishop and give him an account of how the city felt about the outrage that had come to light, and resolved if necessary to appeal to Philip II and the Royal Council of Castile. At a third meeting, held on Saturday the twenty-ninth, plans were made for mobilizing all the leaders of public opinion in the city in a junta magna to be held in the Council hall the following day. The Bishop was also invited.
It was a solemn and imposing assemblage that came together after Mass that Sunday – indeed, the city could have produced no greater demonstration if menaced by flood, pestilence, or invasion, instead of by five poor women who wanted only to pray and to eat as little as possible. All the ancient nobility, the learning and the religion of Ávila were represented in the colorful throng. There were city officials in brilliant costumes braided with gold. There was the Licentiate Brizuela, acting as provisor for the Bishop. The chapter of the Cathedral was represented by the Canons Pérez and Soria and the Archdeacon Sedano. The Dominican Convent of Saint Thomas sent several delegates, including the prior, Father Pedro Serrano, and the young theologian, Father Domingo Báñez. For the Franciscans there were the Guardian Father, Martín de Aguirre, and Father Hernando de Valderrábano; for the Premonstratensians, the Abbot Father, Francisco Blanco, and a preacher; for the Benedictines, the Abbot, Don Pedro de Antoyano, and one of the monks; for the Jesuit College of San Gil, Father Baltasar Alvarez and Father Jerónimo Ripalda. There were also Maestro Daza and other learned priests and several lay gentlemen from the best families of Ávila.
When all were seated and quiet, the Corregidor opened the meeting with a declamation which suggests that he had not read his Cicero in vain:
“We are gathered here, Illustrious Gentlemen and Very Reverend Fathers, for a thing which could easily be decided without the opinion of so many grave men; but the confidence I have from all has made me avail myself of this means so that my actions, approved by persons of such great estimation, may not appear rash or imprudent, and may have greater weight in proportion as those present receive them well.
“Notorious to all is the innovation which dawned upon this city the other day in the form of a Convent of Barefoot Carmelites. And the mere fact of such an innovation is enough to make clear how dangerous and detestable it is. The confusion it causes in a republic, the minds which it disturbs, the tongues which it sets to wagging, the murmurings it foments, the disorders it engenders (for it allows neither order nor quiet in the republic, nor permits good customs and statutes to endure) – of all this, who is ignorant? And this being true of innovations in general, the present one is all the more dangerous since it wears the mask and mantle of greater piety. Allowing convents and religious orders to multiply does not always augment the common welfare and advantage; in this city it is not only convenient but a matter of urgent necessity to prevent new foundations. For although it is among the noblest of Spain, it is not among the richest, and it is as well provided with gentlemen and ladies in all the convents as could prudently be desired. And so it is not just that the devotion of certain women burden the city with what it is unable to bear. Even if the new monastery began with a dowry of income well invested, some of the objections set forth would still obtain, for in the end what is given to a Convent is taken away from the rest of the city, it is alienated forever, it is transferred from the common use and heritage of the citizens. What then will this Convent be, when it is founded without income, without dowry, and with the presumption that it will never have any? This, gentlemen, is to cast upon us a compulsory alcabala, to take money out of our purses and food out of our mouths. What heart could endure to see some poor servants of God perishing of hunger? Would we not be compelled to take from our children, to share with them? Furthermore, if the city is the head of all the citizens, and the Convents are its members, how is a foundation made without its authority? What government would endure such activities? If others which are less are not permitted, why this one which is so great?
“And how do we know, gentlemen, that this foundation is not some fraud, or deceit of the devil? They say that this Religious has revelations, and a spirit very peculiar. This very fact makes me fear, and ought to make the most discreet reflect, since in these times we have seen deceits and illusions among women, and in all women it has been dangerous to applaud the innovations to which they are inclined. I do not impute fraud to this Religious, for this is no concern of mine; but I would inspire prudent minds with caution not to admit innovations, not to multiply convents, not to allow them to be established without the permission and knowledge of the city, and that its right be acknowledged to inquire through grave persons whether it is a question of the Lord’s service or not. This is my opinion, and I hope it will be approved by all the learning and experience as are here assembled.”
When the Corregidor had finished, the Licentiate Brizuela, as Provisor for the Bishop, arose to inform the assembly that the foundation had been made with the consent of His Lordship. He then read the brief of Pope Pius IV under which the consent had been given. This duty fulfilled, he discreetly took his leave.
The Corregidor stood his ground and asked for other opinions. “Nearly all approved his reasons wholesale, without examining them,” continues the Crónica Carmelitana. “Others, either doubtful or of contrary mind, kept silent, not daring to defend the truth publicly; a very common weakness in communities where self-interest is ordinarily put before the public good by those who are most bound to defend it, and who receive from it authority to do so.”
As one speech followed another, the general indignation against the five Carmelites mounted in a crescendo which at last grew so violent that Teresa was surprised, when she heard of it, that they did not all go then and there to demolish her house. Besides the general accusation that she had injured the six other convents of Ávila, and through them the whole community and especially the poor, it was alleged that her foundation in poverty violated the spirit of the Pope’s brief, which had permitted an endowment; and that the brief had not been presented to His Majesty and the Royal Council for their approval. Practical men observed, too, that the house was subject to a quitrent which the city would now lose. Others pleaded that material damage had been done to the whole community by some little hermitages she had begun to have erected in realization of her childhood ambition, and that one of these retreats would shut off the sunlight from a small arched structure under which were gathered the waters of several springs for public use; therefore the water would freeze in winter and be of no use. Lázaro Dávila, a stonecutter who held the office of Inspector of Wells, had already lodged a complain on this score against Juan de Ovalle on August 22, two days before the foundation. Altogether, the meeting seemed to be, as Julian of Ávila recorded, “the most solemn . . . that could possibly be held in the world, even if the loss or safety of all Spain were at stake. . . . All arrived at the opinion that it was good to have the monastery disestablished, for it was a heavy burden for the city to maintain thirteen nuns, for it was not then claimed there would be more; and they did not notice that these thirteen would go in to serve God, and that in the city many hundreds of men and women were being supported who served the devil with their wicked life; and no order to get out was ever given to all those who were maintained without working, giving bad example to the others – yet they thought the city would be destroyed if they supported thirteen barefoot nuns!” And Teresa remarked, “I was astonished at what the devil could do against a few little women, and how all thought it was a great hurt to the place to have twelve women and a prioress . . . and all living so strict a life.” Later she said, laughing, to Father Ribera, “I founded the monastery on the day of Saint Bartholomew, so he would defend me from the demon, and as soon as I did, all his little devils came jumping against me.”
There was only one man who dared to raise his voice in that Junta against the hysterical indignation of the community. It seems strange that there were not more, considering that two Jesuits who knew Teresa well and had finally approved her spirit were present. Father Ripalda, S.J., testifying thirty-three years later for her beatification, declared that he had been there and had had a revelation to the effect that her foundation was inspired by God, and that the Jesuits alone defended her against all the other orders and the city officials. But according to Father Baltasar Alvarez, the Jesuits felt obliged to remain silent at the meeting lest they jeopardize their own work, which was comparatively new in Ávila. We have her own word for it, moreover, that her sole defender was a Dominican; and it is now well established that he was Fray Domingo Báñez, presentado or teacher of theology at the monastery of Saint Thomas.
Father Báñez, destined to be one of the most famous theologians of his century and to carry on a celebrated controversy with the Jesuit Fathers, Molina and Suárez, on the freedom of the will – a controversy still undecided – was at this time thirty-four years old. Born February 28 at Medina del Campo, of Cantabrian ancestry, he had entered the Order of Saint Dominic at a very early age, and had been professed when he was nineteen, at Saint Stephen’s monastery, Salamanca. In 1561, he had been sent to Ávila to teach theology. He was already known in his own order as an acute and profound thinker, humble, discreet, and amiable, much given to prayer and mortification. When he went with other Dominicans to the famous Junta, he had not yet met Teresa, but judging her cause on its merits he had the courage to stand alone and defend it, when all the other members of his own order remained discreetly silent. The Crónica Carmelitana quotes him verbatim:
“It may seem rash to oppose myself to so many and such grave persons, and to reasoning so well thought out. But if my own conscience gives assurance and puts me under obligation more than those of others in free discussion such as this, I cannot fail to declare what it dictates to me in favor of the new monastery of Discalced Carmelites. Free at least from passion shall be my testimony, for until this hour I have never spoken with nor met the Foundress, nor discussed her foundation in any way. The thing is new, I admit, and as such has produced the effects that innovation usually does among the multitude. But this is no reason why it should produce them in grave and prudent councils, for not every innovation is reprehensible. Were the other religious orders founded in any other way? Did not the reforms which we see every day, and which our ancestors saw, come to light when they were least thought of? Was not the Christian Church itself reformed anew by Christ? Surely nothing in it, however excellent it may be, could be improved if we all surrendered to the cowardly fear of innovation. What is introduced for the greater glory of God and the reformation of customs ought not be called innovation or invention, but the renovation of virtue, which is always old. And if the trees are not new when they are seen in the spring, nor the sun when it rises each day, why will it be a blameworthy innovation in religious orders to renew themselves? Which is more reprehensible in them: to lose their ancient splendor or to recover it? If the first does not frighten us, why should the second scandalize us? That, gentlemen, is reprehensible innovation which opposes itself to virtue and the greater service of God. The Convent of Carmelites, recently founded, is a restoration of what has been lost, to the great improvement of that holy Order, and the edification of the Christian people. And so on that score this convent ought rather to be favored, and especially by the heads of Christian republics, to whom it belongs to encourage such praiseworthy deeds. May many imitate her! Oh, how much praise would Ávila deserve, and all our kingdoms and the whole Church, if we followed after this heroic virgin! I do not approve of the rash multiplication of religious orders. But it is not easy to determine when this is the case. For if vain and vicious men are not considered rash, however much they multiply themselves, why must those who follow the law of virtue be held and persecuted as such? The cities are full of lost people; these streets swarm with vagrant, insolent, and lazy men, with boys and girls given over to vice; and none of this is considered rash, nor is there anyone who takes the trouble to remedy it – and only four little nuns stowed in a corner, in a hole, commending themselves to God, are held to be a grave injury and intolerable burden to the Republic? And this disturbs and troubles the city, and there are assemblies to look into it? What is this, gentlemen; why do we gather here? What army of enemies breaks down these walls? What fire burns the city? What pestilence consumes it? What hunger afflicts it? What ruin threatens it? Are only four little barefoot nuns, poor, quiet, and virtuous, the cause of so much commotion in Avila/ Allow me to say that the prestige of a city so important seems less when it holds so solemn a meeting and convocation for so light a reason.
“I confess that I do not think this foundation should be made without income; not so much on account of the burden thus resulting to the city, for it is very light, as on account of the inconvenience to the religious themselves, who, enclosed and without secure provision, are likely to suffer need. I cannot deny that it pertains to the providence of cities to prevent the mischiefs which can ensue, but that has to do with secular affairs. As for those which by right are ecclesiastic, it is the province of the Bishop to look into them; and if convents are founded by his command, it is for him to arrange them. This new one was established with the knowledge and advice of the Bishop, and what is more, by an especial Brief of the Apostolic See. And so it is wholly outside the secular jurisdiction. And finally, gentlemen and fathers of ours, I cannot in any way agree that the monastery be disestablished by order of the city; but that if there be anything against it, and if it be fitting to undo it, the Lord Bishop, to whom it belonged to establish it, should be informed and consulted.”
These bold wise words were bound to have an effect in a gathering of loyal, if excited, Catholics; in fact, they carried the day for reason against almost unanimous prejudice. The Junta voted to table a proposal that the Blessed Sacrament at San José be consumed and the place closed, and to consult the Bishop before taking further steps.
The Bishop stood by Madre Teresa. Maestro Daza, representing him at a second great meeting, informed the city that the convent had been established by episcopal authority in accordance with the Pope’s permission, and that he himself had presided at the opening ceremonies, and had said the first Mass. This did not satisfy the leaders of the opposition, and the City Council sent Alonso de Robledo to Madrid with a salary of one ducat per day to complain to the Royal Council. He left September 12 and was back in Ávila ten days later; whereat the Consistorio met at once, and decided to carry on the fight. To this end they sent Diego de Villena to Madrid, where he remained fifty days, presumably looking up the law and arguing for the disestablishment of the convent.
Litigation has always been expensive as well as annoying. Yet Madre Teresa was not wholly friendless. If misfortune had revealed a whole city full of enemies, it had also discovered who her real friends were; and among there were disclosed, in addition to the young Dominican theologian and Maestro Daza, such faithful adherents as Father Julian of Ávila, Father Gonzalo de Aranda, the Holy Cavalier Don Francisco Salcedo, and Doña Guiomar de Ulloa. It is likely that these last two raised a small sum of money out of their shrunken fortunes to defray the necessary expenses of the convent’s defense. Father Julian, gentle, loyal, and studious soul, appointed himself procurador, and day after day tramped between the Council chamber and the Incarnation, consulting the city fathers and La Madre, and doing all in his power to bring about an agreement whereby the monastery might remain. His companion on many of these trips was the Holy Cavalier, who was too bashful, however, to enter the crowded halls of justice, and usually hid himself near by until Father Julian emerged. Nevertheless, Don Francisco helped in his own quiet way, for he was universally respected, and many changed their opinion of Madre Teresa on learning that he was on her side. Father Gonzalo de Aranda went to Madrid to defend her before the Royal Council.
