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The Way of Perfection
by

St. Teresa of Avila

Christian Classics Ethereal Library


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The Way of Perfection
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/way.html
Teresa of Avila, St. (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, 1515-1582)
Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Copyright Christian Classics Ethereal Library
2000-07-09
All; Classic; Mysticism;
BX2179
Christian Denominations
Roman Catholic Church
Meditations. Devotional readings. Spiritual exercises, etc.


The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

Table of Contents
About This Book. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. ii
Title Page. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 1
The Way of Perfection. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 2
Presentation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 2
Contents. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 2
Principal abbreviations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 5
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 5
Translator's note. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 11
General argument, protestations and prologue. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 15
Protestations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 15
Prologue. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 15
Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict
observance. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 17
Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded and of
the good that comes from poverty. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 18
Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades the sisters
to busy themselves constantly in beseeching God to help those who work
for the Church. Ends with an exclamatory prayer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 21
Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which are
important for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these three things, which
is love of one's neighbour, and speaks of the harm which can be done by
individual friendships. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 25
Appendix to chapter 4. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 29
Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important that they
should be learned men. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 30
Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun. . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 32
Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain counsels for
gaining it. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 35
Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and exterior,
from all things created. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 39
Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings to those
who have left the world and shows how by doing so they will find truer
friends. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 40

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St. Teresa of Avila

Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is insufficient if
we are not detached from our own selves and that this virtue and humility
go together. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 42
Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it may be attained in
times of sickness. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 45
Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for life and honour. . . . p. 46
Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one must renounce
the world's standards of wisdom in order to attain to true wisdom. . . . . p. 49
Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone whose spirit is
contrary to the things aforementioned. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 52
Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not excusing ourselves,
even though we find we are unjustly condemned. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 53
Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of contemplatives
and in the lives of those who are content with mental prayer. Explains how
it is sometimes possible for God to raise a distracted soul to perfect
contemplation and the reason for this. This chapter and that which comes
next are to be noted carefully. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 56
How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some take long to
attain it. True humility will walk happily along the road by which the Lord
leads it. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 60
Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are the trials of
contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers great consolation
to actives.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 62
Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with the
understanding.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 65
Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack consolation on the
road of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this subject continually in
their conversation.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 71
Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice of prayer
with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put in the way by the
devil. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 73
Explains the meaning of mental prayer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 76
Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set out upon
the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be resolute.. . . . . . . p. 79
Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection and how
closely allied it is to mental prayer. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 81
Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it practises vocal
prayer perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to things
supernatural.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 83

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St. Teresa of Avila

Continues the description of a method for recollecting the thoughts.
Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very profitable for those
who are beginning prayer.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 84
Describes the great love shown us by the Lord in the first words of the
Paternoster and the great importance of our making no account of good
birth if we truly desire to be the daughters of God.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 87
Describes the nature of the Prayer of Recollection and sets down some of
the means by which we can make it a habit.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 89
Continues to describe methods for achieving this Prayer of Recollection.
Says what little account we should make of being favoured by our
superiors.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 93
Describes the importance of understanding what we ask for in prayer.
Treats of these words in the Paternoster: 'Sanctificetur nomen tuum,
adveniat regnum tuum.' Applies them to the Prayer of Quiet, and begins
the explanation of them.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 96
Continues the same subject. Explains what is meant by the Prayer of Quiet.
Gives several counsels to those who experience it. This chapter is very
noteworthy.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 98
Expounds these words of the Paternoster: 'Fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo
et in terra.' Describes how much is accomplished by those who repeat
these words with full resolution and how well the Lord rewards them for
it.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 103
Treats of our great need that the Lord should give us what we ask in these
words of the Paternoster: 'Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis
hodie.'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 107
Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for reading after the
reception of the Most Holy Sacrament.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 109
Describes the recollection which should be practised after Communion.
Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the Eternal
Father.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 114
Treats of these words in the Paternoster: 'Dimitte nobis debita
nostra.'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 116
Describes the excellence of this prayer called the Paternoster, and the
many ways in which we shall find consolation in it.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 120
Treats of the great need which we have to beseech the Eternal Father to
grant us what we ask in these words: 'Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
sed libera nos a malo.'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 122
Continues the same subject and gives counsels concerning different kinds
of temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may be freed from
temptations.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 126
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St. Teresa of Avila

Describes how, by striving always to walk in the love and fear of God, we
shall travel safely amid all these temptations.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 128
Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves from venial
sins.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 131
Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: 'Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.'
'But deliver us from evil. Amen.'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 134

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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

THE WAY OF PERFECTION
by

ST. TERESA OF AVILA
Translated & Edited by

E. ALLISON PEERS
from the Critical Editon of

P. SILVERIO DE SANTA TERESA, C.D.
Scanned by Harry Plantinga, 1995
From the Image Books edition, 1964, ISBN 0-385-06539-6
This etext is in the public domain
Only a few of the nearly 1200 footnotes of the image book edition have been reproduced. Most
of those that were not reproduced concern differences between the manuscripts. The reader is
referred to the print edition.


The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

The Way of Perfection
Although St. Teresa of Avila lived and wrote almost four centuries ago, her superbly inspiring
classic on the practice of prayer is as fresh and meaningful today as it was when she first wrote it.
The Way of Perfection is a practical guide to prayer setting forth the Saint's counsels and directives
for the attainment of spiritual perfection.
Through the entire work there runs the author's desire to teach a deep and lasting love of prayer
beginning with a treatment of the three essentials of the prayer-filled life -fraternal love, detachment
from created things, and true humility. St. Teresa's counsels on these are not only the fruit of lofty
mental speculation, but of mature practical experience. The next section develops these ideas and
brings the reader directly to the subjects of prayer and contemplation. St. Teresa then gives various
maxims for the practice of prayer and leads up to the topic which occupies the balance of the
book-a detailed and inspiring commentary on the Lord's Prayer.
Of all St. Teresa's writings, The Way of Perfection is the most easily understood. Although it
is a work of sublime mystical beauty, its outstanding hallmark is its simplicity which instructs,
exhorts, and inspires all those who are seeking a more perfect way of life.
"I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either in my own life or in observation
of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer."- Prologue
Almost four centuries have passed since St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and
reformer, committed to writing the experiences which brought her to the highest degree of sanctity.
Her search for, and eventual union with, God have been recorded in her own world-renowned
writings-the autobiographical Life, the celebrated masterpiece Interior Castle and The Way of
Perfection- as well as in the other numerous works which flowed from her pen while she lived.
The Way of Perfection was written during the height of controversy which raged over the reforms
St. Teresa enacted within the Carmelite Order. Its specific purpose was to serve as a guide in the
practice of prayer and it sets forth her counsels and directives for the attainment of spiritual perfection
through prayer. It was composed by St. Teresa at the express comm and of her superiors, and was
written during the late hours in order not to interfere with the day's already crowded schedule.
Without doubt it fulfills the tri bute given all St. Teresa's works by E. Allison Peers, the
outstanding authority on her writings: "Work of a sublime beauty bearing the ineffaceable hallmark
of genius."

CONTENTS
Introduction
Translator's Note:
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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

General Argument
Protestation
Prologue
Chapter 1-Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict observance
Chapter 2-Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded and of the good
that comes from poverty
Chapter 3-Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades the sisters to busy
themselves constantly in beseeching God to help those who work for the Church. Ends with an
exclamatory prayer
Chapter 4-Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which are important
for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these three things, which is love of one's neighbour, and
speaks of the harm which can be done by individual friendships
Appendix To Chapter 4
Chapter 5-Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important that they should
be learned men
Chapter 6-Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun
Chapter 7-Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain counsels for gaining
it
Chapter 8-Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and exterior, from all
things created
Chapter 9-Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings to those who have
left the world and shows how by doing so they will find truer friends
Chapter 10-Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is insufficient if we are
not detached from our own selves and that this virtue and humility go together
Chapter 11-Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it may be attained in times
of sickness
Chapter 12-Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for life and honour
Chapter 13-Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one must renounce the world's
standards of wisdom in order to attain to true wisdom
Chapter 14-Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone whose spirit is contrary
to the things aforementioned
Chapter 15-Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not excusing ourselves, even
though we find we are unjustly condemned
Chapter 16-Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of contemplatives and in
the lives of those who are content with mental prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for
God to raise a distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason for this. This chapter and that
which comes next are to be noted carefully
Chapter 17-How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some take long to attain
it. True humility will walk happily along the road by which the Lord leads it

3


The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

Chapter 18-Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are the trials of
contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers great consolation to actives
Chapter 19-Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with the understanding
Chapter 20-Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack consolation on the road of
prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this subject continually in their conversation
Chapter 21-Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice of prayer with
firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put in the way by the devil
Chapter 22-Explains the meaning of mental prayer
Chapter 23-Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set out upon the way
of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be resolute
Chapter 24-Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection and how closely
allied it is to mental prayer
Chapter 25-Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it practises vocal prayer
perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to things supernatural
Chapter 26-Continues the description of a method for recollecting the thoughts. Describes
means of doing this. This chapter is very profitable for those who are beginning prayer
Chapter 27-Describes the great love shown us by the Lord in the first words of the Paternoster
and the great importance of our making no account of good birth if we truly desire to be the daughters
of God
Chapter 28-Describes the nature of the Prayer of Recollection and sets down some of the
means by which we can make it a habit
Chapter 29 - Continues to describe methods for achieving this Prayer of Recollection. Says
what little account we should make of being favoured by our superiors
Chapter 30-Describes the importance of understanding what we ask for in prayer. Treats of
these words in the Paternoster: "Sanctificetur nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum". Applies them
to the Prayer of Quiet, and begins the explanation of them
Chapter 31-Continues the same subject. Explains what is meant by the Prayer of Quiet. Gives
several counsels to those who experience it. This chapter is very noteworthy
Chapter 32-Expounds these words of the Paternoster: "Fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in
terra." Describes how much is accomplished by those who repeat these words with full resolution
and how well the Lord rewards them for it
Chapter 33-Treats of our great need that the Lord should give us what we ask in these words
of the Paternoster: "Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie."
Chapter 34-Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for reading after the reception
of the Most Holy Sacrament
Chapter 35-Describes the recollection which should be practised after Communion. Concludes
this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the Eternal Father
Chapter 36-Treats of these words in the Paternoster: "Dimitte nobis debita nostra"

4


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St. Teresa of Avila

Chapter 37-Describes the excellence of this prayer called the Paternoster, and the many ways
in which we shall find consolation in it
Chapter 38-Treats of the great need which we have to beseech the Eternal Father to grant us
what we ask in these words: "Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo." Explains
certain temptations. This chapter is noteworthy
Chapter 39-Continues the same subject and gives counsels concerning different kinds of
temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may be freed from temptations
Chapter 40-Describes how, by striving always to walk in the love and fear of God, we shall
travel safely amid all these temptations
Chapter 41-Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves from venial sins
Chapter 42-Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: "Sed libera nos a malo. Amen." "But
deliver us from evil. Amen."

PRINCIPAL ABBREVIATIONS
A.V.-Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).
D.V.-Douai Version of the Bible (1609) .
Letters-Letters of St. Teresa. Unless otherwise stated, the numbering of the Letters follows
Vols. VII-IX of P. Silverio. Letters (St.) indicates the translation of the Benedictines of Stanbrook
(London, 1919-24, 4 vols.).
Lewis-The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, etc., translated by David Lewis, 5th ed., with notes and
introductions by the Very Rev. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D., London, 1916.
P. Silverio-Obras de Santa Teresa de Jess, editadas y anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa
Teresa, C.D., Durgos, 1915-24, 9 vols.
Ribera-Francisco de Ribera, Vida de Santa Teresa de Jess, Nueva ed. aumentada, con
introduction, etc., por el P. Jaime Pons, Barcelona, 1908.
S.S.M.-E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, London, 1927-30, 2 vols.
St. John of the Cross-The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church,
translated from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., and edited by E. Allison
Peers, London, 1934-35, 3 vols.
Yepes-Diego de Yepes, Vida de Santa Teresa, Madrid, 1615.

TO THE GRACIOUS MEMORY OF
P. EDMUND GURDON
SOMETIME PRIOR OF THE CARTHUSIAN MONASTERY
OF MIRAFLORES
A MAN OF GOD

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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

INTRODUCTION
We owe this book, first and foremost, to the affectionate importunities of the Carmelite nuns
of the Primitive Observance at Avila, and, in the second place, to that outstanding Dominican who
was also St. Teresa's confessor, Fray Domingo Baez. The nuns of St. Joseph's knew something
of their Mother Foundress' autobiography, and, though in all probability none of them had actually
read it, they would have been aware that it contained valuable counsels to aspirants after religious
perfection, of which, had the book been accessible to them, they would have been glad to avail
themselves. Such intimate details did it contain, however, about St. Teresa's spiritual life that her
superiors thought it should not be put into their hands; so the only way in which she could grant
their persistent requests was to write another book dealing expressly with the life of prayer. This
P. Baez was very anxious that she should do.
Through the entire Way of Perfection there runs the author's desire to teach her daughters to
love prayer, the most effective means of attaining virtue. This principle is responsible for the book's
construction. St. Teresa begins by describing the reason which led her to found the first Reformed
Carmelite convent-viz., the desire to minimize the ravages being wrought, in France and elsewhere,
by Protestantism, and, within the limits of her capacity, to check the passion for a so-called
"freedom", which at that time was exceeding all measure. Knowing how effectively such inordinate
desires can be restrained by a life of humility and poverty, St. Teresa extols the virtues of poverty
and exhorts her daughters to practise it in their own lives. Even the buildings in which they live
should be poor: on the Day of Judgment both majestic palaces and humble cottages will fall and
she has no desire that the convents of her nuns should do so with a resounding clamour.
In this preamble to her book, which comprises Chapters 1-3, the author also charges her daughters
very earnestly to commend to God those who have to defend the Church of Christ -particularly
theologians and preachers.
The next part of the book (Chaps. 4-15) stresses the importance of a strict observance of the
Rule and Constitutions, and before going on to its main subject- prayer-treats of three essentials
of the prayer-filled life -mutual love, detachment from created things and true humility, the last
of these being the most important and including all the rest. With the mutual love which nuns should
have for one another she deals most minutely, giving what might be termed homely prescriptions
for the domestic disorders of convents with the skill which we should expect of a writer with so
perfect a knowledge of the psychology of the cloister. Her counsels are the fruit, not of lofty mental
speculation, but of mature practical expedience. No less aptly does she speak of the relations between
nuns and their confessors, so frequently a source of danger.
Since excess is possible even in mutual love, she next turns to detachment. Her nuns must be
detached from relatives and friends, from the world, from worldly honour, and-the last and hardest
achievement-from themselves. To a large extent their efforts in this direction will involve humility,
for, so long as we have an exaggerated opinion of our own merits, detachment is impossible.

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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

Humility, to St. Teresa, is nothing more nor less than truth, which will give us the precise estimate
of our own worth that we need. Fraternal love, detachment and humility: these three virtues, if they
are sought in the way these chapters direct, will make the soul mistress and sovereign over all
created things-a "royal soul", in the Saint's happy phrase, the slave of none save of Him Who
bought it with His blood.
The next section (Chaps. 16-26) develops these ideas, and leads the reader directly to the themes
of prayer and contemplation. It begins with St. Teresa's famous extended simile of the game of
chess, in which the soul gives check and mate to the King of love, Jesus. Many people are greatly
attracted by the life of contemplation because they have acquired imperfect and misleading notions
of the ineffable mystical joys which they believe almost synonymous with contemplation. The
Saint protests against such ideas as these and lays it down clearly that, as a general rule, there is
no way of attaining to union with the Beloved save by the practice of the "great virtues", which
can be acquired only at the cost of continual self-sacrifice and self-conquest. The favours which
God grants to contemplatives are only exceptional and of a transitory kind and they are intended
to incline them more closely to virtue and to inspire their lives with greater fervour.
And here the Saint propounds a difficult question which has occasioned no little debate among
writers on mystical theology. Can a soul in grave sin enjoy supernatural contemplation? At first
sight, and judging from what the author says in Chapter 16, the answer would seem to be that,
though but rarely and for brief periods, it can. In the original (or Escorial) autograph, however, she
expressly denies this, and states that contemplation is not possible for souls in mortal sin, though
it may be experienced by those who are so lukewarm, or lacking in fervour, that they fall into venial
sins with ease. It would seem that in this respect the Escorial manuscript reflects the Saint's ideas,
as we know them, more clearly than the later one of Valladolid; if this be so, her opinions in no
way differ from those of mystical theologians as a whole, who refuse to allow that souls in mortal
sin can experience contemplation at all.
St. Teresa then examines a number of other questions, on which opinion has also been divided
and even now is by no means unanimous. Can all souls attain to contemplation? Is it possible,
without experiencing contemplation, to reach the summit of Christian perfection? Have all the
servants of God who have been canonized by the Church necessarily been contemplatives? Does
the Church ever grant non-contemplatives beatification? On these questions and others often
discussed by the mystics much light is shed in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters.
Then the author crosses swords once more with those who suppose that contemplatives know
nothing of suffering and that their lives are one continuous series of favours. On the contrary, she
asserts, they suffer more than actives: to imagine that God admits to this closest friendship people
whose lives are all favours and no trials is ridiculous. Recalling the doctrine expounded in the
nineteenth chapter of her Life she gives various counsels for the practice of prayer, using once more
the figures of water which she had employed in her first description of the Mystic Way. She consoles
those who cannot reason with the understanding, shows how vocal prayer may be combined with

7


The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

mental, and ends by advising those who suffer from aridity in prayer to picture Jesus as within their
hearts and thus always beside them- one of her favourite themes.
This leads up to the subject which occupies her for the rest of the book (Chaps. 27-42)-the
Lord's Prayer. These chapters, in fact, comprise a commentary on the Paternoster, taken petition
by petition, touching incidentally upon the themes of Recollection, Quiet and Union. Though
nowhere expounding them as fully as in the Life or the Interior Castle, she treats them with equal
sublimity, profundity and fervour and in language of no less beauty. Consider, for example, the apt
and striking simile of the mother and the child (Chap. 31), used to describe the state of the soul in
the Prayer of Quiet, which forms one of the most beautiful and expressive expositions of this degree
of contemplation to be found in any book on the interior life whatsoever.
In Chapter 38, towards the end of the commentary on the Paternoster, St. Teresa gives a striking
synthetic description of the excellences of that Prayer and of its spiritual value. She enters at some
length into the temptations to which spiritual people are exposed when they lack humility and
discretion. Some of these are due to presumption: they believe they possess virtues which in fact
they do not-or, at least, not in sufficient degree to enable them to resist the snares of the enemy.
Others come from a mistaken scrupulousness and timidity inspired by a sense of the heinousness
of their sins, and may lead them into doubt and despair. There are souls, too, which make overmuch
account of spiritual favours: these she counsels to see to it that, however sublime their contemplation
may be, they begin and end every period of prayer with self-examination. While others whose
mistrust of themselves makes them restless, are exhorted to trust in the Divine mercy, which never
forsakes those who possess true humility.
Finally, St. Teresa writes of the love and fear of God-two mighty castles which the fiercest
of the soul's enemies will storm in vain-and begs Him, in the last words of the Prayer to preserve
her daughters, and all other souls who practise the interior life, from the ills and perils which will
ever surround them, until they reach the next world, where all will be peace and joy in Jesus Christ.
Such, in briefest outline, is the argument of this book. Of all St. Teresa's writings it is the most
easily comprehensible and it can be read with profit by a greater number of people than any of the
rest. It is also (if we use the word in its strictest and truest sense) the most ascetic of her treatises;
only a few chapters and passages in it, here and there, can be called definitely mystical. It takes up
numerous ideas already adumbrated in the Life and treats them in a practical and familiar
way-objectively, too, with an eye not so much to herself as to her daughters of the Discalced
Reform. This last fact necessitates her descending to details which may seem to us trivial but were
not in the least so to the religious to whom they were addressed and with whose virtues and failing
she was so familiar. Skilfully, then, and in a way profitable to all, she intermingles her teaching on
the most rudimentary principles of the religious life, which has all the clarity of any classical treatise,
with instruction on the most sublime and elusive tenets of mystical theology.
ESCORIAL AUTOGRAPH-The Way of perfection-or Paternoster, as its author calls it, from
the latter part of its content-was written twice. Both autographs have been preserved in excellent
condition, the older of them in the monastery of San Lorenzo el Real, El Escorial, and the other in

8


The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

the convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns at Valladolid. We have already seen how Philip II
acquired a number of Teresan autographs for his new Escorial library, among them that of the Way
of perfection. The Escorial manuscript bears the title "Treatise of the Way of Perfection", but this
is not in St. Teresa's hand. It plunges straight into the prologue: both the title and the brief account
of the contents, which are found in most of the editions, are taken from the autograph of Valladolid,
and the humble protestation of faith and submission to the Holy Roman Church was dictated by
the Saint for the edition of the book made in vora by Don Teutonio de Braganza - it is found in
the Toledo codex, which will be referred to again shortly.
The text, divided into seventy-three short chapters, has no chapter-divisions in the ordinary
sense of the phrase, though the author has left interlinear indications showing where each chapter
should begin. The chapter-headings form a table of contents at the end of the manuscript and only
two of them (55 and 56) are in St. Teresa's own writing. As the remainder, however, are in a
feminine hand of the sixteenth century, they may have been dictated by her to one of her nuns: they
are almost identical with those which she herself wrote at a later date in the autograph of Valladolid.
There are a considerable number of emendations in this text, most of them made by the Saint
herself, whose practice was to obliterate any unwanted word so completely as to make it almost
illegible. None of such words or phrases was restored in the autograph of Valladolid-a sure
indication that it was she who erased them, or at least that she approved of their having been erased.
There are fewer annotations and additions in other hands than in the autographs of any of her
remaining works, and those few are of little importance. This may be due to the fact that a later
redaction of the work was made for the use of her convents and for publication: the Escorial
manuscript would have circulated very little and would never have been subjected to a minute
critical examination. Most of what annotations and corrections of this kind there are were made by
the Saint's confessor, P. Garca de Toledo, whom, among others, she asked to examine the
manuscript.
There is no direct indication in the manuscript of the date of its composition. We know that it
was written at St. Joseph's, Avila, for the edification and instruction of the first nuns of the Reform,
and the prologue tells us that only "a few days" had elapsed between the completion of the Life
and the beginning of the Way of perfection. If, therefore, the Life was finished at the end of 1565
[or in the early weeks of 1566] 1we can date the commencement of the Way of perfection with
some precision. [But even then there is no indication as to how long the composition took and when
it was completed.]
A complication occurs in the existence, at the end of a copy of the Way of perfection which
belongs to the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Salamanca, and contains corrections in St. Teresa's
hand, of a note, in the writing of the copyist, which says: This book was written in the year
sixty-two-I mean fifteen hundred and sixty-two." There follow some lines in the writing of St.
Teresa, which make no allusion to this date; her silence might be taken as confirming it (though

1

Cf. Vol. I, pp. 2-5, above

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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

she displays no great interest in chronological exactness) were it not absolutely impossible to
reconcile such a date with the early chapters of the book, which make it quite clear that the
community of thirteen nuns was fully established when they were written (Chap. 4, below). There
could not possibly have been so many nuns at St. Joseph's before late in the year 1563, in which
Mar de San Jernimo and Isabel de Santo Domingo took the habit, and it is doubtful if St. Teresa
could conceivably have begun the book before the end of that year. Even, therefore, if the reference
in the preface to the Way of perfection were to the first draft of the Life (1562), and not to that
book as we know it, there would still be the insuperable difficulty raised by this piece of internal
evidence. 2We are forced, then, to assume an error in the Salamanca copy and to assign to the
beginning of the Way of perfection the date 1565-6.
VALLADOLID AUTOGRAPH. In writing for her Avila nuns, St. Teresa used language much
more simple, familiar and homely than in any of her other works. But when she began to establish
more foundations and her circle of readers widened, this language must have seemed to her too
affectionately intimate, and some of her figures and images may have struck her as too domestic
and trivial, for a more general and scattered public. So she conceived the idea of rewriting the book
in a more formal style; it is the autograph of this redaction which is in the possession of the Discalced
Carmelite nuns of Valladolid.
The additions, omissions and modifications in this new autograph are more considerable than
is generally realized. From the preface onwards, there is no chapter without its emendations and
in many there are additions of whole paragraphs. The Valladolid autograph, therefore, is in no sense
a copy, or even a recast, of the first draft, but a free and bold treatment of it. As a general rule, a
second draft, though often more correctly written and logically arranged than its original, is less
flexible, fluent and spontaneous. It is hard to say how far this is the case here. Undoubtedly some
of the charm of the author's natural simplicity vanishes, but the corresponding gain in clarity and
precision is generally considered greater than the loss. Nearly every change she makes is an
improvement; and this not only in stylistic matters, for one of the greatest of her improvements is
the leng thening of the chapters and their reduction in number from 73 to 42, to the great advantage
of the book's symmetry and unity.
It is clear that St. Teresa intended the Valladolid redaction to be the definitive form of her book
since she had so large a number of copies of it made for her friends and spiritual daughters: among
these were the copy which she sent for publication to Don Teutonio de Braganza and that used for
the first collected edition of her works by Fray Luis de Len. For the same reason this redaction
has always been given preference over its predecessor by the Discalced Carmelites.

2

See also the reference, in the "General Argument" of the Valladolid redaction, to her being Prioress of St. Joseph's when the
book was written. Presumably the original draft is meant.

