The following Life of Saint John of the Cross has been compiled from that written by Fra Joseph of Jesus and Mary, who entered the order of Carmel in 1595, three years after the death of the saint. Fra Joseph was appointed annalist of the order, and, no doubt, had access to all the papers necessary for his work. But his life of the saint was not regarded with favour by his brethren, and the publication of it took place without the sanction of his superiors, who afterwards deprived him of his charge of annalist. Also from the great chronicle of the order, by Fra Francis de Santa Maria; the life written by Fra Jerome of Saint Joseph, commonly prefixed to the works of Saint John of the Cross; from that written by the Padre Marco de San Francisco, in Italian; and from that written by the P. Dosithee de Saint Alexis, in French. Great use has also been made of the life lately written by Don Manuel Mufioz Garnica, Canon of the Cathedral Church of Jaen, and published in that city in the year 1873.
– David Lewis, M.A., feast of Saint John of the Cross, 1888
The Order of our Lady of Mount Carmel – Saint Simon Stock – The mitigated rule – Saint Teresa – Maria de Ocampo – The prior-general of the Carmelites – The reform of Saint Teresa – Fra Antonio de Heredia – Saint Teresa in Medina del Campo – Fra Juan of Saint Malhias
The Order of our Lady of Mount Carmel had its beginnings in the east, where, for many generations, it grew and flourished, unknown to the dwellers in the west. From the day of the great prophets Elias and Eliseus – so runs the venerable tradition of Carmel – the holy mountain was peopled by hermits who, by a life of prayer and penance, according to their measure, shadowed forth, from generation to generation, under the old law, the greater graces of the new.
Hermits of Carmel, sons of the prophets, were among those who heard the forerunner of our Lord in the “desert of Jewry,” “preaching the baptism of penance unto remission of sins”; and again in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, among those who saw the blessed Apostle standing with the eleven, when “the law came forth from Sion and the word of our Lord from Jerusalem.” They were converted to the faith of Christ, and on their return to the holy mountain, raised an oratory in Carmel to the honour of our blessed Lady, whom they had seen in Jerusalem, in the very place where Elias stood when he saw the little cloud coming up from the sea, bringing with it the long-desired rain which God had so long with held from the earth. The hermits were known for a thousand years after the Passion of our Lord as the brethren of Saint Mary of mount Carmel. They had left the world, and were living in caves and in hollows of the rocks, intent on the service of God and their own salvation.
In the beginning of the thirteenth century the brethren of Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel began to be heard of in Europe. The troubles in the holy land, and the growing weakness of the crusaders, as well as the growing strength of the infidels, forced some of them to depart from Carmel of the sea, and to seek a refuge in more quiet lands. Among these was Ralph Freeborn, a Northumbrian by birth, who had gone to Palestine as a soldier of the cross to fight the Saracens, and who, in Carmel, had laid aside the armour of earthly warfare for the peaceful habit of a hermit. He returned to Europe with one of his brethren in the company, and under the protection of two Englishmen, lord Vesci and lord Grey of Codnor. The former gave him land for a monastery near Alnwick, where, in the year 1240, he founded the priory of Hulne. Lord Grey gave land in Kent for the same purpose, and there the priory of Aylesford was built at the same time. In the latter house, five years afterwards in 1245, the first chapter of the Carmelites in Europe was held, memorable for the election of Saint Simon Stock – to whom our Lady gave the scapular – as prior-general of the whole order. They were known as the white friars from the colour of their habit, rapidly grew in numbers, passed over into Ireland, and into Scotland; the latter kingdom being the thirteenth province of the order, consisting of nine monasteries.
Aimeri of Limoges, dean and afterwards patriarch of Antioch in the twelfth century, is said to have brought the hermits of Carmel together, placing them under the government of one superior, and to have given them a rule of life. Under Brocardo, the second prior, that rule was either laid aside for another, given by Albert of Parma, patriarch of Jerusalem, or was by that patriarch modified, during the pontificate of Innocent III.
The rule given by Albert of Parma to the friars who “dwelt by the well of Elias” was confirmed by Honorius III in the year of our Lord 1226; but when the friars settled in Europe, the rule given to hermits on mount Carmel, whose life was a life of contemplation, became difficult to keep and perhaps impossible, under the changed conditions of life in countries unlike the land where the order had its beginnings. Two friars were therefore sent to the Holy See – probably by the general chapter of Aylesford, in 1245 – to beg for directions. In 1248 Innocent IV confirmed the rule anew, but with certain corrections and modifications; and commanded the friars to observe it. The observance of the mitigated rule in the course of time became a heavier burden than the friars were able to carry. They therefore submitted the rule again to the correction of the Holy See; and Eugenius IV, in 1432, at their request, and in consideration of human weakness, mitigated the severities thereof. From that time forth the friars were allowed to eat flesh, and to be out of their cells, but still within the enclosure. The fast from September 14 to Easter in the following year was dispensed with, and the friars were bound to fast only in Advent and Lent, and on the other days observed in the Church. Other mitigations were afterwards made, which were sanctioned by Pius II in 1459, and by Sixtus IV, in 1476. The rule was perhaps not severe now, but the observance of it was no doubt exact, and the friars had the sanction of the Holy See.
It was under this rule that the Carmelites, in Spain and elsewhere, lived when Saint Teresa made her profession in the monastery of the incarnation in Avila. She by degrees, as she was raised to higher states of prayer, longed for a stricter way of life, that she might become a more perfect sacrifice to our Lord. She heard, too, of the outbreak of heresy and of the flood of false opinions which had covered the earth, and in her silence her soul took fire.
In her monastery in Avila, it was difficult for her to be much alone, for enclosure was not very rigidly observed; moreover, her superiors sent her from time to time to the houses of people living in the world. This was a sore distress to the saint, for she wished to keep her rule with great strictness, knowing as she did that her first duty was to follow her vocation. Besides, such strictness as she longed for was not possible in that house, for there were more than a hundred and fifty nuns in it, all of whom could not be compelled to lead a severe life, because their profession bound them only to the mitigated rule.
The saint knew, indeed, that the rule, though not observed anywhere in its original strictness, but according to the custom of the order, sanctioned by the Pope, was a safe way of salvation. Nevertheless she longed to do more than she was hound to do by the rule under which she was living; and, while pondering the matter in her heart, prepared others to enter with her upon her great work of travelling by the straight path for which the few are chosen.
One day in her cell, when the difficulties of a life of prayer and retirement in the monastery of the incarnation were spoken of, her niece, Maria de Ocampo, not then a religious, said that if they who were talking of such high things wished to imitate in earnest the barefooted nuns of Saint Francis, means might be found for the foundation of a monastery; she herself would give a thousand ducats for that purpose. Maria de Ocampo was a child, and hitherto had not shown any wish to be a nun; on the contrary, she was fond of dress, and such amusements as she could find. But that generous offer to help others to serve God better received the hundredfold reward at once. Many years afterwards, being then a nun, she wrote thus at the commandment of her confessor: ‘ The instant I made the offer of a thousand ducats for the foundation of a monastery, I had a vision of our Lord bound to the pillar; a most piteous and distressing sight. He thanked me for that alms and for my goodwill towards the foundation, as it was the first, and told me how greatly it would be to His honour. That vision was to me an exceeding joy, and I was so moved by it that I made up my mind there and then to take the habit myself; and did so within six months after the foundation of Saint Joseph’s.’
Saint Teresa’s heart was filled with gladness when she heard her niece make the offer; so she began to commend the matter to our Lord, and to take counsel of holy people. The issue was the foundation in 1562, about two years later, of the first monastery of the barefooted nuns of Carmel in the house of Saint Joseph, in the city and diocese of Avila, in the kingdom of Old Castille, and under the jurisdiction of the bishop, don Alvaro de Mendoza.
When the f1rst house of the reform was founded, Saint Teresa discovered that only half of her work was done. It was not enough to have the primitive rule observed by nuns; friars also must be found to observe it, for the better direction of those nuns. This need of friars had been felt from the very beginning; for when Saint Peter of Alcantara told his penitent Isabel de Ortega – afterwards Isabel of Saint Dominic – that she was called to the new Carmel of Saint Teresa, she replied that she would not belong to the new foundation, because there were no friars observing the same rule from whom she could receive such help as she might require in the spirit of her vocation. Her confessor bade her be at ease, the friars would be found, and the reform about to be begun by Saint Teresa would not be confined to nuns. Some five years afterwards, sister Isabel made her profession in Saint Joseph’s, but the friars of the reform had not yet come. The father-general of the order came to Spain in 1566, and the next year visited Saint Teresa in her new monastery; the house was subject to the bishop of the diocese, and its foundress had been withdrawn, but without her own knowledge and consent, from the jurisdiction of the general, to the great grief of them both. The general was a saintly man, and did not wish to lose Saint Teresa, so he re-admitted her into the order, to her great joy; he allowed her, however, to remain in the house of Saint Joseph, giving her authority to found more monasteries of nuns in which the primitive rule should be kept in all its austerity.
That was not all that she wanted; she wished to see friars of the order living under the same rule, The general thought he could not help her, because of the opposition in the province; the friars were wedded to their customs, and disliked change. Her friends went to the general on her behalf, but they could not prevail; at last she wrote to him herself imploring him to give his consent. He was moved by her entreaties, and gave her authority to found two monasteries of friars, but within the province of Castille only.
It is believed that more than one attempt had been made before this to restore the observance of the primitive rule; be that as it may, it is certain that at this time there was not a monastery belonging to the order which was not under the mitigated rule sanctioned by Eugenius IV. The decree made at the instance of Clement VII, in 1524, for the establishment of one house in each province wherein the primitive rule should be kept, was never executed. But it is not to be supposed, however, that the order was therefore corrupt, or that its members were not edifying and devout men; the friars kept their rule, and it was very natural that their strict observance of a rule, though less severe than the one laid aside, should seem to them a good reason for persevering under the discipline which was in force when they were admitted to make their religious profession in Carmel.
The new foundations sanctioned by the general were to be known as monasteries of contemplative Carmelites, living according to the old constitutions of the order under the obedience of the general. Though the friars were to spend their time chiefly in saying Mass, in singing the divine office, and in mental prayer, they were, nevertheless, to serve their neighbours in their necessities whenever the occasion for doing so offered itself. They were to go onwards in the way of perfection as Carmelites by the observance of the primitive rule, renouncing the mitigations which, in consideration of human weakness, the Sovereign Pontiffs had allowed.
But Saint Teresa, though greatly rejoicing in the goodwill of the general, was very far, so it seemed to her, from even a beginning of her work. She did not know of one man in the whole world who would accept the primitive rule. The friars of her order were very few in the province, and among them she saw no signs of better things, yet she did not give up her plan, and was confident that our Lord would come to her help in due time.
Her first monastery of nuns was founded in 1562, and now in 1567 – at the very time she received the general’s permission to found the two houses – she was in Medina del Campo, making the second foundation of her reform. She was there from the vigil of the assumption to the end of October, busy with her own immediate work in her own monastery, but not forgetting that which was also hers, and which seemed so hopeless. ‘While staying there,’ she wrote in her Foundations, ‘I was always thinking of monasteries of friars; but as I had not one friar to begin with, I did not know what to do.’ In her straits she resolved to speak to Fra Antonio de Heredia, the prior of the Carmelites in Medina, in the house of Saint Anne, founded a few years before – in 1560.
Fra Antonio de Heredia had not been long in Medina – he had been made prior in the chapter held this year in Avila – but Saint Teresa knew him when he was prior of the Carmelites in Avila. She had made known to him her wishes and desires about houses of friars under the primitive rule, even before the general of the order had come to Spain. When she spoke to him now on the same subject, her plans were more definite, and she had leave to do what she could formerly only wish for. Fra Antonio at once promised to make a beginning himself. Saint Teresa thought he was jesting and told him so, but the prior was in earnest, and told her that God was calling him to a stricter life, and that he had intended to leave the order and become a Carthusian.
Fra Antonio, of one of the noblest houses of Biscay, was born in the year 1510, five years before Saint Teresa, in Requena of New Castille; his mother was of the family of Saint Vincent Ferrer. He became a friar when only ten years of age, and in his twenty-third year was ordained priest. A true friar, simple and obedient, but of a delicate constitution, unused at least to austerities; so the saint, not unreasonably, had some doubts about his fitness. On the other hand, he was a man of great weight in his order, and respected by seculars for his noble birth, his great prudence, and long experience.
Saint Teresa, nevertheless, did not think him fitted for the work; she required greater gifts than she was able to trace in Fra Antonio, and retained her doubts. His goodwill, however, pleased her. She would not refuse him, and asked him to wait for a year; meanwhile he was to live in his monastery, and, as far as it should be possible for him, in the practice of those observances which were demanded by the primitive rule. Fra Antonio accepted the conditions and the counsel; gave himself up to a more severe life, and endured much contradiction from his brethren, for they preferred the customs of the mitigation, and had no wish to be reformed.
Soon after this, and before she had left Medina del Campo, Fra Pedro Orozco, a grave and learned friar, one of those whom Saint Teresa always saw with pleasure, called upon her, and in the course of the conversation told her of a young friar who had just been made a priest, but who wished for a more recollected life than that of the order. The account of his recollection, his humility, his devotion, and his gravity beyond his years, struck Saint Teresa; so she begged him to send that friar to her. She saw that this was the man whom God had raised up to be the foundation of her reform and the corner-stone of the new Carmel. Fra Pedro promised to send him, and Saint Teresa betook herself to her prayers. She spent that night in earnest supplications unto our Lord to send her the young friar for the work that He had given her to do. It was the prayer of Rachel, ‘Children, or I die.’
Fra Pedro had some difficulty in persuading the friar to visit Saint Teresa, but he prevailed in the end, and the next day the visit was unwillingly made. Then Saint Teresa saw for the first time the great saint and doctor of Carmel, the poor friar, John of the Cross.
Chapter 2: 1542-1568
Family of the saint – Francis de Yepes – Poverty – Don Alonso Alvarez – Juan de Yepes at school – his longing for a religious life – enters the monastery of the Carmelites – Profession – is sent to Salamanca – ordained priest – returns to Medina – intends to become a Carthusian
Saint John of the Cross was born June 24th, in the year 1542, in Hontiveros, once a flourishing city, but then fallen into decay, in Old Castille, within the diocese of Avila, the birthplace of Saint Teresa. His father, Gonzalo de Yepes, of an ancient and honourable family, and his mother, Catherine Alvarez, a poor orphan, were both natives of Toledo. Catherine had been brought up by a devout widow, also from Toledo, who had come to Hontiveros, where she gave herself up to good works. She watched carefully and tenderly over the friendless orphan, whom she nurtured in the fear of God and in the practice of true devotion. The child grew up according to her education, and to her natural beauty, which was very great, God was pleased to add the more winning beauty of modesty and grace.
Don Gonzalo had been brought up by an uncle, a merchant in Toledo, who sent him from time to time, on the business of the house, to Medina del Campo, where traders assembled from all parts of Europe. On his way to Medina, Don Gonzalo was in the habit of lodging in Hontiveros, in the house of the widow from Toledo – with whom, perhaps, he was already acquainted – who had taken under her motherly charge the friendless orphan, Catherine Alvarez.
The nephew of the wealthy merchant, without consulting his family, or even speaking to any of his kindred, made Catherine Alvarez his wife. Thereupon his relatives, indignant, disowned him, and his uncle abandoned him to the poverty he had courted – for they regarded the marriage as unseemly; and from that day forth Don Gonzalo was a stranger to his brethren and an outcast, for, according to the maxims of the world, he had brought disgrace into an honourable house.
Don Gonzalo was now as poor as his wife, both being utterly destitute, but the keener pangs of poverty were not felt so long as the widow lived. Don Gonzalo, on his part, made efforts to gain his bread by silk-weaving, learning the art from his wife, but his gains were scanty, and poverty came in as an armed man that could not be kept at bay; his days henceforth were days of penury and toil, unrelieved by a single gleam of worldly prosperity. Three children were born to him, Francis, Luis, and Juan; the second died in his infancy, but the others grew up to shed a glory on the family of the De Yepes that disowned their father, which no other member of it had done.
Francis, the eldest, was born in 1530, and John, the youngest, in 1542. When the charitable widow died, the help they had received from her in their poverty ceased, and at last Don Gonzalo fell ill. He lingered on for two years and then died, having led a good and pious life, and borne his trials in humility and patience, conforming himself to the will of God, leaving to his children the sole inheritance of an unsullied name. The widow was destitute and had three children to maintain. In her great straits she went, by the advice of her neighbours, to implore help from her husband’s family; perhaps the brothers still living they said to her, would forgive the dead, and be generous to her and her helpless children. She hoped it might be so, and travelled amidst great hardships and difficulties to Torrijos, where a brother of Don Gonzalo was staying at the time. He was an arch-deacon, a member of the great chapter of Toledo and probably not poor. She spoke to him of her own poverty, and begged him to take one of his nephews into his house. The archdeacon could not help her; the children were too young; and with that excuse the poor widow had to go her way sorrowing.
In great distress of mind and body, she went now to Galves, about twenty miles from Toledo, where another brother was living. That brother was a physician and a very charitable man, most ready at all times to help all around him. He received with the utmost kindness the widow of his brother, and undertook the charge of Francis, the eldest boy, promising to educate him and finally to make him his heir; he had no children himself. He had made a promise, however, which he could not keep; but the poor widow did not know it, and left her boy in his house. The physician was necessarily much from home, and his wife was not, so it appeared, a woman to be trusted with the children of others. She kept the boy at home instead of sending him to school, made him her servant in many ways, and treated him with great unkindness. Not only was he not sent to school, but his education was neglected, and he had to bear not with ill-treatment only, but with scanty food and scanty raiment.
