10. New Tests
The first difficulty arose from her own ignorance of mystical theology. In her deep humility, she could not imagine how an unworthy person (as in her opinion she was) could be so richly laden with such extraordinary favors. Of course, as long as the favors during prayer lasted she could not doubt their authenticity. But in between she was plagued by fears that these mystical states were deceptions of the devil. On the basis of her experience, Teresa later said again and again how necessary it is for a soul that is going the way of the interior life to have the guidance of a learned and enlightened spiritual director. Fr. Vicente Barrón, who had so charitably stood by her after the death of her father, had been called away from Avila some time earlier. In her need, upon the advice and through the mediation of a dear friend, the pious nobleman Francisco de Salcedo, she turned to Gaspar Daza, a priest who was considered throughout the city to be as holy as he was learned. His evaluation was devastating. He interpreted all of her favors during prayer as deceptions of the devil and advised her to cease entirely what she had been doing up to now. The saint fell into the uttermost distress showered by favors from heaven while at the same time, according to the theological expert, in the gravest danger, and directed to pull back from the supernatural influences! There appeared one more way out of her distress. A short time earlier a college of the Society of Jesus had been started in Avila. Teresa, who had the greatest admiration for the new order, heard this with joy, but up to now had not dared to speak with one of the greatly renowned fathers. Now she took refuge in them, and this was her deliverance. Fr. Juan de Prádanos completely reassured her about the origin of her mystical states and advised her to continue on this path. He only found it necessary that she make herself worthy of the favors by strict mortifications. As she said, “mortification” was at that time a word virtually unknown to her. But with her characteristic decisiveness, she took up the suggestion and began to accustom herself to severe penances. Recognizing that her weak health would not be able to stand such a severe life, P. Prádanos easily helped her with this. “Without doubt, my daughter,” he said, “God sends you so many illnesses in order to make up for those mortifications that you do not practice. So do not be afraid. Your mortifications cannot hurt you.” And in fact Teresa’s health improved because of this new lifestyle.
Even though her new spiritual director had no doubt about the heavenly origin of her favors during prayer, he still thought it a good idea to impose on her some constraint in her manner of meditating and to instruct her in resisting the stream of favors. But even this restriction was soon to be lifted again. St. Francis Borgia visited the Jesuit college and to get his evaluation, Fr. Prádanos asked him to speak with Teresa. She herself writes about this:
I let him...know the state of my soul. After listening to me, he told me that everything happening in me came from the spirit of God. He called my behavior good so far. But he said that in the future I should offer no more resistance. He advised me always to begin my prayers by meditating on one of the mysteries of the passion. If then without my assistance the Lord transported my spirit into a supernatural state, I should surrender to his guidance.... He left me completely consoled.
If the saint herself was calmed by such weighty testimony, it was not so in her surroundings. In spite of the testimony of St. Francis Borgia, despite the sympathetic guidance she found, soon after the recall of Fr. Prádanos, in his very young but saintly confrere, Fr. Baltasar Alvarez, her devoted friends did not stop worrying about her. They asked others in for advice, and soon everyone in the city was talking about the unusual phenomena at the Monastery of the Incarnation and warning the young Jesuit not to let himself be deceived by his penitent. Even though he placed no credence in these voices, he did think it advisable to pose Teresa some difficult tests. He denied her solitude, and once withheld Holy Communion from her for twenty days. She submitted to all orders. But it was no wonder that unrest once more arose in her heart also, since everyone else doubted her or appeared to doubt her. Her deliverance was the goodness of the Lord who calmed her again and again, who enraptured her right in the middle of the mandatory conversations, since solitary prayer was taken from her. Above all, he strengthened her to persist faithfully in the way of obedience no matter how hard it was. Her reward was new, continually greater favors. She felt the presence of the Savior by her side often for entire days. At first he came to her invisibly, but later also in a visible form.
