The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

(1515-1582)

 

Chapter 13

    Continues to describe this first state and gives counsels for dealing with certain temptations which the devil is sometimes wont to prepare. This chapter is very profitable.

    It has seemed to me appropriate to speak of certain temptations which, as I have observed, often attack beginners -- I have had some of them myself -- and to give counsels about matters which appear to me necessary. In the early stages, then, one should strive to feel happy and free. There are some people who think that devotion will slip away from them if they relax a little. It is well to have misgivings about oneself and not to allow self-confidence to lead one into occasions which habitually involve offenses against God. This is most necessary until one becomes quite perfect in virtue; and there are not many who are so perfect as to be able to relax when occasions present themselves which tempt their own peculiar disposition. It is well that, all our lives long, we should recognize the worthlessness of our nature, if only for the sake of humility. Yet there are many circumstances in which, as I have said, it is permissible for us to take some recreation, in order that we may be the stronger when we return to prayer. In everything we need discretion.

    We must have great confidence, for it is most important that we should not cramp our good desires, but should believe that, with God's help, if we make continual efforts to do so, we shall attain, though perhaps not at once, to that which many saints have reached through His favour. If they had never resolved to desire to attain this and to carry their desires continually into effect, they would never have risen to as high a state as they did. His Majesty desires and loves courageous souls if they have no confidence in themselves but walk in humility; and I have never seen any such person hanging back on this road, nor any soul that, under the guise of humility, acted like a coward, go as far in many years as the courageous soul can in few. I am astounded at how much can be done on this road if one has the courage to attempt great things; the soul may not have the strength to achieve these things at once but if it takes a flight it can make good progress, though, like a little unfledged bird, it is apt to grow tired and stop.

    At one time I used often to bear in mind the words of Saint Paul, that everything is possible in God:[113] I realized quite well that in myself I could do nothing. This was a great help to me, as were also the words of Saint Augustine: "Give me, Lord, what Thou commandest me and command what Thou wilt."[114] I used often to reflect that Saint Peter had lost nothing by throwing himself into the sea, though after he had done so he was afraid.[115] These first resolutions are of great importance, although during this first stage we have to go slowly and to be guided by the discretion and opinion of our director; but we must see to it that he is not the kind of person to teach us to be like toads, satisfied if our souls show themselves fit only to catch lizards. We must always keep humility before us, so that we may realize that this strength cannot proceed from any strength of our own.

    But it is necessary that we should realize what kind of humility this must be, for I believe the devil does a great deal of harm to those who practise prayer by encouraging misunderstandings about humility in them so as to prevent them from making much progress. He persuades us that it is pride which makes us have ambitious desires and want to imitate the saints and wish to be martyrs. Then he tells us, or induces us to believe, that we who are sinners may admire the deeds of the saints but must not copy them. I myself would agree with him to the extent that we must consider which of their deeds we are to admire and which to imitate. For it would not be a good thing for a person who was weak and ill to indulge in a great deal of fasting and in severe penances, or to go to a desert where he could not sleep or get anything to eat, or to attempt other things of that kind. But we must reflect that, with the help of God, we can strive to have a great contempt for the world, no regard for honour, and no attachment to possessions. For so ungenerous are we that we imagine the earth will go from under our feet if we try to forget the body a little and to cultivate the spirit. Or, again, we think that to have an abundance of all we need is a help to recollection because anxieties disturb prayer.

    It distresses me to reflect that we have so little confidence in God, and so much love for ourselves, that anxieties like this upset us. When we have made so little spiritual progress, the smallest things will trouble us as much as important and weighty things will trouble others, and yet in our own minds we presume to think ourselves spiritual. Now to me it seems that this kind of life is an attempt to reconcile body and soul, so that we may lose neither comfort in this world nor fruition of God in the world to come. We shall get along all right if we walk in righteousness and hold fast to virtue, but it will mean advancing at the pace of a hen and will never lead us to spiritual freedom. This is a procedure which seems to me quite good for people who are in the married state and have to live in accordance with their vocation; but in any other state I should not at all like to see such a method of progress nor will anyone persuade me to think it a good one. For I have tried it; and I should have been practising it still if the Lord in His goodness had not shown me another and a shorter road.

    With regard to this matter of desires, my own were always ambitious, but I strove, as I have said, to practise prayer and yet to live according to my own pleasure. If there had been anyone to encourage me to soar higher, I think he might have brought me to a state in which these desires were carried into effect; but, for our sins, those who are not over-cautious in this respect are very few and far between, and that, I think, is sufficient reason why those who begin do not more quickly attain to great perfection. For the Lord never fails us and the fault is not His: it is we who are faulty and miserable.

    We may also imitate the saints by striving after solitude and silence and many other virtues; such things will not kill these wretched bodies of ours, which want to have everything organized for their benefit in such a way as to disorganize the soul and which the devil does his best to incapacitate when he sees that we are getting fearful about them. That is quite enough for him: he tries at once to persuade us that all these habits of devotion will kill us, or ruin our health; he even makes us afraid that if we weep we shall go blind. I have experienced this, so I know it -- and I also know that we can desire no better kind of sight or health than to lose both in so good a cause. As my own health is so bad, I was always impeded by my fears, and my devotion was of no value at all until I resolved not to worry any more about my body or my health; and now I trouble about them very little. For it pleased God to reveal to me this device of the devil; and so, whenever the devil suggested that I should ruin my health, I would reply: "Even if I die it is of little consequence." "Rest, indeed!" I would say. "I need no rest; what I need is crosses." And so with other things. I saw clearly that in very many cases, although in fact I have very bad health, it was a temptation either of the devil or of my own weakness; and since I have been less self-regarding and indulgent my health has been very much better. It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts. And you may take my word for this, for I have learned it by experience; this mere narration of my faults might be of use to others if they will take warning by me.

    There is another temptation which is very common -- namely to desire that everyone should be extremely spiritual when one is beginning to find what tranquillity, and what profit, spirituality brings. It is not wrong to desire this but it may not be right to try to bring it about unless we do so with such discretion and dissimulation that we give no impression of wanting to teach others. For if a person is to do any good in this respect he must be very strong in the virtues so as not to put temptation in others' way. This I found out for myself -- and that is why I realize it. When, as I have said, I tried to get others to practise prayer, and when on the one hand they would hear me saying so much about the blessedness of prayer, while on the other they would observe that I, who practised it, was so poverty stricken in virtue, it would lead them into temptations and various kinds of foolishness. And they had good reason on their side; for, as they have since told me, they could not see how one of these things could be compatible with the other. And so they came to believe that there was nothing wrong in what was intrinsically evil; for they saw that I sometimes did such things and at that time they had rather a good opinion of me.

    This is the devil's doing. He seems to make use of the virtues which we have, and which are good, in order to give such authority as he can to the evil which he is trying to make us do: however trifling the evil may be, it must be of great value to him when it is done in a religious community -- how much more, then, must he have gained from the evil which I did, for it was very great. So, over a period of many years, only three persons derived any profit from what I said to them;[116] whereas, now that the Lord has made me stronger in virtue, many persons have derived such profit in the course of two or three years, as I shall afterwards relate. In addition, there is another great disadvantage in yielding to this temptation: namely, the harm caused to our own soul; for the utmost we have to do at first is to take care of our soul and to remember that in the entire world there is only God and the soul;[117] and this is a thing which it is very profitable to remember.

    Another temptation comes from the distress caused by the sins and failings which we see in others, for we all have a zeal for virtue and so we must learn to understand ourselves and walk warily. The devil tells us that this distress arises solely from our desire that God should not be offended and from our concern for His honour and then we immediately try to set matters right. This makes us so excited that is prevents us from praying, and the greatest harm of all is that we think this to be a virtue, and a sign of perfection and of great zeal for God. I am not referring to the distress caused by public offenses in a religious congregation, if they become habitual, or of wrongs done to the Church, such as heresies, through which, as we see, so many souls are lost; for distress caused by these is right, and, being right, causes us no excitement. Safety, then, for the soul that practises prayer will consist in its ceasing to be anxious about anything and anybody, and in its watching itself and pleasing God. This is most important. If I were to describe the mistakes I have seen people make because they trusted in their good intentions!

    Let us strive, then, always to look at the virtues and the good qualities which we find in others, and to keep our own grievous sins before our eyes so that we may be blind to their defects. This is a course of action which, though we may not become perfect in it all at once, will help us to acquire one great virtue -- namely, to consider all others better than ourselves. In this way we shall begin to profit, by God's help (which is always necessary, and, when it fails, our own efforts are useless), and we must beg Him to give us this virtue, which, if we exert our own efforts, He will deny to none. This counsel must also be remembered by those who use their intellects a great deal and from one subject can extract many ideas and conceptions. To those who cannot do this -- and I used to be one -- there is no need to offer any counsel, save that they must have patience until the Lord gives them occupation and enlightenment, for of themselves they can do so little that their intellect hinders rather than helps them.

    Returning, then, to those who can make use of their reasoning powers, I advise them not to spend all their time in doing so; their method of prayer is most meritorious, but, enjoying it as they do, they fail to realize that they ought to have a kind of Sunday -- that is to say, a period of rest from their labour. To stop working, they think, would be a loss of time, whereas my view is that this loss is a great gain; let them imagine themselves, as I have suggested, in the presence of Christ, and let them remain in converse with Him, and delighting in Him, without wearying their minds or fatiguing themselves by composing speeches to Him, but laying their needs before Him and acknowledging how right He is not to allow us to be in His presence. There is a time for one thing and a time for another; were there not, the soul would grow tired of always eating the same food. These foods are very pleasant and wholesome; and, if the palate is accustomed to their taste, they provide great sustenance for the life of the soul, and bring it many other benefits.

    I will explain myself further, for these matters concerning prayer are difficult, and, if no director is available, very hard to understand. It is for this reason that, though I should like to write more briefly, and though merely to touch upon these matters concerning prayer would suffice for the keen intellect of him who commanded me to write of them, my own stupidity prevents me from describing and explaining in a few words a matter which it is so important to expound thoroughly. Having gone through so much myself, I am sorry for those who begin with books alone, for it is extraordinary what a difference there is between understanding a thing and knowing it by experience. Returning, then, to what I was saying, we begin to meditate upon a scene of the Passion -- let us say upon the binding of the Lord to the Column. The mind sets to work to seek out the reasons which are to be found for the great afflictions and distress which His Majesty must have suffered when He was alone there. It also meditates on the many other lessons which, if it is industrious, or well stored with learning, this mystery can teach it. This method should be the beginning, the middle and the end of prayer for all of us: it is a most excellent and safe road until the Lord leads us to other methods, which are supernatural.

    I say "for all of us," but there will be many souls who derive greater benefits from other meditations than from that of the Sacred Passion. For, just as there are many mansions in Heaven, so there are many roads to them. Some people derive benefit from imagining themselves in hell; others, whom it distresses to think of hell, from imagining themselves in Heaven. Others meditate upon death. Some, who are tender hearted, get exhausted if they keep thinking about the Passion, but they derive great comfort and benefit from considering the power and greatness of God in the creatures, and the love that He showed us, which is pictured in all things. This is an admirable procedure, provided one does not fail to meditate often upon the Passion and the life of Christ, which are, and have always been, the source of everything that is good.

    The beginner needs counsel to help him ascertain what benefits him most. To this end a director is very necessary, but he must be a man of experience, or he will make a great many mistakes and lead souls along without understanding them or without allowing them to learn to understand themselves; for the soul, knowing that it is a great merit to be subject to its director, dares not do other than what he commands it. I have come across souls so constrained and afflicted because of the inexperience of their director that I have been really sorry for them. And I have found some who had no idea how to act for themselves; for directors who cannot understand spirituality afflict their penitents both in soul and in body and prevent them from making progress. One person who spoke to me about this had been kept in bondage by her director for eight years; he would not allow her to aim at anything but self-knowledge, yet the Lord was already granting her the Prayer of Quiet, so she was suffering great trials.

    At the same time, this matter of self-knowledge must never be neglected. No soul on this road is such a giant that it does not often need to become a child at the breast again. (This must never be forgotten: I may repeat it again and again, for it is of great importance.) For there is no state of prayer, however sublime, in which it is not necessary often to go back to the beginning. And self-knowledge with regard to sin is the bread which must be eaten with food of every kind, however dainty it may be, on this road of prayer: without this bread we could not eat our food at all. But bread must be taken in moderate proportions. When a soul finds itself exhausted and realizes clearly that it has no goodness of its own, when it feels ashamed in the presence of so great a King and sees how little it is paying of all that it owes Him, what need is there for it to waste its time on learning to know itself? It will be wiser to go on to other matters which the Lord sets before it, and we are not doing right if we neglect such things, for His Majesty knows better than we what kind of food is good for us.

    It is of great importance, then, that the director should be a prudent man -- of sound understanding, I mean -- and also an experienced one: if he is a learned man as well, that is a very great advantage. But if all these three qualities cannot be found in the same man, the first two are the more important, for it is always possible to find learned men to consult when necessary. I mean that learning is of little benefit to beginners, except in men of prayer. I do not mean that beginners should have no communication with learned men, for I should prefer spirituality to be unaccompanied by prayer than not to be founded upon the truth. Learning is a great thing, for it teaches those of us who have little knowledge, and gives us light, so that, when we are faced with the truth of Holy Scripture, we act as we should. From foolish devotions may God deliver us!

    I want to explain myself further, for I seem to be getting involved in a great many subjects. I have always had this failing -- that I cannot explain myself, as I have said, except at the cost of many words. A nun begins to practise prayer: if her director is a simpleton and gets the idea into his head, he will give her to understand that it is better for her to obey him than her superior, and he will do this without any evil intention, thinking he is right. Indeed, if he is not a religious, it will probably seem right to him. If he is dealing with a married woman, he will tell her it is better for her to be engaged in prayer when she has work to do in her home, although this may displease her husband: he cannot advise her about arranging her time and work so that everything is done as true Christianity demands. Not being enlightened himself, he cannot enlighten others, even if he tries. And although learning may not seem necessary for this, my opinion has always been, and always will be, that every Christian should try to consult some learned person, if he can, and the more learned this person, the better. Those who walk in the way of prayer have the greater need of learning; and the more spiritual they are, the greater is their need.

    Let us not make the mistake of saying that learned men who do not practise prayer are not suitable directors for those who do. I have consulted many such; and for some years past, feeling a greater need of them, I have sought them out more. I have always got on well with them; for, though some of them have no experience, they are not averse from spirituality, nor are they ignorant of its nature, for they study Holy Scripture, where the truth about it can always be found. I believe myself that, if a person who practises prayer consults learned men, the devil will not deceive him with illusions except by his own desire; for I think devils are very much afraid of learned men who are humble and virtuous, knowing that they will find them out and defeat them.

    I have said this because some people think that learned men, if they are not spiritual, are unsuitable for those who practise prayer. I have already said that a spiritual director is necessary, but if he has no learning it is a great inconvenience. It will help us very much to consult learned men, provided they are virtuous; even if they are not spiritual they will do us good and God will show them what they should teach and may even make them spiritual so that they may be of service to us. I do not say this without proof and I have had experience of quite a number.[118] Anyone, I repeat, who surrenders his soul to a single director, and is subject to him alone, will be making a great mistake, if he is a religious, and has to be subject to his own superior, in not obtaining a director of this kind. For the director may be lacking in all the three things, and that will be no light cross for the penitent to bear without voluntarily submitting his understanding to one whose understanding is not good. For myself, I have never been able to bring myself to do this, nor do I think it right. If such a person be in the world, let him praise God that he is able to choose the director to whom he is to be subject and let him not give up such righteous freedom; let him rather remain without a director until he finds the right one, for the Lord will give him one if his life is founded upon humility and he has the desire to succeed. I praise God greatly, and we women, and those who are not learned, ought always to give Him infinite thanks, that there are persons who with such great labour have attained to the truth of which we ignorant people know nothing.

    I am often amazed that learned men, and religious in particular, will give me the benefit of what they have gained with so much labour, and at no cost to myself save the labour of asking for it. And to think that there may be people who have no desire to reap such benefits! God forbid it be so! I see these learned fathers bearing the trials of the religious life, which are grievous ones -- its penances, its poor food and its obligation to obey: really, I am sometimes downright ashamed to think of it. And then, the scant sleep they get: nothing but trials, nothing but crosses! I think it would be very wrong for anyone, through his own fault, to forfeit the benefits of such a life as that. It may be that some of us who are free from these trials -- who are pampered, as they say -- and live just as we like, think ourselves superior to those who undergo them, merely because we practise a little more prayer than they.

    Blessed be Thou, Lord, Who has made me so incompetent and unprofitable! Most heartily do I praise Thee because Thou quickenest so many to quicken us! We should pray most regularly for those who give us light. What would become of us without them amid these great storms which the Church now has to bear? If some of them have been wicked, the good will shine the more. May it please the Lord to keep them in His hand and help them to help us. Amen.

    I have wandered far from the aim with which I began, but for those who are beginners it is all to the point, and it will help them, as they set out upon so high a journey, to keep their feet planted upon the true road. Returning to what I was saying -- the meditation upon Christ bound to the Column -- it is well to reflect for a time and to think of the pains which He bore there, why He bore them, Who He is that bore them and with what love He suffered them. But we must not always tire ourselves by going in search of such ideas; we must sometimes remain by His side with our minds hushed in silence. If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking upon Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company; talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him; and remember that He never deserved to be there. Anyone who can do this, though he may be but a beginner in prayer, will derive great benefit from it, for this kind of prayer brings many benefits: at least, so my soul has found. I do not know whether I have succeeded in what I have tried to say; but Your Reverence will know. May the Lord grant me always to succeed in pleasing Him. Amen.

 

 

Chapter 14

    Begins to describe the second degree of prayer, in which the Lord grants the soul experience of more special consolations. This description is made in order to explain the supernatural character of these consolations. It should be most carefully noted.

    Having now spoken of the labour and manual effort with which this garden is watered when one draws water from the well, let us now speak of the second way of drawing it which is ordained by the Lord of the garden. By using a device of windlass and buckets the gardener draws more water with less labour and is able to take some rest instead of being continually at work. It is this method, applied to the prayer called the Prayer of Quiet, that I now wish to describe.

    This state, in which the soul begins to recollect itself, borders on the supernatural, to which it could in no way attain by its own exertions. True, it sometimes seems to have been wearied by its work at the windlass -- its labouring with the understanding and its filling of the buckets; but in this state the water is higher and thus much less labour is required than for the drawing of it from the well. I mean that the water is nearer to it, for grace reveals itself to the soul more clearly. This state is a recollecting of the faculties within the soul, so that its fruition of that contentment may be of greater delight. But the faculties are not lost, nor do they sleep. The will alone is occupied, in such a way that, without knowing how, it becomes captive. It allows itself to be imprisoned by God, as one who well knows itself to be the captive of Him Whom it loves. Oh, my Jesus and Lord, how much Thy love now means to us! It binds our own love so straitly that at that moment it leaves us no freedom to love anything but Thee.

    The other two faculties help the will so that it may be come more and more capable of enjoying so great a blessing, though sometimes it comes about that, even when the will is in union, they hinder it exceedingly. When that happens it should take no notice of them but remain in its fruition and quiet; for, if it tries to recollect them, both it and they will suffer. At such a time they are like doves which are not pleased with the food given them by the owner of the dovecot, without their having worked for it, and go in search of food elsewhere, but are so unsuccessful that they return. Just so these faculties come and go, to see if the will give them some part of what it is enjoying. If this be the Lord's pleasure, it throws them food and they stop; if not, they return to their search. They must reflect that they are benefiting the will; or sometimes the memory or the imagination may do it harm by trying to present it with a picture of what it is enjoying. The will, then, must be careful in its dealings with them, as I shall explain.

