The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter XIX -The Effects of This Fourth State of Prayer. Earnest Exhortations to Those Who Have Attained to It Not to Go Back, Nor to Cease from Prayer, Even if They Fall. The Great Calamity of Going Back.

1. There remains in the soul, when the prayer of union is over, an exceedingly great tenderness; so much so, that it would undo itself−−not from pain, but through tears of joy it finds itself bathed therein, without being aware of it, and it knows not how or when it wept them. But to behold the violence of the fire subdued by the water, which yet makes it burn the more, gives it great delight. It seems as if I were speaking an unknown language. So it is, however.

2. It has happened to me occasionally, when this prayer was over, to be so beside myself as not to know whether I had been dreaming, or whether the bliss I felt had really been mine; and, on finding myself in a flood of tears−−which had painlessly flowed, with such violence and rapidity that it seemed as if a cloud from heaven [1] had shed them−−to perceive that it was no dream. Thus it was with me in the beginning, when it passed quickly away. The soul remains possessed of so much courage, that if it were now hewn in pieces for God, it would be a great consolation to it. This is the time of resolutions, of heroic determinations, of the living energy of good desires, of the beginning of hatred of the world, and of the most clear perception of its vanity. The soul makes greater and higher progress than it ever made before in the previous states of prayer; and grows in humility more and more, because it sees clearly that neither for obtaining nor for retaining this grace, great beyond all measure, has it ever done, or ever been able to do, anything of itself. It looks upon itself as most unworthy−−for in a room into which the sunlight enters strongly, not a cobweb can be hid; it sees its own misery; self−conceit is so far away, that it seems as if it never could have had any−−for now its own eyes behold how very little it could ever do, or rather, that it never did anything, that it hardly gave even its own consent, but that it rather seemed as if the doors of the senses were closed against its will in order that it might have more abundantly the fruition of our Lord. It is abiding alone with Him: what has it to do but to love Him? It neither sees nor hears, unless on compulsion: no thanks to it. Its past life stands before it then, together with the great mercy of God, in great distinctness; and it is not necessary for it to go forth to hunt with the understanding, because what it has to eat and ruminate upon, it sees now ready prepared. It sees, so far as itself is concerned, that it has deserved hell, and that its punishment is bliss. It undoes itself in the praises of God, and I would gladly undo myself now.

3. Blessed be Thou, O my Lord, who, out of a pool so filthy as I am, bringest forth water so clean as to be meet for Thy table! Praised be Thou, O Joy of the Angels, who hast been thus pleased to exalt so vile a worm!

4. The good effects of this prayer abide in the soul for some time. Now that it clearly apprehends that the fruit is not its own, the soul can begin to share it with others, and that without any loss to itself. It begins to show signs of its being a soul that is guarding the treasures of heaven, and to be desirous of communicating them to others, [2] and to pray to God that itself may not be the only soul that is rich in them. It begins to benefit its neighbours, as it were, without being aware of it, or doing anything consciously: its neighbours understand the matter, because the odour of the flowers has grown so strong as to make them eager to approach them. They understand that this soul is full of virtue: they see the fruit, how delicious it is, and they wish to help that soul to eat it.

5. If this ground be well dug by troubles, by persecutions, detractions, and infirmities,−−they are few who ascend so high without this,−−if it be well broken up by great detachment from all self−interest, it will drink in so much water that it can hardly ever be parched again. But if it be ground which is mere waste, and covered with thorns (as I was when I began); if the occasions of sin be not avoided; if it be an ungrateful soil, unfitted for so great a grace,−−it will be parched up again. If the gardener become careless,−−and if our Lord, out of His mere goodness, will not send down rain upon it,−−the garden is ruined. Thus has it been with me more than once, so that I am amazed at it; and if I had not found it so by experience, I could not have believed it.

6. I write this for the comfort of souls which are weak, as I am, that they may never despair, nor cease to trust in the power of God; even if they should fall after our Lord has raised them to so high a degree of prayer as this is, they must not be discouraged, unless they would lose themselves utterly. Tears gain everything, and one drop of water attracts another.