Teresa kept well informed at the Incarnation of everything that went on, even though her prioress showed some displeasure at the frequent visits of her friends. On September 7 she heard that the City Council was willing to allow the convent to remain if she, as a compromise, would have it endowed. Some of her friends considered this a sensible way out of the difficulty and urged her to accept. Some even offered to contribute to the fund.
It was an excruciating temptation. Weary from months of anxiety and trouble, sorry for her friends who had endured so much for her and apparently to no purpose, she began to wonder whether so many good persons could be wrong and she alone right. Humility suggested that perhaps she was being misled by pride, and although she could not forget what the Lord had said during the riots before the great Junta, “Dost thou not know that I am powerful? What art thou afraid of?” worldly prudence demanded whether He would be well served if she let His monastery die for lack of revenue.
The Holy Cavalier, who took the “practical” view, wrote an appeal on her behalf to Fray Pedro de Alcántara, and Maestro Daza delivered it at Areñas, where the Saint had gone to die. Presently a reply arrived at the Incarnation, addressed to “The Most Magnificent and Very Religious Lady, Doña Teresa de Ahumada, in Ávila, Whom May Our Lord Make Holy.” Ribera saw this epistle and noted that it was written on a piece of paper less than four fingers wide. Unfortunately he did not reproduce the text of what was probably the last letter of San Pedro. Teresa’s brief summary of it quotes him as saying that he had heard of her troubles with the foundation, and rejoiced at them, for they were a sign “that the Lord would be much served in that monastery, since the devil tried so hard to have it destroyed, and that I should in no wise agree to have an income.” Yet when he died a few weeks later, she was still putting off her final decision Her friends were arguing that it might be fatal to continue in poverty; and when the Holy Cavalier suggested that if she commenced with an endowment she could easily give it up later and return to her original plan, Teresa agreed to accept the city’s compromise and was prepared to sign a contract to that effect the next day.
That night she had one of her several visions of Saint Peter of Alcántara. About a year before his death – during the autumn of 1561 – she had seen him visibly, though they were many miles apart: and “I understood that he was going to die, and warned him of it.” When he died she saw him plainly. “His end was like his life, preaching and admonishing his friars. When he saw that he was now coming to his end, he said the psalm, Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi, and falling on his knees, died. . . . He told me how he was going to rest. I did not believe it, and told it to several persons, and eight days later came the news how he was dead, or, to say it better, had commenced to live forever. . . . How much good God has now taken from us in the blessed Fray Pedro de Alcántara! The world can no longer endure such perfection. They say that nowadays people are weaker in health, and that these are not the times gone by. This holy man was of this time. He was as sturdy in spirit as in other times, and so he kept the world under his feet. For although people don’t go uncovered or do such harsh penance as he, there are many ways, as I have often said, to trample on the world, and the Lord teaches them how when he sees they have courage for it.”
Several times after his death Fray Pedro visited her. “It has pleased the Lord to let me see more of him than when he was alive, advising me in many things. I have often seen him in the greatest glory. The first time he appeared to me, he told me that it was a blessed penance that had earned so great a reward, and many other things. . . . Behold here this asperity of life brought to an end with such great glory! I think he consoles me much more than when he was here. Once the Lord told me that people would not ask anything in his name that He would not hear. As many things as I have committed to him to ask the Lord, I have seen them all granted. May He be blest forever.”
Once, when a fence was being built at San José, he told her not to have it plastered with cement, but to trust in poverty. “But it will fall down again!” she objected. “If it does,” replied Fray Pedro, “there will be someone to put it up again.”
He wore a different aspect when he came to oppose her capitulation on the night of indecision, late in October or early in November, 1562. He was a glorified body, as before, “but this time he was severe with me, and only told me that by no means must I accept an income, and why had I not been willing to follow his advice? And then he disappeared.
The same night our Lord appeared to her and gave the same advice, adding that if she began with an endowment, she would not be allowed to give it up afterwards.
Her decision was now so firm that no argument could move her again. The next morning she told the Holy Cavalier to reject the contract and to go on with the lawsuit. This the good man did, regardless of his own convictions. When various other attempts at conciliation were made by well-meaning friends, Teresa steadfastly refused every offer of compromise, attributing one of them to “the worst effort of the devil” to undo her work.
The suit dragged on, therefore, through the long winter. In mid-November, Father Gonzalo de Aranda induced the Royal Council at Madrid to appoint a receptor to investigate the matter. Pedro de Villaicén was duly appointed and went to Ávila, but was received with distrust by the corregidores, who deputed Juan Díaz, a notary public, to accompany him in all his investigations at a salary of six reals per day.
The turning point in the conflict seems to have been the arrival in town of Father Pedro Ibáñez, who as prior of the Dominican monastery of Saint Thomas had tested and approved her spirit in 1560, and had written to Rome for the first bull of authorization. He was so universally loved and respected in Ávila that when it became known that he was on the side of San José, the opposition began to wither away. One objection after another was dropped as public wrath cooled, or was met by compromise. When the city Council, on January 11, 1563, ordered the destruction of the hermitage which cast its shadow on the public fountain, Teresa acquiesced, asking only for an alms with which to construct another, and with this she bought a pigeon house on some adjoining land, and had it made over for the purpose. The dispute over the quitrent was settled by transferring it to some other near-by houses which were bought by her friends and presented to the Council, April 22. By spring the last opposition had vanished.
Teresa had spent the whole winter meanwhile at the Incarnation regretting her absence from her “orphans,” but serenely waiting for the disposition she knew Christ would make of her in His own good time. The Provincial, Fray Angel de Salazar, could not bring himself to let her go to San José, even when the Bishop, Father Ibáñez and others of her friends begged him to do so. He would not even discuss the matter with her until the middle of Lent, 1563. Even then he still hesitated until she said, “Look, Father, we are resisting the Holy Ghost!” in such a way that he could no longer doubt she spoke under the direction of the Holy Spirit Thereupon he told her to go, with his blessing.
It seemed almost too good to be true. It was not merely that she wished to live in San José for her own happiness, it was rather that the nuns needed her. Ursula de los Santos, excellent woman though she was and trained by Maestro Daza himself, could not teach the primitive rule to the novices, nor could the two chaplains (Maestro Daza and Father Julian de Ávila) who went to hear confessions and to say Mass. The nuns did their best; they would meet in chapter to tell their faults, they helped one another with all charity, they made such mortifications as they could; yet they had to recite the Little Office of Our Lady in the choir, for there was no one to teach them the other. Their small number was another handicap, but this the Provincial now removed by allowing four nuns to go from the Incarnation to San José with La Madre: Ana Dávila, a cousin of the Marquesa de Velada; Ana Gómez and her sister María Isabel; and Isabel de la Peña, daughter of Francisco de Cepeda.
The exact date when Teresa left the Incarnation to realize the dream of so many years is not known. It was in March, 1563; the air must still have been cold, and the ground not wholly clear, perhaps, of snow. She took with her, as her entire worldly wealth, a few articles borrowed from the Incarnation and later repaid: a cheap straw rug, a penitential shirt of chains, a discipline or scourge, and an old much-mended habit. With these treasures under her arm, and accompanied by the four new recruits from the Incarnation, she made her way joyfully, according to Carmelite tradition, to the Basilica of Saint Vincent, to prostrate herself in a prayer of thanksgiving before the ancient image of Nuestra Señora de la Soterraña. Then she took off her shoes and went barefooted over the hard cold streets to San José, where the four original nuns were waiting breathlessly for that Teresa de Ahumada who was to be known henceforth as Teresa of Jesus.
Before she would enter the monastery, she opened the grille of the choir and prostrated herself before the Blessed Sacrament. Time and the world fell away, with all her earthly senses, and in the sweet eternity that flowed about her and through her and possessed her utterly, she saw the glorified Christ. He welcomed her with great love and joy, and as He laid a glittering crown upon her head, He thanked her for what she had done for His Mother. (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 230-243.)
Saint Teresa of Avila’s long struggle should serve as an encouragement to us to persevere in the midst of whatever difficulties we might face for embracing the truth facing the Church Militant during this time of apostasy and betrayal, and try as many in the counterfeit church of conciliarism have over the course of the past fifty years to misrepresent Madre de Jesus as a proto-feminist who desired the same kind “innovative simplicity” as they claim were being “restored” in the Protestant and Judeo-Masonic Novus Ordo liturgical service, Saint Teresa of Avila was a faithful daughter of Holy Mother Church who always worked under hierarchical supervision and who wrote in her Foundations that she would gladly give up her life for even one of her ceremonies:
"I would give up my life a thousand times, not only for each of the truths of Sacred Scripture, but even more for the least of the ceremonies of the Catholic Church." (Saint Teresa of Avila, Life, Thirty-three, 3.)
It was after Saint Teresa of Avila had settled at the Convent of San Jose that she was instructed to write her account of its establishment and of the restoration of original rule of the Carmelite Order, which she described in her own preface to Foundations:
While living in the monastery of St. Joseph at Avila, in the year 1562 (the same year in which that monastery was founded), was commanded by Father Garcia, of Toledo, of the Order of St. Dominic, and who was then my confessor, to write the Foundation of that house, with several other things, which (if published) whoever reads them will know what they are. But being now at Salamanca, in the year 1573 (it is eleven years since wrote the first Foundation), my present confessor, Father Ripalda, Rector of the Society of Jesus, having read the book of the first Foundation, he thought it might conduce much to the honour of our Lord, if wrote the Foundations of the other seven monasteries, which, by the goodness of our Lord, have since been erected he accordingly commanded me to do so, and likewise to give an account of the commencement of the monasteries belonging to the Discalced Fathers of this First Rule. But as such an undertaking seemed to me impossible, on account of the many duties had to attend to, and of the Letters was obliged to write, as well as other important business commanded me by my superiors, was recommending myself to God, being somewhat troubled on account of my poor abilities and weak state of health (for even without this burden, seemed unable to perform my other duties by reason of my natural imbecility), when our Lord said to me, "Daughter, obedience gives strength." His Majesty grant it may prove so, and may he give me grace worthily to relate, to His glory, the favours He hath bestowed on our Order in these Foundations. Be assured, that whatever may say shall be said in all truth, without any exaggeration, agree ably with what happened for in any matter, however slight, would not tell lie for the whole world and therefore, in what am now writing (with the intention that our Lord may be praised therein), shall be most scrupulous, believing it would be not only loss of time, but using deception in the things of God, to be otherwise for then, so far from honouring Him, should rather offend Him, which would be high treason. May His Majesty ever protect me from doing such thing.
I shall give each Foundation in its order, and be as short as possibly can, for my style is so heavy, that fear shall though unwillingly both tire the reader and myself. However, through the love you bear me, my daughters, to whom, after my death, this book will be left, hope you will tolerate it. God grant, that since in nothing seek my own advantage, nor have any desire but His praise and glory (many things there are for which this tribute is due), whoever shall read these Foundations, let him not attribute any of them to me, for this would be against the truth but let him beseech our Lord, to pardon the little proficiency have made under all those favours. Herein you, my daughters, have more reason to complain of me, than to thank me for what have done in these Foundations. Let us all, therefore, my daughters, give thanks to the Divine Goodness for so many favours which He hath bestowed upon me.
Having such bad memory, am afraid shall leave out many things of importance, and mention other things which might be omitted; in word, allowance must be made for my poor ability and dulness of comprehension, and likewise for the want of leisure to write such things.
I am also commanded, if an opportunity offer itself, to say something on prayer, and concerning the illusion in which some may live who practise it, and which may hinder them from advancing in perfection. In everything submit myself to what the Holy Roman Church, my Mother, teaches, being resolved, before the book comes into your hands, my Sisters and Daughters, to have it examined by learned and spiritual men. begin, then, in the name of the Lord, taking to my help His glorious Mother, whose habit wear, though unworthy of it and also my glorious Father and Patron St. Joseph, in whose house now live, which is called from his name, and by whose prayers have been continually assisted.
I request of my reader to say an “Ave Maria” for me, to help me out of purgatory, and bring me to the possession of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth for ever. Amen. (Saint Teresa of Avila, Preface to Foundations, pp. vi-viii.)
Saint Teresa of Avila loved Holy Mother Church and never once resented ecclesiastical authority. Tenderly devoted to the Mother of God, in whose very order she chose to devote her life, and to Patron of the Universal Church and the Protector of the Faithful, as she gladly suffered her terrible headaches, multiple other physical afflictions and her well-known periods of spiritual aridity for the love of Our Lord and the good of souls.
