The Way of Perfection - Saint Teresa of Avila - E-Book

The Way of Perfection E-Book

Saint Teresa of Avila

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To speak of the merits of this work seems superfluous. It abounds in noble and sublime thoughts, heroic sentiments of love, praise, and gratitude to God, and is full of the most practical lessons of humility, obedience, poverty, and self-denial; &c. Her explanation of the Lord's Prayer is very admirable. The three first chapters are particularly interesting and valuable, as she there mentions the motives by which she was especially induced to compose the work. The style is everywhere simple and pure, yet always rich in illustrations. The interior life of the Saint is drawn to the very letter, in words which really seem to have been inspired. All the hidden secrets of "mental prayer," are communicated to us, in which the soul buries herself, and is consumed with burning transports of love; and though we are unable to understand all that the Saint says on this sublime subject, yet we cannot but rise up from the perusal of her words, better men than we were before, more determined to aim at perfection, and to implore the divine assistance and that of our glorious Saint for so important an object.

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The Way of Perfection

Saint Teresa of Avila

Translated byRev. John Dalton

Contents

PREFACE OF ST. TERESA.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

PREFACE OF ST. TERESA.

THE Sisters of this Monastery of St. Joseph, in Avila, having heard that I had leave from my present Confessor, Father Domingo Bañez, of the Order of the glorious St. Dominic, to write certain instructions on prayer, in which I seemed likely to succeed well, because I have spoken on the subject with many spiritual and holy persons, have begged of me to say something on prayer with such importunity, that I have resolved to obey them. I see that the great affection they bear me will make my imperfect discourse more acceptable (however bad my style may be) than some books, which have been more correctly written by men, from whom I have learnt what I know. I rely on their prayers, that so our Lord may perhaps be pleased to enable me to say something respecting what is suitable to the manner of living in this House, and that He may allow me to communicate it to the Sisters.

But if I should say anything incorrectly, Father Bañez, who is to see what I have written first, will either correct the manuscript or burn it; and thus I shall have lost nothing in agreeing to the request of these servants of God, and they will see what I am in myself, when His divine Majesty does not assist me.

I intend to mention certain remedies for small temptations (which, perhaps, are slighted because they are little), that the devil employs; and other matters, just as our Lord shall give me understanding, and as the subjects shall occur to my mind. As I know not what I am to say, I cannot proceed with any order or method: and this way I think is the best, because it is unusual with me to proceed thus.

May our Lord assist me in everything that I shall do, that all things may be done according to His will, for such have always been my desires, though my actions are as imperfect as myself. I know I am not wanting in love and a desire to advance, to the best of my power, the souls of these, my sisters, in the service of our Lord.

And this love, together with my years and the experience which I have had of some Monasteries, may possibly be useful in enabling me to succeed better in these small matters, than learned men would, who, having other more important affairs to manage, and being men of perfection, do not pay much attention to things which in themselves seem nothing. But every object may injure such weak creatures as we women are; for numerous are the snares of the devil against persons who live in strict enclosure, because he sees he stands in need of some new arms to attack them.

Being so very wicked myself, I have been able to make but a poor defence, and, therefore, I desire my sisters should take warning by me. I shall say nothing but what I have either experienced in myself, or have seen in others. Only a short time ago, I was commanded to write an account of my Life, in which I have said something about prayer; and perhaps my Confessor does not wish you to see this at present. I shall, therefore, repeat here something of what I said there, adding other matters also, which I may consider necessary.

May our Lord direct all that I shall say (as I have requested of Him), and make it conduce to His greater glory. Amen.

TERESA DE JESU.

Chapter One

THE SAINT MENTIONS THE REASON WHICH INDUCED HER TO FOUND THIS MONASTERY IN SUCH GREAT AUSTERITY.

WHEN this monastery was first founded, for the reasons mentioned in the book1 I have already written, and on account of certain great favours I received from our Lord, whereby He gave me to understand how much He would be served in this house, it was not my intention to use such great rigour in exterior things, or to be without rent: nay, I wished the house to be so established as not to want anything. But this I did as a weak and wicked creature, though certain good intentions influenced me more than my own pleasure.

