SAINT TERESA OF AVILA
THE HISTORY OF HER FOUNDATIONS, CHAPTER III
TRANSLATED, SR AGNES MASON,
This little book, published in 1909 by the University of Cambridge Press, and dedicated to Bishop Charles Gore, D.D., is prefaced by the Right Honourable Sir Ernest M. Satow, G.C.M.G., with the following brief biography of St Teresa of Avila.
n the first volume of the works of Saint Teresa de Jesus, published by the pious care of D. Vicente de la Fuente, are contained the autobiography of this wonderful woman and the series of chapters in which she narrates the incidents that accompanied her successful efforts to establish convents and monasteries of the reformed rule of the Carmelite order. The juxtaposition is significant. In the one we have the history of a soul, in its growth towards maturity, in the other that of the practical work accomplished by the personality in which that soul was enshrined, after it had emerged from the chrysalis state into that of the perfect saint. Taken together they teach the invaluable lesson that holiness of character on this earth finds its aim and object realized in practical work for the good of others.
Teresa de Ahumada as she was called in the world was born, the daughter of pious parents, at Avila in the year 1515. Her father, she tells us, was of great charity to the poor and pitifulness for the sick and for servants. No one had ever been able to persuade him to own a slave, for he pitied them too much; one belonging to a brother of his being in the house, he was as good to her as if she had been one of his children. He said that her not being free overwhelmed him with pity. He was most truthful; no one ever heard him swear or grumble; and most honourable. Her mother a woman of many virtues, and a great invalid. Though of great beauty it was never heard that she made account of it; sweet-tempered and highly intelligent. She took great care to teach her children to pray, and to be devoted to Our Lady and to certain saints. Teresa was one of twelve children, all of whom, she says, except herself, resembled their parents in virtue. One of her brothers nearest herself in age, was the dearest, though she loved them all and they her. They used to read together the lives of the saints, and when she saw what sufferings they underwent for God, she thought they bought very cheaply the privilege of going to enjoy Him, and wished greatly to die like them, not because she loved Him, but in order so speedily to enjoy the great happiness that she read there was in heaven. She consulted with her brother about the means of obtaining it. They agreed to go to the land of the Moors, begging their way thither, in order that there they might be beheaded. They were frightened when they found in what they read that punishment and glory lasted for ever; they used to talk much of this, and took pleasure in repeating 'for ever, for ever, for ever'. 'When I saw it was impossible to go where they would kill me for God's sake, we arranged to become hermits, and in a garden attached to the house we tried, as well as we could, to build us hermitages of little stones, which immediately tumbled down, and so we found no way of attaining our desires. I gave alms as well as I could, but it was little. I sought to be alone in order to say my prayers, which were many, especially the rosary, to which my mother was much attached, and she made us so also. I was very fond of playing at convents with other little girls and of pretending to be nuns, and it seems to me that I wished to be one, though I did not wish it as much as the other things of which I have spoken'. The simplicity and sincerity of the saint are transparent in these stories of her childhood.
Her mother died when she was twelve years of age. The saint records how after this she fell under the influence of a relation, and fell away from her early religious inclinations. Then she contracted a friendship with a wise and holy nun, and was greatly attracted towards a conventual life. At the age of eighteen she entered the noviciate at the monastery of the Incarnation close to Avila, and took the veil a year later. Then she fell ill, and had to be taken home. Her life was despaired of, and she returned to the Convent, where for three years she lay helpless, till at last her health was restored to something like what it had been before. There she remained for another eighteen years, becoming more and more dissatisfied with the semi-worldly life of a nun under the relaxed rule, till at last she was inspired with the will to issue forth and live a life of poverty and self-denial in the first convent founded by herself in accordance with the ancient strict rule of the Carmelites, dedicated to Saint Joseph of Avila. The following pages relate the history of the other foundations she carried out in the sequel, up to that of Saint Joseph of Saint Anne at Burgos, whence she started her return to Avila, but died at Alba de Tormes, literally, so say the pious chroniclers, in the odour of sanctity, on the 4th October 1582.