Saint Teresa’s account of her establishment of the foundation of the Discalced Carmelites in Burgos, Spain, is a microcosm of the many difficulties this remarkably gifted saint, who struggled with migraine headaches and periods of spiritual aridity that required her to persevere in prayer without any interior exhilaration, experienced throughout her determined efforts to restore a spirit of poverty, recollection, and detachment that been lost by the Order of Carmel itself through the centuries:
These two Foundations, as have already mentioned. thought it best to erect the Foundation of Palencia, first, as it was near at hand, and because the weather was so bad, and Burgos so cold, and likewise in order to please the good bishop of Palencia and so did as have mentioned. But as, when was there, the Foundation of Soria was offered me (every thing having been provided), thought it better to go to this place first, and thence could proceed to Burgos. The bishop of Palencia was of the same opinion, and he also considered it the best to give an account to the archbishop of what had passed; accordingly, after my departure for Soria, he sent canon to the archbishop for this purpose only his name was Juan Alonso. The archbishop wrote to me, assuring me he exceedingly desired my coming to Burgos, and he consulted with the canon about the business, writing at the same time to the bishop of Palencia, and referring the matter to him and that the reason why he did so was, because he knew it was necessary to obtain the consent of the city of Burgos. In word, his determination was that should go there, and treat with the city first and if it should refuse to give its consent, the people could not tie his hands to prevent him from granting leave. He reminded his lordship also, that being present at the foundation of the first monastery in Avila, he no doubt remembered the great uproar and opposition which happened that, therefore, he (the archbishop) intended to prevent the like from happening here that it would be inconvenient to erect monastery, unless endowed, or with the consent of the city, and that this was the reason why he spoke on the subject.
The archbishop of Palencia, on hearing that was to go to Burgos, considered the business as settled, and justly so accordingly, he sent me word that we should go as soon as possible. But thought perceived some want of courage in the archbishop and when wrote to him, returned his grace many thanks for the favour he did me, but at the same time intimated that liked asking the city's con sent less than doing the business without saying anything to the people, for this might raise greater opposition to his grace. seemed to foresee we could rely but little on the archbishop, in case we should meet with any opposition to our procuring the license. also considered the business difficult, on account of the different opinions which usually arise in such matters. wrote to the bishop of Palencia, requesting him that since winter was so near, and my infirmities so great, that could hardly endure place so cold, he would allow the matter to rest for the present. did not allude to my doubts about the archbishop, because, being already displeased about some inconveniences interposing, and having formerly displayed such good will in the business, did not wish to produce any disagreement between them, as they were now friends and so went from Soria to Avila, little thinking then should so soon go to Burgos and my presence in the monastery of St. Joseph at Avila was very necessary.
There lived in the city of Burgos devout widow named Catalina de Tolosa, native of Biscay and were to recount her virtues of penance, of prayer, of alms-deeds, charity, sound judgment, and courage, should be too long. Some four years ago, she placed two daughters as nuns in the monastery of our Lady of the Conception, at Valladolid, and she disposed of two more in that of Palencia, staying there till it was founded and she brought them before came for the Foundation. All the four succeeded well (as educated by such mother), for they seemed like so many angels: she gave them good portions and everything else very amply, being exceedingly wealthy and in every thing she does she shows great liberality, as she is rich. When we were in Palencia we considered the archbishop's license as certain, so that there seemed no occasion to take any precautions accordingly, requested the lady to look for house to let, in order to take possession, and to get grate and wheel put up at my expense, without imagining she would be at any expense herself, but only at mine. She de sired this Foundation so much, that she felt acutely it was not erected immediately and so after re turned to Avila (as mentioned), then thinking no thing about the matter, she was not idle, but thinking nothing was wanting but the consent of the city, she began to procure it without saying word to any one. She had two neighbours, persons of rank, and great servants of God, mother and daughter, both of whom earnestly desired this Foundation. The mother's name was Dona Maria Manrique, who had son magistrate, and his name was Don Alonso de Santo Domingo Manrique the daughter's name was Dona Catalina they both induced Don Alonso to propose the business to the corporation, but he first asked the mother what foundation was made for the erection of the monastery for, with out some provision, the corporation would not allow it. She told him she would engage to give us house (and in reality she did) if we should want one, and also that -she would provide us with food, and then she gave him petition signed ,with her name. Don Alonso managed the matter so well, that he obtained the license from all the magistrates, and went to the archbishop with it in writing. Dona Catalina, when she began to negotiate the business, wrote to me how it was going on, but took it for joke, knowing with what difficulty poor monasteries are admitted and because neither knew nor suspected that she would pledge herself to do what she did thought that much more would be required.
One 'day within the Octave of St. Martin, while was recommending the matter to our Lord, was thinking what should do if the license were granted, since for me to go to Burgos with so many infirmities (to which cold is so contrary, and the weather was then very severe) appeared intolerable nay, it seemed rashness to undertake such long journey, having but just returned from one so rough as that from Soria (to Avila) nor would the Father Provincial let me go. thought the Prioress of Palencia might go very well, for every thing being made smooth, there would not be much difficulty. While was thus musing, and quite determined not to go, our Lord spoke these words to me, whereby understood that leave had been granted Do not regard this cold, for am the true heat the devil employs all his power to hinder this Foundation use your power for my sake, that it may be done, and neglect not to go in person, for you will be of great benefit." On hearing these words, altered my mind, for though nature sometimes shows repugnance in difficult undertakings, yet never have lost my resolution to suffer for this great God and beseech him not to notice these feelings of my weakness, but to command me whatever He shall please, since by His assistance shall not fail to do it. There were then deep snows: but that which discouraged me the most was my want of health, for if had that, it appeared as if could despise every difficulty. This my great infirmity often afflicted me in this Foundation. The cold was afterwards so little (at least that which suffered), that truly felt no more than did when was at Toledo. Our Lord has faithfully kept His word, according to what He told me in this matter.
In few days the license came, together with letters from Catalina de Toloso and her friend, Dona Catalina, begging me to make haste, as they feared some disturbance, because the Minims had then come there to found house, and likewise the relaxed Carmelite fathers had for some time been endeavouring to do the same little after, the fathers of St. Basil's Rule so many Orders" meeting together at the same time was great hinderance and remarkable circumstance but it gave us all an opportunity of praising our Lord for the great charity of this place, since the city willingly gave leave to all, though not possessing the property it used to have. had always heard the charity of this city commended, but never thought it was so great some favoured one Order, and some another; but the archbishop considered all the in conveniences that might happen, and provided against them accordingly, thinking so many poor Orders could not be maintained and perhaps the same Religious went to him, or the devil invented it, in order to prevent the great advantage God bestows on those places, where there are many monasteries, since He is just as able to support many as He is few.
These were the reasons why these holy women urged me to make such haste, and if consulted my own wish, should have gone immediately but other business had to settle detained me, for considered how much more obliged was not to lose so good an opportunity than they whom saw so industrious. The words had heard from our Lord gave me to understand should meet with great opposition, and knew not from whom, nor whence, for Catalina de Tolosa told me she had secured the house she lived in for taking possession, and the city was courteous, and so was the archbishop also and hence could not imagine whence this opposition would come which the devils were to raise, for never had the least doubt but that the words heard were from God. In word, His Majesty gives superiors greater light; for, writing on the subject to our Father-Provincial (as far as under stood it), he did not hinder my going, but only asked me if had the archbishop's license in writing. told him they had written to me from Burgos that the matter had been settled with the archbishop, that leave had been granted by the city, and the archbishop had approved it, so that his word could not be doubted in this business.
The Father-Provincial wished to accompany us to this Foundation, partly because he was not then occupied, having been preaching that Advent and he had also to visit Soria (which he had not seen since it was founded, for he went about but little), or else he wished to take care of my health on the journeys, for the season was extremely cold, and was old and infirm, but he thought my life was perhaps of some little importance. His company was certainly special providence of God, for the roads were such (on account of the heavy rains) that it was quite necessary for him and his compa nions to go and examine where we could pass, and to help us to pull out the waggons from the ruts,* espe cially between Palencia and Burgos for it was very bold of us to leave them were we did. But the truth is, our Lord told me, we might go, and that should not fear, for He would be with us," though did not then mention this to our Father-Provincial. But he consoled me in all the great afflictions and dangers which befel us, and especially the passage near Burgos called the Bridges," where the water had overflowed so much, and in so many places, that the bridges could not be seen, nor could we tell where we were going, for everything around seemed to be all water, and very deep it was on both sides. In word, it appeared great rashness to pass the way, and especially with the waggons, for had they missed ever so little, all would have been lost and one of them was in this danger.
We took a guide from an inn that was near, who knew the way, which was, however, very dangerous. And then as to our lodgings, they were very bad for as we could not make the usual day's journey on account of the badness of the roads (for very often the waggons stuck in the mire, so that we were obliged to take the horses from one waggon to pull another out), the father who accompanied us en dured great deal, for we chanced to meet with certain young drivers,* who were very careless. But the company of the Father-Provincial was great comfort, for he took care of everything; and he was also of siich mild disposition, that nothing seemed capable of troubling him hence what was great he lessened, so that it appeared little, though not the Bridges," for there, even he himself seemed afraid. And who would not fear, on entering into world of waters, without a path, or without a boat And though our Lord had strengthened me, yet could not help fearing: what then must my com panions have felt "VVe were eight in all, two who were to return with me, five who were to remain in Burgos (four being choir-nuns and one lay-sister) don't think have mentioned the name of the Father-Provincial: his name was Fray Geronimo Gracian de la Madre de Dios, ofwhom have often spoken before. All confessed in passing the bridges, and asked my blessing, and went on repeating the Creed. forced myself to comfort them, showing no discom posure, but cheerfully speaking to them thus, Cour age, my daughters what greater happiness can you wish, than, if needs be, here to become martyrs for the love of our Lord Let me alone, for will go first and if be drowned, earnestly beseech you not to pass on, but return back to the inn/ It pleased our Lord, that by my going first, secured the rest passage over." But went with violent distemper in my throat, which came upon me in my journey to Valladolid, and without my fever leaving me, so that was in extreme pain this made me not so sensible as used to be of the accidents of this journey. The malady has continued till now, which is the end of June: and though not so violent, yet it is very painful. All got over well pleased; for having escaped some danger, it is pleasure to speak of it afterwards. Suffering through obedience is great thing, especially for those who practise it so much as these nuns do.
Through the bad road we at length entered Burgos, wet with some heavy showers which fell little before. The Father-Provincial wished us to go first to our Lord Crucified, to recommend the business to him; and also that we might in the night Friday when we came, being the day after the Con version of St. Paul, the 26th of January. We had determined to open the house immediately, and had many letters with me from Canon Salinas (of whom spoke in the Foundation of Palencia, and whose exertions in this business were no less), and other eminent persons, begging their relations to assist this Foundation and they did so, for immediately the next day they came to see, as well as the magistrates of the city, who told us they were not at all sorry for the license they had granted, but were exceedingly delighted had come, and they asked me in what they could serve me. Now all our fear had been about the city we considered every thing as done and made easy and without any one knowing of our arrival (we could not reach the house of the good Catalina de Tolosa on account of the great rain), we intended to acquaint the arch bishop, in order that the first mass might be said as soon as possible and this used to do in most places but as we were so wet, we did not do it here.
That night we rested very well, being most kindly entertained by that holy lady; but it cost me severe afflictions, for as there was great fire, we stood by it to dry our clothes; and though the chimney was large, yet became so ill, that the next day could not lift up my head but lying on couch spoke to those who came, through grate in the window, before which we hung curtain: when was obliged to treat on business it was very painful for me. Early in the morning the Father Provincial went to ask blessing of the archbishop, thinking there was nothing else to be done. He found him so changed, and so displeased at my coming without his leave, as if he had never written or treated with me on the business, and so he told the father how exceedingly angry he was with me. And yet he admitted he had commanded me to come, though he only meant should come alone to settle the business, but not that should come with so many nuns. God deliver us from the displeasure the archbishop fell into when he was told that the business had already been settled with the city, as he had requested himself, and that nothing more remained to be done, but only the founding of the house, for that the bishop of Palencia (on my asking him if it were necessary for me to go without acquainting his grace) had told me it was not necessary, because the archbishop had desired such an undertaking all, however, that said was of little use. Thus the matter went on but it was God's will the house should be founded, for as his grace said afterwards, had we informed him of our coming at first, he would have forbidden us. At last he dismissed the Father-Provincial with this answer, that on no account would he grant us leave, unless we had revenue, and house of our own, and that it would be better for us to return. my Lord, how certain is he to be repaid with great affliction who does Thee some service, and what valuable reward is it for those who truly love Thee, if we could only understand its real value But we did not then wish such gain, because it would have rendered our design impossible. But he told us also, that the money which was to purchase house and serve as the revenue must not be taken from what the nuns had brought. But as we could not imagine how otherwise the matter could be settled, times being as they were, we clearly saw there was no remedy, though was not of this opinion for was always confident all was for the best, that these were impediments put in the way by the devil in order to prevent the foundation, and that God would succeed in His work. The Provincial returned very cheerful, for he was not at all disturbed. God so ordained, that he might not reprimand me for not having procured the license in writing, as he had advised me. There came here with me one of the friends (to whom Canon Salinas had written), and he and his friends thought proper to ask the archbishop's leave for mass to be said in the house, in order to avoid going through the streets, which were very dirty, and to go abroad barefooted appeared improper. The house in which we were had very good, convenient hall, which for more than ten years had been used by the Society of Jesus as church, when they first came to Burgos; we accordingly considered it convenient to take possession of this place, till we had house of our own. But the archbishop could never be persuaded to allow us to hear mass in it, though two cannons begged of his grace to grant us the favour. All that we could obtain from him was, that when we had revenue we might make Foundation there, till a house had been purchased and that for this purpose we must give security for purchasing one and for removing thence. We soon obtained security, for the friends of Canon Salinas offered security, and Catalina de Tolosa was ready to advance the revenue for the Foundation. In this business more than three weeks were spent and in the meantime we never heard mass except on festivals very early in the morning, and then was very ill with burning fever. But Catalina was so kind to us and treated us so well, and so willingly gave us all a month's diet, as if she were the mother of each one and we were placed in an apartment by ourselves. The Father-Provincial and his companions lodged in house of one of his friends, which had been part of college his friend's name was Doctor Manso, and he was canon of the cathedral. Our good father was greatly disturbed on seeing how much we were detained, and yet he did not like to leave us. The rent and the security having now been settled, the archbishop said the documents must be given to his secretary, who would immediately arrange the business. The devil did not fail to interfere herein for after we had considered everything and thought there was no further obstacle, and almost month had been spent in prevailing on the archbishop to be content with what had been done, the secretary sends me note, saying, That leave would not be granted until we had a house of our own that the archbishop did not wish us to make the Foundation where we were, because the place was damp and the street noisy that in getting security for the rent there had been many intrigues, &c. (as if the business had only then commenced), and that therefore no other answer could be expected, and that also the house must be approved by the archbishop."
