To the Reverend Father Rodrigo Alvarez, of the Society of Jesus.
This is the second letter which the Saint wrote to this holy man. I have not translated the other, because it is more a treatise than a letter, and also because the greater part of the subject is mentioned in the “Interior Castle,” lately published. It is Letter XVIII. in the Spanish ed. vol. i. In the present letter the Saint gives her confessor an account of her manner of proceeding with regard to supernatural things, and she mentions the different persons whom she consulted. It is written with great brevity and clearness. Date, 1576. Carta XIX, Spanish ed. vol. i.
JESUS. It is now forty years since that Religious1 took the habit. From her first entering into religion, she spent some time during the day in meditating on the Passion of Christ our Lord, and in thinking of her sins, without raising her thoughts to any supernatural object. But she considered God’s creatures, and whatever else could help her to discover the instability of all earthly things: by these considerations she was excited to admire the greatness of the Creator, and the wonderful love He has for us.
They also filled her with a desire of serving Him, and this was much greater than the fear of torments, for these were never the motives which influenced her in loving Him. The desire which she felt that God might be praised and His Church extended, was very great. For this intention she prayed and offered up whatever she did, without doing anything for herself, for it seemed to her to be of little consequence what she suffered, provided only the Church could be exalted, even though it were but slightly.
She spent about twenty-two years in these occupations, together with great aridities, and never did she think of aiming at anything more, for she considered herself to be such, as to be unworthy even to think upon God; rather did she think, that His Majesty bestowed a great favour upon her, in allowing her to pray in His presence, and permitting her to read good books.
It is now eighteen years since persons began to speak to her about founding the first monastery of Carmelites, which was established at Avila. Two or three years before (I think it was three), she began to feel that she was spoken to interiorly, and even to have some visions and interior revelations with the eyes of the soul–(for she never saw them with her corporeal eyes, nor did she hear anything exteriorly; only twice it seemed to her as if she heard some one speaking exteriorly; but she did not understand anything). When she saw anything interiorly, the representation lasted only for a moment, generally speaking; but it was so deeply impressed on her soul, and produced such wonderful effects that had she seen those things with her corporeal eyes, they could not have seen more clearly.
At that time she was of a very timid nature, so much so, that sometimes she durst not be alone, not even in the daytime. And as she could not prevent these visions, however much she tried to do so, she was exceedingly grieved and afflicted, fearing lest she might be deceived by the devil. On this account, she began to consult some spiritual persons, belonging to the Society of Jesus.
Among these were Father Aroath, who was Commissary of the Society, and who came to the place where she was; also Father Francis,2 who was Duke of Gandia, to whom she spoke twice on this subject; a provincial named Gil Gonzalez, who is now at Rome; she likewise consulted him, who is now provincial of Castile, though she did not speak often with him; Father Baltasar Alvarez, who is now rector of the college at Salamanca, and who at that time had been her confessor for six years: she consulted the present rector of Cuenca, whose name is Salazar; a rector of Segovia, named Santander; a rector of Burgos, named Ripalda; this last individual was not well disposed towards her, on account of what he had heard respecting her: but after she had spoken with him, he altered his opinion. She consulted Doctor Paulo Hernandez, of Toledo, also, who was consultor of the Inquisition; likewise the rector of Salamanca; Doctor Gutierrez, and some other Fathers of the Society, who had the reputation of being spiritual men; and as they lived in the places whither she went to found her monasteries, she took the opportunity of consulting them.
In addition to these, she frequently consulted Father Peter, of Alcantara, a holy man of the order of St. Francis, who was so instrumental in persuading her that she was led by the Spirit of God.3 These fathers continued for more than six years to try her, as she has mentioned in detail elsewhere, and as will be seen afterwards. And while these trials were going on, the more suspensions and raptures she had, and these happened very frequently, accompanied with many tears and afflictions, and not without great pain.
Many prayers were said, and many masses offered for her, in order that our Lord might conduct her by some other way, because, when she was not in prayer she had very great fears, although as far as regarded her soul, it was easy to see she had advanced much, and a great change for the better was evident. She had no temptation to vainglory, nor to pride; on the contrary, she was quite ashamed and displeased, that her visions were known, and she never spoke of them, except to her confessors, or to people who she thought would never mention them. It gave her greater repugnance to declare these favours to those individuals, than it did to mention her grievous sins, for she fancied they would laugh at her, and consider them as so many old women’s stories, which she always disliked hearing.