Catherine Alvarez the sorrowing mother returned to Hontiveros, where she laboured to earn bread for herself and the two children; the youngest, Juan, still an infant. For a whole year she heard nothing of her eldest son, Francis, and, being uneasy about him, resolved at last to make another journey to Galves, that she might see her child with her own eyes. The poor woman knew nothing of the hardships he had to bear they were certainly not lighter than the poverty of his mother’s house, and were never relieved by the sun shine of the mother’s love. The boy told her, with tears in his eyes, of the treatment he received; perhaps he could not have hidden it from her; and she made up her mind to take him home, though the uncle, who, until that day, knew nothing of it, promised to watch over him for the future if his mother would let him remain. Catherine Alvarez would not leave her child there to suffer out of her sight; her own poverty was for her a lighter burden to carry than the ill-treatment of the unfeeling aunt. The mother and the child returned to Hontiveros, perhaps receiving alms on the way; and then, like Anna, the mother of Tobias, Catherine Alvarez went ‘daily to her weaving work, and brought home what she could get for their living by the labour of her hands.’
Notwithstanding her poverty she sent the children to school; but the progress of Francis in human learning was not great, so she made him a weaver, as his father had been, giving him thereby at least the means of earning his bread. Francis never changed his occupation; it was to him the work for which he was fitted; and he lived all his days contentedly in his lowly condition, poor, and sometimes even in want. From Hontiveros, Catherine removed with her children to Arevalo, where Francis married Anne Izquierda, and then soon after, in 1551, the poor household removed to Medina del Campo; the second son, Luis, being dead, God having taken him to Himself in the bloom of his innocence and his youth.
Francis was hardly two-and-twenty years old when he came to Medina, but he was an old man in grace and goodness, given to mortification and to prayer. Though he had made no progress whatever in human learning, and perhaps never knew more than how to read, yet God had given him a learning which no human skill can compass. In Arevalo he had begun a life of solid devotion, under the direction of a holy priest, who made him confess and communicate once a week. In those days that was not usual, for even Saint Teresa, in a convent, was recommended to communicate only once in a fortnight, even at the time when she was striving after perfection. He continued that practice for many years, until another confessor bade him receive our Lord more frequently It was his custom from that time forth all his life, in summer, to go, like Isaac, to the fields at nightfall to make his prayer in some retired spot, where he would make himself a place like a tomb, and then lie down with his face heavenwards, and his arms stretched out as if he were on the cross. The time he spent in prayer varied, according to the communications which God made to him, and not according to any rule which he had laid down for himself. In winter he retired into some church at nightfall, and, when unwell or unable to go out, he withdrew into some lonely place in his own house, never dispensing himself, but praying always without ceasing. This was his habit all his life, and for this God visited him in visions, revelations, trances, and divine locutions, but never in the wealth of this world. He was nurtured in poverty and humility, and his old age was like his manhood and his youth. He had eight children; seven died in their infancy, and one became a Cistercian nun in the monastery of the Holy Ghost in Olmedo. Francis de Yepes outlived his younger brother, and died at midnight on Friday, the feast of Saint Andrew, 1607; and then the whole city of Medina del Campo was moved, for he had been regarded as a saint who had wrought miracles, and had the gift of prophecy. The canons of the collegiate church and four religious orders came to his poor house, to bring him, who had been one of the poorest men in the city, to the church of Saint Anne. He was borne by the friars of Carmel and the canons, the latter doing for the poor weaver what they would not have done for the greatest personage in Spain.
Catherine Alvarez, living in the house of her eldest son, had in Medina but one child to nurture, her youngest-born, Juan. She brought him up as she brought up his elder brother, tenderly in the fear of God, and he, like his brother, made the same return to her for her motherly care. The child was wise above his years, gentle and recollected, obedient to his mother, and winning in his ways. Signs of the sanctity, afterwards to be attained to and revealed unto men, were not wanting even at this time.
One day the boy was playing with other children close by a pool, and fell in. The water was deep and muddy, and it was hardly possible for a child such as he was to escape with his life. The children who saw him fall could do nothing but cry for the help which they could not give. He sank beneath the waters, and for an instant was out of sight; but he rose quickly to the surface, and never sank again. He showed no signs of fear; nor did he cry for help. A lady of wondrous beauty held out her hand to him; he would not take it, because his own was not clean. At last a man came by who, holding out a rod, drew the child therewith safe to the bank, and went his way; none of the children knowing who he was. On another occasion, about two years afterwards, as he, with his mother and his elder brother, were about to enter Medina del Campo, a wild beast came forth to attack him, whereupon he, being barely seven years old, made the sign of the cross, and was saved. He showed no signs of fear, so great was his trust in God.
In Medina del Campo he attended the school for the children of the poor. The boy was attentive, and above all attentive to the religious exercises practised therein. At the same time he used to go early in the morning to the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene of the Augustinian nuns, and there serve Mass as often as he could, which he did with such recollection and devotion as to attract the notice of those who were present, and move them to greater earnestness in the service of God. When he was thirteen years of age his mother had him apprenticed, but the boy who was so quick and intelligent at school was too dull to learn a trade; he was tried in many ways, but he could not be taught, nor had he the power of learning anything whatever. It was time wasted, God had other work for him.
The great hospital of the conception in Medina del Campo was at this time administered by a gentleman from Toledo, Don Alonso Alvarez, who, weary of the world and without a vocation to the priesthood, devoted himself to the service of the poor and the sick, by taking on himself the charge of the hospital of Medina. Having heard of Juan de Yepes, and his hopeless struggles to earn bread for himself and his mother, he went to Catherine Alvarez, and offered to take the boy into his service in the hospital, promising at the same time to allow him to attend school. The offer was gladly accepted both by mother and son, and Juan de Yepes became the servant of the poor in the public hospital of the town.
Very soon after he had begun to serve the poor, being in the courtyard of the hospital, he fell into the well, which had been left uncovered. The people who saw him fall cried aloud, thinking it was impossible to save him, for the well was deep and the water abundant. The people in the neighbourhood heard the noise, and rushed in. On looking into the well they saw the boy on the surface of the water, calm and unhurt. Having drawn him up by a rope, they asked him how it all happened, upon which he, with great simplicity, told them that a lady of great beauty had received him in her arms as he was falling, and sustained him till they let down the rope by which he was rescued. The people wondered, and regarded the boy as one whom God was preserving for great deeds.
Poor himself, born and nurtured in poverty, and knowing nothing but poverty – poverty was the high estate to which God had called him – he waited humbly on the poor and the sick, tending them carefully, and showing no signs of impatience or disgust; for he saw in the poor whom he served the sacred person of our most Blessed Lord.
In the year 1551, the year Catherine Alvarez came to Medina, the society of Jesus opened a great school there – it was the first they established in Spain – and to this school, by the kindness of Don Alonso who kept his promise, Juan de Yepes was sent daily from the hospital of the conception.
The college of the society was not a school of idle men; the teachers were in earnest, and breathed that earnestness into the hearts of those who came to them for the learning which they could furnish. Juan was neither idle nor dull, and made great progress in the school, which he frequented for about seven years. It is recorded of him that he was very careful in the study of all those questions which are raised about the soul and its powers, and that the fruit of his labours may be traced in his writings, on mystical theology, wherein without effort, as it seems, the very gravest questions are most clearly discussed and most wonderfully solved.
Juan de Yepes, young as he was, knew the worth of the learning which the fathers of the society taught him, discerning from the first the use to which it might be put. The lectures of the professors on the soul and its powers seemed to him the road to a great goal, which he hoped to reach. They showed him how to pray, and how to describe the different states of prayer. His own life at this time was more of a life of prayer than a life of study, and he made everything subserve his one purpose – the doing in the best way he could the work of God which he had to do.
In the hospital he was the humble and laborious servant of the poor all the time; no duty was neglected, no service carelessly rendered. When his work in the house was done, he then, and not before, betook himself to prayer and his books. Besides, he led a most penitential life; for when he was only nine years of age his mother discovered that he had begun to treat his body with severity, but she was too wise a woman to meddle with the child’s devotion. He would sleep on the floor of his poor room with a bundle of sticks for a pillow. In the hospital he redoubled his austerities, and was a cruel master to the frail body which God had given to so heroic a soul, robbing it of sleep and the necessary rest.
He had been twice saved from the peril of death by our Blessed Lady, and to her he was extremely devout. He said her rosary daily on his knees together with the little office, and confessed her glory and her greatness on all possible occasions, knowing in his earlier years that he could not follow our Lord without honouring His Mother, whom He had so highly honoured Himself.
Don Alonso Alvarez hoped that Juan de Yepes would in due time accept a benefice, the patronage of which was in his hands, and receive holy orders; that done, he hoped also to prevail upon him to become the chaplain of the hospital, and take the charge and government of it into his own hands. The poor mother knew of the good intentions of Don Alonso, and she might well be forgiven if she entered gladly into such a scheme. But it was not to be; Juan de Yepes in his humility shrunk from the priesthood, and the offers of Don Alonso were thankfully but resolutely declined.
The school and the hospital occupied all his time, for he carefully avoided all the pastimes in which young men of his years indulged. If he was not wanted in the school or the hospital, he was in church or in some secret place in prayer.
When he had reached his twentieth year he began to think of his state, and on the way in which he was to serve God for the rest of his days. He had no wish or will of his own; all he desired was to serve our Lord, but he knew not how. He redoubled his importunities in prayer and earnestly begged for light and guidance, resigning himself without reserve into the hands of God, Whose absolute power and unquestionable right over him he never thought of doubting. One day when he was in prayer begging for light and commending his future life to our Lord, he heard a voice and he also heard words – they sounded to him so strange and mysterious that he was afraid to reveal them to any one. The words were, ‘Thou art to serve Me in an order, the ancient perfection of which thou shalt help to bring back again.’
He understood that God wished him to become a religious, and he was content, but he could not understand that he was to do so great a work as to recover again the former greatness of any order. He shrunk from the task, and, so far as he could, banished the thought of it from his mind, for he looked upon it as a snare and an occasion of delusion to his soul. He confessed this at a later time to the saintly nun, the Venerable Anne of Jesus.
Hitherto he had not thought of the life of a religious as one possible for himself, but from this time forth the desire to leave the world, into which he had really never entered, grew within him and became strong. The more he prayed the more he longed to be a religious, but he was not drawn towards one order more than another; all orders were equally indifferent to him and equally desired. In this uncertainty he went one day to the monastery of Saint Anne. The friars had come to the city in the year 1560, when Juan was eighteen years old, and the sight of the Carmelite habit made an impression upon him which it had never made before. He knew now that his vocation was to serve God in Carmel, and was glad he had been poor all his life – not against his will, it is true; but his poverty was the poverty of his family, not his own; and now he embraced poverty as his bride, and, renouncing even the possibility of possessing anything, gave himself up to follow our Lord in His poverty, and resolved to become a mendicant friar.
He made his way into the house, and begged to be received into the order. The friars were well pleased, for he was known in Medina; and he received the habit on the feast ot Saint Mathias, 24 February 1563, being then in the twenty-first year of his age. In honour of the Apostle, he gave up his own name of Yepes, and was henceforth known in the order as Juan de San-Matias so long as he continued to profess the mitigated rule.
In the novitiate his regularity and obedience, his recollection, his fervour, his penances, and the austerities permitted him, were a fountain of edification to all in the house. His prudence and humility were once severely tested, and he did an act from which novices might well shrink, and which novices can rarely, if ever, perform without some imperfection, if not sin. He was one day with a father of the order who behaved somewhat negligently in the presence of seculars. Juan of Saint Mathias was the only religious who saw the fault committed, which is not said to have been at all serious, but merely an unseemliness in one who wore the habit of religion. The novice reminded the father of his failure; but he did so with so much humility and discretion, that the father not only did not seem offended; on the contrary, he corrected himself, and accepted the correction with joy.
In the following year, in 1564, he made his profession before Fra Angel de Salazar, the provincial of Castille. His generous protector, Alonso Alvarez, was present at the ceremony. The record of that profession was preserved in the house as a precious memorial, and the small cell in which Juan of Saint Mathias lived was, after his death, made into a chapel, though the monastery itself never adopted the reform of Saint Teresa. But the house for ever after retained traces of the passage of Juan of Saint Mathias through it, in the regular observances and the edifying punctuality of the community in all its duties both within and without.
Having now made his profession, he began to consider anew the obligations of his state. While giving continual thanks to God for having brought him into the safe sanctuary of the order of our Lady of Carmel, he sought for light to direct his ways in the strictest observance of the rule. Nourishing his soul by prayer, and feeding the fires of prayer by a constant reading of the Following of Christ, he thought nothing easy that the world required of him, and nothing difficult to which God called him. The rule he read diligently, that he might be filled with its spirit, and be made like unto the saints who had been formed in the order to which he, unworthy – so he considered himself – had been admitted. When he read the rule which the blessed Albert of Parma had given, and which Innocent IV had confirmed, but with the exact observance of which Eugenius IV had dispensed, he wished he might be allowed to keep it, so far as it was possible for him. But being a child of obedience, he would do nothing of his own will; he had given up that to his superiors and never resumed it. Nevertheless, he could represent his wishes to them, and did so; they listened to him, perhaps not without some misgivings, but they did not resist, lest they should put out a flame which our Lord had kindled. They gave him leave to observe the primitive rule, provided that no duty of the community be neglected, and the present discipline of the house maintained in everything.
He now entered on a life of penance which, because of the conditions under which he was living, was much more severe than the rule required. He was present at all the exercises of the community, in choir, chapter, and refectory, avoiding all appearance of singularity, and in all outward semblance differing in nothing from the other friars of the house. Yet he was fasting from the feast of the Holy Cross in September till Easter in the following year, and abstaining wholly from flesh meat throughout the year, according to the primitive rule. But as no provision was made for him in the house, and as he had to attend and did attend, in the refectory daily, where meat was served, according to the dispensation of Eugenius IV, it was hard for him to disguise his own mortification, and at the same time find food enough to support life. He had nothing in his cell, and he would not eat except at the lawful times. He kept silence also according to the rule, and for that end withdrew to his cell the moment he was free from the duties he had to discharge in public. He laboured also with his hands, as the ancient hermits did, and in his cell he would make crosses and disciplines, with other instruments of penance; but his chief work was prayer, that being the true work of a friar of Carmel, for it is said in the rule, ‘ Let all remain in their cells, or near them, meditating night and day in the law of our Lord.’
His superiors, wisely discerning the great value of Juan of Saint Mathias, determined to send him to their college in Salamanca, that by the help of the learning to be there acquired he might be made a labourer in our Saviour’s vineyard, whom none could put to shame, rightly handling the word of truth. The college of his order in Salamanca was then known as the college of Saint Andrew the Apostle, but at a later time the name was changed, and the college of the Carmelites in Salamanca became the college of Saint Teresa. The school of theology in the university was celebrated throughout Europe; the Dominicans had given it professors of great names. Francis a Vittoria, who came from the university of Paris, died in 1546, and was succeeded by his pupil, Melchior Cano, who, resigning his chair on being made bishop of the Canaries, made way for the celebrated Dominic de Soto, who had been at the council of Trent, and had just refused the see of Segovia. Soto died in 1560, and was succeeded by Mantius de Corpore Christi, who sat in the great chair of theology in Salamanca, when father Juan of Saint Mathias was sent thither from Medina del Campo.
Fra Juan of Saint Mathias went to Salamanca in the year 1564. He was there most diligent in his attendance in the schools, but his studies never interfered with the severity of his penitential habits. What he had begun in Medina del Campo with the sanction of his superiors was continued in Salamanca, amid the unavoidable interruptions of the public schools. The very cell assigned him in the Carmelite house was a prison rather than a room; it was small dark, and wholly unfurnished; it is true it held a shallow coffer which he used as a bed, but which was more like a coffin than anything else. In that coffer, without any covering other than his habit, and a block of wood for his pillow, father John took his rest at night, such as it was, and such as he allowed himself to take. All the light he had came through a narrow opening in the roof, and it was very scanty. On the other hand, there was a window in it opening into the church, through which he could see the tabernacle on the altar in which our Lord was dwelling. That was to him a sight more satisfying than anything the world without could show him. That cell in Salamanca, as the other in Medina, was at a later time converted into a chapel, because it had been once tenanted by a poor friar who seems never to have been the owner of anything on the face of the earth.
He mortified his body with extreme severity. The primitive rule is austere enough even for souls athirst for penance, but Juan of Saint Mathias found the burden too light for his shoulders. He girt his loins with an iron chain studded with sharp points, and over his body he wore a dress made of coarse grass, after the fashion of fishermen’s nets, the thick knots of which were as hard as stones. This he hid under the habit of his order. The unceasing distress caused thereby he relieved by the most cruel disciplines, the effects of which could not always be concealed from his companions and his superiors. And it was a new and sharp penance to him when his secret mortifications became known to others.