When the Father-Provincial heard this, he was much displeased, and so were we all for, to purchase site for monastery every one knew required time he was also grieved to see us going out to hear mass, for (though the church was not great distance, and we heard mass in chapel where no one could see us), both to his reverence and to ourselves it was the greatest trial we had to endure. We agreed (as far as remember) to return back. But could not endure this thought, when remembered what our Lord had said to me, viz., That should labour for His sake and so took it for granted the business would be accomplished, that gave myself no further trouble about it. But the sadness of our Father-Provincial troubled me, and was sorry he had come with us, though he did know how greatly his friends were to assist us, as shall relate further on. Being in this affliction, and my companions in still greater (though their trouble did not disturb me, but only that of our father), our Lord said to me, not being in prayer, these words Now, Teresa, be courageous." immediately endeavoured more earnestly to persuade the Father-Provincial to depart and leave us (and His Majesty had already put the thought into his mind), for it was now near Lent, and he was engaged to preach.
He and some friends prevailed on certain persons to give us some rooms in the Hospital of the Conception, where the Most Blessed Sacrament was, and where also mass was said every day. This gave him some pleasure, though the business met with some little delay for widow had hired good chamber in the hospital, and though she did not intend to live in it till six months, yet she would not only not allow us the use of it, but was very angry that some rooms in the highest story next to the roof were given us, from which there was passage to her apartment and she was not content to have it locked outside, but nailed it up inside also. In addition to this, the brothers of the hospital were afraid we might get possession of it (a fear without any foundation, except that God permitted it for our greater merit) accordingly, they made the Father-Provincial and myself promise before notary and pledge ourselves to leave the place whenever they should com mand us. This appeared to me very hard, because as the widow was rich and had relations, was afraid we should have to remove whenever the fancy took her. But the Father-Provincial (being better advised) wished us to do whatever they desired, that so we might enter there as soon as possible. They gave us but one chamber and kitchen. But great servant of God, named Hernando de Hatanza, being governor of the hospital, he gave us two more rooms for locutory, and showed us much kindness, so indeed he did to every one, for he was very charitable to the poor. Francisco de Cuevas did the same also, and he took great care of the hospital, and was like wise chief postmaster in the place he always did for us whatever he could, as opportunity offered.
The present and future nuns ought to mention them in their prayers this obligation is much more due to founders and although my first intention was not that Catalina de Tolosa should be the foundress, nor had ever such thought, yet her good life deserved this favour from our Lord, who disposed things in such manner that this title cannot be refused her for, independent of her paying for the house, cannot tell what all the contradictions of the archbishop cost her for the bare thought that the house might not be founded was very great affliction to her, and she was never tired of showing kindness to us. The hospital was at great distance from her house, and almost every day she came to see us with great kindness, and sent us everything that we stood in need of however, people did not cease to spread reports about her, which, had she not courageous soul, were sufficient to make her give up everything. Seeing what she suffered gave me great trouble, because, although she sometimes concealed it, yet at other times she could not hide it, especially when they touched her conscience, which she always kept so pure, that though some persons have given her great provocations, yet she was never heard to utter any word offensive to God. They said, "She would go to hell; and that, having children, how could she act as she did?" She did everything by the advice of learned and spiritual persons, for (though she might desire to do otherwise), would not have consented thereto for anything in the world, nor have allowed her to do thing which she ought not to do, though the foundation of thousand monasteries might thereby be prevented, and how much more for the sake of one But as the means which were adopted were secret, was not astonished that people thought more of the matter. She answered all with such prudence, and with such patience, that it -appeared evident God had taught her the art of satisfying some, and of bearing with others and He gave her courage to endure every thing. how much more able are the servants of God to undertake great things than those of high extraction (if they are not servants of God), though the family of Catalina de Tolosa was not deficient in this respect, for she was of noble descent.
Let us return now to the subject. When the Father-Provincial had found us place to hear mass in, without being obliged to go abroad, he took courage, and went to Valladolid, where he was engaged to preach, though he was extremely afflicted not to see any ground of hope from the archbishop about the license indeed endeavoured to console him, but he would not believe me. And truly he had powerful reasons for thinking as he did (which need not mention) and if he had little grounds for hope, his friends had less, which only increased his sadness. After his departure was more cheerful, for (as have mentioned) his trouble gave me the greatest affliction. He commanded us to endeavour to purchase house of our own thing very difficult, for hitherto none could be found to suit us. Our friends took great interest in the matter (especially those of the Father-Provincial), and all agreed not to speak word on the subject to the archbishop until we had house of our own. His grace always said that he desired this foundation more earnestly than any one else and believe it, for he is good Christian, who would say nothing but the truth. In his actions, however, he did not manifest such desire, because he required things which were impossible according to our means all this was but scheme of the devil, to defeat the Foundation. But, Lord how easily do we see Thou art powerful The same means which he took to hinder the business, Thou madest use of to advance it. May Thou be for ever blessed.
From the time we entered the hospital, on the we continued seeking for house but not one could we purchase, as all were inconvenient. was told of one belonging to gentleman, which for long time had been on sale and though so many Orders had been looking for house, God was pleased that none of them should like this, at which all now wonder, and some even repent at not having purchased it. Two persons had spoken to me about this house but so many spoke against it, that thought no more of it, as being house not suitable. Being one day with the Graduate Aguilar (who was friend of our Father-Provincial, and who had taken great pains to find us house), he told me he had seen several, that he had not found one suitable in the whole city, and that it was impossible to do so, to judge by what was told. Fortunately, remembered the house we had refused, and considered that though it might be as inconvenient as it was represented, yet it might serve us in our present necessity, and afterwards we could sell it. This thought mentioned to Aguilar, and begged of him to do me the favour to go and see the place. He considered the suggestion worth attending to, for he had not seen the house. Accordingly, one day, though the weather was very rough and tempestuous, he went immediately to see it. There was tenant in it, who was not willing to sell it, neither would he show him the place but the situation, as far as he could judge, pleased him much accordingly, we resolved to purchase the house. The gentleman to whom it be longed was not in the city but he had given the power of selling it to priest, servant of God, whom our Lord inspired with desire of selling it to us, and of dealing with us in candour and honesty. We agreed that should go and see it. was so pleased with it, that had they asked twice as much as supposed we should give, would have made the bargain and it would not be great sum even then, for the landlord was offered as much about two years before, and he would not take it. The very next day both the priest and the graduate came, and the latter, hearing what the priest offered, wished the bargain to be immediately concluded. acquainted some friends with the circumstance, and they told me that if gave that sum, it would be five hundred ducats more than the house was worth. mentioned this to 'the graduate, but he thought the place was great bargain, though should give all that was asked. was also of the same opinion, and would not have hesitated, for thought it was very cheap but as the money belonged to the Order, had some scruples. This treaty about the purchase took place on the eve of our glorious father St. Joseph, before mass bade them meet again after mass, and then we should come to some conclusion. The graduate, being man of sound judgment, saw clearly that if the business began to be divulged, the house would cost great deal more, or perhaps not be purchased at all and so he used great diligence, and took the priest at his word, returning immediately after mass. We recommended the matter to God, who said to me, "Why do you stay for money?" giving me to understand that it was not well to do so. The sisters had very earnestly re quested St. Joseph that they might have a house of their own before his feast and though they did not think they would have one so soon, their prayers were heard. All importuned me to conclude the purchase and so it was, for the graduate found notary at the gate, which seemed special providence of God. He brought him in, and told me we must conclude the business he also sent for witnesses, and locked the hall-door, that so no one might know what we were doing (for this was his great fear) The sale was then concluded, with the usual precautions, on the eve of the glorious St. Joseph, and by means of the diligence and judgment of the good Aguilar.