It is now about thirteen years, a little more or less, that after having founded the convent of St. Joseph’s,4 into which she had retired after leaving the other, there came to Avila an inquisitor; I know not if he came from Toledo, but I am certain he had been in Seville: his name is Sobo,5 and he is now bishop of Salamanca. She tried to see him, in order to gain more confidence and security for herself; for this purpose, she gave him an account of everything. The inquisitor told her, that such matters did not belong to his office, because everything that she heard and saw in prayer, only confirmed her more and more in the Catholic faith, to which she would ever firmly adhere, and inspired her with the most ardent desires for the glory of God and the welfare of souls, to save only one of whom she would consent to die a thousand deaths. As the inquisitor perceived she was in great affliction, he advised her to give, in writing an account of all these things, and also of her whole life, without omitting any circumstance, and to send it to Father Avila, a man who had great experience in matters relating to prayer: and that when she had written this account, she should endeavour to compose her mind. She did what he told her, and wrote down her sins, together with an account of her life. Father Avila wrote to her,6 and great was the comfort she derived from what he said. This account was given in such a way, that all learned persons who read it, and those who were her confessors, said it was very useful for giving advice in spiritual matters, and so they commanded her to transcribe it, and compose another little book7 for the instruction of her daughters–(for she was the prioress), in which she was to give them some advice concerning prayer.
Notwithstanding all this, she sometimes had great fears, for she thought that even the most spiritual persons might be deceived, as well as herself: on this account, she requested her confessor to allow her to consult some more learned persons, though they might not be much given to prayer, since she desired nothing else but to know, if what she experienced was conformable to Holy Scripture. Sometimes she consoled herself by the consideration, that, though she deserved to be deceived on account of her sins, yet that our Lord would not permit so many good persons to be deceived, who were so desirous of enlightening her.
With this intention, she began to consult the fathers of the Order of the glorious St. Dominic, who, before these things happened, had been her confessors, though she had never acknowledged this, but said she had confessed to fathers belonging to the Order. The following are the names of the persons whom she afterwards consulted. Father Vincente Barron, who was then consultor of the Holy Office, heard her confession for a year and a half at Toledo; and, before these things happened, she had consulted him for many years. He was a very learned man, and did her great good; and so also did those fathers of the Society whom I have mentioned before. All of them assured her that as long as she did not offend God, and acknowledged her own wickedness, what need she fear?
She consulted Father Pedro Ibañez who was professor at Avila; Father Domingo Bañez, who is now professor at Valladolid in the College of St. Gregory, and who was her confessor for six years, and she always consulted him by letter when she thought it necessary to do so; Maestro Chaves; Father Bartolomé de Medina, professor at Salamanca, and as she knew he was not well disposed towards her, on account of what he had heard about her, she thought that he would tell her, better than any one else, whether she were deluded, as he had no good opinion of her. Accordingly, about two years ago, she had an opportunity of making her confession to him; she then gave him an account of all that had happened since the time she began to have these raptures, and this professor read all she had written on the subject, in order to be able to understand the matter better. After this, he consoled her more than all the others had, and ever since has continued her sincere friend.
She likewise confessed for some time to Father Felipe de Meneses, who was rector of St. Gregory’s College at Valladolid, when she founded a monastery there. But he had previously gone to Avila (having heard certain things about her), in order to speak very kindly to her on the subject, and to enlighten her in case she should have been deceived; but if she were not, to take her part, should he hear any one speaking against her. He was perfectly satisfied with her account of her life.
She also very frequently consulted a provincial of the Dominicans, named Salinas, who was a very spiritual man; likewise another individual called Lunar, who was prior of the Convent of St. Thomas, at Avila; and at Segovia, a professor named Fay Diego de Yangues.