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TRANSLATOR'S NOTE
In the text of each of the chapters, of the Valladolid autograph there are omissions-some
merely verbal, often illustrating the author's aim in making the new redaction, others more
fundamental. If the Valladolid manuscript represents the Way of perfection as St. Teresa wrote it
in the period of her fullest powers, the greater freshness and individuality of the Escorial manuscript
are engaging qualities, and there are many passages in it, omitted from the later version, which one
would be sorry to sacrifice.
In what form, then, should the book be presented to English readers? It is not surprising if this
question is difficult to answer, since varying procedures have been adopted for the presentation of
it in Spain. Most of them amount briefly to a re-editing of the Valladolid manuscript. The first
edition of the book, published at vora in the year 1583, follows this manuscript, apparently using
a copy (the so-called "Toledo" copy) made by Ana de San Pedro and corrected by St. Teresa; it
contains a considerable number of errors, however, and omits one entire chapter-the thirty-first,
which deals with the Prayer of Quiet, a subject that was arousing some controversy at the time
when the edition was being prepared. In 1585, a second edition, edited by Fray Jernimo Gracian,
was published at Salamanca: the text of this follows that of the vora edition very closely, as
apparently does the text of a rare edition published at Valencia in 1586. When Fray Luis de Leon
used the Valladolid manuscript as the foundation of his text (1588) he inserted for the first time
paragraphs and phrases from that of El Escorial, as well as admitting variants from the copies
corrected by the author: he is not careful however, to indicate how and where his edition differs
from the manuscript.
Since 1588, most of the Spanish editions have followed Fray Luis de Len with greater or less
exactness. The principal exception is the well-known "Biblioteca de Autores Espaoles" edition,
in which La Fuente followed a copy of the then almost forgotten Escorial manuscript, indicating
in footnotes some of the variant readings in the codex of Valladolid. In the edition of 1883, the
work of a Canon of Valladolid Cathedral, Francisco Herrero Bayona, the texts of the two manuscripts
are reproduced in parallel columns. P. Silverio de Santa Teresa gives the place of honour to the
Valladolid codex, on which he bases his text, showing only the principal variants of the Escorial
manuscript but printing the Escorial text in full in an appendix as well as the text of the Toledo
copy referred to above.
The first translations of this book into English, by Woodhead (1675: reprinted 1901) and Dalton
(1852), were based, very naturally, on the text of Luis de Len, which in less critical ages than our
own enjoyed great prestige and was considered quite authoritative. The edition published in 1911
by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, described on its title-page as "including all the variants" from
both the Escorial and the Valladolid manuscript, uses Herrero Bayona and gives an eclectic text
based on the two originals but with no indications as to which is which. The editors' original idea
of using one text only, and showing variants in footnotes, was rejected in the belief that "such an

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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

arrangement would prove bewildering for the generality of readers" and that anyone who could
claim the title of "student" would be able to read the original Spanish and would have access to the
Herrero Bayona edition. Father Zimmerman, in his introduction, claimed that while the divergences
between the manuscripts are sometimes "so great that the [Stanbrook] translation resembles a
mosaic composed of a large number of small bits, skilfully combined", "the work has been done
most conscientiously, and while nothing has been added to the text of the Saint, nothing has been
omitted, except, of course, what would have been mere repetition".
This first edition of the Benedictines' translation furnished the general reader with an attractive
version of what many consider St. Teresa's most attractive book, but soon after it was published a
much more intelligent and scholarly interest began to be taken in the Spanish mystics and that not
only by students with ready access to the Spanish original and ability to read it. So, when a new
edition of the Stanbrook translation was called for, the editors decided to indicate the passages from
the Escorial edition which had been embodied in the text by enclosing these in square brackets. In
1911, Father Zimmerman, suspecting that the procedure then adopted by the translators would not
"meet with the approval of scholars", had justified it by their desire "to benefit the souls of the
faithful rather than the intellect of the student"; but now, apparently, he thought it practicable to
achieve both these aims at once. This resolution would certainly have had the support of St. Teresa,
who in this very book describes intelligence as a useful staff to carry on the way of perfection. The
careful comparison of two separate versions of such a work of genius may benefit the soul of an
intelligent reader even more than the careful reading of a version compounded of both by someone
else.
When I began to consider the preparation of the present translation it seemed to me that an
attempt might be made to do a little more for the reader who combined intelligence with devoutness
than had been done already. I had no hesitation about basing my version on the Valladolid MS.,
which is far the better of the two, whether we consider the aptness of its illustrations, the clarity of
its expression, the logical development of its argument or its greater suitability for general reading.
At the same time, no Teresan who has studied the Escorial text can fail to have an affection for it:
its greater intimacy and spontaneity and its appeal to personal experience make it one of the most
characteristic of all the Saint's writings-indeed, excepting the Letters and a few chapters of the
Foundations, it reveals her better than any. Passages from the Escorial MS. must therefore be given:
thus far I followed the reasoning of the Stanbrook nuns.
Where this translation diverges from theirs is in the method of presentation. On the one hand
I desired, as St. Teresa must have desired, that it should be essentially her mature revision of the
book that should be read. For this reason I have been extremely conservative as to the interpolations
admitted into the text itself: I have rejected, for example, the innumerable phrases which St. Teresa
seems to have cut out in making her new redaction because they were trivial or repetitive, because
they weaken rather than reinforce her argument, because they say what is better said elsewhere,

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because they summarize needlessly 3or because they are mere personal observations which interrupt
the author's flow of thought, and sometimes, indeed, are irrelevant to it. I hope it is not impertinent
to add that, in the close study which the adoption of this procedure has involved, I have acquired
a respect and admiration for St. Teresa as a reviser, to whom, as far as I know, no one who has
written upon her has done full justice. Her shrewdness, realism and complete lack of vanity make
her an admirable editor of her own work, and, in debating whether or no to incorporate some phrase
or passage in my text I have often asked myself: Would St. Teresa have included or omitted this if
she had been making a fresh revision for a world-wide public over a period of centuries?"
At the same time, though admitting only a minimum of interpolations into my text, I have given
the reader all the other important variants in footnotes. I cannot think, as Father Zimmerman
apparently thought, that anyone can find the presence of a few notes at the foot of each page
"bewildering". Those for whom they have no interest may ignore them; others, in studying them,
may rest assured that the only variants not included (and this applies to the variants from the Toledo
copy as well as from the Escorial MS.) are such as have no significance in a translation. I have
been rather less meticulous here than in my edition of St. John of the Cross, where textual problems
assumed greater importance. Thus, except where there has been some special reason for doing so,
I have not recorded alterations in the order of clauses or words; the almost regular use by E. of the
second person of the plural where V. has the first; the frequent and often apparently purposeless
changes of tense; such substitutions, in the Valladolid redaction, as those of "Dios" or "Seior mo"
for "Seior"; or merely verbal paraphrases as (to take an example at random) "Todo esto que he
dicho es para . . ." for "En todo esto que he dicho no trato . . ." Where I have given variants which
may seem trivial (such as "hermanas" for "hijas", or the insertion of an explanatory word, like
"digo") the reason is generally that there seems to me a possibility that some difference in tone is
intended, or that the alternative phrase gives some slight turn to the thought which the phrase in
the text does not.
The passages from the Escorial version which I have allowed into my text are printed in italics.
Thus, without their being given undue prominence (and readers of the Authorized Version of the
Bible will know how seldom they can recall what words are italicized even in the passages they
know best) it is clear at a glance how much of the book was intended by its author to be read by a
wider public than the nuns of St. Joseph's. The interpolations may be as brief as a single expressive
word, or as long as a paragraph, or even a chapter: the original Chapter 17 of the Valladolid MS.,
for example, which contains the famous similitude of the Game of Chess, was torn out of the codex
by its author (presumably with the idea that so secular an illustration was out of place) and has been
restored from the Escorial MS. as part of Chapter 16 of this translation. No doubt the striking
bullfight metaphor at the end of Chapter 39 was suppressed in the Valladolid codex for the same
reason. With these omissions may be classed a number of minor ones-of words or phrases which
to the author may have seemed too intimate or colloquial but do not seem so to us. Other words

3

E.g., at places where a chapter ends in E. but not in V.

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St. Teresa of Avila

and phrases have apparently been suppressed because St. Teresa thought them redundant, whereas
a later reader finds that they make a definite contri bution to the sense or give explicitness and detail
to what would otherwise be vague, or even obscure. 4A few suppressions seem to have been due
to pure oversight. For the omission of other passages it is difficult to find any reason, so good are
they: the conclusion of Chapter 38 and the opening of Chapter 41 are cases in point.
The numbering of the chapters, it should be noted, follows neither of the two texts, but is that
traditionally employed in the printed editions. The chapter headings are also drawn up on an eclectic
basis, though here the Valladolid text is generally followed.
The system I have adopted not only assures the reader that he will be reading everything that
St. Teresa wrote and nothing that she did not write, but that he can discern almost at a glance, what
she meant to be read by her little group of nuns at St. Joseph's and also how she intended her work
to appear in its more definitive form. Thus we can see her both as the companion and Mother and
as the writer and Foundress. In both roles she is equally the Saint.
But it should be made clear that, while incorporating in my text all important passages from
the Escorial draft omitted in that of Valladolid, I have thought it no part of my task to provide a
complete translation of the Escorial draft alone, and that, therefore, in order to avoid the
multiplication of footnotes, I have indicated only the principal places where some expression in
the later draft is not to be found in the earlier. In other words, although, by omitting the italicized
portions of my text, one will be able to have as exact a translation of the Valladolid version as it is
possible to get, the translation of the Escorial draft will be only approximate. This is the sole
concession I have made to the ordinary reader as opposed to the student, and it is hardly conceivable,
I think, that any student to whom this could matter would be unable to read the original Spanish.
One final note is necessary on the important Toledo copy, the text of which P. Silverio also
prints in full. This text I have collated with that of the Valladolid autograph, from which it derives.
In it both St. Teresa herself and others have made corrections and additions-more, in fact, than
in any of the other copies extant. No attempt has been made here either to show what the Toledo
copy omits or to include those of its corrections and additions-by far the largest number of
them-which are merely verbal and unimportant, and many of which, indeed, could not be embodied
in a translation at all. But the few additions which are really worth noting have been incorporated
in the text (in square brackets so as to distinguish them from the Escorial additions) and all
corrections which have seemed to me of any significance will be found in footnotes.

4

One special case of this class is the suppression in V. of one out of two or three almost but not quite synonymous adjectives
referring to the same noun.

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BOOK CALLED WAY OF PERFECTION.5
Composed by TERESA OF JESUS, Nun of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel, addressed to the
Discalced Nuns of Or Lady of Carmel of the First Rule.6
General Argument of this Book
J. H. S.
This book treats of maxims and counsels which Teresa of Jesus gives to her daughters and
sisters in religion, belonging to the Convents which, with the favour of Our Lord and of the glorious
Virgin, Mother of God, Our Lady, she has founded according to the First Rule of Our Lady of
Carmel. In particular she addresses it to the sisters of the Convent of Saint Joseph of Avila, which
was the first Convent, and of which she was Prioress when she wrote it.7

PROTESTATIONS8
In all that I shall say in this Book, I submit to what is taught by Our Mother, the Holy Roman
Church; if there is anything in it contrary to this, it will be without my knowledge. Therefore, for
the love of Our Lord, I beg the learned men who are to revise it to look at it very carefully and to
amend any faults of this nature which there may be in it and the many others which it will have of
other kinds. If there is anything good in it, let this be to the glory and honour of God and in the
service of His most sacred Mother, our Patroness and Lady, whose habit, though all unworthily, I
wear.

PROLOGUE
J. H. S.

5

With few exceptions, the footnotes to the Way of perfection are the translators. Square brackets are therefore not used to distinguish
them from those of P. Silverio, as elsewhere. Ordinary brackets, in the footnote translations, are placed round words inserted to
complete the sense.

6

This title, in St. Teresa's hand, appears on the first page of the Valladolid autograph (V.) which, as we have said in the Introduction,
is the basis of the text here used. The Escorial autograph (E.) has the words "Treatise of the Way of Perfection" in an unknown
hand, followed by the Prologue, in St. Teresa's. The Toledo copy (T.) begins with the Protestation.

7

These lines, also in St. Teresa's hand, follow the title in the Valladolid autograph. P. Baez added, in his own writing, the words:

8

"I have seen this book and my opinion of it is written at the end and signed with my name." Cf. ch. 42, below.
This Protestation, taken from T., was dictated by St. Teresa for the edition of the Way of perfection published at vora in 1583
by D. Teutonio de Braganza.

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St. Teresa of Avila

The sisters of this Convent of Saint Joseph, knowing that I had had leave from Father Presentado
Fray Domingo Baes, 9of the Order of the glorious Saint Dominic, who at present is my confessor,
to write certain things about prayer, which it seems I may be able to succeed in doing since I have
had to do with many holy and spiritual persons, have, out of their great love for me, so earnestly
begged me to say something to them about this that I have resolved to obey them. I realize that the
great love which they have for me may render the imperfection and the poverty of my style in what
I shall say to them more acceptable than other books which are very ably written by those who
10
have known what they are writing about. I rely upon their prayers, by means of which the Lord
may be pleased to enable me to say something concerning the way and method of life which it is
fitting should be practised in this house. If I do not succeed in doing this, Father Presentado, who
will first read what I have written, will either put it right or burn it, so that I shall have lost nothing
by obeying these servants of God, and they will see how useless I am when His Majesty does not
help me.
My intent is to suggest a few remedies for a number of small temptations which come from the
devil, and which, because they are so slight, are apt to pass unnoticed. I shall also write of other
things, according as the Lord reveals them to me and as they come to my mind; since I do not know
what I am going to say I cannot set it down in suitable order; and I think it is better for me not to
do so, for it is quite unsuitable that I should be writing in this way at all. May the Lord lay His hand
on all that I do so that it may be in accordance with His holy will; this is always my desire, although
my actions may be as imperfect as I myself am.
I know that I am lacking neither in love nor in desire to do all I can to help the souls of my
sisters to make great progress in the service of the Lord. It may be that this love, together with my
years and the experience which I have of a number of convents, will make me more successful in
writing about small matters than learned men can be. For these, being themselves strong and handing
other and more important occupations, do not always pay such heed to things which in themselves
seem of no importance but which may do great harm to persons as weak as we women are. For the
snares laid by the devil for strictly cloistered nuns are numerous and he finds that he needs new
weapons if he is to do them harm. I, being a wicked woman, have defended myself but ill, and so
I should like my sisters to take warning by me. I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience,
either in my own life or in the observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer.
A few days ago I was commanded to write an account of my life in which I also dealt with
certain matters concerning prayer. It may be that my confessor will not wish you to see this, for

9

The words "Fray Domingo Baes" are crossed out, probably by P. Baez himself. T. has: "from the Father Master Fray Domingo
Baez, Professor at Salamanca." Baez was appointed to a Chair at Salamanca University in 1577.

10

The pronoun (quien) in the Spanish is singular, but in the sixteenth century it could have plural force and the context would
favour this. A manuscript note in V., however (not by P. Baez, as the Paris Carmelites- Oeuvres, V, 30-suggest), evidently
takes the reference to be to St. Gregory, for it says: "And he wrote something on Job, and the Morals, importuned by servants
of God, and trusting in their prayers, as he himself says."

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St. Teresa of Avila

which reason I shall set down here some of the things which I said in that book and others which
may also seem to me necessary. May the Lord direct this, as I have begged Him to do, and order
it for His greater glory. Amen.

CHAPTER 1
Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict
observance.
When this convent was originally founded, for the reasons set down in the book which, as I
say, I have already written, and also because of certain wonderful revelations by which the Lord
showed me how well He would be served in this house, it was not my intention that there should
be so much austerity in external matters, nor that it should have no regular income: on the contrary,
I should have liked there to be no possibility of want. I acted, in short, like the weak and wretched
woman that I am, although I did so with good intentions and not out of consideration for my own
comfort.
At about this time there came to my notice the harm and havoc that were being wrought in
France by these Lutherans and the way in which their unhappy sect was increasing. 11This troubled
me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept before
the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil. I felt that I would have laid down a thousand
lives to save a single one of all the souls that were being lost there. And, seeing that I was a woman,
and a sinner, 12and incapable of doing all I should like in the Lord's service, and as my whole
yearning was, and still is, that, as He has so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be
trusty ones, I determined to do the little that was in me-namely, to follow the evangelical counsels
as perfectly as I could, and to see that these few nuns who are here should do the same, confiding
in the great goodness of God, Who never fails to help those who resolve to forsake everything for
His sake. As they are all that I have ever painted them as being in my desires, I hoped that their
virtues would more than counteract my defects, and I should thus be able to give the Lord some
pleasure, and all of us, by busying ourselves in prayer for those who are defenders of the Church,
and for the preachers and learned men who defend her, should do everything we could to aid this
Lord of mine Who is so much oppressed by those to whom He has shown so much good that it
seems as though these traitors would send Him to the Cross again and that He would have nowhere
to lay His head.

11

French Protestantism which had been repressed during the reigns of Francis I and Henry II, increased after the latter's death in
1559, and was still doing so at the time of the foundation of St. Joseph's.

12

Lit.: "and bad."

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Oh, my Redeemer, my heart cannot conceive this without being sorely distressed! What has
become of Christians now? Must those who owe Thee most always be those who distress Thee?
Those to whom Thou doest the greatest kindnesses, whom Thou dost choose for Thy friends, among
whom Thou dost move, communicating Thyself to them through the Sacraments? Do they not
think, Lord of my soul, that they have made Thee endure more than sufficient torments?
It is certain, my Lord, that in these days withdrawal from the world means no sacrifice at all.
Since worldly people have so little respect for Thee, what can we expect them to have for us? Can
it be that we deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated Thee? Have we done
more for them than Thou hast done that they should be friendly to us? What then? What can we
expect-we who, through the goodness of the Lord, are free from that pestilential infection, and
do not, like those others, belong to the devil? They have won severe punishment at his hands and
their pleasures have richly earned them eternal fire. So to eternal fire they will have to go, 13though
none the less it breaks my heart to see so many souls travelling to perdition. I would the evil were
not so great and I did not see more being lost every day.
Oh, my sisters in Christ! Help me to entreat this of the Lord, Who has brought you together
here for that very purpose. This is your vocation; this must be your business; these must be your
desires; these your tears; these your petitions. Let us not pray for worldly things, my sisters. It
makes me laugh, and yet it makes me sad, when I hear of the things which people come here to
beg us to pray to God for; we are to ask His Majesty to give them money and to provide them with
incomes-I wish that some of these people would entreat God to enable them to trample all such
things beneath their feet. Their intentions are quite good, and I do as they ask because I see that
they are really devout people, though I do not myself believe that God ever hears me when I pray
for such things. The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again, as it were, for they
bring a thousand false witnesses against Him. They would raze His Church to the ground-and are
we to waste our time upon things which, if God were to grant them, would perhaps bring one soul
less to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.
Were it not necessary to consider human frailty, which finds satisfaction in every kind of
help-and it is always a good thing if we can be of any help to people-I should like it to be
understood that it is not for things like these that God should be importuned with such anxiety.

CHAPTER 2

13

Alla se lo hayan. "And serve them right!" would, in most contexts, be a more exact rendering of this colloquial phrase, but there
is no suspicion of Schadenfreude here.

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Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded
and of the good that comes from poverty.
Do not think, my sisters, that because you do not go about trying to please people in the world
you will lack food. You will not, I assure you: never try to sustain yourselves by human artifices,
or you will die of hunger, and rightly so. Keep your eyes fixed upon your Spouse: it is for Him to
sustain you; and, if He is pleased with you, even those who like you least will give you food, if
unwillingly, as you have found by experience. If you should do as I say and yet die of hunger, then
happy are the nuns of Saint Joseph's! For the love of the Lord, let us not forget this: you have
forgone a regular income; forgo worry about food as well, or thou will lose everything. Let those
whom the Lord wishes to live on an income do so: if that is their vocation, they are perfectly
justified; but for us to do so, sisters, would be inconsistent.
Worrying about getting money from other people seems to me like thinking about what other
people enjoy. However much you worry, you will not make them change their minds nor will they
become desirous of giving you alms. Leave these anxieties to Him Who can move everyone, Who
is the Lord of all money and of all who possess money. It is by His comm and that we have come
here and His words are true-they cannot fail: Heaven and earth will fail first. 14Let us not fail Him,
and let us have no fear that He will fail us; if He should ever do so it will be for our greater good,
just as the saints failed to keep their lives when they were slain for the Lord's sake, and their bliss
was increased through their martyrdom. We should be making a good exchange if we could have
done with this life quickly and enjoy everlasting satiety.
Remember, sisters, that this will be important when I am dead; and that is why I am leaving it
to you in writing. For, with God's help, as long as I live, I will remind you of it myself, as I know
by experience what a great help it will be to you. It is when I possess least that I have the fewest
worries and the Lord knows that, as far as I can tell, I am more afflicted when there is excess of
anything than when there is lack of it; I am not sure if that is the Lord's doing, but I have noticed
that He provides for us immediately. To act otherwise would be to deceive the world by pretending
to be poor when we are not poor in spirit but only outwardly. My conscience would give me a bad
time. It seems to me it would be like stealing what was being given us, as one might say; for I
should feel as if we were rich people asking alms: please God this may never be so. Those who
worry too much about the alms that they are likely to be given will find that sooner or later this bad
habit will lead them to go and ask for something which they do not need, and perhaps from someone
who needs it more than they do. Such a person would gain rather than lose by giving it us but we
should certainly be the worse off for having it. God forbid this should ever happen, my daughters;
if it were likely to do so, I should prefer you to have a regular income.

14

An apparent reference to St. Mark xiii, 31.

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I beg you, for the love of God, just as if I were begging alms for you, never to allow this to
occupy your thoughts. If the very least of you ever hears of such a thing happening in this house,
cry out about it to His Majesty and speak to your Superior. Tell her humbly that she is doing wrong;
this is so serious a matter that it may cause true poverty gradually to disappear. I hope in the Lord
that this will not be so and that He will not forsake His servants; and for that reason, if for no other,
what you have told me to write may be useful to you as a reminder.
My daughters must believe that it is for their own good that the Lord has enabled me to realize
in some small degree what blessings are to be found in holy poverty. Those of them who practise
it will also realize this, though perhaps not as clearly as I do; for, although I had professed poverty,
I was not only without poverty of spirit, but my spirit was devoid of all restraint. Poverty is good
and contains within itself all the good things in the world. It is a great domain- I mean that he
who cares nothing for the good things of the world has dominion over them all. What do kings and
lords matter to me if I have no desire to possess their money, or to please them, if by so doing I
should cause the least displeasure to God? And what do their honours mean to me if I have realized
that the chief honour of a poor man consists in his being truly poor?
For my own part, I believe that honour and money nearly always go together, and that he who
desires honour never hates money, while he who hates money cares little for honour. Understand
this clearly, for I think this concern about honour always implies some slight regard for endowments
or money: seldom or never is a poor man honoured by the world; however worthy of honour he
may be, he is apt rather to be despised by it. With true poverty there goes a different kind of honour
to which nobody can take objection. I mean that, if poverty is embraced for God's sake alone, no
one has to be pleased save God. It is certain that a man who has no need of anyone has many friends:
in my own experience I have found this to be very true.
A great deal has been written about this virtue which I cannot understand, still less express, and
I should only be making things worse if I were to eulogize it, so I will say no more about it now. I
have only spoken of what I have myself experienced and I confess that I have been so much absorbed
that until now I have hardly realized what I have been writing. However, it has been said now. Our
arms are holy poverty, which was so greatly esteemed and so strictly observed by our holy Fathers
at the beginning of the foundation of our Order. (Someone who knows about this tells me that they
never kept anything from one day to the next.) For the love of the Lord, then, [I beg you] now that
the rule of poverty is less perfectly observed as regards outward things, let us strive to observe it
inwardly. Our life lasts only for a couple of hours; our reward is boundless; and, if there were no
reward but to follow the counsels given us by the Lord, to imitate His Majesty in any degree would
bring us a great recompense.
These arms must appear on our banners and at all costs we must keep this rule-as regards our
house, our clothes, our speech, and (which is much more important) our thoughts. So long as this
is done, there need be no fear, with the help of God, that religious observances in this house will
decline, for, as Saint Clare said, the walls of poverty are very strong. It was with these walls, she
said, and with those of humility, that she wished to surround her convents; and assuredly, if the

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rule of poverty is truly kept, both chastity and all the other virtues are fortified much better than
by the most sumptuous edifices. Have a care to this, for the love of God; and this I beg of you by
His blood. If I may say what my conscience bids me, I should wish that, on the day when you build
such edifices, they 15may fall down and kill you all.
It seems very wrong, my daughters, that great houses should be built with the money of the
poor; may God forbid that this should be done; let our houses be small and poor in every way. Let
us to some extent resemble our King, Who had no house save the porch in Bethlehem where He
was born and the Cross on which He died. These were houses where little comfort could be found.
Those who erect large houses will no doubt have good reasons for doing so. I do not utterly condemn
them: they are moved by various holy intentions. But any corner is sufficient for thirteen poor
women. If grounds should be thought necessary on account of the strictness of the enclosure, and
also as an aid to prayer and devotion, and because our miserable nature needs such things, well
and good; and let there be a few hermitages 16in them in which the sisters may go to pray. But as
for a large ornate convent, with a lot of buildings-God preserve us from that! Always remember
that these things will all fall down on the Day of Judgment, and who knows how soon that will be?
It would hardly look well if the house of thirteen poor women made a great noise when it fell,
for those who are really poor must make no noise: unless they live a noiseless life people will never
take pity on them. And how happy my sisters will be if they see someone freed from hell by means
of the alms which he has given them; and this is quite possible, since they are strictly bound to
offer continual prayer for persons who give them food. It is also God's will that, although the food
comes from Him, we should thank the persons by whose means He gives it to us: let there be no
neglect of this.
I do not remember what I had begun to say, for I have strayed from my subject. But I think this
must have been the Lord's will, for I never intended to write what I have said here. May His Majesty
always keep us in His hand so that we may never fall. Amen.

CHAPTER 3
Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades
the sisters to busy themselves constantly in beseeching God to
help those who work for the Church. Ends with an exclamatory
prayer.

15

In the Spanish the subject is in the singular: P. Baez inserted "the house", but crossed this out later.

16

St. Teresa liked to have hermitages in the grounds of her convents to give the nuns opportunity for solitude.