No one thought it would be sold so cheaply but when it was known abroad, then many purchasers came forward and said that the priest who agreed to the bargain had given the property away, and that therefore the sale must be made over again, because it was an imposition the good priest suffered much on this account. Word was also sent to the owners of the house, who (as have said) were lady and gentleman of distinction; and they were so pleased their house had become monastery, that they ap proved of everything which had been done, though indeed they could not do otherwise. The next day the deeds were drawn up, and the third part of the money paid for the house, which the priest had de manded but in some things relating to the agreement they wronged us, all of which, however, we bore patiently. It may seem useless that should have spoken so long about purchasing this house; but truly they who have observed all the circumstances closely believed it to be miracle, both as regards the cheapness, and that so many Religious had examined the house, and yet were so blinded as not to take it and those who saw it wondered at them and blamed them and called them fools, as if they did not live in Burgos. Another monastery for nuns had also attempted Foundation, and sought house, nay, two there were, and one had only been lately founded, and the other had their house burnt down, and so the nuns left it. There was likewise another rich person that went about trying to erect monastery, and having short time before seen the house, and she refused to have it all these repented afterwards. The talk and rumours of the people were such, that we clearly saw what good reasons the graduate had for keeping the matter secret, and for using such diligence as he did for we may truly say that, after God, he gave us the house. solid judgment is of great use in everything; and as he had such an excellent understanding, and God had given him such good-will towards us, he succeeded in this undertaking. He spent above month in assisting us and arranging matters for our convenience, and this with little expense to us. It was evident our Lord had kept this house for Himself, for almost everything we found ready fitted for us. The truth is, as soon as saw how everything was as it were made for us, it seemed to me dream that every thing had been accomplished so quickly. how well has our Lord repaid us for all we suffered, by bringing us to such delightful place for it seemed no other with respect to the garden, the prospect, and the water. May He be for ever blessed. Amen. The archbishop was immediately informed of what had passed, and was much pleased we had succeeded so well, thinking that his breach of promise had been the cause, and he had reason. wrote to tell his grace how pleased was he was satisfied, and would make haste to fit the house up, that so he might grant me all the favours wanted. Having sent this letter, made haste to the house, having had some intimation that till certain writings were all drawn up, there would be some delay. We went accordingly, though the tenant was in the house (and there was some trouble in getting him out), and we dwelt in one of the apartments. Immediately was told the archbishop was highly offended at my doing so endeavoured to pacify him as well as could for being good man, though sometimes he was angry, yet it soon passed away. He was dis pleased also, when he heard we had grate and wheel, thinking these should not have been put up without his leave wrote to him, stating that did not wish to act arbitrarily, but that in Religious houses they were common; and as regarded the monastery, had not attempted so much as to set up cross there, and such was the truth. But in spite of all the good-will he showed us, he would not grant us the license. He came to see the house, and was much pleased with it, expressing great kindness for us, though not so much as to grant the license yet he gave us good hopes. What was required to be done was, that certain writings should be drawn up for Catalina de Tolosa, and we were afraid he would not grant us the license till the matter was settled. But Doctor Manso (the other friend of our Father-Provincial) was very intimate with the archbishop, and watched an opportunity to induce him to grant us the license and to remind him, for he was much troubled to see us so situated because even in the house (which had chapel for mass to be said for the owners) he would not allow mass to be said, so that on festivals and Sundays we were obliged to go and hear mass in church, which it was well was near at hand though from the time we went there to the erection of the monastery, about month passed, more or less. All the learned men said there was sufficient reason for the license; and the archbishop himself saw it, for he was good scholar but there seems to have been no other cause, except that our Lord wished we should suffer. bore this trouble patiently, but there was nun, who trembled, when passing through the street, with the pain it caused her. Drawing up the writings caused us no small trouble, for one time he required security, at another time the money, and many other difficulties he put in the way. In this respect the archbishop was not to be blamed, but only secretary who was much opposed to us, and who, had he not at that particular time been sent on journey by God, whereby another succeeded him, the business would never have been settled. how impossible is it to relate how much Catalina de Tolosa suffered in this business But she bore everything with such patience as to astonish me and she was never weary with providing for us. She furnished all the things necessary for the house, such as beds and many other things, for she had plenty of these at home and she would rather her own house should want something, than we anything that was necessary. Some who have founded monasteries for us have given much more wealth but not one has ever endured the tenth part of what she suffered and had she not had children, she would have given us all she could and she was so anxious to see the business finished, that whatever she did for this object seemed but little. When saw such delay, wrote to the bishop of Palencia, begging of him to write again to the arch bishop, who was then exceedingly displeased with his grace for he considered whatever the archbishop did to us, as done by himself and that which made us wonder was, that the archbishop never imagined he had wronged us in anything entreated him to write again, and tell his grace, that since we now had house, and what he desired was complied with, that he would at once bring the business to conclusion. He sent me an open letter to the arch bishop, written in such manner, that had given it to him, all our affair would-have been lost; accordingly, Doctor Menso (who was my confessor and adviser) would not allow me to present it, for though it was very civil, yet it told his grace some truths, which, considering the archbishop's temper, would only have made him more angry, for he was already offended at some things he had told him, though once they were great friends. Doctor Manso told me, that as by the death of our Lord, those became friends who were not so before; so now those who were once friends, now became enemies for my sake answered him that thereby he might see what kind of person was. To my thinking, acted with the greatest caution, in order that they might not fall out with each other therefore requested to write another milder letter to his Grace, representing to him the service he might do our Lord herein. He did what asked, which was great deal for when he saw it would be doing God service and me kindness (for indeed he had always been kind tome), he offered his assistance to me, and wrote me word, that whatever he had done for the Order was nothing in comparison with the desire he had to serve us. At length the letter came, which (seconded by the diligence of Doctor Manso) proved so effectual, that the archbishop granted us the license, and sent it to us by the good man Hernando de Matanza, who was greatly pleased to be the bearer. The sisters that day were more worn out than ever they had been, and Catalina de Tolosa could not be consoled but it seems our Lord wished us to be the most afflicted, just at the time wherein we were to be consoled and I, who never lost hope, was hopeless the evening before. Blessed and praised be His holy name for ever and ever. Amen. He gave Doctor Manso leave to say mass the next day, and to set up the most Blessed Sacrament there, and so he said the first but high mass was celebrated by the Father-Prior of St. Paul, who was Dominican (to which Order ours is much indebted, and also to the Society of Jesus). The prior sung mass with great solemnity, being attended by minstrels, who came of their own accord. All our friends were exceedingly glad, and almost the whole city likewise, for the people were quite grieved to see us so ill treated and what the archbishop did to us seemed so unjust, that often was more troubled at what heard against him, than at what had suffered from him. The joy of the good Catalina de Tolosa and of all the sisters was so great as to excite devotion in me, and said to God, What do these servants of thine desire, but to serve Thee and to see themselves, for Thy sake, enclosed in place whence they cannot come out He only who has experienced it can tell the pleasure which is felt in these Foundations, when we see ourselves in enclosure where no secular can enter; for however much we may love them, it cannot deprive us of the great pleasure we feel in seeing ourselves alone. It seems to me, just as if great many fishes were taken in net out of river, which could not live except they were thrown in again so in like manner, those souls who are ac customed to live in the currents of the waters of their Spouse, when they are drawn out and see the nets of this world, cannot truly live till they return back again. This observe in all the sisters, and know by experience, that those nuns who perceive in themselves desire of going abroad among seculars, or of conversing much with them, have not met with that living water of which our Lord spoke to the Samaritan, and that their Spouse has hid Himself from them and justly, since they are not con tent to be with him. This fear arises from two causes either because they did not embrace this state solely for God or after they had entered it, they do not acknowledge the great favour God bestowed upon them in choosing them for Himself, and delivering them from being subject to man who is often the cause of their death; and God grant he may not also be the cause of their soul's death. my Spouse, true God and man, is this favour that ought to be undervalued by us Let us praise Him, my sisters, for what he has done unto us, and let us never be tired with praising so great King and Lord, who has prepared for us kingdom that will never pass away, to reward us for slight labours (accompanied with thousand pleasures) which will shortly end. May He be blessed for ever. Amen. Some days after the house was founded, the Father-Provincial and myself thought that, from the revenue assigned by Catalina de Tolosa to this house, there might arise certain inconveniences which would expose us to lawsuit, and she might thereby be brought into some trouble we accordingly desired to trust more in God, rather than remain in state which might give her pain. So, for this and other reasons, meeting together in chapter, by the leave of the Father-Provincial, we all gave up the property she had given us, and returned the deeds. This was done very secretly, lest the archbishop might know of it, and consider himself injured thereby, though it was the house which would suffer for when it is known that the monastery is founded in poverty, there is no fear but all will help us whereas if we have revenue, there appears danger lest we should be without food for the present for after the death of Catalina de Tolosa, and by certain course which her two daughters have taken (who are this year to be professed in one of our monasteries at Palencia), having renounced their property when they were professed, that renunciation was now considered as nothing, and accordingly they made another renunciation in this house. To another daughter she had, who intended to take the habit here, she left the free disposal of her father's property, and of her own also, so much so, that we now have as much coming in as the re venue she gave us and all the inconvenience is, that the monastery will not immediately enjoy it; but it has always been my opinion the nuns would never want anything. For as our Lord provides for other houses that live on alms persons who assist them, so He will also do the same for these, or supply them with the means of supporting themselves. Though none was founded in this manner, yet sometimes have besought Him, that since His Majesty was pleased the house should be founded, He would order things so that the sisters might have what was necessary and was not willing to leave here, till had seen some persons admitted as nuns. And being one day thinking on this subject, after had communicated, our Lord said to me What do you doubt of This is already provided for and you may depart well enough giving me to understand they should not want necessaries. was then as content as if had left them large revenue, taking no more trouble about the matter. Immediately began to arrange about my departure, thinking did nothing but take pleasure in this house, which liked so well whereas in other places might do more good, though with more trouble. The archbishop and the bishop of Palencia remained very good friends, for the archbishop soon showed us great kindness, giving the habit to daughter of Catalina de Tolosa, and to another Religious who was admitted here and hitherto there have not been wanting persons to provide for us nor will our Lord suffer His spouses to want, if they serve Him as they ought to do and for this purpose may His Majesty grant them grace, through His abundant mercy and goodness. Amen. I think it proper to mention here how the nuns of St. Joseph of Avila, which monastery was the first that was founded (this Foundation comes in another place, and not in this book), being placed under obedience to the bishop, became subject to the Order. When it was founded, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, who is now bishop of Palencia, was then bishop of Avila, and all the time he lived there he favoured the nuns exceedingly and when we were placed under obedience to him, understood from our Lord that it was then expedient and it appeared so afterwards, for in all the troubles of the Order we found great assistance from him, and besides many other opportunities presented themselves, in which his affection was evident; he never would consent that the nuns should be visited by another priest, and he never did anything in the monastery except what desired him. time In this manner passed about seventeen years, more or less, for do not remember, and during this never thought of altering the obedience. These having expired, the bishopric of Palencia was given him and being then in the monastery of Toledo, our Lord told me it was expedient that the nuns of St. Joseph's monastery should be under obedience to the Order, and that should endeavour to effect this object, for unless it were accomplished, relaxations would soon creep into the house. But as had before understood that it was better obedience should be given to the bishop, thought herein was contradiction, and so knew not what to do. told it to my confessor, who is now the bishop of Osma, and very learned man. He said the difficulty was not great, for the one was expedient then, and the other now (and in many cases this has clearly been seen to be true), and he judged it best for that monastery to be as the rest, and not to be alone. He made me go to Avila, to consult on the matter when arrived, found the bishop of quite different opinion he would not in any way consent to the change but when told him some things which might prove prejudicial to the nuns, whom he tenderly loved, he thought more on the subject. And as he had an excellent judgment and our Lord assisted him, he thought on other reasons more weighty than those had mentioned, and therefore he resolved to do it and though certain priests told him the change would not suit, yet their reasons availed little. The votes of the nuns also were requisite, some of whom disliked the change, and thought it hard and painful but as they loved me, they agreed to the reasons which gave them, especially seeing that the bishop, to whom the Order was so much indebted, was removed, and could no longer remain with them. This greatly influenced them and thus business of so great importance was concluded for all clearly saw the house would have been ruined, had the contrary course been adopted. may the Lord be blessed, who with so great care protects His servants may He be for ever praised. Amen. (Saint Teresa of Avila, Foundations, August 25, 1573, pp. 218-246.)
It is difficult for most people today, used to endless distractions and side shows, to imagine the great spiritual and temporal industry that consumed the life of Saint Teresa of Avila, who persevered with a hearty sense of humor and an indomitable faith in all the tests that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ permitted her to undergo as a consecrated religious. Saint Teresa of Avila not only endured great obstacles in initiating her reform and establishing her foundations, being under suspicion of heresy and under attack as a false mystic throughout her endeavors, but was a prolific writer whose profundity was at times so poetic and magnificent that even she herself, possessed of the most remarkably honest self-knowledge a soul can have, recognized the need for a different style in writing Foundations.
William Thomas Walsh summarized the essence of one of her best known and influential works, Way of Perfection, in his Teresa of Avila. Mr. Walsh summarized Saint Teresa of Avila’s discussion of perfection in the interior life as follows:
The nuns were very curious to see what La Madre had been writing all these weeks and months, and were disappointed, naturally, when they were told that no one must see it but the confessor and Blessed John of Ávila. What a book she could write for her own daughters, to console them after she went to heaven, and to make sure that her work would be perpetuated! Knowing that she would never write another for the sake of mere “self-expression,” they begged Father Báñez to command her to set down her teachings for their especial benefit. He thought well of the idea, and Teresa, obedient as always, went to work again. In a few months, sitting on the cold floor by the canvas-covered window and leaning upon the stone ledge while all the rest were asleep, she composed the Camino de Perfección. Just as the Vida was the story of her interior conflict, this was the record of her influence upon others, the overflow of that inexhaustible energy with which she had inebriated herself at the waters of prayer, the communal, that is to say the completed aspect of the Christ life within her.
For the average reader, the Camino is the book with which to make the acquaintance of this radiant and joyous saint. Teresa had learned a great deal in writing her life story. A mind so keen and creative was bound to overcome certain faults almost unconsciously: to be more concise and pungent, to achieve a more simple and orderly arrangement, to avoid unnecessary repetitions of words and even of sentences. Again, the subject is of more general interest. Much as we admire the beauty and splendor of the best parts of the Vida, only advanced contemplatives can understand it. But the Camino is for all of us: we can begin to live it by desiring in all sincerity to be Christians. Although it was written for cloistered nuns, the genius of the author and the universal importance of practical Christianity have made it so alive and fascinating that only a very dull person could find it dull.
“The Way of Perfection!” The title itself – taken from a phrase in the Imitation, which was widely read in Spain under the name of Contemptus Mundi and was one on the little shelf at San José – suggests her purpose. She was not addressing contemplatives alone, for even in Carmel there were nuns who did not achieve the heights of prayer; she was writing for all who wished to be spiritually perfect, and perfection – which she desired for all the friends of Christ, and especially for priests – was possible without contemplation.
“Saint Martha was holy, although they don’t set her down as a contemplative; well, what more would you want than to get to be like this blessed woman who deserved to have Christ our Lord so often in her house, and to give Him food and serve Him, and perhaps to eat at her table, yes and from her own plate? If we are to set ourselves up as inebriated, like the Magdalen, there won’t be anyone to give the celestial Guest something to eat. Think then that this congregation is the house of Saint Martha, and that it has to be altogether so, and let not those who may be meant for the active life murmur at those who greatly intoxicate themselves in prayer, for generally it makes them careless of themselves and of everything.
“Let them remember that if they are silent, the Lord is going to make answer for them, and consider themselves lucky to go and prepare the dinner for him. Let them notice that true humility, I certainly believe, is chiefly in being very quick to be satisfied with what the Lord wishes to do with them, and always to find themselves unworthy to call themselves His servants. Well, then, whether it is to contemplate, or to have mental and vocal prayer, or to cure the sick, or to serve with the housework, or to labor with the desire to be in the very lowest – all is to serve the Guest Who comes to stay with us, and to eat and to refresh Himself. What business is it of ours whether we are in the one or the other?”
Christian perfection was not meant, however, to be limited to nuns. Christ wanted the whole human race to ask for it and to “notice that the Lord invited everybody; since He is truth, there is no doubting it. If it were not general, this invitation, God would not have summoned all men, and even if He did call them, He would not have said, ‘I will give you to drink.’ He could have said, ‘All come and in the end you will lose nothing; and to those who suit Me I will give to drink.’ But I hold it certain that this living water will not be lacking to all, without this condition, as I have said, if they don’t linger on the way.”
