1. This nun took the habit forty years ago, and from the first began to reflect on the mysteries of the Passion of Christ our Lord, and on her own sins, for some time every day, without thinking at all of anything supernatural, but only of created things, or of such subjects as suggested to her how soon the end of all things must come, discerning in creatures the greatness of God and His love for us.
2. This made her much more willing to serve Him: she was never under the influence of fear, and made no account of it, but had always a great desire to see God honoured, and His glory increased. To that end were all her prayers directed, without making any for herself; for she thought that it mattered little if she had to suffer in purgatory in exchange for the increase of His glory even in the slightest degree.
3. In this she spent about two-and-twenty years in great aridities, and never did it enter into her thoughts to desire anything else; for she regarded herself as one who, she thought, did not deserve even to think about God, except that His Majesty was very merciful to her in allowing her to remain in His presence, saying her prayers, reading also in good books.
4. It must be about eighteen years since she began to arrange about the first monastery of Barefooted Carmelites which she founded. It was in Avila, three or two years before, -- I believe it is three, -- she began to think that she occasionally heard interior locutions, and had visions and revelations interiorly. She saw with the eyes of the soul, for she never saw anything with her bodily eyes, nor heard anything with her bodily ears; twice, she thinks, she heard a voice, but she understood not what was said. It was a sort of making things present when she saw these things interiorly; they passed away like a meteor most frequently. The vision, however, remained so impressed on her mind, and produced such effects, that it was as if she saw those things with her bodily eyes, and more.
5. She was then by nature so very timid, that she would not dare to be alone even by day, at times. And as she could not escape from these visitations, though she tried with all her might, she went about in very great distress, afraid that it was a delusion of Satan, and began to consult spiritual men of the Society of Jesus about it, among whom were Father Araoz, who was Commissary of the Society, and who happened to go to that place, and Father Francis, who was Duke of Gandia, -- him she consulted twice; also a Provincial, now in Rome, called Gil Gonzalez, and him also who is now Provincial of Castille, -- this latter, however, not so often, -- Father Baltasar Alvarez who is now Rector in Salamanca; and he heard her confession for six years at this time; also the present Rector of Cuenca, Salazar by name; the Rector of Segovia, called Santander; the Rector of Burgos, whose name is Ripalda, -- and he thought very ill of her when he heard of these things, till after he had conversed with her; the Doctor Paul Hernandez in Toledo, who was a Consultor of the Inquisition, him who was Rector in Salamanca when she talked to him; the Doctor Gutierrez, and other fathers, some of the Society, whom she knew to be spiritual men, these she sought out, if any were in those places where she went to found monasteries.
6. With the Father Fra Peter of Alcantara, who was a holy man of the Barefooted Friars of St. Francis, she had many
communications, and he it was who insisted so much upon it that her spirit should be regarded as good. They were more than six years trying her spirit minutely, as it is already described at very great length, as will be shown hereafter: and she herself in tears and deep affliction; for the more they tried her, the more she fell into raptures, and into trances very often, -- not, however, deprived of her senses.
7. Many prayers were made, and many Masses were said, that our Lord would lead her by another way, for her fear was very great when she was not in prayer; though in everything relating to the state of her soul she was very much better, and a great difference was visible, there was no vainglory, nor had she any temptation thereto, nor to pride; on the contrary, she was very much ashamed and confounded when she saw that people knew of her state, and except with her confessors or any one who would give her light, she never spoke of these things, and it was more painful to speak of them than if they had been grave sins; for it seemed to her that people must laugh at her, and that these things were womanish imaginations, which she had always heard of with disgust.
8. About thirteen years ago, more or less, after the house of St. Joseph was founded, into which she had gone from the other monastery, came the present Bishop of Salamanca, Inquisitor, I think, of Toledo, previously of Seville, Soto by name. She contrived to have a conference with him for her greater security, and told him everything. He replied, that there was nothing in all this that concerned his office, because everything that she saw and heard confirmed her the more in the Catholic faith, in which she always was, and is, firm, with most earnest desires for the honour of God and the good of souls, willing to suffer death many times for one of them.