    Everything that now takes place brings the greatest consolation, and so little labour is involved that, even if prayer continues for a long time, it never becomes wearisome. For the understanding is now working very gradually and is drawing very much more water than it drew from the well. The tears which God bestows here flow joyfully; though the soul is conscious of them, it does nothing to induce them.

    This water of great blessings and favours which the Lord gives in this state makes the virtues grow much more, beyond all comparison, than in the previous one; for the soul is already rising from its miserable condition and gaining some slight foreknowledge of the joys of glory. This, I believe, makes the virtues grow and also brings them nearer to that true Virtue from Whom all virtues spring -- namely, God. For His Majesty begins to communicate Himself to this soul and wishes it to be conscious of the method of His communication. As soon as it arrives at this state, it begins to lose its covetousness for the things of earth. And small merit to it, for it sees clearly that on earth it cannot have a moment of this joy; that there are no riches, or dominions, or honours, or delights which suffice to give it such satisfaction even for the twinkling of an eye; for this is true joy, and the soul realizes that it is this which gives genuine satisfaction. Those of us who are on earth, it seems to me, rarely understand where this satisfaction lies. It comes and goes. First it is with us; then it leaves us, and we find that it is all gone, and we can not get it back again, having no idea how to do so. For even if we wear ourselves to pieces with penances and prayers and all kinds of other things, we can acquire but little if the Lord is not pleased to bestow it. God, of His greatness, desires the soul to realize that His Majesty is so near it that it need not send Him messengers,[119] but may speak with Him itself; nor need it cry aloud, because He is so near it that it has only to move its lips and He will understand it.

    It seems beside the point to say this, as we know that God always understands us and is always with us. There is no possible doubt that this is so; but this Emperor and Lord of ours desires us now to realize that He understands us, and what is accomplished by His presence, and that He is about to begin a special work in the soul through the great satisfaction, both inward and outward, that He gives it, and through the difference which there is, as I have said, between this particular delight and contentment and others which we experience on earth, for He seems to be filling the void in our souls that we have caused by our sins. This satisfaction resides in the most intimate part of the soul, and the soul cannot tell whence or how it has come to it; often it knows neither what to do, nor to wish, nor to ask. It seems to find everything at once, yet not to know what it has found: I do not myself know how to explain this. For many purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help (for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord's will that the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may be made. However, as what I write is to be seen by persons who will know if I am wrong, I am going on without worrying about it. I know I have no need to worry from the point of view either of learning or of spirituality, as this is going into the possession of those who will be able to judge it and will cut out anything which may be amiss.

    I should like, then, to explain this, because it is a fundamental matter, and, when the Lord begins to grant these favours, the soul itself does not understand them, or know what it ought to do. If God leads it, as He led me, by the way of fear, and there is no one who understands it, its trial will be a heavy one; and it will be very glad to read a description of itself which will show clearly that it is travelling on the right road. And it will be a great blessing for it to know what it has to do in order to continue to make progress in any of these states: I myself, through not knowing what to do, have suffered much and lost a great deal of time. I am very sorry for souls who reach this state and find themselves alone; for, although I have read many spiritual books which touch upon the matter, they explain very little; and if the soul has not had a great deal of practice in prayer it will have as much as it can do to understand its own case, however much the books may explain.

    I wish very much that the Lord would help me to set forth the effects which these things produce in the soul and which are already verging on the supernatural, so that it may be known by the effects which they produce whether or no they proceed from the Spirit of God. Known, I mean, to the extent to which it is possible to know things on earth: it is always well that we should act with fear and caution, for, even if these things come from God, the devil may sometimes be able to transform himself into an angel of light.[120] If the soul has not had a great deal of experience it will not realize this, and so much experience is necessary that, in order to understand it, one must have reached the very summit of prayer. The little time I have makes it none too easy for me to explain this, for which reason it is necessary that His Majesty should make the matter clear, for I have my work to do in the community and many other occupations (being now in a recently founded house, as will be seen later[121]) and so I can never settle down to what I write but have to do a little at a time. I wish I had more time, for, when the Lord gives inspiration, one can write better and more easily. I seem to be like one working with a pattern before her and copying it with her needle: I can perform my task, but if inspiration is wanting I can no more put my words together properly than if I were writing gibberish, as one might say, however many years I may have spent in prayer. And so I think it is a very great advantage to be immersed in prayer when I am writing. I realize clearly that it is not I who am saying this; for I am not putting it together with my own understanding and afterwards I cannot tell how I have managed to say it at all. This often happens to me.

    Let us now return to our garden, or orchard, and see how these trees begin to take new life before putting forth flowers and afterwards giving fruit, and the flowers -- carnations and so forth[122] -- begin to give out their fragrance. I am pleased with this comparison, for often, when I was a beginner (and may the Lord grant that I have in fact even now begun to serve His Majesty -- but I mean a beginner by comparison with what I shall say about my life hereafter), it used to give me great delight to think of my soul as a garden and of the Lord as walking in it. I would beg Him to increase the fragrance of the little buds of virtue which seemed to be beginning to appear, and to keep them alive so that they might bloom to His glory -- for I wanted nothing for myself -- and I would ask Him to prune away any of them He wished to, for I knew that the plants would be all the better if He did. I speak of pruning, for there come times when the soul feels like anything but a garden: everything seems dry to it and no water comes to refresh it, and one would think there had never been any kind of virtue in it at all. The soul suffers many trials, for the Lord wants the poor gardener to think that all the trouble he has taken in watering the garden and keeping it alive is lost. Then is the proper time for weeding and rooting out the smaller plants, and this must be done, however small they may be, if they are useless; for we know that no efforts of ours are availing if God withholds from us the water of grace, and we must despise ourselves as nothing and as less than nothing. By doing this we can gain great humility and then the flowers will begin to grow afresh.

    O my Lord and my Good! I cannot say this without tears and great delight of soul that Thou, Lord, shouldst wish to be with us, and art with us, in the Sacrament. We may believe that this is so, in very truth, for so it is, and with the utmost truth we may make this comparison; and if our faults do not impede us we may rejoice in Thee and Thou wilt take Thy delight in us, since Thou sayest that Thy delight is to be with the children of men.[123] O my Lord! What is this? Whenever I hear these words they are a great comfort to me, as they were even when I had gone far astray. Is it possible, Lord, that there can be a soul which reaches a state in which Thou dost grant it such graces and favours and can realize that Thou takest Thy delight in it, and yet offends Thee again after Thou hast shown it so many favours and such signal marks of love that it cannot doubt them since it sees Thy work so clearly? Yes, there is indeed such a soul -- there is myself. And I have done this not once, but often. May it please Thy goodness, Lord, that I may be alone in my ingratitude, that I may be the only one to have committed so great a wrong and been so excessively ungrateful. Yet even from me some good has been brought forth by Thine infinite goodness, and, the greater have been my sins, the more has the great blessing of Thy mercies shone forth in me. How many reasons have I for singing of them for ever! I beseech Thee, my God, that it may be so: may I sing of them, and that without end, since Thou hast seen good to work such exceeding great mercies in me that they amaze those who behold them, while as for me, I am drawn out of myself by them continually, that I may be the better able to sing Thy praise. For, so long as I am in myself, my Lord, and without Thee, I can do nothing but be cut off[124] like the flowers in this garden, and this miserable earth will become a dunghill again as before. Permit it not, Lord. Let it not be Thy will that a soul which Thou hast purchased with so many trials should be lost, when Thou hast so often redeemed it anew and hast snatched it from the teeth of the horrible dragon.

    Your Reverence must forgive me for wandering from my subject: as I am speaking with a purpose in my mind you must not be surprised. I am writing what comes to my soul; and at times when, as I write, the greatness of the debt I owe Him rises up before me, it is only by a supreme effort that I can refrain from going on to sing praises to God. And I think Your Reverence will not be displeased by it, because I believe we can both sing the same song, though in a different way; for my debt to God is much the greater, since He has forgiven me more, as Your Reverence knows.

 

 

Chapter 15

    Continues speaking of the same subject and gives certain counsels as to how the soul must behave in this Prayer of Quiet. Tells how there are many souls who attain to this prayer and few who pass beyond it. The things touched herein are very necessary and profitable.

    Let us now return to our subject. This quiet and recollectedness in the soul makes itself felt largely through the satisfaction and peace which it brings to it, together with a very great joy and repose of the faculties and a most sweet delight. As the soul has never gone beyond this stage, it thinks there is no more left for it to desire and, like Saint Peter, it wishes that it could make its abode here.[125] It dares not move or stir, for it thinks that if it does so this blessing may slip from its grasp: sometimes it would like to be unable even to breathe. The poor creature does not realize that, having been unable to do anything of itself to acquire that blessing, it will be still less able to keep it longer than the time for which the Lord is pleased that it shall possess it. I have already said that, in this first state of recollection and quiet, the faculties of the soul do not fail; but the soul has such satisfaction in God that, although the other two faculties may be distracted, yet, since the will is in union with God for as long as the recollection lasts, its quiet and repose are not lost, but the will gradually brings the understanding and memory back to a state of recollection again. For, although the will is not yet completely absorbed it is so well occupied, without knowing how, that, whatever the efforts made by the understanding and memory, they cannot deprive it of its contentment and rejoicing: indeed, without any labour on its part, it helps to prevent this little spark of love for God from being quenched.

    May His Majesty give me grace to explain this clearly, for there are many, many souls that reach this state and few that pass beyond it, and I do not know who is to blame for this. Most certainly it is not God; for, since His Majesty grants us the favour of advancing to this point, I do not believe that, unless there are faults on our part, He will fail to grant us many more favours. It is very important that the soul which arrives thus far should recognize the great dignity of its state and the greatness of the favours which the Lord has granted it, and how there is good reason why is should not belong to the earth, since, unless its own faults impede it, His goodness seems to be making it a citizen of Heaven. Alas for such a soul if it turns back! If it does so, I think it will begin to go downhill, as I should have done had not the Lord's mercy saved me. For, as a rule, I believe, it can be due only to grave faults: it is impossible to forfeit so great a blessing save through gross blindness caused by much evil.

    And so, for love of the Lord, I beg the souls whom His Majesty has granted so great a favour as to attain to this state to learn to know themselves, and to hold themselves, with a humble and a holy presumption, in high esteem, so that they shall not return to the flesh-pots of Egypt. And if, through their weakness and wickedness and their miserable and wretched nature, they fall, as I did, let them ever bear in mind what a blessing they have lost, and preserve their misgivings and walk fearfully, as they have good reason to do, for unless they return to prayer they will go from bad to worse. I should call anything a real fall which made us hate the road that had led us to so great a blessing. In talking to these souls I do not say that they will not offend God and fall into sin; anyone who has begun to receive these favours would be right in guarding himself carefully against falling; for we are miserable sinners. What I strongly advise them to do is not to give up prayer, for prayer will enlighten them as to what they are doing, and the Lord will grant them repentance and strength to rise again. They must believe, and keep on believing, that if they cease from prayer they are running (or so I think) into danger. I am not sure if I understand what I am saying, because, as I have said, I am judging from my own experience.

    This prayer, then, is a little spark of true love for the Lord which He begins to enkindle in the soul, and His will is that it should come to understand the nature of this love with its attendant joy. This quiet and recollection -- this little spark -- if it proceeds from the Spirit of God and is not a pleasure bestowed on us by the devil or sought by ourselves, is not a thing that can be acquired, as anyone who has experience of it must perforce realize immediately, but this nature of ours is so eager for delectable experiences that it tries to get all it can. Soon, however, it becomes very cold; for, hard as we may try to make the fere burn in order to obtain this pleasure, we seem only to be throwing water on it to quench it. This little spark, then, planted within us by God, small though it is, makes a loud noise; and if we do not quench it through some fault of our own, it is this that begins to kindle the great fire which (as I shall say in due course) sends forth the flames of that most ardent love of God with which His Majesty endows the souls of the perfect.

    This spark is given to the soul by God as a sign or pledge that He is already choosing it for great things if it will prepare itself to receive them. It is a great gift, much greater than I can say. I am very sorry for this, for, as I have said, I know many souls who attain thus far; and I know, too, that those who go farther, as they ought to do, are so few that I am ashamed to confess it. I do not mean that they are really few, for there must be a great many of them, since God does not uphold us without a purpose. I am merely telling what I have seen. I should like very much to advise such persons to be careful not to hide their talent, for it would seem that God is pleased to choose them to the advantage of many, especially in these times when He needs His friends to be strong so that they may uphold the weak. Let those who recognize that they themselves have this grace look upon themselves as His friends if they can fulfil the obligations which even the world demands of faithful friendship. Otherwise, as I have just said, let them fear and tremble lest they be doing some harm to themselves -- and please God it be to themselves alone!

    What the soul has to do at these seasons of quiet is merely to go softly and make no noise. By noise, I mean going about with the understanding in search of many words and reflections with which to give thanks for this benefit and piling up its sins and imperfections so as to make itself realize that it does not deserve it. It is now that all this movement takes place: the understanding brings forward its representations and the memory becomes active -- and sometimes I myself find these faculties really wearisome, for, weak though my memory is, I cannot subdue it. The will must be calm and discreet and realize that we cannot treat effectively with God by the might of our own efforts and that these are like great logs of wood being heaped up indiscriminately so that they will quench this spark. Let it recognize this and with all humility say: "Lord, what can I do here? What has the servant to do with her Lord? What has earth to do with Heaven?" Or let it utter any words of love which come to its mind, with the firm and sure knowledge that what it is saying is the truth; and let it take no notice of the understanding, which is merely making itself a nuisance. And if the will wishes to communicate its joy to the understanding, or strives to lead it into recollection (as will often happen in this union of the will and state of tranquillity), and the understanding is very much disturbed, it will do better to leave it alone than to run after it. Let it (the will, I mean) continue in the fruition of that favour, and be as recollected as the wise little bee, for if no bees entered the hive and they all went about trying to bring each other in, there would not be much chance of their making any honey.

    The soul will lose a great deal if it is not careful about this, especially if it has a lively understanding, with the result that, when it begins to hold discourse with itself and think out reflections, it will soon begin to fancy it is doing something worth while if its discourses and reflections are at all clever. All that the reason has to do in this state is to understand that there is no reason, save His goodness alone, why God should grant us so great a favour, and to realize that we are very near Him, and to beg favours of His Majesty, and to pray to Him for the Church and for those who have been commended to us and for the souls in purgatory -- not, however, with any noise of words, though with a hearty desire that He may hear us. This is a prayer that comprises a great deal and achieves more than any amount of meditation on the part of the understanding. Let the will, in order to quicken its love, arouse within itself certain reasons which reason itself will picture to it when it sees itself in so much better a state. Let it make certain acts of love, too, concerning what it will do for Him to Whom it owes so much, without allowing the understanding to make any noise, as I have said, in its search for these clever reflections. A few little straws laid down with humility (and they will be less than straws if it is we who lay them down) are more to the point here, and of more use for kindling the fire, than any amount of wood -- that is, of the most learned reasoning -- which, in our opinion, will put it out in a moment. This will be good advice for the learned men who are commanding me to write, for, by the goodness of God, all of them will reach this state, and it may be they will spend their time in making applications of verses from Scripture; but, although they will have no difficulty in making good use of their learning both before and after prayer, they will have little need for it, in my view, during their actual periods of prayer, when it will only make their will lukewarm; for at those times the understanding, through being so near the light, sees with the greatest clearness, so that even I, though the sort of person I am, seem to be quite different.

    Thus, when in this state of Quiet, I, who understand hardly anything that I recite in Latin, particularly in the Psalter, have not only been able to understand the text as though it were in Spanish but have even found to my delight that I can penetrate the meaning of the Spanish. Let us leave out of account occasions when these learned men have to preach or teach, for then it will be well for them to make use of their learning, so as to help poor ignorant creatures like myself, for charity is a great thing, and so is a constant care for souls, when undertaken simply and purely for the sake of God. In these periods of Quiet, then, let the soul repose in its rest; let them put their learning aside; the time will come when they will use it in the Lord's service and will esteem it so much that they would not have failed to acquire it for all the treasures imaginable, simply because they can serve His Majesty with it and for this purpose find it a great help. But in the sight of Infinite Wisdom, believe me, there is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world. So in this state there is no room for argument but only for a plain recognition of what we are, a presenting of ourselves in our simplicity before God, Whose will is that the soul should become a fool, as in truth it is in His sight, for it is due to His Majesty's great humility,[126] we being what we are, that He suffers it to be near Him.

    The understanding is also active now and gives thanks in set terms; but the will, in its tranquillity, is like the publican and dares not lift up its eyes, yet perhaps makes a better thanksgiving than the understanding can even when it has exhausted all its rhetoric. In short, mental prayer must not be completely given up, nor yet must vocal prayer, if we ever wish to turn to it and are able to do so; for, if the state of Quiet is intense, it becomes difficult to speak except with great distress. In my own opinion, it is possible to tell if this state comes from the Spirit of God or if, starting from devotion given us by God, we have attained to it by our own efforts. In the latter case, as I have said, we try of our own accord to pass on to this quiet of the will, and nothing comes of it; everything is quickly over and we are left in a state of aridity. If it comes from the devil, I think a practised soul will realize this, for it leaves behind it disquiet and very little humility and does little to prepare the soul for the effects produced by such prayer when it comes from God. It leaves neither light in the understanding nor steadfastness in the will.[127]

    The devil, in such a case, can do little or no harm if the soul directs the delight and sweetness which it now feels towards God and fixes its thoughts and desires upon Him, as it has already been advised to do. He can gain nothing; in fact, by Divine permission, the very delight which he causes in the soul will contribute to his frustration. For this delight will help the soul: thinking it to be of God, it will often come to its prayer with a desire for Him; and if it is a humble soul, and not curious or eager for joys, even for spiritual joys, but attached to the Cross, it will pay little attention to pleasure given by the devil, but will be unable to disregard that which comes from the Spirit of God, for this it will hold in high esteem. When the devil, being altogether a liar, sends the soul any pleasure or delight, and sees that this is causing it to humble itself (and it should try to be humble in all that concerns prayer and consolations), he will often see how he has been frustrated and refrain from trying again. For this and for many reasons, in writing of the first kind of prayer, and of the first water, I pointed out that it is most important for souls, when they begin to practise prayer, to start by detaching themselves from every kind of pleasure, and to enter upon their prayer with one sole determination, to help Christ bear His Cross. Anxious, like good knights, to serve their King without pay, since they are quite sure of their final reward, they will keep their eyes fixed upon the true and everlasting kingdom to which we are striving to attain.

    It is a very great thing always to bear this in mind, especially at first; later, we realize it so clearly that we need to forget it, so that we may live out our lives, rather than to try to recall to our memory how brief is the duration of everything, and how nothing is of any value, and how such earthly rest as we have must be reckoned as no rest at all. This seems to be a very low ideal, and so indeed it is, and those who have reached a more advanced state, and a greater degree of perfection, would consider it a reproach and be ashamed if they thought that the reason they were renouncing the good things of this world was because these must pass away: even were such things everlasting, they would rejoice to give them up for God. The nearer are these souls to perfection, the greater would be their joy, and the greater, too, would it be if these earthly blessings lasted longer.

    In souls like these love is already highly developed and it is love which works in them. But for beginners this other consideration is of the greatest importance, and they must not look upon it as a low ideal, for the blessing that it brings is a great one, and for this reason I strongly commend it to them: even those who have reached great heights of prayer will find it necessary, when from time to time God is pleased to prove them and His Majesty seems to have forsaken them. For, as I have already said -- and I should not like this to be forgotten -- in this life of ours the soul does not grow in the way the body does, though we speak as if it did, and growth does in fact occur. But whereas a child, after attaining to the full stature of a man, does not diminish in size so that his body becomes small again, in spiritual matters the Lord is pleased that such diminution should take place -- at least, according to my own observation, for I have no other means of knowing. This must be in order to humble us for our greater good, and so that we may not grow careless while we are in this exile; for, the higher a person has climbed, the more fearful he should be and the less he should trust himself. There come times when those whose will is so completely subjected to the will of God that they would let themselves be tortured rather than be guilty of one imperfection and die a thousand deaths rather than commit sins, find it necessary, if they are to be free from offending God, when they see themselves assaulted by temptations and persecutions, to make use of the primary weapons -- that is, of prayer -- and thus to recall to themselves that everything comes to an end, that there is a heaven and a hell, and other truths of the same kind.