Though he was allowed to keep the primitive rule, he never failed to observe the minutest practice in force in the house where he was living. He did not dispense himself, nor expect to be dispensed, from the daily order of the monastery, nor did he claim any exemption on the ground that he kept a rule which was more austere than that under which his brethren were living. Modest, humble, and silent, he did the work he had to do, as if he were not already over-burdened with another work, but of which his companions, however, might have said that he was not bound to do it. Everything was in order within him: he was regular in the house, punctual in the choir and in the schools, no duty ever interrupted another. Nor was he carried away by his love of learning from the more important work of prayer; he made the lectures he heard minister to his prayer, and in prayer he found light from God, which enabled him to profit by the learning of those who taught him. Always cheerful and recollected, he was held in respect even by the turbulent youth of a great university, and by his superiors was specially beloved. In the public disputations he spoke modestly and to the point; when defeated in the contest he acknowledged his opponent’s skill, but was never troubled at his own discomfiture, neither was he elated at the close of a disputation in which he had been successful.
In this way did the time pass from his arrival in Salamanca, in 1564, till near the middle of the year 1567. He was then commanded by his superiors to prepare himself for the order ot priesthood. That was a dignity he had shrunk from when in the hospital of Medina del Campo, but it was not in his power now to do that which he did then; he was under obedience; so, bewailing his great unworthiness of which he alone was conscious, he went into retreat, and was ordained priest in Salamanca in the year 1567.
The ordination took place probably in May of that year, but his biographers are silent; and as soon as he was made priest his superiors sent him back to Medina del Campo, there to sing his first Mass; partly because it was to be sung in the house of Saint Anne wherein he had taken the habit, and partly to give pleasure to his mother, who, in her poverty, had trained him up, and given him to serve our Lord in poverty for the rest of his life.
He came to Medina del Campo, and began to prepare himself anew for the great act which he was there to do for the first time – to offer up the sacrifice of the new law. He redoubled his austerities and prolonged his vigils, giving himself wholly unto prayer. All his life, even hitherto, had been a life of detachment and purity; and now he seems to have felt that it was more necessary than ever for him to keep close unto God, lest sin should come in between them and separate him from the only love of his soul. He went up to the altar on the day appointed for him, and made the great oblation; then, holding in his hands God Who made him, he prayed to Him with all his might for grace to persevere in pureness of life, and never to stain his baptismal robe. The cry of faith went straight to the heart of God; and Juan of Saint Mathias heard an inward voice, which said, ‘Thy prayer is granted.’
Great graces from God are accompanied with a desire to retain them. Fra Juan, considering the promise made him while saying Mass for the first time, considered also how he was to do that which lay in his power in order to reap the fruits of it. He saw how necessary it was for him to withdraw farther and farther from the commerce of men, in order to be led into the wilderness in which the divine communications are made. He had made the offering of his whole self, and had nothing more to offer now; but it was his duty still to watch with Abraham, and drive away the birds of the air, lest they should devour and defile the sacrifice. He saw no other way before him but that of leaving the order of Carmel, and entering that of the Carthusians; for that order was the sole order which he, a mendicant, could enter.
He returned to Salamanca, probably to finish his course in the university; and later in the year came away in the company of Fra Pedro de Orozco, who was returning to Medina. From Medina Fra Juan intended to go to the Carthusians of Segovia, to hide himself from the sight and commerce of men, that he might serve God without distraction. He remained for a time in the monastery of Saint Anne; but his secret was probably not unknown, for he had told Fra Pedro of his resolution, and he it was who helped to make it void, by communicating to Saint Teresa what he knew of the fervent spirit hidden in the frail body of Fra Juan of Saint Mathias, and of the earnest longings for a life more perfect than was that he was then living among the Carmelites of the mitigation.
Saint John of the Cross persuaded by Saint Teresa to become a friar of her reform – Duruelo – Saint John of the Cross in Valladolid – goes to Duruelo
Fra Juan of Saint Mathias was five-and-twenty years old when, at the urgent request of Fra Pedro de Orozco, he went to see Saint Teresa in her monastery in Medina. Saint Teresa herself was in her fifty-third year, and had been more than thirty-three years in religion. Fra Juan had been about four years in the order, to the reform of which he was now called by the voice of the saint. In the house of Saint Joseph, in Medina del Campo, the two saints met for the first time, and then the nun told the friar what she intended to do, and the friar on his part told her that he had for some time wished to live among the Carthusians, believing himself called to a life of greater retirement and prayer. But as the conversation continued, and as the elder saint represented to the younger that he would do more for the glory of God if he would remain where he was, and labour to restore the primitive rule of his order than if he left it for another, Fra Juan, humble and self-doubting, yielded to the persuasions of Saint Teresa, and consented to do her bidding, provided the work should be entered upon without delay. He was the gift of God to Saint Teresa who was now content; she had found the one man on whom she could depend; for though she had already accepted upon certain conditions the prior of Medina, Fra Antonio de Heredia, she was not wholly satisfied with him, and did not, therefore, begin the reform of the friars at once. She waited a while; partly because of her want of perfect confidence in Fra Antonio, and partly because she had no house to give them, nor the means wherewith to buy one; she was poor and without money. Her poverty did not trouble her, on the contrary, she was glad, and used to say that she had begun her work, for she had found a friar and a half; Fra Antonio was a portly personage of dignified presence, and Fra Juan was small of stature, and worn already by austerities. There was nothing in his outward look to command the respect of ordinary men; but Saint Teresa knew his worth, and was wont to say of him that father John of the Cross was one of the most pure and holy souls in the Church of God.
Two friars, then, were found willing to renounce the mitigated observances of the order, and to undertake the austerities of the primitive rule; but there was no house to lodge them in, nor a single penny wherewith to buy one. The two friars were, like Saint Teresa, mendicants, and had no possessions; so they remained for the present in the house of Saint Anne in Medina, were they met with many crosses; but Saint Teresa was without fear about one of them at least; for, ‘though he was living,’ she said, with a certain maliciousness, ‘among the fathers of the mitigated rule, he always led a perfect and religious life.’
Saint Teresa went from Medina, about the end of October 1567, to Madrid, and thence to the monastery of the venerable Maria of Jesus in Alcala de Henares, where she remained for some time. In April 1568, she had made her foundation in Malagon, and was preparing to make another in Valladolid. In Malagon she saw Fra Juan again; and one day, while con versing together, both fell into a trance, and were seen by mother Isabel of the Incarnation; Fra Juan in the parlour of the monastery, and Saint Teresa on the other side of the grating. In June, Saint Teresa returned to Avila to make the last arrangements for the monastery to be founded in Valladolid; and while so occupied, Don Rafael Mejia Velasquez, to whom she had never spoken before, called upon her, and offered a small cottage that he had in the country in Duruelo for the monastery which he had heard she wished to found. She accepted the offer with great gratitude, and on the recommendation of Don Rafael went to see the place. She set out on her journey before the end of the month, early in the morning; but so little known was the cottage of Don Rafael, that nobody could tell her where to find it. She missed her way, therefore, and though the place was not far from Avila, it was dark before she reached it. The state of the house was such that the saint and her companions could not venture to pass the night in it, the filth of it was so great. It was also harvest-time, and the use to which it was then put did not make it a pleasant place to rest in. It had a porch, a small kitchen, and a room with a low garret over it.
Sister Antonia of the Holy Ghost, who was with Saint Teresa, regarded the foundation of a monastery there as impossible. ‘No man,’ she said, ‘how ever spiritual he may be, can live here.’ But the saint persevered in her purpose, discerning in the poverty of the place the Bethlehem of the reform of Carmel, She was won by its utter wretchedness.
The night was spent in the neighbouring church. The next day Saint Teresa reached Medina del Campo, and told the prior of the Carmelites that she had found a house. Fra Antonio was not alarmed by the account given of it but courageously took up his cross; he was content to live anywhere, provided he could keep the primitive rule. Fra Juan of Saint Mathias made no objection; to him the poverty of the house was as a spell that bound him, and he was of one mind with the prior. But all the difficulties were not overcome. The general of the order had allowed the foundation of the new monasteries to be made on the condition that the then provincial and the former provincial gave their consent: there were good reasons for fearing the opposition of the latter, Fra Angel de Salazar. He had already had some trouble with Saint Teresa, and probably had not forgotten it.
Saint Teresa went on to Valladolid to make the foundation there, and took with her Fra Juan, that he might see the way in which the rule was kept. There the nuns had to live for some time in a monastery unenclosed, because of the workmen in the house; and that was perhaps a gain for him, because it enabled him to see more of their ways. While he was thus, in a manner, a novice for the second time, Saint Teresa was engaged in obtaining the necessary consent of the provincial, Fra Alonso Gonzalez, who came at this time to Valladolid. He was not at all willing to accept the new monastery under his jurisdiction: but the bishop of Avila and his sister, dona Maria de Mendoza, friends of Saint Teresa, came also to Valladolid, and helped her to the utmost of their power. The two provincials gave way at last, moved not a little by some difficulties of their own, for the removal of which they required the help of the bishop’s sister. Every hindrance was now overcome; and the foundation of the first monastery of the barefooted Carmelites was not only possible, but legal, according to the constitutions of the order, and it was made with the full sanction of the general, to the great joy of those who were about to begin the reform of Carmel.
Saint Teresa and her nuns with their own hands made the habit of the first friar of the reform, Fra Juan of Saint Mathias. With that habit, but not wearing it, and with the means of saying Mass, he left Valladolid for Duruelo.
One of the workmen employed in repairing the monastery of the nuns was sent with him, for his services would be greatly needed in the ruined house which was to be the cradle of the reform of Carmel. Fra Juan and his companion were to pass through Avila on their way to Duruelo; so Saint Teresa wrote a letter to her old and faithful friend, and in some ways her director, Don Francis de Salcedo. In that letter she thus wrote of him –
‘I beg you to speak to him,’ she writes, ‘and help him in this affair; for though he is but a little man, I believe him to be great in the sight of God. We miss him here very much; for he is a man of prudence and well fitted for our way of life, and I believe that our Lord has called him to this work. There is not a friar who does not speak well of him, for his life has been most penitential, though he is still young. Besides, our Lord seems to hold him by the hand; for though we have had some trouble here – and I am a very trouble myself, for I have been angry with him now and then – yet we never saw any imperfection in him. He has courage, but as he is alone he has need of all the courage our Lord gives him to undertake this work in earnest. He will tell you how we are getting on here.’
Having finished her letter, in which she had spoken of many things, she returns again to Fra Juan, adding the following paragraph:
‘I ask you once more to be so good as to speak to this father, and to give him such advice as you can concerning his way of life. The spirit and goodness with which our Lord has filled him encourage me, amidst our many difficulties, to think that we are making a good beginning. He is a man much given to prayer, and is endowed with good sense. May our Lord be good to him!’
All the preparations that could be made in Valladolid being made, Fra Juan took leave of Saint Teresa and her nuns, and begged the mother of the reform to bless him, her eldest son, for he was going forth into a strange land, and quitting his brethren in religion, who were soon after to be to him less than friends. Saint Teresa with the nuns wept tears of joy at the humility of the father, and promised him the help of their prayers; and then, falling on their knees, begged him who had been their spiritual father and confessor, as the priest of our Lord, to give them all his blessing. Fra Juan took leave of the saint, and set out for Avila, where he saw Don Francis de Salcedo; and then, avoiding Medina del Campo, where his mother and brother were living, went to Duruelo, to lay the foundations of the reform of the friars of Carmel.
Chapter 4: 1568 – 1570 – 1572
The saint in Duruelo – Beginning of the reform of the friars – Change of names – Life in Duruelo – Saint Teresa visits the friars – Monastery of Pastrana – Fra Baltasar of Jesus – The friars remove from Duruelo to Manzera – Novices of the saint – Saint John goes to Pastrana – to Alcala de Henares – Fra Pedro Fernandez – Fra Angel of Saint Gabriel – Fra Dominic Banes – Francis de Yepes
Fra Juan of Saint Mathias had probably never seen the house in Duruelo which he was to turn into a monastery, before he went thither to take possession of it in the autumn of 1568. Its poverty-stricken state had an irresistible charm for him, and he entered it with joy in his heart because he had found his true rest on the earth. He began at once to put the house in order: the porch was to be the church, the garret over the inner chamber the choir of the religious, the only room in it to be the dormitory, and the small kitchen was to become still smaller, for a part of it was to be taken for the refectory. The only ornaments of the church were crosses made of branches of trees. Then, when the work was done and evening had come, Fra Juan sent the workman who was with him to the village to beg for food, for there was none in the new monastery of Carmel. The people gave him some broken bread; and thus they broke the fast of that day.
The greater part of the night, notwithstanding the labour of the day before, Fra Juan spent in prayer; and in the morning, having prepared the altar, he proceeded to say Mass. The habit he had received from Saint Teresa he laid on the altar, and blessed, and at the end of Mass he put it on. He had neither shoes nor stockings – nothing to protect his feet from the ground: he was as poor as man could well be, and in as poor a monastery as any in the world. Outwardly and inwardly detached, he fell on his knees, and, with fervent thanksgiving, commended himself and his work to our Lord, through the intercession of His most blessed Mother, who had been his singular protectress from his childhood up to that day.
He remained here alone, for Fra Antonio could not come. That father, however, was able to leave Medina for Valladolid, to see Saint Teresa, and to give her an account of the preparations he had made for his new life in Carmel. He had provided himself with five hour-glasses, to insure punctuality – to the great amusement of Saint Teresa – and he had not thought of even a bed to lie on. But it was not his fault that he was still absent from Duruelo. He was prior of the house in Medina, and was waiting for the provincial who also, on his part, was unable to come. However, he came at last, and Fra Antonio resigned his priorate, and renounced the mitigations of the rule in the presence of the provincial. It was now nearly the end of November. Fra Antonio took with him one of the brethren, Fra Joseph, not yet a priest, and reached Duruelo on Saturday, December 27th, the eve of the first Sunday in Advent 1568.
The night was spent in prayer by the little community of three; and the next morning, Fra Antonio and Fra Juan having said Mass, the three friars, on their knees before the Most Holy, weeping tears of joy, renewed the solemn vows of their profession, and renounced the mitigations of the rule which Eugenius IV had sanctioned. They then promised our Lord and His most blessed Mother, the most holy Mary of Mount Carmel, and the most reverend the father-general of the order, to live henceforth under the primitive rule of Saint Albert, and to keep it in its integrity until death, according to the corrections of his Holiness Innocent IV.
They then, as Saint Teresa had done, changed their names. The choir-brother, Fra Joseph, became Joseph of Christ; Antonio de Heredia, Antonio of Jesus; and Juan of Saint Mathias, John of the Cross. Soon after, the provincial came to Duruelo, and made Fra Antonio prior, Fra John of the Cross sub-prior and master of novices, and Fra Joseph of Christ porter and sacristan. There was another father also in the house, who had come from Medina del Campo, in the hope that he might be able to live under the old rule. But as he was in bad health, and as his infirmities grew under the severities he attempted to undergo, he returned to the mitigation. Fra Joseph of Christ also fell away, and returned to the old observance; but the two friars whom Saint Teresa had chosen remained in Duruelo. Thus the reform was legally and peaceably begun, with the consent of the general of the order, and the active co-operation of the provincial, Fra Alonso Gonzalez.
Though Saint John of the Cross had lived for two months, more or less, in Duruelo before the arrival of Fra Antonio, in the practice of the primitive rule, the foundation of the reform of the friars is considered to have been made on the first Sunday in Advent, when the two fathers were assembled together with brother Joseph. In the records of the monastery the foundation is thus described:
‘In the year one thousand five hundred and sixty eight, the twenty-eighth day of November, this monastery of our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded in this place. In which monastery the primitive rule in its vigour, as delivered unto us by our first fathers, began to be observed by the help and grace of the Holy Ghost: the father, the doctor Fra Alonso Gonzalez being provincial of the province; the brothers Fra Antonio of Jesus, Fra John of the Cross, and Fra Joseph of Christ, by the Grace of God, began to live according to the rule in its strictness. The house and the place were given us by the noble lord Don Rafael Mejia Velasquez, the owner; the most illustrious lord don Alonzo de Mendoza, bishop of Avila, consenting to the foundation of the house.’
This was the beginning of the reform of the friars; and it should never be forgotten that neither Saint Teresa nor the friars of the reform ever complained of any laxity in the houses they left. The friars of the mitigation were not disorderly in their lives; they kept their rule and constitutions, and were blameless men. The reform was not a reform of manners, or the rooting out of evil, but simply a restoration of the olden rule which in times past the Sovereign Pontiff had, for good reasons, mitigated, but had never suppressed. The general of the order and the provincials in Spain never imagined at the time that the reform was to be regarded as a personal censure upon them and their brethren. It was a lawful and perfect life which they lived under the rule of the mitigation; it was a lawful life also under the older rule; and though the observance of the latter was a greater perfection than the observance of the former, the perfection was one of degree, not of kind; for the friars were all friars of Carmel. The old Carmelite life under the rule of Saint Albert, mitigated by Innocent IV, was still the Carmelite life under the same rule, though mitigated by Eugenius IV. The intention of Saint Teresa was not to condemn the latter, but to restore the former under the same father-general of the order, and the same provincials throughout Spain. The two friars began to order their lives according to the old rule, and to make for themselves certain constitutions founded on the observances which Saint John of the Cross had seen in Valladolid, and which were substantially those afterwards adopted in the order when it was firmly established on its severance from the old observance of the mitigation.
Though Saint John of the Cross loved his cell, and came out of it with regret, he was now, by the prior, sent to preach in the country round. He had to make fatiguing journeys, and to go to many places far away from the monastery – travelling always on foot, and his feet were bare, for he wore no sandals then – in the depth of winter; the ground hardened by frost and covered with snow. He came back to his cell as soon as his work was done, refusing even a morsel of food, however great the distance; and in his cell was hardly a more comfortable place than the roads rough with stones and the briers hidden in the snow.
