The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus




Chapter 11

  Gives the reason why we do not learn to love God perfectly in a short time.

  Begins, by means of a comparison, to describe four degrees of prayer,

  concerning the first of which something is here said. This is most profitable

  for beginners and for those who are receiving no consolations in prayer.


I shall now speak of those who are beginning to be the servants of love -- for

this, I think, is what we become when we resolve to follow in this way of prayer

Him Who so greatly loved us. So great a dignity is this that thinking of it

alone brings me a strange comfort, for servile fear vanishes at once if while we

are at this first stage we act as we should. O Lord of my soul and my Good! Why,

when a soul has resolved to love Thee and by forsaking everything does all in

its power towards that end, so that it may the better employ itself in the love

of God, hast Thou been pleased that it should not at once have the joy of

ascending to the possession of this perfect love? But I am wrong: I should have

made my complaint by asking why we ourselves have no desire so to ascend, for it

is we alone who are at fault in not at once enjoying so great a dignity. If we

attain to the perfect possession of this true love of God, it brings all

blessings with it. But so niggardly and so slow are we in giving ourselves

wholly to God that we do not prepare ourselves as we should to receive that

precious thing which it is His Majesty's will that we should enjoy only at a

great price.

I am quite clear that there is nothing on earth with which so great a blessing

can be purchased; but if we did what we could to obtain it, if we cherished no

attachment to earthly things, and if all our cares and all our intercourse were

centered in Heaven, I believe there is no doubt that this blessing would be given

us very speedily, provided we prepared ourselves for it thoroughly and quickly,

as did some of the saints. But we think we are giving God everything, whereas

what we are really offering Him is the revenue or the fruits of our land while

keeping the stock and the right of ownership of it in our own hands. We have

made a resolve to be poor, and that is a resolution of great merit; but we often

begin to plan and strive again so that we may have no lack, not only of

necessaries, but even of superfluities; we try to make friends who will give us

these, lest we should lack anything; and we take greater pains, and perhaps even

run greater risks, than we did before, when we had possessions of our own.

Presumably, again, when we became nuns, or previously, when we began to lead

spiritual lives and to follow after perfection, we abandoned all thought of our

own importance;[106] and yet hardly is our self-importance wounded[107] than we

quite forget that we have surrendered it to God and we try to seize it again,

and wrest it, as they say, out of His very hands, although we had apparently

made Him Lord of our will. And the same thing happens with everything else.

A nice way of seeking the love of God is this! We expect great handfuls of it,

as one might say, and yet we want to reserve our affections for ourselves! We

make no effort to carry our desires into effect or to raise them far above the

earth. It is hardly suitable that people who act in this way should have many

spiritual consolations; the two things seem to me incompatible. So, being unable

to make a full surrender of ourselves, we are never given a full supply of this

treasure. May His Majesty be pleased to give it to us little by little, even

though the receiving of it may cost us all the trials in the world.

The Lord shows exceeding great mercy to him whom He gives grace and courage to

resolve to strive after this blessing with all his might. For God denies Himself

to no one who perseveres but gradually increases the courage of such a one till

he achieves victory. I say "courage" because of the numerous obstacles which the

devil at first sets in his path to hinder him from ever setting out upon it, for

the devil knows what harm will come to him thereby and that he will lose not

only that one soul but many more. If by the help of God the beginner strives to

reach the summit of perfection, I do not believe he will ever go to Heaven alone

but will always take many others with him: God treats him like a good captain,

and gives him soldiers to go in his company. So many are the dangers and

difficulties which the devil sets before him that if he is not to turn back he

needs not merely a little courage but a very great deal, and much help from God.

To say something, then, of the early experiences of those who are determined to

pursue this blessing and to succeed in this enterprise (I shall continue later

with what I began to say about mystical theology, as I believe it is called): it

is in these early stages that their labor is hardest, for it is they themselves

who labor and the Lord Who gives the increase. In the other degrees of prayer

the chief thing is fruition, although, whether at the beginning, in the middle

or at the end of the road, all have their crosses, different as these may be.

For those who follow Christ must take the way which He took, unless they want to

be lost. Blessed are their labors that even here, in this life, have such

abundant recompense I shall have to employ some kind of comparison, though,

being a woman and writing simply what I am commanded, I should like to avoid

doing so; but this spiritual language is so hard to use for such as, like

myself, have no learning, that I shall have to seek some such means of conveying

my ideas. It may be that my comparison will seldom do this successfully and Your

Reverence will be amused to see how stupid I am. But it comes to my mind now

that I have read or heard of this comparison: as I have a bad memory, I do not

know where it occurred or what it illustrated, but it satisfies me at the moment

as an illustration of my own.


The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden in

which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of

weeds. His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead.

Let us suppose that this is already done -- that a soul has resolved to practice

prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God's help, like good

gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they

may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance

to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the

garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.