    Returning now to what I was saying, the great foundation which we must lay, if we are to be delivered from the snares and pleasures sent by the devil, is the initial determination not to desire these pleasures, but to walk from the first in the way of the Cross. For the Lord Himself showed us this way of perfection when He said: "Take up thy cross and follow Me"[128]. He is our Pattern; and those who follow His counsels with the sole aim of pleasing Him have nothing to fear.

    They will know, by the improvement which they discern in themselves, that this is not the work of the devil. For, even though they keep falling, there is one sign that the Lord has been with them -- namely, the speed with which they rise again. There are also other signs, which I shall now describe. When the Spirit of God is at work, there is no need to go about looking for ways of inducing humility and confusion; for the Lord Himself reveals these to us in a very different manner from any which we can find by means of our puny reflections, which are nothing by comparison with a true humility proceeding from the light given us in this way by the Lord. This produces a confusion which quite overwhelms us. The bestowal upon us of this knowledge by God so that we may learn that we ourselves have nothing good is a well-known experience, and the greater are the favours we receive from Him, the better we learn it. He gives us a burning desire to make progress in prayer, and not to abandon it, however great the trials it may bring us. We offer ourselves wholly to Him and we experience a security combined with humility and fear with respect to our salvation. This casts out from the soul all servile fear and implants in it a very much maturer fear which springs from faith. We realize that there is beginning to develop within us a love of God entirely devoid of self-interest and we desire periods of solitude in order to have the greater fruition of that blessing.

    Let me end, lest I should grow weary, by saying that this prayer is the beginning of all blessings: the flowers have now reached a point at which they are almost ready to bloom. The soul is very conscious of this and at such a time it could not possibly decide that God was not with it; only when it be comes conscious once more of its failings and imperfections does it grow fearful of everything, as it is well that it should. There are souls, nevertheless, whose confidence that God is with them brings them benefits which are greater than all the fears that can beset them. For, if a soul is by nature loving and grateful, the remembrance of the favour which God has granted it causes it to turn to God despite all the punishments of hell which it can imagine. This, at any rate, was what happened to me, wicked as I am.

    As I shall go on later to speak of the signs of true spirituality -- and it has cost me much labour to apprehend them clearly -- I am not going to speak of them here and now. I believe that, by God's help, I shall be able to do so with some degree of success; for, quite apart from the experiences which have done me so much good, I have been taught by certain very learned men and very holy persons to whom it is right that credence should be given, so that souls which by the Lord's goodness reach this point may not become as fatigued as I did.

 

 

Chapter 16

    Treats of the third degree of prayer and continues to expound very lofty matters, describing what the soul that reaches this state is able to do and the effects produced by these great favours of the Lord. This chapter is well calculated to uplift the spirit in praises to God and to provide great consolation for those who reach this state.

     Let us now go on to speak of the third water with which this garden is watered -- that is, of running water proceeding from a river or a spring. This irrigates the garden with much less trouble, although a certain amount is caused by the directing of it. But the Lord is now pleased to help the gardener, so that He may almost be said to be the gardener Himself, for it is He Who does everything. This state is a sleep of the faculties, which are neither wholly lost nor yet can understand how they work. The pleasure and sweetness and delight are incomparably greater than in the previous state, for the water of grace rises to the very neck of the soul, so that it is unable to go forward, and has no idea how to do so, yet neither can it turn back: it would fain have the fruition of exceeding great glory. It is like a person holding the candle in his hand,[129] who is soon to die a death that he longs for; and in that agony it is rejoicing with ineffable joy. This seems to me to be nothing less than an all but complete death to everything in the world and a fruition of God. I know no other terms in which to describe it or to explain it, nor does the soul, at such a time, know what to do: it knows not whether to speak or to be silent, whether to laugh or to weep. This state is a glorious folly, a heavenly madness, in which true wisdom is acquired, and a mode of fruition in which the soul finds the greatest delight.

    It is now, I believe, some five, or perhaps six, years since the Lord granted me this prayer in abundance, and granted it me many times, yet I never understood it or knew how to describe it. My intention, therefore, when I reached this point, was to say very little about it, or even nothing at all. I fully realized that it was not a complete union of all the faculties and yet it was very obviously something higher than the previous state of prayer; but I confess that I could neither decide nor understand the nature of this difference. I believe it is because of Your Reverence's humility in consenting to be helped by simplicity as great as mine that to-day, after I had communicated, the Lord granted me this prayer, without allowing me to go beyond it, and set these comparisons before me, and taught me how to express all this and to describe what the soul in this state must do. I was certainly astonished, for in a moment I understood everything. I used often to commit follies because of this love, and to be inebriated with it, yet I had never been able to understand its nature. I realized that it came from God but I could not understand the method of His working; for the truth is that the faculties are in almost complete union, though not so much absorbed as not to act. I am extremely pleased at having understood it at last. Blessed be the Lord, Who has given me this consolation!

    The faculties retain only the power of occupying themselves wholly with God; not one of them, it seems, ventures to stir, nor can we cause any of them to move except by trying to fix our attention very carefully on something else, and even then I do not think we could entirely succeed in doing so. Many words are spoken, during this state, in praise of God, but, unless the Lord Himself puts order into them, they have no orderly form. The understanding, at any rate, counts for nothing here; the soul would like to shout praises aloud, for it is in such a state that it cannot contain itself -- a state of delectable disquiet. Already the flowers are opening: see, they are beginning to send out their fragrance. The soul would like everyone to see her now, and become aware of her glory, to the praise of God, and help her to sing His praises. She seems to me like the woman spoken of in the Gospel, who wanted to call (or did call) her neighbours.[130] Such as these, I think, must have been the wondrous feelings of the royal prophet David, when he played on the harp and sang in praise of God. I am very much devoted to this glorious king and I wish all were, especially those of us who are sinners.[131]

    O God, what must that soul be like when it is in this state! It would fain be all tongue, so that it might praise the Lord. It utters a thousand holy follies, striving ever to please Him Who thus possesses it. I know a person who, though no poet, composed some verses in a very short time, which were full of feeling and admirably descriptive of her pain[132]: they did not come from her understanding, but, in order the better to enjoy the bliss which came to her from such delectable pain, she complained of it to her God. She would have been glad if she could have been cut to pieces, body and soul, to show what joy this pain caused her. What torments could have been set before her at such a time which she would not have found it delectable to endure for her Lord's sake? She sees clearly that, when the martyrs suffered their torments, they did hardly anything of themselves, for the soul is well aware that fortitude comes from somewhere outside itself. But what will the soul experience when it regains its senses and goes back to live in the world and has to return to the world's preoccupations and formalities? I do not think what I say is in the least exaggerated; I have rather fallen short of the truth in describing this kind of rejoicing which the Lord desires a soul to experience while in this exile. Blessed be Thou, Lord, for ever; let all things for ever praise Thee. Be pleased now, my King, I beseech Thee, to ordain that since, as I write this, I am, by Thy goodness and mercy, not yet recovered from this holy heavenly madness -- a favour which Thou grantest me through no merits of my own -- either those with whom I shall have to do may also become mad through Thy love or I myself may have no part in anything to do with the world or may be taken from it. This servant of Thine, my God, can no longer endure such trials as come when she finds herself without Thee; for, if she is to live, she desires no repose in this life nor would she have Thee give her any. This soul would fain see itself free: eating is killing it; sleep brings it anguish. It finds itself in this life spending its time upon comforts, yet nothing can comfort it but Thee: it seems to be living against nature, for it no longer desires to live to itself, but only to Thee.

O my true Lord and Glory, what a cross -- light and yet most heavy -- hast Thou prepared for those who attain to this state! Light, because it is sweet; heavy, because there come times when there is no patience that can endure it: never would the soul desire to be free from it save to find itself with Thee. When it remembers that as yet it has rendered Thee no service and that by living[133] it can still serve Thee, it would gladly take up a much heavier cross and never die until the end of the world. It sets no store by its own repose if by forfeiting this it can do Thee a small service. It knows not what to desire, but it well knows that it desires nothing else but Thee.

    O my son! (He to whom this is addressed and who commands me to write it is so humble that he desires to be addressed thus).[134] May Your Reverence alone see some of these things in which I am transgressing my proper limits! For there is no reason strong enough to keep me within the bounds of reason when the Lord takes me out of myself. And since I communicated this morning I cannot believe that it is I who am speaking at all: I seem to be dreaming what I see and I wish all the people I see were suffering from the same complaint that I have now. I beseech Your Reverence, let us all be mad, for the love of Him Who was called mad for our sakes. Your Reverence says that you are attached to me: I want you to show it by preparing yourself for God to grant you this favour, for I see very few people who are not too worldly-wise to do what is incumbent upon them. I may of course be more so than anybody else: Your Reverence must not allow me to be. You are my confessor, my father,[135] and it is to you that I have entrusted my soul: undeceive me, then, by telling me the truth, for such truths as these are very seldom told.

    I wish we five,[136] who now love each other in Christ, could make an agreement together. Just as others in recent times have been meeting secretly to contrive evil deeds and heresies against His Majesty,[137] so we might try to meet sometimes to undeceive one another and to advise one another as to ways in which we might amend our lives and be more pleasing to God; for there is no one who knows himself as well as he is known by those who see him if they observe him lovingly and are anxious to help him. I say "secretly", because it is no longer the fashion to talk in this way: even preachers nowadays phrase their sermons so as not to give offence.[138] No doubt their intention is good, and the work they do is good too, but they lead few people to amend their lives. How is it that there are not many who are led by sermons to forsake open sin? Do you know what I think? That it is because preachers have too much worldly wisdom. They are not like the Apostles, flinging it all aside and catching fire with love for God; and so their flame gives little heat: I do not say that their flame is as great as the Apostles' was, but I could wish it were stronger than I see it is. Does Your Reverence know what our great care ought to be? To hold our life in abhorrence and to consider our reputation as quite unimportant. Provided we say what is true and maintain it to the glory of God, we ought to be indifferent whether we lose everything or gain everything. For he who in all things is truly bold in God's service will be as ready to do the one as the other. I do not say I am that kind of person, but I wish I were.

    Oh, what great freedom we enjoy! It makes us look upon having to live and act according to the laws of the world as captivity! It is a freedom which we obtain from the Lord; and there is not a slave who would not risk everything in order to get his ransom and return to his native country. And as this is the true road, there is no reason for lingering on it, for we shall never gain complete possession of that great treasure until our life is over. May the Lord give us His help to this end. Your Reverence must tear up what I have written if it seems good to you to do so; in that case consider it as a letter addressed to yourself and forgive me for having been so bold.

 

Chapter 17

    Continues the same subject, the exposition of this third degree of prayer. Concludes her exposition of the effects produced by it. Describes the hindrances caused in this state by the imagination and the memory.

    A reasonable amount has been said concerning this mode of prayer and of what the soul must now do -- or, more correctly, of what God does within it, for it is He Who now undertakes the work of the gardener and is pleased that the soul should be idle. The will has only to consent to those favours which it is enjoying and to submit to all that true Wisdom may be pleased to accomplish in it. And for this it needs courage, that is certain; for the joy is so great that sometimes the soul seems to be one the point of leaving the body -- and what a happy death that would be!

    In this state I think it is well, as Your Reverence has been told, for the soul to abandon itself wholly into the arms of God. If He is pleased to take it to Heaven, let it go; if to hell, it is not distressed, so long as it is going there with its Good. If its life is to come to an end for ever, that is its desire; if it is to live a thousand years, that is its desire also. Let His Majesty treat it as His own: it no longer belongs to itself; it is given wholly to the Lord; it can cease to worry altogether. When God grants the soul prayer as sublime as that which belongs to this state, He can do all this and much more, for that is the effect it produces. The soul realizes that He is doing this without any fatiguing of its understanding; only I think it is, as it were, astonished to see what a good gardener the Lord is making, and to find that He does not desire the soul to undertake any labour, but only to take its delight in the first fragrance of the flowers. In any one of these visits, brief as its duration may be, the Gardener, being, as He is, the Creator of the water, gives the soul water without limit; and what the poor soul could not acquire, even if it laboured and fatigued its understanding for as much as twenty years, this heavenly Gardener achieves in a moment; the fruit grows and ripens in such a way that, if the Lord wills, the soul can obtain sufficient nourishment from its own garden. But He allows it to share the fruit with others only when it has eaten so much of it that it is strong enough not to consume it all by merely nibbling at it,[139] and not to fail to get profit from it, nor to omit to recompense Him Who has bestowed it, but to maintain others and give them food at its own cost while itself perhaps dying of hunger. This will be understood perfectly by persons of intelligence and they will be able to apply it more effectively than I can describe it, for I am growing tired.

    The virtues, then, are now stronger than they were previously, in the Prayer of Quiet, for the soul sees that it is other than it was, and does not realize how it is beginning to do great things with the fragrance that is being given forth by the flowers. It is the Lord's will that these shall open so that the soul may see that it possesses virtues, though it also knows very well that it could not itself acquire them, and has in fact been unable to do so even after many years, whereas in this short space of time they have been given to it by the heavenly Gardener. The humility, too, which remains in the soul is much greater and deeper than it was previously, for it sees more clearly that it has done nothing at all of itself save to consent that the Lord shall grant it favours and to receive them with its will.

    This kind of prayer, I think, is quite definitely a union of the entire soul with God, except that His Majesty appears to be willing to give the faculties leave to understand, and have fruition of, the great things that He is now doing. It happens at certain seasons, very often indeed (I say this now so that Your Reverence may know that it can happen and recognize it when it happens to you: I myself was quite distracted by it), that, when the will is in union, the soul realizes that the will is captive and rejoicing, and that it alone is experiencing great quiet, while, on the other hand, the understanding and the memory are so free that they can attend to business and do works of charity. This may seem to be just the same as the Prayer of Quiet of which I spoke, but it is really different -- partly because in that prayer the soul would fain neither stir nor move and is rejoicing in that holy repose which belongs to Mary, while in this prayer it can also be a Martha. Thus the soul is, as it were, occupied in the active and in the contemplative life at one and the same time: it is doing works of charity and also the business pertaining to its mode of life, as well as busying itself with reading. Those in this state, however, are not wholly masters of themselves and they know very well that the better part of the soul is elsewhere. It is as if we were speaking to one person while someone else was speaking to us: we cannot be wholly absorbed in either the one conversation or the other.

    This is a thing which can be very clearly apprehended, and which, when experienced, gives great satisfaction and pleasure; it is also a most effective preparation for attainment to a very restful state of quiet, since it gives the soul a period of solitude or freedom from its business. It works in this way. A person may have so far satisfied his appetite that he has no need to eat; he feels quite well fed and would not look at ordinary food; yet he is not so replete that, if he sees something nice, he will not be glad to eat some of it. Just so here: the soul in this state is not satisfied by the pleasures of the world and has no desire for them because it has within it that which satisfies it more: greater joys in God and desires to satisfy its desire, to have greater fruition and to be with Him -- that is what the soul seeks.

    There is another kind of union, which, though not complete union, is more nearly so than the one which I have just described, but not so much so as the one which has been referred to in speaking of this third water. Your Reverence will be very glad, if the Lord grants them all to you (assuming that you do not possess them already), to have a written description of them and thus to be able to understand their nature. For it is one favour that the Lord should grant this favour; but quite another to understand what favour and what grace it is; and still another to be able to describe and explain it. And although only the first of these favours seems necessary for the soul to be able to proceed without confusion and fear and to walk in the way of the Lord with the greater courage, trampling underfoot all the things of the world, it is a great benefit and favour to understand it, and it is right that everyone who can do so, as well as everyone who cannot, should praise the Lord because His Majesty has granted it to a few people who are alive so that we may reap advantage from it. Now frequently this kind of union which I wish to describe comes about as follows (and this is specially true of myself, for God very often grants me this favour in this way). God constrains the will, and also, I think, the understanding, as it does not reason but occupies itself in the fruition of God, like one who, as he looks, sees so much that he does not know where to look next: as he sees one thing he loses sight of another so that he can give no description of anything. The memory remains free -- both it and the imagination must be so -- and when they find themselves alone one would never believe what a turmoil they make and how they try to upset everything. Personally, I get fatigued by it and I hate it, and often I beseech the Lord, if He must upset me so much, to let me be free from it at times like these. "My God," I say to Him sometimes, "when shall my soul be wholly employed in Thy praise, instead of being torn to pieces in this way, and quite helpless?" This makes me realize what harm is done to us by sin, which has bound us in this way so that we cannot do as we would -- namely, be always occupied in God.

    As I say, it happens at times -- to-day has been one of them, so I have it clearly in mind -- that I find my soul is becoming unwrought, because it wants to be wholly where the greater part of it is, yet it knows this to be impossible. Memory and imagination make such turmoil within it that they leave it helpless; and the other faculties, not being free, are unable to do anything, even harm. They do the soul extreme harm, of course, by disturbing it; but, when I say "unable to do harm", I mean that they have no strength and cannot concentrate. The understanding gives the soul no help whatever by what it presents to the imagination; it rests nowhere, but goes from one thing to another, like nothing so much as those restless, importunate little moths that fly by night: just so the understanding flies from one extreme to another. This comparison, I think, is extremely apt; for though the understanding has not the strength to do any harm, it importunes those who observe it. I do not know what remedy there is for this, for so far God has not revealed one to me. If He had, I would very willingly make use of it, for, as I say, I am often tormented in this way. Here we have a picture of our own wretchedness and a very clear one of God's great power; the faculty which remains free causes us all this fatigue and harm, whereas the others, which are with His Majesty, bring us rest.

    The remedy which I finally discovered, after having caused myself much fatigue for many years, is the one I spoke of when describing the Prayer of Quiet: the soul must take no more notice of the will than it would of a madman, but leave it to its work, for God alone can set it free. In this state, in short, it is a slave. We must bear patiently with it as Jacob bore with Lia, for the Lord is showing us an exceeding great mercy if He allows us to enjoy Rachel. I say that it is a slave because, after all, however much it may try, it cannot attract to itself the other faculties; on the contrary, they often compel it to come to them and it does so without the smallest effort. Sometimes, seeing it so confused and restless because of its desire to be with the other faculties, God is pleased to have pity on it, and His Majesty allows it to burn in the fire of that Divine candle, which has already deprived the others of their natural form and reduced them to ashes: so great are the blessings they are enjoying that they have become almost supernatural.