As no one from the monastery could be spared as his companion on these journeys of charity, he sent to Medina del Campo for his brother Francis, whose poverty was nearly as great as his, that he might have him with him on the road. One day, after preaching in one of the parish churches, Saint John came down from the pulpit and left the church with his brother. The priest continued the Mass, and when it was over, on being told that the preacher had departed for his convent, sent his servant to overtake him, and beg him to return and dine with him. The servant overtook Saint John and delivered his message; but the preacher made his excuses and hastened to his monastery, not altogether with the goodwill of his brother, who remonstrated with him, and said it was an uncourteous treatment of the parish priest. Saint John said that he was doing the work of God, and did not wish to receive payment from man. So when they came to a well by the wayside, Saint John sat down, and holding in his hand a little bread he had taken from the monastery, divided it with his brother, and both dined on bread and water.
In the beginning of Lent 1569, Saint Teresa, about to found a house in Toledo, came to Duruelo from Medina on her way to Avila from Valladolid. She found Fra Antonio sweeping the door ot the church; he was a grave and portly friar, nearly sixty years of age, and had been forty years in the order. ‘What has become of your dignity?’ said Saint Teresa to him; and his answer, borrowed from the prophet, was, ‘Cursed be the day wherein I had any.’ The saint herself was struck by the poverty of the place, by the resolution and devotion of the friars, and their faithful observance of the rule. But she was alarmed at the penances and the severities of the house, which she regarded as excessive, and which she feared might endanger the reform by shortening the lives of those to whom she had entrusted it. She therefore spoke seriously on the subject to the friars, who, she said, ‘having gifts I had not, made light of my advice.’ She gave thanks to God, and in her humility confessed their ways to be safe.
They were bound by the rule to fast from the feast of the Holy Cross in September till Easter in the following year, a continuous fast of six or seven months; but to this they added every Friday between Easter and the feast of the Holy Cross, with the eves of certain feasts on which there is no obligation upon the faithful to fast. They took the discipline in common on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, in addition to the other days which each friar had chosen for himself with the sanction of his superior. Then the silence was almost unbroken, and when they had occasion to communicate with each other, they did so generally by signs. There was also a daily chapter of faults, though the rule required but one in a week.
Such mortification and humility could not remain hidden; the people who dwelt around came to the church, and filled the two confessionals, which had been made in a part of the room intended for the dormitory of the fathers. Not poor people only, but the great noblemen in the neighbourhood came to Duruelo, and entrusted their consciences to the friars, whose austere lives were a wonder in the country round. Among those who frequented the monastery was Don Luis de Toledo, a near relative of the great duke of Alva, the terror of heretics and the object of their bitter reviling. Don Luis had built a church in Manzera, a town of his jurisdiction, in which he had placed a marvellous picture of our Lady, with the Infant Jesus in her arms, attended by two angels, which had been brought to Spain from Flanders. That church he offered now to the fathers of Duruelo, and with it the means of building a monastery, if they would remove to Manzera. They could not make up their minds to change. Fra Antonio, however, went to preach in Manzera, and again Don Luis and his wife, dona Isabel de Leiva, so represented to him the advantages of the place and the unhealthiness of Duruelo, that at last they won the reluctant consent of Fra Antonio.
In the meanwhile Saint Teresa found means to establish another monastery of friars in Pastrana – she had leave from the general of the order to found two – and Fra Antonio went thither from Manzera, in July 1569, leaving the house of Duruelo under the care of Saint John of the Cross; Saint Teresa at the same time founding the sixth monastery of her nuns. She had sent to Medina for a nun, Isabel of Saint Jerome, and hegged the prior of the Carmelites there to send one of the fathers with her and another from Avila. The prior sent with the nuns Fra Baltasar of Jesus, who had lately told Fra Antonio that he wished to quit the mitigation for the reform. The prior knew nothing of this, and Fra Baltasar held his peace; regarding his mission to Pastrana as a grace. On his arrival, he immediately told Saint Teresa of his intentions. She was glad, for Fra Baltasar was a zealous friar and a great preacher, famous in the order.
Two hermits of the Tardon, in the Sierra Morena, had come to Pastrana to take the habit of our Lady of Mount Carmel; they had been won to the order by Saint Teresa soon after Pentecost of this year, when she was in Madrid. The postulants were eager to enter, and would hardly wait for the arrival of Fra Antonio. They begged Saint Teresa to give them the habit, and as Fra Pedro Muriel, the delegate of the provincial, was then in Pastrana, the matter was arranged. The saint and her nuns made the habits, the stuff being given them by the duke of Pastrana, in the oratory of whose house the ceremony took place. Fra Baltasar preached a most moving sermon, and Saint Teresa with her own hands gave the habit to the two hermits, Mariano and Juan de la Miseria, while Fra Baltasar, being already a Carmelite, made the change for himself. A few days later Fra Antonio arrived, and the three friars now under his jurisdiction took formal possession of their monastery. He remained there about four months, instructing them and training them in the recovered discipline of Carmel. On his departure for Duruelo, he left fra Baltasar of Jesus, as his vicar, to govern the house; for he was a priest, and a man of considerable weight in the order before he renounced the mitigated observance.
In the following Lent, 1570, Fra Antonio was again in Manzera preaching, and also labouring with his hands in building the monastery. When the house was finished he begged the provincial to honour the removal with his presence. Fra Alonso not only came himself, but brought with him other friars, and all went in procession from Duruelo, June 11, to Manzera, when Fra Alonso the provincial sung the Mass, and Fra Antonio preached, to the great joy of all the people of Manzera, but to the great regret of those who lived in Duruelo, and from whom the friars had gone away.
Saint John of the Cross took with him his two novices. One of them was a lay brother, Fra Peter of the Angels, who rose to great heights of sanctity, and died as he had lived, in Valladolid, in 1613, outliving his master for more than twenty years; the other was destined for holy orders, Fra Juan Bautista, and was a native of Avila. He was made perfect in a short time, and died in the monastery of La Roda, in 1577.
But in Manzera they had thirteen or fourteen novices, some from the Carmelites of the mitigation, some from the world. Among the latter was a doctor from the university of Salamanca, a learned lawyer and an able man. Grace, however, found a way into his heart, and he left his learned companions in Salamanca with all his worldly gains, and begged to be received among the poor friars of Manzera, where his learning would not be held in great reverence, but where the master of the novices, if not more learned than he, possessed a learning far more profitable than is always taught in universities. One day, whether for the sake of saying something, which is the common weakness of us all, or because the old Adam had got the upper hand, the doctor from Salamanca observed that the library of the house was poorly furnished with certain books. The master of the novices heard the incautious speech, and ordered the cell of the doctor to be cleared of all books whatever, even those of devotion, and then gave him a child’s first-book, or primer, in which there were also some elementary instructions on the faith, and with the book he gave him a little rod, such as schoolmasters use in pointing out the letters to young children. The learned doctor, who had often disputed in the schools, was to learn his letters like a child, and spell the book through, as if he had never been to school before, because, as the master of the novices said, of his profound ignorance in the matter of Christian perfection.
The novice deserved to have such a master, for he humbled himself; he learned his lesson like a little child, and gave an account of his progress from day to day with tears of compunction and great tenderness of heart. He persevered in the order, and was a good religious greatly respected, and became even a provincial in it.
The religious in Manzera had a more convenient house to live in; but it wrought no harm to regular observance. The friars lived on the alms of their neighbours, which were sometimes abundant, and at other times scanty; but none of them begged. They remained at home, content with whatever God sent; and if they had nothing, they were still more content. Such was the spirit of their training.
While Manzera throve under the safe guidance of Saint John of the Cross, Pastrana was in danger; and Fra Antonio, the prior of Manzera and superior also of Pastrana, determined to send thither his sub-prior and master of novices. Accordingly, in October of this year, 1570, Saint John of the Cross went to Pastrana to instruct the novices there; and Fra Pedro Fernandez, the apostolic visitor, made him vicar of the house in the absence of its prior. He took with him from Manzera, as his companion, the lay brother already mentioned, Peter of the Angels, whose prudent conduct and exemplary life would be of great service in the house. The two friars travelled on foot, begging their bread, which they shared with the beggars they met. At night they rested in the poorest places, avoiding great houses wherein women and servants dwelt; and when they found no house poor enough for their lodging, they slept on straw in barns and outhouses, carefully shunning all ease and comfort, keeping in mind His life of pain and travail who had no place to rest His head. In the novitiate were fourteen persons, four of whom, however, were professed, and all were fervent, men of mortification and prayer. But they needed instruction, and some of them needed restraining; for they were given to excesses unfitted for their state of life. Some of them had been friars of the mitigation, others had left the world for the new Carmel; but there was no one in the house who had been trained under the first novice-master of the reform.
Saint John began by explaining to them the intent and meaning of their vocation, the requirements of the rule, the spirit hidden under the letter thereof, and the great importance of the observances which were the several pathways, guards, and fences of the law of their order. So persuasive was his language, and so winning his ways, that no one heard him unmoved. Carmel flourished, made fruitful by the dew of his words.
In July of this year, 1570, and before Saint John went to Pastrana, Saint Teresa being there herself, present at the profession of the two friars whom she had won in Madrid, it was resolved that a college should be founded for the order in Alcala de Henares, for the instruction of the friars, and for avoiding all occasions of dispute with those of the mitigation, who also had a college there. Saint Teresa was now powerless, for she had leave to found only two monasteries, and these were already founded. The provincial, however friendly, could not help them, for he had no authority in that matter. Application was therefore made to the apostolic visitor, who readily gave his consent, and the duke of Pastrana, the prince Ruy Gomez, coming thither at the time, gave them a sum of money towards the purchase of a house, and promised to endow the college, so that the order should be able to maintain in it at least eighteen students. Fra Francis of the Conception bought a house, and had everything ready by the beginning of October, when Fra Baltasar of Jesus, now professed, and prior of Pastrana, went thither to take possession and make the foundation. The college was opened on the feast of All Saints, and Fra Baltasar began to preach in the city. So powerful was his preaching, and so attractive was his mortified life, that the whole university crowded to hear him. Many of the students left the world for the cloister, and some of them went to Pastrana as novices in Carmel, under Saint John of the Cross. Fra Baltasar having done his part of the work, to the great regret of the university, resumed his place as prior of Pastrana, and Saint John of the Cross was sent to Alcala de Henares as rector of the college which Fra Baltasar had just founded, leaving the novices in the care of Fra Gabriel of the Assumption, who, unhappily, not long after, was charged with other duties, and the novices were then placed under Fra Angel of Saint Gabriel, who did not know how to train them.
In the beginning of the year 1571, the college of our Lady of Carmel in Alcala passed into the hands of the novice-master, who had formed and fashioned Duruelo, Manzera, and Pastrana. It was trained, though a house of studies, as the others had been trained, in the fear of God and perfect detachment from the world. The example and teaching of Saint John were not in vain; the students of the house passing to and fro to the lectures of the university, calm, recollected, with downcast eyes, and never in a hurry, attracted the observation of the city, and won its respect. These students of Carmel were a wonder there, barefooted and poorly clad; for the people knew that many of them were well-born and had been delicately nurtured. Their food was poor and scanty, and of the little given them they left some for the poor, and not infrequently feasted themselves on bread and water. Regular discipline, fasting, watching, and other mortifications humbled the pride of life, and made the understanding captive under the dominion of faith; Saint John of the Cross, with unflagging watchfulness, encouraging them in their studies, setting devotion and piety on a higher level than learning; so that from his example it became a saying in the colleges of the order, ‘Religious and studious, but religious above all.’
The apostolic visitor, Fra Pedro Fernandez of the order of Saint Dominic, came at this time to Alcala in the execution of his office. His fellow, seing the austerities of the college – which he considered to be a prison rather than a house of study – begged the visitor to put some limits to the austerities practised therein. Fra Pedro was a wiser man: he would make no change in the order of the house, the fervour of which was to him a comfort and a joy. He told them all not to let their studies be a source of weakness to them in their austerities; for if they died under the severities which they practised, such a death would be a better sermon than they could ever hope to preach in a pulpit. They would in that way do a greater work for the Church; because the world was full of learning, and empty of works of penance.
While the college in Alcala was growing, the house in Pastrana fell into disorder again. There Fra Angel of Saint Gabriel, newly made priest, full of zeal, fervent and mortified, but not gifted in the discretion required in a master of novices, had, on the departure of Saint John of the Cross, begun to make changes, and to disturb the settled order of the house. He would have all carry the same burden, making no account of age, strength, or temper. A severe life was all he thought of, and he measured all spiritual advancement by the frequency and severity of penitential exercises. He invented new methods of mortification; and the more terrible they were, the more he liked them. Some of these mortifications were public, and under gone in the sight of persons of the world; but, unhappily, that which at first moved men to wonder, and perhaps to compunction, became before long the occasion of jest and mockery. Fra Angel also forgot the rule and spirit of his order; he sent the novices out into the villages to teach the children their catechism, and in doing so made them adopt the ways and manners of members of other orders, who could lawfully do so. He did not consider that the novice in Carmel was primarily called to a life of retirement and contemplation. He also sent them out to attend funerals; and, still farther departing from the rule and practice of the order, sent them out of the monastery to beg. He was an earnest fiery man of strong will, and his superiors were not able to with stand him, still less to control him.
Fra Antonio of Jesus and other grave fathers, knowing the state of the house in Pastrana, consulted together, and agreed that there was but one help for it – to send the first novice-master of Carmel thither at once. His work in Alcala they felt was important, and it had been well done, and the college was sound and healthy. But even if he had not yet done his work there, they must have sent him to Pastrana, for that had become now the chief novitiate of the order. It was of the last importance, therefore, to bring it again to its former state. Saint John of the Cross left Alcala for Pastrana to undo the work of a whole year, and to bring back a whole monastery – for the professed fathers had also been led astray – into the true pathways of the new Carmel.
He came to Pastrana in the beginning of the year 1572, and began his work gently and tenderly. In the first place he put an end to the public humiliations, and then to the singular penances which were done in the house. He brought the monastery back by degrees to the spirit of the rule and the observance of those constitutions which he and Fra Antonio had agreed upon in the beginning when they were together in Duruelo. He showed the novices that their spirit was peculiar – for every vocation has its own means for its own ends – and that they were not to adopt the practices even of the greatest saints if they were not suited to their vocation. Their chief work was prayer and meditation, “dwelling alone in the forest, in the midst of Carmel,” away from the noise of men; keeping the rule; for a good work, however good, ceased to be a good work in them if it were not a good work according to the rule. Each order in holy Church has its peculiar work and spirit; and confusion alone, with the ruin of vocations, can come out of that spirit of disorder which leads one man to do the work of another.
Fra Angel of Saint Gabriel, though a mortified man, was still more mortified when he saw his work undone. He could neither suffer in silence, nor persuade himself that he had made any mistakes. Hurt to the quick by the crumbling of his buildings on the sand, he made a formal complaint to Saint Teresa. In the letter he wrote to her, it was not enough for him to describe all that Saint John of the Cross had done, but he must also give his reasons for his own conduct, and defend the method he had pursued with the novices. Saint Teresa was at this time prioress of the monastery of the incarnation in Avila, where she had been a novice and a nun herself. She was of one mind with Saint John of the Cross, but she was too wise to say so to Fra Angel in his then mood; so she sent his letter, with another from herself, to her trusted counsellor Fra Dominic Banes, who was then reader in theology in Saint Stephen’s, the house of his order in Salamanca, but soon to ascend one of the public chairs in that great university. Father Banes answered the saint at great length, and wholly in favour of Saint John of the Cross. But as that letter shows forth the common sense as well as the spiritual knowledge of that learned Dominican, and is not easily accessible, some may be glad to know its contents. After certain general observations, in which he speaks slightingly of himself, Banes writes thus:
‘This master of the novices – Fra Angel – seems to be a zealous man with good intentions; and as he wishes for light, there is no reason why it should be denied him. May Jesus Christ give it him, and teach him what perfection is! Discite a me, quia mitis sum et humilis corde. He who is of a meek and humble heart is so wrapt in the mercy of God, knowing the depths of his own wretchedness, that he regards himself as not worthy to breathe the air or to tread the ground, and lives in fear of the justice of God, always afraid that he is sinning against Him. Outward penances and mortifications help us much to attain to this humility; but then they must be done according to that prudence which comes from God, and that prudence lies in obedience to law: our Lord humbled Himself and was obedient. To make a pilgrimage without any other necessity is not a prudent mortification in a friar whose profession binds him to such strict separation from the world as the primitive rule does. As the novices are to be recollected men, the way to train them is not to let them have their own way in mortifications. To copy the fathers of the society is to found another order, and not to build up that of Carmel. These fathers have no distinguishing habit; their profession is not that of separation from the world; they are not bound to silence and fasting, and never meet in choir; their work is in the world, con versing with all, teaching the Christian doctrine; nor is it anything out of the way that they should do so.
‘But the friar and the monk are under no necessity to seek for practices which are strange to their order. Let them follow their profession and be silent; and they will become saints without letting the world know of their mortifications. I do not think much of those men who are zealous for the edification of their neighbours. It is said of Saint Francis that men took him for a fool; that he stripped himself, and put on clothes fit only for the poorest of men: I respect that because it was the work of the Holy Ghost; but to copy actions of this kind, which are rare, is acting a part. Saint Francis at this time wore no religious habit, belonged to no order, and had taken no vows; his conduct was prudent in the state he was in.