About this time I heard of the miseries of France, and of the disorders and havoc those Lutherans had committed there, and how rapidly this miserable sect went on increasing. This afflicted me exceedingly; and as if I could have done something, or had been something, I cried to our Lord, and implored Him to remedy so great an evil. It seemed as if I could have laid down a thousand lives, to recover only one of those innumerable souls who are lost in that heresy. But seeing myself only a woman, and so wicked too, and prevented from promoting as I desired the glory of God (and all my care was, and is still, that as He has so many enemies and so few friends – these last at least might continue good), I resolved to do the little which lay in my power, viz. to follow the evangelical counsels with all the perfection I could, and to induce the few nuns who are here to do the same, confiding in the great goodness of God, who never fails to assist those that are determined to leave all things for Him; and hoping (these nuns being such as I had represented them in my desires) that, in the midst of their virtues, my faults and imperfections might have no. force, and that thus I might be able in something to please our Lord; and that, all of us being engaged in prayer for the champions of the Church, the preachers and doctors who defend her, we might, to the utmost of our power, assist my Lord, who has been so much insulted by those for whom He has done so much good, that the traitors seem now to wish to crucify Him again, and not to leave Him a place whereon to lay His head.

O my Redeemer! my heart cannot think of this without feeling excessive grief. What a crime is this for Christians to commit! Must they who owe you the most, be always the persons who afflict you the most? They for whom you do the highest favours, – whom you choose for your friends, – among whom you converse, and to whom you communicate yourself in the Sacraments? – Are not the torments enough which you have already endured for them? Certainly, O my Lord! he does nothing who now separates himself from the world; for if men show such disloyalty to You, what can we expect? Do we deserve perhaps better from them? Have we conferred on them greater favours, that they should keep friends with us? What is this? What do we hope more concerning them, – we who, through the goodness of our Lord, are not infected with this pestilential scab? They already belong to the devil. By their own hands they have received a just punishment, and with their worldly delights have purchased eternal fire. There ruined they must be, though my heart cannot help breaking to see the destruction of so many souls. O, that the evil were not so great! I wish not to see more ruined every day.

O my sisters in Christ! help me to entreat our Lord herein, since for this object He has assembled you here: this is your vocation; these are to be your employments – these your desires; hither your tears, hither your petitions must tend. You are not here, sisters, for worldly concerns; I laugh, and at the same time I grieve, at the things which people come here to recommend to our prayers to God in their behalf; I wish such persons would rather beg of God that He might enable them to trample such foolery under their feet; their intentions, however, are good, and beholding their devotion, we satisfy their desires, though I am persuaded our Lord never heard me in these matters, – for persons even request of us to ask His Majesty for money and revenues. The world is on fire. Men wish to pass sentence on our Lord again, as it were, since they bring a thousand false witnesses against Him: they wish to overturn the Church;2 and shall we lose time in praying for things which, if God should grant, we should have one soul less in Heaven? No, my sisters; this is not the time for praying to God about things of little importance. Truly, did I not consider human infirmity, which loves to be helped in everything (and it would be well if we could assist it in some way), I should be glad if it were understood that these are not the things which we beg of God at St. Joseph's, with so much earnestness.

1In her Life, now translated into English.

2Quieren poner su Iglesia por el suelo," &c.

Chapter Two

THE SAINT TELLS HER SISTERS THAT THEY MUST BE INDIFFERENT ABOUT CORPORAL NECESSITIES: SHE SHOWS WHAT GOOD THERE IS IN POVERTY.