    In all these types of prayer which I have described in speaking of this last-mentioned kind of water, which comes from a spring, the glory and the repose of the soul are so great that the body shares in the soul's joy and delight, and this to a most marked extent, and the virtues are very highly developed in it, as I have said. It seems that the Lord has been pleased to describe these states in which the soul finds itself, and to do so as clearly, I believe, as in this life is possible. Your Reverence should discuss the matter with some spiritual person, who has himself reached this state and is a man of learning. If he tells you that it is all right, you may take his assurance as coming from God and be grateful for it to His Majesty. For, in due time, as I have said, you will rejoice greatly at having understood the nature of this, until He gives you grace to understand it fully, just as He is giving you grace to enjoy it. As His Majesty has granted you the first grace, you, with all your intellect and learning, will come to understand it as well. May He be praised for all things, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Chapter 18

    Treats of the fourth degree of prayer. Begins to describe in an excellent way[140] the great dignity conferred by the Lord upon the soul in this state. This chapter is meant for the great encouragement of those who practise prayer to the end that they may strive to reach this lofty state, which it is possible to attain on earth, though not through our merits but by the Lord's goodness. Let it be read with attention, for its exposition is most subtle and it contains most noteworthy things.[141]

    May the Lord teach me words in which to say something about the fourth water. His help is very necessary, even more so than it was for describing the last water, for in that state the soul still feels that it is not completely dead -- and we may use this word in speaking of it, since it is dead to the world. As I said, it retains sufficient sense to realize that it is in the world and to be conscious of its loneliness, and it makes use of exterior things for the expression of its feelings, even if this is only possible by signs. In the whole of the prayer already described, and in each of its stages, the gardener is responsible for part of the labour; although in these later stages the labour is accompanied by such bliss and consolation that the soul's desire would be never to abandon it: the labour is felt to be, not labour at all, but bliss. In this state of prayer to which we have now come, there is no feeling, but only rejoicing, unaccompanied by any understanding of the thing in which the soul is rejoicing. It realizes that it is rejoicing in some good thing, in which are comprised all good things at once, but it cannot comprehend this good thing. In this rejoicing all the senses are occupied, so that none of them is free or able to act in any way, either outwardly or inwardly. Previously, as I have said, they were permitted to give some indication of the great joy that they feel; but in this state the soul's rejoining is beyond comparison greater, and yet can be much less effectively expressed, because there is no power left in the body, neither has the soul any power, to communicate its rejoicing. At such a time everything would be a great hindrance and torment to it and a disturbance of its rest; so I assert that, if there is union of all the faculties, the soul cannot communicate the fact, even if it so desires (when actually experiencing it, I mean): if it can communicate it, then it is not union.

    The way in which this that we call union comes, and the nature of it, I do not know how to explain. It is described in mystical theology, but I am unable to use the proper terms, and I cannot understand what is meant by "mind" or how this differs from "soul" or "spirit". They all seem the same to me, though the soul sometimes issues from itself, like a fire that is burning and has become wholly flame, and sometimes this fire increases with great force. This flame rises very high above the fire, but that does not make it a different thing: it is the same flame which is in the fire. This, with all your learning, Your Reverences will understand: there is nothing more that I can say of it.

    What I do seek to explain is the feelings of the soul when it is in this Divine union. It is quite clear what union is -- two different things becoming one. O my Lord, how good Thou art! Blessed be Thou for ever! Let all things praise Thee, my God, Who hast so loved us that we can truly say that Thou hast communication with souls even in this exile: even if they are good, this is great bounty and magnanimity. In a word, my Lord, it is a bounty and a magnanimity which are all Thine own, for Thou givest according to Thine own nature. O infinite Bounty, how magnificent are Thy works! Even one whose understanding is not occupied with things of the earth is amazed at being unable to understand such truths. Dost Thou, then, grant these sovereign favours to souls who have so greatly offended Thee? Truly my own understanding is overwhelmed by this, and when I begin to think about it I can make no progress. What progress, indeed, is there to be made which is not a turning back? As for giving Thee thanks for such great favours, there is no way of doing it, though sometimes I find it a help to utter foolishness.

    When I have just received these mercies, or when God is beginning to bestow them on me (for while actually receiving them, as I have said, a person has no power to do anything), I am often wont to exclaim "Lord, consider what Thou art doing; forget not so quickly the gravity of my evil deeds. Though Thou must have forgotten them before Thou couldst forgive me, I beseech Thee to remember them in order that Thou mayest set a limit to Thy favours. O my Creator, pour not such precious liquor into so broken a vessel, for again and again Thou hast seen how I have allowed it to run away. Put not such a treasure in a place where the yearning for the comforts of this life has not yet disappeared as it should, or it will be completely wasted. How canst Thou entrust this fortified city and the keys of its citadel to so cowardly a defender, who at the enemy's first onslaught allows him to enter? Let not Thy love, eternal King, be so great as to imperil such precious jewels. For it seems, my Lord, that men have an excuse for despising them if Thou bestowest them upon a creature so wretched, so base, so weak, so miserable and so worthless, who, though she may strive not to lose them, by Thy help (of which I have no small need, being what I am), cannot make use of them to bring profit to any. I am, in short, a woman, and not even a good one, but wicked.

    "When talents are placed in earth as vile as this they seem to be not only hidden but buried. It is not Thy wont, Lord, to do such great things for a soul and to bestow such favours upon it save that it may profit many others. Thou knowest, my God, that I beseech this of Thee with all my heart and will, and that I have oftentimes besought it of Thee, and that I count it a blessing to lose the greatest blessing which may be possessed upon earth, if Thou wilt bestow thy favours upon one who will derive greater profit from this blessing, to the increase of Thy glory." It has come to pass many times that I have said these things and others like them. And afterwards I have become conscious of my foolishness and want of humility; for the Lord well knows what is fitting for me and that my soul would have no power to attain salvation did not His Majesty bestow it on me with these great favours.

    I propose also to speak of the graces and effects which remain in the soul, and of what it can do by itself, if it can do anything, towards reaching a state of such sublimity.

    This elevation of the spirit, or union, is wont to come with heavenly love; but, as I understand it, the union itself is a different thing from the elevation which takes place in this same union. Anyone who has not had experience of the latter will think it is not so; but my own view is that, even though they may both be the same, the Lord works differently in them, so that the soul's growth in detachment from creatures is much greater in the flight of the spirit. It has become quite clear to me that this is a special grace, though, as I say, both may be, or may appear to be, the same; a small fire is as much fire as is a large one and yet the difference between the two is evident. In a small fire, a long time elapses before a small piece of iron can become red-hot; but if the fire be a large one, the piece of iron, though it may also be larger, seems to lose all its properties very quickly. So it is, I think, with these two kinds of favour from the Lord. Anyone who has attained to raptures will, I know, understand it well. If he has not experienced it, it will seem ridiculous to him, as well it may be: for a person like myself to speak of such a thing and to make any attempt to explain a matter which cannot even begin to be described in words may very well be ridiculous.

    But I believe that the Lord will help me in this, since His Majesty knows that, next to doing what I am bidden, my chief aim is to cause souls to covet so sublime a blessing. I shall say nothing of which I have not myself had abundant experience. The fact is, when I began to write about this fourth water, it seemed to me more impossible to say anything about it than to talk Greek -- and indeed it is a most difficult matter. So I laid it aside and went to Communion. Blessed be the Lord, Who thus helps the ignorant! O virtue of obedience, that canst do all things! God enlightened my understanding, sometimes giving me words and sometimes showing me how I was to use them, for, as in dealing with the last kind of prayer, His Majesty seems to be pleased to say what I have neither the power nor the learning to express. What I am saying is the whole truth; and thus, if I say anything good, the teaching comes from Him, while what is bad, of course, comes from that sea of evil -- myself. And so I say, if there are any persons (and there must be many) who have attained to the experiences in prayer which the Lord has granted to this miserable woman, and who think that they have strayed from the path and wish to discuss these matters with me, the Lord will help His servant to present His truth.

    Speaking now of this rain which comes from Heaven to fill and saturate the whole of this garden with an abundance of water, we can see how much rest the gardener would be able to have if the Lord never ceased to send it whenever it was necessary. And if there were no winter, but eternal warm weather, there would never be a dearth of flowers and fruit and we can imagine how delighted he would be. But during this life, that is impossible, and, when one kind of water fails, we must always be thinking about obtaining another. This rain from Heaven often comes when the gardener is least expecting it. Yet it is true that at first it almost always comes after long mental prayer: as one degree of prayer succeeds another, the Lord takes this little bird and puts it into the nest where it may repose. Having watched it flying for a long time, striving with mind and will and all its strength to seek and please God, it becomes His pleasure, while it is still in this life, to give it its reward. And what a great reward that is! For even a moment of it suffices to recompense the soul for all the trials that it can possibly have endured.

    While seeking God in this way, the soul becomes conscious that it is fainting almost completely away, in a kind of swoon with an exceeding great and sweet delight. It gradually ceases to breathe and all its bodily strength begins to fail it: it cannot even move its hands without great pain; its eyes involuntarily close, or, if they remain open, they can hardly see. If a person in this state attempts to read, he is unable to spell out a single letter: it is as much as he can do to recognize one. He sees that letters are there, but, as the understanding gives him no help, he cannot read them even if he so wishes. He can hear, but he cannot understand what he hears. He can apprehend nothing with the senses, which only hinder his soul's joy and thus harm rather than help him. It is futile for him to attempt to speak: his mind cannot manage to form a single word, nor, if it could, would he have the strength to pronounce it. For in this condition all outward strength vanishes, while the strength of the soul increases so that it may the better have fruition of its bliss. The outward joy experienced is great and most clearly recognized.

    This prayer, for however long it may last, does no harm; at least, it has never done any to me, nor do I ever remember feeling any ill effects after the Lord has granted me this favour, however unwell I may have been: indeed, I am generally much the better for it. What harm can possibly be done by so great a blessing? The outward effects are so noteworthy that there can be no doubt some great thing has taken place: we experience a loss of strength but the experience is one of such delight that afterwards our strength grows greater.

    It is true that at first this happens in such a short space of time -- so, at least, it was with me -- that because of its rapidity it can be detected neither by these outward signs nor by the failure of the senses. But the exceeding abundance of the favours granted to the soul clearly indicates how bright has been the sun that has shone upon it and has thus caused the soul to melt away. And let it be observed that, in my opinion, whatever may be the length of the period during which all the faculties of the soul are in this state of suspension, it is a very short one: if it were to last for half an hour, that would be a long time -- I do not think it has ever lasted so long as that with me. As the soul is not conscious of it, its duration is really very difficult to estimate, so I will merely say that it is never very long before one of the faculties becomes active again. It is the will that maintains the contact with God[142] but the other two faculties soon begin to importune it once more. The will, however, is calm, so they become suspended once again; but eventually, after another short period of suspension, they come back to life.

    With all this happening, the time spent in prayer may last, and does last, for some hours; for, once the two faculties have begun to grow inebriated with the taste of this Divine wine, they are very ready to lose themselves in order to gain the more, and so they keep company with the will and all three rejoice together. But this state in which they are completely lost, and have no power of imagining anything -- for the imagination, I believe, is also completely lost -- is, as I say, of brief duration, although the faculties do not recover to such an extent as not to be for some hours, as it were, in disorder, God, from time to time, gathering them once more to Himself.

    Let us now come to the most intimate part of what the soul experiences in this condition. The persons who must speak of it are those who know it, for it cannot be understood, still less described. As I was about to write of this (I had just communicated and had been experiencing this very prayer of which I am writing), I was wondering what it is the soul does during that time, when the Lord said these words to me: "It dies to itself wholly,[143] daughter, in order that it may fix itself more and more upon Me; it is no longer itself that lives, but I. As it cannot comprehend what it understands, it is an understanding which understands not." One who has experienced this will understand something of it; it cannot be more clearly expressed, since all that comes to pass in this state is so obscure. I can only say that the soul feels close to God and that there abides within it such a certainty that it cannot possibly do other than believe. All the faculties now fail and are suspended in such a way that, as I have said, it is impossible to believe they are active. If the soul has been meditating upon any subject,[144] this vanishes from its memory as if it had never thought of it. If it has been reading, it is unable to concentrate upon what it was reading or to remember it; and the same is true if it has been praying. So it is that this importunate little butterfly -- the memory -- is now burning its wings and can no longer fly. The will must be fully occupied in loving, but it cannot understand how it loves; the understanding, if it understands, does not understand how it understands, or at least can comprehend nothing of what it understands. It does not seem to me to be understanding, because, as I say, it does not understand itself. Nor can I myself understand this.

    There was one thing of which at first I was ignorant: I did not know that God was in all things, and, when He seemed to me to be so very present, I thought it impossible. I could not cease believing that He was there, for it seemed almost certain that I had been conscious of His very presence. Unlearned persons would tell me that He was there only by grace; but I could not believe that, for, as I say, He seemed to me to be really present; and so I continued to be greatly distressed. From this doubt I was freed by a very learned man of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic[145]: he told me that He was indeed present and described how He communicated Himself to us, which brought me very great comfort. It is to be noted and understood that this water from Heaven, this greatest of the Lord's favours, leaves the greatest benefits in the soul, as I shall now explain.

 

 

Chapter 19

    Continues the sane subject. Begins to describe the effects produced in the soul by this degree of prayer. Exhorts souls earnestly not to turn back, even if after receiving this favour they should fall, and not to give up prayer. Describes the harm that will ensue if they do not follow this counsel. This chapter is to be read very carefully and will be of great comfort to the weak and to sinners.

    The soul that has experienced this prayer and this union is left with a very great tenderness, of such a kind that it would gladly become consumed,[146] not with pain but in tears of joy. It finds itself bathed in these tears without having been conscious of them or knowing when or how it shed them. But it derives great joy from seeing the vehemence of the fire assuaged by water which makes it burn the more. This sounds like nonsense but none the less it is what happens. Sometimes, when I have reached the end of this prayer, I have been so completely beside myself that I have not known whether it has been a dream or whether the bliss that I have been experiencing has really come to me; and I have only known that it has not been a dream through finding myself bathed in tears, which have been flowing without causing me any distress and with such vehemence and rapidity that it has been as if they had fallen from a cloud in Heaven. This would happen to me in the early stages, when the condition soon passed away.

    The soul is left so full of courage that it would be greatly comforted if at that moment, for God's sake, it could be hacked to pieces. It is then that it makes heroic resolutions and promises, that its desires become full of vigour, that it begins to abhor the world and that it develops the clearest realization of its own vanity. The benefits that it receives are more numerous and sublime than any which proceed from the previous states of prayer; and its humility is also greater, for it clearly sees how by no efforts of its own it could either gain or keep so exceeding and so great a favour. It also sees clearly how extremely unworthy it is -- for in a room bathed in sunlight not a cobweb can remain hidden. It sees its own wretchedness. So far is vainglory from it that it cannot believe it could ever be guilty of such a thing. For now it sees with its own eyes that of itself it can do little or nothing, and that it hardly even gave its consent to what has happened to it, but that, against its own will, the door seemed to be closed upon all the senses so that it might have the greater fruition of the Lord. It is alone with Him: what is there for it to do but to love Him? It can neither see nor hear save by making a great effort and it can take little credit for that. Then its past life comes up before it and all the truth of God's great mercy is revealed. The understanding has no need to go out hunting for its food is already prepared. The soul realizes that it has deserved to go to hell, yet its punishment is to taste glory. It becomes consumed[147] in praises of God as I would fain become now. Blessed be Thou, my Lord, Who from such filthy slime as I dost draw water so pure as to be meet for Thy table! Praised be Thou, O Joy of the angels, Who art thus pleased to raise up a worm so vile!

    The benefits thus achieved remain in the soul for some time; having now a clear realization that the fruits of this prayer are not its own, it can start to share them and yet have no lack of them itself. It begins to show signs of being a soul that is guarding the treasures of Heaven and to be desirous of sharing them with others and to beseech God that it may not be alone in its riches. Almost without knowing it, and doing nothing consciously to that end, it begins to benefit its neighbours, and they become aware of this benefit because the flowers have now so powerful a fragrance as to make them desire to approach them. They realize that the soul has virtues, and, seeing how desirable the fruit is, would fain help it to partake of it. If the ground is well dug over by trials, persecutions, backbitings and infirmities (for few can attain such a state without these), and if it is broken up by detachment from self-interest, the water will sink in so far that it will hardly ever grow dry again. But if it is just earth in the virgin state and as full of thorns as I was at first; if it is not yet free from occasions of sin and not so grateful as it should be after receiving such great favours: then it will once again become dry. If the gardener becomes careless, and the Lord is not pleased, out of His sheer goodness, to send rain upon it afresh, then you can set down the garden as ruined. This happened to me several times and I am really amazed at it: if I had not had personal experience of it, I could not believe it. I write this for the consolation of weak souls like myself, so that they may never despair or cease to trust in God's greatness. Even if, after reaching so high a point as this to which the Lord has brought them, they should fall, they must not be discouraged if they would not be utterly lost. For tears achieve everything: one kind of water attracts another.

    This is one of the reasons why, though being what I am, I was encouraged to obey my superiors by writing this and giving an account of my wretched life and of the favours which the Lord has granted me, albeit I have not served Him but offended Him. I only wish I were a person of great authority so that my words might be believed: I beseech the Lord that His Majesty may be pleased to grant me this. I repeat that no one who has begun to practise prayer should be discouraged and say: "If I am going to fall again, it will be better for me not to go on practising prayer." I think it will be if such a person gives up prayer and does not amend his evil life; but, if he does not give it up, he may have confidence that prayer will bring him into the haven of light. This was a matter about which the devil kept plaguing me, and I suffered so much through thinking myself lacking in humility for continuing prayer, when I was so wicked, that, as I have said, for a year and a half I gave it up -- or at any rate for a year: I am not quite sure about the six months. This would have been nothing less than plunging into hell -- nor was it: there was no need for any devils to send me there. Oh, God help me, how terribly blind I was! How well the devil succeeds in his purpose when he pursues us like this! The deceiver knows that if a soul perseveres in practising prayer it will be lost to him, and that, by the goodness of God, all the relapses into which he can lead it will only help it to make greater strides onward in His service. And this is a matter of some concern to the devil.

    O my Jesus! What a sight it is to see a soul which has attained as far as this, and has fallen into sin, when Thou of Thy mercy stretchest forth Thy hand to it again and raisest it up! How conscious it becomes of the multitude of Thy wonders and mercies, and of its own wretchedness! Now indeed is it consumed with shame when it acknowledges Thy wonders. Now it dares not raise its eyes. Now it raises them only to acknowledge what it owes Thee. Now it devoutly beseeches the Queen of Heaven to propitiate Thee. Now it invokes the saints, who likewise fell after Thou hadst called them, that they may aid it. Now it feels all Thou givest it to be bounty indeed, for it knows itself to be unworthy even of the ground it treads upon. It has recourse to the Sacraments and a lively faith is implanted in it when it sees what virtues God has placed in them; it praises Thee for having left us such medicine and such ointment for our wounds, which, far from healing them superficially, eradicate them altogether. At this it is amazed -- and who, Lord of my soul, can be other than amazed at mercy so great and favour so immense, at treason so foul and abominable? I cannot think why my heart does not break when I write this, wicked that I am.

    With these few tears that I am here shedding, which are Thy gift (water, in so far as it comes from me, drawn from a well so impure), I seem to be making Thee payment for all my acts of treachery -- for the evil that I have so continually wrought and for the attempts that I have made to blot out the favours Thou hast granted me. Do Thou, my Lord, make my tears of some efficacy. Purify this turbid stream, if only that I may not lead others to be tempted to judge me, as I have been tempted to judge others myself. For I used to wonder, Lord, why Thou didst pass by persons who were most holy, who had been piously brought up, who had always served Thee and laboured for Thee and who were truly religious and not, like myself, religious only in name: I could not see why Thou didst not show them the same favours as Thou showedst to me. And then, O my Good, it became clear to me that Thou art keeping their reward to give them all at once -- that my weakness needs the help Thou bestowest on me, whereas they, being strong, can serve Thee without it, and that therefore Thou dost treat them as brave souls and as souls devoid of self-seeking.

    But nevertheless Thou knowest, my Lord, that I would often cry out unto Thee, and make excuses for those who spoke ill of me, for I thought they had ample reason for doing so. This, Lord, was after Thou of Thy goodness hadst kept me from so greatly offending Thee and when I was turning aside from everything which I thought could cause Thee displeasure; and as I did this, Lord, Thou didst begin to open Thy treasures for Thy servant. It seemed that Thou wert waiting for nothing else than that I should be willing and ready to receive them, and so, after a short time, Thou didst begin, not only to give them, but to be pleased that others should know Thou wert giving them, to me.