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Let us now return to the principal reason for which the Lord has brought us together in this
house, for which reason I am most desirous that we may be able to please His Majesty. Seeing how
great are the evils of the present day and how no human strength will suffice to quench the fire
kindled by these heretics (though attempts have been made to organize opposition to them, as
though such a great and rapidly spreading evil could be remedied by force of arms), it seems to me
that it is like a war in which the enemy has overrun the whole country, and the Lord of the country,
hard pressed, retires into a city, which he causes to be well fortified, and whence from time to time
he is able to attack. Those who are in the city are picked men who can do more by themselves than
they could do with the aid of many soldiers if they were cowards. Often this method gains the
victory; or, if the garrison does not conquer, it is at least not conquered; for, as it contains no traitors,
but picked men, it can be reduced only by hunger. In our own conflict, however, we cannot be
forced to surrender by hunger; we can die but we cannot be conquered.
Now why have I said this? So that you may understand, my sisters, that what we have to ask
of God is that, in this little castle of ours, inhabited as it is by good Christians, none of us may go
over to the enemy. We must ask God, too, to make the captains in this castle or city-that is, the
preachers and theologians-highly proficient in the way of the Lord. And as most of these are
religious, we must pray that they may advance in perfection, and in the fulfilment of their vocation,
for this is very needful. For, as I have already said, it is the ecclesiastical and not the secular arm
which must defend us. And as we can do nothing by either of these means to help our King, let us
strive to live in such a way that our prayers may be of avail to help these servants of God, who, at
the cost of so much toil, have fortified themselves with learning and virtuous living and have
laboured to help the Lord.
You may ask why I emphasize this so much and why I say we must help people who are better
than ourselves. I will tell you, for I am not sure if you properly understand as yet how much we
owe to the Lord for bringing us to a place where we are so free from business matters, occasions
of sin and the society of worldly people. This is a very great favour and one which is not granted
to the persons of whom I have been speaking, nor is it fitting that it should be granted to them; it
would be less so now, indeed, than at any other time, for it is they who must streng then the weak
and give courage to God's little ones. A fine thing it would be for soldiers if they lost their captains!
These preachers and theologians have to live among men and associate with men and stay in palaces
and sometimes even behave as people in palaces do in outward matters. Do you think, my daughters,
that it is an easy matter to have to do business with the world, to live in the world, to engage in the
affairs of the world, and, as I have said, to live as worldly men do, and yet inwardly to be strangers
to the world, and enemies of the world, like persons who are in exile-to be, in short, not men but
angels? Yet unless these persons act thus, they neither deserve to bear the title of captain nor to be
allowed by the Lord to leave their cells, for they would do more harm than good. This is no time
for imperfections in those whose duty it is to teach.
And if these teachers are not inwardly fortified by realizing the great importance of spurning
everything beneath their feet and by being detached from things which come to an end on earth,

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and attached to things eternal, they will betray this defect in themselves, however much they may
try to hide it. For with whom are they dealing but with the world? They need not fear: the world
will not pardon them or fail to observe their imperfections. Of the good things they do many will
pass unnoticed, or will even not be considered good at all; but they need not fear that any evil or
imperfect thing they do will be overlooked. I am amazed when I wonder from whom they learned
about perfection, when, instead of practising it themselves (for they think they have no obligation
to do that and have done quite enough by a reasonable observance of the Commandments), they
condemn others, and at times mistake virtue for indulgence. Do not think, then, that they need but
little Divine favour in this great battle upon which they have entered; on the contrary, they need a
great deal.
I beg you to try to live in such a way as to be worthy to obtain two things from God. First, that
there may be many of these very learned and religious men who have the qualifications for their
task which I have described, and that the Lord may prepare those who are not completely prepared
already and who lack anything, for a single one who is perfect will do more than many who are
not. Secondly, that after they have entered upon this struggle, which, as I say, is not light, but a
very heavy one, the Lord may have them in His hand so that they may be delivered from all the
dangers that are in the world, and, while sailing on this perilous sea, may shut their ears to the song
of the sirens. If we can prevail with God in the smallest degree about this, we shall be fighting His
battle even while living a cloistered life and I shall consider as well spent all the trouble to which
I have gone in founding this retreat,17 where I have also tried to ensure that this Rule of Our Lady
and Empress shall be kept in its original perfection.
Do not think that offering this petition continually is useless. Some people think it a hardship
not to be praying all the time for their own souls. Yet what better prayer could there be than this?
You may be worried because you think it will do nothing to lessen your pains in Purgatory, but
actually praying in this way will relieve you of some of them and anything else that is left-well,
let it remain. After all, what does it matter if I am in Purgatory until the Day of Judgment provided
a single soul should be saved through my prayer? And how much less does it matter if many souls
profit by it and the Lord is honoured! Make no account of any pain which has an end if by means
of it any greater service can be rendered to Him Who bore such pains for us. Always try to find out
wherein lies the greatest perfection. And for the love of the Lord I beg you to beseech His Majesty
to hear us in this; I, miserable creature though I am, beseech this of His Majesty, since it is for His
glory and the good of His Church, which are my only wishes.
It seems over-bold of me to think that I can do anything towards obtaining this. But I have
confidence, my Lord, in these servants of Thine who are here, knowing that they neither desire nor
strive after anything but to please Thee. For Thy sake they have left the little they possessed, wishing
they had more so that they might serve Thee with it. Since Thou, my Creator, art not ungrateful, I
do not think Thou wilt fail to do what they beseech of Thee, for when Thou wert in the world, Lord,

17

Lit.: "making this corner." The reference is to St. Joseph's, Avila.

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Thou didst not despise women, but didst always help them and show them great compassion.18
Thou didst find more faith and no less love in them than in men, and one of them was Thy most
sacred Mother, from whose merits we derive merit, and whose habit we wear, though our sins make
us unworthy to do so.19We can do nothing in public that is of any use to Thee, nor dare we speak
of some of the truths over which we weep in secret lest Thou shouldst not hear this our just petition.
Yet, Lord I cannot believe this of Thy goodness and righteousness, for Thou art a righteous Judge,
not like judges in the world, who, being, after all, men and sons of Adam, refuse to consider any
woman's virtue as above suspicion. Yes, my King, but the day will come when all will be known. I
am not speaking on my own account, for the whole world is already aware of my wickedness, and
I am glad that it should become known; but, when I see what the times are like, I feel it is not right
to repel spirits which are virtuous and brave, even though they be the spirits of women.
Hear us not when we ask Thee for honours, endowments, money, or anything that has to do
with the world; but why shouldst Thou not hear us, Eternal Father, when we ask only for the honour
of Thy Son, when we would forfeit a thousand honours and a thousand lives for Thy sake? Not for
ourselves, Lord, for we do not deserve to be heard, but for the blood of Thy Son and for His merits.
Oh, Eternal Father! Surely all these scourgings and insults and grievous tortures will not be
forgotten. How, then, my Creator, can a heart so [merciful and] loving as Thine endure that an act
which was performed by Thy Son in order to please Thee the more (for He loved Thee most deeply
and Thou didst comm and Him to love us) should be treated as lightly as those heretics treat the
Most Holy Sacrament today, in taking it from its resting-place when they destroy the churches?
Could it be that [Thy Son and our Redeemer] had failed to do something to please Thee? No: He
fulfilled everything. Was it not enough, Eternal Father, that while He lived He had no place to lay
His head and had always to endure so many trials? Must they now deprive Him of the places 20to
which He can invite His friends, seeing how weak we are and knowing that those who have to
labour need such food to sustain them? Had He not already more than sufficiently paid for the sin
of Adam? Has this most loving Lamb to pay once more whenever we relapse into sin? Permit it
not, my Emperor; let Thy Majesty be appeased; look not upon our sins but upon our redemption
by Thy Most Sacred Son, upon His merits and upon those of His glorious Mother and of all the
saints and martyrs who have died for Thee.
Alas, Lord, who is it that has dared to make this petition in the name of all? What a poor mediator
am I, my daughters, to gain a hearing for you and to present your petition! When this Sovereign
Judge sees how bold I am it may well move Him to anger, as would be both right and just. But

18

The italicized lines which follow, and are in the nature of a digression, do not appear in V., and in E. they have been crossed
out.

19

Here follow two erased lines which are illegible but for the words "Thou didst honour the world". The exact sense of the following
words ("We can . . . in secret") is affected by these illegible lines and must be considered uncertain.

20

Lit.: "of those." P. Baez wrote in the margin "of the mansions" using the word which is thus translated in the titles of the seven
main divisions of the Interior Castle. T. has: "of the houses."

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behold, Lord, Thou art a God of mercy; have mercy upon this poor sinner, this miserable worm
who is so bold with Thee. Behold my desires, my God, and the tears with which I beg this of Thee;
forget my deeds, for Thy name's sake, and have pity upon all these souls who are being lost, and
help Thy Church. Do not permit more harm to be wrought to Christendom, Lord; give light to this
darkness.
For the love of the Lord, my sisters, I beg you to commend this poor sinner 21to His Majesty
and to beseech Him to give her humility, as you are bound to do. I do not charge you to pray
particularly for kings and prelates of the Church, especially for our Bishop, for I know that those
of you now here are very careful about this and so I think it is needless for me to say more. Let
those who are to come remember that, if they have a prelate who is holy, those under him will be
holy too, and let them realize how important it is to bring him continually before the Lord. If your
prayers and desires and disciplines and fasts are not performed for the intentions of which I have
spoken, reflect [and believe] that you are not carrying out the work or fulfilling the object for which
the Lord has brought you here.

CHAPTER 4
Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which
are important for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these
three things, which is love of one's neighbour, and speaks of the
harm which can be done by individual friendships.
Now, daughters, you have looked at the great enterprise which we are trying to carry out. What
kind of persons shall we have to be if we are not to be considered over-bold in the eyes of God and
of the world? It is clear that we need to labour hard and it will be a great help to us if we have
sublime thoughts so that we may strive to make our actions sublime also. If we endeavour to observe
our Rule and Constitutions in the fullest sense, and with great care, I hope in the Lord that He will
grant our requests. I am not asking anything new of you, my daughters-only that we should hold
to our profession, which, as it is our vocation, we are bound to do, although there are many ways
of holding to it.
Our Primitive Rules tells us to pray without ceasing. Provided we do this with all possible care
(and it is the most important thing of all) we shall not fail to observe the fasts, disciplines and
periods of silence which the Order commands; for, as you know, if prayer is to be genuine it must
be reinforced with these things-prayer cannot be accompanied by self-indulgence.

21

Lit., "poor little one."

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It is about prayer that you have asked me to say something to you. As an acknowledgment of
what I shall say, I beg you to read frequently and with a good will what I have said about it thus
far, and to put this into practice. Before speaking of the interior life-that is, of prayer-I shall
speak of certain things which those who attempt to walk along the way of prayer must of necessity
practise. So necessary are these that, even though not greatly given to contemplation, people who
have them can advance a long way in the Lord's service, while, unless they have them, they cannot
possibly be great contemplatives, and, if they think they are, they are much mistaken. May the Lord
help me in this task and teach me what I must say, so that it may be to His glory. Amen.
Do not suppose, my friends and sisters, that I am going to charge you to do a great many things;
may it please the Lord that we do the things which our holy Fathers ordained and practised and by
doing which they merited that name. It would be wrong of us to look for any other way or to learn
from anyone else. There are only three things which I will explain at some length and which are
taken from our Constitution itself. It is essential that we should understand how very important
they are to us in helping us to preserve that peace, both inward and outward, which the Lord so
earnestly recommended to us. One of these is love for each other; the second, detachment from all
created things; the third, true humility, which, although I put it last, is the most important of the
three and embraces all the rest.
With regard to the first-namely, love for each other- this is of very great importance; for
there is nothing, however annoying, that cannot easily be borne by those who love each other, and
anything which causes annoyance must be quite exceptional. If this commandment were kept in
the world, as it should be, I believe it would take us a long way towards the keeping of the rest;
but, what with having too much love for each other or too little, we never manage to keep it perfectly.
It may seem that for us to have too much love for each other cannot be wrong, but I do not think
anyone who had not been an eye-witness of it would believe how much evil and how many
imperfections can result from this. The devil sets many snares here which the consciences of those
who aim only in a rough-and-ready way at pleasing God seldom observe- indeed, they think they
are acting virtuously-but those who are aiming at perfection understand what they are very well:
little by little they deprive the will of the strength which it needs if it is to employ itself wholly in
the love of God.
This is even more applicable to women than to men and the harm which it does to community
life is very serious. One result of it is that all the nuns do not love each other equally: some injury
done to a friend is resented; a nun desires to have something to give to her friend or tries to make
time for talking to her, and often her object in doing this is to tell her how fond she is of her, and
other irrelevant things, rather than how much she loves God. These intimate friendships are seldom
calculated 22to make for the love of God; I am more inclined to believe that the devil initiates them
so as to create factions within religious Orders. When a friendship has for its object the service of

22

Lit.: "are seldom ordered in such a way as."

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His Majesty, it at once becomes clear that the will is devoid of passion and indeed is helping to
conquer other passions.
Where a convent is large I should like to see many friendships of that type; but in this house,
where there are not, and can never be, more than thirteen nuns, all must be friends with each other,
love each other, be fond of each other and help each other. For the love of the Lord, refrain from
making individual friendships, however holy, for even among brothers and sisters such things are
apt to be poisonous and I can see no advantage in them; when they are between other relatives,
23
they are much more dangerous and become a pest. Believe me, sisters, though I may seem to you
extreme in this, great perfection and great peace come of doing what I say and many occasions of
sin may be avoided by those who are not very strong. If our will becomes inclined more to one
person than to another (this cannot be helped, because it is natural-it often leads us to love the
person who has the most faults if she is the most richly endowed by nature), we must exercise a
firm restraint on ourselves and not allow ourselves to be conquered by our affection. Let us love
the virtues and inward goodness, and let us always apply ourselves and take care to avoid attaching
importance to externals.
Let us not allow our will to be the slave of any, sisters, save of Him Who bought it with His
blood. Otherwise, before we know where we are, we shall find ourselves trapped, and unable to
move. God help me! The puerilities which result from this are innumerable. And, because they are
so trivial that only those who see how bad they are will realize and believe it, there is no point in
speaking of them here except to say that they are wrong in anyone, and, in a prioress, pestilential.
In checking these preferences we must be strictly on the alert from the moment that such a
friendship begins and we must proceed diligently and lovingly rather than severely. One effective
precaution against this is that the sisters should not be together except at the prescribed hours, and
that they should follow our present custom in not talking with one another, or being alone together,
as is laid down in the Rule: each one should be alone in her cell. There must be no workroom at
Saint Joseph's; for, although it is a praiseworthy custom to have one, it is easier to keep silence if
one is alone, and getting used to solitude is a great help to prayer. Since prayer must be the foundation
on which this house is built, it is necessary for us to learn to like whatever gives us the greatest
help in it.
Returning to the question of our love for one another, it seems quite unnecessary to commend
this to you, for where are there people so brutish as not to love one another when they live together,
are continually in one another's company, indulge in no conversation, association or recreation
with any outside their house and believe that God loves us and that they themselves love God since
they are leaving everything for His Majesty? More especially is this so as virtue always attracts
love, and I hope in God that, with the help of His Majesty, there will always be love in the sisters
of this house. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no reason for me to commend this to you any
further.

23

"Other" is not in the Spanish. "When they are only between", is the reading of T., which also omits: "and become a pest."

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With regard to the nature of this mutual love and what is meant by the virtuous love which I
wish you to have here, and how we shall know when we have this virtue, which is a very great one,
since Our Lord has so strongly commended it to us and so straitly enjoined it upon His
Apostles-about all this I should like to say a little now as well as my lack of skill will allow me;
if you find this explained in great detail in other books, take no notice of what I am saying here,
for it may be that I do not understand what I am talking about.
There are two kinds of love which I am describing. The one is purely spiritual, and apparently
has nothing to do with sensuality or the tenderness of our nature, either of which might stain its
purity. The other is also spiritual, but mingled with it are our sensuality and weakness; 24yet it is a
worthy love, which, as between relatives and friends, seems lawful. Of this I have already said
sufficient.
It is of the first kind of spiritual love that I would now speak. It is untainted by any sort of
passion, for such a thing would completely spoil its harmony. If it leads us to treat virtuous people,
especially confessors, with moderation and discretion, it is profitable; but, if the confessor is seen
to be tending in any way towards vanity, he should be regarded with grave suspicion, and, in such
a case, conversation with him, however edifying, should be avoided, and the sister should make
her confession briefly and say nothing more. It would be best for her, indeed, to tell the superior
that she does not get on with him and go elsewhere; this is the safest way, providing it can be done
without injuring his reputation.25
In such cases, and in other difficulties with which the devil might ensnare us, so that we have
no idea where to turn, the safest thing will be for the sister to try to speak with some learned person;
if necessary, permission to do this can be given her, and she can make her confession to him and
act in the matter as he directs her. For he cannot fail to give her some good advice about it, without
which she might go very far astray. How often people stray through not taking advice, especially
when there is a risk of doing someone harm! The course that must on no account be followed is to
do nothing at all; for, when the devil begins to make trouble in this way, he will do a great deal of
harm if he is not stopped quickly; the plan I have suggested, then, of trying to consult another
confessor is the safest one if it is practicable, and I hope in the Lord that it will be so.
Reflect upon the great importance of this, for it is a dangerous matter, and can be a veritable
hell, and a source of harm to everyone. I advise you not to wait until a great deal of harm has been
done but to take every possible step that you can think of and stop the trouble at the outset; this
you may do with a good conscience. But I hope in the Lord that He will not allow persons who are
to spend their lives in prayer to have any attachment save to one who is a great servant of God; and
I am quite certain He will not, unless they have no love for prayer and for striving after perfection
in the way we try to do here. For, unless they see that he understands their language and likes to
speak to them of God, they cannot possibly love him, as he is not like them. If he is such a person,

24

Here begins the passage reproduced in the Appendix to Chapter 4, below.

25

Honra.

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he will have very few opportunities of doing any harm, and, unless he is very simple, he will not
seek to disturb his own peace of mind and that of the servants of God.
As I have begun to speak about this, I will repeat that the devil can do a great deal of harm here,
which will long remain undiscovered, and thus the soul that is striving after perfection can be
gradually ruined without knowing how. For, if a confessor gives occasion for vanity through being
vain himself, he will be very tolerant with it in [the consciences of] others. May God, for His
Majesty's own sake, deliver us from things of this kind. It would be enough to unsettle all the nuns
if their consciences and their confessor should give them exactly opposite advice, and, if it is insisted
that they must have one confessor only, they will not know what to do, nor how to pacify their
minds, since the very person who should be calming them and helping them is the source of the
harm. In some places there must be a great deal of trouble of this kind: I always feel very sorry
about it and so you must not be surprised if I attach great importance to your understanding this
danger.

Appendix To Chapter 4
The following variant reading of the Escorial Manuscript seems too important to be relegated
to a footnote. It occurs the twelfth paragraph of ch. 4 (cf. n. 24) , and deals, as will be seen, with
the qualifications and character of the confessor. Many editors substitute it in their text for the
corresponding passage in V. As will be seen, however, it is not a pure addition; we therefore
reproduce it separately.
The important thing is that these two kinds of mutual love should be untainted by any sort of
passion, for such a thing would completely spoil this harmony. If we exercise this love, of which
I have spoken, with moderation and discretion, it is wholly meritorious, because what seems to us
sensuality is turned into virtue. But the two may be so closely intertwined with one another that it
is sometimes impossible to distinguish them, especially where a confessor is concerned. For if
persons who are practising prayer find that their confessor is a holy man and understands the way
they behave, they become greatly attached to him. And then forthwith the devil lets loose upon
them a whole battery of scruples which produce a terrible disturbance within the soul, this being
what he is aiming at. In particular, if the confessor is guiding such persons to greater perfection,
they become so depressed that they will go so far as to leave him for another and yet another, only
to be tormented by the same temptation every time.
What you can do here is not to let your minds dwell upon whether you like your confessor or
not, but just to like him if you feel so inclined. For, if we grow fond of people who are kind to our
bodies, why should we not love those who are always striving and toiling to help our souls? Actually,
if my confessor is a holy and spiritual man and I see that he is taking great pains for the benefit of
my soul, I think it will be a real help to my progress for me to like him. For so weak are we that
such affection sometimes helps us a great deal to undertake very great things in God's service.
But, if your confessor is not such a person as I have described, there is a possibility of danger,
and for him to know that you like him may do the greatest harm, most of all in houses where the
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nuns are very strictly enclosed. And as it is a difficult thing to get to know which confessors are
good, great care and caution are necessary. The best advice to give would be that you should see
he has no idea of your affection for him and is not told about it. But the devil is so active that this
is not practicable: you feel as if this is the only thing you have to confess and imagine you are
obliged to confess it. For this reason I should like you to think that your affection for him is of no
importance and to take no more notice of it.
Follow this advice if you find that everything your confessor says to you profits your soul; if
you neither see nor hear him indulge in any vanity (and such things are always noticed except by
one who is wilfully dull) and if you know him to be a God-fearing man, do not be distressed over
any temptation about being too fond of him, and the devil will then grow tired and stop tempting
you. But if you notice that the confessor is tending in any way towards vanity in what he says to
you, you should regard him with grave suspicion; in such a case conversation with him, even about
prayer and about God, should be avoided-the sister should make her confession briefly and say
nothing more. It would be best for her to tell the Mother (Superior) that she does not get on with
him and go elsewhere. This is the safest way if it is practicable, and I hope in God that it will be,
and that you will do all you possibly can to have no relations with him, though this may be very
painful for you.
Reflect upon the great importance of this, etc. (pp. 58-9).

CHAPTER 5
Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important
that they should be learned men.
May the Lord grant, for His Majesty's own sake, that no one in this house shall experience the
trials that have been described, or find herself oppressed in this way in soul and body. I hope the
superior will never be so intimate with the confessor that no one will dare to say anything about
him to her or about her to him. For this will tempt unfortunate penitents to leave very grave sins
unconfessed because they will feel uncomfortable about confessing them. God help me! What
trouble the devil can make here and how dearly people have to pay for their miserable worries and
concern about honour! If they consult only one confessor, they think they are acting in the interests
of their Order and for the greater honour of their convent: and that is the way the devil lays his
snares for souls when he can find no other. If the poor sisters ask for another confessor, they are
told that this would mean the complete end of all discipline in the convent; and, if he is not a priest
of their Order, even though he be a saint, they are led to believe that they would be disgracing their
entire Order by consulting him.

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Give great praise to God, Daughters, for this liberty that you have, for, though there are not a
great many priests whom you can consult, there are a few, other than your ordinary confessors,
who can give you light upon everything. I beg every superior, 26for the love of the Lord, to allow a
holy liberty here: let the Bishop or Provincial be approached for leave for the sisters to go from
time to time beyond their ordinary confessors and talk about their souls with persons of learning,
especially if the confessors, though good men, have no learning; for learning is a great help in
giving light upon everything. It should be possible to find a number of people who combine both
learning and spirituality, and the more favours the Lord grants you in prayer, the more needful is
it that your good works and your prayers should have a sure foundation.
You already know that the first stone of this foundation must be a good conscience and that
you must make every effort to free yourselves from even venial sins and follow the greatest possible
perfection. You might suppose that any confessor would know this, but you would be wrong: it
happened that I had to go about matters of consciences to a man who had taken a complete course
in theology; and he did me a great deal of mischief by telling me that certain things were of no
importance. I know that he had no intention of deceiving me, or any reason for doing so: it was
simply that he knew no better. And in addition to this instance I have met with two or three similar
ones.
Everything depends on our having true light to keep the law of God perfectly. This is a firm
basis for prayer; but without this strong foundation the whole building will go awry. In making
their confessions, then, the nuns must be free to discuss spiritual matters with such persons as I
have described. I will even go farther and say that they should sometimes do as I have said even if
their confessor has all these good qualities, for he may quite easily make mistakes and it is a pity
that he should be the cause of their going astray. They must try, however, never to act in any way
against obedience, for they will find ways of getting all the help they need: it is of great importance
to them that they should, and so they must make every possible effort to do so.
All this that I have said has to do with the superior. Since there are no consolations but spiritual
ones to be had here, I would beg her once again to see that the sisters get these consolations, for
God leads [His handmaidens] by different ways and it is impossible that one confessor should be
acquainted with them all. I assure you that, if your souls are as they ought to be, there is no lack of
holy persons who will be glad to advise and console you, even though you are poor. For He Who
sustains our bodies will awaken and encourage someone to give light to our souls, and thus this
evil of which I am so much afraid will be remedied. For if the devil should tempt the confessor,
with the result that he leads you astray on any point of doctrine he will go slowly and be more
careful about all he is doing when he knows that the penitent is also consulting others.
If the devil is prevented from entering convents in this way, I hope in God that he will never
get into this house at all; so, for love of the Lord, I beg whoever is Bishop to allow the sisters this

26

Lit.: "I beg her who is in the position of a senior (mayor)." Mayor was the title given to the superior at the Incarnation, Avila,
and many other convents in Spain, at that time.

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liberty and not to withdraw it so long as the confessors are persons both of learning and of good
lives, a fact which will soon come to be known in a little place like this.
In what I have said here, I am speaking from experience of things that I have seen and heard
in many convents and gathered from conversation with learned and holy people who have considered
what is most fitting for this house, so that it may advance in perfection. Among the perils which
exist everywhere, for as long as life lasts, we shall find that this is the least. No vicar should be free
to go in and out of the convent, and no confessor should have this freedom either. They are there
to watch over the recollectedness and good living of the house and its progress in both interior and
exterior matters, so that they may report to the superior whenever needful, but they are never to be
superiors themselves. As I say, excellent reasons have been found why, everything considered, this
is the best course, and why, if any priest hears confessions frequently, it should be the chaplain;
but, if the nuns think it necessary, they can make their confessions to such persons as have been
described, provided the superior is informed of it, and the prioress is such that the Bishop can trust
her discretion. As there are very few nuns here, this will not take up much time.
This is our present practice; and it is not followed merely on my advice. Our present Bishop,
Don Alvaro de Mendoza, under whose obedience we live (since for many reasons we have not
been placed under the jurisdiction of the Order), is greatly attached to holiness and the religious
life, and, besides being of most noble extraction, is a great servant of God. He is always very glad
to help this house in every way, and to this very end he brought together persons of learning,
spirituality and experience, and this decision was then come to. It will be only right that future
superiors should conform to his opinion, since it has been decided on by such good men, and after
so many prayers to the Lord that He would enlighten them in every possible way, which, so far as
we can at present see, He has certainly done. May the Lord be pleased to promote the advancement
of this to His greater glory. Amen.