THINK not, my sisters, that because you must not seek to please secular persons, you shall therefore want support. I assure you this will not be the case. Never strive, by human artifices, to maintain yourselves, for then you will die of hunger, and that with reason. Fix your eyes on your Spouse, for He will maintain you. If He please, those who are least affected towards you will, even against their wish, provide you with food, as you have seen by experience; and if thus you died of hunger, O! happy would be the Nuns of St. Joseph! Forget not this, for love of our Lord; and as you have given up revenues, give up also all care about food – otherwise all is lost. Let those whom our Lord wishes to receive revenues, attend to such cares in good time, since it is very proper – because it is their vocation; but for us, sisters, it is improper. To be solicitous about an income from others, seems to me to be thinking on what others enjoy. In spite of all your care, another does not alter his mind, nor does he intend the more to bestow an alms. This care leave to Him, who knows how to move all men; who is the Lord of revenues and of their possessors. By His command we have come here: His words are true; they cannot fail; heaven and earth shall pass away first; let us not forsake Him, and we shall have no reason to fear He will forsake us; and if at any time He should leave us, it will be for our greater good; just as the saints lost their lives, when put to death for our Lord; their martyrdom only augmented their glory. And what a good exchange was this – immediately to have done with all the world, and to enjoy eternal happiness!

Mind this, sisters; for it will concern you much when I am dead, and therefore I leave it to you in writing; though as long as I live I shall remind you of it, because I know by experience the great gain (you may derive therefrom).1 When I have least, I am the most free from care. And our Lord knows that, to the best of my opinion, our superabundance afflicts me more than our wanting necessaries. I know not whether this arises from my having seen our Lord presently assist us. It would otherwise be deceiving the world – to make ourselves poor, when we are not so in spirit, but in appearance. My conscience would blame me, so to speak; and, in my opinion, this would be as if the rich asked for alms: may God grant this may not be so. Where these immoderate desires exist about others giving something to us, we may some time or other beg this through custom; or some may ask what they do not want, perhaps from those who need it more than we do; and though the donors lose nothing, but gain; yet we may lose thereby.

God forbid this, my daughters; if such a case as this should happen, I had much rather you had revenues. In no way let this thought occupy your mind; I beg this of you, as an alms for the love of God. And let the lowest of you, whenever she perceives such a practice in this house, cry out unto His Majesty, and in humility acquaint the superioress therewith, telling her that she is going wrong; this is so important, that by little and little true poverty might easily be lost. I trust in our Lord it may never be so; that He will never forsake his servants, and that what you have made me write, if it be of no other advantage, may at least serve to awaken you. And believe me, my daughters; since for your good our Lord has given me to understand a little the advantages that are to be found in holy poverty; and those who try it will find it so, though perhaps not so much as I, because I was not only not poor in spirit (notwithstanding that I professed to be such) – but in spirit a fool. It is a good which includes within itself all the goods of this world: it is a large property.2 I repeat; it is to rule over all the riches of this life; and he does so who despises them. What do I care for kings and lords, if I desire none of their estates, nor strive to please them, and if I am obliged ever so little to offend God on their account? What care I for their honours, if I understand in what a poor man's chief honour consists – viz., in being really poor? I consider, that honours and riches almost always go together, and that whoever desires honour does not abhor and detest riches; so likewise, whoever hates money has little regard for honour.

Understand this rightly; for methinks this point of honour always carries with it some interest about revenues and money, because it is a wonder to see a person honoured in the world if he be poor: on the contrary, though he may deserve honour, men will esteem him but little. True poverty has with it a certain dignity, so that none suffer by it (I speak of poverty undertaken only for God's sake): it need not please any one but Him: it is very certain that one acquires many friends, by not being dependent on any one. This I have seen proved by experience; and because so much has been written concerning this virtue, which I cannot understand, much less express, I will say no more about it, that I may not injure it by praising it. I have spoken only of what I have seen by experience; and I confess I have been so absorpt in it, as not to observe it myself till now. But, as it is said, let it go for the love of God. Since then holy poverty is our badge; and since that which, at the first foundation of our Order, was so highly esteemed and so strictly observed by our holy fathers (for one told me who knew it – that they never kept anything for the next day), is not now practised exteriorly with so much perfection, let us at least endeavour to keep it in our interior.3 We have but a short time to live:4 the reward is exceeding great; and even if there were no other, but that of accomplishing what our Lord has advised us to do, the mere fact of our imitating His Majesty in anything would be an abundant recompense.

