The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 25

Discusses the method and manner in which these locutions bestowed by God on the soul are apprehended without being heard and also certain kinds of deception which may occur here and the way to recognize them. This chapter is most profitable for anyone who finds himself at this stage of prayer because the exposition is very good and contains much teaching.
It will be well, I think, to explain the nature of the locutions which God bestows upon the soul, and the soul's experiences on receiving them, so that Your Reverence may understand this. For, since the occasion I have described[197] on which the Lord granted me this favour, it has become quite a common experience even to this day, as will be seen in what is to come. Though perfectly formed, the words are not heard with the bodily ear; yet they are understood much more clearly than if they were so heard, and, however determined one's resistance, it is impossible to fail to hear them. For when, on the natural plane, we do not wish to hear, we can close our ears, or attend to something else, with the result that, although we may hear, we do not understand. But when God talks in this way to the soul, there is no such remedy: I have to listen, whether I like it or no, and my understanding has to devote itself so completely to what God wishes me to understand that whether I want to listen or not makes no difference. For, as He Who is all-powerful wills us to understand, we have to do what He wills; and He reveals Himself as our true Lord. I have long experience of this; I was so much afraid of it that I kept up my resistance for almost two years and sometimes I still try to resist, though with little success.

I should like to describe the different kinds of deception which may occur here, though I think anyone who has much experience will seldom, if ever, be deceived. But, as considerable experience is necessary before this state can be reached, I will explain the difference between locutions coming from good spirits and from evil ones and how, as may happen, the apprehension can be caused by the understanding itself or by the spirit conversing with itself (I do not know if that is possible, but I was thinking that it was, this very day). With regard to cases in which the locution is of God, I have a great deal of evidence, as I have heard such voices two or three years beforehand and all that they have said has come true -- not a single one of them so far has proved deceptive. And there are other things in which the Spirit of God can be clearly perceived, as will be said later.

Sometimes, I think, a person who has commended some matter to God with great affection and concern will believe he hears something telling him if it will be granted him or not -- that is quite possible -- though, once he has really heard anything of the kind, he will recognize it immediately, for there is a great difference between true and false. If it is something invented by the understanding, subtle as the invention may be, he realizes that it is the understanding which is making up the words and uttering them, for it is just as if a person were making up a speech or as if he were listening to what someone else was saying to him. The understanding will realize that it is not listening, but being active; and the words it is inventing are fantastic and indistinct and have not the clarity of true locutions. In such a case we have the power to divert our attention from them, just as we are able to stop speaking and become silent, whereas with true locutions no such diversion is possible. A further indication, which is surer than any other, is that these false locutions effect nothing, whereas, when the Lord speaks, the words are accompanied by effects, and although the words may be, not of devotion, but rather of reproof, they prepare the soul and make it ready and move it to affection, give it light and make it happy and tranquil; and, if it has been afflicted with aridity and turmoil and unrest, the Lord frees it as with His own hand, or more effectively even than that; for He appears to wish it to realize His power and the efficacy of His words.

It seems to me that the difference is like that between speaking and listening -- neither greater nor less. For while I am speaking, as I have said, my understanding is composing what I am saying, whereas, if I am being spoken to, I am doing nothing but listen and it costs me no labour. In the one case it is as if the thing is there but we cannot be sure what it is, any more than if we were half asleep. In the other case there is a voice which is so clear that not a syllable of what it says is lost. And sometimes it happens that the understanding and the soul are so perturbed and distracted that they could not put together a single sentence and yet the soul hears long set speeches addressed to it which it could not have composed, even if completely recollected. And at the first word, as I say, it is completely changed. How, especially if it is in rapture and the faculties are suspended, can the soul understand things that had never come into its mind before? How can they come at a time when the memory is hardly working and the imagination is, as it were, in a stupor?