‘If this father says in reply that he feels himself moved to do acts of this kind, I would rather he made trial of other ways which are more sanctioned by the Church. Let people fast and watch, as the saints did. They cannot. That is their answer, and they are in the right: for they have not the spirit of the saints. Then let them be certain of this: if they are moved by the Spirit of God to such extremities of penance as these, they must first of all test themselves in fasting, watchings, and prayer.
‘The father says that he shall become melancholy if he is thwarted. I do not like that. He is too much attached to novelties and untried ways. If he wishes for mortifications, here is a real one for him: let him believe that he has made a mistake.
‘I beg you, however, to console him, and advise him to practice obedience and be silent. Our Lord kept silence for more than thirty years, and preached but for two. I hope you will send him this my letter, and ask him to believe that I wish to serve him in his zeal. May our Lord give us the light of His grace, and keep you in it!
‘Your servant in Christ,
‘Fra. Domingo Bañes.
‘Saint Stephen’s, Salamanca,
’23 April 1572.’
Francis de Yepes, the brother of Saint John, came to Pastrana by the invitation of the latter, who gave him work in the garden of the monastery; and when the duke of Pastrana came to visit the master of the novices, his attention was directed to Francis in his poor clothes and in his daily work by Saint John him self. To humble himself the more before the great benefactor of his order, he was careful to tell him that his brother was poor and that he earned his bread by the labour of his hands. He did this on all occasions when anybody came to pay him visits of ceremony or politeness, contriving some how or other to mortify himself by showing his brother at work.
Chapter 5: 1572 – 1574
Saint Teresa sends for Saint John of the Cross to Avila – Reformation of the monastery – Illness of a nun – Trances – Exorcisms – A learned nun – Conversion of sinners – The saint goes to Segovia – The vicar-general threatens him with imprisonment
Before Saint John of the Cross went to Pastrana, and while he was still in Alcala de Henares, Saint Teresa had been sent by the apostolic visitor, Fra Pedro Fernandes, of the order of Saint Dominic, to the monastery of the incarnation in Avila, as prioress of that house. The nuns were unwilling to receive her, partly because they feared they might be compelled to adopt the primitive rule. Notwithstanding the opposition of the nuns, the saint in October 1571, against her own will, constrained by her vow of obedience, entered and took possession of the stall of the prioress, and, winning by degrees the affections of the discontented nuns, changed the state of the monastery.
But in order to do her work the more surely, and leave durable traces of her presence behind, she asked the visitor for Saint John of the Cross as confessor of the monastery. The visitor assented gladly, and the saint came without delay, having with him another friar, German of Saint Mathias, as his companion. The visitor lodged them in a small house close to the monastery of the incarnation, where they could live in peace, withdrawn from the tumult of the city and the concourse of idle men. This was in the spring of 1572.
The great holiness of Saint John of the Cross, hitherto hidden and known to few, began now to be spoken of outside the order; the nuns of the incarnation gave him their confidence without any reservation, and changed the order of their lives. Saint Teresa had put an end to the great distractions which were the results of too many visits to the monastery on the part of seculars, and Saint John of the Cross made the work perfect, by stopping directly and indirectly the confessions which the nuns made to priests who, if they were not lax themselves, were without the courage and the will to correct the laxity of the nuns, by for bidding the frequent resort to the parlours. He dealt with the nuns gently and tenderly, but with unfailing firmness, and by degrees the community under the government of Saint Teresa, though not keeping the rule which the prioress and the two confessors observed, became a most edifying and recollected house; and the saint herself, in a letter written September 27, 1572, to her sister Dona Juana, says: ‘ The barefooted friar who is confessor here is doing great things; he is Fra John of the Cross.”
Not long after Saint John came to the incarnation one of the nuns, Dofia Maria de Yera, was seized with sickness, and, before the greatness of her danger was suspected by the nuns, became insensible. They then recognized the danger, and sent for Saint John of the Cross to administer the last Sacraments. But before he entered the monastery the nun was dead, to the extreme grief of her sisters, one of whom, as he was entering the infirmary, reproached him in the bitterness of her sorrow as if he had been to blame. ‘Is this the way,’ she said to him, ‘you take care of your children? This one has died un-confessed.’ The holy man made no answer, but turned back and went straight to the church, where before the Most Holy he made known his distress, and begged humbly for help.
After some considerable time the nuns sent him word that their sister was restored to life, whereupon he left the church, and on the way meeting the nun who had spoken to him before, said only these words, ‘My child, are you satisfied?’ He then went up to the infirmary, heard the nun’s confession, and gave her the last Sacraments; then when he had done for her all that could be done, God took her to Himself.
He was kind to these poor nuns in every way, and indeed they were much to be pitied; for the monastery was very large and very poor, the nuns more than a hundred in number, and occasionally in distress, wanting both food and raiment. They may be said to have had poverty without the merits thereof, for they were not bound so strictly as the barefooted nuns of the reform. Saint John of the Cross took compassion on them even in their outward distresses; for one day seeing a nun in a habit utterly unsuited to her, because of its extreme worthlessness, he went out and begged the means of supplying her with another, for the monastery was too poor to do so.
In the year 1573, on the octave of Saint Martin, as Saint Teresa tells us, he mortified that saint in the very act of communion. Saint Teresa liked to receive large hosts, and had said so to Saint John of the Cross. So he, the great teacher of perfect detachment, gave a lesson to the foundress of the new Carmel, and on that day divided the host between her and one of the nuns, because, as she says, ‘he wished to mortify me.’
It was in the parlour of the incarnation that the nuns saw with their own eyes the concurrent ecstasies of the two great saints to whose care they had been committed. Beatriz of Jesus, one of the sisters, but who afterwards left that house, became a barefooted nun, and died in the monastery of Ocana, went to the parlour on Trinity Sunday with a message for the prioress. To her great amazement, she saw Saint Teresa raised in the air, unconscious of her presence. She withdrew and called other nuns in, who all became witnesses of the same marvel. On the other side of the grating they saw Saint John of the Cross, also raised above the ground in the same way. The mystery was explained to them afterwards. The two saints had begun by speaking of the most blessed Trinity, and had fallen in a trance together. Saint Teresa said after wards that it was impossible for any one to speak of God to Saint John of the Cross, for either he or the other fell into a trance. On another occasion, when the two saints were conversing together, he rose from his seat, trying to hide from her what was coming on; and when she asked him if it was the beginning of a trance, he replied simply, ‘I think it is.’
Calmly and quietly he did his work among the nuns, who had hitherto, for many reasons, been but indifferently governed: they were very many, and the house was very poor, nevertheless by degrees they were brought back to more regular observance, and gave up their unnecessary recreations and many practices unseemly in the cloister. The world outside became conscious of the change within, and felt that saints were standing by. ‘The city is amazed,’ wrote Saint Teresa, ‘ at the exceedingly great good he has done there, and people take him for a saint; and in my opinion he is one, and has been one all his life.’
He was now sought for throughout Avila, for his great gift of spiritual direction. Troubled consciences, unquiet scruples, all yielded before him; and those whom melancholy or delusions had led astray were, by his skilful guiding, brought back to the true ways of the spirit. Religious houses sent for him, and were by him wondrously sustained: for his words were words of heavenly wisdom, not found in the land of those whose life is pleasant.
In a monastery in Avila, at this time, lived a nun around whom satan had thrown his net. Her state was most pitiable, and her distress almost unbearable, for she was tempted by the spirit of blasphemy, doubt, and uncleanness. Saint John of the Cross was sent to her monastery. She revealed to him the whole story of her dismal temptations. He discerned the source of her troubles and applied the fitting remedies, while she on her part accepted them and was delivered from her distress. But no sooner had he left her than the evil spirit returned to the assault. To do his work the more effectually, he came disguised in the likeness of Saint John of the Cross, sent for the nun to the confessional, and there plied her with his deadly teaching. The next day came the servant of God himself, and heard the confession of the poor nun, who had been more at her ease, she said, because she had obeyed his direction given the night before, and made less earnest resistance to the temptations by which she was tormented. The servant of God recognized the deceit of the tempter, and told her that he had not given her any directions the day before, and that he had not been near the monastery. The saint then gave her certain instructions in writing, which she was carefully to observe, and went his way. Immediately afterwards the nun received another letter, containing further instructions, but of a different kind, in the handwriting of the saint, and signed with his name – so at least it appeared to the nun. She was told in that letter that the former instructions required some correction, because they demanded of her a more vigilant watchfulness than was fitting for her state, seeing that a certain degree of liberty was necessary for the avoidance of scrupulosity, and for the greater quiet of her conscience. The handwriting and signature of the saint were counterfeited so skilfully that he himself, when he saw them, admitted them to be his, though he recognized the forgery in the teaching – that was satan’s not his. Seeing now that the poor nun was a puppet in the hand of the evil one, the saint had recourse to the exorcisms of holy Church, and thereby delivered her from the great peril she was in.
In another monastery he wrought another cure of a more marvellous nature still – that of a nun who amazed everybody by her learning. She could speak many languages, and was versed in what is called the arts and the sciences. She could dispute in theology with the most learned theologian, and her knowledge was so wonderful that people began to think that her science was infused. Grave doctors regarded her with reverence, for they were afraid to suspect her, and incur the guilt of rash judgment. But as all that is singular in religion is almost always suspicious, her superiors became at last uneasy about her, and resolved to have her spirit tested by Saint John of the Cross. He was most unwilling to undertake the task: his sole desire was to be left alone in his poor cottage near the monastery of the incarnation, and to be forgotten of men.
He consented, however, to see the nun; but before doing so prepared himself by earnest prayer and penance, his usual armour, and then, committing the issues to our Lord, went to the monastery. The nun came to the parlour, where the saint was waiting for her, but the moment she saw him she began to quake with a sudden fear, and her tongue, usually so fluent, refused its office. She could speak no language but her own in the presence of the saint, and all her knowledge had departed from her. Her superiors seeing this, and now fully persuaded that she was in the toils of satan, and a source of indefinite danger to the religious around her, begged the saint to perfect the work he had thus begun. Feeling compassion for the poor soul before him, he yielded to their request, and exorcised the nun. The dumb spirit that had taken possession of her had to yield his prey, and to reveal the whole story of that long possession. The unhappy nun from her very earliest years had been vain and foolish, and fond of human applause. The wicked spirit took advantage of her curiosity, appeared before her, though she did not know at the time what the vision meant, and seized upon her imagination by his evil beauty. She herself was naturally quick, lively, and witty; but conscious of her ignorance, and ashamed of it, she coveted knowledge to enable her to shine the more. This the devil promised her, on the condition of her promising on her part to become his bride. The foolish girl thus in the power of the evil one, became more and more careless about her soul, and at last began to hate God and His service, and to wish that others also might do so.
How she came to the monastery is not known. Whether her parents were too poor to marry her, or whether the devil tempted her for his own ends to feign a vocation she had not, remains a secret. But the monastery had received her with joy, for her fame was spread abroad; and the nuns among whom she lived had no suspicion of the dangers they were in till the wiles of the enemy were discovered, and the evil spirits confessed their hateful presence. Saint John spoke to the nun of the mercy of God, and enlightened her understanding while moving her will. She, too. became aware of her danger, and undertook to do all that was in her power to free herself from this visible dominion of the devil.
Saint John went home to the monastery of the incarnation, but before long he was inwardly admonished to return to the house where the possessed nun was living: for the evil spirit, unwilling to confess himself beaten, had knocked at the gate of the monastery, in the disguise of Saint John of the Cross, and asked to see the nun in the parlour, saying that he had something to say to her which he had forgotten. The portress, suspecting nothing, opened the door and allowed him to enter, and the nun came to the parlour, where she found the evil one, who, having transformed himself into an angel of light, and, for his wicked ends, put on the likeness of Saint John of the Cross, spoke to her of the grievous nature of her sins, of the impossibility of forgiveness, and of the power of the devil to compel her to continue in his service. The poor nun was utterly cast down, and her distress was the greater because a few hours before Saint John of the Cross, whom she believed to be then present, had spoken to her of the compassion of God, and encouraged her to do the works of penance, trusting in His mercy.
Saint John now arrived at the monastery, asked to see the nun. The portress replied that it was not possible, because she was at the moment in the parlour with Fra John of the Cross. ‘How can that be?’ said the holy man. ‘If I am John of the Cross, he who is in the parlour cannot be so.’ The portress, amazed, opened the door, and allowed him to enter. He went straight to the parlour, and the moment he came in the evil spirit vanished. The portress had meanwhile told the story to some of the nuns, and these hurried into the parlour, where, however, they saw nothing but the nun bitterly weeping, in great distress of mind. The saint now exorcised her, and commanded the evil spirits, in the name of God, not only to confess how they came to have such power over that poor soul, but also to let go their prey, and cease from troubling her any more. The devil, overcome, told the whole tale of the possession, and moreover gave up the contract by which the nun was bound to him. All this took place in the presence not of the nuns only, but of certain secular persons also, who came at that time into the house.
His power over evil spirits caused the prioress of Medina del Campo to beg Saint Teresa to send him thither. There was a nun in the house there so grievously afflicted with melancholy, that her sisters were afraid her disease was not natural. Saint John went thither from the monastery of the incarnation, and having spoken to the nun, pronounced her disorder akin to folly: in the course of time, his decision was found to be true. Saint Teresa sent a letter at the same time to the prioress, Ines of Jesus, her cousin, in which she says: ‘I send you Fra John of the Cross, to whom God has given grace to drive evil spirits away; he has now here in Avila put to flight three legions of devils, whom in the name of God he commanded to tell their number, and he was obeyed on the instant.’
Not the devil only, but the world also was subject to his power. There was then in Avila a young lady, beautiful, wealthy, and noble born, but whose daily life was a scandal because of her vanity and the extravagance of her dress. The young men of the city, captivated by her beauty, and under the spell of her manners, flocked around her whenever they could, to the great terror of her friends and relatives, who were alarmed at the freedom of her life, for they were jealous of her honour. They implored her to go to confession to Saint John of the Cross. It was their only hope of saving her from imminent ruin. She heeded them not, and steadily refused to go near a confessor whom she knew to be unlikely to allow her to continue her amusements. But her friends persisted, and at last she consented to make a confession to the man of God. This was more than her friends had hoped for latterly, for they begged her now only to speak to the father as so many did; some, indeed, out of curiosity rather than out of devotion.
She went to the church and to the confessional, out of which she hardly expected to come forth alive, so much did she fear him; for she knew nothing of him but his austerities and unworldly life so unlike her own. He heard her confession, and spoke so gently to her, that she was seized with amazement, and re solved to return to the same confessional. She did so, and changed her life, putting aside her rich dresses, avoiding idle company and light amusements, doing penance and wearing sackcloth. Her conversion was a joy not only to her family, but to the whole city; and the rest of her life, from that day forward, edified her neighbours more than her former excesses of untamed spirits had offended them.
The world felt the power of that holiness which was growing in secret in the poor cottage against the wall of the monastery, but it knew in reality little or nothing of the unearthly life led within it; of the long vigils, of the sharp discipline and of the still sharper discipline of perpetual watchfulness over every idle thought, in order to avoid the idle word that brings judgment in its train.
Two other conversions are recorded, both wonderful and both effectual, wrought by his ministry while he was confessor of the nuns of the incarnation in Avila.
One was that of a nun who had gone far astray, and who had become a scandal in the city. She had set aside the obligations of her state, led a worldly life, conversing with seculars, and wasting her time in unprofitable amusements, and even worse. At last her conscience was seriously disturbed, and she went to confession to Saint John of the Cross. The servant of God heard her patiently, while she told him the whole story of her misspent life. The poor nun re turned to her cell fully resolved to serve God only for the rest of her days, and broke off from all her former levities. But one of those who too often frequented the parlour of her monastery, a wealthy and powerful personage in Avila, was not pleased at her conversion. She never would see him or any other idler as of old, and accordingly he resolved upon revenge. He knew well enough whose influence had been stronger than his, so he waited one night near the monastery of the incarnation, for the coming forth of Saint John of the Cross from the confessional of the church, according to his wont. The saint came out and was going towards his house, when this man fell upon him, and beat him so cruelly that he was nearly dead. Though he knew who it was, and knew too why he was thus insulted, he never complained, and never said who it was that had thus been so merciless to him. But he did say afterwards to some of his brethren that he never was so happy in all his life as he was then, suffering for the sake of justice, and that the blows of the angry man were as sweet to him as the shower of stones to Saint Stephen the first martyr.
The other conversion was that of a young lady of a noble house in Avila, with great gifts of mind and body. She was a penitent of the saint, and lived near the monastery of the incarnation. Satan pursued her with special malignity, and in the end brought her to the very brink of ruin. She gave up the battle as lost, and yielded to her unwearied tempter. One night, as the servant of God was in prayer in his house, he was surprised by the sudden apparition before him of his penitent. He trembled with fear, and signed himself with the sign of the cross, for he believed that satan himself stood before him. The miserable girl, divining his thoughts, told him he need not be afraid; it was she herself, his penitent, and not the devil, who had thus come into a room where she ought not to set her foot. She then told him that she had been tempted sorely, and that she had resolved to fight no longer; the attractions of sin had prevailed over the terrors of the judgment to come. The holy man heard her with horror, and then, lifting up his eyes to God, and full of the most compassionate zeal, spoke to the miserable woman of the terrible judgement of God upon sinners, and of the inevitable penalties which awaited her. She was moved at last,and bursting into tears of true contrition, fell upon her knees and cried to God for pardon. He then sent her away as quickly as he could, reserving for another time, and a more fitting place, her perfect reconciliation with God.