These are the arms that must be inscribed on our banners: these things must we faithfully observe in the house, in apparel, in words, and much more in our thoughts. As long as these points are observed, have no fear about the decay of the discipline of this house, through the divine assistance; for, as St. Clare once said, "The walls of poverty are strong." With these united with those of humility, she used to say, "that she desired her monasteries to be enclosed." I am confident, that if this be truly observed, both chastity and everything else will be much better fortified, than by very sumptuous buildings, against which I beseech you to be on your guard, for the love of God, and of His precious blood; and if with a safe conscience I could wish, that on the same day that you build a fine house, it may tumble down again and kill you all, I do wish it, and pray God it may happen (supposing I could say it with a good conscience). It looks very bad, my daughters, to erect stately houses out of the property of the poor. God forbid this should be done; let our houses be poor and mean in every way. Let us somewhat resemble our King, Who had no house save the stable at Bethlehem, wherein He was born, and the cross on which He died. These were houses from which little pleasure could be received.

As for those who build large houses, they have their reasons, and other pious intentions. But any little corner is large enough for thirteen poor women. I tell you (since strict enclosure is necessary, and also conduces to prayer and devotion), that if they possess a piece of ground, with some small hermitages, to retire to prayer, well and good; but from stately buildings, large houses, and everything fine and beautiful, may God deliver us. Ever remember that all such places must fall at the day of judgment; and who knows how soon that may be? And for a house of thirteen poor women to make a great noise with its fall is not proper, since the really poor are not to make any noise. They must be persons without noise, in order to excite compassion.

O! how would you rejoice to see some one delivered from hell, on account of an alms bestowed upon you. All this is possible; and, therefore, you are strictly bound to pray continually for those who give you support. It is our Lord's will also, that though all good things come from Him, we should show our gratitude to those persons likewise, by whose means He supports us. Do not neglect this duty. I have so wandered from the subject, that I know not what I began to speak about. I think, however, it was our Lord's pleasure, for I never intended to write what I have said here. May His Majesty always protect us, that none of us may ever neglect our duty. Amen.

1Not in the original.

2"Es un señorio grande."

3"En lo interior procuremos tenerla."

4Literally, "Dos horas son de vida" – we have only two hours of life.

Chapter Three

SHE CONTINUES THE SUBJECT OF THE FIRST CHAPTER, EXHORTS THE SISTERS CONTINUALLY TO PRAY TO GOD, THAT HE MAY PROTECT THOSE WHO LABOUR FOR THE CHURCH.

RETURNING, then, to that for which especially our Lord has assembled us together in this house (and for this object, I desire that we may likewise contribute something, in order to please His Majesty); I say, that seeing the evils of the age are so numerous and great, human strength is not sufficient to stop, much less to quench the fire enkindled by these heretics, which still burns so furiously. I think, then, it is necessary to do what is done in time of war; for when the enemy has overrun the whole country, the king thereof, seeing himself pressed on all sides, retires into some town, which he ordered to be well fortified; and from thence he sometimes assaults the enemy; and those within the town, being select warriors, are able to do more singly than many faint-hearted soldiers altogether, so that oftentimes a victory is gained by this means; at least, if not gained, it is not lost; for as there is no traitor among them, they cannot be taken except by famine. Now, here there can be no famine, so as to make us surrender. Die we may, but never can we be vanquished. But why have I said this? That you may understand, my sisters, that what we are to beg of God is, that none of us who are to-day within the castle of good Christians, may go over to the enemy, and that God may make the Captains of this castle or city (that is, the preachers and doctors), completely victorious in the way of our Lord. And since most of them are in religious Orders, pray that these may advance more and more in perfection, and in their vocation – a point very necessary; since now, as I have said, the ecclesiastical, and not the secular power, must help us. And since we women are unable to assist our king, either in one or the other, let us endeavour to be such – that our prayers may aid these servants of God, who with so much labour have fortified themselves with learning and virtue, and are now striving to help our Lord.