Perfection could be sought and gained, then, without contemplation. Contemplation was a gift of God, it was an awareness of heaven itself, and it would be bestowed on all who desired it. But not necessarily in this world. Some would get it only after death. Perfection, however, was attainable here; and Teresa was sure that it was meant for all who sincerely sought it. “ask, and you shall receive.”
Now, although a person might become perfect without contemplation, she could hardly dispense with mental prayer. This was possible for any Christian; and for a Carmelite it was sine qua non, whether she was to be a Mary or a Martha.
How then does one attain success in mental prayer? There are certain helps, says Teresa, such as fasting, penance, and silence. “Prayer and self-indulgence do not go together.” Above all, mental prayer requires (1) love and (2) detachment. Both of these are founded upon (3) humility, which in turn requires absolute (4) obedience. The whole book, then, is an elaboration of these four points, leading up to a magnificent treatise on the Pater Noster. Teresa deals with each of the four in turn, at great length, incisively, wittily, profoundly.
1. Love. Here she applies to conventual life the divine command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole mind, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The idea that runs through this discourse is that the love of God must always be kept foremost, and must never be sacrificed to any false or deceptive or unspiritual love of one’s neighbor. Excessive love of another individual is a great danger in a convent, though careless superiors sometimes think it is a virtue; it prevents one from loving all the sisters equally, and causes factions to form; it saps the will to love God, and it seems to be more hurtful to women than to men; it is a snare of the devil to attempt to ruin convents.
“Let us not consent, O sisters, that our will be slave of any one save Him who bought it with His blood; let them see to it that they don’t find themselves trapped, without knowing how, and unable to do anything about it. Oh, God help me! the childish follies that come from this are beyond calculation. And because they are so petty that only those who see it would understand it or believe it, there is no reason to speak of them here except to say that it will be bad for anyone, and in the prioress, a pestilence. In putting a stop to these partialities, great care is necessary from the very moment when the friendship begins; this more with industry and love than vigor. To remedy this, a great thing is not to be together except at the appointed hours, or to speak to one another, according to the custom which we now observe, which is not to be together, as the Rule commands, but each one separated in her cell. . . .
“As for loving one another, it seems an impertinent thing to recommend it, for what people are so boorish that, speaking always together and being in company, and not having to hold other conversations or other concerns or recreations with persons outside the house, they do not love one another? Especially as virtue always invites love, and this, with God’s favor, I hope in His Majesty will always be the case among those of this house. So, not much is to be recommended on this score, in my opinion”. . . .
2. Detachment, like love, must be perfect. Perfect detachment “includes everything else”; and Teresa begs any novice who feels that she lacks the fortitude to accept this with all it implies, to say so before her profession and to go elsewhere; for “there are other monasteries where perhaps the Lord is served much better.” Let her not, however, disturb “these little women whom His Majesty has gathered here for His service.”
Relatives are allowed to visit at San José for their own sake, not for that of the nuns. Let a sister consider herself “imperfect, not detached, not healthy, not truly free in spirit, and in need of a doctor” if she does not grow tired of her relatives on their second visit. The only cure for her is not to see them again until after many prayers she has the grace to feel perfectly independent of them, to feel in fact that their visits are a cross; then she may safely see them, now and then, for their own good. So long as she is deeply troubled by their troubles, and delights in their worldly success, she may be sure that she is injuring herself, and is doing them no good. “In this house, my daughters, we must be very careful to commend them to God, after our prayers for what concerns His Church, but beyond that, we must put them out of memory as much as we can. I have been much loved by them, so they say, and I know from my own experience and that of others, that apart from parents (who seldom fail to aid their children, and it is right not to be strangers with them, as detachment sometimes makes us do, when they need consolation, if we see it does not hurt our soul), my relatives, though they have seen me in difficulties, have helped me least of all in them; the servants of God, yes.
“Believe, friends, that if you serve Him as you ought, you will land no better friends than those whom His majesty will send you. And once resolved upon this, as you are here, seeing that in doing anything else you fail the true friend Christ, you will soon gain this liberty. Whoever tells you that something else is virtue, don’t believe it.”
Teresa enlarged upon this passage when she copied it later: “You can trust more in those who love you only for His sake than in all your relatives, and they will not fail you, and where you don’t expect it you will find fathers and brothers. What these do for us they do expecting pay only from God; the others expect it from us, and when they see us poor and unable to do anything for them, they quickly tire of us. And although this may not be always true, it most often happens here in the world; because in short, it is the world.” If a woman can attain detachment from her kin in no other way, it is right for her to go to some other country; however, in Teresa’s opinion, detachment is not so much a matter of bodily separation, as of the soul’s resolutely embracing the good Jesus, our Lord.”
Detachment from relatives, moreover, is not enough; we must become detached from ourselves. Otherwise we are like one who locks his doors against thieves, and leaves some of them in the house; “and have you not heard that the worst thief is the one inside the house?” Self-love must be got rid of if holy liberty is to be gained. Teresa suggests several ways to achieve this: (1) Constantly remember the vanity of all things, and how quickly they pass. (2) If we become attached to anything, no matter how small, turn the thoughts away from it to God, Who will then give aid with that true humility which is the inseparable sister of detachment – “whoever has these can go out and fight against all hell together and against the world and its temptations, and against the flesh.” Finally, (3) we must get rid of the love of these bodies of ours. This last is not easy, for some are “so dainty by disposition” and others are always thinking about their health. “Make up your minds, my daughters, that you came here to die for Christ and not to have a good time for Christ.”
The devil suggests that nuns must take care of themselves, if only to be able to observe their rule; the result is that some die without ever having observed it completely for a single month, or perhaps a single day. They need not fear that they will be indiscreet in denying themselves; their confessors will see to that, for “they think penances are going to kill us.” The worst offenders are those who go from one extreme to the other; they are seized with a mania to perform penances without rule or common sense, and this lasts two days, after which the devil puts it into their heads that it hurts them, and they give it up altogether, and fail even to keep such elementary items of the rule as “silence, which can do us no harm. As soon as we begin to imagine we have a headache, we stay away from the choir; one day because it aches, another because it has ached, and three more so that it will not ache.”
The prioress sometimes is at the mercy of a nun who asks for a dispensation from the rule, especially when some doctor supports the complaining one, and a friend or relative stands by weeping; even if the prioress sees through it, she has a scruple that she may be lacking in charity. “Oh, this complaining, God help me, among nuns – may He pardon me for saying it, but I fear it has become the custom. I once happened to see this: one of them insisted that she had a headache, and complained much of it; come to find out, it didn’t pain her much or little, but she had some pain somewhere else.”
It is a great imperfection to be always complaining of trifling ailments. Real illness, of course, is different, “Speak about it and take the necessary remedies.” Wherever prayer and charity exist, the nuns will note one another’s infirmities and insist on caring for them. But the petty indisposition from which women may suffer are often but fancies suggested by the devil. They come and go, and will never end unless they stop talking about them. This habit leads to the relaxation of monasteries. “This body has one fault, that the more people pamper it, the more its wants are made known. It is a strange thing how much it likes to be indulged. How well it finds some good pretext to deceive the poor soul! . . . Remember how many sick people are poor and have no one to complain to; for poor women and pampered women together don’t make sense. Remember also the many married women, I know there are some, and persons of quality, who, with serious illnesses, and with heavy trials too, don’t dare to complain lest they give annoyance to heir husbands. Sinner that I am, no, we did not come here to be better treated than they. Oh, you who are free from the great troubles of the world, learn to suffer a little for the love of God without everyone’s knowing it! . . .
What will happen if this is read outside of this house? What will all the monasteries think of me? . . . But as this is only for my daughters, everything can be excused. And remember our holy fathers of past times and holy hermits whose life we try to imitate; what pains they endured, what loneliness, what cold, what hunger, what burning suns, without having anyone to complain to except to God. Do you think that they were of iron? No, they were as much of flesh as we are; and as soon as we begin, daughters, to conquer this little carcass, it will not bother us so much. . . . if you don’t make up your mind to swallow, once and for all, death and loss of health, you will never do anything. Try not to fear it, and leave all to God, and let come what may come. . . .”
Detachment is not complete with outward mortification – fasting, labor, silence, enclosure, and so on; there must also be interior mortification, what Teresa calls la vida nonada, “the nothing life,” the life which asks not even for trifling enjoyments, the utter subjection of the body to the spirit. “It semes to me that anyone who really commences to serve God, the least he can offer Him after the gift of his will, is the vida nonada. Plainly, if he is a true religious and a true man of prayer, and wants to enjoy the sweetnesses of God, he must not turn his back on the desire to die for him and to undergo martyrdom. Well, don’t you know, sisters, that the life of the true religious, or of one who wants to be among the intimate friends of God, is one long martyrdom? Long, because compared to cutting off your head all of a sudden it can be called long, but it is all short, life, and some very short indeed. Well, then, there is no need of bothering about something that has an end, and much less so of life, for we are not sure of a single day; and considering that each day is our last one, who would not toil to make the most of it if he thought he would not live another” . . . .
Having thus set up the board, Teresa vigorously comes to grips, in the next chapters, with the real theme of the book, which is contemplation. Let them not believe that this means meditation. Meditation is only a step, and one that all Christians must begin with; but contemplation is quite another thing. For true contemplation, mental prayer is necessary, and this demands a striving for the highest virtues. Sometimes God shows great favors to people whose souls are in an evil state (she is not thinking here of people in the state of mortal sin), and even grants them visions; but she cannot believe He would raise them to contemplation; “for in that divine union, in which the Lord delights Himself with the soul and the soul with Him, there is no way for a filthy soul to enjoy the purity of the heavens, and for the joy of the angels to delight in what is not His.”
Yet God sees that he can attract certain souls, still imperfect; and to such He sometimes grants contemplation, though for a short time and rarely. They must prepare themselves to enjoy Him more often. Many, in fact, are called to contemplation, and only a few respond. Those who do not are left to mental prayer – these are the servants in His vineyard; but those who do are His beloved children, and He seats them at His own table, feeds them, and “even takes food out of His own mouth to give them.” These are safe in His arms. What does it matter if the world blames and abuses them? He will never permit them to be spoken against unless for their own greater good. Why should Christians look anywhere else except to Christ, the Way? It is not Christian to be wounded over some little point of honor. Seek nothing less than perfection. “God deliver you, sisters, from saying, when you have done something that is not perfect. ‘We are not angels, we are not saints.’ Though we are not, it is the greatest help to believe that with God’s aid we can be. This sort of presumption I want to see in this house, for it makes humility increase; always have courage, for God gives it to the strong and is no respecter of persons, and He will give it to you and to me.”
All nuns, as we have seen, need not be contemplatives. The one who achieves perfection without it may have greater merit, but she has to work harder, and the Lord is treating her like a valiant woman, and is saving for her all she does not enjoy in this life. Let her have courage and continue her mental prayer. One old nun of La Madre’s acquaintance could never even attain to mental prayer; the best she could do was to pause a little between the Ave Maria and the Pater Noster in saying her rosary; yet she was very holy. In a way such souls are safer, for we cannot tell whether spiritual delights come from God or from the devil. If they are not divine, they are a dangerous trap of Satan to incite pride. Nor is it for each one to choose whether she will be a Mary or a Martha. “Let the Lord of the house do that, He is wise, He is powerful, He understands what is suitable for you and what is suitable for Him also.” It is well the decision does not rest with us, she adds – we should all become great contemplatives, and there would be no Marthas! (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 266-269; 274-278; 282-283.)
In other words, we must love God as He has revealed Himself to us through His Catholic Church above all things and thus be detached from the things, people, and places of this passing, mortal vale of tears. To reach perfection, however, it is necessary to persevere in prayer. True meditative contemplation is granted to but a handful, but mental prayer is accessible to her. No prayer is ever wasted. No prayer is not heard by God, Who will dispose of our prayers as He sees fit, and this must be enough for the soul who truly loves Him and wishes to do His will promptly and in all things.
Saint Teresa’s spiritual masterpiece, of course, was The Interior Castle and Mansions, a book that has provided the basis for the direction given by countless spiritual directors and has illumined the souls of even the simplest of men.
William Thomas Walsh summarized the major points of The Interior Castle and Mansions as follows in Teresa of Avila:
If ever there was a book with the stamp of divinity upon it, it is The Interior Castle and Mansions. In lucidity and sublimity, in the harmonious marriage of thought, feeling, and phrase it has been compared to the Paradiso of Dante. The plan is as carefully and symmetrically worked out as his, the effect more powerful and unforgettable. Poets have praised its jewel-like similes, and Thomists have found it in accord at every point with the lofty teaching of Saint Thomas. Teresa had learned a great deal about writing since the Camino, and even more since the ponderous, involved, and repetitious paragraphs that clothed the lovely gems of the Autobiography. Here all is concise, vigorous, coherent, inevitable.
Where is God to be found? She asks, in effect. And going back to the illuminating thesis she had got from Fray Francisco de Osuna’s Tercer Abecedario the year she went to Becedas, she answers confidently, “within ourselves.”