9. He told her, when he saw how distressed she was, to give an account of it all, and of her whole life, without omitting anything, to the Master Avila, who was a man of great learning in the way of prayer, and to rest content with the answer he should give. She did so, and described her sins and her life. He wrote to her and comforted her, giving her great security. The account I gave was such that all those learned men who saw it -- they were my confessors -- said that it was very profitable for instruction in spiritual things; and they commanded her to make copies of it, and write another little book for her daughters, -- she was prioress, -- wherein she might give them some instructions.
10. Notwithstanding all this, she was not without fears at times, for she thought that spiritual men also might be deceived like herself. She told her confessor that he might discuss these things with certain learned men, though they were not much given to prayer, for she had no other desire but that of knowing whether what she experienced was in conformity with the sacred writings or not. Now and then she took comfort in thinking that -- though she herself, because of her sins, deserved to fall into delusions -- our Lord would not suffer so many good men, anxious to give her light, to be led into error.
11. Having this in view, she began to communicate with fathers of the Order of the glorious St. Dominic, to which, before these things took place, she had been to confession -- she does not say to them, but to the Order. These are they with whom she afterwards had relations. The Father Fra Vicente Barron, at that time Consultor of the Holy Office, heard her confessions for eighteen months in Toledo, and he had done so very many years before these things began. He was a very learned man. He reassured her greatly, as did also the fathers of the Society spoken of before. All used to say, If she does not sin against God, and acknowledges her own misery, what has she to be afraid of? She confessed to the Father Fra Pedro Ibanez, who was reader in Avila; to the Father-Master Fra Dominic Banes, who is now in Valladolid as rector of the college of St. Gregory, I confessed for six years, and whenever I had occasion to do so communicated with him by letter; also to the Master Chaves; to the Father-Master Fra Bartholomew of Medina, professor in Salamanca, of whom she knew that he thought ill of her; for she, having heard this, thought that he, better than any other, could tell her if she was deceived, because he had so little confidence in her. This was more than two years ago. She contrived to go to confession to him, and gave him a full account of everything while she remained there; and he saw what she had written, for the purpose of attaining to a better understanding of the matter. He reassured her so much, and more than all the rest, and remained her very good friend.
12. She went to confession also to Fra Philip de Meneses, when she founded the monastery of Valladolid, for he was rector of the college of St. Gregory. He, having before that heard of her state, had gone to Avila, that he might speak to her, -- it was an act of great charity, -- being desirous of ascertaining whether she was deluded, so that he might enlighten her, and, if she was not, defend her when he heard her spoken against; and he was much satisfied.
13. She also conferred particularly with Salinas, Dominican Provincial, a man of great spirituality; with another licentiate named Lunar, who was prior of St. Thomas of Avila; and, in Segovia, with a reader, Fra Diego de Yangues.
14. Of these Dominicans some never failed to give themselves greatly to prayer, and perhaps all did. Some others also she consulted; for in so many years, and because of the fear she was in, she had opportunities of doing so, especially as she went about founding monasteries in so many places. Her spirit was tried enough, for everybody wished to be able to enlighten her, and thereby reassured her and themselves. She always, at all times, wished to submit herself to whatever they enjoined her, and she was therefore distressed when, as to these spiritual things, she could not obey them. Both her own prayer, and that of the nuns she has established, are always carefully directed towards the propagation of the faith; and it was for that purpose, and for the good of her Order, that she began her first monastery.
15. She used to say that, if any of these things tended to lead her against the Catholic faith and the law of God, she would not need to seek for learned men nor tests, because she would see at once that they came from Satan. She never undertook anything merely because it came to her in prayer; on the contrary, when her confessors bade her do the reverse, she did so without being in the least troubled thereat, and she always told them everything. For all that they told her that these things came from God, she never so thoroughly believed them that she could swear to it herself, though it did seem to her that they were spiritually safe, because of the effects thereof, and of the great graces which she at times received; but she always desired virtues more than anything else; and this it is that she has charged her nuns to desire, saying to them that the most humble and mortified will be the most spiritual.