You may perhaps ask, why I press this point so much, and tell you to help those who are much better than ourselves? I will tell you the reason: because I do not think you sufficiently understand how much you owe to our Lord, for having brought you to a place where you are so free from cares, from occasions of sin, and conversation with the world. This is a very great favour, which they have not received, of whom I am speaking; nor is it fit they should in these times less than in others, because they are to be the persons who must strengthen the weak and encourage the faint-hearted. Can soldiers remain well without their captains? These must live among men, and converse with men, and live in courts, and sometimes even exteriorly conform to them.

Think you, my daughters, that little is required for conversing with the world, and living in the world, and carrying on the business of the world, and (as I said) conforming ourselves to the conversation of the world; and at the same time to be in our interior strangers to the world, and enemies of it, and to live as one in exile; yea, in a word, to live not as men, but as angels? If they be not so, they deserve not the names of captains; and may our Lord never allow them to leave their cells, for they will do more harm than good, because it is not now the time to notice imperfections in those who are to instruct others; and if these be not interiorly strengthened, by understanding how important it is to trample all things under foot, to be disengaged from transitory affairs, and to fix our attention only on what is eternal, however much they may desire to conceal such imperfections, they are sure to be known. With whom have they to deal, but with the world? Never have any fear about their being pardoned, or that any imperfection can escape being discovered. Many good actions will pass unobserved, and perhaps not be considered as such; but for one bad action – for one imperfection, let them not hope for such an indulgence.

I wonder who it is that shows the world such perfection, and yet not practise it, except to condemn others (to the practical part they seem to consider themselves not at all obliged, thinking they do a great deal, if they tolerably observe the Commandments): and sometimes what in reality is virtue, to them seems a mere gratification. Think not, then, that this great battle in which they are engaged requires little assistance from God: no, it requires a very great deal. I entreat you to endeavour to be such, that we may be worthy to obtain these two things from God. The first is, that among the many learned and religious whom we have, many may be found possessed of the abilities necessary for this object, as I have before mentioned; and that our Lord would make those better who are not so well prepared, since only one perfect man will be able to do more than many imperfect ones. The second is, that after engaging in this contest (which, as I have said, is no insignificant one), our Lord may protect them; that so they may escape the many dangers of the world, and stop their ears, in this dangerous ocean, against the songs of the Syrens. And if we can obtain anything from God in this respect, we fight for Him, even though we are enclosed here: and I shall consider the pains well bestowed, which I have taken in erecting this house, where I likewise intended that this rule of our Lady and Empress should be observed with the same perfection as it began. Do not consider it useless continually to make this petition; for there are some people who consider it hard, not to pray much for their own souls; and what prayer is better than this? If you be troubled lest the punishment of purgatory should not be diminished, be assured that it will be lessened by this kind of prayer. And what does it matter, even though I should stay in purgatory till the day of judgment, if only one be saved by my prayers? How much more, if many should be benefited, and God's honour promoted? Make no account of pains which end, when some service may be done for Him who suffered so much for us. Always learn what is the most perfect, since you will always have to deal with learned persons, as I shall earnestly request you to do so, and shall give you the reasons for it. I, therefore, entreat you, for the love of our Lord, to beseech His Majesty to hear this our prayer. I, though so miserable a wretch, beg this favour of His Majesty, since it is for His glory, and for the welfare of His Church, for my desires tend to this object.

