Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes

Christ or Satan?

"O Life of all lives, Thou slayest none that put their trust in Thee and seek Thy friendship."

It has been said that God will never allow Himself to be outdone in generosity. For fourteen tears, in spite of dryness, weariness, and ill health, Teresa persevered in prayer. After a long struggle, very hard to her affectionate nature, she had given up all the earthly ties to which she clung. The reward followed closely on the sacrifice. God began to reveal Himself to her soul with an ever-increasing intimacy, while the sense of His continual presence never left her. It was no longer hard to recollect herself; the thought of God was always in her heart. Her soul, as she herself tells us, lost itself in God; she no longer lived, but God lived in her.

It was about this time that St. Francis Borgia, General of the Spanish Province, resolved to found a Jesuit College in Avila. Rumours of the holiness of the two sons of St. Ignatius, who had been sent there to inaugurate the work, came to the ears of Teresa, who conceived an ardent desire to seek their counsel and advice. The very graces which God was showering upon her made her uneasy. In her humility she asked herself if she, a sinner, were worthy of such favours, and feared lest the devil might be deceiving her.

Teresa had some reasons for her misgivings. Not long since, the visions and prophecies of a certain Franciscan nun of Cordova had been the wonder and admiration of the whole country. After having been regarded as a Saint for thirty years, this woman, suddenly touched by grace, had confessed that her life had been a deception and her visions imaginary, and was now expiating her sins in bitter sorrow in a convent of her Order. If one nun could be so deceived, thought Teresa, why not another? Convinced as she was of her own unworthiness, the extraordinary graces which God vouchsafed to her only served to alarm her. She had heard that the Jesuits were remarkable for their wisdom and skill in the guidance of souls, and longed to have recourse to them to set her doubts at rest. But humility interfered once more. "I did not think myself fit to speak to them," says the Saint, and the desire had to await its fulfilment.

There lived in Avila a holy old man who was dear to Teresa, not only on account of the purity of his life, but because he had been the intimate friend of her father. His name was Don Francisco de Salcedo, and to him Teresa resolved to confide her difficulty. Having heard her to the end, he proposed that she should submit the case to Doctor Gaspar Daza, a learned theologian and a friend of his own. The interview which resulted was not very satisfactory. Dr. Daza had not time to undertake the direction of the Saint, and could only give her some general advice, while Teresa, who had not as yet that understanding of spiritual things which was to be her characteristic in later years, found great difficulty in making her explanation clear. An internal intuition, moreover, told her that this was not the man to help her. Don Francisco, greatly disappointed at the failure of his enterprise, did his best to console her, and suggested that she should write an account of her spiritual experiences for I)r. Daza to read. This, to the best of her ability, she did, and gave the manuscript to her old friend. The consequences were disastrous; Don Francisco returned in the greatest distress. Dr. Daza had read her confession, he told her, and had come to the conclusion, in which he himself was obliged to concur, that her consolations were the work of the evil one. The best thing for her to do would be to put herself immediately under the direction of a Jesuit.

Teresa was heart-broken; she did not even dare to pray, for fear that the consolation she might receive would be of the devil, and Father de Padranos was asked to come at once to the convent to hear her confession.

To the Jesuit the situation was perfectly clear: he saw the grace of God working in a soul that was pure, humble and straightforward. What was going on in her, he said, was the work of the Spirit of God; she was, destined for great graces, and must do all in her power to correspond with them. She was to abandon herself with trust and confidence wholly into God's Hands.

Teresa breathed again; anguish was succeeded by peace and joy, but her doubts were to be still further set at rest. St. Francis Borgia, the general of the Jesuits, came soon afterwards to Avila to visit the College of St. Giles, and at Father de Padranos' request went to the Incarnation to see her. The Spirit of God was leading her, was his verdict; she might safely follow Its guidance. Unfortunately for Teresa's future peace of mind, Father Juan de Padranos was shortly afterwards called away from Avila.

In the meanwhile, the number of nuns in the Convent of the Incarnation was increasing rapidly. Finances did not increase at the same rate, hence it was difficult to keep up the house without continually appealing to the families of the nuns for help. In order to relieve the convent of the increasing burden, its inmates were encouraged more and more to visit their friends and relations, and were even ordered to accept all invitations.