In March 1574, Saint Teresa took the saint with her from Avila to Segovia, where she was to found her ninth monastery of nuns. On the road, Julian, who accompanied the saint, as usual, asked her for the license of the bishop, who was then absent. She had nothing but the word of the bishop, and Julian fore saw trouble from the vicar-general. Saint Teresa, however, determined to proceed, and found the house without reference to the vicar. She entered Segovia during the night, and made the chapel ready for Mass, which was said early in the next morning by Julian of Avila. When this was done, a nephew of the bishop, don Juan de Orosco y Covarruvias de Leyva, archdeacon of Cuellar and a canon, passed by the house on his way from the palace to the cathedral, and, seeing the cross, made inquiries, and was told that the house was a monastery of Carmelites. He went into the chapel, and having prayed for some time, asked leave to say Mass.
While he was at the altar, the vicar-general, who had heard by this time of Saint Teresa’s act, came in great wrath, and threatened to put in prison the priest who had said Mass. Julian of Avila hid himself under the staircase, but Saint John of the Cross remained, and was asked by the vicar who had reserved the Most Holy. He threatened to put him in prison, but he did not do so, knowing he had no jurisdiction over the friar. It would have been otherwise with Julian of Avila, who was a secular priest.
The vicar knew all the time that the bishop had given his consent, and his anger was caused by his being neglected by Saint Teresa. He punished her by forbidding the reservation of the Most Holy, which was within his right, but the monastery was safe. Don Juan de Orosco helped the saint to pacify the angry vicar, and remained a friend of the Carmelites. The foundation was made on the Feast of Saint Joseph, and Mass was also said by Saint John of the Cross. For this the vicar-general threatened to put him in prison; but he did not execute his threat, and the saint returned in safety to Avila.
Chapter 6: 1575 – 1577
The friars of the mitigation – Fra Jerome Tostado – Chapter of the mitigation – Decrees against the reform – Fra Jerome of the Mother of God – Chapter of Almadovar – Death of the Nuncio – Troubles in the monastery of the incarnation – Saint John of the Cross made a prisoner
While Saint John of the Cross was living in Avila, and before the priorate of Saint Teresa in the monastery of the incarnation had come to an end, the friars of the mitigation struck their first blow at the reform of Carmel. They had been under the government of visitors apostolic since the year 1570, two Dominican friars; these visitors were friendly to the reform, and, as the friars believed, unfriendly to them. It was necessary, therefore, if they were to do anything in their own defence, and save the order from being reformed, to be delivered out of the hands of the visitors, and be placed again under their own general. Accordingly they represented their condition to his Holiness the Pope, and obtained from him, 3 August 1574, a brief cancelling the faculties of the visitors. They were in no hurry, however, to hasten the fight, and waited patiently till Pentecost 1575, when the general chapter of the order assembled in Piacenza, in the duchy of Parma, determined to destroy the reform of Saint Teresa.
In that memorable chapter the fathers of the order decreed the suppression of all the monasteries of friars in Spain which had been founded without the sanction of the general, and every one who should resist this decree was to be regarded as a rebel, and to suffer the penalties of his rebellion.
Now as the general’s sanction was really confined to the house of Duruelo, removed to Manzera, and that of Pastrana, the decree closed six or seven houses, and destroyed the reform throughout Andalucia, whither it had been lately carried. Fra Jerome Tostado, a Portuguese, an able, shrewd, and courageous friar, was appointed visitor of Spain, and charged with the execution of this decree by the general chapter of the order.
His instructions were given him, and he set out for Spain. Conscious of his strength, he made no haste, but came slowly and with deliberation to do his work. But the friars of the reform knew the danger they were in, and made their own preparations for the coming fight. The powers of the Nuncio were not touched by the brief; to him, therefore, they applied, for he had always been their friend. He, also, having first consulted the Holy See, and having ascertained that his hands were not tied, made Fra Jerome of the Mother of God visitor of Andalucia, and superior also of the friars and nuns of the reform of Saint Teresa. That was done 3 August 1575, within three months of the assembling of the chapter in Piacenza. By this act of the Nuncio the reform was secured, and the vicar of the general, Fra Jerome Tostado, was ousted of the most important part of his jurisdiction before he set his foot on the soil of Spain. The friars of the mitigation, however, were not frightened, and the first blow was struck in November of this year, 1575, by the provincial of Castille, Fra Angel de Salazar, who sent the friar Miguel de Ulloa to Seville, with instructions to stop all further foundations of the reform, and to tell Saint Teresa that she was to confine herself – such were the orders of the chapter – to any one of her own monasteries at her choice. In a word, she was to be a prisoner for the present. Then, either at the end of the year or early in 1576, the prior of the Carmelites in Avila, father Valdemoro, removed from the monastery of the incarnation Saint John of the Cross and Fra German of Saint Mathias, to the ‘exceeding great scandal of the city,’ writes Saint Teresa. The Nuncio was appealed to, and he ordered them to be brought back, forbidding at the same time the friars of the mitigation to hear the confessions of the nuns, or even to say Mass in that monastery, from which they had carried away Saint John of the Cross.
In March 1576, Fra Jerome Tostado was in Barcelona, and on May 12th a chapter of the old observance was held in Moraleja, to which the priors of Manzera and Pastrana, with the rector of Alcala, all of the reform were summoned. These houses were recognized because founded with the consent of the general; but the priors of six houses were not summoned, because they were regarded as rebels and strangers to the order, living in houses which the general had never sanctioned.
The prior of Pastrana and the rector of Alcala suspected some mischief, and therefore before going to the chapter consulted the Nuncio of his Holiness in Madrid, to whom they made known their suspicions, and showed the letters by which they had been summoned. The Nuncio advised them to attend the chapter, but to give their consent to nothing that might be decreed against the reform, or against the person of Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, whom he had made superior of the barefooted friars, and visitor of the province of Andalucia.
The friars of the old observance decreed, in spite of the remonstrances of the three friars of the reform, that there should be in future no difference in the habits worn in the order; that the barefooted friars should wear shoes, cease to be called barefooted, and be known as contemplatives; that the friars of the mitigated observance and of the reform should dwell as brethren in the same house, each following his own rule, but living together, as if there were nothing to distinguish them one from the other; and that none of the houses of the order should be regarded as shut against the observants on the one hand, or against the contemplatives on the other.
The intention of the friars was plain enough: they hoped, by compelling all to dwell together as if there were no difference between them, to bring the more earnest friars, by the contagion of example, back again to the more easy life of the mitigated rule.
The friars of the reform were bound not to give way, for they had their own superior given them by the Nuncio of his Holiness, and accordingly they made preparations to defend themselves. Their superior, Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, summoned the priors of the reform to Almodovar del Campo, where they met 8 August 1576, and with them Saint John of the Cross, who was still the confessor of the nuns of the incarnation. They elected a council to assist the provincial – so was Fra Jerome called by the Nuncio – and of that council, the first chosen was Fra Antonio of Jesus. They also resolved to send two of the fathers to Rome, to defend them against the charges which the friars of the mitigation had brought against them. But the state of the order was so full of peril at this time that the two fathers could not be spared, and so they never went.
In the same assembly a question was raised about the rule and the constitutions. Fra Antonio and Saint John of the Cross had agreed in Duruelo upon certain things, and Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, as provincial and visitor appointed by the Nuncio, had made certain decrees for the good government of the order. The chief friars, meeting together in chapter for the first time, could not refrain from discussing the end for which the reform was begun, and the means by which that end was to be reached.
Now, according to the letters of the general received by Saint Teresa, and in virtue of which she founded the house in Duruelo, which was the birthplace of the order, the friars of the reform were to be contemplatives, and their active work was to be subordinate to the higher work unto which God had called them. They were to be like the nuns, so far as possible – given to retirement and prayer.
Fra Jerome was of another mind, and in this assembly of Almodovar spoke at some length to the fathers, insisting on the fact that the order was mendicant; he persuaded his brethren that they were therefore as much bound to succour their neighbours as they were bound to their cells and to prayer. Most of the friars who had formerly professed the mitigated rule were easily convinced of the truth of this doctrine, and Fra Antonio himself agreeing with him, the assembly was almost of one mind.
But Saint John of the Cross understood the reform in another sense, and rose up amidst his brethren to combat the opinions which most of them adopted. He admitted the fact that they were mendicants, and that they owed, therefore, a debt to their neighbour; they were bound to share with him what God gave to them in prayer. But charity must be in order; the first duty of the friars was to keep the rule, by which they are required to abide in their cells, meditating night and day in the law of God, unless reasonably hindered. As for preaching out of the monasteries and hearing confessions, there were orders in holy Church to whom these good works specially belonged, and he begged his brethren not to undo the work so happily begun by sanctioning practices which made silence and prayer so difficult. He could not prevail against the provincial and Fra Antonio; the latter was an old man now, and greatly respected by his brethren.
It cannot be denied that the servant of God spoke most truly of the end for which he and the others had begun a new congregation within the order. He had been with Saint Teresa for some time for the very purpose of learning from her that which he was to teach to the novices. If anybody understood the spirit and ways of the new Carmel, it was Saint Teresa herself, and from her we know that the Carmelites are called to a life of prayer and contemplation, and that is what Saint John of the Cross always insisted on.
This was the beginning of Fra Jerome’s troubles, and the beginning also of great troubles in the whole order. The chapter decreed according to the pro position of the provincial, and then dissolved; Saint John of the Cross returning to the monastery of the incarnation in Avila.
In the next year 1577, in the month of June, the Nuncio of his Holiness, Monsignore Ormaneto, died, to the great grief of the friars of the reform, for he had been faithful and constant in their defense. His successor, Monsignore Sega, who arrived in August, was known to be unfriendly to them, believing them to be rebellious friars who were bringing in novelties to the ruin of the order. He had unfortunately given credit to men interested or deceived, and had conceived an evil opinion of Saint Teresa herself; he thought she was nothing else but a restless and dissatisfied nun, who could not be quiet in her monastery. At the same time two friars of the reform, Miguel de la Columna, and the zealous friar who had done so much in the order, Fra Baltasar of Jesus, were won over by the friars of the mitigation, and were weak enough to biing hateful charges against Saint Teresa and their superior, Fra Jerome of the Mother of God. Fra Miguel soon repented, and withdrew the charges; and before witnesses, in the presence of a notary. On 4 September 1577, in Pastrana, declared that he had even signed the papers in which they were recorded without first reading them. Fra Baltasar also, in a letter to Fra Jerome, expressed his sorrow for what he had done, confessing that he had been carried away by passion, and begged for forgiveness. He was forgiven and readmitted, but without either active or passive voice, by the definitors in the chapter held in Valladolid, in April 1587, when the famous Doria, Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria, was provincial. But the order never trusted him again, and never raised him to any dignity in it. His after life was most edifying, however, and full of consolation to his brethren. He died in the house in Lisbon, in the year 1589.
The Nuncio no doubt believed there was some truth at least in these miserable accusations, and his anger was not lessened when the ‘restless woman,’ as he once called Saint Teresa, was elected prioress of the incarnation in October, by fifty-five nuns against forty-four who were in favour of Dona Ana of Toledo, one of the nuns in the house. The fifty nuns regarded as rebellious were by the provincial excommunicated, and were refused leave to enter the choir even when nobody was there; all communications with their friends and relatives were interdicted, and they were not allowed to hear Mass.
The nuns submitted at last to the prioress elected by the minority and confirmed by the vicar of the general, Fra Jerome Tostado, who, to his credit, in spite of the king’s opposition, persisted in fulfilling his duty. Fra Jerome Tostado then sent the prior of Toledo, Fra Fernando Maldonado, to absolve the nuns and to make peace in the monastery. That prior had other instructions also, which he faithfully obeyed. He was, it possible, to detach Saint John of the Cross from the reform, and failing that, to put him in prison as a disobedient friar. Father Maldonado’s instructions could not be kept secret, and the friars elected Saint John prior of Manzera, to save him from the risk he was running at the incarnation. He, too, knew his danger and the troubles before him, for one day he said to Dona Ana Maria, a holy nun of the incarnation, that he should be taken and made to suffer much; to which she replied, not believing him, that his suffering could not be long, because he was not strong enough to bear any. He was stronger than she thought he was, for he outlived the cruel treatment of his imprisonment.
Father Fernando Maldonado began by tempting the saint to return to the old observance, which he had abandoned nine years before. He represented to him that the reform was a scandal in itself, a slur on the good name of the order, a life full of spiritual dangers, because it was so new. Saint John could not be moved, so Fra Fernando made up his mind to use force, and take him with him to prison in Toledo, where he was prior.
Somehow or other his resolution to use violence became known, and some of the chief men in Avila, with certain relatives of the nuns, kept watch around the poor cottage of the two friars. Father Maldonado remained quiet, and by degrees the watch was discontinued. Thereupon the friar, on the night of 3 December, went with a band of armed men to the cottage, though the two friars neither did, nor wished to, offer any resistance; once in his power, they were gagged and bound. Having secured his prey, father Maldonado took them to the monastery of the friars for the night; but before shutting them in their cells, he had them severely disciplined, as rebel children of their mother.
The next morning the prior sent for Saint John of the Cross, intending to obtain some information from him. The saint left his cell, which was also his prison, guarded by his gaolers, and was led into the place where the prior was making his thanksgiving after Mass. There he was left: and he, seeing the door open, went out of the house to secure certain papers left behind in the little cottage, and which seem to have escaped the search of Father Maldonado. His absence was at last observed, and some of the friars followed him in all haste; but he was in the house, and, having locked the door, had time to destroy the papers.
He was now to be taken to Toledo, but his companion, Fra German of Saint Mathias, was to be sent to Moraleja. In order to depart the more easily out of Avila, father Maldonado made the saint change his habit and cover his feet, as if he were a friar of the old observance. But when the disguise was effected, Saint John simply observed that he was still a friar of the reform. The religious to whom he was committed hated the reform, and to show his hatred, treated his prisoner harshly on the road. His companion, how ever, was a secular, was more compassionate, and determined to help Saint John to escape. He found an opportunity of making his resolution known to the prisoner, but the only answer he got from Saint John of the Cross was, that the friar did not treat him half so harshly as he deserved; he hoped, therefore, that he would not trouble himself further about him.
The layman, however, was not so easily deceived. When they came to the inn where they were to lodge that night, he went to the host, and having told him what he had observed, said that he believed the prisoner to be a great saint, and that he wished to set him free. The innkeeper entered into the plan, and told Saint John of the Cross that means of escape would be found for him during the night. It was all in vain; the holy man told him, as he had told the other, that he had no wish to escape – he was a willing prisoner in the hands of his gaoler.
The prisoner arrived in Toledo, calm and joyous of heart, for he was reaping the fruit of many prayers. His judges were waiting for him in the monastery of the incarnation of the old observance. They were angry, not just, judges, and their passion and prejudice prevailed. They were satisfied that the prisoner was guilty before they heard his defense.
The seizure of the two friars filled Avila with dis may, but nobody could give any help, for father Maldonado’s plans had been too skilfully laid. Saint Teresa was at this time in her own monastery of Saint Joseph in that city; herself in disgrace, but not disheartened. Unable to learn where the prisoners were hid by their persecutors, she wrote at once to the king, Don Philip II, begging for help. ‘I would rather,’ she said, ‘he were in the hands of the Moors, for they perhaps would be more merciful; and this friar, who is so great a servant of God, is so enfeebled by his great sufferings that I fear for his life.’
These were not the only prisoners who had to endure the scourge of persecution. This energetic prior of Toledo, Fra Fernando Maldonado, had laid his hands in the summer on Fra Antonio of Jesus, who with Saint John of the Cross had begun the reform of Carmel in Duruelo. He and Fra Jerome of the Mother of God had attended Saint Teresa on her journey from Toledo to Avila in August, and on his return the prior had him apprehended as an apostate and rebel friar; his apostasy and rebellion being his resolution to observe the primitive rule, renouncing that of the mitigation. Thus at the close of this year, 1577, the reform of Carmel began by Saint Teresa was under a thick cloud; the Nuncio of his Holiness being among its enemies.
Chapter 7 – 1578
Trial – Imprisonment – Hardships of the prison – Adonde Te escondiste – Light in the cell – Vision of our Lady – Preparations for escape
The next day the prisoner appeared before his judges, friars of the old observance, empowered by the vicar of the order in Spain to try him. The acts of the general chapter held in Piacenza were produced, and he was then pressed to return to the observance which he had quit nine years before. His judges promised not only to forgive and forget the past, but also to treat him with great honour, and raise him to the high offices of the order. If he refused to submit, he would be regarded as a rebellious friar, and subjected to the penalties with which all religious orders visit their contumacious children.
The man of God heard them in all patience, and then with great humility replied that it was impossible for him to do that which they required of him. The reform to which he belonged was lawfully established, with the consent of the general, by the visitors apostolic and the Nuncio of his Holiness; he was bound, therefore, to persevere under obedience to an authority higher than theirs, for the authority of the Pope is greater than that of the general chapter. He admitted that he was in their power, and that they could punish him; he was ready and willing to bear his burden, though he was not legally subject to their jurisdiction. His superior was Fra Jerome of the Mother of God. The friars of the mitigation were within their own right; so they thought; honestly believing that they were justified in imprisoning Saint John of the Cross under the authority of the general. The new Nuncio also favoured them and wished to crush the reform as much as they did. Their duty was to execute the decrees of the general chapter, which were binding upon them as true children of the order; and they did not recognize the acts of the late Nuncio. The saint could not submit to their conditions; so they ordered him to be imprisoned in the monastery, severely scourged, and fed on bread and water. They regarded him as a headstrong friar who followed his own will, and who heeded not the authority of the order. They had him in their power now, and they had the right to chastise him for his disobedience. The servant of God was helpless, but he never made the slightest complaint, and submitted humbly to the sentence pronounced by men who were not really in vested with any jurisdiction over him. He neither disputed their authority nor begged for their forgiveness, but yielded himself passively to suffer whatever they might lay upon him; he had prayed for sufferings, and his prayer, to his great joy, was heard at last.
