The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 36

Continues the subject already begun and describes the completion of the foundation of this convent of the glorious Saint Joseph, and the great opposition and numerous persecutions which the nuns had to endure after taking the habit, and the great trials and temptations which she suffered, and how the Lord delivered her from everything victoriously, to His glory and praise.

After leaving that city I went on my way very happily, resolved to suffer with the greatest willingness whatever it might please the Lord to send me. On the very night of my arrival in these parts there arrived our patent for the convent and the Brief from Rome.[306] I was astonished at this, and so were those who knew how the Lord had hastened my coming here, when they found how necessary it had proved to be and how the Lord had brought me here just in the nick of time. For here I found the Bishop and the saintly Fray Peter of Alcántara, and another gentleman,[307] a great servant of God, in whose house this saintly man was staying -- he was one with whom God's servants could always find hospitality.

Between them, these two persuaded the Bishop to sanction the foundation of the convent. This was by no means easy,[308] as it was to be founded in poverty, but he was so much drawn to people whom he saw determined to serve the Lord that he at once inclined to the idea of helping it. The whole thing was due to the approval of this saintly old man and the way he urged first one person and then another to come to our aid. If, as I have already said, I had not arrived at this particular moment, I cannot see how it could have been done, for this saintly man was here only for a few days -- not more than a week, I believe -- and during that time he was very ill: not long afterwards the Lord took him to Himself. It seems as if His Majesty had prolonged his life until this business was settled, for he had for some time been in very poor health -- I fancy for over two years.

Everything was done with great secrecy: had it been otherwise, nothing could have been done at all, for, as appeared later, the people were opposed to the plan. The Lord had ordained that a brother-in-law of mine[309] should fall ill, and, his wife not being with him, should be in such need of me that I was given leave to go and stay with him. This prevented anything from being discovered, and, though a few people must have been rather suspicious, they did not think there was anything in it. The remarkable thing was that his illness lasted only for just the time we needed for our negotiations, and, when it was necessary for him to be better so that I could be free again and he could go away and leave the house, the Lord at once restored him to health, and he was amazed at it.

What with one person and what with another, I had a great deal of trouble in getting the foundation sanctioned. Then there was my patient, and there were the workmen -- for the house had to be got ready very quickly, so that it would be suitable for a convent, and there was a great deal which had to be done to it. My companion[310] was not here, for we thought it advisable that she should be away so that the secret might be the better kept. I saw that speed was of the first importance, and this for many reasons, one of them being that I was in hourly fear of being sent back to my own convent. So many were the trials I had to suffer that I began to wonder if this was my cross, though I thought it very much lighter than the heavy one which I had understood the Lord to say I should have to bear.

When everything had been arranged, the Lord was pleased that some of the sisters[311] should take the habit on Saint Bartholomew's Day and on that day too the Most Holy Sacrament was placed in the convent. So with the full weight of authority this convent of our most glorious father Saint Joseph was founded in the year 1562. I was there to give the habit, with two other nuns of our own house, who chanced to be absent from it. As the house in which the convent was established belonged to my brother-in-law, who, as I have said, had bought it in order to keep the matter secret, I was there by special permission, and I did nothing without asking the opinion of learned men, lest in any way whatever I should act against obedience. As they saw what benefits, in numerous ways, were being conferred upon the whole Order, they told me I might do what I did, although it was being done in secret and I was keeping it from my superiors' knowledge. Had they told me that there was the slightest imperfection in this, I think I would have given up a thousand convents, let alone a single one. Of that I am sure; for, though I desired to make the foundation so that I could withdraw more completely from everything and fulfil my profession and vocation with greater perfection in conditions of stricter enclosure, I desired it only with the proviso that if I found that the Lord would be better served by my abandoning it entirely, I should do so, as I had done on a former occasion, with complete tranquillity and peace.