The human soul, then, is like a beautiful castle, containing many mansions, in the very center of which the Divine Majesty is enthroned. Souls in mortal sin cannot enter the palace, but remain outside among the foul crawling things – servants of the devil, blackened in their living death, incapable of producing any good. It was once revealed to her in a vision that anyone who realized the effects of mortal sin would endure all conceivable torments rather than commit one. These unfortunates are excluded forever, unless of course they repent and are forgiven. The castle is entered only by those in a state of grace, and through the gate of prayer and meditation.
1. In the first mansion are those who, though free from mortal sin, are deeply entangled in the cares and vanities of the world, “think about their souls every now and then,” pray a few times a month, and are followed into the building by reptiles that disturb their peace and keep them from seeing its beauty.
2. Here are souls who have begun to have the self-knowledge necessary for progress, and to practice prayer. They hear our Lord calling them, through sermons, good works, or words of pious people, through sickness and trouble, yet they do not avoid the occasions of sin, they commit venial sins, and they are fiercely attacked by the devil, so that they suffer more than those in the first mansion – all the more so if the devil sees they are capable of great spiritual progress, for then all hell will league together to stop them. They must associate with spiritual persons, especially with more advanced ones, and resolve never to submit to defeat, but to embrace the Cross of Christ as an invincible weapon, with no ignoble thought of rewards, and to conform their will to the will of God.
3. Now we come to those who try to avoid even venial sins, who love penance, give hours to meditation, spend their time well, perform acts of charity, govern their households well if they have any, are well ordered in dress and conversation. Yet, like the rich young man in the gospel, they still love themselves so much they cannot yet embrace the lonely way to perfection, they are not yet beyond the danger of following that chosen youth who “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Here through our faults we learn the indispensable virtue of humility, which is more necessary even than penance and mortifications. Teresa knew many souls who reached this third mansion and remained there, apparently contented, for many years; yet even under moderate trials they sometimes grew fearful and disheartened, and having practiced virtue so long, they felt no need of advice from others. It was no use arguing with them; they thought their conduct holy, and wanted others to agree with them. A person who had enough to live on, and still strove to gain more and more property, could not possibly enter the mansions near the King, however good his intentions and his life; nor could those who could not endure contempt or want of respect. Their penances were as well regulated as their households; they would never be indiscreet in their mortifications, lest they injure their health. “Have no fear that they will kill themselves.” Those in this mansion who wish to go further should practice prompt obedience. Even if not in the religious state, they should choose a director, and follow his will implicitly – and not a prudent person after their own minds, but one wholly detached from worldly things. Unless they go forward, they are still in danger of returning, under persecution or temptation, to the first mansion.
4. The fourth mansion is on a distinctly higher plane, and so full of subtle beauties that it is impossible to explain them to those who have not experienced them. The poisonous reptiles rarely enter here, and if they do, they do more good than harm, for the souls are so solidly established in grace that temptations usually make them stronger. Here the prayer of quiet is experienced and with it sensible devotion and sweetness, such as Teresa first felt when she began to weep over the Passion and could not stop until she had a severe headache. It is not so important here to think much as to love much, and this consists not so much in greater sweetness of devotion as in the greater determination to try to please God in everything, “and to endeavor, so far as we can, not to offend Him, and to ask Him that the honor and glory of His Son and the growth of the Catholic Church may always go forward. These are the signs of love, and do not think it is the thing not to think of anything else, and that if your thoughts wander a little, everything is going to ruin.”
All involuntary distractions are to be ignored. For example, said Teresa, “while writing this, I am thinking of what is going on in my head from the great noise of it, as I said in the beginning, which makes it almost impossible for me to do what they commanded me to write. It seems as if there were nothing in it but many swollen rivers, and on the other hand that these waters were rushing over a precipice; many little songbirds and whistles, and not in my ears, but in the upper part of the soul. And I have been thinking for quite a long time that [it is because] the great upward movement of the spirit increases with velocity . . . and it will not be anything much if the Lord has wished to give me this head trouble, to understand it better: for with all its hurly-burly, it doesn’t hinder me from prayer or from what I am now saying, but my soul stays quite complete in its quiet and love and desires and clear understanding . . . and so it is not well that we should trouble ourselves over our thoughts, or pay any attention to them; for if the devil suggests them, it will cease with this; and if it is, as it is, from the misery that remains with us from the sin of Adam, with many others, let us have patience and suffer it for the love of God; since we are also subject to eating and sleeping, without being able to avoid it, which is trouble enough.”
5. This is the mansion of the prayer of union. Once more she attempts to explain how this differs from the prayer of quiet. The prayer of quiet seems to touch only the surface of the body, that of union to penetrate to the very marrow. Genuine union is beyond the interference of the devil. The test of it is that while it lasts the sense of seeing, hearing, and understanding are suspended, that God’s presence is so manifested that it cannot be doubted, and that the effects are always to increase devotion, detachment, humility, love of God and our neighbor. She distinguishes between various kinds of union, all of which are beyond human power to achieve, a free gift of God. This state is like the preliminaries to a betrothal, a visit to discuss what is to come.
6. Souls in this mansion suffer more than before, but enjoy greater favors. She enumerates some of the afflictions, as she herself endured them, and describes a more than compensating prayer that wounds the soul with exquisite burning love. Here as elsewhere she distinguishes carefully between the false and the true. The divine communications carry power and authority with them; such words as “It is I, be not afraid” will give the soul a certainty of being freed from all fears and troubles, and leave joy, peace, and virtue, while locutions proceeding from the imagination or melancholy bring no conviction, peace, or interior joy. Trances, raptures, and ecstasies are all essentially the same. She describes and analyzes them with masterly precision. In true rapture even the breathing sometimes ceases. No one who wishes to understand what raptures are should fail to read this chapter; she covered the subject so completely and admirably that John of the Cross, with all his knowledge of it, said it would be superfluous to include it in his own works. In this mansion the soul laments her past sins. In every mansion it is necessary to meditate on the Sacred Humanity of Christ, especially in the Passion. The desire to die and to see God is sometimes so strong as to endanger health and even life. Here the soul is betrothed to God, with indescribable joys and trials.
7. This is the most interesting part of the book, not only because it describes the loftiest spiritual experiences know to a human being, but because of its biographical value, for Teresa herself had certainly reached the sublime stage in this, the sixty-second year of her life; and never, perhaps, since the letters of Saint Paul, has a more remarkable personal record been penned. Here the soul enjoys nothing less than a marriage to the Divinity. Previously, in the prayer of union our Lord had united the spirit to Himself by making it blind and dumb, to prevent it from knowing how or why it has such supreme delight. Now He removes the scales from her eyes, letting her see and understand something in an intellectual vision. The Three Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity reveal themselves, following a mysterious illumination that bathes the soul in light. A sublime knowledge is infused into her. What she held by faith, she now understands, so to speak, by sight, though not by the eyes of the body or of the soul. The Three Persons never depart. The effect of this presence is to make the soul far more active in all that concerns God’s service. She improves in all the virtues. At last comes spiritual marriage, in which God appears in the very center of the soul, not by an imaginary but by an intellectual vision far more mysterious and sublime than before.
To make clear the difference between spiritual betrothal and spiritual marriage, Teresa resorts again to similes. The union of betrothal may be symbolized by two wax candles whose flames mingle and become one, yet can be separated again. But spiritual marriage is “as if water is falling from the sky into a river or fountain, where it remains all one water, which they can no longer divide, or distinguish which is the water of the river, which fell from the sky; or as if a little brook enters the sea, there will be no way to separate them; or as if in a room there were two windows through which great light enters; although it enters divided, it is made all one light. Perhaps this is what Saint Paul spoke of: ‘He who is joined to and arrives at God, is made on spirit with Him,’ referring to this sovereign matrimony, which supposes His Majesty to have come to the soul by union – and he also says: ‘Mihi vivere Christus est, mori lucrum.’ This I think the soul can say here, for this is where the little moth we have spoken of dies, and with the very greatest joy, for her life now is Christ.”
This marriage has the following effects on the soul: (1) a self-forgetfulness so complete that she appears not to exist; (2) a stronger desire for suffering, with joy when persecuted, and such love of enemies that she grieves at seeing them in trouble and does all she can to relieve them; (3) a desire of serving God and making others do so, instead of a wish to die; (4) a desire to be always alone or occupied on what benefits others. Here ecstasies – and Teresa was astonished to discover this – become rare, and even then they are not like former trances and “the flight of the spirit,” and seldom occur in public. Finally (she is always returning to this thought) these high favors were given to help men to imitate Christ, hence they always produce a more intensely active life. It was always those nearest to Christ who bore the heaviest crosses. His Mother, for example, and the Apostles. (William Thomas Walsh, Teresa of Avila, published originally in 1943 by the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and republished by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, 1987, pp. 483-488.)
We need to pray to Saint Teresa of Avila to beg Our Lady for the graces necessary to climb the staircase of perfection and not to remain lukewarm or, worse yet, indifferent to the necessity of making real progress in the interior life. Saint Teresa’s writings provide one with a lifetime of advice of the sort that is necessary to be reminded again and again and again. This incredible mystic, indomitable reformer, founder of convents, directress of souls, confidante of bishops and priests, and victim-soul of a saint must serve as inspiration to each of us in our daily lives.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., offered his own summary of the life and work of the incomparable Madre de Jesus, Saint Teresa of Jesus:
Although the Church triumphant in heaven, and the Church mourning here on earth appear to be completely separated,” says Bossuet on this feast, “they are nevertheless united by a sacred bond. This bond is charity, which is found in this land of exile as well as in our heavenly country; which rejoices the triumphant Saints and animates those still militant; which, descending from heaven to earth, and from Angels to men, causes earth to become a heaven, and men to become Angels. For, O holy Jerusalem, happy Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, although the Church thy dear sister, who lives and combats here below, ventures not to compare herself with thee, she is not the less assured that a holy love unites her to thee. It is true that she is seeking, and thou possessest; that she labors, and thou art at rest; that she hopes, and thou rejoicest. But among all these differences which separate the two so far asunder, there is this at least in common: that what the blessed spirits love, the same we mortals love. Jesus is their life, Jesus is our life; and amid their songs of rapture, and our sighs of sorrow, everywhere are heard to resound these words of the sacred Psalmist: It is good for me to adhere to my God.”
Of this sovereign good of the Church militant and triumphant, Teresa, in a time of decadence, was commissioned to remind the world, from the height of Carmel restored by her to its pristine beauty. After the cold night of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the example of her life possessed a power of irresistible attraction, which survives in her writings, drawing predestined souls after her in the footsteps of the Divine Spouse.
It was not, however, by unknown ways, that the Holy Spirit led Teresa; neither did she, the humble Teresa, make any innovations. Long before, the Apostle had declared that the Christian’s conversation is in heaven; and we saw, a few days ago, how the Areopagite formulated the teaching of the first century. After him we might mention St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and many other witnesses from all these churches. It has been said, and proved far more ably than we could prove it, that “no state seems to have been more fully recognized by the Fathers than that of perfect union, which is achieved in the highest contemplation; and in reading their writings, we cannot help remarking the simplicity with which they treat of it; they seem to think it frequent, and simply look upon it as the full development of the Christian life.”
In this, as in all else, Scholasticism followed the Fathers. It asserted the doctrine concerning these summits of Christian life, even at a time when the weakness of faith in the people scarcely ever left full scope to divine charity, save in the obscurity of a few unknown cloisters. In its own peculiar form, the teaching of the School was unfortunately not accessible to all; and moreover the abnormal character of that troubled epoch affected even the mystics that still remained.
It was then that the Virgin of Avila appeared in the Catholic kingdom. Wonderfully gifted by grace and by nature, she experienced the resistances of the latter, as well as the calls of God, and the purifying delays and progressive triumphs of love; the Holy Ghost, who intended her to be a mistress in the Church, led her, if one may so speak, by the classical way of the favors he reserves for the perfect. Having arrived at the mountain of God, she described the road by which she had come, without any pretension but to obey him who commanded her in the name of the Lord. With exquisite simplicity and unconsciousness of self, she related the works accomplished for her Spouse; made over to her daughters the lessons of her own experiences; and described the many mansions of that castle of the human soul, in the center of which, he that can reach it will find the holy Trinity residing as in an anticipated heaven. No more was needed: withdrawn from speculative abstractions and restored to her sublime simplicity, the Christian mystic again attracted every mind; light re-awakened love; the virtues flourished in the Church; and the baneful effects of heresy and its pretended reform were counteracted.
Doubtless Teresa invited no one to attempt, as presumptuously as vainly, to force an entrance into the uncommon paths. But if passive and infused union depends entirely upon God’s good pleasure, the union of effective and active conformity to the divine Will, without which the other would be an illusion, may be attained with the help of ordinary grace, by every man of good will. Those who possess it, “have obtained,” says the Saint, “what it was lawful for them to wish for. This is the union I have all my life desired, and have always asked of our Lord; it is also the easiest to understand, and the most secure.”
