Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes

The Last Trial

"Though trials or persecutions increase, yet if we bear them without offending our Lord, rejoicing in suffering for His sake, it will be all the greater gain."

Teresa had been about two years at the Convent of the Incarnation when Father Hernandez gave her leave to visit some of the houses of the Reform where her presence was urgently needed. The foundation at Pastrana especially was in a very difficult situation, for its foundress, the Princess of Eboli, having suddenly lost her husband, had announced her intention of entering the convent as a nun.

The Prioress was aghast, and not without reason, for she had had some experience of the noble lady's whims and caprices. The news that the Princess had had herself clothed with the habit in her own palace and was on her way to the convent filled all hearts with a consternation which her actions only served to augment. Her request that two of her waiting-women should be instantly admitted as novices having been refused, she sent for a Prior of the Mitigated Rule to enforce her commands. When the Prioress objected that it was altogether against the rules that she should receive in the cloisters the people who came to condole with her on her husband's death, the self-made novice replied that the convent belonged to her, and she would do what she chose in it. After three weeks of religious life she departed as suddenly as she had come, dimly conscious of the fact that she had made a fool of herself, and furiously indignant with everybody and everything. To satisfy her ill-humour, she withdrew all that she herself as well as her husband had given to the convent, leaving the nuns in the most abject poverty.

Teresa was busy with a foundation at Segovia, but as soon as she was free she set out for Pastrana, determined to withdraw the nuns from their impossible position and to give up the house altogether. But the Princess, although she would do nothing more for the foundation, was determined that it should remain, and the community had to escape from the convent in the, darkness of the night. They made their way with some difficulty to Segovia, where the Prioress was placed in charge of the new foundation.

Teresa's term of office at the Incarnation had now expired, and she had great difficulty in preventing the nuns from re-electing her. "I love the house as my mother, and you all as my sisters," she said to them, "but I cannot remain with you. My other houses need me too much." She was then begged to choose her successor, and having named the sub-Prioress, who was immediately elected, the Saint gave herself up once more to the work of the foundations.

She was now over sixty years of age, worn out with hard work and ill-health, but her spirit was as valiant as ever. "To suffer or to die," had been her constant prayer, and her longing to share in the Passion of her Divine Lord was to be satisfied more fully than ever during the last years of her life.

The Carmelite Friars were not, as were their sisters of the Reform, under the direct jurisdiction of the General of the Order, but were governed by the Provincials of the Mitigated Rule. That sooner or later there would be trouble on account of this arrangement had always been foreseen by St. Teresa, but for the moment it was impossible to remedy it. The Dominican Visitors, Father Hernandez and Father Vargas, had been so delighted with the fervour and zeal of the Friars of the Reform that they had established them in several new foundations, Father Vargas going so far even as to relegate to Father Jerome Gratian, one of the most gifted amongst them, his own powers as Visitor of the Order.

The Carmelites of the Mitigated Rule were already jealous of the growth and prosperity of the Reform; no sooner did they hear of this new mark of favour than, filled with indignation, they denounced Father Vargas' action to their General in Rome. This new growth, they complained, was troubling the peace of the Order; there would soon be a schism in its midst. Every kind of charge was brought against the friars of the Primitive Rule. They were rebellious, disobedient; they founded new monasteries without permission; the} wanted to enforce their reforms on the whole Order.

Father Rubeo believed these reports. He passed severe censures on the Barefooted Friars, and sent Father Tostado, a Portuguese Carmelite, to Spain to act as his representative, giving him authority to settle all the affairs of the Order. A long and weary struggle ensued. The Papal Nuncio and the Ring upheld the Friars of the Reform, while the far more powerful body of the Mitigated Rule, with Father Tostado at their head, were determined to drive them out of their houses. Teresa prayed and suffered. The work of long years seemed in danger of being overthrown, but her trust was in God, by whose inspiration she had acted.

In the meantime, new foundations for nuns were made at Veas and Seville. The Saint started for the latter town, accompanied by a few of her daughters, in the midst of the heat of a Castilian summer. They travelled in a covered cart, and Teresa was attacked by fever on the way. The only shelter they could get was an attic directly under the roof of a poor little inn. It had no windows, and the pitiless sun beat in through the door whenever it was opened; it was easier to continue the journey than to seek rest in such a place. While they were crossing the Guadalquivir the ferry-boat got adrift, and they were nearly drowned. They were resting in a field near Alvino when a violent quarrel broke out between some peasants and soldiers who were passing. Knives and swords were drawn, things looked dangerous, and the nuns were very much alarmed. But Teresa, going straight into the midst of the combatants, bade them remember that they were under the Eyes of God, who would one day judge them. There was something in the face and voice of the Saint that strangely calmed their passion. Swords and knives were sheathed, anger was forgotten, and they went their way in peace.