16. All that is told and written she communicated to the Father-Master Fra Dominic Banes, who is now in Valladolid, and who is the person with whom she has had, and has still, the most frequent communications. He sent her writings to the Holy Office in Madrid, so it is said. In all this she submits herself to the Catholic faith and the Roman Church. Nobody has found fault with them, because these things are not in the power of any man, and our Lord does not require what is impossible.
17. The reason why so much is known about her is that, as she was in fear about herself, and described her state to so many, these talked to one another on the subject and also the accident that happened to what she had written. This has been to her a very grievous torment and cross, and has cost her many tears. She says that this distress is not the effect of humility, but of the causes already mentioned. Our Lord seems to have given permission for this torture for if one spoke more harshly of her than others, by little and little he spoke more kindly of her.
18. She took the greatest pains not to submit the state of her soul to any one who she thought would believe that these things came from God, for she was instantly afraid that the devil would deceive them both. If she saw any one timid about these things, to him she laid bare her secrets with the greater joy; though also it gave her pain when, for the purpose of trying her, these things were treated with contempt, for she thought some were really from God, and she would not have people, even if they had good cause, condemn them so absolutely; neither would she have them believe that all were from God; and because she knew perfectly well that delusion was possible, therefore it was that she never thought herself altogether safe in a matter wherein there might be danger.
19. She used to strive with all her might never in any way to offend God, and was always obedient; and by these means she thought she might obtain her deliverance, by the help of God, even if Satan were the cause.
20. Ever since she became subject to these supernatural visitations, her spirit is always inclined to seek after that which is most perfect, and she had almost always a great desire to suffer; and in the persecutions she underwent, and they were many, she was comforted, and had a particular affection for her persecutors. She had a great desire to be poor and lonely, and to depart out of this land of exile in order to see God. Through these effects, and others like them, she began to find peace, thinking that a spirit which could leave her with these virtues could not be an evil one, and they who had the charge of her soul said so; but it was a peace that came from diminished weariness, not from the cessation of fear.
21. The spirit she is of never urged her to make any of these things known, but to be always obedient. As it has been said already, she never saw anything with her bodily eyes, but in a way so subtile and so intellectual that at first she sometimes thought that all was the effect of imagination; at other times she could not think so. These things were not continual, but occurred for the most part when she was in some trouble: as on one occasion, when for some days she had to bear unendurable interior pains, and a restlessness of soul arising out of the fear that she was deluded by Satan, as it is described at length in the account she has given of it, and where her sins, for they have been so public, are mentioned with the rest: for the fear she was in made her forget her own good name.
22. Being thus in distress such as cannot be described, at the mere hearing interiorly these words, |It is I, be not afraid,| her soul became so calm, courageous, and confident, that she could not understand whence so great a blessing had come; for her confessor had not been able -- and many learned men, with many words, had not been able -- to give her that peace and rest which this one word had given her. And thus, at other times, some vision gave her strength, for without that she could not have borne such great trials and contradictions, together with infirmities without number, and which she still has to bear, though they are not so many, -- for she is never free from some suffering or other, more or less intense. Her ordinary state is constant pain, with many other infirmities, though since she became a nun they are more troublesome, if she is doing anything in the service of our Lord. And the mercies He shows her pass quickly out of memory, though she often dwells on those mercies, -- but she is not able to dwell so long upon these as upon her sins; these are always a torment to her, most commonly as filth smelling foully.
23. That her sins are so many, and her service of God so scanty, must be the reason why she is not tempted to vainglory. There never was anything in any of these spiritual visitations that was not wholly pure and clean, nor does she think it can be otherwise if the spirit be good and the visitations supernatural, for she utterly neglects the body and never thinks of it, being wholly intent upon God.
24. She is also living in great fear about sinning against God, and doing His will in all things; this is her continual prayer. And she is, she thinks, so determined never to swerve from this, that there is nothing her confessors might enjoin her, which she considers to be for the greater honour of our Lord, that she would not undertake and perform, by the help of our Lord. And confident that His Majesty helps those who have resolved to advance His service and glory, she thinks no more of herself and of her own progress, in comparison with that, than if she did not exist, so far as she knows herself, and her confessors think so too.