The most famous of books of devotion was written by a monk for the use of monks, but it has nevertheless for centuries past been the favourite spiritual reading and inseperable companion of innumerable lay people, both men and women. Saint Teresa, in the course of her narrative, turns aside to instruct the prioresses how to govern those whom they have to guide in the path of perfection. She dwells on the necessity of endeavouring to conform the will to the Divine Will, of sacrificing self-love and self-satisfaction, of complete detachment from all worldly things, on the danger of sentimentalis and exaggeration in religion, to which she thinks women are especially prone. She does not shun the use of homely language, as where in speaking of obedience, she says, 'if you have to be employed in domestic duties, as for instance in the kitchen, remember that the Lord goes about among the pots and pans, helping you in all things'.
The counsels of Saint Teresa are of practical value, not only for nuns, but also for those who live in the world, not only for Roman Catholics, but also for ourselves.
he History of the Foundations is a sequel to Saint Teresa's Life, written by herself in obedience to her confessor. The Life brings the story up to the completion of the first foundation, that of St Joseph's Convent at Avila; and here the History of the Foundations takes it up.
While the life is the more important work as regards instruction in the spiritual life, the Saint's great treatise on Prayer being intercalated between two narrative chapters, the Foundations is the more interesting from the point of view of secular history. The same qualities which make St Teresa's teaching priceless to those who desire instruction in spiritual things fives also a very high value to her accounts of ordinary matters. She not only loved truth for its own sake and spoke it readily against herself; but she also was able to see it as few people can, in both inner and outer matters. She had a quite extraordinary instight: an absolute accuracy in nothing detail, together with a keen logical faculty for appreciating the bearings of the facts she noted. And she also possessed in a high degree the power of putting her thoughts into words clear and vigorous, if not always concice. She was determined that her readers should understand exactly what she meant, in matters of any importance, and she cared little what might be thought of her style. If need be, she would write parenthesis within parenthesis to guard against misunderstanding. If there are passages which are really obscure, this is, no doubt, because, as she says, she wrote in odd scraps of time and never read over her manuscript. Hampered though she was by the psychology of the time, which she obediently and humbly accepted, although her own was far in advance of it, she yet describes, for example, the difference between one state of trance and another just as a modern observer describes the bahviour of plant tissue under different stimuli. And what she could accomplish in matters so exceedingly difficult to skea of at all, she effected with ease in the ordinary matters of life. So that her accounts of events and people and things are of quite first-rate interest, both directly and indirectly. Directly, for the reasons given above; indirectly, from the light they throw on her own character and on what Dr Sidgwick would have called the common sense of the time: its moral judgements and ways of looking at things.
Spain, too, in her time - the time of Mary and Elizabeth, which in England is so familiar to us - is not known to us ordinary English people as it deserves to be. And among contemporary writings there can be none, I think, which give more vivid pictures, more interesting or more amusing glimpses of Spanish life, not only in the cloister, but in all sorts of society: for the Saint, in her journeys and negotiations, came across all sorts, from the king to the peasant.
For the following translation a better text has been available than could be had before 1881; for in 1880 Don Vicente de la Fuente, who had already been working at Saint Teresa's writings for twenty years or more, brought out a facsimile reprint of the original: and of this he made most careful use for his edition published in 1881. Of the considerable number of restored readings in this edition, a good many are of real and substantial interest; and taken together, they show clearly that the Saints writings had, from early times, been 'edited' with a view to the edification of the faithful. It is from this 1881 edition, with la Fuente's notes, that the present translation has been made.
My thanks are due first of all to the Bishop of Gibralter for much help and encouragement without which I should probably not have attempted the work: to Mr Cunninghame Graham for help in showing each Foundation on the map, and for other information: to Miss Ellen Conant, for photographs which she made on purpose for this book, but above all to Sir Ernest Satow, who has allowed me to consult him on all sorts of difficulties, especially in the translation, sparing no time or pains to get the smallest point right. I know that there clumsinesses, and I cannot hope that there are no slips in the translation: but that there are not more is owing to his knowledge and care.
Community of the Holy Family
Father Jerome Gracian, being
Superior, caused the original to be made, as he says, 'to mortify her
because otherwise there would have been no portrait of her at all', by
a lay Brother, Juan de la Miseria, who was but a poor artist. It is
that when the Saint saw it, she said laughingly to the artist, 'God
you, Brother John; after making me go through no one knows what, you
turned me out ugly and blear eyed'.