7. One of the reasons that move me, who am what I am, under obedience to write this, and give an account of my wretched life, and of the graces our Lord has wrought in me,−−though I never served Him, but offended Him rather,−−is what I have just given: and, certainly, I wish I was a person of great authority, that people might believe what I say. I pray to our Lord that His Majesty would be pleased to grant me this grace. I repeat it, let no one who has begun to give himself to prayer be discouraged, and say: If I fall into sin, it will be worse for me if I go on now with the practice of prayer. I think so too, if he gives up prayer, and does not correct his evil ways; but if he does not give up prayer, let him be assured of this−−prayer will bring him to the haven of light.

8. In this the devil turned his batteries against me, and I suffered so much because I thought it showed but little humility if I persevered in prayer when I was so wicked, that−−as I have already said [3]−−I gave it up for a year and a half−−at least, for a year, but I do not remember distinctly the other six months. This could not have been, neither was it, anything else but to throw myself down into hell; there was no need of any devils to drag me thither. O my God, was there ever blindness so great as this? How well Satan prepares his measures for his purpose, when he pursues us in this way! The traitor knows that he has already lost that soul which perseveres in prayer, and that every fall which he can bring about helps it, by the goodness of God, to make greater progress in His service. Satan has some interest in this.

9. O my Jesus, what a sight that must be−−a soul so highly exalted falling into sin, and raised up again by Thee; who, in Thy mercy, stretchest forth Thine hand to save! How such a soul confesses Thy greatness and compassion and its own wretchedness! It really looks on itself as nothingness, and confesses Thy power. It dares not lift up its eyes; it raises them, indeed, but it is to acknowledge how much it oweth unto Thee. It becomes devout to the Queen of Heaven, that she may propitiate Thee; it invokes the Saints, who fell after Thou hadst called them, for succour. Thou seemest now to be too bountiful in Thy gifts, because it feels itself to be unworthy of the earth it treads on. It has recourse to the Sacraments, to a quickened faith, which abides in it at the contemplation of the power which Thou hast lodged in them. It praises Thee because Thou hast left us such medicines and ointment for our wounds, which not only heal them on the surface, but remove all traces whatever of them.

10. The soul is amazed at it. Who is there, O Lord of my soul, that is not amazed at compassion so great and mercy so surpassing, after treason so foul and so hateful? I know not how it is that my heart does not break when I write this, for I am wicked. With these scanty tears which I am now weeping, but yet Thy gift,−−water out of a well, so far as it is mine, so impure,−−I seem to make Thee some recompense for treachery so great as mine, in that I was always doing evil, labouring to make void the graces Thou hast given me. Do Thou, O Lord, make my tears available; purify the water which is so muddy; at least, let me not be to others a temptation to rash judgments, as I have been to myself, when I used to think such thoughts as these. Why, O Lord, dost Thou pass by most holy persons, who have always served Thee, and who have been tried; who have been brought up in religion, and are really religious−−not such as I am, having only the name−−so as to make it plain that they are not recipients of those graces which Thou hast bestowed upon me?

11. I see clearly now, O Thou my Good, Thou hast kept the reward to give it them all at once: my weakness has need of these succours. They, being strong, serve Thee without them, and Thou dealest with them as with a strong race, free from all self−interest. But yet Thou knowest, O my Lord, that I have often cried unto Thee, making excuses for those who murmured against me; for I thought they had reason on their side. This I did then when Thou of Thy goodness hadst kept me back from offending Thee so much, and when I was departing from everything which I thought displeasing unto Thee. It was when I did this that Thou, O Lord, didst begin to lay open Thy treasures for Thy servant. It seemed as if Thou wert looking for nothing else but that I should be willing and ready to receive them; accordingly, Thou didst begin at once, not only to give them, but also to make others know that Thou wert giving them.

12. When this was known, there began to prevail a good opinion of her, of whom all had not yet clearly understood how wicked she was, though much of that wickedness was plain enough. Calumny and persecution began at once, and, as I think, with good reason; so I looked on none of them as an enemy, but made my supplications to Thee, imploring Thee to consider the grounds they had. They said that I wished to be a saint, and that I invented novelties; but I had not then attained in many things even to the observance of my rule; nor had I come near those excellent and holy nuns who were in the house,−−and I do not believe I ever shall, if God of His goodness will not do that for me Himself; on the contrary, I was there only to do away with what was good, and introduce customs which were not good; at least, I did what I could to bring them in, and I was very powerful for evil. Thus it was that they were blameless, when they blamed me. I do not mean the nuns only, but the others as well: they told me truths; for it was Thy will.