The Savior almost always appeared to me visibly in risen form. When I saw him in the holy Host, he was in this transfigured form. Sometimes when I was tired or sad, he showed me his wounds to encourage me. He also appeared to me hanging on the cross. I saw him in the garden; finally, I saw him carrying the cross. When he appeared to me in such a form, it was, I repeat, because of a need in my soul or for the consolation of various other persons; still his body was always glorified.
These appearances increased Teresa’s love and strengthened her in the certainty that it was none other than the Lord who was visiting her with his favors. So it must have been all the more painful to her when, in the absence of Fr. Alvarez, another confessor ordered her to send the “evil spirit” away each time it appeared by making the sign of the cross and a gesture of contempt. She also obeyed this command. But at the same time she fell at the feet of the Lord and pleaded with him for forgiveness: “Oh Savior, you know when I act like this toward you that I do it only out of love for you because I want to submit obediently to him whom you have appointed in your Church to take your place for me.” And Jesus calmed her. “Be comforted, my daughter, you do well to obey. I will reveal the truth.”
In this obedience toward the church, the saint herself had always seen the surest criterion that a soul was on the right way.
I know for certain that God would never allow the devil to delude a soul that mistrusts itself and whose faith is so strong that it was prepared to endure a thousand deaths for the sake of one single article of faith. God blesses this noble disposition of the soul by strengthening its faith and making it ever more fiery. This soul carefully tries to transform itself so that it is completely in line with the teachings of the church and for this purpose asks questions of anyone who could elucidate them. It hangs on so tightly to the church’s creeds that all conceivable revelations even if it saw heaven opened could never make it vacillate in its faith even in the minutest article taught by the church....
Should a soul not find in itself this powerful faith or its delight in devotion not contribute to increasing its dependence on the holy church, then I say that the soul is on a path filled with danger. The spirit of God only flows into things that are in agreement with the holy Scriptures. If there had been the slightest deviation, I would have been convinced that these things came from the author of lies.
That after each new favor she grew in humility and love must have pacified the saint herself, and must also have been an unmistakable sign to the enlightened men of the spirit of the disposition of her soul.
During that time of unusual demonstrations of grace and of the severest tests, Teresa also received a visible sensory image of the glowing love which pierced her heart. “I saw beside me at my left side an angel in a physical form.... Because of his flaming face, he seemed to belong to that lofty choir made up only of fire and love.... I saw a long, golden dart in his hands the end of which glowed like fire. From time to time the angel pierced my heart with it. When he pulled it out again, I was entirely inflamed with love for God.” The heart of the saint, which has been preserved in the monastery of Alba and remains intact to this day, bears a long, deep wound.
11. Works for the Lord
One who loves feels compelled to do something for the beloved. Teresa, who even as a child showed herself to be boldly decisive and ready to act, burned with the desire to show the Lord her love and thankfulness by action. As a nun in a contemplative monastery, she seemed to be cut off from all outer activity. So she at least wanted to do as much as possible to make herself holy. With the permission of her confessor (Fr. Alvarez) and her highest superior in the Order, she took a vow always to do what would be the most pleasing to God. To protect her from uncertainty and from qualms of conscience, the text was later changed to read that her confessor was to decide what would be perfect at any given time.
But a soul so full of love could not be satisfied with caring for its own salvation and making the Lord happy by its own perfection. One day she was transported into hell by a horrible vision. “I immediately understood that God wanted to show me the place that the devil had reserved for me and that I deserved for my sins. It lasted hardly a moment. But even if I live for many more years, I will never be able to forget it.” She recognizes that from which God’s goodness has preserved her. “The superscription for my life should read as ‘the mercy of God.’” But countless other people are constantly subject to the dangers that she herself had escaped. “How could I find one day of rest with such an outlook? How could I live in peace while so many souls were being lost?” It was at the time when Germany was torn by schism, France was tearing itself to pieces in wars of religion, and all of Europe was confused by false doctrines.