BOOK OF THE FOUNDATION OF
OF REFORMED CARMELITES
MADE BY SAINT TERESA
The original manuscript in the Escorial bears in a clear hand-writing the following inscription: 'Original Book of the Houses founded in Spain by the Glorious Virgin Saint Teresa de Jesus According to her Reformed Rule, Written with her Own Hand: Library of the Escorial, for a Perpetual Memorial'. It is, however, not kept in the library, but in the relic chamber.
How the Convent of St Joseph at Medina del Campo came to be planned
ell, when I was thinking anxiously over all these things, it occurred to me to seek the help of the Fathers of the Company of Jesus, who were in high esteem at Medina. As I have said in the account of the first foundation, these Fathers had guided my soul many years: and I always helf them in special reverence for the great good which they did me. I wrote what our Father General had enjoined on me to the Rector there, who happened to be the one who had heard my confession for many years; as I have said, although I did not give his name; it was Baltasar Alvarez, who is now Provincial. He and the others said they would do what they could in the matter: and they made great efforts to obtain the leave of the townspeople and of the Bishop - for it is always difficult to get leave to establish a house founded without endowment: and so the business took some days to arrange.
To see to this there went a priest, Julian of Avila, a great servant of God, singularly detached from the world and much given to prayer. He was chaplain of the convent in which I was living, and God had given him the same desires that He had given me; and so he has been a great help to me, as will presently be seen. Well, though I now possessed the licence, I had no house nor a penny to buy one, nor any securities on which to get credit. If the Lord did not give it, how could a pilgrim like me possess it? The Lord ordained that a very excellent girl for whom there had not been room at St Joseph's, hearing that another house was to be established, came and asked me to take her in there. She had some money, very little, not enough to buy a house, but enough to rent one, and to help with the expense of the journey. So we looked out for a hired house. With no more than this to depend upon, we set out from Avila, two nuns from St Joseph's and I, and four from the Incarnation, the convent of the mitigated Rule, where I lived before St Joseph's was founded. Our chaplain, Father Julian of Avila, was with us.
When it was known in the town, there was a great deal of talk. Some said I was mad; others would wait to see the end of this nonsense. To the Bishop, as I was afterwards told, it seemed great folly, although at the time he did not let me know this, because, having a great affection for me, he did not like to hamper me or cause me pain. My friends gave me their opinion roundly; but I attached little weight to it; because to me that which they thought hazardous seemed so easy that I could not persuade myself that it could fail to turn out well.
When we left Avila I had already written to a Father of our Order, Fray Antonio de Heredia, to buy me a house. He was at that time Prior of St Anne's, a monastery of monks of our Order at Medina. He opened negotiations with a lady who was much attached to him, who had a house. Its walls were in a ruinous state, all but those of one apartment; but it was in a very good situation. She was so kind as to promise to sell it without demanding security for the payment, on the strength of his word alone: for we could not have given any security. The Lord ordered all this for us: and so they made the agreement. The walls of the house were in such a ruinous state that we had to hire another until it was repaired, for there was a great deal to be done to it.
Then at the end of our first day's journey, it was already dark, and we were tired because of our bad equipage. As we were nearing the town by way of Arévalo, there came out to meet us a friend of ours, an ecclesiastic, who had got rooms for us in the house of some devout women: and he told us privately that we should not get our house, because it was near a monastery of Augustinians, and they would resist our taking possession, and there would certainly have to be a law suit. O, válame Dios! when Thou, O Lord, art pleased to give courage, how little does any opposition avail! Rather it seemed to encourage me, because I felt that if the devil was already beginning to make a disturbance, it must be because this convent would be to the Lord's service. Anyhow I asked him to say nothing, in order not to disturb my companions, especially the two from the Incarnation; for the others would have gone through any troubles for my sake. One of these two was sub-prioress there, and the Sisters did all they could to stop her. Both of them were of good family, and they came against their relations' wish, for all the Sisters thought it absurd; with ample reason, as I afterwards saw. For when it is the Lord's will that I should found one of these houses, nothing seems able to get into my head which seems to me sufficient to make me give it up, until I have actually done it. Afterwards the difficulties present themselves to us all at once, as will presently be seen.