It should be noted that we never, I think, see visions or hear these words at a time when the soul is in union during an actual state of rapture, for then, as I have already explained (I think it was in writing of the Second Water), all the faculties are wholly lost, and at that time I do not believe there is any seeing, hearing or understanding at all. For the soul is wholly in the power of another, and during that period, which is very short, I do not think the Lord leaves it freedom for anything. It is of when this short period has passed, and the soul is still enraptured, that I am speaking; for the faculties, though not lost, are in such a state that they can do practically nothing; they are, as it were, absorbed and incapable of coherent reasoning. There are so many reasoning processes by which we may tell the difference between these types of' locution that, although we may be mistaken once, we shall not be so often.

I mean that, if a soul is experienced and alert, it will see the difference very clearly; for, apart from other characteristics which prove the truth of what I have said, human locutions produce no effect upon the soul and it does not accept them (as it has to accept Divine locutions, even against its will) or give them credence: on the contrary, it recognizes them as ravings of the mind and will take no more notice of them than of a person whom it knows to be mad. But to Divine locutions we listen as we should to a person of great holiness, learning and authority who we know will not lie to us. Indeed, even this is an inadequate comparison, for sometimes these words are of such majesty that, without our knowing from whom they come, they make us tremble if they are words of reproof and if they are words of love fill us with a love that is all consuming. Further, as I have said, they are things of which the memory has no recollection, and sometimes they are such lengthy speeches and are uttered so quickly that it would take us a long time to make them up ourselves and in that case I am sure we could not be unaware that we had composed them. So there is no reason for my dwelling any longer upon this, for, unless he deliberately courted deception, I think it would be extraordinary if any experienced person were deceived.

I have often been doubtful, and failed to believe what was said to me, and wondered if I had been imagining it (after the experience was over, I mean, for at the time doubt is impossible); and then, after a long interval has elapsed, I have found it all fulfilled. For the Lord impresses His words upon the memory so that it is impossible to forget them, whereas the words that come from our own understanding are like the first movement of thought, which passes and is forgotten. The Divine words resemble something of which with the lapse of time a part may be forgotten but not so completely that one loses the memory of its having been said. Only if a long time has passed, or if the words were words of favour or of instruction, can this happen; words of prophecy, in my opinion, cannot possibly be forgotten -- at least, I can never forget them myself, and my memory is a poor one.

I repeat, then, that, unless a soul should be so impious as to want to pretend to have received this favour, and to say it has understood something when it has not, which would be very wrong, there seems to me no possibility of its failing to know quite well if it is making up these words and addressing them to itself. This is assuming that it has once heard the Spirit of God: if it has not, it may continue to be deceived all its life long, and think it is understanding what is being said to it, though I do not know how it can do so. Either this soul wishes to understand or it does not: if it is sorely troubled at what it hears and has not the slightest desire to hear because of its many fears and many other reasons it may have for desiring to be quiet in its times of prayer and not to have these experiences, how can its understanding have time enough for the making up of these speeches? For time is essential for this. The Divine words, on the other hand, instruct us at once, without any lapse of time, and by their means we can understand things which it would probably take us a month to make up ourselves. And at some of the things which they understand, the understanding and the soul are astounded.

That is the position; and anyone who has experience of it will know that all I have said is literally true. I praise God that I have been able so to explain it. And I will end by saying that, if all locutions came from the understanding, we could hear them whenever we liked and we could think we heard them whenever we prayed. But with Divine locutions this is not the case. I may listen for many days; and, although I may desire to hear them, I shall be unable to do so; and then, at other times, when I have no desire to hear them, as I have said, I am compelled to. It seems to me that anyone who wishes to deceive people by saying that he has heard from God what comes from himself might equally well say that he heard it with his bodily ears. It is certainly a fact that I never thought there was any other way of hearing or understanding until I had this experience myself, and so, as I have said, it has cost me a great deal of trouble.