Let us now consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we

have to do, what labor it will cost us, if the gain will outweigh the labor

and for how long this labor must be borne. It seems to me that the garden can

be watered in four ways: by taking the water from a well, which costs us great

labor; or by a water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass

(I have sometimes drawn it in this way: it is less laborious than the other and

gives more water); or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much

better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it

often, so that the gardener's labor is much less; or by heavy rain, when the

Lord waters it with no labor of ours, a way incomparably better than any of

those which have been described.

And now I come to my point, which is the application of these four methods of

watering by which the garden is to be kept fertile, for if it has no water it

will be ruined. It has seemed possible to me in this way to explain something

about the four degrees of prayer to which the Lord, of His goodness, has

occasionally brought my soul. May He also of His goodness grant me to speak in

such a way as to be of some profit to one of the persons who commanded me to

write this book,[108] whom in four months the Lord has brought to a point far

beyond that which I have reached in seventeen years. He prepared himself better

than I, and thus his garden, without labor on his part, is watered by all these

four means, though he is still receiving the last watering only drop by drop;

such progress is his garden making that soon, by the Lord's help, it will be

submerged. It will be a pleasure to me for him to laugh at my explanation if he

thinks it foolish.


Beginners in prayer, we may say, are those who draw up the water out of the

well: this, as I have said, is a very laborious proceeding, for it will fatigue

them to keep their senses recollected, which is a great labor because they have

been accustomed to a life of distraction. Beginners must accustom themselves to

pay no heed to what they see or hear, and they must practice doing this during

hours of prayer; they must be alone and in their solitude think over their past

life -- all of us, indeed, whether beginners or proficients, must do this

frequently. There are differences, however, in the degree to which it must be

done, as I shall show later. At first it causes distress, for beginners are not

always sure that they have repented of their sins (though clearly they have,

since they have so sincerely resolved to serve God). Then they have to endeavor

to meditate upon the life of Christ and this fatigues their minds. Thus far we

can make progress by ourselves -- of course with the help of God, for without

that, as is well known, we cannot think a single good thought. This is what is

meant by beginning to draw up water from the well -- and God grant there may be

water in it! But that, at least, does not depend on us: our task is to draw it

up and to do what we can to water the flowers. And God is so good that when, for

reasons known to His Majesty, perhaps to our great advantage, He is pleased that

the well should be dry, we, like good gardeners, do all that in us lies, and He

keeps the flowers alive without water and makes the virtues grow. By water here

I mean tears -- or, if there be none of these, tenderness and an interior

feeling of devotion.

What, then, will he do here who finds that for many days he experiences nothing

but aridity, dislike, distaste and so little desire to go and draw water that he

would give it up entirely if he did not remember that he is pleasing and serving

the Lord of the garden; if he were not anxious that all his service should not

be lost, to say nothing of the gain which he hopes for from the great labor of

lowering the bucket so often into the well and drawing it up without water? It

will often happen that, even for that purpose, he is unable to move his arms --

unable, that is, to think a single good thought, for working with the

understanding is of course the same as drawing water out of the well. What,

then, as I say, will the gardener do here? He will be glad and take heart and

consider it the greatest of favors to work in the garden of so great an

Emperor; and, as he knows that he is pleasing Him by so working (and his purpose

must be to please, not himself, but Him), let him render Him great praise for

having placed such confidence in him, when He has seen that, without receiving

any recompense, he is taking such great care of that which He had entrusted to

him; let him help Him to bear the Cross and consider how He lived with it all

His life long; let him not wish to have his kingdom on earth or ever cease from

prayer; and so let him resolve, even if this aridity should persist his whole

life long, never to let Christ fall beneath the Cross. The time will come when

he shall receive his whole reward at once. Let him have no fear that his labor

will be lost. He is serving a good Master, Whose eyes are upon him. Let him pay

no heed to evil thoughts, remembering how the devil put such thoughts into the

mind of Saint Jerome in the desert.[109]

These trials bring their own reward. I endured them for many years; and, when I

was able to draw but one drop of water from this blessed well, I used to think

that God was granting me a favor. I know how grievous such trials are and I

think they need more courage than do many others in the world. But it has become

clear to me that, even in this life, God does not fail to recompense them

highly; for it is quite certain that a single one of those hours in which the

Lord has granted me to taste of Himself has seemed to me later a recompense for

all the afflictions which I endured over a long period while keeping up the

practice of prayer. I believe myself that often in the early stages, and again

later, it is the Lord's will to give us these tortures, and many other

temptations which present themselves, in order to test His lovers and discover

if they can drink of the chalice and help Him to bear the Cross before He trusts

them with His great treasures. I believe it is for our good that His Majesty is

pleased to lead us in this way so that we may have a clear understanding of our

worthlessness; for the favors which come later are of such great dignity that

before He grants us them He wishes us to know by experience how miserable we

are, lest what happened to Lucifer happen to us also.