When we got to the lodging, I found that there was in the place a very great servant of God, a Dominican friar, who had heard my confessions while I was at St Joseph's. As in my account of that foundation I have spoken much of his goodness, I will hear only say his name, the Master Fray Domingo Bañez. He is very learned and wise, and I always took his advice. And to his thinking this was not so difficult a work as others that I had had to do: for the more anyone knows of God, the more easily he does God's work: and because he knew how gracious God had been to me in certain matters, and from what he had seen in the foundation of St Joseph's, it all seemed to him quite possible. It gave me great encouragement when I saw him; for I felt sure that with the help of his advice all would go well. Well, when he came, I told him in great secrecy what was going on: and he thought we could speedily come to terms with the Augustinians. But to me any delay was distressing because I did not know what to do with so many nuns. All who were in our lodging son heard everything: and so we all spent an anxious night.
Early in the morning the Prior of the Order, Fray Antonio, arrived, and said that the house which he had agreed to purchase would do for us, and had an entrance which we could turn into a little chapel with the help of some hangings. We determined to go there: to me at least it seemed the best thing: for the shorter the time the better, as we were out of our own convents; also, having learned my lesson in the first foundation, I feared some opposition. So my plan was that before any one got wind of it we should already have taken possession; so me determined to do it at once. The Master Fahter Fray Domingo agreed with us.
We arrived at Medina del Campo on the Vigil of the Assumption at midnight. We alighted at St Anne's so as not to make any noise, and went on foot to the house. It was just the time when the bulls which were to fight next day were being driven to the enclosure, and it was a great mercy that some of them did not toss us. As for us, our minds were so taken up that I never thought of such a thing; but the Lord, Who is always mindful of those who are desiring - as I certainly was - to serve Him, kept us safe.
We arrived at the house and went into the patio. The walls looked to me very ruinous. There was a good deal of earth to be shovelled out, it had an open roof, and the walls were unplastered. The night was short, and we had only brought with us a few hangings, I think three, which were not nearly enough to cover the length of the entrance: and I did not know what to do, for I saw it was not fit to set an altar there. It pleased the Lord - for He desired that it should be done at once - that the lady's steward had in his house a great deal of tapestry of hers, and some blue damask bed-hangings: and she had told him to give us anything we wanted; for she was very good. When I saw such good garniture, I gave praise to the Lord, and so did the others. We did not know what to do for nails, nor could we buy them at that hour; but we hunted in the walls, and at last with a dood deal of trouble we found plenty. Some put up the hangings: we nuns cleaned the floor; and we worked with such a will that when morning dawned the altar was set up, and the little bell in a passage; and mass was said at once. This sufficed to take possession: but as at that time we did know this, we also had the Blessed Sacrament reserved. We nuns saw mass through the chinks of a door opposite; for there was nowhere else for us to be.
Up to this time I was very happy: for it is my greatest pleasure to see one more church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. But my joy was short-lived; for when mass was over, I went to look at the patio through a little window, and I saw that all the walls were fallen to the ground in places, so that it would take many days to repair them.
Oh válame Dios! what anguish filled my heart when I saw His Majesty set in the street in a time of so much danger from these Lutherans! and together with this arose in my mind all the difficulties which those who disapproved of our venture had spoken of, and I saw clearly that they were right. It seemed impossible to go forward with what I had begun: because, just as up till now all had appeared easy, since it was for God that it was done, so now I was tempted to think so little of His power that it seemed as if I had never received any grace from Him: my own littleness and impotence was all that was present to my mind; and when success depended on such a wretched creature, what could be hoped for? I think I could have borne it better had I been alone; but what was so dreadful was to think of my companions having to go home after the opposition which their departure had raised. It seemed to me too, that now this beginning had gone wrong, there was no possibility of all that I had understood our Lord meant to do further. And an added fear at once arose that what I had understood in my prayer was a delusion. this was not my least distress, but my greatest; because it made me exceedingly afraid that the devil had deceived me. Oh my God! what a thing it is to see a soul whom Thou art pleased to leave to suffer! Certainly, when I remember this misery and some others which I have suffered in these foundations, it seems to me that the bodily sufferings, severe though these have been, were nothing to be compared to them-
Of all this burden of distress which weighed me down I said nothing to my companions, because I did not want to give them any more distress than they already had. I went on in this unhappiness until the evening, when the Rector of the Jesuits sent a Father to see me, who greatly comforted and encouraged me. I did not tell him all my troubles, but only the distress which it was to find ourselves in the street. I began to see about finding a hired house, at whatever costo, to go into while this one was being repaired. Then I began to take comfort from seeing how many people came to the house, and that none of them found fault with our folly, which was a mercy: for I felt certain they would take away from us the Blessed Sacrament. Now I see that I was foolish and others were thoughtless in not consuming the Host; but at that time I thought that all would be undone if we did so.
