15. Don Alvaro


No. XV.
To the Most Illustrious Lord, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, Bishop of Avila.

In another letter the Saint mentions how she once heard a voice in the interior of the soul, saying, “Seek yourself in me,”–Buscate en mi. These words she mentioned to her brother, who was then at Avila, begging of him to correspond with the divine call. The bishop, to whom this letter is addressed, became acquainted with what the Saint heard, and expressed a wish that the words should form the subject of a spiritual recreation. Four persons were chosen to give their opinion on the meaning of the words, viz., St. John of the Cross, Father Julian de Avila, a pious gentleman named Francesco de Salcedo, and the Saint’s brother Lorenzo de Cepeda. After these four individuals had each sent their own explanation of the words to the bishop, his Lordship sent the answers to the Saint, and commanded her, under obedience, to examine them, and give her opinion on their correctness. This she playfully does in the present letter. Her natural wit and vivacity are conspicuous. Date, 1577. Carta V. Spanish ed. vol. i.

JESUS. Did not obedience compel me, I should not certainly have answered your Lordship’s letter, nor should I have accepted the commission you give me, to examine the opinions on the meaning of the words; and this for certain reasons different from what the sisters allege on the subject. They say, “I refuse to pronounce who gave the best explanation–simply because my brother is one amongst those who are to be examined, and that my affection for him might induce me to be partial to him.” But this is not the reason which prevents me, because I love all equally, since all have assisted me in supporting my labours; and my brother only came in when these were drawing to an end, when we had nigh finished drinking the chalice of our Lord; though since that time he has had some share in those trials, and henceforth by God’s grace he is likely to share in some more.

May God give me his grace, that I may say nothing deserving of the censure of the Inquisition, for my head still aches with all the business I have to attend to, and with the numerous letters I have written since last night. But obedience can do all things; and, therefore, well or ill, I will endeavour to do what your Lordship commands me. I thought I should have been somewhat amused with reading the billets, but it is no such thing.

The words in question are, in my opinion, a motto of the Spouse of our souls, who says,–”Seek thyself in Me.” It is evident, then, that Señor Francesco de Salcedo is mistaken, in trying to prove from these words that God is in all things: do we not know, without such an explanation, that He is in all things?

He also speaks a great deal of the understanding and of union. But who does not know, that where there is union, there the understanding does not work? And if it works not, how can it seek? The words of David–”I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me”–pleased me much, because that peace which is in the powers of the soul, and which the prophet calls a “people,” is greatly to be esteemed. But as I do not intend to approve of all that has been said, therefore I say that this passage is not to the point; for the Spouse does not say, “Let us hear,” but “Let us seek.”

But what is worse than this is, that if he does not retract, I will denounce him to the Inquisition, which is near at hand. After having so often said–”These are the words of St. Paul–this is an oracle of the Holy Ghost,”–he acknowledges at least, “that all he had written was nonsense!” He must correct his mistake immediately; if not, he shall see the consequence.

Father Julian de Avila began well, but makes a bad end, and so he deserves no praise: he was not asked on this occasion to explain how Uncreated Light could unite itself with the creative, but how we ought to seek ourselves in God. Neither did we require that he should tell us the sentiments of a soul–when she is united with her Creator, and whether in such a state of union there is any difference between her and the Creator. I do not think he has understanding enough to solve these questions, for if he had, we should easily see the difference there is between the Creator and the creature.

He also says, “When the soul is purified.” I think that these virtues and the method of purifying the soul of which he speaks are not a sufficient explanation of the subject, because it is a supernatural gift bestowed by God only on whom He pleases; and if we could have any disposition for this, it is love. But I pardon his mistakes, because he is not so prolix as Father John of the Cross. He lays down very sound doctrine in his answer; but it is only fit for those who wish to go through the “Exercises” used by the Society of Jesus: it does not suit our purpose.

It would cost us dear if we were to seek God, only when we are dead to the world. Magdalen, the Samaritan, and Cananæan woman, were not thus dead when they found Him. He likewise says in many places, “that a soul becomes one and the same with God by means of union.” But when God has bestowed this favour on a soul, He does not tell her to seek “Him,” since she has already found Him.

God preserve me from such spiritual people, who wish to reduce everything to perfect contemplation, without examining whether it be suitable or not. However, we are obliged to him for having explained the matter so well, and made us understand what we did not ask him to explain. For this reason, it is good always to be speaking of God, because we thereby gain a great deal of profit, even when we least expect it.

Such was what we received from Señor Lorenzo de Capeda, whom we thank sincerely for his answer and for the verses.1 But if he has said more than he understands, we shall forgive him on account of the diversion he has given us, and pardon the little humility he has shown in attempting to explain such elevated subjects, as he acknowledges by his answer he does. And because he undertakes, without having been desired, to advise souls to aim at the prayer of Quiet (as if it depended upon them), he shall be subject to the trouble which he knows well is due to him who falls into such a fault. God grant he may derive some profit from his temerity. His remarks, however, have given me great comfort, though I know he has some reason to be ashamed of them. One cannot decide whose remarks are the best, because, without injustice it may be said, that all the four individuals have fallen into mistakes.

I hope your Lordship will tell these persons to correct their errors. Perhaps I shall correct myself in not resembling my brother in his want of humility. All these gentlemen are so very spiritual and elevated, that they have only failed through having said too much: I mean (as I have said before) that he who shall obtain this favour of having his soul united with God, will have no further need of seeking Him, since he possesses Him by this union.

I return your Lordship many thanks for the favour of your letter, to which I shall not at present return an answer, nor tire you any more with my nonsense.2

Your Lordship’s unworthy Servant and Subject,


1 Lorenzo do Capeda was the Saint’s brother.

2 The Saint does not give us her own opinion on the meaning of the words, “Seek thyself in me.” Bishop Palafox observes, that they are the same as if God should say in a spiritual sense, “Seek me, and you will find yourself in me; otherwise, if you seek yourself out of me, or without me, you will not easily find yourself.”

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