What is there that Thou doest, my Lord, which is not for the greater good of the

soul that Thou knowest to be already Thine and that places itself in Thy power,

to follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest, even to the death of the Cross, and is

determined to help Thee bear that Cross and not to leave Thee alone with it? If

anyone finds himself thus determined, there is nothing for him to fear. No,

spiritual people, there is no reason to be distressed. Once you have reached so

high a state as this, in which you desire to be alone and to commune with God,

and abandon the pastimes of the world, the chief part of your work is done.

Praise His Majesty for this and trust in His goodness, which never yet failed

His friends. Close the eyes of your thought and do not wonder: "Why is He giving

devotion to that person of so few days' experience, and none to me after so many

years?" Let us believe that it is all for our greater good; let His Majesty

guide us whithersoever He wills; we are not our own, but His. It is an exceeding

great favor that He shows us when it is His pleasure that we should wish to dig

in His garden, and we are then near the Lord of the garden, Who is certainly

with us. If it be His will that these plants and flowers should grow, some by

means of the water drawn from this well and others without it, what matter is

that to me? Do Thou, O Lord, what Thou wilt; let me not offend Thee and let not

my virtues perish, if, of Thy goodness alone, Thou hast given me any. I desire

to suffer, Lord, because Thou didst suffer. Let Thy will be in every way

fulfilled in me, and may it never please Thy Majesty that a gift so precious as

Thy love be given to people who serve Thee solely to obtain consolations.

It must be carefully noted -- and I say this because I know it by experience --

that the soul which begins to walk resolutely in this way of mental prayer and

can persuade itself to set little store by consolations and tenderness in

devotion, and neither to be elated when the Lord gives them nor disconsolate

when He withholds them, has already traveled a great part of its journey.

However often it may stumble, it need not fear a relapse, for its building has

been begun on a firm foundation.[110] Yes, love for God does not consist in

shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the

most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving Him with

righteousness, fortitude of soul and humility. The other seems to me to be

receiving rather than giving anything.

As for poor women like myself, who are weak and lack fortitude, I think it

fitting that we should be led by means of favors: this is the way in which God

is leading me now, so that I may be able to suffer certain trials which it has

pleased His Majesty to give me. But when I hear servants of God, men of weight,

learning and intelligence, making such a fuss because God is not giving them

devotion, it revolts me to listen to them. I do not mean that, when God gives

them such a thing, they ought not to accept it and set a great deal of store by

it, because in that case His Majesty must know that it is good for them. But I

do mean that if they do not receive it they should not be distressed: they

should realize that, as His Majesty does not give it them, it is unnecessary;

they should be masters of themselves and go on their way. Let them believe that

they are making a mistake about this: I have proved it and seen that it is so.

Let them believe that it is an imperfection in them if, instead of going on

their way with freedom of spirit, they hang back through weakness and lack of


I am not saying this so much for beginners (though I lay some stress upon it,

even for these, because it is of great importance that they should start with

this freedom and determination): I mean it rather for others. There must be many

who have begun some time back and never manage to finish their course, and I

believe it is largely because they do not embrace the Cross from the beginning

that they are distressed and think that they are making no progress. When the

understanding ceases to work, they cannot bear it, though perhaps even then the

will is increasing in power, and putting on new strength,[111] without their

knowing it. We must realize that the Lord pays no heed to these things: to us

they may look like faults, but they are not so. His Majesty knows our

wretchedness and the weakness of our nature better than we ourselves and He

knows that all the time these souls are longing to think of Him and to love Him.

It is this determination that He desires in us. The other afflictions which we

bring upon ourselves serve only to disturb our souls, and the result of them is

that, if we find ourselves unable to get profit out of a single hour, we are

impeded from doing so for four. I have a great deal of experience of this and I

know that what I say is true, for I have observed it carefully and have

discussed it afterwards with spiritual persons. The thing frequently arises from

physical indisposition, for we are such miserable creatures that this poor

imprisoned soul shares in the miseries of the body, and variations of season and

changes in the humours often prevent it from accomplishing its desires and make

it suffer in all kinds of ways against its will. The more we try to force it at

times like these, the worse it gets and the longer the trouble lasts. But let

discretion be observed so that it may be ascertained if this is the true reason:

the poor soul must not be stifled. Persons in this condition must realize that

they are ill and make some alteration in their hours of prayer; very often it

will be advisable to continue this change for some days.

They must endure this exile as well as they can, for a soul which loves God has

often the exceeding ill fortune to realize that, living as it is in this state

of misery, it cannot do what it desires because of its evil guest, the body. I

said we must observe discretion, because sometimes the same effects will be

produced by the devil; and so it is well that prayer should not always be given

up when the mind is greatly distracted and disturbed, nor the soul tormented by

being made to do what is not in its power. There are other things which can be

done -- exterior acts, such as reading or works of charity -- though sometimes

the soul will be unable to do even these. At such times the soul must render the

body a service for the love of God, so that on many other occasions the body may

render services to the soul. Engage in some spiritual recreation, such as

conversation (so long as it is really spiritual), or a country walk, according

as your confessor advises. In all these things it is important to have had

experience, for from this we learn what is fitting for us; but let God be served

in all things. Sweet is His yoke, and it is essential that we should not drag

the soul along with us, so to say, but lead it gently, so that it may make the

greater progress.

