The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Relation VIII. -Addressed to F. Rodrigo Alvarez.

1. These interior things of the spirit are so difficult to describe, and, still more, in such a way as to be understood,−−the more so as they pass quickly away,−−that, if obedience did not help me, it would be a chance if I succeeded, especially in such difficult things. I implore you, my father, to take for granted that it is not in my mind to think this to be correct, for it may well be that I do not understand the matter; but what I can assure you of is this, that I will speak of nothing I have not had experience of at times, and, indeed, often.

2. I think it will please you, my father, if I begin by discussing that which is at the root of supernatural things; for that which relates to devotion, tenderness, tears, and meditations, which is in our power here to acquire by the help of our Lord, is understood.

3. The first prayer of which I was conscious,−−in my opinion, supernatural,−−so I call that which no skill or effort of ours, however much we labour, can attain to, though we should prepare ourselves for it, and that preparation must be of great service,−−is a certain interior recollection [1] of which the soul is sensible; the soul seems to have other senses within itself then, which bear some likeness to the exterior senses it possesses; and thus the soul, withdrawing into itself, seeks to go away from the tumult of its outward senses, and accordingly it drags them away with itself; for it closes the eyes on purpose that it may neither see, nor hear, nor understand anything but that whereon the soul is then intent, which is to be able to converse with God alone. In this prayer there is no suspension of the faculties and powers of the soul; it retains the full use of them; but the use of them is retained that they may be occupied with God. This will be easily understood by him whom our Lord shall have raised to this state; but by him whom He has not, not; at least, such a one will have need of many words and illustrations.

4. Out of this recollection grow a certain quietude and inward peace most full of comfort; for the soul is in such a state that it does not seem to it that it wants anything; for even speaking wearies it,−−I mean by this, vocal prayer and meditation; it would do nothing but love. This lasts some time, and even a long time.

5. Out of this prayer comes usually what is called a sleep of the faculties; but they are not so absorbed nor so suspended as that it can be called a trance; nor is it altogether union.

6. Sometimes, and even often, the soul is aware that the will alone is in union; and this it sees very clearly,−−that is, it seems so to it. The will is wholly intent upon God, and the soul sees that it has no power to rest on, or do, anything else; and at the same time the two other faculties are at liberty to attend to other matters of the service of God,−−in a word, Martha and Mary are together. [2] I asked Father Francis [3] if this was a delusion, for it made me stupid; and his reply was, that it often happened.

7. When all the faculties of the soul are in union, it is a very different state of things; for they can then do nothing whatever, because the understanding is as it were surprised. The will loves more than the understanding knows; but the understanding does not know that the will loves, nor what it is doing, so as to be able in any way to speak of it. As to the memory, the soul, I think, has none then, nor any power of thinking, nor are the senses awake, but rather as lost, so that the soul may be the more occupied with the object of its fruition: so it seems to me. They are lost but for a brief interval; it passes quickly away. By the wealth of humility, and other virtues and desires, left in the soul after this may be learnt how great the blessing is that flows from this grace, but it cannot be told what it is; for, though the soul applies itself to the understanding of it, it can neither understand nor explain it. This, if it be real, is, in my opinion, the greatest grace wrought by our Lord on this spiritual road,−−at least, it is one of the greatest.

8. Raptures and trance, in my opinion, are all one, only I am in the habit of using the word trance instead of rapture, because the latter word frightens people; and, indeed, the union of which I am speaking may also be called a trance. The difference between union and trance is this, that the latter lasts longer and is more visible outwardly, because the breathing gradually diminishes, so that it becomes impossible to speak or to open the eyes; and though this very thing occurs when the soul is in union, there is more violence in a trance for the natural warmth vanishes, I know not how, when the rapture is deep; and in all these kinds of prayer there is more or less of this. When it is deep, as I was saying, the hands become cold, and sometimes stiff and straight as pieces of wood; as to the body, if the rapture comes on when it is standing or kneeling, it remains so; [4] and the soul is so full of the joy of that which our Lord is setting before it, that it seems to forget to animate the body, and abandons it. If the rapture lasts, the nerves are made to feel it.

9. It seems to me that our Lord will have the soul know more of that, the fruition of which it has, in a trance than in union, and accordingly in a rapture the soul receives most commonly certain revelations of His Majesty, and the effects thereof on the soul are great,−−a forgetfulness of self, through the longing it has that God our Lord, who is so high, may be known and praised. In my opinion, if the rapture be from God, the soul cannot fail to obtain a deep conviction of its own helplessness, and of its wretchedness and ingratitude, in that it has not served Him who, of His own goodness only, bestows upon it graces so great; for the feeling and the sweetness are so high above all things that may be compared therewith that, if the recollection of them did not pass away, all the satisfactions of earth would be always loathsome to it; and hence comes the contempt for all the things of the world.