Among these Dominican fathers, there were some who had attained a high degree of prayer, and perhaps all of them had. She also spoke with others of the same Order, for she had abundant opportunities of doing so. During all the years she continued in these dreadful fears, especially as she was obliged to go into different parts of the country, in order to found her monasteries. These fathers tried her in many ways, for they were all desirous of being able to enlighten her; and so by these means they gave her confidence, and convinced themselves of the truth of what she told them. She was always obedient to their commands, and hence she was quite grieved when she could not obey them in supernatural things. Her prayers, and those of the houses she founded, were always animated with an ardent desire for the propagation of the faith: it was for this object, as well as for the good of the Order, that she commenced her foundations.
She said, that if any of these visions, &c., had induced her to say anything against the Catholic faith or the law of God, there would then have been no necessity to consult so many learned men, nor to have submitted to so many tests, since it would have been evident that she was deceived by the devil. Never did she regulate her conduct by what she had heard in prayer; rather when her confessors told her to preform anything contrary to what she had heard, she did it without the least repugnance, and gave them an account of everything that happened. She was never very credulous or confident that these things came from God, however strongly these fathers assured her that it was so; though, on some occasions, she believed they came from a good spirit, seeing the wonderful effects those great favours had produced in her soul. But what she always desired the most was, to advance in virtue; and this is what she recommended to her nuns, assuring them that the most humble and the most mortified would become the most spiritual.8
What she said she had written,9 she gave to Father Domingo Bañez, who is now living at Valladolid, and with whom she has corresponded the most frequently: she continues to do so still. This father told her he had presented her account to the Holy Office of the Inquisition at Madrid. She submits in everything to the faith of the Roman Catholic Church. No one blamed what she said, because these things do not depend on ourselves, and our Lord does not require impossibilities.
The reason why these things have been so widely noised abroad is this, that as she was so harassed by fears and scruples, she spoke about them to several persons, and so one told them to another. She also did wrong in having allowed a certain individual to see what she had written, for she made it public. This was a very great torment and cross to her, and cost her many tears. She says, “it is not through any feeling of humility that she regrets what happened, but on account of what was said about her.” It seems our Lord permitted this to happen, in order to afflict her, because those who before had said the most against her are now the very individuals who take her part, and speak well of her.
She was extremely careful not to tell any one that she thought these visions, &c., came from God, for she was fearful lest the devil might deceive both her and those to whom she should speak. She, however, more willingly communicated these secrets of her soul to those who she knew were not too credulous, although she was pained when she saw that, in order to try her, they affected to despise and ridicule whatever she said; for she had reason to think that some of those things could come only from God, and she earnestly wished, therefore, that these should not be so emphatically condemned, because it was not proper they should. Still, she did not wish those persons to imagine that everything which happened to her came from above, for she knew very well there might be some deceit concealed beneath; on this account, she thought she never could be entirely secure, where there was so much danger.
She did whatever lay in her power to avoid offending God in any way, and always obeyed her superiors: by these two means she hoped to be secure together with the Divine assistance, even though she might have been deceived by the devil.
From the time she began to experience these supernatural favours, her soul was always inclined to aim at the most perfect state; and in general she had a great desire for suffering. Hence she found comfort amidst the numerous persecutions she had to endure, and she felt a particular love for those who persecuted her. She had likewise a great desire of poverty, of solitude, and of being delivered from this land of exile, that so she might see her God. By these and many other like effects, she began to enjoy a little more quiet, thinking that the spirit which, produced such virtues in her soul could not be an evil one. Those to whom she spoke told her the same, though they did not entirely remove her fears; still, she was not in such affliction as she used to be.
She persuaded herself that it was always best to obey, and not to conceal anything. She never saw any vision with her corporeal eyes, as mentioned before. But what she did see was represented to her in so subtile and intellectual a manner, that sometimes at first she could not help thinking it was purely the effect of her imagination; yet on many other occasions she could not think so. These things did not happen frequently, but generally only when she was in some affliction, as was once the case, when she had to endure, for several days together, most insupportable interior torments, and a disquiet of soul caused by her fears, lest she might be deceived by the devil, as she mentions at some length in the “Account” she published of her sins, as well as of the other matters, for her fears made her forget her reputation.