For all we could do, we could not find a house in all the place: so I spent very troubled days and nights; for although I always had men to watch over the Blessed Sacrament, I was always anxious lest they should go to sleep; so I kept getting up in the night to look through the window, and I could see well because there was very bright moonlight. During all these days a great many people came: and not only were they not offended, but it moved their devotion to see our Lord again in an outhouse: and His Majesty, never tired of humbling Himself for our sake, did not seem to desire to leave it. It was not until after a week that a merchant who lived in a very good house, seeing our necessity, asked us to move to the upper part of it, to dwell there as in our own house. There was a great gilded hall there which he gave us for a chapel; and Doña Elena de Quiroga, a lady who lived close to the house which we had bought, a great servant of God, said she would help me to begin at once to make a chapel for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved, and would also fit up the house for our enclosure. Other people gave us plenty of money for our food: but it was this lady who helped me most.
This being arranged, I began to be in peace, because where we were, we could be completely enclosed; and we began to say the office. And the good Prior made great haste about the house, taking a great deal of trouble. For all that, the work took two months, but it was done so well that we were able to live there fairly comfortably for some years; after that our Lord provided something better for us.
While I was there, I was always thinking over the monasteries of friars; and since, as I said, I had not one friar, I did not know what to do. So determined to talk to the Prior about it in strict confidence, to see what he would advise; and so I did. When he heard of it he was very glad, and promised to be the first himself. I took this for a jest, and so I told him: for although he was a very good Brother, recollected and very studious and a lover of his cell, and was learned, I thought he would not have the energy, nor be able to endure the necessary hardships; for he was delicate and not used to them. He earnestly assured me that he could: and he declared that, for some time, the Lord had been calling him to a stricter life; and so he had determined to join the Carthusians, and they had already promised to receive him. For all this, I was not quite satisfied, although I was glad to hear it; and I asked him to let us put it off for some time, during which he would practise the things which he would have to promise; and so he did. A year passed, during which he had to endure so many troubles and the persecutions of so many false accusations that it seemed our Lord desired to prove him: and he bore it all so well and made such progress that I gave praise to our Lord, and I thought his Majesty was preparing him for him.
A little later, there happened to come a young Father who had been studying at Salamanca. Another priest accompanied him, who told me great things of the life which this Father lived. His name was Brother John of the Cross. I gave thanks to our Lord. When I talked to the Father, I was much pleased with him. He told me he also meant to become a Carthusian. I told him my projects, and earnestly begged him to wait until the Lord should give us a monastery, pointing out that if he meant to better himself, it would be a great gain to do so within his own Order, and much more to the Lord's service. He gave me his word that he would, if he had not to wait too long.
When I saw that I already had two friars to begin with,1 I thought the thing already done. However, as I was not altogether satisfied with the Prior, and also we had nowhere to commence in, I waited some time.
The Sisters kept growing in
with the people and gaining their affection; and, as I felt, justly:
they thought of nothing but how each could best serve our Lord. They
on exactly as at St Joseph's at Avila; for they had the same Rule and
The Lord began to call some in the neighbourhood to take the habit; and
He bestowed on them such great grace that it amazed me. May He be
for ever. Amen. For he seems to require nothing but to be loved, to
friar and a half' St Teresa used to call them, because of the
stature and youth of St John of the Cross.
Mother Agnes well captured St Teresa's chatty, untaught, powerful style. This chapter particularly was a model also for the quasi-Carmelite Anglican Community of the Holy Family where Mother Agnes sought long and hard for permission to reserve the Sacrament in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel built out of a stable shed at Holmhurst, a place we Anglican schoolgirls loved to kneel in prayer for its aura of great holiness.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Holmhurst St Mary
While its Library had a
collection of the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross
in Spanish and in English, a copy of Mother Agnes' own translation of
of Avila's Foundations being carefully bound with the letters
reviews of her book by the leading Anglican and Catholic clergy of her
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