When a locution comes from the devil, it not only fails to leave behind good effects but leaves bad ones. This has happened to me, though only on two or three occasions, and each time I have immediately been warned by the Lord that the locution came from the devil. Besides being left in a state of great aridity, the soul suffers a disquiet such as I have experienced on many other occasions when the Lord has allowed me to be exposed to many kinds of sore temptation and spiritual trial; and though this disquiet continually tortures me, as I shall say later, it is of such a nature that one cannot discover whence it comes. The soul seems to resist it and is perturbed and afflicted without knowing why, for what the devil actually says is not evil, but good. I wonder if one kind of spirit can be conscious of another.

The pleasures and joys which the devil bestows are, in my opinion, of immense diversity. By means of these pleasures he might well deceive anyone who is not experiencing, or has not experienced, other pleasure given by God.

I mean what I say when I describe them as pleasures, for they consist of a refreshment which is sweet, invigorating, lasting in its effects, delectable and tranquil. Mild feelings of devotion which come to the soul and which issue in tears and other brief emotional outlets are merely frail flowerets blasted at the first breath of persecution: they are a good beginning, and the emotions they engender are holy ones, but I do not call them true devotion at all and they are useless as means of distinguishing between a good spirit and an evil one. So it is well for us always to proceed with great caution, for persons who experience visions or revelations and are no farther advanced in prayer than this might easily be deceived. I myself had never experienced anything of the kind until God, of His goodness alone, granted me the Prayer of Union, unless it were on the first occasion of which I have spoken, when, many years ago, I saw Christ.[198] How I wish His Majesty had been pleased for me to realize then that this was a genuine vision, as I have since realized it was: it would have been no small blessing to me. After experiencing Satanic locutions,[199] the soul is not in the least docile but seems both bewildered and highly discontented at the same time.

I consider it quite certain that the devil will not deceive, and that God will not permit him to deceive, a soul which has no trust whatever in itself, and is strengthened in faith and knows full well that for one single article of the Faith it would suffer a thousand deaths. With this love for the Faith, which God immediately infuses into it, and which produces a faith that is living and strong, the soul strives ever to act in conformity with a doctrine of the Church, asking for instruction from this person and from that, and acts as one already strongly established in these truths, so that all the revelations it could imagine, even were it to see the heavens opened, would not cause it to budge an inch from the Church's teachings. If it should ever feel its thoughts wavering about this, or find itself stopping to say "If God says this to me, it may quite well be true, just as what He said to the Saints is true", I will not assert that it necessarily believes what it is saying, but the devil is certainly taking the first step towards tempting it. To stop and say this is clearly wrong; but often, I believe, even this first step will have no effect if the soul is so strong in this respect (as the Lord makes the soul to whom He grants these things), that it feels able to pulverize the devils in its defence of one of the smallest of the truths which the Church holds.

I mean by this that, if the soul does not find itself in possession of this great strength, and is not helped by devotion or by visions, it must not consider its strength to be secure. For, though it may not be aware of any immediate harm, great harm might be caused it by slow degrees; for, as far as I can see and learn by experience, the soul must be convinced that a thing comes from God only if it is in conformity with Holy Scripture; if it were to diverge from that in the very least, I think I should be incomparably more firmly convinced that it came from the devil than I previously was that it came from God, however sure I might have felt of this. There is no need, in that case, to go in search of signs, or to ask from what spirit it comes; for this is so clear a sign that it is of the devil that, if the whole world assured me it came from God, I should not believe it. The position is that, when it comes from the devil, all that is good is hidden from the soul, and flees from it, and the soul becomes restless and peevish and the effects produced cannot possibly be good. It may have good desires, but they are not strong ones, and the humility left in it is false humility, devoid of tranquillity and gentleness. Anyone, I think, who has experience of the good spirit will understand this.