I repeat my advice, then (and it matters not how often I say this, for it is of

great importance), that one must never be depressed or afflicted because of

aridities or unrest or distraction of the mind. If a person would gain spiritual

freedom and not be continually troubled, let him begin by not being afraid of

the Cross and he will find that the Lord will help him to bear it; he will then

advance happily and find profit in everything. It is now clear that, if no water

is coming from the well, we ourselves can put none into it. But of course we

must not be careless: water must always be drawn when there is any there, for at

such a time God's will is that we should use it so that He may multiply our









      This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

      at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999.

      Contacting the CCEL.

The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus



The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus




Chapter 14


Having now spoken of the labor and manual effort with which this garden is

watered when one draws water from the well, let us now speak of the second way

of drawing it which is ordained by the Lord of the garden. By using a device of

windlass and buckets the gardener draws more water with less labor and is able

to take some rest instead of being continually at work. It is this method,

applied to the prayer called the Prayer of Quiet, that I now wish to describe.

This state, in which the soul begins to recollect itself, borders on the

supernatural, to which it could in no way attain by its own exertions. True, it

sometimes seems to have been wearied by its work at the windlass -- its

laboring with the understanding and its filling of the buckets; but in this

state the water is higher and thus much less labor is required than for the

drawing of it from the well. I mean that the water is nearer to it, for grace

reveals itself to the soul more clearly. This state is a recollecting of the

faculties within the soul, so that its fruition of that contentment may be of

greater delight. But the faculties are not lost, nor do they sleep. The will

alone is occupied, in such a way that, without knowing how, it becomes captive.

It allows itself to be imprisoned by God, as one who well knows itself to be the

captive of Him Whom it loves. Oh, my Jesus and Lord, how much Thy love now means

to us! It binds our own love so straitly that at that moment it leaves us no

freedom to love anything but Thee.

The other two faculties help the will so that it may be come more and more

capable of enjoying so great a blessing, though sometimes it comes about that,

even when the will is in union, they hinder it exceedingly. When that happens it

should take no notice of them but remain in its fruition and quiet; for, if it

tries to recollect them, both it and they will suffer. At such a time they are

like doves which are not pleased with the food given them by the owner of the

dovecote, without their having worked for it, and go in search of food elsewhere,

but are so unsuccessful that they return. Just so these faculties come and go,

to see if the will give them some part of what it is enjoying. If this be the

Lord's pleasure, it throws them food and they stop; if not, they return to their

search. They must reflect that they are benefiting the will; or sometimes the

memory or the imagination may do it harm by trying to present it with a picture

of what it is enjoying. The will, then, must be careful in its dealings with

them, as I shall explain.

Everything that now takes place brings the greatest consolation, and so little

labor is involved that, even if prayer continues for a long time, it never

becomes wearisome. For the understanding is now working very gradually and is

drawing very much more water than it drew from the well. The tears which God

bestows here flow joyfully; though the soul is conscious of them, it does

nothing to induce them.

This water of great blessings and favors which the Lord gives in this state

makes the virtues grow much more, beyond all comparison, than in the previous

one; for the soul is already rising from its miserable condition and gaining

some slight foreknowledge of the joys of glory. This, I believe, makes the

virtues grow and also brings them nearer to that true Virtue from Whom all

virtues spring -- namely, God. For His Majesty begins to communicate Himself to

this soul and wishes it to be conscious of the method of His communication. As

soon as it arrives at this state, it begins to lose its covetousness for the

things of earth. And small merit to it, for it sees clearly that on earth it

cannot have a moment of this joy; that there are no riches, or dominions, or

honors, or delights which suffice to give it such satisfaction even for the

twinkling of an eye; for this is true joy, and the soul realizes that it is this

which gives genuine satisfaction. Those of us who are on earth, it seems to me,

rarely understand where this satisfaction lies. It comes and goes. First it is

with us; then it leaves us, and we find that it is all gone, and we can not get

it back again, having no idea how to do so. For even if we wear ourselves to

pieces with penances and prayers and all kinds of other things, we can acquire

but little if the Lord is not pleased to bestow it. God, of His greatness,

desires the soul to realize that His Majesty is so near it that it need not send

Him messengers,[119] but may speak with Him itself; nor need it cry aloud,

because He is so near it that it has only to move its lips and He will

understand it.