“Brokenhearted, as though I could do something or as if I myself were someone, I embraced the feet of the Lord, shed bitter tears, and asked him to remedy such evil. I would gladly have sacrificed a thousand lives to save one of these misguided souls. But how could a poor woman like me serve the cause of her divine Master?” During such reflections, there occurred to her the thought of freeing herself from the mitigated rule of her monastery so that she could rest entirely in God like the saints, the hermits who had preceded her. Since she could not, as she would have liked, extol God’s mercy throughout the entire world, she at least wanted to gather some selected souls around her who would dedicate themselves to poverty, withdrawal, constant prayer, and the strictness of the Primitive Rule. Already full of this thought, which was not simply fantasy but a firm decision, she conceived of how she would surround herself with a small band of noble souls who were ready to join her in doing what was most perfect. She considered how she might pray day and night to be a constant support to those destined to save souls.... It seemed to her as though she were already in the situation which appeared to her as paradise. She saw herself already living in a little house clad in sackcloth, enclosed behind the walls, only occupied with prayer, and hurrying with her companions to serve the most Beloved.(43) It was not to be too long before this lovely dream was to be become reality.
12. Saint Joseph’s of Avila, the First Monastery of the Reform
A small group of nuns and visitors present for worship on the feast of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel on July 16, 1560 were discussing the obstacles to the life of prayer presented by the large number of nuns living in the monastery and the many visitors. María de Ocampo, a young relative of the saint and a celebrated beauty, suggested that someone should establish a monastery in which the life of the ancient hermits could be revived. In all seriousness she offered her dowry for this. The next day Teresa told her trusted friend Doña Guiomar de Ulloa (a young widow who like her led a life of prayer under the strict direction of Fr. Baltasar Alvarez) of this conversation. Doña Guiomar enthusiastically took up the idea. But what was decisive was that the Lord himself was calling for the project. “He assured me that he would be very well-served in a monastery I might found, that this house would become a star shedding the brightest light. God added that, even though they had lost some of their earlier enthusiasm, the orders were nevertheless of great service to him. What would the world be if there were no more monasteries?” According to the will of the Lord, the new house was to be consecrated to St. Joseph.
Now Teresa no longer hesitated. First she turned to her confessor. He made his consent dependent on the consent of the provincial of the Carmelites, Fr. Angel de Salazar. This consent was easier to get than expected by reason of the mediation of Doña Guiomar. Three very devout religious, whose advice Teresa sought, gave encouraging replies: Jesuit Francis Borgia, Dominican Luis Beltrán, and Franciscan Peter of Alcántara. Now the next task was to find a house. But before that could happen the public scented Teresa’s plans, and this aroused a storm of indignation against her and her friends. One can certainly understand that the nuns of the Monastery of the Incarnation would take it as malicious arrogance for one of their own to want to leave their house to live in greater perfection than the community in which she had been formed. And people in the city shared this view. The two women received their first strong support from the scholarly and highly respected Dominican, Fr. Pedro Ibáñez. When the provincial withdrew his consent under the pressure of Teresa’s sisters and compelled the saint to inaction, her friends continued with the work of preparation: Doña Guiomar, directed by Fr. Ibáñez, Don Francisco de Salcedo, and Gaspar Daza (the two who had once by their doubt caused her so much soul searching, but were now entirely won over to her). A little house was discovered. Her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, the husband of her youngest sister, Juana, who herself had been raised in the Monastery of the Incarnation and loved Teresa greatly, bought it and moved in to protect it until it could be given over to its real purpose.
It seemed like a great hindrance to her plans when the saint received the surprising order from her Fr. Provincial to go to the palace of Duchess Luisa de la Cerda in Toledo, because this influential lady sought the comfort of the saint in her grief over the death of her husband. Her friends hated to see her leave Avila. But the stay in Toledo was to be richly blessed. Doña Luisa became a powerful and faithful patroness of the reform. In the circle of women and girls that gathered around Teresa at the palace to seek her advice, there was someone soon to be one of her strongest supporters, the young María de Salazar (later María of St. Joseph, prioress of Seville). Above all, Teresa found the leisure here to write the story of her interior life, a project given to her the previous year by Fr. Ibáñez. This book was to make her name known in all Catholic lands, and down through the centuries would become a guide for countless people.