    When this became known, people began to have a good opinion of one of whose great wickedness all were not fully aware, though much of it was clearly perceptible. Then suddenly began evil-speaking and persecution, and I think with great justification, so I conceived enmity for none, but besought Thee to consider how far they were justified. They said that I wanted to become a saint, and that I was inventing newfangled practices, though in many respects I had not even achieved the full observance of my Rule, nor had I attained to the goodness and sanctity of nuns in my own house, and indeed I do not believe that I ever shall unless God brings this about of His own goodness. On the contrary, I was well on the way to giving up things that were good and adopting habits that were not so: at least I was adopting them to the best of my ability and I had a great deal of ability for doing wrong. So these people were not to blame when they blamed me. I do not mean only the nuns, but other people: they revealed things about me that were true because Thou didst permit it.

    Once when, after having been tempted in this way for some time, I was reciting the Hours, I came to the verse which says: "Justus es, Domine, and Thy judgments. . . ."[148] I began to think how very true this was; for the devil was never powerful enough to tempt me sufficiently to make me doubt that Thou, my Lord, hast all good things, or any other truth of the Faith; indeed, it seemed to me that the less of a natural foundation these truths had, the more firmly I held them and the greater was the devotion they inspired in me. Since Thou art almighty, I accepted all the wondrous works which Thou hadst done as most certain; and in this respect, as I say, I never harboured a doubt. While I was wondering how in Thy justice Thou couldst ordain that so many of Thy faithful handmaidens, as I have said, should not be given the graces and favours which Thou didst bestow on me, being such as I was, Thou didst answer me, Lord, saying "Serve thou Me, and meddle not with this". This was the first word which I ever heard Thee speak to me and so it made me very much afraid; but, as I shall describe this method of hearing later, together with certain other things, I will say nothing about it here, for that would be to digress from my purpose and I think I have digressed quite sufficiently as it is. I hardly know what I have said. It cannot be otherwise, and Your Reverence must suffer these lapses; for, when I consider what God has borne with from me, and find myself in my present state, it is not surprising if I lose the thread of what I am saying and of what I still have to say. May it please the Lord that any foolishness I talk shall be of this kind and may His Majesty never allow me to have the power to resist Him in the smallest degree; rather than that, let Him consume me, just as I am, at this very moment.

    It suffices as an illustration of His great mercies that He should have forgiven such ingratitude as mine, and this not once but many times. He forgave Saint Peter once; but me He has forgiven often. Good reason had the devil for tempting me, telling me not to aspire to a close friendship with One for Whom I was so publicly showing my enmity. How terribly blind I was! Where, my Lord, did I think I could find help save in Thee? What foolishness to flee from the light and to walk on all the time stumbling! What a proud humility did the devil find in me when I ceased to make use of the pillar and the staff whose support I so greatly need lest I should suffer a great fall! As I write I make the sign of the Cross: I do not believe I have ever passed through so grave a peril as when the devil put this idea into my head under the guise of humility. How, he asked me, could one who, after receiving such great favours, was still as wicked as I, approach God in prayer? It was enough for me, he would go on, to recite the prayers enjoined upon me, as all the nuns did, but I did not even do this properly: why, then, should I want to do more? It was showing small respect and indeed contempt for the favours of God. I was right to think about this and to try to realize it, but extremely wrong to put my thoughts into practice. Blessed be Thou, Lord, Who didst thus succour me!

    This seems to me to be the principle on which the devil tempted Judas, except that he dared not tempt me so openly: none the less, he would gradually have brought me to the same fate. For the love of God, let all who practise prayer consider this. Let them be told that by far the worst life I ever led was when I abandoned prayer. Let them consider with what a fine remedy the devil provided me and with what a pretty humility he inspired me. It caused me a great deal of inward unrest. And how could my soul find any rest? Miserable creature that it was, it went farther and farther away from its rest. I was very conscious of the favours and graces I had received from Thee; for the pleasures of earth I felt a loathing: I am amazed that I was able to endure it all. Only hope enabled me to do so, for, as far as I can remember (and it must have been more than twenty-one years ago), I never swerved from my resolution to return to prayers -- I was only waiting until I should be quite free from sins. Oh how far this hope led me astray!

    The devil would have encouraged me in it until the Day of Judgment, so that he might then carry me off to hell. But, though I had recourse to prayer and reading, and these revealed truths to me and showed me along what a disastrous road I was walking, and though I importuned the Lord, often with tears, I was so wicked that all this could avail me nothing. When I abandoned these practices, and gave myself up to pastimes which led me into many occasions of sin and helped me but little -- I will even venture to say that the only thing they helped me to do was to fall -- what could I expect but what I have already mentioned? I think much credit in the sight of God is due to a friar of the Order of Saint Dominic,[149] a very learned man, for it was he who awakened me from this sleep; it was he who, as I think I said, made me communicate once a fortnight, and do less that was wrong. I began to return to my senses, though I did not cease to offend the Lord, but, as I had not lost my way, I continued upon it, first falling and then rising again, and making very little progress; still, he who never ceases walking, and advances all the time, may reach his goal late, but does reach it all the same. To lose one's way seems to be the same thing as giving up prayer. May God, for His name's sake, deliver us from doing so.

    From this it is evident (and for the love of the Lord let it be carefully noted) that, even if a soul should attain the point of receiving great favours from God in prayer, it must put no trust in itself, since it is prone to fall, nor must it expose itself to occasions of sin in any way whatsoever. This should be carefully considered, for it is most important: even though a favour may undoubtedly have come from God, the devil will later be able to practise a deception upon us by treacherously making such use as he can of that very favour against persons who are not strong in the virtues, or detached, or mortified; for such persons, as I shall explain later, are not sufficiently strengthened to expose themselves to occasions of sin and other perils, however sincere may be their desires and resolutions. This is excellent doctrine, and it is not mine, but has been taught me by God, and so I should like people as ignorant as I am to know it. Even if a soul should be in this state, it must not trust itself so far as to sally forth to battle: it will have quite enough to do to defend itself. Arms are needed here for defence against devils: the soul is not yet strong enough to fight against them and to trample them under its feet as do those in the state which I shall describe later.

    This is the deception by which the devil wins his prey. When a soul finds itself very near to God and sees what a difference there is between the good things of Heaven and those of earth, and what love the Lord is showing it, there is born of this love a confidence and security that there will be no falling away from what it is now enjoying. It seems to have a clear vision of the reward and believes that it cannot now possibly leave something which even in this life is so sweet and delectable for anything as base and soiled as earthly pleasure. Because it has this confidence, the devil is able to deprive it of the misgivings which it ought to have about itself; and, as I say, it runs into many dangers, and in its zeal begins to give away its fruit without stint, thinking that it has now nothing to fear. This condition is not a concomitant of pride, for the soul clearly understands that of itself it can do nothing; it is the result of its extreme confidence in God, which knows no discretion. The soul does not realize that it is like a bird still unfledged. It is able to come out of the nest, and God is taking it out, but it is not yet ready to fly, for its virtues are not yet strong and it has no experience which will warn it of dangers, nor is it aware of the harm done by self-confidence.

    It was this that ruined me; and, both because of this and for other reasons, the soul has great need of a director and of intercourse with spiritual people. I fully believe that, unless a soul brought to this state by God completely abandons Him, His Majesty will not cease to help it nor will He allow it to be lost. But when, as I have said, the soul falls, let it look to it -- for the love of the Lord, let it look to it -- lest the devil trick it into abandoning prayer, in the way he tricked me, by inspiring it with a false humility, as I have said, and as I should like to repeat often. Let it trust in the goodness of God, which is greater than all the evil we can do. When, with full knowledge of ourselves, we desire to return to friendship with Him, He remembers neither our ingratitude nor our misuse of the favours that He has granted us. He might well chastise us for these sins, but in fact He makes use of them only to forgive us the more readily, just as He would forgive those who have been members of His household, and who, as they say, have eaten of His bread. Let them remember His words and consider what He has done to me, who wearied of offending His Majesty before He ceased forgiving me. Never does He weary of giving and never can His mercies be exhausted: let us, then, not grow weary of receiving. May He be blessed for ever, Amen, and may all things praise Him.

 

 

Chapter 20

    Treats of the difference between union and rapture. Describes the nature of rapture and says something of the blessing that comes to the soul which the Lord, of His goodness, brings to it. Describes the effects which it produces. This chapter is particularly admirable.

    I should like, with the help of God, to be able to describe the difference between union and rapture, or elevation, or what they call flight of the spirit, or transport -- it is all one. I mean that these different names all refer to the same thing, which is also called ecstasy. It is much more beneficial than union: the effects it produces are far more important and it has a great many more operations, for union gives the impression of being just the same at the beginning, in the middle and at the end, and it all happens interiorly. But the ends of these raptures are of a higher degree, and the effects they produce are both interior and exterior. May the Lord explain this, as He has explained everything else, for I should certainly know nothing of it if His Majesty had not shown me the ways and manners in which it can to some extent be described.

    Let us now reflect that this last water which we have described is so abundant that, were it not that the ground is incapable of receiving it, we might believe this cloud of great Majesty to be with us here on this earth. But as we are giving Him thanks for this great blessing, and doing our utmost to draw near to Him in a practical way, the Lord gathers up the soul, just (we might say) as the clouds gather up the vapours from the earth, and raises it up till it is right out of itself (I have heard that it is in this way that the clouds or the sun gather up the vapours)[150] and the cloud rises to Heaven and takes the soul with it, and begins to reveal to it things concerning the Kingdom that He has prepared for it. I do not know if the comparison is an exact one, but that is the way it actually happens.

    In these raptures the soul seems no longer to animate the body, and thus the natural heat of the body is felt to be very sensibly diminished: it gradually becomes colder, though conscious of the greatest sweetness and delight. No means of resistance is possible, whereas in union, where we are on our own ground, such a means exists: resistance may be painful and violent but it can almost always be effected. But with rapture, as a rule, there is no such possibility: often it comes like a strong, swift impulse, before your thought can forewarn you of it or you can do anything to help yourself; you see and feel this cloud, or this powerful eagle, rising and bearing you up with it on its wings.

    You realize, I repeat, and indeed see, that you are being carried away, you know not whither. For, though rapture brings us delight, the weakness of our nature at first makes us afraid of it, and we need to be resolute and courageous in soul, much more so than for what has been described. For, happen what may, we must risk everything, and resign ourselves into the hands of God and go willingly wherever we are carried away, for we are in fact being carried away, whether we like it or no. In such straits do I find myself at such a time that very often I should be glad to resist, and I exert all my strength to do so, in particular at times when it happens in public and at many other times in private, when I am afraid that I may be suffering deception. Occasionally I have been able to make some resistance, but at the cost of great exhaustion, for I would feel as weary afterwards as though I had been fighting with a powerful giant. At other times, resistance has been impossible: my soul has been borne away, and indeed as a rule my head also, without my being able to prevent it: sometimes my whole body has been affected, to the point of being raised up from the ground.

    This has happened only rarely; but once, when we were together in choir, and I was on my knees and about to communicate, it caused me the greatest distress. It seemed to me a most extraordinary thing and I thought there would be a great deal of talk about it; so I ordered the nuns (for it happened after I was appointed Prioress) not to speak of it. On other occasions, when I have felt that the Lord was going to enrapture me (once it happened during a sermon, on our patronal festival, when some great ladies were present),[151] I have lain on the ground and the sisters have come and held me down, but none the less the rapture has been observed. I besought the Lord earnestly not to grant me any more favours which had visible and exterior signs; for I was exhausted by having to endure such worries and after all (I said) His Majesty could grant me that favour without its becoming known. He seems to have been pleased of His goodness to hear me, for since making that prayer I have never again received any such favours: it is true, however, that this happened not long since.

    When I tried to resist these raptures, it seemed that I was being lifted up by a force beneath my feet so powerful that I know nothing to which I can compare it, for it came with a much greater vehemence than any other spiritual experience and I felt as if I were being ground to powder. It is a terrible struggle, and to continue it against the Lord's will avails very little, for no power can do anything against His. At other times His Majesty is graciously satisfied with our seeing that He desires to show us this favour, and that, if we do not receive it, it is not due to Himself. Then, if we resist it out of humility, the same effects follow as if we had given it our entire consent.

    These effects are very striking. One of them is the manifestation of the Lord's mighty power: as we are unable to resist His Majesty's will, either in soul or in body, and are not our own masters, we realize that, however irksome this truth may be, there is One stronger than ourselves, and that these favours are bestowed by Him, and that we, of ourselves, can do absolutely nothing. This imprints in us great humility. Indeed, I confess that in me it produced great fear -- at first a terrible fear. One sees one's body being lifted up from the ground; and although the spirit draws it after itself, and if no resistance is offered does so very gently, one does not lose consciousness -- at least, I myself have had sufficient to enable me to realize that I was being lifted up. The majesty of Him Who can do this is manifested in such a way that the hair stands on end, and there is produced a great fear of offending so great a God, but a fear overpowered by[152] the deepest love, newly enkindled, for One Who, as we see, has so deep a love for so loathsome a worm that He seems not to be satisfied by literally drawing the soul to Himself, but will also have the body, mortal though it is, and befouled as is its clay by all the offenses it has committed.

    This favour also leaves a strange detachment, the nature of which I cannot possibly describe, but I think I can say it is somewhat different -- from that produced by these purely spiritual favours, I mean; for, although these produce a complete detachment of spirit, in this favour the Lord is pleased that it should be shared by the very body and it will thus experience a new estrangement from things of earth, which makes life much more distressing. Afterwards it produces a distress which we cannot ourselves bring about or remove once it has come. I should like very much to explain this great distress, but I am afraid I cannot possibly do so: still, I will say something about it if I can.

        It is to be observed that these are my most recent experiences, more recent than all the visions and revelations of which I shall write and than the period during which I practised prayer and the Lord granted me such great consolations and favours. Though these have not ceased, it is this distress which I shall now describe that I more frequently and habitually experience at present. Sometimes it is more severe and sometimes less so. It is of its maximum severity that I will now speak; for although I shall later describe those violent impulses which I used to experience when the Lord was pleased to grant me raptures, these, in my view, have no more connection with this distress than has an entirely physical experience with an entirely spiritual one, and in saying that I do not think I am greatly exaggerating. For, although the distress I refer to is felt by the soul, it is also felt by the body. Both seem to share in it, and it does not cause the same extreme sense of abandonment as does this. In producing the latter, as I have said, we can take no part, though very often a desire unexpectedly arises, in a way which I cannot explain. And this desire, which in a single moment penetrates to the very depths of the soul, begins to weary it so much that the soul soars upwards, far above itself and above all created things, and God causes it to be so completely bereft of everything that, however hard it may strive to do so, it can find nothing on earth to bear it company. Nor does it desire company; it would rather die in its solitude. Others may speak to it, and it may itself make every possible effort to speak, but all to no avail; do what it may, its spirit cannot escape from that solitude. God seems very far from the soul then, yet sometimes He reveals His greatness in the strangest way imaginable; this cannot be described -- nor, I think, believed or understood -- save by those who have experienced it. For it is a communication intended, not to comfort the soul but to show it the reason why it is wearied -- namely, that it is so far away from the Good which contains all that is good within Itself.

    In this communication the desire grows, and with it the extremity of loneliness experienced by the soul with a distress so subtle and yet so piercing that, set as it is in that desert, it can, I think, say literally, as the Royal Prophet said, when he was in the same state of loneliness (except that, being a saint, he may have been granted that experience by the Lord in a higher degree): Vigilavi, et factus sum sicut passer solitarius in tecto.153 That verse comes to my mind at these times in such a way that I feel it is fulfilled in myself; and it is a comfort to me to know that others, especially such a prophet as this, have experienced that great extremity of loneliness. The soul, then, seems to be, not in itself at all, but on the house top, or the roof, of its own house, and raised above all created things; I think it is far above even its own very highest part.

    On other occasions the soul seems to be going about in a state of the greatest need, and asking itself: "Where is thy God?"[154] I should point out here that I did not know the meaning of this verse in the vernacular, and that later, when I had learned it, it was a comfort to me to think that the Lord had brought it to my mind without any effort of my own. At other times I used to remember some words of Saint Paul, about his being crucified to the world.[155] I do not say that this is true of me -- indeed, I know it is not -- but I think it is true of the soul when no comfort comes to it from Heaven, and it is not in Heaven, and when it desires no earthly comfort, and is not on earth either, but is, as it were, crucified between Heaven and earth; and it suffers greatly, for no help comes to it either from the one hand or from the other. For the help which comes to it from Heaven is, as I have said, a knowledge of God so wonderful, and so far above all that we can desire, that it brings with it greater torment; for its desire grows in such a way that I believe its great distress sometimes robs it of consciousness, though such a state as that lasts only for a short time. It seems as though it were on the threshold of death, save that this suffering brings with it such great happiness that I know of nothing with which it may be compared. It is a martyrdom, severe but also delectable; for the soul will accept nothing earthly that may be offered it, even though it were the thing which it had been accustomed to enjoy most: it seems to fling it away immediately. It realizes clearly that it wants nothing save its God; but its love is not centred upon any particular attribute of Him: its desire is for the whole of God and it has no knowledge of what it desires. By "no knowledge", I mean that no picture is formed in the imagination; and, in my opinion, for a great part of the time during which it is in that state, the faculties are inactive: they are suspended by their distress, just as in union and rapture they are suspended by joy.

    O Jesus! I wish I could give Your Reverence a clear explanation of this, if only so that you might tell me what it is, for this is the state in which my soul now continually finds itself. As a rule, when not occupied, it is plunged into these death-like yearnings, and, when I am conscious that they are beginning, I become afraid, because they do not mean death. But when I am actually in that condition, I should like to spend the rest of my life suffering in that way, although the pain is so excessive that one can hardly bear it, and occasionally, according to those of my sisters who sometimes see me like this, and so now understand it better, my pulses almost cease to beat, my bones are all disjointed, and my hands are so stiff that sometimes I cannot clasp them together. Until the next day I have pains in the wrists, and in the entire body, as though my bones had been wrenched asunder.

    Occasionally I really think that, if things are to go on like this, it must be the Lord's will to end them by putting an end to my life; for the distress I am in is severe enough to kill me, only I do not deserve that it should do so. All my yearning at such a time is to die: I do not think of purgatory, or of the great sins I have committed, for which I have deserved to go to hell. Such is my yearning to see God that I forget everything and the deserted and solitary state I am in seems better than all the world's companionship. If anything could comfort a person in this condition, it would be to speak with another who has passed through the same torment, for she finds that, despite her complaints of it, no one seems to believe her.

    The soul in this state is also tormented because its distress has so greatly increased that it no longer desires solitude, as it did before, and the only companionship it seeks is with one to whom it can voice its complaint. It is like a person who has a rope around his neck, is being strangled and is trying to breathe. It seems to me, then, that this desire for companionship proceeds from human weakness; for, since this distress imperils our life, which it most certainly does (as I have said, I have several times found my own life imperilled by serious dangers and illnesses, and I think I might say that this particular peril is as grave as any), the desire that body and soul shall not be parted is like a voice crying out for help to breathe; and by speaking of it and complaining and distracting itself, the soul seeks a way to live quite contrarily to the will of the spirit, or of its own higher part, which would prefer not to escape from this distress.

    I do not know if I am correct in what I say, or if I am expressing it properly, but to the best of my belief that is what happens. I ask Your Reverence, what rest can I have in this life, since the rest which I used to enjoy, and which consisted in prayer and solitude, wherein the Lord would comfort me, is habitually turned into this torment; and yet it is so delectable, and the soul is so conscious of its worth, that it desires it more than all the favours which it had been accustomed to enjoy. It believes it, too, to be a safer state, because it is the way of the Cross; and in my view it comprises a delight of exceeding worth, because the body gets nothing from it but distress, whereas the soul, even while suffering, rejoices alone in the joy and happiness which this suffering brings. I do not know how this can be, but so it is; and I believe I would not change this favour which the Lord is bestowing upon me (for it is certainly entirely supernatural and comes from His hand, and, as I have said, is in no way acquired by me) for any of the favours which I shall describe later: I do not say for all of them at once, but for any one of them taken by itself. And it must not be forgotten that this state, in which the Lord is now keeping me, has followed all the others described in this book: I mean that these violent impulses have followed the favours described here as having been bestowed upon me by the Lord.