Well, it was like being in Heaven to me to see the Most Holy Sacrament reserved, and to find ourselves supporting four poor orphans (for they were taken without dowries)[312] who were great servants of God. From the very beginning we tried to receive only persons whose examples might serve as a foundation on which we could effectively build up our plan of a community of great perfection, given to prayer, and carry out a work which I believed would lead to the Lord's service and would honour the habit of His glorious Mother. It was for this that I yearned. It was also a great comfort to me that I had done what the Lord had so often commanded me and that there was one more church here than there had previously been, dedicated to my glorious father Saint Joseph. Not that I thought I had done anything of all this myself; I never thought that nor do I now; I have always known that it was done by the Lord. The part of it which concerned me was so full of imperfections that I can see I ought to have been blamed rather than thanked for it. But it was a great comfort to me to see that in such a great work as this His Majesty had taken me, wicked as I am, to be His instrument. I was so happy, therefore that I was quite carried away by the intensity of my prayer.

When everything was finished -- it might have been about three or four hours afterwards -- the devil plunged me into a spiritual battle again, as I shall now relate. He made me wonder if what I had done had not been a mistake and if I had not been acting against obedience in arranging it all without a mandate from the Provincial. It had certainly occurred to me that the Provincial would be rather displeased at my having placed the convent under the jurisdiction of the Ordinary, without having first told him about it, though, on the other hand, as he had not been prepared to sanction it and I had not altered my plans, I had also imagined that he might not trouble about it. The devil also asked me if people living under so strict a rule would be contented, if they would have enough to eat, and if the whole thing was not ridiculous -- and what reason had I to mix myself up in it, seeing that I was already in a convent of my own? All that the Lord had commanded me, all the opinions I had been seeking and the prayers I had been saying almost continuously for over two years -- all these things fled from my memory as if they had never existed. The only thing I remembered now was my own opinion; and faith, and all the virtues, were suspended in me, and I had not the power to turn any of them into practice or to defend myself against all these blows.

The devil would also put it to me how, when I was so often indisposed, I could want to endure so much penance, to leave such a large, pleasant house, where I had always been so happy, and to give up so many friends for people in this other convent who would perhaps not be to my liking. Then he suggested that I had undertaken a great deal and might possibly have to abandon it as hopeless. Indeed, he said, might it not be the devil himself who had induced me to do this, in order to deprive me of peace and quiet? And, once I was inwardly disturbed, I might be unable to pray, and then my soul would be lost. Things of this kind he suggested to me one after another, till I found it impossible to think of anything else, and at the same time he plunged my soul into such affliction and obscurity and darkness as I cannot possibly describe. When I found myself in this state, I went to visit the Most Holy Sacrament, though I felt unable to commend myself to God. I really think my anguish was like a death agony. And I dared not discuss it with anyone, for as yet I had not even been given a confessor.

Oh, God help me! What a miserable life is this! There is no happiness that is secure and nothing that does not change. Here I was, such a short time ago, thinking I would not exchange my happiness with anyone on earth and now the very cause of it was tormenting me so sorely that I did not know what to do with myself. Oh, if only we thought carefully about the things of life, we should each find by experience how little either of happiness or of unhappiness there is to be got from it! I certainly think this was one of the worst times that I have ever spent in my life; my spirit seemed to be divining all that it would have to suffer, though I never had to endure as much suffering as this would have caused me had it lasted. But the Lord did not allow His poor servant to suffer long: in all my tribulations He has never failed to succour me. So it was here. He gave me a little light, so that I should see that it was the work of the devil, understand the truth and know that this was simply an attempt to frighten me with falsehoods. Then I began to remember my firm resolutions to serve the Lord and my desires to suffer for Him. I realized that, if I was to carry them out, I must not go about looking for repose; that, if I was to have trials, this was the way to win merit; and if I was to be unhappy and used my unhappiness in order to serve God, it would serve me as a kind of purgatory.[313] What was I afraid of? I asked myself. I had been wanting trials, and here were some good ones, and the greater was the opposition I endured, the greater would be my gain. Why was I lacking in courage to serve Him to Whom my debt was so great? By means of these and other reflections, I made a great effort, and in the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament promised to do all I could to get permission to enter this new house, and, if I could do so with a good conscience, to make a vow of enclosure.