CHAPTER 6
Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun.
I have digressed a great deal but no one will blame me who understands the importance of what
has been said. Let us now return to the love which it is good [and lawful] for us to feel. This I have
described as purely spiritual; I am not sure if I know what I am talking about, but it seems to me
that there is no need to speak much of it, since so few, I fear, possess it; let any one of you to whom
the Lord has given it praise Him fervently, for she must be a person of the greatest perfection. It is
about this that I now wish to write. Perhaps what I say may be of some profit, for if you look at a
virtue you desire it and try to gain it, and so become attached to it.
God grant that I may be able to understand this, and even more that I may be able to describe
it, for I am not sure that I know when love is spiritual and when there is sensuality mingled with
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it, or how to begin speaking about it. I am like one who hears a person speaking in the distance
and, though he can hear that he is speaking, cannot distinguish what he is saying. It is just like that
with me: sometimes I cannot understand what I am saying, yet the Lord is pleased to enable me to
say it well. If at other times what I say is [ridiculous and] nonsensical, it is only natural for me to
go completely astray.
Now it seems to me that, when God has brought someone to a clear knowledge of the world,
and of its nature, and of the fact that another world (or, let us say, another kingdom) exists, and
that there is a great difference between the one and the other, the one being eternal and the other
only a dream; and of what it is to love the Creator and what to love the creature (this must be
discovered by experience, for it is a very different matter from merely thinking about it and believing
it); when one understands by sight and experience what can be gained by the one practice and lost
by the other, and what the Creator is and what the creature, and many other things which the Lord
teaches to those who are willing to devote themselves to being taught by Him in prayer, or whom
His Majesty wishes to teach-then one loves very differently from those of us who have not
advanced thus far.
It may be, sisters, that you think it irrelevant for me to treat of this, and you may say that you
already know everything that I have said. God grant that this may be so, and that you may indeed
know it in the only way which has any meaning, and that it may be graven upon your inmost being,
and that you may never for a moment depart from it, for, if you know it, you will see that I am
telling nothing but the truth when I say that he whom the Lord brings thus far possesses this love.
Those whom God brings to this state are, I think, generous and royal souls; they are not content
with loving anything so miserable as these bodies, however beautiful they be and however numerous
the graces they possess. If the sight of the body gives them pleasure they praise the Creator, but as
for dwelling upon it for more than just a moment-no! When I use that phrase "dwelling upon it",
I refer to having love for such things. If they had such love, they would think they were loving
something insubstantial and were conceiving fondness for a shadow, they would feel shame for
themselves and would not have the effrontery to tell God that they love Him, without feeling great
confusion.
You will answer me that such persons cannot love or repay the affection shown to them by
others. Certainly they care little about having this affection. They may from time to time experience
a natural and momentary pleasure at being loved; yet, as soon as they return to their normal condition,
they realize that such pleasure is folly save when the persons concerned can benefit their souls,
either by instruction or by prayer. Any other kind of affection wearies them, for they know it can
bring them no profit and may well do them harm; none the less they are grateful for it and
recompense it by commending those who love them to God. They take this affection as something
for which those who love them lay the responsibility upon the Lord, from Whom, since they can
see nothing lovable in themselves, they suppose the love comes, and think that others love them
because God loves them; and so they leave His Majesty to recompense them for this and beg Him
to do so, thus freeing themselves and feeling they have no more responsibility. When I ponder it

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carefully, I sometimes think this desire for affection is sheer blindness, except when, as I say, it
relates to persons who can lead us to do good so that we may gain blessings in perfection.
It should be noted here that, when we desire anyone's affection, we always seek it because of
some interest, profit or pleasure of our own. Those who are perfect, however, have trodden all these
things beneath their feet-[and have despised] the blessings which may come to them in this world,
and its pleasures and delights-in such a way that, even if they wanted to, so to say, they could not
love anything outside God, or unless it had to do with God. What profit, then, can come to them
from being loved themselves?
When this truth is put to them, they laugh at the distress which had been assailing them in the
past as to whether their affection was being returned or no. Of course, however pure our affection
may be, it is quite natural for us to wish it to be returned. But, when we come to evaluate the return
of affection, we realize that it is insubstantial, like a thing of straw, as light as air and easily carried
away by the wind. For, however dearly we have been loved, what is there that remains to us? Such
persons, then, except for the advantage that the affection may bring to their souls (because they
realize that our nature is such that we soon tire of life without love), care nothing whether they are
loved or not. Do you think that such persons will love none and delight in none save God? No; they
will love others much more than they did, with a more genuine love, with greater passion and with
a love which brings more profit; that, in a word, is what love really is. And such souls are always
much fonder of giving than of receiving, even in their relations with the Creator Himself. This [holy
affection], I say, merits the name of love, which name has been usurped from it by those other base
affections.
Do you ask, again, by what they are attracted if they do not love things they see? They do love
what they see and they are greatly attracted by what they hear; but the things which they see are
everlasting. If they love anyone they immediately look right beyond the body (on which, as I say,
they cannot dwell), fix their eyes on the soul and see what there is to be loved in that. If there is
nothing, but they see any suggestion or inclination which shows them that, if they dig deep, they
will find gold within this mine, they think nothing of the labour of digging, since they have love.
There is nothing that suggests itself to them which they will not willingly do for the good of that
soul since they desire their love for it to be lasting, and they know quite well that that is impossible
unless the loved one has certain good qualities and a great love for God. I really mean that it is
impossible, however great their obligations and even if that soul were to die for love of them and
do them all the kind actions in its power; even had it all the natural graces joined in one, their wills
would not have strength enough to love it nor would they remain fixed upon it. They know and
have learned and experienced the worth of all this; no false dice can deceive them. They see that
they are not in unison with that soul and that their love for it cannot possibly last; for, unless that
soul keeps the law of God, their love will end with life- they know that unless it loves Him they
will go to different places.
Those into whose souls the Lord has already infused true wisdom do not esteem this love, which
lasts only on earth, at more than its true worth-if, indeed, at so much. Those who like to take

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pleasure in worldly things, delights, honours and riches, will account it of some worth if their friend
is rich and able to afford them pastime and pleasure and recreation; but those who already hate all
this will care little or nothing for such things. If they have any love for such a person, then, it will
be a passion that he may love God so as to be loved by Him; for, as I say, they know that no other
kind of affection but this can last, and that this kind will cost them dear, for which reason they do
all they possibly can for their friend's profit; they would lose a thousand lives to bring him a small
blessing. Oh, precious love, forever imitating the Captain of Love, Jesus, our Good!

CHAPTER 7
Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain
counsels for gaining it.
It is strange to see how impassioned this love is; how many tears, penances and prayers it costs;
how careful is the loving soul to commend the object of its affection to all who it thinks may prevail
with God and to ask them to intercede with Him for it; and how constant is its longing, so that it
cannot be happy unless it sees that its loved one is making progress. If that soul seems to have
advanced, and is then seen to fall some way back, her friend seems to have no more pleasure in
life: she neither eats nor sleeps, is never free from this fear and is always afraid that the soul whom
she loves so much may be lost, and that the two may be parted for ever. She cares nothing for
physical death, but she will not suffer herself to be attached to something which a puff of wind may
carry away so that she is unable to retain her hold upon it. This, as I have said, is love without any
degree whatsoever of self-interest; all that this soul wishes and desires is to see the soul [it loves]
enriched with blessings from Heaven. This is love, quite unlike our ill-starred earthly affections-to
say nothing of illicit affections, from which may God keep us free.
These last affections are a very hell, and it is needless for us to weary ourselves by saying how
evil they are, for the least of the evils which they bring are terrible beyond exaggeration. There is
no need for us ever to take such things upon our lips, sisters, or even to think of them, or to remember
that they exist anywhere in the world; you must never listen to anyone speaking of such affections,
either in jest or in earnest, nor allow them to be mentioned or discussed in your presence. No good
can come from our doing this and it might do us harm even to hear them mentioned. But with regard
to the lawful affections which, as I have said, we may have for each other, or for relatives and
friends, it is different. Our whole desire is that they should not die: if their heads ache, our souls

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seem to ache too; if we see them in distress, we are unable (as people say) to sit still under it; 27and
so on.
This is not so with spiritual affection. Although the weakness of our nature may at first allow
us to feel something of all this, our reason soon begins to reflect whether our friend's trials are not
good for her, and to wonder if they are making her richer in virtue and how she is bearing them,
and then we shall ask God to give her patience so that they may win her merit. If we see that she
is being patient, we feel no distress-indeed, we are gladdened and consoled. If all the merit and
gain which suffering is capable of producing could be made over to her, we should still prefer
suffering her trial ourselves to seeing her suffer it, but we are not worried or disquieted.
I repeat once more that this love is a similitude and copy of that which was borne for us by the
good Lover, Jesus. It is for that reason that it brings us such immense benefits, for it makes us
embrace every kind of suffering, so that others, without having to endure the suffering, may gain
its advantages. The recipients of this friendship, then, profit greatly, but their friends should realize
that either this intercourse-I mean, this exclusive friendship-must come to an end or that they
must prevail upon Our Lord that their friend may walk in the same way as themselves, as Saint
Monica prevailed with Him for Saint Augustine. Their heart does not allow them to practise duplicity:
if they see their friend straying from the road, or committing any faults, they will speak to her about
it; they cannot allow themselves to do anything else. And if after this the loved one does not amend,
they will not flatter her or hide anything from her. Either, then, she will amend or their friendship
will cease; for otherwise they would be unable to endure it, nor is it in fact endurable. It would
mean continual war for both parties. A person may be indifferent to all other people in the world
and not worry whether they are serving God or not, since the person she has to worry about is
herself. But she cannot take this attitude with her friends: nothing they do can be hidden from her;
she sees the smallest mote in them. This, I repeat, is a very heavy cross for her to bear.
Happy the souls that are loved by such as these! Happy the day on which they came to know
them! O my Lord, wilt Thou not grant me the favour of giving me many who have such love for
me? Truly, Lord, I would rather have this than be loved by all the kings and lords of the world-and
rightly so, for such friends use every means in their power to make us lords of the whole world and
to have all that is in it subject to us. When you make the acquaintance of any such persons, sisters,
the Mother Prioress should employ every possible effort to keep you in touch with them. Love such
persons as much as you like. There can be very few of them, but none the less it is the Lord's will
that their goodness should be known. When one of you is striving after perfection, she will at once
be told that she has no need to know such people-that it is enough for her to have God. But to get
to know God's friends is a very good way of "having" Him; as I have discovered by experience,
it is most helpful. For, under the Lord, I owe it to such persons that I am not in hell; I was always
very fond of asking them to commend me to God, and so I prevailed upon them to do so.

27

Lit.: "There remains, as people say, no patience"; but, as the phrase "as people say" (which E. omits) suggests that this was a
popular phrase, I have translated rather more freely and picturesquely. T. has (after "ache too"): "and it upsets us, and so on."

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Let us now return to what we were saying. It is this kind of love which I should like us to have;
at first it may not be perfect but the Lord will make it increasingly so. Let us begin with the methods
of obtaining it. At first it may be mingled with emotion, 28but this, as a rule, will do no harm. It is
sometimes good and necessary for us to show emotion in our love, and also to feel it, and to be
distressed by some of our sisters, trials and weaknesses, however trivial they may be. For on one
occasion as much distress may be caused by quite a small matter as would be caused on another
by some great trial, and there are people whose nature it is to be very much cast down by small
things. If you are not like this, do not neglect to have compassion on others; it may be that Our
Lord wishes to spare us these sufferings and will give us sufferings of another kind which will seem
heavy to us, though to the person already mentioned they may seem light. In these matters, then,
we must not judge others by ourselves, nor think of ourselves as we have been at some time when,
perhaps without any effort on our part, the Lord has made us stronger than they; let us think of
what we were like at the times when we have been weakest.
Note the importance of this advice for those of us who would learn to sympathize with our
neighbours' trials, however trivial these may be. It is especially important for such souls as have
been described, for, desiring trials as they do, they make light of them all. They must therefore try
hard to recall what they were like when they were weak, and reflect that, if they are no longer so,
it is not due to themselves. For otherwise, little by little, the devil could easily cool our charity
toward our neighbours and make us think that what is really a failing on our part is perfection. In
every respect we must be careful and alert, for the devil never slumbers. And the nearer we are to
perfection, the more careful we must be, since his temptations are then much more cunning because
there are no others that he dare send us; and if, as I say, we are not cautious, the harm is done before
we realize it. In short, we must always watch and pray, for there is no better way than prayer of
revealing these hidden wiles of the devil and making him declare his presence.
Contrive always, even if you do not care for it, to take part in your sisters' necessary recreation
and to do so for the whole of the allotted time, for all considerate treatment of them is a part of
perfect love. It is a very good thing for us to take compassion on each others' needs. See that you
show no lack of discretion about things which are contrary to obedience. Though privately you
may think the prioress' orders harsh ones, do not allow this to be noticed or tell anyone about it
(except that you may speak of it, with all humility, to the prioress herself), for if you did so you
would be doing a great deal of harm. Get to know what are the things in your sisters which you
should be sorry to see and those about which you should sympathize with them; and always show
your grief at any notorious fault which you may see in one of them. It is a good proof and test of
our love if we can bear with such faults and not be shocked by them. Others, in their turn, will bear
with your faults, which, if you include those of which you are not aware, must be much more
numerous. Often commend to God any sister who is at fault and strive for your own part to practise
the virtue which is the opposite of her fault with great perfection. Make determined efforts to do

28

Ternura. Lit.: ''tenderness."

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this so that you may teach your sister by your deeds what perhaps she could never learn by words
nor gain by punishment.
The habit of performing some conspicuously virtuous action through seeing it performed by
another is one which very easily takes root. This is good advice: do not forget it. Oh, how true and
genuine will be the love of a sister who can bring profit to everyone by sacrificing her own profit
to that of the rest! She will make a great advance in each of the virtues and keep her Rule with great
perfection. This will be a much truer kind of friendship than one which uses every possible loving
expression (such as are not used, and must not be used, in this house): "My life!" "My love!" "My
darling!" 29and suchlike things, one or another of which people are always saying. Let such endearing
words be kept for your Spouse, for you will be so often and so much alone With Him that you will
want to make use of them all, and this His Majesty permits you. If you use them among yourselves
they will not move the Lord so much; and, quite apart from that, there is no reason why you should
do so. They are very effeminate; and I should not like you to be that, or even to appear to be that,
in any way, my daughters; I want you to be strong men. If you do all that is in you, the Lord will
make you so manly that men themselves will be amazed at you. And how easy is this for His
Majesty, Who made us out of nothing at all!
It is also a very clear sign of love to try to spare others household work by taking it upon oneself
and also to rejoice and give great praise to the Lord if you see any increase in their virtues. All such
things, quite apart from the intrinsic good they bring, add greatly to the peace and concord which
we have among ourselves, as, through the goodness of God, We can now see by experience. May
His Majesty be pleased ever to increase it, for it would be terrible if it did not exist, and very
awkward if, when there are so few of us, we got on badly together. May God forbid that.
If one of you should be cross with another because of some hasty word, the matter must at once
be put right and you must betake yourselves to earnest prayer. The same applies to the harbouring
of any grudge, or to party strife, or to the desire to be greatest, or to any nice point concerning your
honour. (My blood seems to run cold, as I write this, at the very idea that this can ever happen, but
I know it is the chief trouble in convents.) If it should happen to you, consider yourselves lost. Just
reflect and realize that you have driven your Spouse from His home: He will have to go and seek
another abode, since you are driving Him from His own house. Cry aloud to His Majesty and try
to put things right; and if frequent confessions and communions do not mend them, you may well
fear that there is some Judas among you.
For the love of God, let the prioress be most careful not to allow this to occur. She must put a
stop to it from the very outset, and, if love will not suffice, she must use heavy punishments, for
here we have the whole of the mischief and the remedy. If you gather that any of the nuns is making
trouble, see that she is sent to some other convent and God will provide them with a dowry for her.
Drive away this plague; cut off the branches as well as you can; and, if that is not sufficient, pull
up the roots. If you cannot do this, shut up anyone who is guilty of such things and forbid her to

29

Lit.: "My life!" "My soul!" "My good!"

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leave her cell; far better this than that all the nuns should catch so incurable a plague. Oh, what a
great evil is this! God deliver us from a convent into which it enters: I would rather our convent
caught fire and we were all burned alive. As this is so important I think I shall say a little more
about it elsewhere, so I will not write at greater length here, except to say that, provided they treat
each other equally, I would rather that the nuns showed a tender and affectionate love and regard
for each other, even though there is less perfection in this than in the love I have described, than
that there were a single note of discord to be heard among them. May the Lord forbid this, for His
own sake. Amen.

CHAPTER 8
Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and
exterior, from all things created.
Let us now come to the detachment which we must practise, for if this is carried out perfectly
it includes everything else. I say "it includes everything else" because, if we care nothing for any
created things, but embrace the Creator alone, His Majesty will infuse the virtues into us in such a
way that, provided we labour to the best of our abilities day by day, we shall not have to wage war
much longer, for the Lord will take our defence in hand against the devils and against the whole
world. Do you suppose, daughters, that it is a small benefit to obtain for ourselves this blessing of
giving ourselves wholly to Him, 30and keeping nothing for ourselves? Since, as I say, all blessings
are in Him, let us give Him hearty praise, sisters, for having brought us together here, where we
are occupied in this alone. I do not know why I am saying this, when all of you here are capable
of teaching me, for I confess that, in this important respect, I am not as perfect as I should like to
be and as I know I ought to be; and I must say the same about all the virtues and about all that I am
dealing with here, for it is easier to write of such things than to practise them. I may not even be
able to write of them effectively, for sometimes ability to do this comes only from experience-[that
is to say, if I have any success, it must be because] I explain the nature of these virtues by describing
the contraries of the qualities I myself possess.
As far as exterior matters are concerned, you know how completely cut off we are from
everything. Oh, my Creator and Lord! When have I merited so great an honour? Thou seemest to
have searched everywhere for means of drawing nearer to us. May it please Thy goodness that we
lose not this through our own fault. Oh, sisters, for the love of God, try to realize what a great
favour the Lord has bestowed on those of us whom He has brought here. Let each of you apply this

30

Lit.: de darnos todas a l todo: "giving ourselves wholly to Him wholly."

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to herself, since there are only twelve of us 31and His Majesty has been pleased for you to be one.
How many people-what a multitude of people!-do I know who are better than myself and would
gladly take this place of mine, yet the Lord has granted it to me who so ill deserve it! Blessed be
Thou, my God, and let the angels and all created things praise Thee, for I can no more repay this
favour than all the others Thou hast shown me. It was a wonderful thing to give me the vocation
to be a nun; but I have been so wicked, Lord, that Thou couldst not trust me. In a place where there
were many good women living together my wickedness would not perhaps have been noticed right
down to the end of my life: I should have concealed it, as I did for so many years. So Thou didst
bring me here, where, as there are so few of us that it would seem impossible for it to remain
unnoticed, Thou dost remove occasions of sin from me so that I may walk the more carefully. There
is no excuse for me, then, O Lord, I confess it, and so I have need of Thy mercy, that Thou mayest
pardon me.
Remember, my sisters, that if we are not good we are much more to blame than others. What
I earnestly beg of you is that anyone who knows she will be unable to follow our customs will say
so [before she is professed]: there are other convents in which the Lord is also well served and she
should not remain here and disturb these few of us whom His Majesty has brought together for His
service. In other convents nuns are free to have the pleasure of seeing their relatives, whereas here,
if relatives are ever admitted, it is only for their own pleasure. A nun who [very much] wishes to
see her relatives in order to please herself, and does not get tired of them after the second visit,
must, unless they are spiritual persons and do her soul some good, consider herself imperfect and
realize that she is neither detached nor healthy, and will have no freedom of spirit or perfect peace.
She needs a physician-and I consider that if this desire does not leave her, and she is not cured,
she is not intended for this house.
The best remedy, I think, is that she should not see her relatives again until she feels free in
spirit and has obtained this freedom from God by many prayers. When she looks upon such visits
as crosses, let her receive them by all means, for then they will do the visitors good and herself no
harm. But if she is fond of the visitors, if their troubles are a great distress to her and if she delights
in listening to the stories which they tell her about the world, she may be sure that she will do
herself harm and do them no good.

CHAPTER 9

31

The thirteenth was St. Teresa.

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Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings
to those who have left the world and shows how by doing so they
will find truer friends.
Oh, if we religious understood what harm we get from having so much to do with our relatives,
how we should shun them! do not see what pleasure they can give us, or how, quite apart from the
harm they do us as touching our obligations to God, they can bring us any peace or tranquillity.
For we cannot take part in their recreations, as it is not lawful for us to do so; and, though we can
certainly share their troubles, we can never help weeping for them, sometimes more than they do
themselves. If they bring us any bodily comforts, there is no doubt that our spiritual life and our
poor souls will pay for it. From this you are [quite] free here; for, as you have everything in common
and none of you may accept any private gift, all the alms given us being held by the community,
you are under no obligation to entertain your relatives in return for what they give you, since, as
you know, the Lord will provide for us all in common.
I am astounded at the harm which intercourse with our relatives does us: I do not think anyone
who had not experience of it would believe it. And how our religious Orders nowadays, or most
of them, at any rate, seem to be forgetting about perfection, though all, or most, of the saints wrote
about it! I do not know how much of the world we really leave when we say that we are leaving
everything for God's sake, if we do not withdraw ourselves from the chief thing of all-namely,
our kinsfolk. The matter has reached such a pitch that some people think, when religious are not
fond of their relatives and do not see much of them, it shows a want of virtue in them. And they
not only assert this but allege reasons for it.
In this house, daughters, we must be most careful to commend our relatives to God, for that is
only right. For the rest, we must keep them out of our minds as much as we can, as it is natural that
our desires should be attached to them more than to other people. My own relatives were very fond
of me, or so they used to say, and I was so fond of them that I would not let them forget me. But I
have learned, by my own experience and by that of others, that it is God's servants who have helped
me in trouble; my relatives, apart from my parents, have helped me very little. Parents are different,
for they very rarely fail to help their children, and it is right that when they need our comfort we
should not refuse it them: if we find our main purpose is not harmed by our so doing we can give
it them and yet be completely detached; and this also applies to brothers and sisters.
Believe me, sisters, if you serve God as you should, you will find no better relatives than those
[of His servants] whom His Majesty sends you. I know this is so, and, if you keep on as you are
doing here, and realize that by doing otherwise you will be failing your true Friend and Spouse,
you may be sure that you will very soon gain this freedom. Then you will be able to trust those
who love you for His sake alone more than all your relatives, and they will not fail you, so that you
will find parents and brothers and sisters where you had never expected to find them. For these
help us and look for their reward only from God; those who look for rewards from us soon grow
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tired of helping us when they see that we are poor and can do nothing for them. This cannot be
taken as a generalization, but it is the most usual thing to happen in the world, for it is the world
all over! If anyone tells you otherwise, and says it is a virtue to do such things, do not believe him.
I should have to write at great length, in view of my lack of skill and my imperfection, if I were to
tell you of all the harm that comes from it; as others have written about it who know what they are
talking about better than I, what I have said will suffice. If, imperfect as I am, I have been able to
grasp as much as this, how much better will those who are perfect do so!
All the advice which the saints give us about fleeing from the world is, of course, good. Believe
me, then, attachment to our relatives is, as I have said, the thing which sticks to us most closely
and is hardest to get rid of. People are right, therefore, when they flee from their own part of the
country 32-if it helps them, I mean, for I do not think we are helped so much by fleeing from any
place in a physical sense as by resolutely embracing the good Jesus, Our Lord, with the soul. Just
as we find everything in Him, so for His sake we forget everything. Still, it is a great help, until we
have learned this truth, to keep apart from our kinsfolk; later on, it may be that the Lord will wish
us to see them again, so that what used to give us pleasure may be a cross to us.

CHAPTER 10
Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is
insufficient if we are not detached from our own selves and that
this virtue and humility go together.
Once we have detached ourselves from the world, and from our kinsfolk, and are cloistered
here, in the conditions already described, it must look as if we have done everything and there is
nothing left with which we have to contend. But, oh, my sisters, do not feel secure and fall asleep,
or you will be like a man who goes to bed quite peacefully, after bolting all his doors for fear of
thieves, when the thieves are already in the house. And you know there is no worse thief than one
who lives in the house. We ourselves are always the same; 33unless we take great care and each of
us looks well to it that she renounces her self-will, which is the most important business of all, there
will be many things to deprive us of the holy freedom of spirit which our souls seek in order to soar
to their Maker unburdened by the leaden weight of the earth.
It will be a great help towards this if we keep constantly in our thoughts the vanity of all things
and the rapidity with which they pass away, so that we may withdraw our affections from things
32

De sus tierras. The phrase will also bear the interpretation: "from their own countries."

33

The sense of this passage, especially without the phrase from E. which V. omits, is not very clear. T. remodels thus: "You know
there is no worse thief for the perfection of the soul than the love of ourselves, for unless etc."

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which are so trivial and fix them upon what will never come to an end. This may seem a poor kind
of help but it will have the effect of greatly fortifying the soul. With regard to small things, we must
be very careful, as soon as we begin to grow fond of them, to withdraw our thoughts from them
and turn them to God. His Majesty will help us to do this. He has granted us the great favour of
providing that, in this house, most of it is done already; but it remains for us to become detached
from our own selves and it is a hard thing to withdraw from ourselves and oppose ourselves, because
we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves very dearly.
It is here that true humility can enter, 34for this virtue and that of detachment from self, I think,
always go together. They are two sisters, who are inseparable. These are not the kinsfolk whom I
counsel you to avoid: no, you must embrace them, and love them, and never be seen without them.
Oh, how sovereign are these virtues, mistresses of all created things, empresses of the world, our
deliverers from all the snares and entanglements laid by the devil so dearly loved by our Teacher,
Christ, Who was never for a moment without them! He that possesses them can safely go out and
fight all the united forces of hell and the whole world and its temptations. Let him fear none, for
his is the kingdom of the Heavens. There is none whom he need fear, for he cares nothing if he
loses everything, nor does he count this as loss: his sole fear is that he may displease his God and
he begs Him to nourish these virtues within him lest he lose them through any fault of his own.
These virtues, it is true, have the property of hiding themselves from one who possesses them,
in such a way that he never sees them nor can believe that he has any of them, even if he be told
so. But he esteems them so much that he is for ever trying to obtain them, and thus he perfects them
in himself more and more. And those who possess them soon make the fact clear, even against their
will, to any with whom they have intercourse. But how inappropriate it is for a person like myself
to begin to praise humility and mortification, when these virtues are so highly praised by the King
of Glory -a praise exemplified in all the trials He suffered. It is to possess these virtues, then, my
daughters, that you must labour if you would leave the land of Egypt, for, when you have obtained
them, you will also obtain the manna; all things will taste well to you; and, however much the world
may dislike their savour, to you they will be sweet.
The first thing, then, that we have to do, and that at once, is to rid ourselves of love for this
body of ours-and some of us pamper our natures so much that this will cause us no little labour,
while others are so concerned about their health that the trouble these things give us (this is especially
so of poor nuns, but it applies to others as well) is amazing. Some of us, however, seem to think
that we embraced the religious life for no other reason than to keep ourselves alive 35and each nun
does all she can to that end. In this house, as a matter of fact, there is very little chance for us to
act on such a principle, but I should be sorry if we even wanted to. Resolve, sisters, that it is to die
for Christ, and not to practise self-indulgence for Christ, that you have come here. The devil tells

34

Here, in the margin, is written: "Humility and mortification, very great virtues."

35

Lit.: "to contrive not to die." But the reading of E. ("to think that we came to the convent for no other reason than to serve our
bodies and look after them") suggests that this is what is meant.