It seems beside the point to say this, as we know that God always understands us

and is always with us. There is no possible doubt that this is so; but this

Emperor and Lord of ours desires us now to realize that He understands us, and

what is accomplished by His presence, and that He is about to begin a special

work in the soul through the great satisfaction, both inward and outward, that

He gives it, and through the difference which there is, as I have said, between

this particular delight and contentment and others which we experience on earth,

for He seems to be filling the void in our souls that we have caused by our

sins. This satisfaction resides in the most intimate part of the soul, and the

soul cannot tell whence or how it has come to it; often it knows neither what to

do, nor to wish, nor to ask. It seems to find everything at once, yet not to

know what it has found: I do not myself know how to explain this. For many

purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some

learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help

(for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord's will that

the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and

learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may

be made. However, as what I write is to be seen by persons who will know if I am

wrong, I am going on without worrying about it. I know I have no need to worry

from the point of view either of learning or of spirituality, as this is going

into the possession of those who will be able to judge it and will cut out

anything which may be amiss.

I should like, then, to explain this, because it is a fundamental matter, and,

when the Lord begins to grant these favors, the soul itself does not understand

them, or know what it ought to do. If God leads it, as He led me, by the way of

fear, and there is no one who understands it, its trial will be a heavy one; and

it will be very glad to read a description of itself which will show clearly

that it is travelling on the right road. And it will be a great blessing for it

to know what it has to do in order to continue to make progress in any of these

states: I myself, through not knowing what to do, have suffered much and lost a

great deal of time. I am very sorry for souls who reach this state and find

themselves alone; for, although I have read many spiritual books which touch

upon the matter, they explain very little; and if the soul has not had a great

deal of practice in prayer it will have as much as it can do to understand its

own case, however much the books may explain.

I wish very much that the Lord would help me to set forth the effects which

these things produce in the soul and which are already verging on the

supernatural, so that it may be known by the effects which they produce whether

or no they proceed from the Spirit of God. Known, I mean, to the extent to which

it is possible to know things on earth: it is always well that we should act

with fear and caution, for, even if these things come from God, the devil may

sometimes be able to transform himself into an angel of light.[120] If the soul

has not had a great deal of experience it will not realize this, and so much

experience is necessary that, in order to understand it, one must have reached

the very summit of prayer. The little time I have makes it none too easy for me

to explain this, for which reason it is necessary that His Majesty should make

the matter clear, for I have my work to do in the community and many other

occupations (being now in a recently founded house, as will be seen later[121])

and so I can never settle down to what I write but have to do a little at a

time. I wish I had more time, for, when the Lord gives inspiration, one can

write better and more easily. I seem to be like one working with a pattern

before her and copying it with her needle: I can perform my task, but if

inspiration is wanting I can no more put my words together properly than if I

were writing gibberish, as one might say, however many years I may have spent in

prayer. And so I think it is a very great advantage to be immersed in prayer

when I am writing. I realize clearly that it is not I who am saying this; for I

am not putting it together with my own understanding and afterwards I cannot

tell how I have managed to say it at all. This often happens to me.

Let us now return to our garden, or orchard, and see how these trees begin to

take new life before putting forth flowers and afterwards giving fruit, and the

flowers -- carnations and so forth[122] -- begin to give out their fragrance. I

am pleased with this comparison, for often, when I was a beginner (and may the

Lord grant that I have in fact even now begun to serve His Majesty -- but I mean

a beginner by comparison with what I shall say about my life hereafter), it used

to give me great delight to think of my soul as a garden and of the Lord as

walking in it. I would beg Him to increase the fragrance of the little buds of

virtue which seemed to be beginning to appear, and to keep them alive so that

they might bloom to His glory -- for I wanted nothing for myself -- and I would

ask Him to prune away any of them He wished to, for I knew that the plants would

be all the better if He did. I speak of pruning, for there come times when the

soul feels like anything but a garden: everything seems dry to it and no water

comes to refresh it, and one would think there had never been any kind of virtue

in it at all. The soul suffers many trials, for the Lord wants the poor gardener

to think that all the trouble he has taken in watering the garden and keeping it

alive is lost. Then is the proper time for weeding and rooting out the smaller

plants, and this must be done, however small they may be, if they are useless;

for we know that no efforts of ours are availing if God withholds from us the

water of grace, and we must despise ourselves as nothing and as less than

nothing. By doing this we can gain great humility and then the flowers will

begin to grow afresh.

O my Lord and my Good! I cannot say this without tears and great delight of soul

that Thou, Lord, shouldst wish to be with us, and art with us, in the Sacrament.

We may believe that this is so, in very truth, for so it is, and with the utmost

truth we may make this comparison; and if our faults do not impede us we may

rejoice in Thee and Thou wilt take Thy delight in us, since Thou sayest that Thy

delight is to be with the children of men.[123] O my Lord! What is this?