None the less, the devil can play many tricks; and so there is nothing so certain as that we must always preserve our misgivings about this, and proceed cautiously, and choose a learned man for our director, and hide nothing from him. If we do this, no harm can befall us, although a great deal has befallen me through these excessive fears which some people have. This was particularly so on one occasion, at a meeting between a number of people in whom I had great confidence, and rightly so. Though my relations were with only one of them, he ordered me to speak freely with the rest; I did so, and they had long talks together about helping me, for they had a great affection for me and feared I was deluded. I, too, was terribly afraid of this except when at prayer, for at these times I was immediately reassured whenever the Lord bestowed any favour upon me. I think there were five or six of these people, all of them great servants of God, and my confessor told me that they had all decided I was being deceived by the devil and that I must communicate less frequently and try to find distractions so that I should not be alone. I was extremely fearful, as I have said, and my heart trouble made things worse, with the result that I seldom dared to remain alone in a room by day. When I found that they all affirmed this, but that I myself could not believe it, I developed a most serious scruple, and believed myself lacking in humility. These men, I said, were all leading incomparably better lives than I, and they were also learned men: how, then, could I do other than believe them? So I made every possible effort to believe what they said, realizing how wicked my life was, and supposing that, in view of this, they must be right in what they said about me.

With this affliction oppressing me, I left the church and went into an oratory. For many days I had refrained from communicating and from being alone, which was my great comfort; and I had had no one with whom to discuss this matter, for everyone was against me. Some of them, I thought, were mocking me when I spoke to them about it, as if I were imagining it all. Others warned my confessor to be on his guard against me. Others said that it was clearly a deception of the devil. Only my confessor consistently comforted me, and, as I afterwards found out, he was siding with them in order to test me. He used to tell me that, provided I did not offend God, my prayer could do me no harm even if it came from the devil, and that in that case I should be delivered from it and must pray frequently to God. He and all his penitents did the same continually, with many others; and I myself, like many more whom I knew to be servants of God, spent the whole of the time which I set apart for prayer in begging His Majesty to lead me by another path. This went on for perhaps two years, during the whole of which time I made this petition to the Lord.

Nothing was any comfort to me when I reflected that words which I heard might so often be coming from the devil. As I never now spent hours of solitude in prayer, the Lord caused me to be recollected in conversation. He would say what He pleased to me and I could do nothing against Him: much as it troubled me to do so, therefore, I had to listen.

Now when I was alone, and had no one in whose company I could find relaxation, I was unable to pray or read, but was like a person stunned by all this tribulation and fear that the devil might be deceiving me, and quite upset and worn out, with not the least idea what to do. I have sometimes -- often, indeed -- found myself in this kind of affliction, but never, I think, have I been in such straits as I was then. I was like this for four or five hours, and neither in Heaven nor on earth was there any comfort for me: the Lord permitted my fears of a thousand perils to cause me great suffering. O my Lord, how true a Friend Thou art, and how powerful! For Thou canst do all Thou wilt and never dost Thou cease to will if we love Thee.[200] Let all things praise Thee, Lord of the world. Oh, if someone would but proclaim throughout the world how faithful Thou art to Thy friends! All things fail, but Thou, Lord of them all, failest never. Little is the suffering that Thou dost allow to those who love Thee. O my Lord, how delicately and skilfully and delectably canst Thou deal with them! Oh, would that we had never stayed to love anyone save Thee! Thou seemest, Lord, to give severe tests to those who love Thee, but only that in the extremity of their trials they may learn the greater extremity of Thy love.

O my God, had I but understanding and learning and new words with which to exalt Thy works as my soul knows them! All these, my Lord, I lack, but if Thou forsakest me not, I shall never fail Thee.[201] Let all learned men rise up against me, let all created things persecute me, let the devils torment me, but fail Thou me not, Lord, for I have already experience of the benefits which come to him who trusts only in Thee and whom Thou deliverest. When I was in this terrible state of exhaustion -- for at that time I had not yet had a single vision -- these words alone were sufficient to remove it and give me complete tranquillity: "Be not afraid, daughter, for it is I and I will not forsake thee: fear not."