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us that self-indulgence is necessary if we are to carry out and keep the Rule of our Order, and so
many of us, forsooth, try to keep our Rule by looking after our health that we die without having
kept it for as long as a month- perhaps even for a day. I really do not know what we are coming
to.
No one need be afraid of our committing excesses here, by any chance-for as soon as we do
any penances our confessors begin to fear that we shall kill ourselves with them. We are so horrified
at our own possible excesses-if only we were as conscientious about everything else! Those who
tend to the opposite extreme will I know, not mind my saying this, nor shall I mind if they say I
am judging others by myself, for they will be quite right. I believe-indeed, I am sure -that more
nuns are of my way of thinking than are offended by me because they do just the opposite. My own
belief is that it is for this reason that the Lord is pleased to make us such weakly creatures; at least
He has shown me great mercy in making me so; for, as I was sure to be self-indulgent in any case,
He was pleased to provide me with an excuse for this. It is really amusing to see how some people
torture themselves about it, when the real reason lies in themselves; sometimes they get a desire to
do penances, as one might say, without rhyme or reason; they go on doing them for a couple of
days; and then the devil puts it into their heads that they have been doing themselves harm and so
he makes them afraid of penances, after which they dare not do even those that the Order
requires-they have tried them once! They do not keep the smallest points in the Rule, such as
silence, which is quite incapable of harming us. Hardly have we begun to imagine that our heads
are aching than we stay away from choir, though that would not kill us either. One day we are
absent because we had a headache some time ago; another day, because our head has just been
aching again; and on the next three days in case it should ache once more. Then we want to invent
penances of our own, with the result that we do neither the one thing nor the other. Sometimes there
is very little the matter with us, yet we think that it should dispense us from all our obligations and
that if we ask to be excused from them we are doing all we need.
But why, you will say, does the Prioress excuse us? Perhaps she would not if she knew what
was going on inside us; but she sees one of you wailing about a mere nothing as if your heart were
breaking, and you come and ask her to excuse you from keeping the whole of your Rule, saying it
is a matter of great necessity, and, when there is any substance in what you say, there is always a
physician at hand to confirm it or some friend or relative weeping at your side. Sometimes the poor
Prioress sees that your request is excessive, but what can she do? She feels a scruple if she thinks
she has been lacking in charity and she would rather the fault were yours than hers: she thinks, too,
that it would be unjust of her to judge you harshly.
Oh, God help me! That there should be complaining like this among nuns! May He forgive me
for saying so, but I am afraid it has become quite a habit. I happened to observe this incident once
myself: a nun began complaining about her headaches and she went on complaining to me for a
long time. In the end I made enquiries and found she had no headache whatever, but was suffering
from some pain or other elsewhere.

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These are things which may sometimes happen and I put them down here so that you may guard
against them; for if once the devil begins to frighten us about losing our health, we shall never get
anywhere. The Lord give us light so that we may act rightly in everything! Amen.

CHAPTER 11
Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it may be
attained in times of sickness.
These continual moanings which we make about trifling ailments, my sisters, seem to me a
sign of imperfection: if you can bear a thing, say nothing about it. When the ailment is serious, it
proclaims itself; that is quite another kind of moaning, which draws attention to itself immediately.
Remember, there are only a few of you, and if one of you gets into this habit she will worry all the
rest-that is, assuming you love each other and there is charity among you. On the other hand, if
one of you is really ill, she should say so and take the necessary remedies; and, if you have got rid
of your self-love, you will so much regret having to indulge yourselves in any way that there will
be no fear of your doing so unnecessarily or of your making a moan without proper cause. When
such a reason exists, it would be much worse to say nothing about it than to allow yourselves
unnecessary indulgence, and it would be very wrong if everybody were not sorry for you.
However, I am quite sure that where there is prayer and charity among you, and your numbers
are so small that you will be aware of each other's needs, there will never be any lack of care in
your being looked after. Do not think of complaining about the weaknesses and minor ailments
from which women suffer, for the devil sometimes makes you imagine them. They come and go;
and unless you get rid of the habit of talking about them and complaining of everything (except to
God) you will never come to the end of them. I lay great stress on this, for I believe myself it is
important, and it is one of the reasons for the relaxation of discipline in religious houses. For this
body of ours has one fault: the more you indulge it, the more things it discovers to be essential to
it. It is extraordinary how it likes being indulged; and, if there is any reasonable pretext for
indulgence, however little necessity for it there may be, the poor soul is taken in and prevented
from making progress. Think how many poor people there must be who are ill and have no one to
complain to, for poverty and self-indulgence make bad company. Think, too, how many married
women-people of position, as I know-have serious complaints and sore trials and yet dare not
complain to their husbands about them for fear of annoying them. Sinner that I am! Surely we have
not come here to indulge ourselves more than they! Oh, how free you are from the great trials of
the world! Learn to suffer a little for the love of God without telling everyone about it. When a
woman has made an unhappy marriage she does not talk about it or complain of it, lest it should
come to her husband's knowledge, she has to endure a great deal of misery and yet has no one to

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whom she may relieve her mind. Cannot we, then, keep secret between God and ourselves some
of the ailments which He sends us because of our sins? The more so since talking about them does
nothing whatever to alleviate them.
In nothing that I have said am I referring to serious illnesses, accompanied by high fever, though
as to these, too, I beg you to observe moderation and to have patience: I am thinking rather of those
minor indispositions which you may have and still keep going 36without worrying everybody else
to death over them. What would happen if these lines should be seen outside this house? What
would all the nuns say of me! And how willingly would I bear what they said if it helped anyone
to live a better life! For when there is one person of this kind, the thing generally comes to such a
pass that some suffer on account of others, and nobody who says she is ill will be believed, however
serious her ailment. As this book is meant only for my daughters, they will put up with everything
I say. Let us remember our holy Fathers of past days, the hermits whose lives we attempt to imitate.
What sufferings they bore, what solitude, cold, [thirst] and hunger, what burning sun and heat! And
yet they had no one to complain to except God. Do you suppose they were made of iron? No: they
were as frail as we are. Believe me, daughters, once we begin to subdue these miserable bodies of
ours, they give us much less trouble. There will be quite sufficient people to see to what you really
need, 37so take no thought for yourselves except when you know it to be necessary. Unless we
resolve to put up with death and ill-health once and for all, we shall never accomplish anything.
Try not to fear these and commit yourselves wholly to God, come what may. What does it
matter if we die? How many times have our bodies not mocked us? Should we not occasionally
mock them in our turn? And, believe me, slight as it may seem by comparison with other things,
this resolution is much more important than we may think; for, if we continually make it, day by
day, by the grace of the Lord, we shall gain dominion over the body. To conquer such an enemy
is a great achievement in the battle of life. May the Lord grant, as He is able, that we may do this.
I am quite sure that no one who does not enjoy such a victory, which I believe is a great one, will
understand what advantage it brings, and no one will regret having gone through trials in order to
attain this tranquillity and self-mastery.

CHAPTER 12
Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for life and
honour.

36

Lit.: "which can be suffered on foot."

37

Lit.: "to look at (or to) what is needful"-the phrase is ambiguous and might mean: "to worry about their own needs." The word
translated "people" is feminine.

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We now come to some other little things which are also of very great importance, though they
will appear trifling. All this seems a great task, and so it is, for it means warring against ourselves.
But once we begin to work, God, too, works in our souls and bestows such favours on them that
the most we can do in this life seems to us very little. And we nuns are doing everything we can,
by giving up our freedom for the love of God and entrusting it to another, and in putting up with
so many trials-fasts, silence, enclosure, service in choir-that however much we may want to
indulge ourselves we can do so only occasionally: perhaps, in all the convents I have seen, I am
the only nun guilty of self-indulgence. Why, then, do we shrink from interior mortification, since
this is the means by which every other kind of mortification may become much more meritorious
and perfect, so that it can then be practised with greater tranquillity and ease? This, as I have said,
is acquired by gradual progress and by never indulging our own will and desire, even in small
things, until we have succeeded in subduing the body to the spirit.
I repeat that this consists mainly or entirely in our ceasing to care about ourselves and our own
pleasures, for the least that anyone who is beginning to serve the Lord truly can offer Him is his
life. Once he has surrendered his will to Him, what has he to fear? It is evident that if he is a true
religious and a real man of prayer and aspires to the enjoyment of Divine consolations, he must
not [turn back or] shrink from desiring to die and suffer martyrdom for His sake. And do you not
know, sisters, that the life of a good religious, who wishes to be among the closest friends of God,
is one long martyrdom? I say "long", for, by comparison with decapitation, which is over very
quickly, it may well be termed so, though life itself is short and some lives are short in the extreme.
How do we know but that ours will be so short that it may end only one hour or one moment after
the time of our resolving to render our entire service to God? This would be quite possible; and so
we must not set store by anything that comes to an end, least of all by life, since not a day of it is
secure. Who, if he thought that each hour might be his last, would not spend it in labour?
Believe me, it is safest to think that this is so; by so doing we shall learn to subdue our wills in
everything; for if, as I have said, you are very careful about your prayer, you will soon find
yourselves gradually reaching the summit of the mountain without knowing how. But how harsh
it sounds to say that we must take pleasure in nothing, unless we also say what consolations and
delights this renunciation brings in its train, and what a great gain it is, even in this life! What
security it gives us! Here, as you all practise this, you have done the principal part; each of you
encourages 38and helps the rest; and each of you must try to outstrip her sisters.
Be very careful about your interior thoughts, especially if they have to do with precedence.
May God, by His Passion, keep us from expressing, or dwelling upon, such thoughts as these: "But
I am her senior [in the Order]"; "But I am older"; "But I have worked harder"; "But that other sister
is being better treated than I am". If these thoughts come, you must quickly check them; if you
allow yourselves to dwell on them, or introduce them into your conversation, they will spread like
the plague and in religious houses they may give rise to great abuses. Remember, I know a great

38

Lit.: "awakens."

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deal about this. If you have a prioress who allows such things, however trifling, you must believe
that God has permitted her to be given to you because of your sins and that she will be the beginning
of your ruin. Cry to Him, and let your whole prayer be that He may come to your aid by sending
you either a religious or a person given to prayer; for, if anyone prays with the resolve to enjoy
the favours and consolations which God bestows in prayer, it is always well that he should have
this detachment.
You may ask why I lay such stress on this, and think that I am being too severe about it, and
say that God grants consolations to persons less completely detached than that. I quite believe He
does; for, in His infinite wisdom, He sees that this will enable Him to lead them to leave everything
for His sake. I do not mean, by "leaving" everything, entering the religious life, for there may be
obstacles to this, and the soul that is perfect can be detached and humble anywhere. It will find
detachment harder in the world, however, for worldly trappings will be a great impediment to it.
Still, believe me in this: questions of honour and desires for property can arise within convents as
well as outside them, and the more temptations of this kind are removed from us, the more we are
to blame if we yield to them. Though persons who do so may have spent years in prayer, or rather
in meditation (for perfect prayer eventually destroys [all] these attachments), they will never make
great progress or come to enjoy the real fruit of prayer.
Ask yourselves, sisters, if these things, which seem so insignificant, mean anything to you, for
the only reason you are here is that you may detach yourselves from them. Nobody honours you
any the more for having them and they lose you advantages which might have gained you more
honour; the result is that you get both dishonour and loss at the same time. Let each of you ask
herself how much humility she has and she will see what progress she has made. If she is really
humble, I do not think the devil will dare to tempt her to take even the slightest interest in matters
of precedence, for he is so shrewd that he is afraid of the blow she would strike him. If a humble
soul is tempted in this way by the devil, that virtue cannot fail to bring her more fortitude and greater
profit. For clearly the temptation will cause her to look into her life, to compare the services she
has rendered the Lord with what she owes Him and with the marvellous way in which He abased
Himself to give us an example of humility, and to think over her sins and remember where she
deserves to be on account of them. Exercises like this bring the soul such profit that on the following
day Satan will not dare to come back again lest he should get his head broken.
Take this advice from me and do not forget it: you should see to it that your sisters profit by
your temptations, not only interiorly (where it would be very wrong if they did not), but exteriorly
as well. If you want to avenge yourself on the devil and free yourselves more quickly from
temptation, ask the superior, as soon as a temptation comes to you, to give you some lowly office
to do, or do some such thing, as best you can, on our own initiative, studying as you do it how to
bend your will to perform tasks you dislike. The Lord will show you ways of doing so and this will
soon rid you of the temptation.
God deliver us from people who wish to serve Him yet who are mindful of their own honour.
Reflect how little they gain from this; for, as I have said, the very act of desiring honour robs us of

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it, especially in matters of precedence: there is no poison in the world which is so fatal to perfection.
You will say that these are little things which have to do with human nature and are not worth
troubling about; do not trifle with them, for in religious houses they spread like foam on water, and
there is no small matter so extremely dangerous as are punctiliousness about honour and sensitiveness
to insult. Do you know one reason, apart from many others, why this is so? 39It may have its root,
perhaps, in some trivial slight-hardly anything, in fact-and the devil will then induce someone
else to consider it important, so that she will think it a real charity to tell you about it and to ask
how you can allow yourself to be insulted so; and she will pray that God may give you patience
and that you may offer it to Him, for even a saint could not bear more. The devil is simply putting
his deceitfulness into this other person's mouth; and, though you yourself are quite ready to bear
the slight, you are tempted to vainglory because you have not resisted something else as perfectly
as you should.
This human nature of ours is so wretchedly weak that, even while we are telling ourselves that
there is nothing for us to make a fuss about, we imagine we are doing something virtuous, and
begin to feel sorry for ourselves, particularly when we see that other people are sorry for us too. In
this way the soul begins to lose the occasions of merit which it had gained; it becomes weaker; and
thus a door is opened to the devil by which he can enter on some other occasion with a temptation
worse than the last. It may even happen that, when you yourself are prepared to suffer an insult,
your sisters come and ask you if you are a beast of burden, and say you ought to be more sensitive
about things. Oh, my sisters, for the love of God, never let charity move you to show pity for another
in anything to do with these fancied insults, for that is like the pity shown to holy Job by his wife
and friends.

CHAPTER 13
Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one must
renounce the world's standards of wisdom in order to attain to
true wisdom.
I often tell you, sisters, and now I want it to be set down in writing, not to forget that we in this
house, and for that matter anyone who would be perfect, must flee a thousand leagues from such
phrases as: "I had right on my side"; "They had no right to do this to me"; "The person who treated
me like this was not right". God deliver us from such a false idea of right as that! Do you think that
it was right for our good Jesus to have to suffer so many insults, and that those who heaped them

39

Lit.: "Do you know why, apart from other things?"

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on Him40 were right, and that they had any right to do Him those wrongs? I do not know why anyone
is in a convent who is willing to bear only the crosses that she has a perfect right to expect: such a
person should return to the world, though even there such rights will not be safeguarded. Do you
think you can ever possibly have to bear so much that you ought not to have to bear any more?
How does right enter into the matter at all? I really do not know.
Before we begin talking about not having our rights, let us wait until we receive some honour
or gratification, or are treated kindly, for it is certainly not right that we should have anything in
this life like that. When, on the other hand, some offence is done to us (and we do not feel it an
offence to us that it should be so described), I do not see what we can find to complain of. Either
we are the brides of this great King or we are not. If we are, what wife is there with a sense of
honour who does not accept her share in any dishonour done to her spouse, even though she may
do so against her will? Each partner, in fact, shares in the honour and dishonour of the other. To
desire to share in the kingdom [of our Spouse Jesus Christ], and to enjoy it, and yet not to be willing
to have any part in His dishonours and trials, is ridiculous.
God keep us from being like that! Let the sister who thinks that she is accounted the least among
all consider herself the [happiest and] most fortunate, as indeed she really is, if she lives her life
as she should, for in that case she will, as a rule, have no lack of honour either in this life or in the
next. Believe me when I say this-what an absurdity, though, it is for me to say "Believe me" when
the words come from Him Who is true Wisdom, Who is Truth Itself, and from the Queen of the
angels! Let us, my daughters, in some small degree, imitate the great humility of the most sacred
Virgin, whose habit we wear and whose nuns we are ashamed to call ourselves. Let us at least
imitate this humility of hers in some degree-I say "in some degree" because, however much we
may seem to humble ourselves, we fall far short of being the daughters of such a Mother, and the
brides of such a Spouse. If, then, the habits I have described are not sternly checked, what seems
nothing to-day will perhaps be a venial sin to-morrow, and that is so infectious a tendency that, if
you leave it alone, the sin will not be the only one for long; and that is a very bad thing for
communities.
We who live in a community should consider this very carefully, so as not to harm those who
labour to benefit us and to set us a good example. If we realize what great harm is done by the
formation of a bad habit of over-punctiliousness about our honour, we should rather die a thousand
deaths than be the cause of such a thing. For only the body would die, whereas the loss of a soul
is a great loss which is apparently without end; some of us will die, but others will take our places
and perhaps they may all be harmed more by the one bad habit which we started than they are
benefited by many virtues. For the devil does not allow a single bad habit to disappear and the very
weakness of our mortal nature destroys the virtues in us.
Oh, what a real charity it would be, and what a service would be rendered to God, if any nun
who sees that she cannot [endure and] conform to the customs of this house would recognize the

40

Lit.: "did them to Him."

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fact and go away [before being professed, as I have said elsewhere], and leave the other sisters in
peace! And no convent (at least, if it follows my advice) will take her or allow her to make her
profession until they have given her many years' probation to see if she improves. I am not referring
to shortcomings affecting penances and fasts, for, although these are wrong, they are not things
which do so much harm. I am thinking of nuns who are of such a temperament that they like to be
esteemed and made much of; who see the faults of others but never recognize their own; and who
are deficient in other ways like these, the true source of which is want of humility. If God does not
help such a person by bestowing great spirituality upon her, until after many years she becomes
greatly improved, may God preserve you from keeping her in your community. For you must realize
that she will neither have peace there herself nor allow you to have any.
As you do not take dowries, God is very gracious to you in this respect. It grieves me that
religious houses should often harbour one who is a thief and robs them of their treasure, either
because they are unwilling to return a dowry or out of regard for the relatives. In this house you
have risked losing worldly honour and forgone it (for no such honour is paid to those who are
poor); do not desire, then, that others should be honoured at such a cost to yourselves. Our honour,
sisters, must lie in the service of God, and, if anyone thinks to hinder you in this, she had better
keep her honour and stay at home. It was with this in mind that our Fathers ordered a year's
probation (which in our Order we are free to extend to four years): personally, I should like it to
be prolonged to ten years. A humble nun will mind very little if she is not professed: for she knows
that if she is good she will not be sent away, and if she is not, why should she wish to do harm to
one of Christ's communities?41
By not being good, I do not mean being fond of vanities, which, I believe, with the help of God,
will be a fault far removed from the nuns in this house. I am referring to a want of mortification
and an attachment to worldly things and to self-interest in the matter which I have described. Let
anyone who knows that she is not greatly mortified take my advice and not make her profession if
she does not wish to suffer a hell on earth, and God grant there may not be another hell awaiting
such a nun in the world to come! There are many reasons why she should fear there may belt and
possibly neither she nor her sisters may realize this as well as I do.
Believe what I say here; if you will not, I must leave it to time to prove the truth of my words.
For the whole manner of life we are trying to live is making us, not only nuns, but hermits [like the
holy Fathers our predecessors] and leading us to detachment from all things created. I have observed
that anyone whom the Lord has specially chosen for this life is granted that favour. She may not
have it in full perfection, but that she has it will be evident from the great joy and gladness that
such detachment gives her, and she will never have any more to do with worldly things, for her
delight will be in all the practices of the religious life. I say once more that anyone who is inclined
to things of the world should leave the convent 42if she sees she is not making progress. If she still

41

Lit.: "to this college of Christ."

42

I.e., St. Joseph's, Avila.

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wishes to be a nun she should go to another convent; if she does not, she will see what happens to
her. She must not complain of me as the foundress of this convent and say I have not warned her.
This house is another Heaven, if it be possible to have Heaven upon earth. Anyone whose sole
pleasure lies in pleasing God and who cares nothing for her own pleasure will find our life a very
good one; if she wants anything more, she will lose everything, for there is nothing more that she
can have. A discontented soul is like a person suffering from severe nausea, who rejects all food,
however nice it may be; things which persons in good health delight in eating only cause her the
greater loathing. Such a person will save her soul better elsewhere than here; she may even gradually
reach a degree of perfection which she could not have attained here because we expected too much
of her all at once. For although we allow time for the attainment of complete detachment and
mortification in interior matters, in externals this has to be practised immediately, because of the
harm which may otherwise befall the rest; and anyone who sees this being done, and spends all
her time in such good company, and yet, at the end of six months or a year, has made no progress,
will, I fear, make none over a great many years, and will even go backward. I do not say that such
a nun must be as perfect as the rest, but she must be sure that her soul is gradually growing
healthier-and it will soon become clear if her disease is mortal.

CHAPTER 14
Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone whose
spirit is contrary to the things aforementioned.
I feel sure that the Lord bestows great help on anyone who makes good resolutions, and for
that reason it is necessary to enquire into the intentions of anyone who enters [the life of religion].
She must not come, as many nuns [now] do, simply to further her own interests, although the Lord
can perfect even this intention if she is a person of intelligence. If not intelligent, a person of this
kind should on no account be admitted; for she will not understand her own reasons for coming,
nor will she understand others who attempt subsequently to improve her. For, in general, a person
who has this fault always thinks she knows better than the wisest what is good for her; and I believe
this evil is incurable, for it is rarely unaccompanied by malice. In a convent where there are a great
many nuns it may be tolerated, but it cannot be suffered among a few.
When an intelligent person begins to grow fond of what is good, she clings to it manfully, for
she sees that it is the best thing for her; this course may not bring her great spirituality but it will
help her to give profitable advice, and to make herself useful in many ways, without being a trouble
to anybody. But I do not see how a person lacking in intelligence can be of any use in community
life, and she may do a great deal of harm. This defect, like others, will not become obvious
immediately; for many people are good at talking and bad at understanding, while others speak in

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a sharp and none too refined a tone, 43and yet they have intelligence and can do a great deal of good.
There are also simple, holy people who are quite unversed in business matters and worldly
conventions but have great skill in converse with God. Many enquiries, therefore, must be made
before novices are admitted, and the period of probation before profession should be a long one.
The world must understand once and for an that you are free to send them away again, as it is often
necessary to do in a convent where the life is one of austerity; and then if you use this right no one
will take offence.
I say this because these times are so unhappy, and our weakness is so great, that we are not
content to follow the instructions of our predecessors and disregard the current ideas about honour,
lest we should give offence to the novices' relatives. God grant that those of us who admit unsuitable
persons may not pay for it in the world to come! Such persons are never without a pretext for
persuading us to accept them, though in a matter of such importance no pretext is valid. If the
superior is unaffected by her personal likings and prejudices, and considers what is for the good
of the house, I do not believe God will ever allow her to go astray. But if she considers other people's
feelings and trivial points of detail, I feel sure she will be bound to err.
This is something which everyone must think out for herself; she must commend it to God and
encourage her superior when her courage fails her, of such great importance is it. So I beg God to
give you light about it. You do very well not to accept dowries; for, if you were to accept them, it
might happen that, in order not to have to give back money which you no longer possess, you would
keep a thief in the house who was robbing you of your treasure; and that would be no small pity.
So you must not receive dowries from anyone, for to do so may be to harm the very person to whom
you desire to bring profit.

CHAPTER 15
Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not excusing
ourselves, even though we find we are unjustly condemned.
But how disconnectedly I am writing! I am just like a person who does not know what she is
doing. It is your fault, sisters, for I am doing this at your command. Read it as best you can, for I
am writing it as best I can, and, if it is too bad, burn it. I really need leisure, and, as you see, I have
so little opportunity for writing that a week passes without my putting down a word, and so I forget
what I have said and what I am going to say next. Now what I have just been doing -namely,
excusing myself-is very bad for me, and I beg you not to copy it, for to suffer without making
excuses is a habit of great perfection, and very edifying and meritorious; and, though I often teach

43

An untranslatable play upon words: corto y no muy cortado-as though "sharpened" could be used in the sense of "refined".

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you this, and by God's goodness you practise it, His Majesty has never granted this favour to me.
May He be pleased to bestow it on me before I die.
I am greatly confused as I begin to urge this virtue upon you, for I ought myself to have practised
at least something of what I am recommending you with regard to it: but actually I must confess I
have made very little progress. I never seem unable to find a reason for thinking I am being virtuous
when I make excuses for myself. There are times when this is lawful, and when not to do it would
be wrong, but I have not the discretion (or, better, the humility) to do it only when fitting. For,
indeed, it takes great humility to find oneself unjustly condemned and be silent, and to do this is
to imitate the Lord Who set us free from all our sins. I beg you, then, to study earnestly to do so,
for it brings great gain; whereas I can see no gain in our trying to free ourselves from blame: none
whatever-save, as I say, in a few cases where hiding the truth might cause offence or scandal.
Anyone will understand this who has more discretion than I.
I think it is very important to accustom oneself to practise this virtue and to endeavour to obtain
from the Lord the true humility which must result from it. The truly humble person will have a
genuine desire to be thought little of, and persecuted, and condemned unjustly, even in serious
matters. For, if she desires to imitate the Lord, how can she do so better than in this? And no bodily
strength is necessary here, nor the aid of anyone save God.
These are great virtues, my sisters, and I should like us to study them closely, and to make them
our penance. As you know, I deprecate [other severe and] excessive penances, which, if practised
indiscreetly, may injure the health. Here, however, there is no cause for fear; for, however great
the interior virtues may be, they do not weaken the body so that it cannot serve the Order, while at
the same time they streng then the soul; and, furthermore, they can be applied to very little things,
and thus, as I have said on other occasions, they accustom one to gain great victories in very
important matters. I have not, however, been able to test this particular thing myself, for I never
heard anything bad said of me which I did not clearly realize fell short of the truth. If I had not
sometimes-often, indeed- offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many
others, and I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these: I much
preferred people to blame me for what was not true than to tell the truth about me. For I disliked
hearing things that were true said about me, whereas these other things, however serious they
were, I did not mind at all. In small matters I followed my own inclinations, and I still do so, without
paying any affection to what is most perfect. So I should like you to begin to realize this at an early
stage, and I want each of you to ponder how much there is to be gained in every way by this virtue,
and how, so far as I can see, there is nothing to be lost by it. The chief thing we gain is being able,
in some degree, to follow the Lord.
It is a great help to meditate upon the great gain which in any case this is bound to bring us,
and to realize how, properly speaking, we can never be blamed unjustly, since we are always full
of faults, and a just man falls seven times a day, 44so that it would be a falsehood for us to say we

44

Proverbs xxiv, 16.