10. The difference between trance and transport [5] is this,−−in a trance the soul gradually dies to outward things, losing the senses and living unto God. A transport comes on by one sole act of His Majesty, wrought in the innermost part of the soul with such swiftness that it is as if the higher part thereof were carried away, and the soul leaving the body. Accordingly it requires courage at first to throw itself into the arms of our Lord, that He may take it whithersoever He will; for, until His Majesty establishes it in peace there whither He is pleased to take it−−by take it I mean the admitting of it to the knowledge of deep things−−it certainly requires in the beginning to be firmly resolved to die for Him, because the poor soul does not know what this means−−that is, at first. The virtues, as it seems to me, remain stronger after this, for there is a growth in detachment, and the power of God, who is so mighty, is the more known, so that the soul loves and fears Him. For so it is, He carries away the soul, no longer in our power, as the true Lord thereof, which is filled with a deep sorrow for having offended Him, and astonishment that it ever dared to offend a Majesty so great, with an exceedingly earnest desire that none may henceforth offend Him, and that all may praise Him. This, I think, must be the source of those very fervent desires for the salvation of souls, and for some share therein, and for the due praising of God.

11. The flight of the spirit−−I know not how to call it−−is a rising upwards from the very depths of the soul. I remember only this comparison, and I made use of it before, as you know, my father, in that writing where these and other ways of prayer are explained at length, [6] and such is my memory that I forget things at once. It seems to me that soul and spirit are one and the same thing; but only as a fire, if it is great and ready for burning; so, like fire burning rapidly, the soul, in that preparation of itself which is the work of God, sends up a flame,−−the flame ascends on high, but the fire thereof is the same as that below, nor does the flame cease to be fire because it ascends: so here, in the soul, something so subtile and so swift, seems to issue from it, that ascends to the higher part, and goes thither whither our Lord wills. I cannot go further with the explanation; it seems a flight, and I know of nothing else wherewith to compare it: I know that it cannot be mistaken, for it is most evident when it occurs, and that it cannot be hindered.

12. This little bird of the spirit seems to have escaped out of this wretchedness of the flesh, out of the prison of this body, and now, disentangled therefrom, is able to be the more intent on that which our Lord is giving it. The flight of the spirit is something so fine, of such inestimable worth, as the soul perceives it, that all delusion therein seems impossible, or anything of the kind, when it occurs. It was afterwards that fear arose, because she who received this grace was so wicked; for she saw what good reasons she had to be afraid of everything, though in her innermost soul there remained an assurance and a confidence wherein she was able to live, but not enough to make her cease from the anxiety she was in not to be deceived.

13. By impetus I mean that desire which at times rushes into the soul, without being preceded by prayer, and this is most frequently the case; it is a sudden remembering that the soul is away from God, or of a word it has heard to that effect. This remembering is occasionally so strong and vehement that the soul in a moment becomes as if the reason were gone, just like a person who suddenly hears most painful tidings of which he knew not before, or is surprised; such a one seems deprived of the power of collecting his thoughts for his own comfort, and is as one lost. So is it in this state, except that the suffering arises from this, that there abides in the soul a conviction that it would be well worth dying in it. It seems that whatever the soul then perceives does but increase its suffering, and that our Lord will have its whole being find no comfort in anything, nor remember that it is His will that it should live: the soul seems to itself to be in great and indescribable loneliness, and abandoned of all, because the world, and all that is in it, gives it pain; and because it finds no companionship in any created thing, the soul seeks its Creator alone, and this it sees to be impossible unless it dies; and as it must not kill itself, it is dying to die, and there is really a risk of death, and it sees itself hanging between heaven and earth, not knowing what to do with itself. And from time to time God gives it a certain knowledge of Himself, that it may see what it loses, in a way so strange that no explanation of it is possible; and there is no pain in the world−−at least I have felt none−−that is equal or like unto this, for if it lasts but half an hour the whole body is out of joint, and the bones so racked, that I am not able to write with my hands: the pains I endure are most grievous. [7]

14. But nothing of all this is felt till the impetus shall have passed away. He to whom it comes has enough to do in enduring that which is going on within him, nor do I believe that he would feel if he were grievously tortured: he is in possession of all his senses, can speak, and even observe; walk about he cannot,−−the great blow of that love throws him down to the ground. If we were to die to have this, it would be of no use, for it cannot be except when God sends it. It leaves great effects and blessings in the soul. Some learned men say that it is this, others that it is that, but no one condemns it. The Father−Master d'Avila wrote to me and said it was good, and so say all. The soul clearly understands that it is a great grace from our Lord; were it to occur more frequently, life would not last long.

15. The ordinary impetus is, that this desire of serving God comes on with a certain tenderness, accompanied with tears, out of a longing to depart from this land of exile; but as the soul retains its freedom, wherein it reflects that its living on is according to our Lord's will, it takes comfort in that thought, and offers its life to Him, beseeching Him that it may last only for His glory. This done, it bears all.