13. I was once saying the Office,−−I had had this temptation for some time,−−and when I came to these words, "Justus es, Domine, et rectum judicium tuum," [4] I began to think what a deep truth it was. Satan never was strong enough to tempt me in any way to doubt of Thy goodness, or of any article of the faith: on the contrary, it seems to me that the more these truths were above nature, the more firmly I held them, and my devotion grew; when I thought of Thy omnipotence, I accepted all Thy wonderful works, and I say it again, I never had a doubt. Then, as I was thinking how it could be just in Thee to allow so many, who, as I said, are Thy most faithful servants, to remain without those consolations and graces which Thou hast given to me, who am what I am, Thou, O my Lord, didst answer me: Serve thou Me, and meddle not with this.

14. This was the first word which I ever heard Thee speak to me, and it made me greatly afraid. But as I shall speak hereafter [5] of this way of hearing, and of other matters, I say nothing here; for to do so would be to digress from my subject, and I have already made digressions enough. I scarcely know what I have said, nor can it be otherwise; but you, my father, must bear with these interruptions; for when I consider what God must have borne with from me, and when I see the state I am in, it is not strange that I should wander in what I am saying, and what I have still to say.

15. May it please our Lord that my wanderings may be of this kind, and may His Majesty never suffer me to have strength to resist Him even in the least; yea, rather than that, may He destroy me this moment. It is evidence enough of His great compassions, that He has forgiven so much ingratitude, not once, but often. He forgave St. Peter once; but I have been forgiven many times. Satan had good reasons for tempting me: I ought never to have pretended to a strict friendship with One, my hatred of whom I made so public. Was there ever blindness so great as mine? Where could I think I should find help but in Thee? What folly to run away from the light, to be for ever stumbling! What a proud humility was that which Satan devised for me, when I ceased to lean upon the pillar, and threw the staff away which supported me, in order that my fall might not be great! [6]

16. I make the sign of the cross this moment. I do not think I ever escaped so great a danger as this device of Satan, which he would have imposed upon me in the disguise of humility. [7] He filled me with such thoughts as these: How could I make my prayer, who was so wicked, and yet had received so many mercies? It was enough for me to recite the Office, as all others did; but as I did not that much well, how could I desire to do more? I was not reverential enough, and made too little of the mercies of God. There was no harm in these thoughts and feelings in themselves; but to act upon them, that was an exceedingly great wickedness. Blessed be Thou, O Lord; for Thou camest to my help. This seems to me to be in principle the temptation of Judas, only that Satan did not dare to tempt me so openly. But he might have led me by little and little, as he led Judas, to the same pit of destruction.

17. Let all those who give themselves to prayer, for the love of God, look well to this. They should know that when I was neglecting it, my life was much worse than it had ever been; let them reflect on the excellent help and the pleasant humility which Satan provided for me: it was a grave interior disquietude. But how could my spirit be quiet? It was going away in its misery from its true rest. I remembered the graces and mercies I had received, and felt that the joys of this world were loathsome. I am astonished that I was able to bear it. It must have been the hope I had; for, as well as I can remember now, it is more than twenty−one years ago. I do not think I ever gave up my purpose of resuming my prayer; but I was waiting to be very free from sin first.

18. Oh, how deluded I was in this expectation! The devil would have held it out before me till the day of judgment, that he might then take me with him to hell. Then, when I applied myself to prayer and to spiritual reading,−−whereby I might perceive these truths, and the evil nature of the way I was walking in, and was often importunate with our Lord in tears,−−I was so wicked, that it availed me nothing; when I gave that up, and wasted my time in amusing myself, in great danger of falling into sin, and with scanty helps,−−and I may venture to say no help at all, unless it was a help to my ruin,−−what could I expect but that of which I have spoken?