The instant I had done this, the devil fled, leaving me quiet and happy; and I remained so and have been so ever since. All the rules we observe in this house concerning enclosure, penance and other things of that sort I find extremely easy and there are not many of them. So great is my happiness that I sometimes wonder what earthly choice I could possibly have made which would have been more delightful. I do not know if this has anything to do with my being in much better health than ever before, or whether, because it is right and necessary that I should do as all the others do, the Lord is being pleased to comfort me by enabling me to keep the Rule, though it costs me something to do so. But my ability to keep it astonishes all who know my infirmities. Blessed be He Who gives everything and in Whose strength this can be done!

After this conflict I was sorely fatigued, but I laughed at the devil, for I saw clearly that it was his doing. As I have never known what it was to be discontented with being a nun -- not for a single moment of the twenty-eight years and more that have gone by since I became one -- I think the Lord permitted what had taken place so that I might understand what a great favour He had granted me in this, and from what torment He had delivered me, and also in order that, if I ever saw anyone in that state, I should not be alarmed, but should be sorry for her and know how to comfort her. When this was over, I wanted to get a little rest after dinner. (All the previous night I had had hardly any peace of mind; and on several of the preceding nights I had been continuously troubled and worried; so that during each day I had felt worn out. For now what we had done became known in my convent and in the city, and for the reasons I have given there was a great deal of commotion -- not, it seemed, without some cause.) But the Superior[314] sent for me to come to her immediately. On receiving the order, I went at once, leaving my nuns terribly upset. I was well aware that there was ample trouble in store for me, but, as the thing was now done, I cared very little about that. I prayed to the Lord and begged Him to help me and besought my father Saint Joseph to bring me back to his house. I offered up to God all I should have to suffer, very happy at having some suffering to offer Him and some service to render. I went in the belief that I should at once be put in prison. This, I think, would have been a great joy to me, as I should not have had to talk to anyone and should have been able to rest for a little and be alone -- and I needed that very badly, for all this intercourse with people had worn me to pieces.

When I got there and gave the Superior my version of the affair, she relented a little, and they all sent for the Provincial[315] and laid the case before him. He came, and I went to hear his judgment with the utmost happiness, thinking that there would now be something for me to suffer for the Lord. I could not discover that I had committed any offence either against His Majesty or against the Order -- indeed, I was striving with all my might to strengthen the Order and to do this I would willingly have died, for my whole desire was that its Rule should be observed with all perfection. But I remembered the trial of Christ and realized that this, by comparison, was nothing at all. I acknowledged my fault, as if I had acted very wrongly, and so in fact I must have appeared to have done to anyone who did not know all the reasons. The Provincial gave me a severe rebuke, though its severity was less than would have been justified by the report which many people had given him of my delinquency. I would not excuse myself, for I had already resolved not to do so, but begged him to forgive me, to punish me and not to be annoyed with me any longer.

In some ways I knew quite well that they were condemning me unjustly, for they told me that I had done this so as to win esteem for myself, to get well known, and so on. But in other ways it was clear to me that they were speaking the truth -- in saying that I was more wicked than other nuns, and in asking how, if I had not kept all the numerous rules observed in that house, I could consider keeping stricter rules in another: I should be scandalizing the people, they said, and setting up new ideas. None of this caused me the least trouble or distress, though I gave the impression that it did, lest I should appear to be making light of what they were saying. Finally, I was commanded to state my version of the matter in the presence of the nuns, so I had to do so.