16. Another prayer very common is a certain kind of wounding; [8] for it really seems to the soul as if an arrow were thrust through the heart, or through itself. Thus it causes great suffering, which makes the soul complain; but the suffering is so sweet, that it wishes it never would end. The suffering is not one of sense, neither is the wound physical; it is in the interior of the soul, without any appearance of bodily pain; but as I cannot explain it except by comparing it with other pains, I make use of these clumsy expressions,−−for such they are when applied to this suffering. I cannot, however, explain it in any other way. It is, therefore, neither to be written of nor spoken of, because it is impossible for any one to understand it who has not had experience of it,−−I mean, how far the pain can go; for the pains of the spirit are very different from those of earth. I gather, therefore, from this, that the souls in hell and purgatory suffer more than we can imagine, by considering these pains of the body.

17. At other times, this wound of love seems to issue from the inmost depth of the soul; great are the effects of it; and when our Lord does not inflict it, there is no help for it, whatever we may do to obtain it; nor can it be avoided when it is His pleasure to inflict it. The effects of it are those longings after God, so quick and so fine that they cannot be described and when the soul sees itself hindered and kept back from entering, as it desires, on the fruition of God, it conceives a great loathing for the body, on which it looks as a thick wall which hinders it from that fruition which it then seems to have entered upon within itself, and unhindered by the body. It then comprehends the great evil that has befallen us through the sin of Adam in robbing us of this liberty. [9]

18. This prayer I had before the raptures and the great impetuosities I have been speaking of. I forgot to say that these great impetuosities scarcely ever leave me, except through a trance or great sweetness in our Lord, whereby He comforts the soul, and gives it courage to live on for His sake.

19. All this that I speak of cannot be the effect of the imagination; and I have some reasons for saying this, but it would be wearisome to enter on them: whether it be good or not is known to our Lord. The effects thereof, and how it profits the soul, pass all comprehension, as it seems to me.

20. I see clearly that the Persons are distinct, as I saw it yesterday when you, my father, were talking to the Father Provincial; only I saw nothing, and heard nothing, as, my father, I have already told you. But there is a strange certainty about it, though the eyes of the soul see nothing; and when the presence is withdrawn, that withdrawal is felt. How it is, I know not; but I do know very well that it is not an imagination, because I cannot reproduce the vision when it is over, even if I were to perish in the effort; but I have tried to do so. So is it with all that I have spoken of here, so far as I can see; for, as I have been in this state for so many years, I have been able to observe, so that I can say so with this confidence. The truth is,−−and you, my father, should attend to this,−−that, as to the Person who always speaks, I can certainly say which of Them He seems to me to be; of the others I cannot say so much. One of Them I know well has never spoken. I never knew why, nor do I busy myself in asking more of God than He is pleased to give, because in that case, I believe, I should be deluded by Satan, at once; nor will I ask now, because of the fear I am in.

21. I think the First spoke to me at times; but as I do not remember that very well now, nor what it was that He spoke, I will not venture to say so. It is all written,−−you, my father, know where,−−and more at large than it is here; I know not whether in the same words or not. [10] Though the Persons are distinct in a strange way, the soul knows One only God. I do not remember that our Lord ever seemed to speak to me but in His Human Nature; and−−I say it again−−I can assure you that this is no imagination.

22. What, my father, you say about the water, I know not; nor have I heard where the earthly paradise is. I have already said that I cannot but listen to what our Lord tells me; I hear it because I cannot help myself; but, as for asking His Majesty to reveal anything to me, that is what I have never done. In that case, I should immediately think I was imagining things, and that I must be in a delusion of Satan. God be praised, I have never been curious about things, and I do not care to know more than I do. [11] What I have learnt, without seeking to learn, as I have just said, has been a great trouble to me, though it has been the means, I believe, which our Lord made use of to save me, seeing that I was so wicked; good people do not need so much to make them serve His Majesty.

23. I remember another way of prayer which I had before the one I mentioned first,−−namely, a presence of God, which is not a vision at all. It seems that any one, if he recommends himself to His Majesty, even if he only prays vocally, finds Him; every one, at all times, can do this, if we except seasons of aridity. May He grant I may not by my own fault lose mercies so great, and may He have compassion on me!

1. Inner Fortress, iv. ch. iii.

2. See Life, ch. xvii. § 5.

3. Compare Life, ch. xxiv. § 4.

4. See Life, ch. xx. § 23.

5. "Arrobamiento y arrebatamiento."

6. See Life, chs. xx. and xxi.

7. Life, ch. xx. § 16; Inner Fortress, vi. c. xi.

8. See Life, ch. xxix. § 17.

9. See Life, ch. xvii. § 9.

10. See Relation, iii. § 6.

11. See St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, bk. ii. ch. xxii.

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