25. All that is written in this paper is the simple truth, and they, and all others who have had anything to do with her for these twenty years, can justify it. Most frequently her spirit urged her to praise God, and she wished that all the world gave itself up to that, even though it should cost her exceedingly. Hence the desire she has for the good of souls; and from considering how vile are the things of this world, and how precious are interior things, with which nothing can be compared, she has attained to a contempt of the world.
26. As for the vision about which you, my father, wish to know something, it is of this kind: she sees nothing either outwardly or inwardly, for the vision is not imaginary: but, without seeing anything, she understands what it is, and where it is, more clearly than if she saw it, only nothing in particular presents itself to her. She is like a person who feels that another is close beside her; but because she is in the dark she sees him not, yet is certain that he is there present. Still, this comparison is not exact; for he who is in the dark, in some way or other, through hearing a noise or having seen that person before, knows he is there, or knew it before; but here there is nothing of the kind, for without a word, inward or outward, the soul clearly perceives who it is, where he is, and occasionally what he means. Why, or how, she perceives it, she knoweth not; but so it is; and while it lasts, she cannot help being aware of it. And when it is over, -- though she may wish ever so much to retain the image thereof, -- she cannot do it, for it is then clear to her that it would be, in that case, an act of the imagination, not the vision itself, -- that is not in her power; and so it is with the supernatural things. And it is from this it comes to pass that he in whom God works these graces despises himself, and becomes more humble than he was ever before, for he sees that this is a gift of God, and that he can neither add to it nor take from it. The love and the desire become greater of serving our Lord, who is so mighty that He can do that which is more than our imagination can conceive here, as there are things which men, however learned they may be, can never know. Blessed for ever and ever be He who bestows this! Amen.
1. See Life, ch. xxiv. section 4.
2. See Life, ch. xxv. section 18.
3. See Life, ch. xxv. section 20, and ch. xxvii. section 1.
4. See Life, ch. xxvi. section 5.
5. Don Francisco de Soto y Salazar was a native of Bonilli de la Sierra, and Vicar-General of the Bishops of Astorga and Avila, and Canon of Avila; Inquisitor of Cordova, Seville, and Toledo; Bishop, successively, of Albarracin, Segorve, and Salamanca. He died at Merida, in 1576, poisoned, it was suspected, by the sect of the Illuminati, who were alarmed at his faithful zeal and holy life (Palafox, note to letter 19, vol. i. ed. Doblado). |She went to the Inquisitor, Don Francisco Soto de Salazar -- he was afterwards Bishop of Salamanca -- and said to him: 'My lord, I am subject to certain extraordinary processes in prayer, such as ecstasies, raptures, and revelations, and do not wish to be deluded or deceived by Satan, or to do anything that is not absolutely safe. I give myself up to the Inquisition to try me, and examine my ways of going on, submitting myself to its orders.' The Inquisitor replied: 'Senora, the business of the Inquisition is not to try the spirit, nor to examine ways of prayer, but to correct heretics. Do you, then, commit your experience to writing, in all simplicity and truth, and send it to the Father-Master Avila, who is a man of great spirituality and learning, and extremely conversant with matters of prayer; and when you shall have his answer, you may be sure there is nothing to be afraid of'| (Jerome Gratian, Lucidario, cap. iii.).
6. This book is the Way of Perfection, written by direction of F. Banes.
7. The Saint had such great affection for the Order of St. Dominic, that she used to say of herself, |Yo soy la Dominica in passione,| meaning thereby that she was in her heart a Dominicaness, and a child of the Order (Palafox, note to letter 16, vol. i. ed. Doblado).
8. When this father had read the Life, he had it copied, with the assent of F. Gratian, and gave the copy thus made to the Duchess of Alba (De la Fuente).
9. See Foundations, ch. xvii. section 12, note.
10. Life, ch. xxiii. section 15.
11. Life, ch. xxvi. section 5.
12. Section 4.
13. Life, ch. xxv. section 19.
14. Life, ch. xxv. section 22.
15. See Life, ch. xxvii. section 5.