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have no sin. If, then, we are not to blame for the thing that we are accused of, we are never wholly
without blame in the way that our good Jesus was.
Oh, my Lord! When I think in how many ways Thou didst suffer, and in all of them undeservedly,
I know not what to say for myself, or what I can have been thinking about when I desired not to
suffer, or what I am doing when I make excuses for myself. Thou knowest, my Good, that if there
is anything good in me it comes from no other hands than Thine own. For what is it to Thee, Lord,
to give much instead of little? True, I do not deserve it, but neither have I deserved the favours
which Thou hast shown me already. Can it be that I should wish a thing so evil as myself to be
thought well of by anyone, when they have said such wicked things of Thee, Who art good above
all other good? It is intolerable, my God, it is intolerable; nor would I that Thou shouldst have to
tolerate anything displeasing in Thine eyes being found in Thy handmaiden. For see, Lord, mine
eyes are blind and very little pleases them. Do Thou give me light and make me truly to desire that
all should hate me, since I have so often left Thee, Who hast loved me with such faithfulness.
What is this, my God? What advantage do we think to gain from giving pleasure to creatures?
What does it matter to us if we are blamed by them all, provided we are without blame in the sight
of the Lord? Oh, my sisters we shall never succeed in understanding this truth and we shall never
attain perfection unless we think and meditate upon what is real and upon what is not. If there were
no other gain than the confusion which will be felt by the person who has blamed you when she
sees that you have allowed yourselves to be condemned unjustly, that would be a very great thing.
Such an experience uplifts the soul more than ten sermons. And we must all try to be preachers by
our deeds, since both the Apostle and our own lack of ability forbid us to be preachers in word.
Never suppose that either the evil or the good that you do will remain secret, however strict
may be your enclosure. Do you suppose, daughter, that, if you do not make excuses for yourself,
there will not be someone else who will defend you? Remember how the Lord took the Magdalen's
part in the Pharisee's house and also when her sister blamed her. He will not treat you as rigorously
as He treated Himself: it was not until He was on the Cross that He had even a thief to defend Him.
His Majesty, then, will put it into somebody's mind to defend you; if He does not, it will be because
there is no need. This I have myself seen, and it is a fact, although I should not like you to think
too much of it, but rather to be glad when you are blamed, and in due time you will see what profit
you experience in your souls. For it is in this way that you will begin to gain freedom; soon you
will not care if they speak ill or well of you; it will seem like someone else's business. It will be
as if two persons are talking in your presence and you are quite uninterested in what they are saying
because you are not actually being addressed by them. So here: it becomes such a habit with us not
to reply that it seems as if they are not addressing us at all. This may seem impossible to those of
us who are very sensitive and not capable of great mortification. It is indeed difficult at first, but I
know that, with the Lord's help, the gradual attainment of this freedom, and of renunciation and
self-detachment, is quite possible.

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CHAPTER 16
Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of
contemplatives and in the lives of those who are content with
mental prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for God to
raise a distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason
for this. This chapter and that which comes next are to be noted
carefully.45
I hope you do not think I have written too much about this already; for I have only been placing
the board, as they say. You have asked me to tell you about the first steps in prayer; although God
did not lead me by them, my daughters I know no others, and even now I can hardly have acquired
these elementary virtues. But you may be sure that anyone who cannot set out the pieces in a game
of chess will never be able to play well, and, if he does not know how to give check, he will not be
able to bring about a checkmate.46 Now you will reprove me for talking about games, as we do not
play them in this house and are forbidden to do so. That will show you what kind of a mother God
has given you-she even knows about vanities like this! However, they say that the game is sometimes
legitimate. How legitimate it will be for us to play it in this way, and, if we play it frequently, how
quickly we shall give checkmate to this Divine King! He will not be able to move out of our check
nor will He desire to do so.
It is the queen which gives the king most trouble in this game and all the other pieces support
her. There is no queen who can beat this King as well as humility can; for humility brought Him
down from Heaven into the Virgin's womb and with humility we can draw Him into our souls by
a single hair. Be sure that He will give most humility to him who has most already and least to him
who has least. I cannot understand how humility exists, or can exist, without love, or love without
humility, and it is impossible for these two virtues to exist save where there is great detachment
from all created things.
You will ask, my daughters, why I am talking to you about virtues when you have more than
enough books to teach you about them and when you want me to tell you only about contemplation.
My reply is that, if you had asked me about meditation, I could have talked to you about it, and
advised you all to practise it, even if you do not possess the virtues. For this is the first step to be

45

46

The first four paragraphs of this chapter originally formed part of V., but, after writing them, St. Teresa tore them out of the
manuscript, as though, on consideration, she had decided not to leave on record her knowledge of such a worldly game as chess.
The allegory, however, is so expressive and beautiful that it has rightly become famous, and from the time of Fray Luis de Len
all the editions have included it. The text here followed is that of E.
Chess was very much in vogue in the Spain of St. Teresa's day and it was only in 1561 that its great exponent Ruy Lpez de
Segura had published his celebrated treatise, in Spanish, entitled "Book of the liberal invention and art of the game of chess".

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taken towards the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon their
beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so great a blessing if God
inspires him to make use of it. All this I have already written elsewhere, and so have many others
who know what they are writing about, which I certainly do not: God knows that.
But contemplation, daughters, is another matter. This is an error which we all make: if a person
gets so far as to spend a short time each day in thinking about his sins, as he is bound to do if he
is a Christian in anything more than name, people at once call him a great contemplative; and then
they expect him to have the rare virtues which a great contemplative is bound to possess; he may
even think he has them himself, but he will be quite wrong. In his early stages he did not even know
how to set out the chess-board, and thought that, in order to give checkmate, it would be enough
to be able to recognize the pieces. But that is impossible, for this King does not allow Himself to
be taken except by one who surrenders wholly to Him.
Therefore, daughters, if you want me to tell you the way to attain to contemplation, do allow
me to speak at some length about these things, even if at the time they do not seem to you very
important, for I think myself that they are. If you have no wish either to hear about them or to
practise them, continue your mental prayer all your life; but in that case I assure you, and all persons
who desire this blessing, that in my opinion you will not attain true contemplation. I may, of course,
be wrong about this, as I am judging by my own experience, but I have been striving after
contemplation for twenty years.
I will now explain what mental prayer is, as some of you will not understand this. God grant
that we may practise it as we should! I am afraid, however, that, if we do not achieve the virtues,
this can only be done with great labour, although the virtues are not necessary here in such a high
degree as they are for contemplation. I mean that the King of glory will not come to our souls-that
is, so as to be united with them- unless we strive to gain the greatest virtues. 47I will explain this,
for if you once catch me out in something which is not the truth, you will believe nothing I say-and
if I were to say something untrue intentionally, from which may God preserve me, you would be
right; but, if I did, it would be because I knew no better or did not understand what I said. I will
tell you, then, that God is sometimes pleased to show great favour to persons who are in an evil
state [and to raise them to perfect contemplation], so that by this means He may snatch them out
of the hands of the devil. It must be understood, I think, that such persons will not be in mortal sin
at the time. They may be in an evil state, and yet the Lord will allow them to see a vision, even a
very good one, in order to draw them back to Himself. But I cannot believe that He would grant
them contemplation. For that is a Divine union, in which the Lord takes His delight in the soul and
the soul takes its delight in Him; and there is no way in which the Purity of the Heavens can take
pleasure in a soul that is unclean, nor can the Delight of the angels have delight in that which is
not His own. And we know that, by committing mortal sin, a soul becomes the property of the devil,

47

Lit.: "the great virtues." In V. St. Teresa originally began this sentence thus: "In the last chapter I said that the King of glory,
etc.," and ended it: "to gain the virtues which I there described as great." Later she altered it to read as above.

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and must take its delight in him, since it has given him pleasure; and, as we know, his delights,
even in this life, are continuous torture. My Lord will have no lack of children of His own in whom
He may rejoice without going and taking the children of others. Yet His Majesty will do what He
often does-namely, snatch them out of the devil's hands.48
Oh, my Lord! How often do we cause Thee to wrestle with the devil! Was it not enough that
Thou shouldst have allowed him to bear Thee in his arms when he took Thee to the pinnacle of the
Temple in order to teach us how to vanquish him? What a sight it would have been, daughters, to
see this Sun by the side of the darkness, and what fear that wretched creature must have felt, though
he would not have known why, since God did not allow Him to understand!
Blessed be such great pity and mercy; we Christians ought to feel great shame at making Him
wrestle daily, in the way I have described, with such an unclean beast. Indeed, Lord, Thine arms
had need to be strong, but how was it that they were not weakened by the many [trials and] tortures
which Thou didst endure upon the Cross? Oh, how quickly all that is borne for love's sake heals
again! I really believe that, if Thou hadst lived longer, the very love which Thou hast for us would
have healed Thy wounds again and Thou wouldst have needed no other medicine. Oh, my God,
who will give me such medicine for all the things which grieve and try me? How eagerly should I
desire them if it were certain that I could be cured by such a health-giving ointment!
Returning to what I was saying, there are souls whom God knows He may gain for Himself by
this means; seeing that they are completely lost, His Majesty wants to leave no stone unturned to
help them; and therefore, though they are in a sad way and lacking in virtues, He gives them
consolations, favours and emotions 49which begin to move their desires, and occasionally even
brings them to a state of contemplation, though rarely and not for long at a time. And this, as I say,
He does because He is testing them to see if that favour will not make them anxious to prepare
themselves to enjoy it often; if it does not, may they be pardoned; pardon Thou us, Lord, for it is
a dreadful thing that a soul whom Thou hast brought near to Thyself should approach any earthly
thing and become attached to it.
For my own part I believe there are many souls whom God our Lord tests in this way, and few
who prepare themselves to enjoy this favour. When the Lord does this and we ourselves leave
nothing undone either, I think it is certain that He never ceases from giving until He has brought
us to a very high degree of prayer. If we do not give ourselves to His Majesty as resolutely as He
gives Himself to us, He will be doing more than enough for us if He leaves us in mental prayer and
from time to time visits us as He would visit servants in His vineyard. But these others are His
beloved children, whom He would never want to banish from His side; and, as they have no desire

48

Lit.: "out of his hands", but the meaning, made more explicit in V., is evident. On the doctrinal question involved in this paragraph,
see Introduction, above. P. Silverio (III, 75-6), has a more extensive note on the subject than can be given here and cites a number
of Spanish authorities, from P. Juan de Jess Mara (Theologia Mystica, Chap. III) to P. Seisdedos Sanz (Principios fundamentales
de la mstica, Madrid, 1913, II, 61-77.)

49

Lit.: "and tenderness."

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to leave Him, He never does so. He seats them at His table, and feeds them with His own food,
almost taking the food from His mouth in order to give it them.
Oh, what blessed care of us is this, my daughters! How happy shall we be if by leaving these
few, petty 50things we can arrive at so high an estate! Even if the whole world should blame you,
and deafen you with its cries, what matter so long as you are in the arms of God? He is powerful
enough to free you from everything; for only once did He comm and the world to be made and it
was done; with Him, to will is to do. Do not be afraid, then, if He is pleased to speak with you, for
He does this for the greater good of those who love Him. His love for those to whom He is dear is
by no means so weak: He shows it in every way possible. Why, then, my sisters, do we not show
Him love in so far as we can? Consider what a wonderful exchange it is if we give Him our love
and receive His. Consider that He can do all things, and we can do nothing here below save as He
enables us. And what is it that we do for Thee, O Lord, our Maker? We do hardly anything [at
all]- just make some poor weak resolution. And, if His Majesty is pleased that by doing a mere
nothing we should win everything, let us not be so foolish as to fail to do it.
O Lord! All our trouble comes to us from not having our eyes fixed upon Thee. If we only
looked at the way along which we are walking, we should soon arrive; but we stumble and fall a
thousand times and stray from the way because, as I say, we do not set our eyes on the true Way.
One would think that no one had ever trodden it before, so new is it to us. It is indeed a pity that
this should sometimes happen. I mean, it hardly seems that we are Christians at all or that we have
ever in our lives read about the Passion. Lord help us -that we should be hurt about some small
point of honour! And then, when someone tells us not to worry about it, we think he is no Christian.
I used to laugh-or sometimes I used to be distressed-at the things I heard in the world, and
sometimes, for my sins, in religious Orders. We refuse to be thwarted over the very smallest matter
of precedence: apparently such a thing is quite intolerable. We cry out at once: "Well, I'm no saint";
I used to say that myself.
God deliver us, sisters, from saying "We are not angels", or "We are not saints", whenever we
commit some imperfection. We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can
be if we will only try and if God gives us His hand! Do not be afraid that He will fail to do His part
if we do not fail to do ours. And since we come here for no other reason, let us put our hands to
the plough, as they say. Let there be nothing we know of which it would be a service to the Lord
for us to do, and which, with His help, we would not venture to take in hand. I should like that kind
of venturesomeness to be found in this house, as it always increases humility. We must have a holy
boldness, for God helps the strong, being no respecter of persons; 51and He will give courage to
you and to me.
I have strayed far from the point. I want to return to what I was saying-that is, to explain the
nature of mental prayer and contemplation. It may seem irrelevant, but it is all done for your sakes;

50

Lit.: "low", contrasting with "high" at the end of the sentence.

51

Acts x, 34.

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you may understand it better as expressed in my rough style than in other books which put it more
elegantly. May the Lord grant me His favour, so that this may be so. Amen.

CHAPTER 17
How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some take
long to attain it. True humility will walk happily along the road
by which the Lord leads it.
I seem now to be beginning my treatment of prayer, but there still remains a little for me to say,
which is of great importance because it has to do with humility, and in this house that is necessary.
For humility is the principal virtue which must be practised by those who pray, and, as I have said,
it is very fitting that you should try to learn how to practise it often: that is one of the chief things
to remember about it and it is very necessary that it should be known by all who practise prayer.
How can anyone who is truly humble think herself as good as those who become contemplatives?
God, it is true, by His goodness and mercy, can make her so; but my advice is that she should
always sit down in the lowest place, for that is what the Lord instructed us to do and taught us by
His own example. 52Let such a one make herself ready for God to lead her by this road if He so
wills; if He does not, the whole point of true humility is that she should consider herself happy in
serving the servants of the Lord and in praising Him. For she deserves to be a slave of the devils
in hell; yet His Majesty has brought her here to live among His servants.
I do not say this without good reason, for, as I have said, it is very important for us to realize
that God does not lead us all by the same road, and perhaps she who believes herself to be going
along the lowest of roads is the highest in the Lord's eyes. So it does not follow that, because all
of us in this house practise prayer, we are all perforce to be contemplatives. That is impossible;
and those of us who are not would be greatly discouraged if we did not grasp the truth that
contemplation is something given by God, and, as it is not necessary for salvation and God does
not ask it of us before He gives us our reward, we must not suppose that anyone else will require
it of us. We shall not fail to attain perfection if we do what has been said here; we may, in fact,
gain much more merit, because what we do will cost us more labour; the Lord will be treating us
like those who are strong and will be laying up for us all that we cannot enjoy in this life. Let us
not be discouraged, then, and give up prayer or cease doing what the rest do; for the Lord sometimes
tarries long, and gives us as great rewards all at once as He has been giving to others over many
years.

52

St. Luke xiv, 10.

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I myself spent over fourteen years without ever being able to meditate except while reading.
There must be many people like this, and others who cannot meditate even after reading, but can
only recite vocal prayers, in which they chiefly occupy themselves and take a certain pleasure.
Some find their thoughts wandering so much that they cannot concentrate upon the same thing, but
are always restless, to such an extent that, if they try to fix their thoughts upon God, they are attacked
by a thousand foolish ideas and scruples and doubts concerning the Faith. I know a very old woman,
leading a most excellent life-I wish mine were like hers-a penitent and a great servant of God,
who for many years has been spending hours and hours in vocal prayer, but from mental prayer
can get no help at all; the most she can do is to dwell upon each of her vocal prayers as she says
them. There are a great many other people just like this; if they are humble, they will not, I think,
be any the worse off in the end, but very much in the same state as those who enjoy numerous
consolations. In one way they may feel safer, for we cannot tell if consolations come from God or
are sent by the devil. If they are not of God, they are the more dangerous; for the chief object of
the devil's work on earth is to fill us with pride. If they are of God, there is no reason for fear, for
they bring humility with them, as I explained in my other book at great length.
Others 53walk in humility, and always suspect that if they fail to receive consolations the fault
is theirs, and are always most anxious to make progress. They never see a person shedding a tear
without thinking themselves very backward in God's service unless they are doing the same, whereas
they may perhaps be much more advanced. For tears, though good, are not invariably signs of
perfection; there is always greater safety in humility, mortification, detachment and other virtues.
There is no reason for fear, and you must not be afraid that you will fail to attain the perfection of
the greatest contemplatives.
Saint Martha was holy, but we are not told that she was a contemplative. What more do you
want than to be able to grow to be like that blessed woman, who was worthy to receive Christ our
Lord so often in her house, and to prepare meals for Him, and to serve Him and perhaps to eat at
table with Him? If she had been absorbed in devotion [all the time], as the Magdalen was, there
would have been no one to prepare a meal for this Divine Guest. Now remember that this little
community is Saint Martha's house and that there must be people of all kinds here. Nuns who are
called to the active life must not murmur at others who are very much absorbed in contemplation,
for contemplatives know that, though they themselves may be silent, the Lord will speak for them,
and this, as a rule, makes them forget themselves and everything else.
Remember that there must be someone to cook the meals and count yourselves happy in being
able to serve like Martha. Reflect that true humility consists to a great extent in being ready for
what the Lord desires to do with you and happy that He should do it, and in always considering
yourselves unworthy to be called His servants. If contemplation and mental and vocal prayer and
tending the sick and serving in the house and working at even the lowliest tasks are of service to

53

Lit.: "These others."

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the Guest who comes to stay with us and to eat and take His recreation with us, what should it
matter to us if we do one of these things rather than another?
I do not mean that it is for us to say what we shall do, but that we must do our best in everything,
for the choice is not ours but the Lord's. If after many years He is pleased to give each of us her
office, it will be a curious kind of humility for you to wish to choose; let the Lord of the house do
that, for He is wise and powerful and knows what is fitting for you and for Himself as well. Be sure
that, if you do what lies in your power and prepare yourself for high contemplation with the
perfection aforementioned, then, if He does not grant it you (and I think He will not fail to do so
if you have true detachment and humility), it will be because He has laid up this joy for you so as
to give it you in Heaven, and because, as I have said elsewhere, He is pleased to treat you like
people who are strong and give you a cross to bear on earth like that which His Majesty Himself
always bore.
What better sign of friendship is there than for Him to give you what He gave Himself? It might
well be that you would not have had so great a reward from contemplation. His judgments are His
own; we must not meddle in them. It is indeed a good thing that the choice is not ours; for, if it
were, we should think it the more restful life and all become great contemplatives. Oh, how much
we gain if we have no desire to gain what seems to us best and so have no fear of losing, since God
never permits a truly mortified person to lose anything except when such loss will bring him greater
gain!

CHAPTER 18
Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are the
trials of contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers
great consolation to actives.
I tell you, then, daughters-those of you whom God is not leading by this road [of
contemplation]-that, as I know from what I have seen and been told by those who are following
this road, they are not bearing a lighter cross than you; you would be amazed at all the ways and
manners in which God sends them crosses. I know about both types of life and I am well aware
that the trials given by God to contemplatives are intolerable; and they are of such a kind that, were
He not to feed them with consolations, they could not be borne. It is clear that, since God leads
those whom He most loves by the way of trials, the more He loves them, the greater will be their
trials; and there is no reason to suppose that He hates contemplatives, since with His own mouth
He praises them and calls them friends.
To suppose that He would admit to His close friendship pleasure-loving people who are free
from all trials is ridiculous. I feel quite sure that God gives them much greater trials; and that He

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leads them by a hard and rugged road, so that they sometimes think they are lost and will have to
go back and begin again. Then His Majesty is obliged to give them sustenance-not water, but
wine, so that they may become inebriated by it and not realize what they are going through and
what they are capable of bearing. Thus I find few true contemplatives who are not courageous and
resolute in suffering; for, if they are weak, the first thing the Lord does is to give them courage so
that they may fear no trials that may come to them.
I think, when those who lead an active life occasionally see contemplatives receiving
consolations, they suppose that they never experience anything else. But I can assure you that you
might not be able to endure their sufferings for as long as a day. The point is that the Lord knows
everyone as he really is and gives each his work to do-according to what He sees to be most fitting
for his soul, and for His own Self, and for the good of his neighbour. Unless you have omitted to
prepare yourselves for your work you need have no fear that it will be lost. Note that I say we must
all strive to do this, for we are here for no other purpose; and we must not strive merely for a year,
or for two years or ten years, or it will look as if we are abandoning our work like cowards. It is
well that the Lord should see we are not leaving anything undone. We are like soldiers who, however
long they have served, must always be ready for their captain to send them away on any duty which
he wants to entrust to them, since it is he who is paying them. And how much better is the payment
given by our King than by people on this earth! For the unfortunate soldiers die, and God knows
who pays them after that!
When their captain sees they are all present, and anxious for service, he assigns duties to them
according to their fitness, though not so well as our Heavenly Captain. But if they were not present,
He would give them neither pay 54nor service orders. So practise mental prayer, sisters; or, if any
of you cannot do that, vocal prayer, reading and colloquies with God, as I shall explain to you later.
Do not neglect the hours of prayer which are observed by all the nuns; you never know when the
Spouse will call you (do not let what happened to the foolish virgins happen to you) and if He will
give you fresh trials under the disguise of consolations. If He does not, you may be sure that you
are not fit for them and that what you are doing is suitable for you. That is where both merit and
humility come in, when you really think that you are not fit for what you are doing.
Go cheerfully about whatever services you are ordered to do, as I have said; if such a servant
is truly humble she will be blessed in her active life and will never make any complaint save of
herself. I would much rather be like her than like some contemplatives. Leave others to wage their
own conflicts, which are not light ones. The standard-bearer is not a combatant, yet none the less
he is exposed to great danger, and, inwardly, must suffer more than anyone, for he cannot defend
himself, as he is carrying the standard, which he must not allow to leave his hands, even if he is
cut to pieces. Just so contemplatives have to bear aloft the standard of humility and must suffer all
the blows which are aimed at them without striking any themselves. Their duty is to suffer as Christ
did, to raise the Cross on high, not to allow it to leave their hands, whatever the perils in which

54

Lit.: "would give them nothing", but the reference seems to be to payment.

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they find themselves, and not to let themselves be found backward in suffering. It is for this reason
that they are given such an honourable duty. Let the contemplative consider what he is doing; for,
if he lets the standard fall, the battle will be lost. Great harm, I think, is done to those who are not
so far advanced if those whom they consider as captains and friends of God let them see them acting
in a way unbefitting to their office.
The other soldiers do as best they can; at times they will withdraw from some position of extreme
danger, and, as no one observes them, they suffer no loss of honour. But these others have all eyes
fixed on them and cannot move. Their office, then, is a noble one, and the King confers great honour
and favour upon anyone to whom He gives it, and who, in receiving it, accepts no light obligation.
So, sisters, as we do not understand ourselves and know not what we ask, let us leave everything
to the Lord, Who knows us better than we know ourselves. True humility consists in our being
satisfied with what is given us. There are some people who seem to want to ask favours from God
as a right. A pretty kind of humility that is! He Who knows us all does well in seldom giving things
to such persons, He sees clearly that they are unable to drink of His chalice.
If you want to know whether you have made progress or not, sisters, you may be sure that you
have if each of you thinks herself the worst of all and shows that she thinks this by acting for the
profit and benefit of the rest. Progress has nothing to do with enjoying the greatest number of
consolations in prayer, or with raptures, visions or favours [often] given by the Lord, the value of
which we cannot estimate until we reach the world to come. The other things I have been describing
are current coin, an unfailing source of revenue and a perpetual inheritance-not payments liable
at any time to cease, like those favours which are given us and then come to an end. I am referring
to the great virtues of humility, mortification and an obedience so extremely strict that we never
go an inch beyond the superior's orders, knowing that these orders come from God since she is in
His place. It is to this duty of obedience that you must attach the greatest importance. It seems to
me that anyone who does not have it is not a nun at all, and so I am saying no more about it, as I
am speaking to nuns whom I believe to be good, or, at least, desirous of being so. So well known
is the matter, and so important, that a single word will suffice to prevent you from forgetting it.
I mean that, if anyone is under a vow of obedience and goes astray through not taking the
greatest care to observe these vows with the highest degree of perfection, I do not know why she
is in the convent. I can assure her, in any case, that, for so long as she fails in this respect, she will
never succeed in leading the contemplative life, or even in leading a good active life: of that I am
absolutely certain. 55And even a person who has not this obligation, but who wishes or tries to
achieve contemplation, must, if she would walk safely, be fully resolved to surrender her will to a
confessor who is himself a contemplative56 and will understand her. It is a well-known fact that
she will make more progress in this way in a year than in a great many years if she acts otherwise.
As this does not affect you, however, I will say no more about it.

55

Lit.: "very, very certain"- a typically Teresan repetition.

56

Lit.: "who is such."

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I conclude, my daughters, [by saying] that these are the virtues which I desire you to possess
and to strive to obtain and of which you should cherish a holy envy. Do not be troubled because
you have no experience of those other kinds of devotion: they are very unreliable. It may be that
to some people they come from God, and yet that if they came to you it might be because His
Majesty had permitted you to be deceived and deluded by the devil, as He has permitted others:
there is danger in this for women. Why do you want to serve the Lord in so doubtful a way when
there are so many ways of [serving Him in] safety? Who wants to plunge you into these perils? I
have said a great deal about this, because I am sure it will be useful, for this nature of ours is weak,
though His Majesty will streng then those on whom He wishes to bestow contemplation. With regard
to the rest, I am glad to have given them this advice, which will teach contemplatives humility also.
If you say you have no need of it, daughters, some of you may perhaps find it pleasant reading.
May the Lord, for His own sake, give us light to follow His will in all things and we shall have no
cause for fear.

CHAPTER 19
Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with
the understanding.
It is a long time 57since I wrote the last chapter and I have had no chance of returning to my
writing, so that, without reading through what I have written, I cannot remember what I said.
However, I must not spend too much time at this, so it will be best if I go right on 58without troubling
about the connection. For those with orderly minds, and for souls who practise prayer and can be
a great deal in their own company, many books have been written, and these are so good and are
the work of such competent people that you would be making a mistake if you paid heed to anything
about prayer that you learned from me. There are books, as I say, in which the mysteries of the life
of the Lord and of His sacred Passion are described in short passages, one for each day of the week;
there are also meditations on the Judgment, on hell, on our own nothingness and on all that we owe
to God, and these books are excellent both as to their teaching and as to the way in which they plan
the beginning and the end of the time of prayer. 59There is no need to tell anyone who is capable
of practising prayer in this way, and has already formed the habit of doing so, that by this good
road the Lord will bring her to the harbour of light. If she begins so well, her end will be good also;

57

Lit.: "so many days."