    At first I was afraid, as I almost always am when the Lord bestows a favour upon me, though His Majesty reassures me as I go on. He told me not to fear but to set greater store by this favour than by any other which He had granted me; for by this distress the soul was purified, worked upon and refined like gold in the crucible, so that He might the better set in it the enamel of His gifts: it was being cleansed now of the impurities of which it would need to be cleansed in purgatory. I had already quite clearly realized that it was a great favour, but this made me much more certain of the fact, and my confessor tells me that all is well. And although I was afraid, because I was so wicked, I could never believe that it was wrong; it was rather the sublimity of the blessing that made me afraid, when I remembered how ill I had deserved it. Blessed be the Lord, Who is so good! Amen.

    I seem to have wandered from my subject, for I began by speaking of raptures, but what I have been describing is some thing even greater than a rapture and thus it leaves behind it the effects I have referred to.

    Let us now return to raptures, and to their most usual characteristics. I can testify that after a rapture my body often seemed as light as if all weight had left it: sometimes this was so noticeable that I could hardly tell when my feet were touching the ground. For, while the rapture lasts, the body often remains as if dead and unable of itself to do anything: it continues all the time as it was when the rapture came upon it -- in a sitting position, for example, or with the hands open or shut. The subject rarely loses consciousness: I have sometimes lost it altogether, but only seldom and for but a short time. As a rule the consciousness is disturbed; and, though incapable of action with respect to outward things, the subject can still hear and understand, but only dimly, as though from a long way off. I do not say that he can hear and understand when the rapture is at its highest point -- by "highest point" I mean when the faculties are lost through being closely united with God. At that point, in my opinion, he will neither see, nor hear, nor perceive; but, as I said in describing the preceding prayer of union, this complete transformation of the soul in God lasts but a short time, and it is only while it lasts that none of the soul's faculties is able to perceive or know what is taking place. We cannot be meant to understand it while we are on earth -- God, in fact, does not wish us to understand it because we have not the capacity for doing so. I have observed this myself.

    Your Reverence will ask me how it is that the rapture sometimes lasts for so many hours. What often happens to me is that, as I said of the preceding state of prayer, it makes itself felt intermittently. The soul is often engulfed -- or, to put it better, the Lord engulfs it in Himself -- and, when He has kept it in this state for a short time, He retains the will alone. The movements of the other two faculties seem to me like the movement of the pointer on a sundial, which is never motionless; though if it pleases the Sun of Justice[156] to do so, He can make it stand still. What I am describing lasts only a short time; but, as the impulse and the uplifting of the spirit have been violent, the will is still engulfed even when the other two faculties begin to move again and produces that operation in the body as though it were its absolute mistress. For, although the two restless faculties try to disturb it, the will, thinking that the fewer enemies it has, the better, prevents the senses from doing so, and thus causes their suspension, which is the Lord's will. For the most part the eyes are closed, though we may not wish to close them; if, as I have already said, they are occasionally open, the subject neither perceives nor pays attention to what he sees.

    There is very little, then, that a person in this condition can do, and this means that there will be little for him to do when the faculties come together again. Anyone, therefore, to whom the Lord grants this favour must not be discouraged at finding himself in this state, with the body unable to move for hours on end and the understanding and the memory sometimes wandering. True, they are generally absorbed in the praises of God or in an attempt to comprehend and realize what has happened to them. But even so they are not wide awake: they are like a person who has been asleep for a long time and has been dreaming and has not yet fully awakened.

    The reason I am expounding this at such great length is that I know that there are persons now, in this very place, to whom the Lord is granting these favours; and if those who are directing such persons have not themselves experienced them -- more especially if they have no learning -- they may think that, when enraptured, they ought to be as if dead. It is a shame that such suffering should be caused by confessors who do not understand this, as I shall say later. Perhaps I do not know what I am saying; but, if my words are at all to the point, Your Reverence will understand it, for the Lord has already given you experience of it, though, as this happened only recently, you may not have considered the matter as fully as I. The position, then, is that, however hard I try, my body, for considerable periods, has not the strength to make it capable of movement: all its strength has been taken away by the soul. Often a person who was previously quite ill and troubled with severe pain finds himself in good health again, and even stronger than before, for what the soul receives in rapture is a great gift, and sometimes, as I say, the Lord is pleased that the body should have a share in it because of its obedience to the will of the soul. After the recovery of consciousness, if the rapture has been deep, the faculties may remain absorbed for a day or two, or even for as long as three days, and be as if in a state of stupor, so that they seem to be no longer themselves.

    And now comes the distress of having to return to this life. Now the soul has grown new wings and has learned to fly. Now the little bird has lost its unformed feathers. Now in Christ's name the standard is raised on high; it would seem that what has happened is nothing less than that the captain of the fortress has mounted, or has been led up, to the highest of its towers, and has reared the standard aloft there in the name of God. From his position of security he looks down on those below. No longer does he fear perils; rather he desires them, for through them, as it were, he receives the assurance of victory. This becomes very evident in the little weight now given by the soul to earthly matters, which it treats as the worthless things that they are. He who is raised on high[157] attains many things. The soul has no desire to seek or possess any free will, even if it so wished,[158] and it is for this that it prays to the Lord, giving Him the keys of its will. Behold, our gardener has become the captain of a fortress! He wants nothing save the will of the Lord; he wants to be neither his own master nor anybody else's; he wants not so much as an apple from this orchard. If there is anything of value in it, let His Majesty distribute it; henceforth, for himself, he wants nothing, and desires only that everything should be done to God's glory and in conformity with His will.

    It is in this way, then, that these things actually happen, if the raptures are genuine, in which case there will remain in the soul the effects and advantages aforementioned. If they do not, I should doubt very much if they are from God; indeed, I should fear that they might be the frenzies described by Saint Vincent.[159] I know, for I have observed it in my own experience, that the soul, while enraptured, is mistress of everything, and in a single hour, or in less, acquires such freedom that it cannot recognize itself. It sees clearly that this state is in no way due to itself, nor does it know who has given it so great a blessing, but it distinctly recognizes the very great benefit which each of these raptures brings it. Nobody will believe this without having had experience of it; and so nobody believes the poor soul, knowing it to have been so wicked and seeing it now aspiring to such heroic acts; for it is no longer content with serving the Lord a little but must do so to the greatest extent in its power. They think this is a temptation and a ridiculous thing. If they knew that it arises, not from the soul, but from the Lord, to Whom the soul has given the keys of its will, they would not be so astounded.

    I believe myself that a soul which attains to this state neither speaks nor does anything of itself, but that this sovereign King takes care of all that it has to do. Oh, my God, how clear is the meaning of that verse about asking for the wings of a dove[160] and how right the author was -- and how right we shall all be! -- to ask for them! It is evident that he is referring to the flight taken by the spirit when it soars high above all created things, and above itself first of all; but it is a gentle and a joyful flight and also a silent one.

    What power is that of a soul brought hither by the Lord, which can look upon everything without being ensnared by it! How ashamed it is of the time when it was attached to everything! How amazed it is at its blindness! How it pities those who are still blind, above all if they are persons of prayer to whom God is still granting favours! It would like to cry aloud to them and show them how mistaken they are, and sometimes it does in fact do so and brings down a thousand persecutions upon its head. Men think it lacking in humility and suppose that it is trying to teach those from whom it should learn, especially if the person in question is a woman. For this they condemn it, and rightly so, since they know nothing of the force by which it is impelled. Sometimes it cannot help itself nor endure failing to undeceive those whom it loves and desires to see set free from the prison of this life; for it is in a prison, nothing less -- and it realizes that it is nothing less -- that the soul has itself been living.

    It is weary of the time when it paid heed to niceties concerning its own honour, and of the mistaken belief which it had that what the world calls honour is really so. It now knows that to be a sheer lie and a lie in which we are all living. It realizes that genuine honour is not deceptive, but true; that it values what has worth and despises what has none; for what passes away, and is not pleasing to God, is worth nothing and less than nothing.[161] It laughs at itself and at the time when it set any store by money and coveted it; though I do not believe I ever had to confess to being covetous of money -- it was quite bad enough that I should have set any store by it at all. If the blessing of which I now see myself in possession could be purchased with money I should set tremendous store by it, but it is clear that this blessing is gained by abandoning everything.

    What is there that can be bought with this money which people desire? Is there anything valuable? Is there anything lasting? If not, why do we desire it? It is but a miserable ease with which it provides us and one that costs us very dear. Very often it provides hell for us; it buys us eternal fire and endless affliction. Oh, if all would agree to consider it as useless dross, how well the world would get on, and how little trafficking there would be! How friendly we should all be with one another if nobody were interested in money and honour! I really believe this would be a remedy for everything.

    The soul sees what blindness there is in the world where pleasures are concerned and how even in this life they purchase only trials and unrest. What disquiet! What discontent! What useless labour! Not only does the soul perceive the cobwebs which disfigure it and its own great faults, but so bright is the sunlight that it sees every little speck of dust, however small; and so, however hard a soul may have laboured to perfect itself, once this Sun really strikes it, it sees that it is wholly unclean. Just so the water in a vessel seems quite clear when the sun is not shining upon it; but the sun shows it to be full of specks. This comparison is literally exact. Before the soul had experienced that state of ecstasy, it thought it was being careful not to offend God and doing all that it could so far as its strength permitted. But once it reaches this stage, the Sun of Justice strikes it and forces it to open its eyes, whereupon it sees so many of these specks that it would fain close them again. For it is not yet so completely the child of that mighty eagle that it can look this Sun full in the face; nevertheless, during the short time that it can keep them open, it sees that it is wholly unclean. It remembers the verse which says: "Who shall be just in Thy presence?"[162]

    When it looks upon this Divine Sun, the brightness dazzles it; when it looks at itself, its eyes are blinded by clay.[163] The little dove is blind. And very often it remains completely blind, absorbed, amazed, and dazzled by all the wonders it sees. From this it acquires true humility, which will never allow it to say anything good of itself nor will permit others to do so.[164] It is the Lord of the garden, and not the soul, that distributes the fruit of the garden, and so nothing remains in its hands, but all the good that is in it is directed towards God; if it says anything about itself, it is for His glory. It knows that it possesses[165] nothing here; and, even if it so wishes, it cannot ignore this; for it sees it by direct vision, and, willy-nilly, shuts its eyes to things of the world, and opens them to an understanding of the truth.

 

 

Chapter 21

    Continues and ends the account of this last degree of prayer. Describes the feelings of the soul in this state on its return to life in the world and the light which the Lord sheds for it on the world's delusions. Contains good doctrine.

    Concluding the matter under discussion, I remark that in this state there is no need for the soul to give its consent: it has given it already and knows that it has surrendered itself willingly into His hands and that He cannot deceive it because He knows all things. This is not as it is in the world, where life is full of delusions and deceits; you judge by the profession of friendship which a man makes that you have gained his good will, and then realize that the profession was a false one. No one can live amid such worldly trafficking, especially if he has himself any interest in the world. Blessed is the soul which the Lord brings to an understanding of the truth! Oh, what a state this would be for kings! How much better it would be for them if they strove after it rather than after great dominion! What uprightness there would be in their kingdoms! How many evils would be prevented -- and might have been prevented already! Here no one fears to lose life or honour for the love of God. How great a blessing would such a state be for one who is more bound than those beneath him to consider the Lord's honour -- kings will always lead and the people will follow! For the sake of the smallest increase in the number of the faithful and for the privilege of affording heretics the smallest glimmer of light, I would give up a thousand kingdoms, and rightly so. For it is a different thing to win a kingdom that shall have no end, because a single drop of the water of that kingdom gives him who tastes it a loathing for everything earthly. What will it be, then, when the soul is completely engulfed in such water?

    O Lord, if Thou wert to give me the vocation to proclaim this aloud, I should be disbelieved, as are many who can speak of it in a way very different from mine. But at least I should myself have satisfaction. If I could make others understand a single one of these truths I think I should set little store by my own life. I do not know what I should do afterwards, for I am entirely untrustworthy; despite my being the sort of person I am, I keep experiencing strong and consuming impulses to say this to persons in authority. But as I can do no more, my Lord, I turn to Thee, to beg of Thee a remedy for everything, and well dost Thou know that, provided I remain in such a state as not to offend Thee, I would very gladly strip myself of the favours Thou hast granted me and give them to kings; for I know that, if they had them, it would be impossible for them to permit things which they permit now, or to fail to possess the greatest blessings.

    O my God! Give them to understand how great are their obligations. For Thou hast been pleased to single them out on earth in such a way that, as I have heard, when Thou dost remove one of them, Thou even showest signs in the heavens. Enkindled indeed, is my devotion, O my King, when I reflect that it is Thy will that this should teach them that they must imitate Thee in their lives, since at their deaths there are such signs in the heavens as there were when Thou Thyself didst die.

    I am being very bold. Your Reverence must destroy this if you think it wrong. But, believe me, I should say it better in the very presence of kings if I had the opportunity of doing so or thought they would believe me, for I commend them earnestly to God and wish that I might be of some profit to them. All this prompts one to risk one's life (and I often wish I could lose mine): for the risk would be a small one to run for so great a gain, and life becomes hardly possible when with one's own eyes one sees the great delusion in which we are walking and the blind way in which we act.

    When a soul has reached this state, it has not merely desires to serve God: His Majesty also gives it strength to carry these desires into effect. No way in which it thinks it may serve God can be set before it into which it will not fling itself; and yet it is doing nothing, because, as I say, it sees clearly that nothing is of any value save pleasing God. The trouble is that no such task presents itself to people who are as worthless as I. May it be Thy pleasure, my God, that the time may come in which I shall be able to pay at least a few mites[166] of all I owe Thee; do Thou ordain it, Lord, according to Thy pleasure, that this Thy handmaiden may in some way serve Thee. There have been other women who have done heroic deeds for love of Thee. I myself am fit only to talk and therefore, my God, it is not Thy good pleasure to test me by actions. All my will to serve Thee peters out in words and desires, and even here I have no freedom, for it is always possible that I may fail altogether.

    Do Thou strengthen and prepare my soul first of all, Good of all good, my Jesus, and do Thou then ordain means whereby I may do something for Thee, for no one could bear to receive as much as I have done and pay nothing in return. Cost what it may, Lord, permit me not to come into Thy presence with such empty hands, since a man's reward must be in accordance with his works.[167] Here is my life; here is my honour and my will. I have given it all to Thee; I am Thine; dispose of me according to Thy desire. Well do I know, my Lord, of how little I am capable. But now that I have approached Thee, now that I have mounted this watch-tower whence truths can be seen, I shall be able to do all things provided Thou withdraw not from me. Withdraw Thou, and, for however short a time, I shall go where I have already been -- namely, to hell.

    Oh, what it is for a soul which finds itself in this state to have to return to intercourse with all, to look at this farce of a life and see how ill-organized it is, to spend its time in meeting the needs of the body, in sleeping and in eating. It is wearied by everything; it cannot run away; it sees itself chained and captive; and it is then that it feels most keenly the imprisonment into which we are led by our bodies and the misery of this life. It understands why Saint Paul besought God to deliver him from it;[168] it joins its cries to his; and, as I have said on other occasions, it begs God for freedom. But in this state it often cries with such vehemence that it seems as if the soul is desirous of leaving the body and going in search of that freedom, since no one is delivering it. It wanders about like one who has been sold into a strange land; its chief trouble is finding so few to join in its complaints and prayers, since as a rule men desire to live. Oh, were we but completely detached and were our happiness not fixed on things of earth, how the distress caused us by living all the time without God would temper our fear of death with the desire to enjoy true life!

    I sometimes wonder, if a woman like myself, to whom the Lord has given this light, but whose charity is so lukewarm and whose works have not won for her any certainty of true rest, is nevertheless so often sad at finding herself in this exile, what the sorrow of the saints must have been. What must Saint Paul and the Magdalen have suffered, and others like them, in whom this fire of the love of God burned so vehemently? Their sufferings must have been one continuous martyrdom. I think any relief I obtain, and any desire I have for intercourse with others, is due to my finding people with these desires -- I mean desires coupled with works. I say "with works" because there are people who think and proclaim themselves to be detached -- and who must be so, for it is required by their vocation and certified by the many years that have passed since some of them began to walk in the way of perfection. Yet this soul of mine can distinguish from a long way off, and quite clearly, those who are detached only in word, and whose words are confirmed by their works; for it knows how little good is done by the one class and how much by the other; and this is a thing which can be very clearly discerned by anyone with experience.

    We have now described the effects proceeding from raptures which come from the Spirit of God. It is true that some of these are greater and some less: by "less" I mean that, although these effects are produced, they are not at first expressed in works and it may not become evident that the soul has them. Perfection, too, has to grow; the cobwebs have to be brushed away from the memory; and this takes some time. And the more love and humility grow in the soul, the greater is the fragrance yielded by these flowers of the virtues for the benefit both of the soul itself and of others. The fact is that, during one of these raptures, the Lord can work in the soul in such a way that there remains little for it to do in order to acquire perfection. For, except by experience, no one will ever believe what the Lord bestows on the soul here; no efforts of ours, in my opinion, can acquire it. I do not mean that those who work hard for many years, in the ways described by writers on prayer, following their principles and using their methods, will not, after much labour, and with the help of the Lord, attain to detachment and perfection. But they will not do so as speedily as by means of raptures, in which the Lord works without our collaboration and draws the soul away from the earth and gives it dominion over all earthly things, although there may be no more merits in such a soul than there were in mine -- and I cannot say more than that, for I had hardly any.

    The reason His Majesty does this is that it is His will, and it is according as He wills that He does it; and, though the soul may not be prepared, His Majesty prepares it to receive the blessing which He is giving it. Although He most certainly never fails to comfort those who make proper preparation and strive after detachment, He does not always bestow blessings because the recipients have deserved them by cultivating their garden. It is sometimes His will, as I have said, to manifest His greatness in the worst kind of soil; He prepares it for every blessing, so that it seems almost as if it would be impossible for the soul to return to the life of sin against God which it had lived previously. Its mind is now so used to thinking upon eternal truth that anything else seems to it mere child's play. It sometimes enjoys a quiet laugh when it sees serious people -- men of prayer, leading the religious life -- making a great fuss about niceties concerning their honour, which it has long since trampled beneath its feet. They say that discretion demands this and that the more they have of the authority due to their positions the more good they can do. But the soul knows very well that if they subordinated the authority due to their positions to the love of God they would do more good in a day than they are likely to do as it is in ten years.

    So the life of this soul continues -- a troubled life, never without its crosses, but a life of great growth. Those with whom the soul has to do keep thinking it has reached its summit, but soon afterwards they find it higher still, for God is always giving it new favours. It is God Who is the soul of that soul; and, as He has it in His keeping, He sheds His light upon it. He seems to be continually watching over it, lest it should offend Him, and assisting and awakening it to serve Him. When my soul reached the point at which God began to grant me this great favour, my troubles ceased, and the Lord gave me strength to escape from them. Meeting occasions of sin and being with people who were wont to distract me had now no more effect upon me than if they had not been there. Indeed, what had previously been apt to harm me now became a help to me; everything was a means by which I was enabled to know and love God the better, to realize what I owed Him and to be grieved at having been what I once was.

