Letter to the Most Illustrious Don Alonzo Velasquez, Bishop of Osma, by Saint Teresa of Avila

[Saint Teresa of Avila]

The Saint gives his Lordship an account of the state of her soul. He was then her confessor at Toledo. Date, 1581.

Jesus. Oh! that I could make your Reverence understand the quiet and tranquillity which my soul now enjoys. She is now so certain she is to enjoy God, that He seems already to have given her the possession, though not the enjoyment of Him. It is as if some one had, by a legal deed, settled a great estate upon another, so that he should have possession of it after a certain period, and receive the rents; but till then, he was to enjoy only the reversion then made over to him.

But through the gratitude he feels for the donor, he does not wish to enjoy the estate now, because he thinks he does not deserve it, but only to serve Him, even though it were by much suffering. He sometimes even thinks this were but little, though his afflictions should last till the end of the world, provided he could be of service to the giver of this possession; for in truth, such a person is not, in this respect, subject to the miseries of the world, as he used to be formerly, because, though he endures more, it seems to be only outwardly; for the soul is as it were in a castle with sovereign power, and thus she does not lose her peace.

And yet this security does not exclude the great fear she has of offending God, and of removing everything which might prevent her from serving Him: it even increases her fear and care. But so unmindful is she of her own interest, that she seems in part to have lost her very being, so forgetful is she of herself. In everything she looks to God’s glory, and how to accomplish His will the best, and glorify Him.

Besides what I have just mentioned, then again, as far as regards her body and health, I think she takes more care of it, and is less mortified in eating, neither has she such desires of doing penance, as she used to have. But in her opinion, all tends to this object, viz., to be able to serve God the more in other things; for she often offers Him, as an agreeable sacrifice, this care she takes of the body: often is she fatigued, and yet sometimes she tries herself in some mortification; but in her opinion she cannot do this without injury to her health; and the commands of her superiors are always before her. Self-love no doubt insinuates itself in this, and in her desires also about her health. But I think it would give me more pleasure, and I received more, when I was able to endure great mortifications; because if I suffered, then I was doing something and giving good example, and I was not troubled with the thought that I was not serving God in anything. Your Lordship well knows what is best to be done in this respect.

The “Imaginary Visions” have ceased, but the intellectual vision of the three Persons and of the Humanity, seems always to be present; this, in my opinion, much more sublime. Now I seem to understand that the visions I have had came from God, because they dispose the soul to the state in which she now is. And as she was so weak and so miserable, God went on conducting her as He thought necessary: I consider they are to be valued exceedingly, when they are from God.

The “Internal Speeches” have not gone, for when there is any necessary, our Lord gives me some advice: here in Palentia a great oversight would have been committed, though not sinful, had it not been for such advice.

The “Acts and Desires” do not seem to have so much power in me as formerly, because though they are great, yet that is so much greater which possesses me, viz., that the will of God may be done, and whatever conduces most to His glory; and as the soul knows well that His Majesty understands what is the most proper for this object, and as she takes no pleasure in her own interest, these “acts and desires” immediately cease, and I think have no power whatever. Hence proceeds the fear I sometimes have (though not as I used to have it, with pain and trouble), so that my soul is, as it were, stupefied, and I seem to be doing nothing, because I cannot do any penance. Desires of suffering and of martyrdom, and of seeing God, have no great power over me and in general I cannot accomplish them. It seems as if I had lived only to eat and to sleep, and to suffer no pain in anything; and even this troubles me, except that sometimes (as I have said) I fear it is a delusion; yet I cannot believe it, for as far as I can understand, no attachment to any creature, nor to all the glory of heaven, reigns with any power over me, except only to love my God. This is not diminished, nay, rather, in my opinion it is increased, as well as the desire that all should serve him.

Notwithstanding this, one thing astonishes me, viz., that now I feel so little those excessive and interior sentiments that used to afflict me, through beholding the loss of souls, and of thinking whether any offence against God had been committed, although I think this desire that God should not be offended is not lessened.

Your Lordship must observe, that I can do no more in whatever I either now have, or that is past; nor is it in my power to serve more, if I could, were I not so wicked; more I say, since if now I should earnestly endeavour to desire to die, I could not desire such a thing, nor perform the acts that I used to do; nor have I such sorrow for offences against God, nor likewise those great fears I had for so many years, when I thought I was deluded; hence, I now have no occasion to consult the learned, or to tell anything to any one. I only wish to satisfy myself whether I am going on well at present, and whether I can do anything better. I have spoken on this matter with some whom I consulted about other things, viz., Father Dominic (BaƱez) and Maestro Medina, and some belonging to the Society of Jesus. I am resolved to agree to whatever your Lordship shall now say to me, on account of your Lordship’s great authority: weigh your words well, for the love of God. I have lately been unable to know whether the souls of some relatives of mine who have died have gone to heaven; but of others, I have not lost the knowledge.

An interior peace, and the little strength which either pleasures or displeasures have to remove this presence (during the time it lasts) of the three Persons, and that without power to doubt of it, continue in such a manner, that I clearly seem to experience what Saint John says, “That He will dwell in the soul,” and this not only by grace, but that He will also make her perceive this presence, which brings so many good things as cannot be uttered, especially that there is no occasion to seek considerations for knowing that God is in the soul. This is almost general, except when she is oppressed by severe sickness: sometimes it seems as if God wished her to suffer without any internal consolation; but never, not even through any first motion, does this turn the will from desiring that God’s will should not be accomplished in her. Her resignation to this will has such strength, that she desires neither death nor life, except for a short time, when she desires to see God; but the presence of these three Persons is immediately represented to her with such power, and thereby her grief for being at a distance from her Spouse is diminished, and a desire to live remains if such be His will, in order to serve Him the more, and that she may be instrumental in causing at least one soul to love Him the more, and praise Him through her means; and though this should be only for a very short time, she thinks it would be more profitable to her, than to enjoy eternal glory.

Your Lordship’s unworthy Servant and Daughter,

– Teresa de Jesus

– translated from the Spanish by the Reverend John Dalton, London, 1902