58

Lit.: "It will have to go as it comes out."

59

St Teresa is probably referring to the treatises of Luis de Granada and St. Peter of Alcantara (S.S.M, 1, 40-52, II, 106-20). Cf.
Constitutions (Vol. III, p. 236, below).

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and all who can walk along this road will walk restfully and securely, for one always walks restfully
when the understanding is kept in restraint. It is something else that I wish to treat of and help you
about if the Lord is pleased to enable me to do so; if not, you will at least realize that there are many
souls who suffer this trial, and you will not be so much distressed at undergoing it yourselves at
first, but will find some comfort in it.
There are some souls, and some minds, as unruly as horses not yet broken in. No one can stop
them: now they go this way, now that way; they are never still. Although a skilled rider mounted
on such a horse may not always be in danger, he will be so sometimes; and, even if he is not
concerned about his life, there will always be the risk of his stumbling,60so that he has to ride with
great care. Some people are either like this by nature or God permits them to become so. I am very
sorry for them; they seem to me like people who are very thirsty and see water a long way off, yet,
when they try to go to it, find someone who all the time is barring their path-at the beginning of
their journey, in the middle and at the end. And when, after all their labour-and the labour is
tremendous-they have conquered the first of their enemies, they allow themselves to be conquered
by the second, and they prefer to die of thirst rather than drink water which is going to cost them
so much trouble. Their strength has come to an end; their courage has failed them; and, though
some of them are strong enough to conquer their second enemies as well as their first, when they
meet the third group their strength comes to an end, though perhaps they are only a couple of steps
from the fountain of living water, of which the Lord said to the Samaritan woman that whosoever
drinks of it shall not thirst again. 61How right and how very true is that which comes from the lips
of Truth Himself! In this life the soul will never thirst for anything more, although its thirst for
things in the life to come will exceed any natural thirst that we can imagine here below. How the
soul thirsts to experience this thirst! For it knows how very precious it is, and, grievous though it
be and exhausting, it creates the very satisfaction by which this thirst is allayed. It is therefore a
thirst which quenches nothing but desire for earthly things, and, when God slakes it, satisfies in
such a way that one of the greatest favours He can bestow on the soul is to leave it with this longing,
so that it has an even greater desire to drink of this water again.
Water has three properties-three relevant properties which I can remember, that is to say, for
it must have many more. One of them is that of cooling things; however hot we are, water tempers
the heat, and it will even put out a large fire, except when there is tar in the fire, in which case, they
say, it only burns the more. God help me! What a marvellous thing it is that, when this fire is strong
and fierce and subject to none of the elements, water should make it grow fiercer, and, though its
contrary element, should not quench it but only cause it to burn the more! It would be very useful
to be able to discuss this with someone who understands philosophy; if I knew the properties of
things I could explain it myself; but, though I love thinking about it, I cannot explain it-perhaps
I do not even understand it.

60

Lit.: "of his doing something on (the horse) which is not graceful."

61

St. John iv, 13.

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You will be glad, sisters, if God grants you to drink of this water, as are those who drink of it
now, and you will understand how a genuine love of God, if it is really strong, and completely free
from earthly things, and able to rise above them, is master of all the elements and of the whole
world. And, as water proceeds from the earth, there is no fear of its quenching this fire, which is
the love of God; though the two elements are contraries, it has no power over it. The fire is absolute
master, and subject to nothing. You will not be surprised, then, sisters, at the way I have insisted
in this book that you should strive to obtain this freedom. Is it not a funny thing that a poor little
nun of Saint Joseph's should attain mastery over the whole earth and all the elements? What wonder
that the saints did as they pleased with them by the help of God? Fire and water obeyed Saint
Martin; even birds and fishes were obedient to Saint Francis; and similarly with many other saints.
Helped as they were by God, and themselves doing all that was in their power, they could almost
have claimed this as a right. It was clear that they were masters over everything in the world,
because they had striven so hard to despise it and subjected themselves to the Lord of the world
with all their might. So, as I say, the water, which springs from the earth, has no power over this
fire. Its flames rise high and its source is in nothing so base as the earth. There are other fires of
love for God-small ones, which may be quenched by the least little thing. But this fire will most
certainly not be so quenched. 62Even should a whole sea of temptations assail it, they will not keep
it from burning or prevent it from gaining the mastery over them.
Water which comes down as rain from Heaven will quench the flames even less, for in that
case the fire and the water are not contraries, but have the same origin. Do not fear that the one
element may harm the other; each helps the other and they produce the same effect. For the water
of genuine tears- that is, tears which come from true prayer-is a good gift from the King of
Heaven; it fans the flames and keeps them alight, while the fire helps to cool the water. God bless
me! What a beautiful and wonderful thing it is that fire should cool water! But it does; and it even
freezes all worldly affections, when it is combined with the living water which comes from Heaven,
the source of the above-mentioned tears, which are given us, and not acquired by our diligence.
Certainly, then, nothing worldly has warmth enough left in it to induce us to cling to it unless it is
something which increases this fire, the nature of which is not to be easily satisfied, but, if possible,
to enkindle the entire world.
The second property of water is that it cleanses things that are not clean already. What would
become of the world if there were no water for washing? Do you know what cleansing properties
there are in this living water, this heavenly water, this clear water, when it is unclouded, and free
from mud, and comes down from Heaven? Once the soul has drunk of it I am convinced that it
makes it pure and clean of all its sins; for, as I have written, God does not allow us to drink of this
water of perfect contemplation whenever we like: the choice is not ours; this Divine union is
something quite supernatural, given that it may cleanse the soul and leave it pure and free from the
mud and misery in which it has been plunged because of its sins. Other consolations, excellent as

62

Lit.: "But this one- no, no."

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they may be, which come through the intermediacy of the understanding, are like water running
all over the ground. This cannot be drunk directly from the source; and its course is never free from
clogging impurities, so that it is neither so pure nor so clean as the other. I should not say that this
prayer I have been describing, which comes from reasoning with the intellect, is living water-I
mean so far as my understanding of it goes. For, despite our efforts, there is always something
clinging to the soul, through the influence of the body and of the baseness of our nature, which we
should prefer not to be there.
I will explain myself further. We are meditating on the nature of the world, and on the way in
which everything will come to an end, so that we may learn to despise it, when, almost without
noticing it, we find ourselves ruminating on things in the world that we love. We try to banish these
thoughts, but we cannot help being slightly distracted by thinking of things that have happened, or
will happen, of things we have done and of things we are going to do. Then we begin to think of
how we can get rid of these thoughts; and that sometimes plunges us once again into the same
danger. It is not that we ought to omit such meditations; but we need to retain our misgivings about
them and not to grow careless. In contemplation the Lord Himself relieves us of this care, for He
will not trust us to look after ourselves. So dearly does He love our souls that He prevents them
from rushing into things which may do them harm just at this time when He is anxious to help
them. So He calls them to His side at once, and in a single moment reveals more truths to them and
gives them a clearer insight into the nature of everything than they could otherwise gain in many
years. For our sight is poor and the dust which we meet on the road blinds us; but in contemplation
the Lord brings us to the end of the day's journey without our understanding how.
The third property of water is that it satisfies and quenches thirst. Thirst, I think, means the
desire for something which is very necessary for us-so necessary that if we have none of it we
shall die. It is a strange thing that if we have no water we die, and that we can also lose our lives
through having too much of it, as happens to many people who get drowned. Oh, my Lord, if only
one could be plunged so deeply into this living water that one's life would end! Can that be? Yes:
this love and desire for God can increase so much that human nature is unable to bear it, and so
there have been persons who have died of it. I knew one person 63who had this living water in such
great abundance that she would almost have been drawn out of herself by raptures if God had not
quickly succoured her. She had such a thirst, and her desire grew so greatly, that she realized
clearly that she might quite possibly die of thirst if something were not done for her. I say that she
would almost have been drawn out of herself because in this state the soul is in repose. So intolerable
does such a soul find the world that it seems to be overwhelmed, 64but it comes to life again in God;
and in this way His Majesty enables it to enjoy experiences which, if it had remained within itself,
would perforce have cost it its life.

63

The author probably refers to herself: Cf. Life, Chapter XX, and Relations, passim.

64

Lit.: "drowned."

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Let it be understood from this that, as there can be nothing in our supreme Good which is not
perfect, all that He gives is for our welfare; and, however abundant this water which He gives may
be, in nothing that He gives can there be superfluity. For, if His gift is abundant, He also bestows
on the soul, as I have said, an abundant capacity for drinking; just as a glassmaker moulds his
vessels to the size he thinks necessary, so that there is room for what he wishes to pour into them.
As our desires for this water come from ourselves, they are never free from fault; any good that
there may be in them comes from the help of the Lord. But we are so indiscreet that, as the pain is
sweet and pleasant, we think we can never have too much of it. We have an immeasurable longing
for it, 65and, so far as is possible on earth, we stimulate this longing: sometimes this goes so far as
to cause death. How happy is such a death! And yet by living one might perhaps have helped others
to die of the desire for it. I believe the devil has something to do with this: knowing how much
harm we can do him by living, he tempts us to be indiscreet in our penances and so to ruin our
health, which is a matter of no small moment to him.
I advise anyone who attains to an experience of this fierce thirst to watch herself carefully, for
I think she will have to contend with this temptation. She may not die of her thirst, but her health
will be ruined, and she will involuntarily give her feelings outward expression, which ought at all
costs to be avoided. Sometimes, however, all our diligence in this respect is unavailing and we are
unable to hide our emotions as much as we should like. Whenever we are assailed by these strong
impulses stimulating the increase of our desire, let us take great care not to add to them ourselves
but to check them gently 66by thinking of something else. For our own nature may be playing as
great a part in producing these feelings as our love. There are some people of this type who have
keen desires for all kinds of things, even for bad things, but I do not think such people can have
achieved great mortification, for mortification is always profitable. It seems foolish to check so
good a thing as this desire, but it is not. I am not saying that the desire should be uprooted-only
checked; one may be able to do this by stimulating some other desire which is equally praiseworthy.
In order to explain myself better I will give an illustration. A man has a great desire to be with
God, as Saint Paul had, and to be loosed from this prison. 67This causes him pain which yet is in
itself a great joy, and no small degree of mortification will be needed if he is to check it-in fact,
he will not always be able to do so. But when he finds it oppressing him so much he may almost
lose his reason. I saw this happen to someone not long ago; she was of an impetuous nature, but
so accustomed to curbing her own will that, from what I had seen at other times, I thought her will
was completely annihilated; yet, when I saw her for a moment, the great stress and strain caused
by her efforts to hide her feelings had all but destroyed her reason. 68In such an extreme case, I

65

Lit.: "We eat it without measure."

66

Lit.: "to cut the thread."

67

Presumably a reminiscence of Romans vii, 24 or Philippians i, 23.

68

This, too, is generally taken as referring to St. Teresa herself.

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think, even did the desire come from the Spirit of God, it would be true humility to be afraid; for
we must not imagine that we have sufficient charity to bring us to such a state of oppression.
I shall not think it at all wrong (if it be possible, I mean, for it may not always be so) for us to
change our desire by reflecting that, if we live, we have more chance of serving God, and that we
might do this by giving light to some soul which otherwise would be lost; as well as that, if we
serve Him more, we shall deserve to enjoy Him more, and grieve that we have served Him so little.
These are consolations appropriate to such great trials: they will allay our pain and we shall gain
a great deal by them if in order to serve the Lord Himself we are willing to spend a long time here
below and to live with our grief. It is as if a person were suffering a great trial or a grievous affliction
and we consoled him by telling him to have patience and leave himself in God's hands so that His
will might be fulfilled in him: it is always best to leave ourselves in God's hands.
And what if the devil had anything to do with these strong desires? This might be possible, as
I think is suggested in Cassian's story of a hermit, leading the austerest of lives, who was persuaded
by the devil to throw himself down a well so that he might see God the sooner. 69I do not think this
hermit can have served God either humbly or efficiently, for the Lord is faithful and His Majesty
would never allow a servant of His to be blinded in a matter in which the truth was so clear. But,
of course, if the desire had come from God, it would have done the hermit no harm; for such desires
bring with them illumination, moderation and discretion. This is fitting, but our enemy and adversary
seeks to harm us wherever he can; and, as he is not unwatchful, we must not be so either. This is
an important matter in many respects: for example, we must shorten our time of prayer, however
much joy it gives us, if we see our bodily strength waning or find that our head aches: discretion
is most necessary in everything.
Why do you suppose, daughters, that I have tried, as people say, to describe the end of the battle
before it has begun and to point to its reward by telling you about the blessing which comes from
drinking of the heavenly source of this living water? I have done this so that you may not be
distressed at the trials and annoyances of the road, and may tread it with courage and not grow
weary; for, as I have said, it may be that, when you have arrived, and have only to stoop and drink
of the spring, you may fail to do so and lose this blessing, thinking that you have not the strength
to attain it and that it is not for you.
Remember, the Lord invites us all; and, since He is Truth Itself, we cannot doubt Him. If His
invitation were not a general one, He would not have said: "I will give you to drink." He might
have said: "Come, all of you, for after all you will lose nothing by coming; and I will give drink to
those whom I think fit for it." But, as He said we were all to come, without making this condition,
I feel sure that none will fail to receive this living water unless they cannot keep to the path. 70May
the Lord, Who promises it, give us grace, for His Majesty's own sake, to seek it as it must be sought.

69

Cassian: Conferences, II. v.

70

E. ends the chapter here. This final paragraph appears to be based upon St. John vii, 37.

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CHAPTER 20
Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack consolation
on the road of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this subject
continually in their conversation.
In this last chapter I seem to have been contradicting what I had previously said, as, in consoling
those who had not reached the contemplative state, I told them that the Lord had different roads by
which they might come to Him, just as He also had many mansions. 71I now repeat this: His Majesty,
being Who He is and understanding our weakness, has provided for us. But He did not say: "Some
must come by this way and others by that." His mercy is so great that He has forbidden none to
strive to come and drink of this fountain of life. Blessed be He for ever! What good reasons there
would have been for His forbidding me!
But as He did not order me to cease from drinking when I had begun to do so, but caused me
to be plunged into the depths of the water, it is certain that He will forbid no one to come: indeed,
He calls us publicly, and in a loud voice, to do so.72 Yet, as He is so good, He does not force us to
drink, but enable those who wish to follow Him to drink in many ways so that none may lack
comfort or die of thirst. For from this rich spring flow many streams-some large, others small,
and also little pools for children, which they find quite large enough, for the sight of a great deal
of water would frighten them: by children, I mean those who are in the early stages. 73Therefore,
sisters, have no fear that you will die of thirst on this road; you will never lack so much of the water
of comfort that your thirst will be intolerable; so take my advice and do not tarry on the way, but
strive like strong men until you die in the attempt, for you are here for nothing else than to strive.
If you always pursue this determination to die rather than fail to reach the end of the road, the Lord
may bring you through this life with a certain degree of thirst, but in the life which never ends He
will give you great abundance to drink and you will have no fear of its failing you. May the Lord
grant us never to fail Him. Amen.
Now, in order to set out upon this aforementioned road so that we do not go astray at the very
start, let us consider for a moment how the first stage of our journey is to be begun, for that is the
most important thing-or rather, every part of the journey is of importance to the whole. I do not
mean to say that no one who has not the resolution that I am going to describe should set out upon
the road, for the Lord will gradually bring her nearer to perfection. And even if she did no more
than take one step, this alone has such virtue that there is no fear of her losing it or of failing to be
very well rewarded. We might compare her to someone who has a rosary with a bead specially

71

There is a reference here to St. John xiv, 2.

72

St. John vii, 37.

73

Lit.: "these are they who are, etc."

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indulgenced: 74one prayer in itself will bring her something, and the more she uses the bead the
more she will gain; but if she left it in a box and never took it out it would be better for her not to
have it. So, although she may never go any farther along the same road, the short distance she has
progressed will give her light and thus help her to go along other roads, and the farther she goes
the more light she will gain. In fact, she may be sure that she will do herself no kind of harm through
having started on the road, even if she leaves it, for good never leads to evil. So, daughters, whenever
you meet people and find them well-disposed and even attracted to the life of prayer, try to remove
from them all fear of beginning a course which may bring them such great blessings. 75For the love
of God, I beg you always to see to it that your conversation is benefiting those with whom you
speak. For your prayers must be for the profit of their souls; and, since you must always pray to
the Lord for them, sisters, you would seem to be doing ill if you did not strive to benefit them in
every possible way.
If you would be a good kinswoman, this is true friendship; if you would be a good friend, you
may be sure that this is the only possible way. Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you
practise meditation, and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our neighbours.
This is no time for child's play, sisters, and these worldly friendships, good though they may be,
seem no more than that. Neither with your relatives nor with anyone else must you use such phrases
as "If you love me", or "Don't you love me?" unless you have in view some noble end and the
profit of the person to whom you are speaking. It may be necessary, in order to get a relative -a
brother or some such person-to listen to the truth and accept it, to prepare him for it by using such
phrases and showing him signs of love, which are always pleasing to sense. He may possibly be
more affected, and influenced, by one kind word, as such phrases are called, than by a great deal
which you might say about God, and then there would be plenty of opportunities for you to talk to
him about God afterwards. I do not forbid such phrases, therefore, provided you use them in order
to bring someone profit. But for no other reason can there be any good in them and they may even
do harm without your being aware of it. Everybody knows that you are nuns and that your business
is prayer. Do not say to yourselves: "I have no wish to be considered good," for what people see
in you is bound to bring them either profit or harm. People like nuns, on whom is laid the obligation
to speak of nothing save in the spirit of God, 76act very wrongly if they dissemble in this way, except
occasionally for the purpose of doing greater good. Your intercourse and conversation must be like
this: let any who wish to talk to you learn your language; and, if they will not, be careful never to
learn theirs: it might lead you to hell.
It matters little if you are considered ill-bred and still less if you are taken for hypocrites: indeed,
you will gain by this, because only those who understand your language will come to see you. If

74

Cuenta de perdones: a bead larger in size than the remainder in the rosary and carrying special indulgences for the souls in
purgatory.

75

Lit.: "of beginning so great a good."

76

Lit.: "save in God"-i.e., save as those whose life is centred in God: not necessarily, I think, only of God.

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one knows no Arabic, one has no desire to talk a great deal with a person who knows no other
language. So worldly people will neither weary you nor do you harm- and it would do you no
small harm to have to begin to learn and talk a new language; you would spend all your time
learning it. You cannot know as well as I do, for I have found it out by experience, how very bad
this is for the soul; no sooner does it learn one thing than it has to forget another and it never has
any rest. This you must at all costs avoid; for peace and quiet in the soul are of great importance
on the road which we are about to tread.
If those with whom you converse wish to learn your language, it is not for you to teach it to
them, but you can tell them what wealth they will gain by learning it. Never grow tried of this, but
do it piously, lovingly and prayerfully, with a view to helping them; they will then realize what
great gain it brings, and will go and seek a master to teach it them. Our Lord would be doing you
no light favour if through your agency He were to arouse some soul to obtain this blessing. When
once one begins to describe this road, what a large number of things there are to be said about it,
even by those who have trodden it as unsuccessfully as I have! I only wish I could write with both
hands, so as not to forget one thing while I am saying another. May it please the Lord, sisters, that
you may be enabled to speak of it better than I have done.

CHAPTER 21
Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice
of prayer with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put
in the way by the devil.
Do not be dismayed, daughters, at the number of things which you have to consider before
setting out on this Divine journey, which is the royal road to Heaven. 77By taking this road we gain
such precious treasures that it is no wonder if the cost seems to us a high one. The time will come
when we shall realize that all we have paid has been nothing at all by comparison with the greatness
of our prize.
Let us now return to those who wish to travel on this road, and will not halt until they reach
their goal, which is the place where they can drink of this water of life. Although in some book or
other-in several, in fact-I have read what a good thing it is to begin in this way, I do not think
anything will be lost if I speak of it here. As I say, it is most important-all-important, indeed-that
they should begin well by making an earnest and most determined resolve 78not to halt until they

77

"Do not be surprised, daughters, for this is the royal road (camino real) to Heaven." A more idiomatic translation of camino real
would be "king's highway".

78

Lit.: "determined determination": this doubling of words is not uncommon in St. Teresa.

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reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have
to labour, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road or have
no heart to confront the trials which they meet, whether the very world dissolves before them. Yet
again and again people will say to us: "It is dangerous", "So-and-so was lost through doing this",
"Someone else got into wrong ways", "Some other person, who was always praying, fell just the
same", "It is bad for virtue", "It is not meant for women; it may lead them into delusions", "They
would do better to stick to their spinning", "These subtleties are of no use to them", "It is quite
enough for them to say their Paternoster and Ave Maria."
With this last remark, sisters, I quite agree. Of course it is enough! It is always a great thing to
base your prayer on prayers which were uttered by the very lips of the Lord. People are quite right
to say this, and, were it not for our great weakness and the lukewarmness of our devotion, there
would be no need for any other systems of prayer or for any other books at all. I am speaking to
souls who are unable to recollect themselves by meditating upon other mysteries, and who think
they need special methods of prayer; some people have such ingenious minds 79that nothing is good
enough for them! So I think I will start to lay down some rules for each part of our
prayer-beginning, middle and end -although I shall not spend long on the higher stages. They
cannot take books from you, and, if you are studious and humble, you need nothing more.
I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels and have found more recollection in them
than in the most carefully planned books-especially books of which the authors were not fully
approved, and which I never wanted to read. If I keep close to this Master of wisdom, He may
perhaps give me some thoughts80 which will help you. I do not say that I will explain these Divine
prayers, for that I should not presume to do, and there are a great many explanations of them already.
Even were there none, it would be ridiculous for me to attempt any. But I will write down a few
thoughts on the words of the Paternoster; for sometimes, when we are most anxious to nurture our
devotion, consulting a great many books will kill it. When a master is himself giving a lesson, he
treats his pupil kindly and likes him to enjoy being taught and does his utmost to help him learn.
Just so will this heavenly Master do with us.
Pay no heed, then, to anyone who tries to frighten you or depicts to you the perils of the way.
What a strange idea that one could ever expect to travel on a road infested by thieves, for the purpose
of gaining some great treasure, without running into danger! Worldly people like to take life
peaceably; but they will deny themselves sleep, perhaps for nights on end, in order to gain a farthing's
profit, and they will leave you no peace either of body or of soul. If, when you are on the way to
gaining this treasure, or to taking it by force (as the Lord says the violent do) and are travelling by
this royal road-this safe road trodden by our King and by His elect and His saints-if even then

79

Lit.: "are such ingenious geniuses."

80

V.: alguna consideracin: the use of the singular form in a plural sense, with the shade of meaning which might be conveyed
by "some occasional thoughts," is common in Spanish. E. uses one of St. Teresa's characteristic diminutives (see Vol. 1, p. xxi)
alguna consideracioncita-"some (occasional) trifling thoughts."

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they tell you it is full of danger and make you so afraid, what will be the dangers encountered by
those who think they will be able to gain this treasure and yet are not on the road to it?
Oh, my daughters, how incomparably greater must be the risks they run! And yet they have no
idea of this until they fall headlong into some real danger. Having perhaps no one to help them,
they lose this water altoge ther, and drink neither much nor little of it, either from a pool or from a
stream. How do you suppose they can do without a drop of this water and yet travel along a road
on which there are so many adversaries to fight? Of course, sooner or later, they will die of thirst;
for we must all journey to this fountain, my daughters, whether we will or no, though we may not
all do so in the same way. Take my advice, then, and let none mislead you by showing you any
other road than that of prayer.
I am not now discussing whether or no everyone must practise mental or vocal prayer; but I do
say that you yourselves require both. For prayer is the duty of religious. If anyone tells you it is
dangerous, look upon that person himself as your principal danger and flee from his company. Do
not forget this, for it is advice that you may possibly need. It will be dangerous for you if you do
not possess humility and the other virtues; but God forbid that the way of prayer should be a way
of danger! This fear seems to have been invented by the devil, who has apparently been very clever
in bringing about the fall of some who practise prayer.
See how blind the world is! It never thinks of all the thousands who have fallen into heresies
and other great evils through yielding to distractions and not practising prayer. As against these
multitudes there are a few who did practise prayer and whom the devil has been successful enough
at his own trade to cause to fall: in doing this he has also caused some to be very much afraid of
virtuous practices. Let those who make use of this pretext to absolve themselves from such practices
take heed, for in order to save themselves from evil they are fleeing from good. I have never heard
of such a wicked invention; it must indeed come from the devil. Oh, my Lord, defend Thyself. See
how Thy words are being misunderstood. Permit no such weakness in Thy servants.
There is one great blessing-you will always find a few people ready to help you. For it is a
characteristic of the true servant of God, to whom His Majesty has given light to follow the true
path, that, when beset by these fears, his desire not to stop only increases. He sees clearly whence
the devil's blows are coming, but he parries each blow and breaks his adversary's head. The anger
which this arouses in the devil is greater than all the satisfaction which he receives from the pleasures
given him by others. When, in troublous times, he has sown his tares, and seems to be leading men
everywhere in his train, half-blinded, and [deceiving them into] believing themselves to be zealous
for the right, God raises up someone to open their eyes and bid them look at the fog with which
the devil has obscured their path. (How great God is! To think that just one man, or perhaps two,
can do more by telling the truth than can a great many men all together!) And then they gradually
begin to see the path again and God gives them courage. If people say there is danger in prayer,
this servant of God, by his deeds if not by his words, tries to make them realize what a good thing
it is. If they say that frequent communion is inadvisable, he only practises it the more. So, because

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just one or two are fearlessly following the better path, the Lord gradually regains what He had
lost.
Cease troubling about these fears, then, sisters; and never pay heed to such matters of popular
opinion. This is no time for believing everyone; believe only those whom you see modelling their
lives on the life of Christ. Endeavour always to have a good conscience; practise humility; despise
all worldly things; and believe firmly in the teaching of our Holy Mother [the Roman] Church. You
may then be quite sure that you are on a [very] good road. Cease, as I have said, to have fear where
no fear is; if any one attempts to frighten you, point out the road to him in all humility. Tell him
that you have a Rule which commands you, as it does, to pray without ceasing, and that that rule
you must keep. If they tell you that you should practise only vocal prayer, ask whether your mind
and heart ought not to be in what you say. If they answer "Yes"-and they cannot do otherwise-you
see they are admitting that you are bound to practise mental prayer, and even contemplation, if God
should grant it you. [Blessed be He for ever.]