His prison, visited devoutly afterwards by one of his biographers, Fra Joseph of Jesus Maria, was a small closet, not quite six feet wide, and less than ten feet in length, at the end of a room in which guests of distinction were usually lodged. It was close and dark, for it had no window; and the scanty light it had came through a loophole, not three inches wide, in the wall near the roof – and that was, moreover, a borrowed light. To read his Breviary the prisoner must stand on a bench and hold his book under the light, and that light could be had only for a short time during the day, when the sun shone in the corridor of the house.
The door of this closet was padlocked, and he could never leave it without the gaoler’s permission. After wards, when the friars heard of the escape of his fellow prisoner, German of Saint Mathias, from the monastery in Moraleja, the door of the room to which the closet belonged was also locked. They were determined to keep him safely, for they looked on him – as in truth he was – the chief pillar of the reform, which they hated, and laboured to overthrow.
During the day no one but the friar who was his gaoler was allowed to speak to him, or even to see him. In the evening he was led to the refectory at the time of collation, and there, on the floor, he had to take his food, which was generally bread and water. Occasionally they gave him a little fish, if any could be spared from the meal of the community; they even gave him salt-fish, and refused him water. When the meal was over, the prior rebuked him severely, speaking to him as to one who had committed scandalous sins, upbraiding him as a reformer of others when he needed reformation himself, and calling the attention of his brethren to him as to one who had set himself up to teach them before he had been taught himself – he who was, in reality, but the lowest and the least in the order, and deserving no consideration.
When the prior ceased to speak, the saint bared his shoulders to receive the public discipline inflicted on friars guilty of grave offenses. It is the heaviest penance which religious inflict, and is also the most keenly felt, for it is the reward of disgraceful deeds. Saint John of the Cross, walking in the footsteps of his Master, bowed his head, and submitted to the terrible scourging, which was so unsparingly administered that his shoulders bore the marks of it for the rest of his days. He received it all as from the hands of God, Who had a right to scourge him, and neither then nor afterwards did he ever complain of the friars, always making excuses for them whenever his imprisonment was spoken of. At all times, even among his own brethren of the reform who knew the whole story, he would never allow any one to blame the friars of Toledo. At first they led him to the refectory every night, but they grew weary at last of that cruel scourging before he did. This was to him another grief; he complained to his gaoler, and asked him why he was forgotten and deprived of his only consolation. He longed for the evening, that he might De led to the torture; but his tormentors, grown weary, sent for him only thrice in the week for a time, and then only on Fridays. Later on, they spared him even the Fridays, and left him for weeks unmolested in his cell: perhaps they were thinking, in spite of themselves, of the lamb before his shearers, dumb.
He was kept in prison more than eight months, and was never allowed to change his clothes. He had to wear the habit of the mitigation given him in Avila when he was made prisoner, which was a perpetual penance to him, and his woollen tunic underneath must have been saturated with blood, and soiled; but the friars were blind to the cruelty of their conduct. As he came into the prison, so he went out, in the very same garments, never changed; and he was be come a burden, horrible even to himself. To add to his sorrows, the friars of the observance would meet together in the room to which his cell belonged, and there, so as to be heard by him, discussed the affairs of the reform. They were careful to say nothing that was not true, but all they had to say was meant to vex the prisoner. They spoke of the resolution of the Nuncio, Monsignore Sega, to quash the reform, and detailed the strange charges brought against Saint Teresa by two friars who for a time had fallen away, and who were supposed to know the secrets of the reform, as if those charges had never been retracted, or as if they believed them to be true. All this was gall and wormwood, for he knew nothing of the state of his brethren; he therefore bewailed his own sins and imperfections, which, in his humility, he considered as the cause of the great ruin which had been wrought in Carmel. It was impossible for him to communicate with anybody. He was cut off from the rest of the world; no one knew where he was, and they were the sons of his mother who fought against him.
It was with difficulty he could say his office, and he was not allowed to say Mass. The reform in the order, which he had accepted at the hands of Saint Teresa, had brought him to utter misery; if he had gone to the Carthusians, as he had purposed, he could have served God in peace and quietness. He was now among the dead; his brethren could not deliver him – none of them even knew where he was. God had thrown him into the crucible to burn away the dross, to purify the spirit, and bring it home to Himself. But amid all his trials, and in the depths of his sufferings, his patience never failed him, and it was in that prison he composed the wonderful hymn Adonde Te escondiste, which he afterwards so wonder fully explained.
The bodily sufferings of that prison may be, perhaps, understood; but the spiritual sufferings by which his soul was raised so high are unutterable. He was drawn in beneath the deep waters, and hidden from the eyes of men bodily and spiritually, so that none could comfort him. The rigours of his prison were also redoubled in the beginning of March 1578, when the friars heard of the escape of Fra German of Saint Mathias, who was made a prisoner with him in December before in Avila. Soon the hot weather made his close cell more intolerable still, and he was now become a burden to himself, because he was not allowed a change of raiment. Nobody had compassion upon him, and his gaoler was unmoved by his miserable condition. It was rumoured too that Fra Jerome Tostado had sent him to Rome, and Saint Teresa seems to have believed it. The story may have caused his friends to cease from searching for him; and while he was in his prison they were never able to discover the place where he had been hidden.
But God did not forsake His servant; his enemies had chased him, and caught him like a bird, without cause, and hidden him from all his acquaintance in a close and stifling cell, which, in the heat of summer, had become a furnace. His gaoler, obedient to the order of his superiors, refused him any relief; and even at night the darkness was hardly greater than it was during the day. Now and then the saint made his moan unto God, but without complaining, and his cell became filled with light seen by the bodily eye. One night the friar who kept him went as usual to see that his prisoner was safe, and witnessed the heavenly light with which the cell was flooded. He did not stop to consider it, but hurried to the prior, thinking that some one in the house had keys to open the doors of the prison. The prior, with two religious, went at once to the prison, but on his entering the room through which the prison was approached, the light vanished. The prior, however, entered the cell, and, finding it dark, opened the lantern with which he had provided himself, and asked the prisoner who had given him light. Saint John answered him, and said that no one in the house had done so, that no one could do it, and that there was neither candle nor lamp in the cell. The prior made no reply, and went away, thinking that the gaoler had made a mistake.
Saint John, at a later time, told one of his brethren that the heavenly light, which God so mercifully sent him, lasted the night through, and that it filled his soul with joy, and made the night pass away as if it were but a moment. When his imprisonment was drawing to its close, he heard our Lord say to him, as it were, out of the soft light that was around him ‘John, I am here; be not afraid; I will set thee free.’
On the eve of the Assumption of our Lady, 1578, when he had been eight months in prison, the prior came suddenly in with two of the friars, and found the saint on his knees in prayer. He was now so worn by his sufferings and so weak, as to be unable to rise when the prior entered. Indeed, he made no effort to do so, but continued his prayer, for he thought it was only his gaoler. The prior touched him rudely, and asked him why he had not stood up to receive him as subjects receive their superiors when visited by them. The prior honestly believed that his not rising up was an act of studied disrespect, and was greatly displeased. The servant of God begged to be forgiven so simply and so humbly, that the prior was softened for a moment, and asked him what he was thinking of. Saint John of the Cross made answer, ‘I was thinking that to-morrow is the Feast of the Assumption of our Lady, and that it would be a great joy to me if I could say Mass.’ The prior turned his back upon him saying, ‘Not in my time;’ and went his way.
The servant of our Lord was left alone in his sorrow, but sorrowing most that the next day he was neither to say nor hear Mass. But during the night that followed the day of the Assumption, our Blessed Lady herself came to the cell, radiant in the soft light of her presence, and said to him, ‘ My son, have patience, thy trials are nearly over; thou shalt leave thy prison, say Mass, and be glad.’ His heart dilated with joy at the words, and he began to consider how he was to make his escape. He knew that his gaolers would not release him, and he could not deliver himself. In this perplexity, but confident that an escape was possible, he continued for a day or two, and then our Lord Himself appeared to him during the Octave, and bade him be of good cheer, for He who enabled the Prophet Eliseus to divide the waters of the Jordan with the mantle of Elias, and cross the river, would, without any difficulty, deliver him out of the hands of his tormentors.
Hoping and believing that his deliverance was nigh, he took heart, and waited, but he was still unable to understand how it was to be wrought. Then, in the midst of his perplexities, our Lady appeared to him again, and in a vision showed him a window of the monastery from which the Tagus could be seen; he was to descend from that window, and she would save him from all danger. As he had never been in that monastery except as a prisoner, he knew nothing of the arrangements of the house, nor could he find his way to that window, even by daylight, still less in the darkness of the night. But the matter had been all prepared beforehand: the ordinary gaoler, who had been so harsh, was wanted for some other work, and a friar from Valladolid, of a more tender heart, had been now his guardian for some weeks. This friar, Fra John of Saint Mary, touched by the patience and silence and lack of complaint by his prisoner, became persuaded that he was a great saint. He therefore was as kind to him as he possibly could be, and softened the rigours of his prison, so far as obedience to his superiors allowed him. When the fathers were at recreation or resting in the heat of the day, he would take Saint John out of his cell and allow him to walk up and down the room to which it belonged. By degrees he gave him greater freedom, and suffered him to enter the corridor and even to look out of the windows. Thus it was that Saint John discovered the window showed him in the vision; and when he saw it he took special notice of it, feeling that the hour of his release was come.
He had been treated by his gaoler with all the kindness in the power of the brother to show him; and now, knowing that he was to be parted from him, he thanked him for his kindness, and begged him to forgive all the trouble he had given him. He then asked him to accept a crucifix which it seems the friars had not taken from him. The cross was made of some rare wood, on which the instruments of the Passion were admirably figured, and the image of our Lord was of bronze. The saint had worn it under his scapular, near his heart, and told his gaoler that he prized it highly himself, not for the workmanship, but because it had been given him by a most saintly per son, in whose possession it had been for some time He did not say that it was the gift, as it is believed, of Saint Teresa herself to him when he was confessor of the nuns of the incarnation, because at that time the name of Saint Teresa was hateful in the ears of the fathers of the mitigation; and this good friar from Valladolid was probably under the dominion of the same misconception, notwithstanding his great charity towards the servant of God.
Chapter 8: 1578
The escape – Dangers – The saint takes refuge in the monastery of Saint Joseph – Don Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza
When the servant of God saw the window which had been shown him in a vision, he knew that the time was come in which he was to make his escape. That very night, when his gaoler, after giving him his supper, went out of the cell for some water, he loosened the staple of the padlock on his door; the gaoler also, when he took leave of him for the night, forgot to take away the lamp, having seen nothing amiss with the fastening of the room.
Towards night the provincial, with some religious, came unexpectedly to the monastery, and two of them were lodged in the room through which the prison of Saint John was entered. At first that seemed another difficulty for the prisoner to overcome, but it was in reality a help, for as the weather was hot, the two religious kept the door of the room open for the sake of greater coolness. But they continued to converse together for a long time, and had placed their beds close to the door. Meanwhile, Saint John in his cell was making preparations; he tore the two cloaks, which they had given him to cover him at night, into strips, and tied them together that they might serve him for a rope. That done, he betook himself to prayer, in which he spent the rest of the time till the hour he had fixed for his going forth. About two o’clock in the morning he took up the iron lamp – it had probably gone out – with the rope he had made, and calling on our Lady to help him, he heard a voice within saying, ‘Be quick.’ He then shook the door, and the loosened staple gave way. But the noise it made disturbed the sleeping friars, who cried out, ‘Who is there?’ He made no answer, and they, knowing nothing of his presence, soon fell asleep again.
He now waited awhile, and when he thought that the two friars were once more sound asleep, he left his cell, crossed the room, and almost treading on the sleepers, passed out undiscovered to the corridor, straight to the window which he had seen in a vision. The window had a wooden parapet, the lower part of which was not then joined to the brickwork; in the opening he inserted the iron rod from which the lamp hung, and made his rope fast to it. Then commending himself to God and His most Holy Mother, he let himself down in the darkness to a place he had never seen in his life. The rope was much too short, and he, thinking he was near the ground, though in truth very far from it, and praying for help, let the rope go. He was neither stunned nor hurt, and yet he fell from a considerable height, and on loose stones, heaped there for the building of the church of the monastery. He was so near the city walls, that if he had fallen some two feet further off, he would have fallen on the other side of the wall, which in that place was very high.
He had left one prison to find himself in another, of which he knew nothing, for he was still within the precincts of the monastery, and the night was dark. He did not know his way, and no outlet was to be seen. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he saw a dog gnawing some bones which had been thrown near the heap of stones; he went up to the dog and frightened him away, meaning to follow the dumb brute, and thereby find a way out. The dog bounded over the wall, which, as he had heard from his gaoler, separated the monastery of the friars in that part from a courtyard of the Franciscan nuns of the monastery of the conception. The courtyard was behind the church, but not within the enclosure, and the wall was high. The saint was not only weak from his long imprisonment, but worn also by his descent from the window, so it was impossible for him to climb over the wall. In his distress he prayed again to our Blessed Lady for help, and somehow or other, he knew not how, he reached the top of the wall, and let himself down on the other side. He was now out of his prison, and outside the monastery also, but when he went round the courtyard of the nuns, his search was in vain for a way to escape. Two sides of that enclosure were girt by the city walls, underneath which the Tagus flowed; on the third side was the wall of the monastery out of which he had come; and the fourth side – the part of it which was next the city – was protected by another wall built on a high bank. He thought the dog had disappeared in that direction, and so he went to that side, but the wall was so high that he gave up at once all hopes of escape that way.
In his misery – for he felt that discovery in such a place would be worse than in any other – he went again round the court, but he could find no outlet; he was hemmed in between four walls, and there was no means of escape. He could do no more by human means, so he prayed that He who had begun to deliver him would be pleased to finish His work. While still praying for help he saw a wonderful light, out of which came a voice, saying, ‘Follow me.’ He followed, and the light moved before him towards the wall which was on the bank, and then he knew not how he found himself on the summit of it without effort or fatigue. He descended into the street, and then the light vanished. So brilliant was it, that for two or three days afterwards, so he confessed at a later time, his eyes were weak, as if he had been looking at the sun in its strength.
He had never been in Toledo, and knew not one street from another; he was therefore not safe; but giving hearty thanks to our Lord for his miraculous escape, and conf1dent that his deliverance would be complete, he took shelter in the porch of a large house which had been left open. Then when the day began to break he saw a woman making ready her wares for the public market of the city, and asked her the way to the monastery of the barefooted Carmelites It was the monastery founded by Saint Teresa, in 1568. The people looked at him with amazement as he walked through the streets, for he had on an old and worn habit, but no mantle, and his biographer says that his appearance was rather that of a man beside himself than of a grave religious of Carmel.
He knocked at the door of the monastery – it was about five o’clock – and at the turn he found sister Leonor of Jesus. He told her that he was John of the Cross, who had just escaped from prison, and now wished her to tell the mother prioress that he was there. The astonished sister lost no time in delivering her message; the news of his escape ran through the monastery in an instant, and made all the religious glad. He had been for eight months close to them, and yet none of them knew where he was.
At the moment of Saint John’s arrival at the door of the monastery, one of the sisters, Anne of the Mother of God, who had been ill for some time, thought her self to be in serious danger, and begged the confessor of the house might be sent for. Saint John had come in time, and the confessor was not disturbed. Weak and ill as he was, he ascended to the infirmary where the sister was supposed to be dying. The nuns saw that he could scarcely walk, and that he was worn and weary; so before he entered the infirmary they insisted on his taking food, which they provided for him at once.
Having recruited his strength, he went in to the infirmary, and while hearing the sister’s confession, the friars of the mitigation, out of whose prison he had made his escape during the night, came to the monastery with the officers of justice. They had discovered that their prisoner was gone, and searched the parlour, the confessional, the sacristy, and the church, for they were persuaded that he would go to that monastery, if not for refuge, certainly for the means of leaving Toledo, and they hoped to be in time to seize him. They did not find him, and went to seek for him elsewhere, having abstained from entering the infirmary.
The nuns kept the saint in the house, and, as long as they could, in the infirmary, which was a place of safety; for the friars, even if they returned in search of him, would hardly seek him there. The nuns asked him to tell them the story of his sufferings. They said it would comfort the sick sister to hear it; and he yielded to their wish. But in all he said there was not one word against the friars he had left, not any trace of ill-feeling; he made excuses for them, and threw on himself all the blame. Meanwhile the sisters were providing a habit for him, such as was befitting his order, for he was clad in the habit of the mitigation. Towards evening he went down to the church.
The prioress now sent for a great friend of the order, Don Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, canon and treasurer of the cathedral church, to whom she told what had taken place. It was impossible to lodge St. John in the monastery, and it was dangerous to send him out. Don Pedro’s carriage was waiting at the door, and into that Saint John hurried with the canon, who took him to his own lodgings, which at that time were within the hospital of the Holy Cross, he being the administrator of it that year. The saint remained with him some days, and then, when he had recovered his strength, Don Pedro sent two of his servants with him, who took him safely to the monastery of Almodovar del Campo, to the friars of his own order and profession.