At last Teresa and her daughters reached their journey's end. The convent at Seville was founded, but fresh sorrow was in store.

At the time of the foundation of Pastrana, the Princess of Eboli, having heard that the Saint, in obedience to an order of her confessor, had written an account of her life, requested that it should be given her to read. Teresa refused, whereupon the Princess, highly indignant, represented that the privilege had been granted to the Duchess of Alba and Doha Luisa de la Cerda. Why, therefore, should she, equally a patroness of the Order, be excluded? The Saint was reluctantly obliged to yield, but her fears were justified, for the Princess, utterly incapable of understanding what she read, lent the book to her friends, and Teresa was unable to recover it. Later cane the death of the Prince and the unpleasant episode at Pastrana which made the Princess Teresa's inveterate enemy. Here was a chance for revenge. The great lady denounced the hook to the Inquisition as unorthodox.

In spite of the fact that it had been approved by eminent theologians, Teresa herself in her humility believed that wig hat she had written must be full of faults. She was in the greatest distress, for she feared that if it were condemned the scandal would fall upon the whole Order. Her apprehensions, however, were soon set at rest. The hook was not only approved by the Holy Office, but commended; the spite of the Princess had done the Saint more good than harm.

In the meantime, the affairs of the Bare-footed Friars were going from had to worse. Teresa herself, as their foundress, was included in the calumnies which were daily being circulated against them. A Decree of the General Chapter condemned her, in punishment for her disobedience, to confine herself to one of her convents and to remain there permanently. The Saint replied in a spirit of filial obedience, but with the deepest sorrow. Her only comfort, she wrote to Father Rubeo, in the trials she had had to bear was the consideration that she had believed herself to be carrying out his orders and doing God's will.

The nuns of Seville, before Teresa left them, as they thought for ever, obtained permission for Brother John de la Miseria, a friar of the Reform, to paint her portrait. Brother John was an unskilful artist, and better at prayer than at painting; but after an incalculable number of sittings he declared that the picture was finished. "God forgive you, Brother John, for making inc so ugly "cried Teresa when she saw it, merrily, "after all you have made me suffer."

In the autumn of 1576 the Saint arrived at Toledo accompanied by a young and holy lay sister, Anne of St. Bartholomew, who was henceforth to be her inseparable companion.

Father Tostado, determined to uphold the honour of the Mitigated Rule, had in the meantime called together a Provincial Chapter, where it was decreed that the Friars of the Reform were to be shod, to wear the usual habit, and to be under the direction of the Superiors of the Mitigated Rule. They were to open their houses to all who should be sent to them and go themselves, if required, to live in any house of the Order. The decree meant the complete annihilation of the Reform; the Barefooted Friars resolved to resist it to the utmost, and the Friars of the Mitigated Rule resorted to violence. Father John of the Cross was imprisoned, and so harshly treated that his life was in danger. Misrepresentations were sent to Rome, with the result that another decree was issued, making the nuns as well as the friars of the Reform subject to the government of the Superiors of the Mitigated Rule, and forbidding them to receive novices. It was ruin, total and complete. When the news reached Teresa at St. Joseph's, for once her strong spirit failed her. All day long she remained alone praying and weeping in the bitterness of her heart.

It was the Eve of the Nativity, and as the night wore on Sister Anne of St. Bartholomew knocked softly at the Saint's door and begged her to take some nourishment before she went to the choir for Matins. Having succeeded in inducing her to come to the refectory, the sister placed food before her and retired to a little distance; but still Teresa sat motionless, absorbed in her grief. Then in a vision Sister Anne beheld our Lord standing before the Saint and looking at her with eyes full of tender compassion. Taking the bread which lay on the table, He blessed it and gave it to her, bidding her eat for love of Him. Courage and hope returned to Teresa's heart; the Master had not forsaken the work that He had inspired. Next day she sent word to all the houses of the Reform to redouble their prayers and penances, writing at the same time to the King to implore his help.

The authorities, deceived for a time, were beginning to see where the truth lay. The calumnies of the friars of the Mitigated Rule were proved false. After long and weary waiting a brief was published withdrawing all the houses of the Reform from the government of the Mitigated Order. Shortly afterwards Pope Gregory XIII. decreed that the friars and nuns of the Primitive Rule should be united in a separate Province governed by a Provincial of their own choosing. Teresa was set at liberty; the Reform was saved.