Whenever I hear these words they are a great comfort to me, as they were even

when I had gone far astray. Is it possible, Lord, that there can be a soul which

reaches a state in which Thou dost grant it such graces and favors and can

realize that Thou takest Thy delight in it, and yet offends Thee again after

Thou hast shown it so many favors and such signal marks of love that it cannot

doubt them since it sees Thy work so clearly? Yes, there is indeed such a soul

-- there is myself. And I have done this not once, but often. May it please Thy

goodness, Lord, that I may be alone in my ingratitude, that I may be the only

one to have committed so great a wrong and been so excessively ungrateful. Yet

even from me some good has been brought forth by Thine infinite goodness, and,

the greater have been my sins, the more has the great blessing of Thy mercies

shone forth in me. How many reasons have I for singing of them for ever! I

beseech Thee, my God, that it may be so: may I sing of them, and that without

end, since Thou hast seen good to work such exceeding great mercies in me that

they amaze those who behold them, while as for me, I am drawn out of myself by

them continually, that I may be the better able to sing Thy praise. For, so long

as I am in myself, my Lord, and without Thee, I can do nothing but be cut

off[124] like the flowers in this garden, and this miserable earth will become a

dunghill again as before. Permit it not, Lord. Let it not be Thy will that a

soul which Thou hast purchased with so many trials should be lost, when Thou

hast so often redeemed it anew and hast snatched it from the teeth of the

horrible dragon.

Your Reverence must forgive me for wandering from my subject: as I am speaking

with a purpose in my mind you must not be surprised. I am writing what comes to

my soul; and at times when, as I write, the greatness of the debt I owe Him

rises up before me, it is only by a supreme effort that I can refrain from going

on to sing praises to God. And I think Your Reverence will not be displeased by

it, because I believe we can both sing the same song, though in a different way;

for my debt to God is much the greater, since He has forgiven me more, as Your

Reverence knows.








      This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

      at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999.

      Contacting the CCEL.


The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus



The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus




Chapter 18


May the Lord teach me words in which to say something about the fourth water.

His help is very necessary, even more so than it was for describing the last

water, for in that state the soul still feels that it is not completely dead --

and we may use this word in speaking of it, since it is dead to the world. As I

said, it retains sufficient sense to realize that it is in the world and to be

conscious of its loneliness, and it makes use of exterior things for the

expression of its feelings, even if this is only possible by signs. In the whole

of the prayer already described, and in each of its stages, the gardener is

responsible for part of the labor; although in these later stages the labor is

accompanied by such bliss and consolation that the soul's desire would be never

to abandon it: the labor is felt to be, not labor at all, but bliss. In this

state of prayer to which we have now come, there is no feeling, but only

rejoicing, unaccompanied by any understanding of the thing in which the soul is

rejoicing. It realizes that it is rejoicing in some good thing, in which are

comprised all good things at once, but it cannot comprehend this good thing. In

this rejoicing all the senses are occupied, so that none of them is free or able

to act in any way, either outwardly or inwardly. Previously, as I have said,

they were permitted to give some indication of the great joy that they feel; but

in this state the soul's rejoining is beyond comparison greater, and yet can be

much less effectively expressed, because there is no power left in the body,

neither has the soul any power, to communicate its rejoicing. At such a time

everything would be a great hindrance and torment to it and a disturbance of its

rest; so I assert that, if there is union of all the faculties, the soul cannot

communicate the fact, even if it so desires (when actually experiencing it, I

mean): if it can communicate it, then it is not union.

The way in which this that we call union comes, and the nature of it, I do not

know how to explain. It is described in mystical theology, but I am unable to

use the proper terms, and I cannot understand what is meant by "mind" or how

this differs from "soul" or "spirit". They all seem the same to me, though the

soul sometimes issues from itself, like a fire that is burning and has become

wholly flame, and sometimes this fire increases with great force. This flame

rises very high above the fire, but that does not make it a different thing: it

is the same flame which is in the fire. This, with all your learning, Your

Reverences will understand: there is nothing more that I can say of it.

What I do seek to explain is the feelings of the soul when it is in this Divine

union. It is quite clear what union is -- two different things becoming one. O

my Lord, how good Thou art! Blessed be Thou forever! Let all things praise

Thee, my God, Who hast so loved us that we can truly say that Thou hast

communication with souls even in this exile: even if they are good, this is

great bounty and magnanimity. In a word, my Lord, it is a bounty and a

magnanimity which are all Thine own, for Thou givest according to Thine own

nature. O infinite Bounty, how magnificent are Thy works! Even one whose

understanding is not occupied with things of the earth is amazed at being unable

to understand such truths. Dost Thou, then, grant these sovereign favors to

souls who have so greatly offended Thee? Truly my own understanding is

overwhelmed by this, and when I begin to think about it I can make no progress.

What progress, indeed, is there to be made which is not a turning back? As for

giving Thee thanks for such great favors, there is no way of doing it, though

sometimes I find it a help to utter foolishness.

