10. Don Teutonio


No. X.
To the Most Illustrious Lord Don Teutonio de Braganza, Archbishop of Evora.

Letter 2nd. The Saint congratulates this prelate on being made archbishop, and gives him advice and encouragement. She also mentions the different persecutions which she and her religious were suffering, and the obstacles that were raised to prevent the reform of the Order, &c. Date, 1578.

JESUS. The grace of the Holy Spirit be ever with your illustrious Lordship. Amen.

It is now more than two months since I received a letter from your Lordship. I should have answered it immediately, but the reason which obliged me to defer the answer was, that I waited till I saw if some calm would follow the great troubles which have agitated both our nuns and fathers, ever since the month of August; I was also desirous of giving your Lordship an account of all that passed, according to the command you gave me in your letter. But matters are getting worse and worse every day, as I shall inform your Lordship in the course of this letter. The only thing I now wish for is to be able to converse with your Lordship, as I cannot express in a letter the joy I felt by the letter which the Father Rector sent me this week from your Lordship, though it is more than three weeks since I learnt the news from yourself with more certainty; since then I have been informed from another quarter. I know not how your Lordship can imagine that such a thing can be kept secret. May His Divine Majesty grant it may tend to His greater honour and glory, and that it may be the means of making your Lordship advance more and more in sanctity, as indeed I think it will.

Be assured, my Lord, that a matter which is so strongly recommended to God, by souls who have no other object but that He may be served in whatever they request, will not fail to be heard. As regards myself, though I am so wicked, I do not forget to be very assiduous in praying for your Lordship, and your servants1 in all our houses do the same; here I daily find such souls, the piety of whom covers me with great confusion. It seems our Lord is pleased to choose them from those parts, in order to bring them to these houses, in which I know not who could have given them any knowledge of our monasteries or mode of living.

Hence, my Lord, you must take courage, and doubt not for a moment it is God’s will. I have not the least doubt myself; nay, I am even sure that this has been ordered by God, and that His Majesty wishes you should now put in execution the good desires you have of serving Him. You have remained unoccupied too long, and our Lord stands in need of a virtuous prelate. As for us, we can do but little, being so poor and so base, if God does not raise up some one to defend us, though we ask of Him nothing else than His holy service; for malice is raised to such a height, and ambition and vanity are so much encouraged,2 even by those who ought to tread them under feet, that it, seems our Lord, powerful as He is, wishes to make use of His creatures in order to maintain virtue, which without them would not be strong enough to gain the victory; for those who should in reality be her defenders have forsaken her; and thus our Lord has chosen other persons, who He knew would be able to help Him.

I hope your Lordship will endeavour to employ yourself in this way, as I think you will; I pray that His Majesty will give you health, strength, and grace, that your Lordship may prosper in everything. The service we shall do your Lordship will be, continually to pray to God for you, that He may be pleased to give you a people desirous of the good of souls, in whom you may place trust. I am greatly consoled at knowing that the Society of Jesus takes so much interest in your Lordship’s affairs that you can employ the fathers in any way you think best, since they are fit for everything.

I was very glad to hear how well the affair of the Marchioness of Elche succeeded. I was in great trouble about it, till I heard of its happy termination. God be praised for it. When our Lord sends us such a multitude of troubles together, He usually makes them serve for our greater good. As He knows we are exceedingly weak, and as He does all things for our welfare, He proportions our sufferings to our strength. I think the same will happen with regard to the storms raised up against us some time since. But if I did not know that both our fathers and sisters lived in the strict observance of their rule, I should sometimes fear that their enemies would accomplish the object they have been aiming at, viz., to ruin the commencement of the reform, which is supported by the most Blessed Virgin. The devil has used such artifices for this end, that it seems our Lord has given him leave to exert all his power in the affair.

Indeed, the stratagems and diligence which have been made use of to defame us, and especially Father Gracian and myself (I am the person against whom all their blows are directed), are so numerous, and the accusations against this good man have been so false, and the memorials which were presented against him to the king, as well as against the reform of the convents, were so scandalous, that to have seen them your Lordship would have wondered how any one could have invented such malice. But I am persuaded that we gained much by them, because the nuns felt as much joy as if these calumnies did relate to them. The virtue of Father Gracian has shone with such brightness under the trial, that I am quite astonished. What a great treasure must not God have hidden in that soul, for he prays especially for those who calumniate him, and he bears their calumnies with as much joy as St. Jerome! He cannot, however, endure the false charges which our enemies have brought against the nuns. The visits which he has made amongst them for two years have given him so great a knowledge of their piety, that he not only considered them as angels in his own mind, but even called them so.