She added however: “Beware of that excessive reserve, which certain persons have, and which they take for humility. If the king deigned to grant you a favor, would it be humility to meet him with a refusal? And when the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth deigns to honor my soul with his visit, and comes to lead me with graces, and to rejoice with me, should I prove myself humble if I would not answer him, nor keep him company, nor accept his gifts, but fled from his presence and left him all alone? A strange sort of humility is that! Look upon Jesus Christ as a Father, a Brother, a Master, or a Spouse; and treat him in one or other of these ways; he himself will teach you which is the one that best pleases him and that it behooves you to choose. And then, be not so simple as to make no use of it.”
But it is said on all sides: “This way is beset with snares: such a soul was lost in it; such a one went astray; and another, who ceased not to pray, could not escape a fall … —See the inconceivable blindness of the world. It has no anxiety of those thousands of unfortunate creatures who, entirely strangers to the path of prayer, live in the most horrible excess; but if it happens, by a misfortune deplorable no doubt but very rare, that the tempter’s artifices seduce a soul the prays, they take advantage of this to inspire others with the greatest terror, and to deter them from the holy practices of virtue. Is he not the victim of a most fatal error, who believes it necessary to abstain from doing good in order to avoid doing evil? You must rise above all these fears. Endeavor to keep your conscience always pure; strengthen yourself in humility; tread under foot all earthly things; be inflexible in the faith of our mother the holy Church; and doubt not, after that, that you are on the right road.” It is too true that “when a soul finds not in herself that vigorous faith, and her transports of devotion do not strengthen her attachment to holy Church, she is in a way full of perils. The Spirit of God never inspires anything that is not conformable to holy Scripture; if there were the slightest divergence, that, of itself alone, would suffice to prove so evidently the action of the evil spirit, that were the whole world to assure me it was the divine Spirit, I would never believe it.”
But the soul may escape so great a danger by questioning those who can enlighten her. “Every Christian must, when he is able, seek out a learned guide; and the more learned the better. Such a help is still more necessary to persons given to prayer; and in the highest states, they have most need of it. I have always felt drawn to men eminent for doctrine. Some, I grant, may not have experimental knowledge of spiritual ways; but if they have not an aversion for them, they do not ignore them; and by the assistance of holy Scripture, of which they make a constant study, they always recognize the true signs of the good Spirit. The spirit of darkness has a strange dread of humble and virtuous science; he knows it will find him out, and thus his stratagems will turn to his own loss … I, an ignorant and useless creature, bless thee, O Lord, for these faithful servants of thine, who give us light. I have no more knowledge than virtue; I write by snatches, and even then with difficulty; this prevents me from spinning, and I live in a poor house where I have no lack of occupations. The mere fact of being a woman and one so imperfect, is sufficient to make me lay down the pen.”
As thou wilt, O Teresa: deliver thy soul; pass beyond that, and with Magdalene, at the recollection of what thou callest thine infidelities, water with thy tears the feet of our Lord, recognize thyself in St. Augustine’s Confessions! Yes; in those former relations with the world, although approved by obedience; in those conversations, which were honorable and virtuous: it was a fault in thee, who wast called to something higher, to withhold from God so many hours which he was inwardly urging thee to reserve for him alone. And who knows wither thy soul might have been led, hadst thou continued longer thus to wound thy Spouse? But we, whose tepidity can see nothing in thy great sins but what would be perfection in many of us, have a right to appreciate, as the Church does, both thy life and thy writings; and to pray with her, on this joyful day of thy feast, that we may be nourished with thy heavenly doctrine and kindled with thy love of God.
According to the word of the divine Canticle, in order to introduce Teresa into his most precious stores the Spouse had first to set charity in order in her soul. Having, therefore, claimed his just and sovereign rights, he at once restored her to her neighbor, more devoted and more loving than before. The Seraph’s dart did not wither nor deform her heart. At the highest summit of perfection she was destined to attain, in the very year of her blessed death, she wrote to the Prioress of Seville, Mary of St. Joseph: “If you love me much, I love you equally, I assure you; and I like you to tell me the same. Oh! how true it is, that our nature inclines us to wish for return of love! It cannot be wrong, since our Lord himself exacts a return from us. It is an advantage to resemble him in something, were it only in this.” And elsewhere, speaking of her endless journeys in the service of her divine Spouse, she says: “It cost me the greatest pain when I had to part from my daughters and sisters. They are detached from everything else in the world, but God has not given them to be detached from me; he has perhaps done this for my greater trial, for neither am I detached from them.”
No; grace never depreciates nature, which, like itself, is the Creator’s work. It consecrates it, makes it healthy, fortifies it, harmonizes it; causes the full development of its faculties to become the first and most tangible homage, publicly offered by regenerated man to Christ his Redeemer. Let anyone read that literary masterpiece, the Book of the Foundations, or the innumerable letters written by the seraphic Mother amid the devouring activity of her life; there he will see whether the heroism of faith and of all virtues, whether sanctity in its highest mystical expression, was ever prejudicial—we will not say to Teresa’s constancy, devotedness, or energy—but to that intelligence, which nothing could disconcert, swift, lively, and pleasant; to that even character, which shed its peaceful serenity on all around; to the delicate solicitude, the moderation, the exquisite tact, the amiable manners, the practical good sense, of this contemplative, whose pierced heart beat only by miracle, and whose motto was: To suffer or to die!
To the benefactor of a projected foundation she wrote: “Do not think, sir, that you will have to give only what you expect; I warn you of it. It is nothing to give money; that does not cost us much. But when we find ourselves on the point of being stoned, you and your son-in-law, and as many of us as have to do with this affair (as it nearly happened to us at the foundation of St. Joseph’s at Avila), Oh! then will be the good time!” It was on occasion of this same foundation at Toledo, which was in fact very stormy, that the Saint said: “Teresa and three ducats are nothing; but God, Teresa, and three ducats, there you have everything.”
Teresa had to experience more than mere human privations: there came a time when God himself seemed to fail her. Like Philip Benizi before her, and after her Joseph Calasanctius and Alphonsus Liguori, she saw herself, her daughters, and her sons, condemned and rejected in the name and by the authority of the Vicar of Christ. It was one of those occasions, long before prophesied, when it is given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them. We have not space to relate all the sad circumstances; and why should we do so? The old enemy had then one manner of acting, which he repeated in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and will always repeat. In like manner, God has but one aim in permitting the evil, viz: to lead his chosen ones to that lofty summit of crucifying union, where he, who willed to be first to taste the bitter dregs of the chalice, could say more truly and more painfully than any other: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year.)
The Divine Office provides us with a more prosaic summary of Saint Teresa of Avila’s life:
The virgin Theresa was the daughter of a father and mother, equally honourable on account of their birth and of their godliness, (and was born) at Avila (in the kingdom of Old Castile) in Spain, (on the 28th day of March, in the year of our Lord 1515.) She was brought up from the dawn of her life in the fear of God, and when still only seven years old she gave a startling fore-cast of the holy earnestness of her later years. The reading of the acts of the holy martyrs so inflamed and excited her imagination, that she ran away from her father's house, with the design of going to Morocco and the hope there to lay down her life for the glory of Christ Jesus and the salvation of souls. (Upon the bridge over the Adaja, near the town,) she was met by an uncle and brought back to her mother, and was fain to slake her thirst for martyrdom by giving to the poor all the alms she could, and by other godly exercises, though still ever bewailing with tears that the highest prize had been snatched from her. (In the twelfth year of her age,) her mother died, and she besought the Most Blessed Virgin to be a mother to her in her stead. This she gained; thenceforth she lived always as a daughter under the shelter of the Mother of God. In the twentieth year of her age she withdrew herself among the nuns of St. Mary of Mount Carmel. There she dwelt for two-and-twenty years, tormented by grievous sicknesses and diverse temptations, and so bravely served her time in the hardest ranks of Christ's army, starved even of that comforting knowledge of God's reconciled love, wherein His holy children are so commonly used even upon earth to rejoice.
Strengthened in the graces of an angel, the wideness of her love embraced in its tender care the salvation of other souls as well as of her own. To this end, under the blessing of God, and the approbation of Pius IV., she set, first before women and then before men, the observance of the stern Rule of the Old Carmelites. The blessing of the Almighty and merciful Lord did indeed rest most evidently upon this design. This penniless virgin, helped by no man, and in the teeth of many that were great in this world, was enabled to build two-and-thirty houses. The darkness of unbelievers and misbelievers drew from her unceasing tears, and she willingly gave up her own body to God to be tortured, to soften the fury of His indignation against them. His own love so blazed in her heart that she attained to see an Angel run her through with a fiery spear, and Christ Himself take her by the hand, and to hear Him say Henceforth thou shalt love Mine honour as a wife indeed. At His inspiration she took the extremely difficult vow to do always that which should seem to her to be most perfect. She wrote much, full of heavenly wisdom, whereby the minds of the faithful are enkindled to long for the Fatherland above.
Earnest as were the examples of graces which she had shown, and grievous as was the state of her body, afflicted by disease, she still burnt with the desire of tormenting it. She tortured it with sackcloth, chains of spikes, handfuls of nettles, and heavy scourging. She rolled herself sometimes among thorns, and was used to cry to God "Lord! to suffer or to die." As long as she remained exiled from the heavenly Fountain of eternal life, her life was to her a lingering death. She was eminent for the gift of prophecy, and God did indeed so pour forth His bounties upon her, that she often cried to Him in entreaty not to bless her so as to make her forget her sins. It was worn out rather by the fever of her love than by the wasting of disease that she sank upon her deathbed at Alba. She foretold the day of her own death, received the Sacraments of the Church, and exhorted her disciples to peace, love, and strictness in observing the Rule, and then her soul, like a pure dove, winged its flight to rest with God, on the 15th day of October in the year 1582, being then 67 years of age. At her death she had a vision of Christ Jesus surrounded by Angels. A dead tree hard by the cell instantly broke into foliage. Her body is untouched by corruption even unto this day, and lieth in a sort of perfumed oil, regarded with godly reverence. She was famous for miracles both before and after her death, and was numbered by Gregory XV. among the Saints. (Matins, The Divine Office, Feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus.)
We should, as always, make Dom Prosper Gueranger’s prayer in honor of Saint Teresa of Avila our own:
The Beloved, who revealed himself to thee, O Teresa, at death, thou hadst already found in the sufferings of this life. If anything could bring thee back to earth, it would be the desire of suffering yet more. “I am not surprised,” says Bossuet speaking in thy honor on thy feast, “that Jesus willed to die: he owed that sacrifice to his Father. But why was it necessary that he should spend his days, and finally close them, in the midst of such great pains? It is because, being the Man of sorrows, as the Prophet calls him, he would live only to endure; or, to express it more forcibly by a beautiful word of Tertullian’s: he wished to be satiated, before dying, with the luxury of suffering: Saginari voluptate patientiæ discessurus colebat. What a strange expression! One would think, according to this Father, that the whole life of our Savior was a banquet, where all the dishes consisted of torments. A strange banquet in the eyes of men, but which Jesus found to his taste! His death was sufficient for our salvation; but death was not enough to satisfy his wonderful appetite for suffering for us. It was needful to add the scourges, and that blood-stained crown that pierced his head, and all the cruel apparatus of terrible tortures; and wherefore? Living only to endure, he ‘wished to be satiated, before dying, with the luxury of suffering for us.’ Insofar that upon his Cross, seeing in the eternal decrees that there was nothing more for him to suffer, ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘it is done, all is consummated; let us go forth, for there is nothing more to do in this world;’ and immediately he gave up his soul to his Father.”
If such is the mind of Jesus our Savior, must it not also be that of his bride, Teresa of Jesus? “She too wished to suffer or to die; and her love could not endure that any other cause should retard her death, save that which deferred the death of our Savior.” Let us warm our hearts at the sight of this great example. “If we are true Christians, we must desire to be ever with Jesus Christ. Now, where are we to find this loving Savior of our souls? In what place may we embrace him? He is found in two places: in his glory and in his sufferings; on his throne and on his cross. We must, then, in order to be with him, either embrace him on his throne, which death enables us to do; or else share in his cross, and this we do by suffering; hence we must either suffer or die, if we would never be separated from our Lord. Let us suffer then, O Christians; let us suffer what it pleases God to send us: afflictions, sickness, the miseries of poverty, injuries, calumnies; let us try to carry, with steadfast courage, that portion of his cross with which he is pleased to honor us.” (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year.)
Saint Teresa of Jesus’s feast day is on October 15, but our devotion to her must be perpetual.
Let us beg Our Lady to help us to imitate Saint Teresa of Avila’s virtues that led her to the highest summits of perfection as she persevered through spiritual aridity, intense physical sufferings, opposition and persecution from other Catholics, to the joy that awaits us all if only we seek it: union with Christ the King in this life as a foretaste of union with Him for all eternity in Heaven, and is to this end that we must beg Our Lady’s help in her Most Holy Rosary every day.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.
Saint Peter Alcantara, pray for us.
Saint John of the Cross, pray for us.
Blessed John of Avila, pray for us.