Even in regard to her foundation in Avila the time was not wasted. In the house of the Duchess de la Cerda, she was sought out by María of Jesus, a Carmelite from Granada who had reform ideas similar to Teresa’s and wanted to talk them over with her. She also found occasion for a consultation with St. Peter of Alcántara who on an earlier occasion had tested the state of her soul and consoled her greatly. Now he encouraged her to found the Monastery of St. Joseph without an income, as the Primitive Rule prescribed.
Teresa was permitted to return to Avila only in June of 1562, after a six-month stay. Good news that came on the day of her arrival awaited her there: the papal brief that permitted Doña Guiomar and her mother to establish a Carmelite monastery according to the Primitive Rule, placing it under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, giving it the same rights as the other monasteries of the same order, and prohibiting anyone from disturbing it in any way. Teresa’s name was not mentioned in the document. By a lucky coincidence, Peter of Alcántara was just then in Avila for the last time, for he died shortly thereafter. His efforts succeeded in winning the bishop of Avila, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, for the foundation. From then on he was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the reform.
The illness of her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, resulted in her gaining the permission of her provincial to move into his house, her future monastery, to care for him. This gave her the opportunity of personally supervising the construction. When the workers left the house, the patient was also healed and the monastery could become what it was meant to be. Now the most important thing was to find suitable living stones for the new foundation. There were four postulants about whom the Holy Mother herself said, “My first daughters were four orphans without dowries, but great servants of God. I found just what I had wished for, because my most ardent desire was that the first to enter would by their example be suitable building blocks of the spiritual edifice, would fulfill our intentions and lead lives of contemplation and perfection.” On August 24, the feast of St. Bartholomew, these first four Carmelites of the reform arrived at the little monastery where the saint awaited them. The friends who had helped to make the foundation made their appearance. By commission of the Bishop of Avila, Gaspar Daza celebrated the first mass and received the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. Thereby the foundation was completed. Then Teresa clothed her daughters in the robe of the Discalced Carmelites (“discalced,” or “without shoes,” because instead of shoes they wore the footwear of the poor, sandals made of hemp). Their habit and scapular were made of coarse brown frieze; a mantle of white frieze; a toque of linen; and over it for the time being they wore the white novice’s veil. Overjoyed, the mother remained behind with her daughters in the quiet of the holy place when the visitors departed. But people did not leave her in peace for long. The rumor of the accomplished foundation quickly spread to the entire city. The opposition stirred up all the townspeople. A monastery without any income would consume the alms of the poor. The prioress of the Incarnation, pressured by the indignant sisters, sent Teresa an order to return to her monastery immediately. The Saint obeyed at once. She left the four novices behind under the protection of St. Joseph and the direction of the oldest, Ursula of the Saints. On August 26 the city’s municipal judge summoned the mayor and the cathedral chapter to a meeting in the city hall. The consensus was that the monastery was to be suppressed, and the municipal judge himself went there. But Teresa’s young daughters did not allow themselves to be intimidated. When threatened with force, they answered through the grille, “...You may use force. But...such actions are judged here on earth by his Majesty Philip II, and in heaven by another judge, whom you should fear a great deal more, the almighty God, the champion of the oppressed.” The city magistrate left without doing anything and called another, larger gathering for the next day. In an inflammatory speech he explained that this foundation was an innovation and as such suspect. The maintenance of the nuns would excessively burden the nobility of Avila. The opening of the house without the permission of the city was illegal. Therefore, one must conclude that it be suppressed. The speaker already had the majority on his side when a Dominican asked to speak. It was Fr. Domingo Báñez who had only been in Avila for a short time, but was famous for his scholarship. He did not know Teresa, but his love for justice impelled him to become a spokesman for her cause.
Is it a sufficient reason to destroy something because it is new? Were not all societies of orders innovations when they arose from the bosom of the Church? And when our Lord and God founded the Church, did his work not bear the mark of innovation? ...This newly founded monastery of Carmelites is a reform of the ancient community. It picks up what has fallen. It renews a weakened Rule. It strives for the formation of people for the glory of the holy faith. For these reasons it must not only be tolerated by the power