But God was at length pleased that these people should be forced to unsay what they had charged us with. And as to what was said respecting Father Gracian, the Court ordered an inquiry to be made, and evidence to be brought forward, and thus the truth was discovered. They have also retracted many other false charges, by which we have plainly seen how many enemies we had at court, and also how great was the hatred by which they were animated. Your Lordship may be assured, that it was by this means the devil endeavoured to destroy all the good which is done by our houses.

But not to dwell on all that has been done against the poor nuns of the Monastery of the Incarnation, whose only crime was to have chosen me for their prioress, I must tell your Lordship that the whole city was astonished at what they have suffered, and do suffer still, and are likely to suffer for some time; for I do not know how all will end. The severity with which Father Tostado treated them was so extraordinary, that once he kept them for more than fifty days without allowing them to hear mass, or even see any one! This severity still continues. Many people said that the nuns were excommunicated; but all the theologians of Avila denied this, and with reason, because the excommunication, which did not then effect me, had been published only to prevent them from electing a stranger and they thought they could not incur this excommunication by choosing me, because they did not consider me a stranger, one who had been professed in their house, and who had lived so many years in it. And who in reality could hinder me now from returning there if I had a wish to do so? My dowry was paid to that house; the convent is not in a separate province; and the prioress, however has been chosen who had the less number of votes. The matter is in the hands of the council, and I know not how it will end.

I was much grieved to see so many troubles raised on my account; such great scandal given to the city, and so many souls filled with affliction, for the number of those who had been excommunicated was not less than fifty-four! The only consolation which was left me was the thought, that I had used every effort to prevent the nuns from electing me; and surely not without reason, for it would have been one of the greatest troubles to me, I assure your Lordship, to have seen myself there as prioress,–in a house, too, where I never had one hour’s good health all the time I lived in it.

But though I have compassion on those souls whose heroic perfection has been made manifest, by the patience wherewith they have endured these persecutions: yet the affliction I now suffer, on account of Father Tostado having commanded, more than a month ago, two fathers who were their confessors to be imprisoned, is much more painful. They are both very perfect religious, and by their good example have edified the whole city during the five years they have lived in it. They it was who kept the house in the same state that I left it; and I can assure your lordship that one of them, called Brother John of the Cross, is considered by all to be a saint, and this opinion is not without a good foundation; in my judgment he is a great treasure. This holy man and his companion were sent to this monastery by the command of the apostolic visitor, who belonged to the Order of St. Dominic, and also by the present nuncio; they were also made subject to the Father Gracian, the visitor.

I do not know how this affair will end. My great trouble is, that they have been taken away without our knowing where they are. But we are afraid they are closely confined, and this makes me fearful lest some misfortune has happened. May our Lord send a remedy.

I hope your Lordship will pardon me if this letter is too long. I find a pleasure in acquainting your Lordship with all that has happened, in case Father Tostado should come into your neighbourhood. When the nuncio came here, he favoured this father so much, that he commanded Father Gracian not to make his visitation, though this command does not prevent him from being apostolic commissary (because the nuncio did nothing to make it appear he took away that power, nor was it, according to what he himself said, his intention to take it from him). This good father went to Alcalá, and after that to Pastrana, where he has lived in a grotto, suffering a thousand persecutions, as I have before told your Lordship; he does not exercise his power of apostolic commissary, for since that time he has lived as if he had been in reality suspended.

He earnestly desires never to exercise his power of making a visitation, and we desire it no less than he does, on account of the troubles which happen to him and us, unless our Lord would do us the favour of making a province for us in particular, it would not be for our good that he should be visitor. When he arrived at Alcalá, he wrote me word that he was resolved to obey Father Tostado, if he made the visitation, and he told us to do the same. But as he has not yet come into this neighbourhood, I believe our Lord will prevent his coming. All the fathers, however, say, that it is he who does everything, and that he employs all his power to be able to make the visitation. That it is, my Lord, that afflicts us extremely, and is the cause of all the complaints we now make to you. But I feel a great relief in giving your Lordship a history of these proceedings. I know, however, you must be tired with reading them; but your Lordship is not insensible to the obligation you lie under of protecting this Order; and how necessary is it that your Lordship should not only know the inconveniences attending a new foundation, but those also which I shall now mention; these will make another strange story.