As I was inwardly calm and the Lord helped me, my account of the affair gave neither the Provincial nor the others present any reason for condemning me. Afterwards, when I was alone with him, I spoke to him more plainly, and he was quite satisfied, and promised me, if my foundation succeeded, to give me permission to go there as soon as the city was quiet -- for there had been a very great commotion in the city, as I shall now relate.[316]

Two or three days before, there had been a meeting between the Mayor and certain members of the City Council and of the Chapter, and they had all agreed that this new convent must on no account be sanctioned, that it would cause notable harm to the common weal, that the Most Holy Sacrament must be removed and that the matter must on no account be allowed to go any farther. They summoned a meeting of representatives of all the Orders -- two learned men from each -- to obtain their opinions. Some said nothing; others were condemnatory. Finally, they decided that the foundation must be dissolved at once. There was only one of them, a Presentado of the Order of Saint Dominic,[317] who was not opposed to the convent, though he objected to its poverty: he said that there was no reason for dissolving it, that the question should be gone into with care, that there was plenty of time for doing so, that it was the Bishop's affair, and other things of that kind. This did a great deal of good: to judge by their fury, it was fortunate for us that they had not proceeded to dissolve the foundation on the spot. The fact was that the convent had been destined to be founded, for its foundation was the Lord's will and against that the whole body of them were powerless. They gave reasons for what they did and showed great zeal for what was good, and so, without offending God, made me, and all the people who were helping the project, suffer: there were a number of these and they all had to go through a great deal of persecution.

All this made such a commotion in the city that people talked about nothing else. Everybody was condemning me and going to see the Provincial and visiting my convent. I was no more distressed by all they were saying about me than I should have been if they had said nothing at all, but I was afraid that the foundation might be dissolved, and that distressed me a great deal, as it did to see that the people who were helping me were losing credit and suffering such great trials. I believe what they had been saying about me made me rather glad. If I had had a little faith, I should not have let it worry me at all, but a slight failing in a single virtue is sufficient to deaden all the rest. So I was greatly distressed during the two days in which these meetings I have mentioned were being held in the town. Once, when I was quite worn out, the Lord said to me: "Knowest thou not how powerful I am? What dost thou fear?" and He assured me that the foundation would not be dissolved. This brought me great comfort. They sent the information which they had obtained to the Royal Council and a reply came requiring a report to be made on how all this had arisen.

Here we were, then, at the beginning of legal proceedings. The city sent representatives to the capital, and it was clear that the convent would have to send some too, but there was no money for this and I had no idea what to do. However, the Lord provided, and my Father Provincial never ordered me to withdraw from the business, for he is a lover of everything that is good, and, though he did not help us, he would not take the other side. But until he saw what the outcome of all this was going to be, he did not give me permission to come and live here. So those servants of God were alone in the house and their prayers were more effective than all my negotiations, though I had to be extremely diligent about these. Sometimes it seemed that everything was going wrong: this was particularly so one day, before the arrival of the Provincial, when the Prioress ordered me to have no more to do with the matter and to give it up altogether. I went to God and said: "Lord, this house is not mine; it has been founded for Thee; and now there will be no one to carry on the negotiations, so Thy Majesty must do so." This calmed me and left me as free from worry as if I had had the whole world carrying on the negotiations for me; from that moment I felt quite sure they would prosper.

A priest, who was a great servant of God and a lover of all perfection, and who had always been a great help to me,[318] went to the capital to take the matter in hand and worked very hard at it. That saintly gentleman of whom I have made mention also did a very great deal in the matter and helped in every way he could. He suffered many trials and great persecution over this and I always found him a father in everything and find him so still. Those who helped me were inspired by the Lord with such fervour that each of them regarded the matter as if it were his own and as if his own life and reputation were at stake, when it had really nothing to do with them except in so far as they believed it to be for the Lord's service. It seemed clear, too, that His Majesty was helping the cleric I have referred to, who was another of my great helpers, and whom the Bishop sent to represent him at an important meeting which was held. Here he stood out alone against all the others and eventually pacified them by suggesting certain expedients which did a great deal to bring about an agreement. But nothing was sufficient to dissuade them from putting their whole weight, as we say, into smashing us. It was this servant of God of whom I am speaking who gave us the habit and reserved the Most Holy Sacrament for us,[319] and as a result found himself sorely persecuted. This commotion lasted for six months, and it would take a long time to give a detailed description of the severe trials which we had to suffer.