It seems presumptuous to think that I shall in any way obtain this favour. Still, I trust, O my Lord! in these your servants who are here, and who, I know, neither desire nor aim at anything else but to please you. For you they have given up the little they had; and more they would wish to have possessed, wherewith to serve you. And Thou, O my Creator! art not ungrateful – that I should think that Thou wilt refuse to grant what they request of You. When You lived in this world. You did not, O Lord! repulse women from You; but rather, you always favoured them with great compassion. When we ask You for honours, revenues, money, or anything that savours of the world, do not hear us: but for the honour of Your Son, why should You not, O Eternal Father! hear one who would lose a thousand honours and a thousand lives for You? Not for our sakes grant this favour, O Lord! since we do not deserve it: but hear us, through the merits of the blood of Your Son. O Eternal Father, behold, so many scourgings, so many injuries, and such grievous torments are never to be forgotten. O my Creator! how can such tender bowels as Yours endure, that what was instituted by Your Son, through such burning love, and the more to please You (for You commanded Him to love us) should be so undervalued by these heretics, who now at this very time despise the Most Holy Sacrament, for by destroying the churches they deprive that Most Blessed Victim of a habitation? It would indeed be something to complain of, if Thy Son had neglected doing any thing: which might please you: but He fulfilled everything most perfectly. Was it not enough, Eternal Father! that while He lived, He had no place whereon to lay His head; that He was always in the midst of labours? Must they now take away those places also, which He made use of for entertaining His friends, because he saw we were weak, and knew that they who are to labour must of necessity be supported by such food? Has He not most abundantly over-paid for Adam's sin? Every time that we commit sin again, must this most loving Lamb pay for it? Do not suffer this, O my Emperor! May your Majesty be appeased: look not on our sins, but on your Most Holy Son who redeemed us, and on His merits, and on those of His glorious Mother, and of so many Saints and Martyrs who suffered death for you. But, alas! O my Lord, who am I that have presumed to offer up this petition, in the name of all? What a bad advocate you have, my daughters, to be heard and to have your petition presented by me? What if the Supreme Judge, seeing me so bold, should rather be the more incensed? He might deservedly and justly be so. But, behold, O Lord! Thou art now a God of Mercy. Show it to this miserable sinner – this poor worm, who is thus so bold with Thee."1 Behold, my God, my desires, and the tears with which I beg this favour of Thee: forget my works, through Thy infinite goodness – have compassion on so many souls that perish, and defend Thy Church. No longer permit any more destruction in Christendom; illuminate now this darkness.

I beseech you, my sisters, recommend also to His Majesty this poor sinner, and beg of Him to give her humility, for this is a duty to which you are bound. I do not command it particularly for kings and prelates of the Church – especially our own bishop: I see you are at present so very careful in this respect, that I think there is no necessity to enjoin this obligation. But come who may afterwards, if they have a holy superior, such will be his subjects. 2 As this, therefore, is so very important, always recommend it to our Lord. But when your prayers, and desires, and disciplines, and fastings, are not directed to this object, which I have mentioned, remember that you do not aim at, nor accomplish that end, for which our Lord assembled you here together.

1"Habedla desta pecadorcilla, gusanillo, que ansi se os atreve."

2That is, they will be holy; like their superior.

Chapter Four

SHE SPEAKS ON OBSERVING THEIR RULE, AND ON THREE THINGS WHICH CONDUCE TO A SPIRITUAL LIFE.

NOW, daughters, you have seen the great design we undertake to perform. How perfect then ought we to be, so that in the eyes of God and of the world we may not be considered very presumptuous? It is evident we must labour hard; and for this object, to have noble thoughts is of great assistance, that we may force ourselves to make our works correspond with them. Now if we endeavour, with great diligence, to observe our Rule and Constitutions punctually, I hope in our Lord that He will hear our prayers. I request no new thing of you, my daughters, but only to observe our profession – since it is our vocation, and we are obliged thereto, though in the observance of it there is a great difference.

Our first rule tells us "to pray without ceasing." Now if we observe this with all possible care, it being a matter of the greatest consequence, we shall not neglect to observe the fasts, disciplines, and silence commanded by the Order: for you know well, that our prayers must be assisted by these, in order to be proper prayers, since delicacy and prayer cannot agree with each other. You have desired me to say something to you on the subject of prayer; and I desire you, in return for what I shall say, to practise, and very willingly often to read over what I have hitherto said. But before I speak of the interior, which is prayer, I will mention some things necessary to be observed by those who intend to walk along the road of prayer; and so necessary are they that should they observe them, they may advance very far in the service of our Lord, even though the persons should not be very contemplative – but without them, it is impossible to be very contemplative: and if they should fancy they are so, they are greatly mistaken. May our Lord assist me herein, and teach me what I should say, that it may be for His glory. Amen.