When I have just received these mercies, or when God is beginning to bestow them

on me (for while actually receiving them, as I have said, a person has no power

to do anything), I am often wont to exclaim "Lord, consider what Thou art doing;

forget not so quickly the gravity of my evil deeds. Though Thou must have

forgotten them before Thou couldst forgive me, I beseech Thee to remember them

in order that Thou mayest set a limit to Thy favors. O my Creator, pour not

such precious liquor into so broken a vessel, for again and again Thou hast seen

how I have allowed it to run away. Put not such a treasure in a place where the

yearning for the comforts of this life has not yet disappeared as it should, or

it will be completely wasted. How canst Thou entrust this fortified city and the

keys of its citadel to so cowardly a defender, who at the enemy's first

onslaught allows him to enter? Let not Thy love, eternal King, be so great as to

imperil such precious jewels. For it seems, my Lord, that men have an excuse for

despising them if Thou bestowest them upon a creature so wretched, so base, so

weak, so miserable and so worthless, who, though she may strive not to lose

them, by Thy help (of which I have no small need, being what I am), cannot make

use of them to bring profit to any. I am, in short, a woman, and not even a good

one, but wicked.

"When talents are placed in earth as vile as this they seem to be not only

hidden but buried. It is not Thy wont, Lord, to do such great things for a soul

and to bestow such favors upon it save that it may profit many others. Thou

knowest, my God, that I beseech this of Thee with all my heart and will, and

that I have oftentimes besought it of Thee, and that I count it a blessing to

lose the greatest blessing which may be possessed upon earth, if Thou wilt

bestow thy favors upon one who will derive greater profit from this blessing,

to the increase of Thy glory." It has come to pass many times that I have said

these things and others like them. And afterwards I have become conscious of my

foolishness and want of humility; for the Lord well knows what is fitting for me

and that my soul would have no power to attain salvation did not His Majesty

bestow it on me with these great favors.

I propose also to speak of the graces and effects which remain in the soul, and

of what it can do by itself, if it can do anything, towards reaching a state of

such sublimity.

This elevation of the spirit, or union, is wont to come with heavenly love; but,

as I understand it, the union itself is a different thing from the elevation

which takes place in this same union. Anyone who has not had experience of the

latter will think it is not so; but my own view is that, even though they may

both be the same, the Lord works differently in them, so that the soul's growth

in detachment from creatures is much greater in the flight of the spirit. It has

become quite clear to me that this is a special grace, though, as I say, both

may be, or may appear to be, the same; a small fire is as much fire as is a

large one and yet the difference between the two is evident. In a small fire, a

long time elapses before a small piece of iron can become red-hot; but if the

fire be a large one, the piece of iron, though it may also be larger, seems to

lose all its properties very quickly. So it is, I think, with these two kinds of

favor from the Lord. Anyone who has attained to raptures will, I know,

understand it well. If he has not experienced it, it will seem ridiculous to

him, as well it may be: for a person like myself to speak of such a thing and to

make any attempt to explain a matter which cannot even begin to be described in

words may very well be ridiculous.

But I believe that the Lord will help me in this, since His Majesty knows that,

next to doing what I am bidden, my chief aim is to cause souls to covet so

sublime a blessing. I shall say nothing of which I have not myself had abundant

experience. The fact is, when I began to write about this fourth water, it

seemed to me more impossible to say anything about it than to talk Greek -- and

indeed it is a most difficult matter. So I laid it aside and went to Communion.

Blessed be the Lord, Who thus helps the ignorant! O virtue of obedience, that

canst do all things! God enlightened my understanding, sometimes giving me words

and sometimes showing me how I was to use them, for, as in dealing with the last

kind of prayer, His Majesty seems to be pleased to say what I have neither the

power nor the learning to express. What I am saying is the whole truth; and

thus, if I say anything good, the teaching comes from Him, while what is bad, of

course, comes from that sea of evil -- myself. And so I say, if there are any

persons (and there must be many) who have attained to the experiences in prayer

which the Lord has granted to this miserable woman, and who think that they have

strayed from the path and wish to discuss these matters with me, the Lord will

help His servant to present His truth.

Speaking now of this rain which comes from Heaven to fill and saturate the whole

of this garden with an abundance of water, we can see how much rest the gardener

would be able to have if the Lord never ceased to send it whenever it was

necessary. And if there were no winter, but eternal warm weather, there would

never be a dearth of flowers and fruit and we can imagine how delighted he would

be. But during this life, that is impossible, and, when one kind of water fails,

we must always be thinking about obtaining another. This rain from Heaven often

comes when the gardener is least expecting it. Yet it is true that at first it

almost always comes after long mental prayer: as one degree of prayer succeeds

another, the Lord takes this little bird and puts it into the nest where it may

repose. Having watched it flying for a long time, striving with mind and will

and all its strength to seek and please God, it becomes His pleasure, while it

is still in this life, to give it its reward. And what a great reward that is!