    I knew quite well that none of this was due to myself and that I had not won it by my own efforts, for there had not been time enough for me to do that. His Majesty had given me the needful strength out of His own goodness. From the time when the Lord began to grant me the favour of these raptures, until now, this strength has continued to increase, and God of His goodness has held me by His hand so that I should not turn back. This being so, I realize that I am doing hardly anything of myself; I understand clearly that it is all the work of the Lord. I think, therefore, that souls on whom the Lord bestows these favours, and who walk in humility and fear, ever realizing that all is due to the Lord Himself and in no wise to our efforts, may safely mix with any kind of company whatsoever. However distracting and vicious such company may be, it will have no effect on them nor will it in any way move them; on the contrary, as I have said, it will help them and be a means whereby they may derive the greater profit. It is strong souls that are chosen by the Lord to profit others, though their strength does not come from themselves. For, when the Lord brings a soul to this state, He gradually communicates to it very great secrets.

    In this state of ecstasy occur true revelations, great favours and visions, all of which are of service in humbling and strengthening the soul and helping it to despise the things of this life and to gain a clearer knowledge of the reward which the Lord has prepared for those who serve Him. May it please His Majesty that the immense bounty with which He has treated this miserable sinner may do something to influence those who read this, so that they may find strength and courage to give up absolutely everything for God's sake! If His Majesty requites us so amply that even in this life we have a clear vision of the reward and the gain of those who serve Him, what will He not do in the life to come?

 

 

Chapter 22

    Describes how safe a practice it is for contemplatives not to uplift their spirits to lofty things if they are not so uplifted by the Lord, and how the path leading to the most exalted contemplation must be the Humanity of Christ. Tells of an occasion on which she was herself deceived. This chapter is very profitable.

    There is one thing that I want to say, if Your Reverence thinks it well that I should do so, as in my opinion it is important. It will serve as what may be necessary advice; for there are some books written about prayer which say that, although of itself the soul cannot reach this state, since the work wrought in it by the Lord is entirely supernatural, it can get some way towards it by raising the spirit above all created things and causing it to rise aloft in humility after it has spent some years in the Purgative life and made progress in the Illuminative. I do not know why they call it Illuminative but I understand it to mean the life of those who are making progress. And these books advise us earnestly to put aside all corporeal imagination and to approach the contemplation of the Divinity. For they say that anything else, even Christ's Humanity, will hinder or impede those who have arrived so far from attaining to the most perfect contemplation. They quote the words of the Lord on this subject to the Apostles with regard to the coming of the Holy Spirit[169] -- I mean, after He had ascended into Heaven. But it seems to me that if they had then had faith, as they had after the Holy Spirit came, to believe that He was God and Man, it would have been no hindrance to them: for this was not said to the Mother of God, though she loved Him more than all the rest.[170] But these writers think that, as this work is entirely spiritual, anything corporeal may disturb or impede it, and that what contemplatives must contrive to do is to think of themselves as circumscribed, but of God as being everywhere, so that they may become absorbed in Him. It will be all right, I think, to do this sometimes, but I cannot bear the idea that we must withdraw ourselves entirely from Christ and treat that Divine Body of His as though it were on a level with our miseries and with all created things. May His Majesty grant me the ability to explain myself.[171]

    I do not contradict this view, for it is held by learned and spiritual men, who know what they are saying, and God leads souls along many roads and by many ways, as He has led mine. It is of mine that I now wish to speak, without interfering with the souls of others, and of the danger in which I found myself through trying to fall into line with what I read. I can well believe that anyone who attains to union and goes no farther -- I mean, to raptures and visions and other favours granted to souls by God -- will think that view to be the best, as I did myself. But if I had acted upon it, I do not think I should ever have reached my present state, for I believe it to be mistaken. It may, of course, be I who am mistaken -- but I will relate what happened to me.

    As I had no director, I used to read these books, and gradually began to think I was learning something. I found out later that, if the Lord had not taught me, I could have learned little from books, for until His Majesty taught it me by experience what I learned was nothing at all; I did not even know what I was doing. When I began to gain some experience of supernatural prayer -- I mean of the Prayer of Quiet -- I tried to put aside everything corporeal, though I dared not lift up my soul, for, being always so wicked, I saw that to do this would be presumption. But I thought I was experiencing the presence of God, as proved to be true, and I contrived to remain with Him in a state of recollection. This type of prayer, if God has a part in it, is full of delight, and brings great joy. And in view of the advantage I was deriving from it and the pleasure it was bringing me, no one could have made me return to meditation on the Humanity -- on the contrary, this really seemed to me a hindrance. O Lord of my soul and my Good, Jesus Christ crucified! Never once do I recall this opinion which I held without a feeling of pain: I believe I was committing an act of high treason, though I committed it in ignorance.

    All my life I had been greatly devoted to Christ (for this happened quite recently: by "recently" I mean before the Lord granted me these favours -- these raptures and visions),[172] so I remained of this opinion only for a very short time and then returned to my habit of continually rejoicing in the Lord. Especially when communicating, I would wish I had His portrait and image always before my eyes, since I could not have it as deeply engraven on my soul as I should like. Is it possible, my Lord, that for so much as an hour I could have entertained the thought that Thou couldst hinder my greatest good? Whence have all good things come to me save from Thee? I do not want to think that I was to blame for this, for I grieve greatly about it and it was certainly a matter of ignorance. So Thou, in Thy goodness, wert pleased to bring it to an end by giving me one who would cure me of this error,[173] and afterwards by permitting me often to see Thee, as I shall relate hereafter, so that I might clearly realize how great my error was and tell many people of it, as I have done, and set it all down here and now.

    I believe myself that this is the reason why many souls, after succeeding in experiencing the Prayer of Union, do not make further progress and achieve a very great spiritual freedom. There are two reasons, I think, on which I can found my opinion; there may, of course, be nothing in it, but what I say I have observed in my own experience, for my soul was in a very bad way until the Lord gave it light: all the joys it had experienced had come in little sips, and, once these were over, it never experienced any companionship, as it did later, at times of trial and temptation. One of these reasons is that the soul is somewhat lacking in humility and that what it has is so completely disguised and hidden as not to be noticed. Who can there be, like myself, so miserably proud that, when he has laboured all his life long over every imaginable kind of penance and prayer and suffered every kind of persecution, he does not count himself very wealthy and very abundantly rewarded if the Lord allows him to stand with Saint John, at the foot of the Cross? I cannot imagine how it can enter anyone's head not to be contented with this; yet I myself was not, and I have lost in every respect where I ought to have gained.

    It may be that our temperament, or some indisposition, will not always allow us to think of the Passion, because of its painfulness; but what can prevent us from being with Him in His Resurrection Body, since we have Him so near us in the Sacrament, where He is already glorified? Here we shall not see Him wearied and broken in body, streaming with blood, exhausted by journeying, persecuted by those to whom He was doing such good, disbelieved by the Apostles. Certainly it is not always that one can bear to think of such great trials as those which He suffered. But here we can behold Him free from pain, full of glory, strengthening some, encouraging others, ere He ascends to the Heavens. In the Most Holy Sacrament He is our Companion and it would seem impossible for Him to leave us for a moment. And yet it was possible for me to leave Thee, my Lord, in the hope that I might serve Thee better! True, when I offended Thee, I knew Thee not, but to think that, when I did know Thee, I could suppose it possible that in such a way I should gain more! How mistaken, Lord, was the path I followed! Indeed, I think I should be following no path at all hadst Thou not brought me back to it. For when I see Thee near me I have seen all blessings. No trial has come to me that I cannot gladly bear when I look at Thee as Thou stoodest before Thy judges. With so good a Friend, so good a Captain at our side, Who came forward first of all to suffer, one can bear everything. He helps us; He gives us strength; He never fails; He is a true Friend.

    I can see clearly, and since that time have always seen, that it is God's will, if we are to please Him and He is to grant us great favours, that this should be done through His most sacred Humanity, in Whom, His Majesty said, He is well pleased. Very, very many times have I learned this by experience: the Lord has told it me. I have seen clearly that it is by this door that we must enter if we wish His Sovereign Majesty to show us great secrets. Therefore, Sir,[174] even if you reach the summit of contemplation Your Reverence must seek no other way: that way alone is safe. It is through this Lord of ours that all blessings come. He will show us the way; we must look at His life -- that is our best pattern. What more do we need than to have at our side so good a Friend, Who will not leave us in trials and tribulations, as earthly friends do? Blessed is he who loves Him in truth and has Him always at his side. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, from whose lips the name of Jesus seems never to have been absent, because He was firmly enshrined in his heart. Since realizing this, I have looked carefully at the lives of a number of saints who were great contemplatives and I find that they followed exactly the same road. Saint Francis, with his stigmata, illustrates this, as does Saint Anthony of Padua with the Divine Infant. Saint Bernard, too, delighted in Christ's Humanity, and so did Saint Catherine of Siena and many others of whom Your Reverence will know better than I.

    This withdrawal from the corporeal must doubtless be good, since it is advised by such spiritual people, but my belief is that it must be practised only when the soul is very proficient: until then, it is clear, the Creator must be sought through the creatures. All this has to do with the grace which the Lord bestows on every soul: into that matter I will not enter. What I should like to make clear is that Christ's most sacred Humanity must not be reckoned among these corporeal objects. Let that point be clearly understood: I wish I knew how to explain it.

    When God is pleased to suspend all the faculties, as we have seen that He does in the modes of prayer already described, it is clear that, though we may not desire it to be so, this Presence is taken from us. At such a time as that, let this be done. Blessed is such a loss, since it brings with it the enjoyment of more than we seem to have sacrificed; for the soul can then employ itself wholly in loving One Whom the understanding has been striving hard to know; it loves what it has not comprehended and rejoices in that of which it could not have such great fruition save by losing itself, in order, as I say, the better to gain itself. But that we should exert care and skill to accustom ourselves not to endeavour with all our strength to have always before us -- and the Lord grant it be always! -- this most sacred Humanity, it is that, I say, which seems to me not to be right. The soul is left, as the phrase has it, in the air; for it has nothing to lean upon, however full it may think itself to be of God. It is a great thing for us, while we live as human beings, to have before us Christ's Humanity. This is that other inconvenience to which I have already referred. The first, which I was beginning to speak about earlier, is a certain lack of humility, a desire on the soul's part to rise before the Lord raises it, a dissatisfaction with merely meditating on something so precious, and a longing to be Mary before one has laboured with Martha. When the Lord wishes one to be Mary, there is no need for fear, even on the very first day, but we must go carefully about it, as I believe I have said already. This little mote of deficient humility, though it seems to be of no importance, does a great deal of harm to those who wish to make progress in contemplation.

    To come now to the second point: we are not angels and we have bodies. To want to become angels while we are still on earth, and as much on earth as I was, is ridiculous. As a rule, our thoughts must have something to lean upon, though sometimes the soul may go out from itself and very often may be so full of God that it will need no created thing to assist it in recollection. But this is not very usual: when we are busy, or suffering persecutions or trials, when we cannot get as much quiet as we should like, and at seasons of aridity, we have a very good Friend in Christ. We look at Him as a Man; we think of His moments of weakness and times of trial; and He becomes our Companion. Once we have made a habit of thinking of Him in this way, it becomes very easy to find Him at our side, though there will come times when it is impossible to do either the one thing or the other. For that reason it is advisable to do as I have already said: we must not show ourselves to be striving after spiritual consolations; come what may, the great thing for us to do is to embrace the Cross. The Lord was deprived of all consolation; they left Him alone in His trials. Let us not leave Him; for His hand will help us to rise more effectually than our own efforts; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees that it is good for us and when He is pleased to draw the soul out of itself, as I have said.

    God is well pleased to see a soul humbly taking His Son as Mediator, and yet loving Him so much that, even if His Majesty is pleased to raise it to the highest contemplation, as I have said, it realizes its unworthiness, and says with Saint Peter: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."[175] I have proved this, for it is in this way that God has led my soul. Others, as I have said, will take another and a shorter road. What I have learned is this: that the entire foundation of prayer must be established in humility, and that, the more a soul abases itself in prayer, the higher God raises it. I do not remember that He has ever granted me any of the outstanding favours of which I shall speak later save when I have been consumed with shame by realizing my own wickedness; and His Majesty has even managed to help me to know myself by revealing to me things which I myself could not have imagined. I believe myself that, when a soul does anything to further its own progress in this Prayer of Union, it may seem to be deriving some immediate benefit but will very quickly fall again, because it has not laid the proper foundations. Indeed, I fear it will never attain to true poverty of spirit, which consists in seeking, not comfort or pleasure in prayer (for it has already abandoned earthly comforts and pleasures), but consolation in trials for the love of Him Who suffered trials all His life long; and we must endure these trials, and be calm amidst aridities, though we may feel some regret at having to suffer them. They should not cause us the unrest and distress which they cause some people who think that, if they are not for ever labouring with the understanding and striving after feelings of devotion, they are going completely astray, as if by so labouring they were meriting some great blessing. I do not mean that these things should not be sought after, or that we should not be careful how we approach the presence of God, but merely that, as I have said elsewhere, we must not worry ourselves to death if we cannot think one single good thought. We are unprofitable servants:[176] what do we suppose it is in our power to accomplish?

    But it is the Lord's will that we should know this and be like the little donkeys that draw the above-described waterwheel. Though their eyes are shut and they have no idea what they are doing, these donkeys will draw more water than the gardener can with all his efforts. After placing ourselves in the hands of God, we must walk along this road quite freely. If His Majesty is pleased to promote us to be among those of His chamber and privy council, we must go with Him willingly; if He is not, we must serve Him in lowly offices and not sit down in the best places, as I have said elsewhere. God cares for us better than we can care for ourselves and He knows of what each of us is capable. What is the use of governing oneself if one has surrendered one's whole will to God? In my view this is much less tolerable here than in the first degree of prayer and does much greater harm: these blessings are supernatural. If a man has a bad voice, however often he forces himself to sing, he will never make it a good one; whereas, if God is pleased to give him a good one, he has no need to practise singing.[177] Let us, then, continually beseech Him to grant us favours, resigned in spirit and yet trusting in God's greatness. Since the soul is given leave to sit at Christ's feet, let it contrive not to stir thence; let it remain where it will; and let it imitate the Magdalen, and, when it is strong, God will lead it into the desert.

    Your Reverence must be satisfied with this until you find someone who has more experience and more knowledge of the matter than I. When people tell you that they are beginning to taste of God, do not believe them if they think they are making more progress and receiving more consolations by making efforts of their own. Oh, how well God can reveal Himself, when it is His will to do so, without these puny efforts of ours! Do what we may, He transports the spirit as easily as a giant might take up a straw, and it is useless for us to resist Him. What a strange kind of belief is this, that, when God has willed that a toad should fly, He should wait for it to do so by its own efforts. And it seems to me that for our spirits to be lifted up is a more difficult and troublesome matter even than this if God does not lift them up for us. For they are weighed down by the earth and by a thousand impediments, and the fact that they want to fly is of no help to them; for, though flying comes more naturally to them than to a toad, they are so completely sunk in the mire that through their own fault they have lost the ability.

    I will conclude, then, by saying that, whenever we think of Christ, we should remember with what love He has bestowed all these favours upon us, and how great is the love which God has revealed to us in giving us such a pledge of the love which He bears us; for love begets love. And though we may be only beginners, and very wicked, let us strive ever to bear this in mind and awaken our own love, for, if once the Lord grants us the favour of implanting this love in our hearts, everything will be easy for us and we shall get things done in a very short time and with very little labour. May His Majesty give us this love, since He knows how much we need it, for the sake of the love which He bore us and through His glorious Son, Who revealed it to us at such great cost to Himself. Amen.

    One thing which I should like to ask Your Reverence is this. How is it, when the Lord begins to grant a soul such sublime favours as that of bringing it to perfect contemplation, that it does not, as by rights it should, become perfect all at once? By rights there is no doubt that it should, for anyone who receives so great a favour ought not to seek any further comforts on earth. Why is it, then, that raptures, and the soul's growing habituation to the receiving of favours, seem to produce results of great and growing sublimity -- and the more detached the soul becomes the sublimer they are -- when the Lord might leave the soul completely sanctified in the same moment that He comes to it? How is it that it is only later, as time goes on, that the same Lord leaves it perfect in the virtues? I want to know the reason of this, for I am quite ignorant of it. What I do know is that there is a great difference between the degree of fortitude bestowed by God in the early stages of rapture, when this favour lasts no longer than the twinkling of an eye and, save for the effects which it leaves, is hardly noticed, and in the later stages, when it is bestowed in more bountiful measure. And I often think that the reason may be that the soul does not at once completely prepare itself for this, but that the Lord gradually trains it, and gives it determination and manly strength so that it may trample everything under its feet. It was thus that He dealt with the Magdalen, doing His work in her very quickly; and it is thus that He deals with other people, according to the way in which they allow His Majesty to work. We cannot bring ourselves to realize that even in this life God rewards us a hundredfold.

    I have also been thinking of the comparison which follows. Assuming that what is given to the most advanced soul is the same as what is given to beginners, it is like food shared by many people; those who eat very little of it experience the pleasant taste only for a short time; those who eat more derive some sustenance from it; while those who eat a great deal derive life and strength. It is possible to eat of this food of life so frequently and with such satisfaction as to derive no pleasure from eating any other. For the soul sees how much good it is deriving from it and its palate is now so completely accustomed to its sweetness that it would rather not live than have to eat any other food, for that would do nothing but spoil the pleasant taste left by the good food. Again, the companionship of good people does not afford us such profitable conversation in one day as in many; and if we have the help of God and are long enough in their company, we may become like them. In fact, everything depends upon His Majesty's good pleasure and upon the person on whom He wishes to bestow this favour. But it is very important that anyone who is beginning to receive it should resolve to detach himself from everything else and hold it in due esteem.

    I think, too, that His Majesty goes about seeking to prove who the people are that love Him -- whether this person does, or that person -- and reveals Himself to us with the sublimest joy, so as to quicken our faith, if it is dead, concerning what He will give us. "See," He says, "this is but a drop in a vast sea of blessings"; for He leaves nothing undone for those He loves, and, when He sees that they accept His gifts, He gives -- and gives Himself. He loves every one who loves Him -- and how well loved He is[178] and how good a Friend! Oh, Lord of my soul, if only one had words to explain what Thou givest to those that trust in Thee, and what is lost by those who reach this state and yet do not give themselves to Thee![179] It is not Thy will, Lord, that this should be so, for Thou doest more than this when Thou comest to a lodging as wretched as mine. Blessed be Thou for ever and ever!

    I beseech Your Reverence once more, if you discuss these things that I have written about prayer with spiritual persons, to be sure they are really spiritual. For if they know only one path, or have gone half-way and then remained where they are, they will not be able to discover what it all means. There are some, of course, whom God leads by a very exalted road; and these think that others can make progress in the same way -- by quieting the understanding and making no use of corporeal aids to devotion -- but if such persons act thus they will remain as dry as sticks. There are others who have attained a certain degree of quiet and at once think that, as they have done this, they can do everything else. But, instead of gaining in this way, they will lose, as I have said. So experience and discretion are necessary in everything. May the Lord give us these of His goodness.

 

 

Chapter 23

    Resumes the description of the course of her life and tells how and by what means she began to aim at greater perfection. It is of advantage for persons who are concerned in the direction of souls that practise prayer to know how they must conduct themselves in the early stages. The profit that she herself gained thereby.

    I will now return to the place where I left off the description of my life, for I have digressed -- longer, I think, than I ought -- in order that what is to come may be the better understood. From this point onward, I am speaking of another and a new book -- I mean, of another and a new life. Until now the life I was describing was my own; but the life I have been living since I began to expound these matters concerning prayer is the life which God has been living in me -- or so it has seemed to me. For I believe it to be impossible in so short a time to escape from such wicked deeds and habits. Praised be the Lord, Who has delivered me from myself!