Teresa deplored the want of enclosure with all her heart. Nothing was more contrary to her inclinations than such visiting; but it was the custom of the house, and she was obliged to obey. While staying with one of her cousins she had made the acquaintance of Dona Guiomar de Ulloa, a young widow of twenty-five, who, having lately lost her husband, had resolved to seek consolation in God alone. Attracted by Teresa's charm of manner no less than by her holiness, Dona Guiomar had confided to her her hopes and fears for the future, and a strong and supernatural friendship had arisen between them. When the Saint returned to her convent it was only to hear that Dona Guiomar had sought and obtained permission to invite her to her own house a few months later.

Teresa was struck when the two friends met once more by the progress that Dona Guiomar had made in the spiritual life. It was entirely owing, she explained later, to the direction of Father Baltasar Alvarez, a young Jesuit whose holiness was known to the whole town. Teresa, who desired to share the benefit of such a guidance, asked Father Baltasar to admit her among the number of his penitents, and found in him a worthy successor to Father Juan de Padranos. The visit over, Teresa returned to the Convent of the Incarnation rejoicing in the thought that she would be free, for a time at least, to live in peace with God in her own little cell.

But the people of Avila had begun to talk about the extraordinary graces that were being showered on this nun whom they had known from girlhood. Dr. Daza was still convinced that he had been right in his judgment, and Don Francisco de Salcedo had too much confidence in his friend's learning to believe that he could have been mistaken. Both were sincerely interested in Teresa's welfare, and were extremely anxious about her condition. In their distress they talked rather indiscreetly about things which, although they did not come under the seal of confession, had been mentioned in confidence. Some people went so far even as to warn Father Baltasar Alvarez to be on his guard against his penitent.

Although in his heart of hearts the Jesuit was convinced that God alone was working in Teresa's soul, he was humble enough to think that he might he mistaken. He had a great regard for both Gaspar Daza and Francisco de Salcedo; it was just possible that they might be right and he wrong. In any case, the test was easy: humility and obedience, which are always present when God is working in a soul, are conspicuously absent when the work is of the devil. Father Baltasar let it seem to Teresa that he was not sure himself if she were not deceived by the evil one. In any case, he told her, if she were careful not to offend God, her consolations, even if they were the work of Satan, would not be able to hurt her. Ile ordered her to pray less, to resist with all her might her supernatural attractions, and deprived her for nearly three weeks of Holy Communion. "There was no comfort for me either in Heaven or on earth," cried the Saint in her anguish; never had she suffered so cruelly. But when the cloud was darkest the Divine voice spoke in her soul. "Be not afraid," it said, "it is I; I will not abandon thee; fear not."

"O my Lord, how true a Friend thou art!" she cried; for all was now easy to bear. As for Father Baltasar, while more and more convinced that he had to deal with a Saint, his direction increased in rigour. The thought one day suggested itself to Teresa to choose another director, who would let her pray in peace; but her Divine Master reproved her severely. "Do not flatter thyself thou art obedient," He said, "if thou art not prepared to suffer." Presently her Superiors forbade her to read the spiritual books which helped her soul the most. This tried her sorely, but our Lord consoled her. "Do not grieve, my daughter," He said; "I will give thee a living book." She soon learnt what He meant,

One day while praying she saw in a vision Jesus Christ at her side, after which it seemed to her that His invisible presence never left her. When she prayed He constantly appeared to her, ravishing her soul to ecstasy. It was impossible to hide what was passing; the nuns discussed it with their friends, and people began to talk of exorcising the Saint to deliver her from the deceits of the devil.

About this time Father Baltasar Alvarez left Avila, recommending to Teresa during his absence another confessor, who, on his first interview with her, decided also that her visions were the work of Satan. She must make the sign of the Cross, he told her, whenever they appeared, and repulse the evil one with a gesture of contempt and horror. Teresa herself could not doubt that it was our Lord whom she saw and with whom she spoke; how could she bring herself to treat Him with horror and contempt? Trembling, she asked herself the question, but to her there was only one answer. Obedience was His favourite virtue; He had been obedient unto death. But when the vision came again a few days later, even as she made the sign of the Cross and the prescribed gesture of contempt, she fell at our Lord's feet, beseeching Him with tears to pardon her. "Thou hast done well to obey," was the answer; "I will make the truth known."