For even a moment of it suffices to recompense the soul for all the trials that

it can possibly have endured.

While seeking God in this way, the soul becomes conscious that it is fainting

almost completely away, in a kind of swoon with an exceeding great and sweet

delight. It gradually ceases to breathe and all its bodily strength begins to

fail it: it cannot even move its hands without great pain; its eyes

involuntarily close, or, if they remain open, they can hardly see. If a person

in this state attempts to read, he is unable to spell out a single letter: it is

as much as he can do to recognize one. He sees that letters are there, but, as

the understanding gives him no help, he cannot read them even if he so wishes.

He can hear, but he cannot understand what he hears. He can apprehend nothing

with the senses, which only hinder his soul's joy and thus harm rather than help

him. It is futile for him to attempt to speak: his mind cannot manage to form a

single word, nor, if it could, would he have the strength to pronounce it. For

in this condition all outward strength vanishes, while the strength of the soul

increases so that it may the better have fruition of its bliss. The outward joy

experienced is great and most clearly recognized.

This prayer, for however long it may last, does no harm; at least, it has never

done any to me, nor do I ever remember feeling any ill effects after the Lord

has granted me this favor, however unwell I may have been: indeed, I am

generally much the better for it. What harm can possibly be done by so great a

blessing? The outward effects are so noteworthy that there can be no doubt some

great thing has taken place: we experience a loss of strength but the experience

is one of such delight that afterwards our strength grows greater.

It is true that at first this happens in such a short space of time -- so, at

least, it was with me -- that because of its rapidity it can be detected neither

by these outward signs nor by the failure of the senses. But the exceeding

abundance of the favors granted to the soul clearly indicates how bright has

been the sun that has shone upon it and has thus caused the soul to melt away.

And let it be observed that, in my opinion, whatever may be the length of the

period during which all the faculties of the soul are in this state of

suspension, it is a very short one: if it were to last for half an hour, that

would be a long time -- I do not think it has ever lasted so long as that with

me. As the soul is not conscious of it, its duration is really very difficult to

estimate, so I will merely say that it is never very long before one of the

faculties becomes active again. It is the will that maintains the contact with

God[142] but the other two faculties soon begin to importune it once more. The

will, however, is calm, so they become suspended once again; but eventually,

after another short period of suspension, they come back to life.

With all this happening, the time spent in prayer may last, and does last, for

some hours; for, once the two faculties have begun to grow inebriated with the

taste of this Divine wine, they are very ready to lose themselves in order to

gain the more, and so they keep company with the will and all three rejoice

together. But this state in which they are completely lost, and have no power of

imagining anything -- for the imagination, I believe, is also completely lost --

is, as I say, of brief duration, although the faculties do not recover to such

an extent as not to be for some hours, as it were, in disorder, God, from time

to time, gathering them once more to Himself.

Let us now come to the most intimate part of what the soul experiences in this

condition. The persons who must speak of it are those who know it, for it cannot

be understood, still less described. As I was about to write of this (I had just

communicated and had been experiencing this very prayer of which I am writing),

I was wondering what it is the soul does during that time, when the Lord said

these words to me: "It dies to itself wholly,[143] daughter, in order that it

may fix itself more and more upon Me; it is no longer itself that lives, but I.

As it cannot comprehend what it understands, it is an understanding which

understands not." One who has experienced this will understand something of it;

it cannot be more clearly expressed, since all that comes to pass in this state

is so obscure. I can only say that the soul feels close to God and that there

abides within it such a certainty that it cannot possibly do other than believe.

All the faculties now fail and are suspended in such a way that, as I have said,

it is impossible to believe they are active. If the soul has been meditating

upon any subject,[144] this vanishes from its memory as if it had never thought

of it. If it has been reading, it is unable to concentrate upon what it was

reading or to remember it; and the same is true if it has been praying. So it is

that this importunate little butterfly -- the memory -- is now burning its wings

and can no longer fly. The will must be fully occupied in loving, but it cannot

understand how it loves; the understanding, if it understands, does not

understand how it understands, or at least can comprehend nothing of what it

understands. It does not seem to me to be understanding, because, as I say, it

does not understand itself. Nor can I myself understand this.

There was one thing of which at first I was ignorant: I did not know that God

was in all things, and, when He seemed to me to be so very present, I thought it

impossible. I could not cease believing that He was there, for it seemed almost

certain that I had been conscious of His very presence. Unlearned persons would

tell me that He was there only by grace; but I could not believe that, for, as I

say, He seemed to me to be really present; and so I continued to be greatly

distressed. From this doubt I was freed by a very learned man of the Order of

the glorious Saint Dominic[145]: he told me that He was indeed present and

described how He communicated Himself to us, which brought me very great

comfort. It is to be noted and understood that this water from Heaven, this

greatest of the Lord's favors, leaves the greatest benefit in the soul, as I

shall now explain.








      This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library

      at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999.

      Contacting the CCEL.