    Now when I began to avoid occasions of sin and to devote myself more to prayer, the Lord began to bestow favors upon me and it looked as though He were desirous that I should wish to receive them. His Majesty began to grant me quite frequently the Prayer of Quiet, and often, too, the Prayer of Union, which lasted for a long time. As there have been cases recently in which women have been subjected by the devil to serious illusions and deceptions,[180] I began to be afraid, for the delight and the sweetness which I felt were so great and often I could not help feeling them. But on the other hand I was conscious of a very deep inward assurance that this was of God, especially when I was engaged in prayer, and I found that I was the better for it and developed greater fortitude. But as soon as I became a little distracted, I would grow afraid again and begin to wonder if it was the devil who wanted to suspend my understanding, and make me believe it was a good thing, so that he might deprive me of mental prayer, and prevent me from thinking of the Passion and making use of my understanding. It seemed to me that I was losing rather than gaining, but I did not understand the matter properly.

    As His Majesty, however, was now pleased to give me light so that I should not offend Him and should understand how much I owed Him, my fear increased, to such an extent that it made me seek diligently after spiritual persons with whom to discuss this. I already knew of some, for the Fathers of the Company of Jesus had come here,[181] and, though I was unacquainted with any of them, I was attracted to them by my knowledge of their method of life and prayer alone. But I did not consider myself worthy to speak to them or strong enough to obey them and this made me still more afraid; for I felt that it would be unthinkable[182] for me to discuss these matters with them and yet remain as I was.

    I went on for some time in this way, until, after experiencing much inward strife and many fears, I determined to have a talk with a spiritual person, to ask him what that kind of prayer was which I was practising and to make it clear to me if I was going astray. I also determined to do all I could not to offend God, for, as I have said, my lack of fortitude, of which I was so conscious, made me very timid. God help me, what a great mistake I was making by giving up what was good when I wanted to be good all the time! The devil must think this very important at the outset of a soul's growth in virtue, for I was quite unable to take myself in hand.[183] He knows that the great means of progress for a soul is converse with friends of God, and thus it was for this reason that I could not come to a decision. First of all, I waited till I had amended my life, just as I had done when I gave up prayer. It may be that I should never have amended it, for I was such a slave to my little bad habits that I could not bring myself to realize that they were bad at all: I needed the help of others, who would take me by the hand and raise me up. Blessed be the Lord that, in the end, the first hand to raise me was His!

    When I found that my fear was getting such a hold over me, because I was progressing in the practice of prayer, it seemed to me that there must either be something very good about this or something terribly bad; for I was quite sure that my experiences were supernatural because sometimes I was unable to resist them, nor could I come by them whenever I wanted to. I thought to myself that there was nothing I could do but keep a clear conscience and avoid all occasions of even venial sin; for, if it was the Spirit of God at work, I was obviously the gainer, whereas, if it was the devil, he could do me little harm provided I strove to please the Lord and not to offend Him -- in fact, the devil could not fail to be the loser. Having resolved upon this, and begging God all the time to help me, I strove for some days to live in this way, but found that my soul was not strong enough by itself to achieve such a high degree of perfection; for I was attached in certain ways to things which, though not wrong in themselves, were sufficient to spoil all my efforts.

    They told me of a learned cleric who lived in that place, and whose goodness and holy life the Lord was beginning to make known among the people.[184] I got to know him through a saintly gentleman who lived there also.[185] This gentleman is married, but his life is so exemplary and virtuous, and so outstanding in prayer and charity, that everything he does is resplendent with his goodness and perfection. And with good reason, for many souls have been greatly benefited by him: such great talents has he that, although his being married is anything but a help to him, he cannot do otherwise than use them. He is a man of great intelligence, and very gentle with everybody; and his conversation is never wearisome, but so pleasant and gracious, not to say upright and holy, that it gives great delight to those with whom he has to do. He directs all he does to the great good of the souls with whom he holds converse and he seems to have no other aim than to do whatever he can for everyone he meets and to give everyone pleasure.

    Well, so diligent on my behalf was this blessed and holy man that he seems to me to have been the beginning of my soul's salvation. The humility he has shown me is astounding; for he has practised prayer, I believe, for nearly forty years -- perhaps two or three years less -- and the life he lives, I think, is as nearly perfect as his married state permits. His wife, too, is so great a servant of God and so charitable a woman that she is no hindrance to him: indeed, she was chosen to be the wife of one who God knew would be a great servant of His.

    Some of their relatives were married to some of mine[186] and I also had a good deal to do with another great servant of God who was married to one of my cousins. It was in this way that I arranged for this cleric who, as I say, was such a servant of God to come to speak with me: he was a great friend of this gentleman and I thought of having him as my confessor and director. When he had brought him to talk to me, I, in the greatest confusion at finding myself in the presence of so holy a man, spoke to him about my soul and my method of prayer, but he would not hear my confession, saying that he was very much occupied, as indeed he was. He began with the holy determination to treat me as if I were strong (and so I ought to have been, considering the extent to which, as he saw, I practised prayer), so that I should give no offence of any kind to God. But when I saw how determinedly he was attacking these little habits of mine which I have already mentioned, and that I had not courage enough to live more perfectly, I became distressed, and, realizing that he was treating me in spiritual matters as though I were going to become perfect immediately, I saw that I should have to be much more careful.

    In due course I realized that I should not improve by using the means which he employed with me, for they were meant for a soul which was much more perfect, and I, though advanced in Divine favours, was, as regards virtues and mortification, still quite a beginner. Really, if I had had nobody else to consult, I think my soul would never have shown any improvement, for the distress which it caused me to find that I was not doing what he told me, and felt unable to do so, was sufficient to make me lose hope and give up the whole thing. I sometimes marvel that, though he was a person with a particular gift for leading beginners to God, it was not God's will that he should understand my own soul or desire to take it into his charge. But I see now that it was all for my good, so that I should get to know and consult people as holy as those of the Company of Jesus.

    So I made an arrangement with this saintly gentleman that he should sometimes come to see me. It showed what great humility he had, that he should have been willing to have to do with anyone as wicked as I. He began to pay me visits and to encourage me and to tell me not to think that I could get rid of all my troubles in a day but to be sure that God would help me to get rid of them by degrees. He himself, he said, had for many years been troubled by some quite trivial imperfections, which he had never been able to get rid of. O humility, what great blessings dost thou bring to those who possess thee and also to those who have to do with the humble minded! This saint (for so I think I can rightly call him) would tell me about his own weaknesses -- or what his humility led him to think of as such -- so that he might help me. Considered in relation to his state of life, they were neither faults nor imperfections, though they would be great faults in the life of a religious like myself. I am not saying this without a reason; I seem to be enlarging upon small points, and yet these are most important if a soul which is not yet fledged, as they say, is to begin to make progress and learn to fly, though no one will believe this who has not experienced it. And as I hope in God that Your Reverence will benefit many souls, I say this here, for my whole salvation was due to the fact that this gentleman knew how to treat me and had the humility and charity necessary for dealing with me and could put up with me when he saw that in some respects I was not amending my life. Gradually and discreetly he showed me ways of vanquishing the devil. So great was the love which I began to bear him that I found nothing more restful than seeing him, though there were few days when I was able to do so. Whenever a long time passed without a visit from him I would at once become very much worried, thinking that he was not coming to see me because I was so wicked.

    When he began to realize the seriousness of my imperfections, which may even have been sins (though I improved after I got to know him), and when, in order to obtain light from him, I told him of the graces which God was bestowing upon me, he warned me that these two things were not consistent, that such favours were given to persons who were very far advanced and greatly mortified, and that he could not help having misgivings lest in some of these matters an evil spirit might be at work in me, though he was not sure. But he told me to think well over my experiences in prayer, so far as I understood them, and to tell him about them. But that was the difficulty: I simply could not describe these experiences; it is only quite recently that God has granted me the grace of being able to understand their nature and to describe them.

    When he said this to me, fearful as I already was, I was greatly distressed and wept sorely; for I really desired to please God and I could not persuade myself that this was the work of the devil, but I was afraid lest on account of my great sins God might be blinding me so that I could not realize it. Looking through books to see if I could learn how to describe my method of prayer, I found in one, called The Ascent of the Mount,[187] which describes the union of the soul with God, all the symptoms I had when I was unable to think of anything. It was exactly this that I was always saying -- that when I was experiencing that type of prayer I could think of nothing. So I marked the relevant passages and gave him the book, in order that he and that other cleric to whom I have referred, a holy man and a servant of God, should look at it and tell me what I ought to do. If they thought it well, I would give up prayer altogether, for why should I run into these dangers? If after almost twenty years' experience of prayer I had gained nothing, but had been deluded by the devil, surely it was better for me not to pray at all -- though this would also have been very difficult, for I had already discovered what my soul was like without prayer. Whichever way I looked, then, I was beset by trials. I was like a person who has fallen into a river: whatever the direction he takes, he is afraid the danger will be greater and yet he is almost drowning. This is a very great trial, and I have experienced many such, as I shall say later: it may seem unimportant but it may possibly be of great advantage to learn how spirituality is to be tested.

    And certainly this is a grievous trial to experience and one needs to be careful -- women especially so, since we are very weak, and may come to great harm if we are told in so many words that we are being deluded by the devil. The matter should be very carefully considered and women protected from all possible dangers. They should be advised to keep their experiences very secret and it is well that their advisers should observe secrecy too. I speak of this from knowledge, for I have been caused great distress by the indiscretion of certain persons with whom I have discussed my experiences in prayer. By talking about them to each other they have done me great harm, divulging things which should have been kept very secret, for they are not meant for everyone to know, and it looked as though I were publishing them myself. The fault, I believe, was not theirs: the Lord permitted it so that I might suffer. I do not mean that they divulged what I had told them in confession, but none the less, as they were people whom I had consulted about my fears, so that I might obtain light from them, I thought they ought to have kept silence. In spite of this, however, I never dared to hide anything from such persons. I think then, that women should be counselled with great discretion, and encouraged, and the right moment should be awaited, at which the Lord will help them as He has helped me: had He not done so, I should have come to great harm, so timorous was I and so fearful. Considering the serious heart trouble from which I was suffering, I am amazed that this did not greatly harm me.

    Well, when I had given him the book, together with the best general account of my life and sins that I could (not in confession, as he was a layman, but I made it very clear to him how wicked I was), these two servants of God[188] considered with great charity and love what would be best for me. At length they gave me the reply which I had awaited with such dread. During the intervening days I had begged many persons to commend me to God and had prayed continually. But, when this gentleman came to me, it was to tell me with great distress that to the best of their belief my trouble came from the devil, and the wisest thing for me to do would be to discuss it with a Father of the Company of Jesus, who would come to see me if I asked him to do so and told him what I needed. I could then give him a perfectly clear description of my whole life and spiritual state in the form of a general confession; and through the virtue of the Sacrament of Confession God would give him more light on my case: these Fathers were men of great experience in spiritual matters. I ought not, they said, to depart in the very least from whatever he might say, because if I had no one to direct me I was in great peril.

    This caused me such distress and fear that I did not know what to do: I could only weep. But while I was in an oratory, in great affliction, and not knowing what was to become of me, I read in a book, which it seemed as if the Lord had put into my hands, those words of Saint Paul, that God is very faithful and never allows people who love Him to be deluded by the devil.[189] This was the greatest comfort to me. I began to think over my general confession and to write down all my good and bad points and prepare the clearest account of my life that I possibly could, leaving nothing unsaid. I remember that, after writing it, I found so many bad points and so little that was good that it caused me the greatest distress and affliction. I was also troubled that my sisters in the convent should see me consulting such saintly people as those of the Company of Jesus; for I was afraid of my wickedness and thought that I should now be obliged to abandon it and to give up my pastimes, and that if I did not do so I should grow worse; and so I arranged with the sacristan and portress that they should not talk about it to anyone. However, this was of little use, because when I was sent for there was someone at the door who talked about it all over the convent. What a lot of obstacles and fears the devil sets before those who are anxious to approach God!

    I told that servant of God[190] all about my soul (and he was indeed a servant of God and a very prudent one, too); and, being well versed in the subject, he told me what was wrong and greatly encouraged me. He said that I was very evidently being led by the Spirit of God and that I needed to return to my prayer: I was not working upon a good foundation, nor had I begun to understand the nature of mortification (which was true: I do not believe I even understood the meaning of the word). I must on no account give up prayer; on the contrary, since God was granting me such special favours, I must work hard at it. How did I know, he asked me, that the Lord was not desirous of using me in order to help a great number of people and perhaps to do other things (it seems now that he was prophesying what the Lord afterwards did with me)? I should be very much to blame, he added, if I were not responsive to the favours that God was showing me. Throughout, as it seemed to me, the Holy Spirit was speaking through him, for the good of my soul, to judge from the way that his words impressed themselves upon it.

    He made me very much ashamed; and led me along paths which seemed to make me quite a different person. What a great thing it is to understand a soul! He told me that my daily prayer should be based upon one of the incidents of the Passion, and that I should get all I could out of that incident, think only of Christ's Humanity and as far as possible resist the desire for recollection and consolations; these I was not to indulge again until he gave me further instructions.

    He left me comforted and strengthened. The Lord helped us both, enabled him to understand my spiritual condition and showed him how to direct me. I made a determination not to depart in any way from what he commanded me and to that determination I have remained true until this day. Praised be the Lord, Who has given me grace to obey my confessors, however imperfectly! These have almost always been chosen from the blessed Fathers of the Company of Jesus, although, as I say, I have followed them imperfectly. My soul began to grow notably better, as I shall now relate.

 

 

Chapter 24

    Continues the subject already begun. Describes how her soul profited more and more after she began to obey, how little it availed her to resist the favours of God and how His Majesty went on giving them to her in increasing measure.

    After I had made this confession my soul became so amenable that I thought there could be nothing which I should not be prepared to do; and so I began to make many changes in my habits, although my confessor did not press me to do so and in fact seemed to trouble about it all very little. But this moved me the more, for he led me by the way of love for God, which brought me, not oppression, as it would if I had not done it out of love, but freedom. I remained in that state for nearly two months, doing all I could to resist the favours and graces of God. The change in me was manifest even superficially, for the Lord was already beginning to encourage me to suffer things which persons who knew me, and even the nuns in my own house,[191] considered and described as extreme. And they were right: these things were indeed extreme by comparison with what I had been doing before. But they fell short of the obligations of my habit and profession.

    By resisting the consolations and favours of God I gained this -- that His Majesty Himself taught me. For previously I had thought that, if I was to receive favours in prayer, I must go apart by myself a great deal, and so I had hardly dared to stir. Then I began to see how little this had to do with it; the more I tried to think of other things, the more completely the Lord enveloped me in that sweetness and glory until I felt so completely surrounded by it that I could not flee from it in any direction; and thus matters continued. I was so much concerned about this that it caused me distress. The Lord, however, was much more concerned, during those two months, to grant me favours and to reveal Himself to me more than He had been wont to do, so that I might the better understand that resistance was no longer in my power. I began to conceive a new love for the most sacred Humanity. My prayers now began to take shape like an edifice with solid foundations, and I grew fonder of penances, which I had neglected because of my frequent indispositions.

    That holy man[192] who heard my confessions told me that there were certain things which could not hurt me; and suggested that God might perhaps be giving me ill-health just because I did not perform penances -- that is, that His Majesty was being pleased to give me the penances Himself. My confessor ordered me to practise certain mortifications which I did not find very agreeable. But I performed them all, because his commands seemed to me to come from the Lord, and I thanked him for giving them to me so that I could obey Him. Any offence, however slight, which I might commit against God I would feel in my soul so deeply that if I had anything I did not need[193] I could not become recollected again until it had been taken away. I prayed earnestly that the Lord would hold me by His hand, and, now that I was in touch with His servants, would grant me grace not to turn back. For to do this, I thought, would be a great failing, since it would detract from their credit.

    During this period the town was visited by Father Francis, who was Duke of Gandia but some years before had given up everything and entered the Company of Jesus.[194] My confessor and the gentleman I have spoken of arranged for him to come and see me so that I might talk to him and tell him about my experiences in prayer, as they knew him to be very proficient in this and to be receiving great favours and graces from God, as rewards in this life for all that he had given up for Him. When he had heard my story, he told me that I was being led by the Spirit of God and that he thought I should not be doing right to resist Him further. It had been right to do so, he said, until now; but he suggested that I should always begin my prayers with a meditation on one of the incidents of the Passion, and, if the Lord should then transport my spirit, I should not resist Him but should allow His Majesty to have it and make no effort to keep it back. He gave me this medicine and counsel as one who had himself made great progress: in this matter there is much potency in experience. He said that it would be a mistake for me to resist any longer. I was greatly comforted and so was this gentleman: he was delighted that the Father had said I was being led by God and he continued to help and advise me to the best of his ability, which was very great.

    About this time my confessor was transferred elsewhere. I was very sorry for this, for I thought I should be bound to grow wicked again, not supposing that it would be possible to find another like him. My soul was as if in a desert; I grew most disconsolate and fearful; and I did not know what would become of me. But a relative of mine arranged for me to go and stay with her and I at once set about getting another confessor from the Company. It was the Lord's good pleasure that I should become friendly with a widowed lady of good family,[195] who was much given to prayer, and had a great deal to do with these Fathers. She arranged for me to make my confessions to her own confessor and I stayed in her house for some days; she lived quite near. I was delighted at getting into close touch with the Fathers, for the mere realization of the holiness of their way of life brought my soul great benefit.

    This Father[196] began to lead me to greater perfection. He told me that I ought to leave nothing undone so as to become entirely pleasing to God, and he treated me with great skill, yet also very gently, for my soul was not at all strong, but very sensitive, especially as regards abandoning certain friendships which were not actually leading me to offend God. There was a great deal of affection beneath these and it seemed to me that if I abandoned them I should be sinning through ingratitude; so I asked him why it was necessary for me to be ungrateful if I was not offending God. He told me to commend the matter to God for a few days, and to recite the hymn Veni, Creator, and I should be enlightened as to which was the better thing to do. So I spent the greater part of one whole day in prayer; and then, beseeching the Lord that He would help me to please Him in everything, I began the hymn. While I was reciting it, there came to me a transport so sudden that it almost carried me away: I could make no mistake about this, so clear was it. This was the first time that the Lord had granted me the favour of any kind of rapture. I heard these words: "I will have thee converse now, not with men, but with angels." This simply amazed me, for my soul was greatly moved and the words were spoken to me in the depths of the spirit. For this reason they made me afraid, though on the other hand they brought me a great deal of comfort, which remained with me after the fear caused by the strangeness of the experience had vanished.

    The words have come true: never since then have I been able to maintain firm friendship save with people who I believe love God and try to serve Him, nor have I derived comfort from any others or cherished any private affection for them. It has not been in my own power to do so; and it has made no difference if the people have been relatives or friends. Unless I know that a person loves God or practises prayer, it is a real cross to me to have to do with him. I really believe this is the absolute truth.

    Since that day I have been courageous enough to give up everything for the sake of God, Who in that moment -- for I think it happened in no more than a moment -- was pleased to make His servant another person. So there was no need for my confessor to give me any further commands. When he had found me so much attached to these friendships, he had not ventured to tell me definitely to abandon them. He had to wait until the Lord took it in hand, as He did. I did not think at first that I could ever give them up, for I had tried it already, and it had caused me such great distress that I had put the idea aside, as the friendships did not appear unseemly. But now the Lord set me free and gave me strength to carry my resolution into practice. So I told my confessor this and gave up everything, exactly as he had instructed me to do. And when the persons with whom I had been intimate saw how determined I was it caused them great edification.

    Blessed for ever be God, Who in one moment gave the freedom which, despite all the efforts I had been making for so many years, I had never been able to attain, though sometimes I had done such violence to myself that it badly affected my health. As it was the work of One Who is almighty and the true Lord of all, it caused me no distress.

 

 

The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus
(Saint Teresa of Avila)

TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTERS

1-12

CHAPTERS

13-24

CHAPTERS

25-40

 

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