I was astonished at all the trouble that the devil was taking to hurt a few poor women, and how everybody thought that twelve women and a prioress (for I must remind those who opposed the plan that there were to be no more) could do such harm to the place, when they were living so strictly. If there had been any harm or error in their project it would have concerned themselves alone; harm to the city there could not possibly be, and yet our opponents found so much that they fought us with a good conscience. Eventually they said they would allow the matter to go forward if the convent had an endowment. By this time I was so wearied, more by all the trouble my helpers were having than by my own, that I thought it would not be a bad idea to accept some money until the storm subsided, and then to give it up. At other times, like the wicked and imperfect woman I am, I would wonder if perhaps it was the Lord's will that we should have an endowment, as it seemed impossible for us to get anywhere without one. So in the end I agreed to this arrangement.

The discussion of it had already begun, when, on the very night before it was to be concluded, the Lord told me that I must not agree to such a thing, for, if once we had an endowment, we should never be allowed to give it up again. He said various other things as well. That same night there appeared to me the holy Fray Peter of Alcántara, who was now dead.[320] Before his death, knowing how much opposition and persecution we were meeting with, he had written to me[321] saying he was delighted the foundation was encountering all this opposition, for the efforts which the devil was making to prevent the establishment of the convent were a sign that the Lord would be very well served there; and he had added that I must on no account allow the place to have any revenue. He had insisted upon this in the letter two or three times, and said that, if I were firm about it, everything would turn out as I wished. Since his death I had seen him on two previous occasions and had had a vision of the great bliss that he was enjoying. So his appearance caused me no fear -- indeed, it made me very happy, for he always appeared as a glorified body, full of great bliss, and it gave me the greatest joy to see him. I remember that, the first time I saw him, he told me among other things how great was his fruition, adding that the penances he had done had been a happy thing for him, since they had won him such a great reward. As I think I have already said something about this, I will say no more here than that on this occasion he spoke to me with some severity. All he said was that I was on no account to accept any endowment and asked why I would not take his advice; he then immediately disappeared. I was astounded, and on the next day I told that gentleman what had happened, for I used to consult him about everything, as he was the person who helped us most. I told him on no account to allow the agreement about our endowment to be concluded, but to let the lawsuit continue. He was more definite about this than I and was delighted at what I said; he told me afterwards how much he had regretted having given the agreement his approval.

There then came forward another person, a zealous and devoted servant of God,[322] who suggested that, now this point was satisfactorily settled,[323] the matter should be put into the hands of learned men. This caused me a good deal of uneasiness, for some of my helpers agreed to that course and the unravelling of this tangle in which the devil now involved us was the most difficult task of all. Throughout everything the Lord helped me, but in this summary narrative it is impossible to give an adequate description of what happened in the two years between the beginning of the foundation and its completion. The first six months and the last were the most troublesome.

When the city was finally somewhat calmed, the Dominican Father-Presentado[324] who was helping us managed things for us very well. He had not previously been there, but the Lord brought him at a time which was very convenient for us, and His Majesty seems to have done so for that end alone, for he told me afterwards that he had had no reason for coming and had only heard of the matter by accident. He stayed with us for as long as was necessary. When he left, he managed somehow -- it seemed impossible that he could have done this in so short a time -- to get our Father Provincial to give me leave to go and live in the new house and to take some other nuns with me so that we might say the Office and instruct the sisters who were there. It was the happiest of days for me when we went in.[325]

While at prayer in the church, before entering the convent, I all but went into a rapture, and saw Christ, Who seemed to be receiving me with great love, placing a crown on my head and thanking me for what I had done for His Mother. On another occasion, after Compline, when we were all praying in choir, I saw Our Lady in the greatest glory, clad in a white mantle, beneath which she seemed to be sheltering us all.[326] From this I learned what a high degree of glory the Lord would give to the nuns in this house.