As I cannot but make use of every possible means to prevent so good a work from miscarrying (for even the most learned men who are my confessors, do not advise me to the contrary), all our fathers are very angry with me; and they have sent such representations to the Father General, that it has been decreed in a general chapter, that by the command of our Father General, no religious of the reform shall henceforth leave their convent, and they have laid this command on me in particular, under pain of excommunication: I am allowed, however, to choose any convent I like to live in. It is very evident that this decree has been made on purpose to prevent any more new foundations: it is painful to see such a multitude of young women who beg to be received into our monasteries, and yet they cannot be received because our houses are so few, and we are forbidden to found any more.

Though the late nuncio ordered me to continue the foundations, and I have very strong “letters patent” from the apostolic visitor; nevertheless, since these disturbances have happened, I have resolved not to establish any houses until our father general or the Pope commands otherwise: for as this work has not been discontinued through my fault, I consider the opposition made against it as a favour from God, who thus frees me from a burthen, of which I already begin to be tired. I do not, however, mean to say, that if I could render some service to our Lord thereby, it would be a trouble to me: but what I say is, it would be so painful for me not to see your Lordship any more, that if it were but for this reason alone I was commanded to keep enclosure, I should be quite inconsolable. But even though the general chapter should put no obstacle in the way, I could not go, because the leave I obtained from our father general extended only to the kingdom of Castile, and hence it would be necessary to receive new letters patent. I am certain our father general would not grant them now; but it would be very easy to obtain them from the Pope, especially if his Holiness could see the document drawn up by the command of Father Gracian: this gives an account of our manner of living in these monasteries; of the life we lead, and of the great good which the religious do wherever they are established. It is said by persons of authority, that this document, of itself, is sufficient to canonize us all! I have not yet read it, because so many good things are said about myself. However, if this foundation is to be made, I am very anxious that leave should be obtained from our father general, with a request that we may be allowed to establish houses in Spain: my presence would not be necessary, for religious could easily be found very capable of doing this work, without my leaving the convent: they should be sent there as soon as the house was in a state to receive them. In order to gain this object, it would be well to represent to him, that to hinder these foundations, would be to deprive souls of a great good. If your Lordship is acquainted with the protector of our Order, who, I am told, is nephew to the Pope, he could easily persuade our general to give his consent. If your Lordship would be so good as to interest yourself in the matter, you would confer a great favour on our Order, and render considerable service to our Lord.

Because I am desirous of telling your Lordship everything that happens, it is necessary that I inform you of another difficulty, viz., that Father Tostado has already been received as vicar general in this province; hence you may judge what bad news this is, especially to me, who may perhaps fall into his hands; and I have reason to fear he will use all his power to prevent this undertaking. As regards Castile, we do not believe, as far as we can judge at present, that he has made a visitation there, because as he has exercised his duties without showing his commission, especially when he visited our monastery of the Incarnation (and this appeared very strange to every one), he was ordered to show his letters patent to the council, by a royal decree: after that he was unable to receive them back again, and I think he never will. We have also letters of exemption given us by the visitors apostolic, which certify that we cannot be visited, except by those whom our father general shall nominate, and they must belong to the reform. But as these commands cannot be observed where religious perfection has fallen to the ground, I hope your Lordship will please to inform us how this evil can be remedied, for your Lordship shall be sure to have good religious to assist you in your undertakings.

Father Julian d’Avila (who, I believe, is already on the way) sends his most humble respects to your Lordship. He is quite delighted to hear the good news about your Lordship: he was, however, already acquainted with it, when last I wrote to him. He is convinced that by your Lordship’s elevation, you will be able to render good service to God and His church. Mary of St. Jerome, sub-prioress of this house, respectfully congratulates your Lordship. She says, that to serve your Lordship, she would willingly join the foundation, if such were the Divine will. May our Lord direct everything as He pleases, for His own greater glory. May he preserve your Lordship, and give you an increase of His holy love.

It is no wonder your Lordship cannot enjoy that recollection which you desire, on account of your new dignity. Our Lord will doubly repay you, as He is accustomed to reward those who leave all things for His sake. However, I wish your Lordship not to attend so much to exterior things, without devoting at least some small portion of your time to interior recollection; for in this consists our true interest.

I beg of you, for the love of our Lord, not to afflict me, by placing what you do on the address of the letters.3

Your Lordship’s unworthy Servant and Subject,


From our House of St. Joseph’s of Avila, the 16th day of January, 1578.

1 That is, the nuns.

2 “Tan canonizada,” &c.

3 The bishop of Osma remarks, in his annotations on this letter, that before the edict of Philip II. it was the custom to put on the address of letters the titles and qualities of the persons to whom they were written. This the Saint could not endure, as the praises of the archbishop wounded her humility. “No me atormente con estos sobrescritos, por amor pe nuestro Señor.”

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