CHAPTER 22
Explains the meaning of mental prayer.
You must know, daughters, that whether or no you are practising mental prayer has nothing to
do with keeping the lips closed. If, while I am speaking with God, I have a clear realization and
full consciousness that I am doing so, and if this is more real to me than the words I am uttering,
then I am combining mental and vocal prayer. When people tell you that you are speaking with
God by reciting the Paternoster and thinking of worldly things-well, words fail me. When you
speak, as it is right for you to do, with so great a Lord, it is well that you should think of Who it is
that you are addressing, and what you yourself are, if only that you may speak to Him with proper
respect. How can you address a king with the deference due to him, or how can you know what
ceremonies have to be used when speaking to a grandee, unless you are clearly conscious of the
nature of his position and of yours? It is because of this, and because it is the custom to do so, that
you must behave respectfully to him, and must learn what the custom is, and not be careless about
such things, or you will be dismissed as a simpleton and obtain none of the things you desire. And
furthermore, unless you are quite conversant with it, you must get all necessary information, and
have what you are going to say written down for you. It once happened to me, when I was not
accustomed to addressing aristocrats, that I had to go on a matter of urgent business to see a lady
who had to be addressed as "Your Ladyship".81I was shown that word in writing; but I am stupid,
and had never used such a term before; so when I arrived I got it wrong. So I decided to tell her

81

This is generally taken as referring to St. Teresa's visit to Doa Luisa de la Cerda in 1562.

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about it and she laughed heartily and told me to be good enough to use the ordinary form of polite
address,82which I did.
How is it, my Lord, how is it, my Emperor, that Thou canst suffer this, Prince of all Creation?
For Thou, my God, art a King without end, and Thine is no borrowed Kingdom, but Thine own,
and it will never pass away. When the Creed says "Whose Kingdom shall have no end" the phrase
nearly always makes me feel particularly happy. I praise Thee, Lord, and bless Thee, and all things
praise Thee for ever -for Thy Kingdom will endure for ever. Do Thou never allow it to be thought
right, Lord, for those who praise Thee and come to speak with Thee to do so with their lips alone.
What do you mean, Christians, when you say that mental prayer is unnecessary? Do you understand
what you are saying? I really do not think you can. And so you want us all to go wrong: you cannot
know what mental prayer is, or how vocal prayers should be said, or what is meant by contemplation.
For, if you knew this, you would not condemn on the one hand what you praise on the other.
Whenever I remember to do so, I shall always speak of mental and vocal prayer together,
daughters, so that you may not be alarmed. I know what such fears lead to, 83for I have suffered a
certain number of trials in this respect, and so I should be sorry if anyone were to unsettle you, for
it is very bad for you to have misgivings while you are walking on this path. It is most important
that you should realize you are making progress; for if a traveller is told that he has taken the wrong
road, and has lost his way, he begins to wander to and fro and the constant search for the right road
tires him, wastes his time and delays his arrival. Who can say that it is wrong if, before we begin
reciting the Hours or the Rosary, we think Whom we are going to address, and who we are that are
addressing Him, so that we may do so in the way we should? I assure you, sisters, that if you gave
all due attention to a consideration of these two points before beginning the vocal prayers which
you are about to say you would be engaging in mental prayer for a very long time. For we cannot
approach a prince and address him in the same careless way that we should adopt in speaking to a
peasant or to some poor woman like ourselves, whom we may address however we like.
The reason we sometimes do so is to be found in the humility of this King, Who, unskilled
though I am in speaking with Him, does not refuse to hear me or forbid me to approach Him, or
comm and His guards to throw me out. For the angels in His presence know well that their King is
such that He prefers the unskilled language of a humble peasant boy, knowing that he would say
more if he had more to say, to the speech of the wisest and most learned men, however elegant may
be their arguments, if these are not accompanied by humility. But we must not be unmannerly
because He is good. If only to show our gratitude to Him for enduring our foul odour and allowing
such a one as myself to come near Him, it is well that we should try to realize His purity and His

82

Lit.: "to call her 'Honour." The point of this delightfully unaffected reminiscence, omitted in V. and inserted here rather for its
attractiveness than for its artistic appropriateness, is that "Your Honour" (Vuestra Merced: now abbreviated to Vd. and used as
the third personal pronoun of ordinary polite address) was an expression merely of respect and not of rank: the Saint often uses
it, for example, in addressing her confessors. It was as though a peer of the realm were to say "Just call me 'Sir."

83

For "fears" the original has "things"; but that seems to be the meaning.

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nature. It is true that we recognize this at once when we approach Him, just as we do when we visit
the lords of the earth. Once we are told about their fathers' names and their incomes and dignities,
there is no more for us to know about them; for on earth one makes account of persons, and honours
them, not because of their merits but because of their possessions.
O miserable world! Give hearty praise to God, daughters, that you have left so wretched a place,
84
where people are honoured, not for their own selves, but for what they get from their tenants and
vassals: if these fail them, they have no honour left. It is a curious thing, and when you go out to
recreation together you should laugh about it, for it is a good way of spending your time to reflect
how blindly people in the world spend theirs.
O Thou our Emperor! Supreme Power, Supreme Goodness, Wisdom Itself, without beginning,
without end and without measure in Thy works: infinite are these and incomprehensible, a fathomless
ocean of wonders, O Beauty 85containing within Thyself all beauties. O Very Strength! God help
me! Would that I could comm and all the eloquence of mortals and all wisdom, so as to understand,
as far as is possible here below, that to know nothing is everything, and thus to describe some of
the many things on which we may meditate in order to learn something of the nature of this our
Lord and Good.
When you approach God, then, try 86to think and realize Whom you are about to address and
continue to do so while you are addressing Him. If we had a thousand lives, we should never fully
understand how this Lord merits that we behave toward Him, before Whom even the angels tremble.
He orders all things and He can do all things: with Him to will is to perform. It will be right, then,
daughters, for us to endeavour to rejoice in these wondrous qualities of our Spouse and to know
Whom we have wedded and what our lives should be. Why, God save us, when a woman in this
world is about to marry, she knows beforeh and whom she is to marry, what sort of a person he is
and what property he possesses. Shall not we, then, who are already betrothed, think about our
Spouse, 87before we are wedded to Him and He takes us home to be with Him? If these thoughts
are not forbidden to those who are betrothed to men on earth, how can we be forbidden to discover
Who this Man is, Who is His Father, what is the country to which He will take me, what are the
riches with which He promises to endow me, what is His rank, how I can best make Him happy,
what I can do that will give Him pleasure, and how I can bring my rank into line with His. If a
woman is to be happy in her marriage, it is just those things that she is advised to see about, even
though her husb and be a man of very low station.
Shall less respect be paid to Thee, then, my Spouse, than to men? If they think it unfitting to
do Thee honour, let them at least leave Thee Thy brides, who are to spend their lives with Thee. A
woman is indeed fortunate in her life if her husb and is so jealous that he will allow her to speak

84

Lit.: "a thing".

85

Lit.: "a Beauty . . .' itself", as though referring to obras: "works."

86

Lit.: "Yes, approach God, and, in approaching, try."

87

The words "think about our Spouse" appear in no manuscript but were added by Luis de Len.

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with no one but himself; it would be a pretty pass if she could not resolve to give him this pleasure,
for it is reasonable enough that she should put up with this and not wish to converse with anyone
else, since in him she has all that she can desire. To understand these truths, my daughters, is to
practise mental prayer. If you wish to learn to understand them, and at the same time to practise
vocal prayer, well and good. But do not, I beg you, address God while you are thinking of other
things, for to do that is the result of not understanding what mental prayer is. I think I have made
this clear. May the Lord grant us to learn how to put it into practice. Amen.

CHAPTER 23
Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set
out upon the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be
resolute.
Now, as I have said, it is most important that from the first we should be very resolute, and for
this there are so many reasons that if I were to give them all I should have to write at great length.
Some of them are given in other books. I will tell you just two or three of them, sisters. One is that
when we decide to give anything-such as this slight effort of recollection 88-to Him Who has
given us so much, and Who is continually giving, it would be wrong for us not to be entirely resolute
in doing so and to act like a person who lends something and expects to get it back again. (Not that
we do not receive interest: on the contrary, we gain a great deal.) I do not call this "giving". Anyone
who has been lent something always feels slightly displeased when the lender wants it back again,
especially if he is using it himself and has come to look upon it as his own. If the two are friends
and the lender is indebted to the recipient for many things of which he has made him free gifts, he
will think it meanness and a great lack of affection if he will leave not even the smallest thing in
his possession, merely as a sign of love.
What wife is there who, after receiving many valuable jewels from her husband, will not give
him so much as a ring-which he wants, not because of its value, for all she has is his, but as a
sign of love and a token that she will be his until she dies? Does the Lord deserve less than this that
we should mock Him by taking away the worthless gift 89which we have given Him? Since we have
resolved to devote to Him this very brief period of time -only a small part of what we spend upon
ourselves and upon people who are not particularly grateful to us for it-let us give it Him freely,
with our minds unoccupied by other things and entirely resolved never to take it back again, whatever
we may suffer through trials, annoyances or aridities. Let me realize that this time is being lent me
88

Este cuidadito: lit., "this little attentiveness"-another characteristic diminuitive.

89

Lit.: "a nothing at all" (una nonada).

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St. Teresa of Avila

and is not my own, and feel that I can rightly be called to account for it if I am not prepared to
devote it wholly to God.
I say "wholly", but we must not be considered as taking it back if we should fail to give it Him
for a day, or for a few days, because of legitimate occupations or through some indisposition.
Provided the intention remains firm, my God is not in the least meticulous; 90He does not look at
trivial details; and, if you are trying to please Him in any way, He will assuredly accept that as your
gift. The other way is suitable for ungenerous souls, so mean that they are not large-hearted enough
to give but find it as much as they can do to lend. Still, let them make some effort, for this Lord of
ours will reckon everything we do to our credit and accept everything we want to give Him. In
drawing up our reckoning, He is not in the least exacting, but generous; however large the amount
we may owe Him, it is a small thing for Him to forgive us. And, as to paying us, He is so careful
about this that you need have no fear He will leave us without our reward if only we raise our eyes
to Heaven and remember Him.
A second reason why we should be resolute is that this will give the devil less opportunity to
tempt us. He is very much afraid of resolute souls, knowing by experience that they inflict great
injury upon him, and, when he plans to do them harm, he only profits them and others and is himself
the loser. We must not become unwatchful, or count upon this, for we have to do with treacherous
folk, who are great cowards and dare not attack the wary, but, if they see we are careless, will work
us great harm. And if they know anyone to be changeable, and not resolute in doing what is good
and firmly determined to persevere, they will not leave him alone either by night or by day and
will suggest to him endless misgivings and difficulties. This I know very well by experience and
so I have been able to tell you about it: I am sure that none of us realize its great importance.
Another reason, very much to the point, is that a resolute person fights more courageously. He
knows that, come what may, he must not retreat. He is like a soldier in battle who is aware that if
he is vanquished his life will not be spared and that if he escapes death in battle he must die
afterwards. It has been proved, I think, that such a man will fight more resolutely and will try, as
they say, to sell his life dearly, fearing the enemy's blows the less because he understands the
importance of victory and knows that his very life depends upon his gaining it. We must also be
firmly convinced from the start that, if we fight courageously and do not allow ourselves to be
beaten, we shall get what we want, and there is no doubt that, however small our gains may be,
they will make us very rich. Do not be afraid that the Lord Who has called us to drink of this spring
will allow you to die of thirst. This I have already said and I should like to repeat it; for people are
often timid when they have not learned by experience of the Lord's goodness, even though they
know of it by faith. It is a great thing to have experienced what friendship and joy He gives to those
who walk on this road and how He takes almost the whole cost of it upon Himself.
I am not surprised that those who have never made this test should want to be sure that they
will receive some interest on their outlay. But you already know that even in this life we shall

90

No es nada delicado mi Dios. "Fastidious" might be nearer to the characteristically bold adjective of the original.

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receive a hundredfold, and that the Lord says: "Ask and it shall be given you." 91If you do not
believe His Majesty in those passages of His Gospel where He gives us this assurance, it will be
of little help to you, sisters, for me to weary my brains by telling you of it. Still, I will say to anyone
who is in doubt that she will lose little by putting the matter to the test; for this journey has the
advantage 92of giving us very much more than we ask or shall even get so far as to desire. This is
a never-failing truth: I know it; though, if you do not find it so, do not believe any of the things I
tell you. I can call as witnesses those of you who, by God's goodness, know it from experience.



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now begins generated list of local instances, definitions, quotes, instances in chapters, wordnet info if available and instances among weblinks


OBJECT INSTANCES [0] - TOPICS - AUTHORS - BOOKS - CHAPTERS - CLASSES - SEE ALSO - SIMILAR TITLES

TOPICS
SEE ALSO


AUTH

BOOKS
The_Imitation_of_Christ
The_Way_of_Perfection

IN CHAPTERS TITLE

IN CHAPTERS CLASSNAME
1.24_-_Describes_how_vocal_prayer_may_be_practised_with_perfection_and_how_closely_allied_it_is_to_mental_prayer
1.25_-_Describes_the_great_gain_which_comes_to_a_soul_when_it_practises_vocal_prayer_perfectly._Shows_how_God_may_raise_it_thence_to_things_supernatural.
1.26_-_Continues_the_description_of_a_method_for_recollecting_the_thoughts._Describes_means_of_doing_this._This_chapter_is_very_profitable_for_those_who_are_beginning_prayer.
1.27_-_Describes_the_great_love_shown_us_by_the_Lord_in_the_first_words_of_the_Paternoster_and_the_great_importance_of_our_making_no_account_of_good_birth_if_we_truly_desire_to_be_the_daughters_of_God.
1.28_-_Describes_the_nature_of_the_Prayer_of_Recollection_and_sets_down_some_of_the_means_by_which_we_can_make_it_a_habit.
1.29_-_Continues_to_describe_methods_for_achieving_this_Prayer_of_Recollection._Says_what_little_account_we_should_make_of_being_favoured_by_our_superiors.
1.30_-_Describes_the_importance_of_understanding_what_we_ask_for_in_prayer._Treats_of_these_words_in_the_Paternoster:_Sanctificetur_nomen_tuum,_adveniat_regnum_tuum._Applies_them_to_the_Prayer_of_Quiet,_and_begins_the_explanation_of_them.
1.31_-_Continues_the_same_subject._Explains_what_is_meant_by_the_Prayer_of_Quiet._Gives_several_counsels_to_those_who_experience_it._This_chapter_is_very_noteworthy.
1.32_-_Expounds_these_words_of_the_Paternoster__Fiat_voluntas_tua_sicut_in_coelo_et_in_terra._Describes_how_much_is_accomplished_by_those_who_repeat_these_words_with_full_resolution_and_how_well
1.33_-_Treats_of_our_great_need_that_the_Lord_should_give_us_what_we_ask_in_these_words_of_the_Paternoster__Panem_nostrum_quotidianum_da_nobis_hodie.
1.34_-_Continues_the_same_subject._This_is_very_suitable_for_reading_after_the_reception_of_the_Most_Holy_Sacrament.
1.35_-_Describes_the_recollection_which_should_be_practised_after_Communion._Concludes_this_subject_with_an_exclamatory_prayer_to_the_Eternal_Father.
1.36_-_Treats_of_these_words_in_the_Paternoster__Dimitte_nobis_debita_nostra.
1.37_-_Describes_the_excellence_of_this_prayer_called_the_Paternoster,_and_the_many_ways_in_which_we_shall_find_consolation_in_it.
1.38_-_Treats_of_the_great_need_which_we_have_to_beseech_the_Eternal_Father_to_grant_us_what_we_ask_in_these_words:_Et_ne_nos_inducas_in_tentationem,_sed_libera_nos_a_malo._Explains_certain_temptations._This_chapter_is_noteworthy.
1.39_-_Continues_the_same_subject_and_gives_counsels_concerning_different_kinds_of_temptation._Suggests_two_remedies_by_which_we_may_be_freed_from_temptations.135
1.40_-_Describes_how,_by_striving_always_to_walk_in_the_love_and_fear_of_God,_we_shall_travel_safely_amid_all_these_temptations.
1.41_-_Speaks_of_the_fear_of_God_and_of_how_we_must_keep_ourselves_from_venial_sins.
1.42_-_Treats_of_these_last_words_of_the_Paternoster__Sed_libera_nos_a_malo._Amen._But_deliver_us_from_evil._Amen.

IN CHAPTERS TEXT
1.07_-_Of_imperfections_with_respect_to_spiritual_envy_and_sloth.
1.24_-_Describes_how_vocal_prayer_may_be_practised_with_perfection_and_how_closely_allied_it_is_to_mental_prayer
1.25_-_Describes_the_great_gain_which_comes_to_a_soul_when_it_practises_vocal_prayer_perfectly._Shows_how_God_may_raise_it_thence_to_things_supernatural.
1.26_-_Continues_the_description_of_a_method_for_recollecting_the_thoughts._Describes_means_of_doing_this._This_chapter_is_very_profitable_for_those_who_are_beginning_prayer.
1.27_-_Describes_the_great_love_shown_us_by_the_Lord_in_the_first_words_of_the_Paternoster_and_the_great_importance_of_our_making_no_account_of_good_birth_if_we_truly_desire_to_be_the_daughters_of_God.
1.28_-_Describes_the_nature_of_the_Prayer_of_Recollection_and_sets_down_some_of_the_means_by_which_we_can_make_it_a_habit.
1.29_-_Continues_to_describe_methods_for_achieving_this_Prayer_of_Recollection._Says_what_little_account_we_should_make_of_being_favoured_by_our_superiors.
1.30_-_Describes_the_importance_of_understanding_what_we_ask_for_in_prayer._Treats_of_these_words_in_the_Paternoster:_Sanctificetur_nomen_tuum,_adveniat_regnum_tuum._Applies_them_to_the_Prayer_of_Quiet,_and_begins_the_explanation_of_them.
1.31_-_Continues_the_same_subject._Explains_what_is_meant_by_the_Prayer_of_Quiet._Gives_several_counsels_to_those_who_experience_it._This_chapter_is_very_noteworthy.
1.32_-_Expounds_these_words_of_the_Paternoster__Fiat_voluntas_tua_sicut_in_coelo_et_in_terra._Describes_how_much_is_accomplished_by_those_who_repeat_these_words_with_full_resolution_and_how_well
1.33_-_Treats_of_our_great_need_that_the_Lord_should_give_us_what_we_ask_in_these_words_of_the_Paternoster__Panem_nostrum_quotidianum_da_nobis_hodie.
1.34_-_Continues_the_same_subject._This_is_very_suitable_for_reading_after_the_reception_of_the_Most_Holy_Sacrament.
1.35_-_Describes_the_recollection_which_should_be_practised_after_Communion._Concludes_this_subject_with_an_exclamatory_prayer_to_the_Eternal_Father.
1.36_-_Treats_of_these_words_in_the_Paternoster__Dimitte_nobis_debita_nostra.
1.37_-_Describes_the_excellence_of_this_prayer_called_the_Paternoster,_and_the_many_ways_in_which_we_shall_find_consolation_in_it.
1.38_-_Treats_of_the_great_need_which_we_have_to_beseech_the_Eternal_Father_to_grant_us_what_we_ask_in_these_words:_Et_ne_nos_inducas_in_tentationem,_sed_libera_nos_a_malo._Explains_certain_temptations._This_chapter_is_noteworthy.
1.39_-_Continues_the_same_subject_and_gives_counsels_concerning_different_kinds_of_temptation._Suggests_two_remedies_by_which_we_may_be_freed_from_temptations.135
1.40_-_Describes_how,_by_striving_always_to_walk_in_the_love_and_fear_of_God,_we_shall_travel_safely_amid_all_these_temptations.
1.41_-_Speaks_of_the_fear_of_God_and_of_how_we_must_keep_ourselves_from_venial_sins.
1.42_-_Treats_of_these_last_words_of_the_Paternoster__Sed_libera_nos_a_malo._Amen._But_deliver_us_from_evil._Amen.
2.3.1_-_Ego_and_Its_Forms
4.03_-_Prayer_of_Quiet

PRIMARY CLASS

book
SIMILAR TITLES
The Way of Perfection

DEFINITIONS



QUOTES [2 / 2 - 4 / 4]


KEYS (10k)

   1 Teresa of Avila
   1 Saint Padre Pio

NEW FULL DB (2.4M)


1:The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." ~ Saint Padre Pio, @25bjh54,
2:His Mercy is so great that he hinders no one from drinking from the fountain of life. Indeed, he calls us loudly to do so (Jn 7:37). But he is so good that he will not force us to drink of it. ~ Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection ch. 20, @Shermanicus,

*** NEWFULLDB 2.4M ***

1:The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder... What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection. ~ Pio of Pietrelcina,
2:A beautiful trust. A rare and beautiful trust. It makes me cry a little. That’s all that life has to give in the way of perfection. The warm and complete understanding of two in a close-walled room with the windows blind to the world. ~ Tennessee Williams,
3:Life is easy For the man who is without shame, Impudent as a crow, A vicious gossip, Vain, meddlesome, dissolute. But life is hard For the man who quietly undertakes The way of perfection, With purity, detachment and vigor. He sees light. ~ Gautama Buddha,
4:With respect also to spiritual sloth, beginners are apt to be irked by the things that are most spiritual, from which they flee because these things are incompatible with sensible pleasure. For, as they are so much accustomed to sweetness in spiritual things, they are wearied by things in which they find no sweetness. If once they failed to find in prayer the satisfaction which their taste required (and after all it is well that God should take it from them to prove them), they would prefer not to return to it: sometimes they leave it; at other times they continue it unwillingly. And thus because of this sloth they abandon the way of perfection (which is the way of the negation of their will and pleasure for God's sake) for the pleasure and sweetness of their own will, which they aim at satisfying in this way rather than the will of God.

And many of these would have God will that which they themselves will, and are fretful at having to will that which He wills, and find it repugnant to accommodate their will to that of God. Hence it happens to them that oftentimes they think that that wherein they find not their own will and pleasure is not the will of God; and that, on the other hand, when they themselves find satisfaction, God is satisfied. Thus they measure God by themselves and not themselves by God, acting quite contrarily to that which He Himself taught in the Gospel, saying: That he who should lose his will for His sake, the same should gain it; and he who should desire to gain it, the same should lose it. ~ Juan de la Cruz,

IN CHAPTERS [3/3]



   1 Integral Yoga






1.07 - Of imperfections with respect to spiritual envy and sloth., #Dark Night of the Soul, #Saint John of the Cross, #Christianity
  2. With respect also to spiritual sloth, beginners are apt to be irked by the things that are most spiritual, from which they flee because these things are incompatible with sensible pleasure. For, as they are so much accustomed to sweetness in spiritual things, they are wearied by things in which they find no sweetness. If once they failed to find in prayer the satisfaction which their taste required (and after all it is well that God should take it from them to prove them), they would prefer not to return to it: sometimes they leave it; at other times they continue it unwillingly. And thus because of this sloth they abandon The Way of Perfection (which is the way of the negation of their will and pleasure for God's sake) for the pleasure and sweetness of their own will, which they aim at satisfying in this way rather than the will of God.
  3. And many of these would have God will that which they themselves will, and are fretful at having to will that which He wills, and find it repugnant to accommodate their will to that of God. Hence it happens to them that oftentimes

2.3.1 - Ego and Its Forms, #Letters On Yoga IV, #Sri Aurobindo, #Integral Yoga
  It is little use our trying to convey to you our will (in words), because what your vital seeks after is a sanction for your own will and its way of action, and it is little use our trying to give you light, because your mind follows always its own light. Any attempt to correct from us you have always rejected as our error, our misunderstanding of you, an attempt to give you kicks, as you express it. In such a case we can only be silent, try to help your sadhana silently as much as you will allow and for the rest leave you to learn by experience as far as you may become willing to do so. You have capacities and Yogic stuff, but along with them goes a very strong self-esteem and a self-righteous spirit which stand in The Way of Perfection and constitute a very serious obstacle. So long as a sadhak has that, the attempt of the Truth to manifest in him will always be baffled by his changing it into mental and vital constructions which distort it, turn it into ineffective half-truth or even make truth itself a source of error.
  I would not have written even so much if you had not pressed so persistently for an answer. I hope you will not take it as misunderstanding or merely another kick. If you do not want criticism or correction from us, you should at least develop better the power of self-criticism and self-correction in yourself without which no perfection is possible.

4.03 - Prayer of Quiet, #The Interior Castle or The Mansions, #Saint Teresa of Avila, #Christianity
  1.: THE effects of divine consolations are very numerous: before describing them, I will speak of another kind of prayer which usually precedes them. I need not say much on this subject, having written about it elsewhere.26' This is a kind of recollection which, I believe, is supernatural. There is no occasion to retire nor to shut the eyes, nor does it depend on anything exterior; involuntarily the eyes suddenly close and solitude is found. Without any labour of one's own, the temple of which I spoke is reared for the soul in which to pray: the senses and exterior surroundings appear to lose their hold, while the spirit gradually regains its lost sovereignty. Some say the soul enters into itself; others, that it rises above itself.27' I can say nothing about these terms, but had better speak of the subject as I understand it. You will probably grasp my meaning, although, perhaps, I may be the only person who understands it. Let us imagine that the senses and powers of the soul (which I compared in my allegory to the inhabitants of the castle) have fled and joined the enemy outside. After long days and years of absence, perceiving how great has been their loss, they return to the neighbourhood of the castle, but cannot manage to re-enter it, for their evil habits are hard to break off; still, they are no longer traitors, and they wander about outside. This is fully borne out by the present chapter. In the corresponding part of her Life she practically confounded the prayer of recollection with the prayer of quiet (the second state of the soul). Likewise, in The Way of Perfection, ch. xxviii., she speaks of but one kind of prayer of recollection and then passes on to the prayer of quiet. Here, however, she mentions a second form of the prayer of recollection. The former is not supernatural, in the sense that with special grace from above it can be acquired; the second is altogether supernatural and more like gratuitous grace (ibid. no. 80 and 81). On the meaning of 'Solitude,' 'Silence,' etc., The edition of Burgos (vol. iv, P. 59) refers appropriately to the following passage in the Tercer Abecedario by the Franciscan friar Francisco de Osuna, a work which exercised a profound influence on St. Teresa: 'Entering within oneself; and rising above oneself, are the two principal points in this exercise, those which, above all others, one ought to strive after, and which give the highest satisfaction to the soul.
  2.: The King, Who holds His court within it, sees their good will, and out of His great mercy desires them to return to Him. Like a good Shepherd, He plays so sweetly on His pipe, that although scarcely hearing it they recognize His call and no longer wander, but return, like lost sheep, to the mansions. So strong is this Pastor's power over His flock, that they abandon the worldly cares which misled them and re-enter the castle.

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IN WEBGEN [10000/8]

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last updated: 2022-02-08 04:40:07
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