When we had started to say the Office, the people began to be very much devoted to the convent. More nuns were received and the Lord started to move the people who had persecuted us most to help us and give us alms. So they now found themselves approving what previously they had so strongly condemned and gradually they abandoned the law suit and said they now realized the work was of God, since His Majesty had seen well to further it despite so much opposition. There is no one now who thinks it would have been right to give up the foundation, so they are very anxious to provide for us with their alms; and, without our making any appeals or asking anyone for money, the Lord inspires people to send it. We get on very well, then, and have no lack of necessaries, I hope in the Lord that this will be the case always. As the nuns are few in number I am sure His Majesty will never fail them if they do their duty, as at present He is giving them grace to do; nor will they ever have to be burdensome or importunate, for the Lord will take care of them as He has done until now. It is the greatest happiness to me to find myself among souls with detachment.

Their life consists in learning how to advance in the service of God. They find their greatest happiness in solitude and it troubles them to think of seeing anyone -- even a near relative -- unless doing so will help to enkindle them in the love of their Spouse. So none come to this house save with that aim; were they to do so it would give pleasure neither to themselves nor to the sisters. They speak only of God, and they understand no one who speaks of anything else, nor does such a person understand them. We observe the rule of Our Lady of Carmel, and we keep it without mitigation, in the form drawn up by Fray Hugo, Cardinal of Santa Sabina, and given in the year 1248, in the fifth year of the pontificate of Pope Innocent IV.

All the trials that we have suffered will, I believe, have been endured to good purpose. The rule is rather strict, for meat is never eaten except in cases of necessity, there is an eight-months' fast, and there are other ascetic practices, as may be seen in the primitive Rule. Yet many of these things seem to the sisters very light and they observe other rules which we have thought it necessary to make so that our own Rule may be kept the more perfectly. I hope in the Lord that what we have begun will prosper, as His Majesty told me it would.

The other house which the beata I spoke of[327] was endeavouring to establish has also enjoyed the Lord's favour. It was founded in Alcalá and did not fail to meet with a great deal of opposition or escape severe trials. I know that all the observances of the religious life are practised in it, according to this our primitive Rule. May the Lord be pleased to direct it all to His glory and praise and to that of the glorious Virgin Mary, whose habit we wear. Amen.

I expect Your Reverence[328] will be getting impatient at the long account which I have given of this convent, though it is short enough when you remember how many trials the Lord has sent us and what marvellous things He has wrought. There are many witnesses who will be able to swear to these, so I beg Your Reverence, for the love of God, if you think it well to tear up everything else that is written here, to preserve what concerns this convent. Then, after my death, it should be given to the sisters here, for it will be a great encouragement in the service of God to those who come after us and will prevent this work that has been begun from falling to the ground and help it to prosper continually when it is seen what importance His Majesty must have attached to this house since He founded it through a creature as wicked and as base as I. And I believe myself that, as the Lord has been pleased to grant us such special help in its foundation, anyone will do great harm and be heavily punished by God who attempts to mitigate the perfection of the Rule which the Lord has initiated and encouraged here, and which works so smoothly. For it is quite evidently easy to endure and pleasant to carry out, and there is every facility for its being kept permanently by those who desire to rejoice in Christ their Spouse in solitude. This will always be the aim of our nuns -- to be alone with Him only. There will not be more than thirteen of them,[329] for, after asking the opinions of many people, I have decided that that number is best, and I have seen by experience that, if we are to preserve the spirituality which we now possess, and to live on alms, yet not to beg from anyone, it is impossible for us to admit more. May they always give the greatest credence to one who, with much labour and through the prayers of many, contrived to arrange things for the best. That this is the way which suits us will be evident from the great joy and gladness and the few trials which we have had during the years we have been in this house, as well as from our health, which has been far better than before. If anyone thinks the Rule a harsh one, let her blame her own lack of spirituality and not our observance; for it can be borne quite easily by people who are not in the least robust, but really delicate, if they have sufficient spirituality. Let those who have not go to some other convent, where they will find salvation and yet live according to the spirituality which they have.

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