19. I believe that a certain Dominican friar, a most learned man, has greatly merited in the eyes of God; for it was he who roused me from this slumber. He made me−−I think I said so before [8]−−go to Communion once a fortnight, and be less given to evil; I began to be converted, though I did not cease to offend our Lord all at once: however, as I had not lost my way, I walked on in it, though slowly, falling and rising again; and he who does not cease to walk and press onwards, arrives at last, even if late. To lose one's way is−−so it seems to me−−nothing else but the giving up of prayer. God, of His mercy, keeps us from this!

20. It is clear from this,−−and, for the love of God, consider it well,−−that a soul, though it may receive great graces from God in prayer, must never rely on itself, because it may fall, nor expose itself in any way whatever to any risks of sin. This should be well considered because much depends on it; for the delusion here, wherein Satan is able to entangle us afterwards, though the grace be really from God, lies in the traitor's making use of that very grace, so far as he can, for his own purpose, and particularly against persons not grown strong in virtues, who are neither mortified nor detached; for these are not at present strong enough−−as I shall explain hereafter [9]−−to expose themselves to dangerous occasions, notwithstanding the noble desires and resolutions they may have.

21. This doctrine is excellent, and not mine, but the teaching of God, and accordingly I wish ignorant people like myself knew it; for even if a soul were in this state, it must not rely so much upon itself as to go forth to the battle, because it will have enough to do in defending itself. Defensive armour is the present necessity; the soul is not yet strong enough to assail Satan, and to trample him under foot, as those are who are in the state of which I shall speak further on. [10]

22. This is the delusion by which Satan prevails: when a soul sees itself so near unto God, when it sees the difference there is between the things of heaven and those of earth, and when it sees the love which our Lord bears it, there grows out of that love a certain trust and confidence that there is to be no falling away from that the fruition of which it then possesses. It seems to see the reward distinctly, as if it were impossible for it to abandon that which, even in this life, is so delicious and sweet, for anything so mean and impure as worldly joy. Through this confidence, Satan robs it of that distrust which it ought to have in itself; and so, as I have just said, [11] the soul exposes itself to dangers, and begins, in the fulness of its zeal, to give away without discretion the fruit of its garden, thinking that now it has no reason to be afraid for itself. Yet this does not come out of pride; for the soul clearly understands that of itself it can do no good thing; but rather out of an excessive confidence in God, without discretion: because the soul does not see itself to be unfledged. It can go forth out of its nest, and God Himself may take it out, but still it cannot fly, because the virtues are not strong, and itself has no experience wherewith to discern the dangers; nor is it aware of the evil which trusting to itself may do it.

23. This it was that ruined me. Now, to understand this, and everything else in the spiritual life, we have great need of a director, and of conference with spiritual persons. I fully believe, with respect to that soul which God raises to this state, that He will not cease to be gracious to it, nor suffer it to be lost, if it does not utterly forsake His Majesty. But when that soul−−as I said−−falls, let it look to it again and again, for the love of our Lord, that Satan deceive it not by tempting it to give up prayer, as he tempted me, through that false humility of which I have spoken before, [12] and would gladly speak of again and again. Let it rely on the goodness of God, which is greater than all the evil we can do. When we, acknowledging our own vileness, desire to return into His grace, He remembers our ingratitude no more,−−no, not even the graces He has given us, for the purpose of chastising us, because of our misuse of them; yea, rather, they help to procure our pardon the sooner, as of persons who have been members of His household, and who, as they say, have eaten of His bread.

24. Let them remember His words, and behold what He hath done unto me, who grew weary of sinning before He grew weary of forgiving. He is never weary of giving, nor can His compassion be exhausted. Let us not grow weary ourselves of receiving. May He be blessed for ever, Amen; and may all created things praise


1. See ch. xx. § 2.

2. See ch. xvii. § 3.

3. Ch. vii. § 17, and ch. viii. § 5.

4. Psalm cxviii. 137: "Thou art just, O Lord, and Thy judgment is right."

5. See ch. xxv.

6. See ch. viii. § 1.

7. Ch. vii. § 17.

8. Ch. vii. § 27.

9. Ch. xxxi. § 21.

10. Ch. xx. § 33, and ch. xxv. § 24.

11. Ch. xix. § 4.

12. See § 16.

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