In the state I was in at that time, I think it would have needed many hours to persuade me to be calm and no single person would have sufficed to do so. Yet here I was, calmed by nothing but these words, and given fortitude and courage and conviction and tranquillity and light, so that in a moment I found my soul transformed and I think I would have maintained against the whole world that this was the work of God. Oh, what a good God! Oh, what a good Lord! What a powerful Lord! He gives not only counsel but solace. His words are deeds. See how He strengthens our faith and how our love increases!

This is very true, and I would often recall how when a storm arose the Lord used to command the winds that blew over the sea to be still, and I would say to myself: "Who is this, that all my faculties thus obey Him[202] -- Who in a moment sheds light upon such thick darkness, softens a heart that seemed to be made of stone, and sends water in the shape of gentle tears where for so long there had seemed to be aridity? Who gives these desires? Who gives this courage? What have I been thinking of? What am I afraid of? What is this? I desire to serve the Lord; I aim at nothing else than pleasing Him. I seek no contentment, no rest, no other blessing but to do His will." I felt I was quite sure about this and so could affirm it.

"Well, now," I went on, "if this Lord is powerful, as I see He is, and know He is, and if the devils are His slaves (and of that there can be no doubt, for it is an article of the Faith), what harm can they do me, who am a servant of this Lord and King? How can I fail to have fortitude enough to fight against all hell?" So I took a cross in my hand and it really seemed that God was giving me courage: in a short time I found I was another person and I should not have been afraid to wrestle with devils, for with the aid of that cross I believed I could easily vanquish them all. "Come on, now, all of you," I said: "I am a servant of the Lord and I want to see what you can do to me."

It certainly seemed as if I had frightened all these devils, for I became quite calm and had no more fear of them -- in fact, I lost all the fears which until then had been wont to trouble me. For, although I used sometimes to see the devils, as I shall say later, I have hardly ever been afraid of them again -- indeed, they seem to be afraid of me. I have acquired an authority over them, bestowed upon me by the Lord of all, so that they are no more trouble to me now than flies. They seem to me such cowards -- as soon as they see that anyone despises them they have no strength left. They are enemies who can make a direct attack only upon those whom they see giving in to them, or on servants of God whom, for their greater good, God allows to be tried and tormented. May His Majesty be pleased to make us fear Him Whom we ought to fear[203] and understand that one venial sin can do us greater harm than all the forces of hell combined -- for that is really true.

These devils keep us in terror because we make ourselves liable to be terrorized by contracting other attachments -- to honours, for example, and to possessions and pleasures. When this happens, they join forces with us -- since, by loving and desiring what we ought to hate, we become our own enemies -- and they will do us much harm. We make them fight against us with our own weapons, which we put into their hands when we ought to be using them in our own defence. That is the great pity of it. If only we will hate everything for God's sake and embrace the Cross and try to serve Him in truth, the devil will fly from these truths as from the plague. He is a lover of lies and a lie himself.[204] He will have no truck with anyone who walks in truth. When he sees that such a person's understanding is darkened, he gaily assists him to become completely blind; for if he sees anyone blind enough to find comfort in vanities -- and such vanities! for the vanities of this world are like children's playthings -- he sees that he is indeed a child, and treats him as one, making bold to wrestle with him, first on some particular occasion and then again and again.

Please God I be not one of these! May His Majesty help me to find comfort in what is really comfort, to call honour what is really honour and to take delight in what is really delight -- and not the other way round. Not a fig[205] shall I care then for all the devils in hell: it is they who will fear me. I do not understand these fears. "Oh, the devil, the devil we say, when we might be saying "God! God!" and making the devil tremble. Of course we might, for we know he cannot move a finger unless the Lord permits it. Whatever are we thinking of? I am quite sure I am more afraid of people who are themselves terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself. For he cannot harm me in the least, whereas they, especially if they are confessors, can upset people a great deal, and for several years they were such a trial to me that I marvel now that I was able to bear it. Blessed be the Lord, Who has been of such real help to me!

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