When she was in some affliction, which cannot be expressed, by merely hearing in the interior of her soul these words, “It is I–be not afraid,”10 she immediately became so calm, so encouraged, and resigned, that she could not comprehend how she attained such great happiness; for neither her confessor, nor many learned men, had been able, though they spoke so frequently to her, to bestow on her that peace and quietude which she had received by those words. At other times it happened that she was strengthened by some vision; and had not this been the case, she could not have borne so many labours and persecutions, besides her infirmities, which were so numerous and so continual, and which she still suffers, though they are not so frequent; but she is never without some kind of suffering more or less. Her ordinary sufferings are violent pains, with many other infirmities, which have tormented her the more since she became a religious. Whether she does any little service to our Lord, or receives favours from Him, all are quickly effaced from her memory, and though she often thinks on these graces, still she does not dwell upon them so long as she does upon her sins, which always afflict and disgust her, just as a noisome smell would do.
The reason why she is not tempted to vainglory is, because she is loaded with the weight of her sins, and has served the Lord so little. Nothing has ever crossed her mind but what was pure and chaste; and she thinks nothing to the contrary can happen, if the supernatural things which she sees come from good spirit, because she wholly forgets her body, and takes no care of it: all her thoughts are employed on God.
She has also a great fear of offending her Lord, and she is careful to do His will in all things: this she continually prays may be ever fulfilled; hence, she is so determined in her own mind to accomplish this Holy will, that her confessors can command her nothing which she would not willingly perform by the Divine assistance, if she thought it might in any way tend to the glory of God. She is confident that His Majesty assists those who are determined to labour for His honour and glory; and in comparison with these objects, she thinks as little of herself and her own interests as if she had no existence whatever, at least as far as she knows herself, and her confessors judge proper.
All that is written in this letter is most true, and may be verified by her confessors and all those persons whom she has consulted for these last twenty years. Her soul is most frequently excited to break forth into the praises of God, and she wishes that all the world should know this, though it might cost her very dearly. Hence arises an ardent desire for the good of souls, and a great contempt for the things of this world, knowing that they are but dirt in comparison with the interior secrets of the soul, which are infinitely more precious.
Since your Reverence wishes to know something about these visions, behold the manner in which they happen to her. Nothing interior, nor exterior is seen, because they do not come from the imagination.11 But without seeing anything, the soul knows what the object is, and whence it is represented to her, and this more clearly than if she actually saw it with her eyes, except that she sees nothing in particular. It is just as if she perceived some person to be near her, though being in the dark she does not see any one; yet she knows for certain that he is near her. This comparison, however, is not sufficient to make the subject clear, because he who is in the dark can tell, by some way or other, that a person is near him, either by hearing a noise, or by having known beforehand that the individual is there. But here there is nothing of the kind, for without any interior or exterior words, the soul understands most clearly the object represented to her, on what side it is, and sometimes what it signifies. But she understands not how, or by what means, she knows this; all she knows is, that it so happens, and she cannot tell exactly how long it lasts. When it has passed away, in vain she endeavours to remember how it was represented to her before. Then she knows that such an attempt would only be an effect of the imagination, and not a representation, for this is independant of any endeavours on our part, and so are all supernatural things. Hence it is, that those to whom God shows these favours esteem themselves much less and are far more humble than they would be if no such things happened, because they see it is a favour given to them, which cannot be taken away or bestowed by any one else except God. Hereby their love is increased, and their desire of serving so powerful a Lord, who can do what we cannot comprehend in this life, just as a person may have great knowledge, which others cannot understand. May He who is all-powerful, be praised for ever and ever. Amen.
1 The Saint speaks of herself in the third person.
2 St. Francis Borgia, who was the Duke of Gandia whom the Saint mentions.
3 See what the Saint says of this most holy man in her “Life” (chap. xxvii. p. 235).
4 At Avila, which was founded in the year 1562.
5 The bishop of Osma, in his annotations on this letter, speaks very highly of this great prelate. He died at Merida in 1576.
6 See this admirable letter in Appendix No. I., annexed to the translation of the “Interior Castle.”
7 “The Way of Perfection.”
8 ,,Que lo mas humilde y mortificado, seria lo mas espiritual.”
9 That is, her “Life.” With it the Saint sent a letter to Father Ibañez.
10 “Yo soy–no hayas miedo.”
11 Literally, “Porque no es imagineria.”