The friars of the mitigation were very much distressed when they found that their prisoner had made his escape; they put the gaoler to penance, and deprived him for a time of his place in the chapter and choir. They were not a little troubled, however, when they found how he had got out of the monastery for they could not help seeing that the means were not naturally sufficient. The rope could not sustain the weight of his body; and its own weight alone would, under other circumstances, have detached the parapet from the wall, and bent the iron rod of the lamp from which it hung. Many of the religious, however, saw in this the hand of God, and were glad the prisoner was free.
Soon afterwards Saint Teresa returned to Toledo from Avila. The news of his escape had reached her before she left Avila, but it is probable that she could not learn how much the saint had suffered before she came to Toledo. When she heard the story of the imprisonment, which lasted eight months, she wished the Nuncio to be told of the way in which the friars of the mitigation, whom he befriended, had dealt with one who was wholly innocent, and of whom she said afterwards that ‘she was not worthy to suffer as he had done.’
Chapter 9: 1578
Troubles in the order – Chapter of Almodovar – Saint John of the Cross made vicar of Mount Calvary – Fall of Fra Pedro of the Angles – The saint visits Veas – Reforms the monastery – Mendicancy – Poverty – Writes on mystical theology
When Saint John of the Cross arrived in Almodovar, he found the great work he had begun in Duruelo ten years before in the utmost danger. Monsignore Sega, the Nuncio, unfriendly to it, had been made still more unfriendly by the conduct of Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, to whom the late Nuncio had intrusted it. Monsignore Sega was surprised at Fra Jerome’s acts, and very much displeased with him because he did not cease from the use of the faculties granted by the former Nuncio. He thought that Fra Jerome ought to have considered them as no longer lawful, and so, to make matters safe, he demanded of Fra Jerome the surrender of his faculties. Unhappily fra Jerome was weak enough to refuse, and in so doing disobeyed the Nuncio of the Pope. This refusal of Fra Jerome to give up his faculties was a great grief to Saint Teresa, and an annoyance to Monsignore Sega. It is true that learned lawyers had told Fra Jerome he might continue to exercise his office of visitor under the commission of the late Nuncio, notwithstanding the arrival of his successor, but it does not seem that they either did, or could, justify his refusal to surrender his faculties, when they were demanded by one who was the equal in authority of him who had granted them at first.
The Nuncio was determined to preserve his authority as legate of the Holy See. Though the king had given orders to his own officers to hinder the execution of the decrees of the Nuncio in the affairs of the religious orders, Monsignore Sega pursued his course, and appointed his own visitors – they were friars of the mitigation – recalling and quashing at the same time all the faculties hitherto held by Fra Jerome of the Mother of God.
The visitors appointed by the Nuncio entered on their work, and in August 1578 went to Pastrana to receive the submission of the friars there; Saint John of the Cross being at the time in prison in Toledo. The people of Pastrana, when they heard of their approach, went to the governor, and insisted on his executing the king’s orders; in other words, on his hindering the visitation. The friars themselves, at least some of them, were ready enough to resist, under the protection of the civil authorities, but happily better counsels prevailed, and the visitors were admitted. Fra Jerome himself, by the advice of a pious lay brother, gave way, submitted to the visitors, and resigned his commission.
At this time the prior of Manzera, Fra John of Jesus, came to Madrid on the affairs of his order, and presented himself before the Nuncio. The Nuncio would not even hear him, and ordered him to remain a prisoner in the Carmelite house of the mitigation. From his prison he wrote to the Nuncio, begging at least to be heard in his own defense, but apparently in vain. After some time the Nuncio went to the monastery, and all the fathers, except the prior of Manzera, came forth to receive him. When he had entered the choir, he asked for Fra John of Jesus, and as he was not present, desired him to be sent for. The Nuncio received him courteously, and asked him what he had to say; he replied that he wished to defend his brethren the barefooted friars. Thereupon the Nuncio ordered the friars of the mitigation to withdraw, and Fra John made his defense. But as soon as he uttered the name of Saint Teresa, the Nuncio could not restrain himself, and spoke of her as an unquiet, gadabout, disobedient, and obstinate woman, who under colour of piety was bringing in dangerous doctrines, who went about the country, careless about enclosure and the decrees of the council of Trent, teaching, though a woman, in despite of Saint Paul, who forbade women to teach. The friar heard this with amazement; but he took courage, and begged to be allowed to speak. The Nuncio gave him leave, and he spoke again so truly and so well, so humbly and yet so firmly, in defense of Saint Teresa, showing that she had acted in everything, and always, under obedience of her superiors, that the Nuncio at last showed signs of relenting. Fra John, seeing the change, proposed to him the separation of the barefooted friars from those of the mitigation. The Nuncio listened, and then asked Fra John why the friars of the reform, having a rule of their own and wearing a different habit, should find any inconvenience in being governed by a friar of the mitigation. Fra John said the friars of the mitigation would not govern them according to their rule, for their aim was to suppress them. When the Nuncio had considered the matter for a moment, he said to Fra John, ‘You shall not be governed then by the friars of the mitigation,’ and he told him further to write to all the monasteries of the reform that the Nuncio would himself attend to all their affairs.
The courage of Fra John was met by the justice of the Nuncio; and as the latter, hitherto unfriendly to the reform, was now won over, the troubles of the order might have ended here. The friars were numerous, having many houses, and novices were everywhere pressing in; and, as we learn from Saint Teresa, the primitive rule was at this time professed by more than two hundred friars.
But peace was not to be yet. The Nuncio now heard of the royal decrees issued for the purpose of hindering him in the execution of his duties as visitor of the order. Unhappily he persuaded himself that those decrees had been issued at the instance of the barefooted friars of Saint Teresa, and so, suspecting the fathers of dishonesty, sent for Fra John of Jesus, and reprimanded with great severity. He then ordered him to make a retreat for two months in Madrid, and retire to his monastery of Manzera.
There was more trouble in Carmel. Some of the friars – of whom Fra Antonio of Jesus was the chief – determined to hold a chapter in Almodovar del Campo, though they were without a provincial, and though the government of them was, by delegation of the Nuncio, in the hands of the friars of the mitigation. Fra Antonio had been elected definitor in the chapter held in Almodovar del Campo, in September 1576; and now that Fra Jerome had resigned his office of provincial, he believed himself to have some authority in the order, notwithstanding the resumption by the Nuncio of all authority in it. In this he was fortified by lawyers, who advised him according to his wishes; so he summoned a chapter to meet in Almodovar, on the 9th day of October 1578.
This was against the opinion of Saint Teresa, who, in a letter to Fra Jerome, says she was glad to hear from him they were not going to elect a provincial, ‘though fra Antonio told me,’ she writes, ‘they were bound under pain of sin to do so; however, I did not contradict him.’ The saint made no objection because she thought it was too late: but she never approved of the proceedings in Almodovar del Campo.
Fra Antonio, as the definitor, presided in the chapter; his brethren elected him provincial of the reform. Saint John of the Cross, newly escaped out of prison, withheld his consent, for he regarded the election as illegal, and beyond their power. The assembled fathers would not attend to him, and went on with their work from day to day as if they were met together in a lawful chapter, with full authority to do what they were doing. Fra John of Jesus in Madrid heard of these doings, and instead of returning to Manzera, as the Nuncio had ordered him, hastened to Almodovar, in the hope of being able to dissuade his brethren from their illegal courses. When he arrived, he pointed out to them that they had no authority whatever, and that the election of a provincial was an act of disobedience to the Nuncio, and of separation from their brethren; they were therefore setting up a new order without the sanction of the Pope, which was unlawful, and, at the same time, rebelling against their immediate superior, the Nuncio of his Holiness.
Fra John, as Saint John of the Cross before him, preached to unwilling hearers, and, the chapter ended, was ordered into prison by his brethren, where he was kept for a month, that he might not tell the Nuncio the story of their deeds. These friars had suffered themselves; but they were none the less ready to make Fra John suffer also. In the same chapter, against the wishes of Saint Teresa, they chose two of their brethren to go to Rome to obtain the confirmation of their acts; one of them was Fra Pedro of the Angels, prior of the monastery of Mount Calvary, a zealous and austere man, who had left the mitigation for the reform; he was regarded as a saint by his brethren because of the great graces which God had bestowed upon him. Saint John of the Cross, however, was not comforted by the choice, and divinely enlightened, said to Fra Pedro, ‘You are going, my father, shoeless to Rome; but you will return to Spain shod.’ The prophecy was accomplished. Fra Pedro became lax, and betrayed his trust through weakness; and on his return to Spain, having done no service whatever to the order, went back to his brethren of the mitigation in their monastery in Granada, where he ended his days under a cloud of sorrow and of shame.
Fra Pedro, on his admission to the monastery of the mitigation in Granada, sold the mantle he had worn as a barefooted friar. Anne of Jesus, the prioress of the monastery there, heard of this, and was grievously distressed. She sent the sacristan to buy it back, and at the same time made Fra Pedro know how much she had been pained by his act, and that he who despised the serge of our Lady would not long wear the finer stuff of the mitigation. He had been prior of Mount Calvary, and confessor of Anne of Jesus when she was in Veas. Fra Pedro was greatly disturbed, and went to the monastery to speak to Anne of Jesus, but she would neither speak to him nor allow him to enter the house. He made many useless efforts to speak to her, and great personages in Granada, at his request, interceded for him, among others the president of the Chancery. Anne was inexorable, and said ‘ let him take care that he never sets a foot in the house, for he may be punished severely if he does so.’
One day, however, as he passed by the monastery of Anne of Jesus, he saw the door of the Church wide open, and said to his companion, ‘Let us go in and pray.’ They went in, and during his prayer he saw his fault in so clear a light that he fell into a fit of uncontrollable weeping, and his eyes were drawn out of their sockets. He was led back with great difficulty to his monastery, and in a few days was dead; having borne his sufferings with great patience, and bitterly repented his fall. When Anne of Jesus heard of his death, she said, ‘I knew it must be so if he ever came to this house, and that was why I refused to admit him; and yet he was a great servant of God, and a good religious.’
But as Fra Pedro was prior of Mount Calvary, and as his brethren were now sending him to Rome, they must supply his absence in that monastery. They elected Saint John of the Cross to be the vicar of the house during the rest of the term of the priorate of Fra Pedro, if he should be absent so long, and also made him confessor of the nuns in Veas, where Anne of Jesus was then prioress.
Fra Antonio, the new provincial, perhaps not without grave misgivings, went with some of his brethren from Almodovar to Madrid. He presented himself before the Nuncio, and told Monsignore Sega that he and his brethren had come to him from the chapter to obtain the confirmation of Fra Antonio as provincial of the barefooted friars. The Nuncio, hearing the words chapter, election, provincial, and knowing that all had been done without his consent, who was their superior, stopped all further discourse, pronounced their acts a nullity, and ordered them into prison, excommunicating at the same time all those who had any share in the unhappy proceedings in Almodovar. Believing the friars to be wholly dishonest in all their dealings with him, and that they could not be trusted, he appointed friars of the mitigation to govern all the houses of the reform, which was the most certain road to their final suppression.
Saint John of the Cross had left Almodovar before the Nuncio had heard of the ill-advised doings of the illegal chapter, and on his way to Mount Calvary stopped at Veas to see the nuns there, and especially the prioress, the venerable Anne of Jesus. The nuns rejoiced to see the confessor who had suffered so much for the order, and who was the great pillar of the reform among the friars. The prioress, while he was in the parlour, desired one of the nuns to sing. The sister sang, and her song was of the blessedness of suffering.
Quien no sabe de penas
En este triste valle de dolores,
No sabe de buenas
Ni ha gustado de amores.
Pues penas es el traje de Amadores.
But almost as soon as she began, the servant of God felt that he was about to fall into a trance, so he made a sign to the religious to cease, but it was too late; so he clung to the bars of the grating lest his body should be lifted up from the ground. He remained for an hour lost in prayer, insensible to all around him; and thus the nuns of Veas became witnesses of the marvels seen before by the nuns of the incarnation in Avila when he was confessor there.
From Veas he went to the monastery of Mount Calvary, far away from the tumults of men in the solitudes of Andalucia. The friars of Penuela had removed thither in December, 1576, in obedience to a decree of the first chapter of Almodovar, held September 8th of that year. Penuela was an unhealthy place, the friars were always sickly, and death was frequent among them; the chapter therefore decided that the place should be abandoned. The prior, Fra Pedro of the Angels, removed the community, thirty in number, and established it in a solitude called Corencuela; the monastery was henceforth known as the monastery of Mount Calvary.
Fra Pedro was a man of great zeal, mortified and laborious; he had also the gift of prayer and was often seen lost in rapture. He was at this time greatly thought of in the order, for he had been chosen as the delegate of the friars to go to Rome, in the first chapter of Alraodovar, as well as in the second. The pressure of other matters hindered the first choice from being effective, and Fra Pedro did not leave Spain, but now he went; and it would have done no harm to the brethren if he had stayed at home, so far as their public affairs were concerned. But not so as to the government of the monastery of Mount Calvary. He had been at least indiscreet, and had sanctioned many practices which were not wise. As before in Pastrana, so now in Corencuela, Saint John of the Cross, whose whole life was one continued mortification, had to restrain and temper the mortification of others, by checking certain practices and observances which had either crept in or had been openly brought in, without clear warrant of the rule and constitutions.
There were men there, as elsewhere, who defended these novelties, but the servant of God would not allow them. When the friars who adopted these irregular practices and defended them against his advice, told him that they were within their right, because the rule allows things to be done which are not enjoined by it, he answered that the permission was for single persons, not for whole communities, and that the general order of the house should never be disturbed by practices not sanctioned by the rule, or by any observances which any member of it might adopt for his own sanctification. They urged upon him the further consideration that this house was in a remote and lonely place, far away from the concourse of men, and that as none claimed their services outside the monastery, they were therefore free, if not bound, to lead a more rigorous and penitential life, and might lawfully observe many practices not to be found in other houses of the order.
Saint John of the Cross would not give way before any plausibilities of this kind; he insisted on the careful observance of the rule and constitutions by which their lives were to be ordered. They were to attain to perfection in a definite way, and not by haphazard – inventions of their own – or by ways otherwise good and fitting for other orders. The friars of Carmel were called to one special kind of life; and they would miss their road if they departed from it. He would not allow the community, though the friars had no work to do outside the house, to burden itself with any practices which were not observed throughout the order. These novelties were full of danger; for those houses in which the irregularities were allowed would be shunned by the old friars, worn out by their labours, and only the young and the strong would frequent them: which would be an injury to all. The old friars would lose the rest and solitude necessary for contemplation, which in most of the houses might be difficult to find; and the young friars, not having yet reached the perfection of their state, would be carried away by the sweetness of excessive penance, and miss the road to solid devotion.
On this subject we have his judgment given at this very time, in the sixth chapter of the first book of the Dark Night:
‘Many beginners, delighting in the sweetness and joy which they find in such practices, seek after spiritual sweetness more than pure and true devotion, which is that which God regards and accepts in the whole course of the spiritual road. For which reason, over and above their imperfection in seeking after sweetness in devotion, the spirit of gluttony which has taken possession of them forces them to overstep the bounds of moderation, within which virtue is acquired and consists. Allured by the sweetness they find therein, some of them kill themselves by penance, and others weaken themselves by fasting, taking upon themselves, without rule or advice, more than their weakness can bear; they try rather to hide their doings from those whom they are bound to obey in the matter, and some even dare to practice austerities expressly forbidden them. These are full of imperfections, people without reason, who put aside discretion and submission and obedience which is the penance of reason, and therefore a sacrifice more sweet and acceptable to God than all the other acts of bodily penance. Bodily penance is full of imper Sections, if that of the rule be neglected, because men are drawn to it simply because they like it, and find pleasure in it.’
This seems to have been a difficulty which Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa had to fight against every where; both friars and nuns were fond of novelties; they were ready to add to the rule, and devise new ways of perfection. Saint Teresa, speaking of her own special children, the nuns, says she was edified by much that she saw; but she adds, ‘I would rather they kept the rule.’ In the same sense she wrote to Fra Jerome of the Mother of God himself, 22 May 1578; for even he could not refrain from adding to the burdens of communities. ‘ Believe me,’ said the saint, ‘ these houses are doing well, and need not to be laden with more observances, which are a burden to the nuns. Do not forget this, I entreat you. What we have to do is to insist on keeping the constitutions, nothing more; enough is done when they are kept.’ Again, in another letter to the same father, written about eighteen months before her death, she complains of her own prioresses: I wish we had the constitutions printed, for they are not everywhere alike, and many a prioress, not thinking that she is doing anything out of the way, leaves out or puts in what she likes when copying them.’
On this subject Saint Teresa was firm. She knew the dangers of novelties, and the security of beaten tracks; and that the true director of souls was our Lord, Who had called them to serve Him in a particular way. ‘ Our Lord leads souls,’ she wrote, ‘ by different roads; but the prioresses must keep in mind that they have not been appointed to guide souls by ways which they like themselves, but by the way of the rule and constitutions.’
Saint John of the Cross was always pitiless whenever he came across the extravagances of men who were too wise in their own eyes to keep the law under which they were to live. The excesses of Corencuela he lopped off, as he had lopped off before the like excesses in Pastrana. He who was so austere him self was never austere with others; he would not impose rules of his own devising, nor allow others to impose them, if they were without authority to do it, and he had authority to restrain them. As in the government of communities, so in the direction of single persons, he never made himself their master. He did but administer the law, and watch over its observance. ‘Spiritual directors,’ he said, ‘are not the chief workers, but rather the Holy Ghost; they,’ he added, ‘are mere instruments, only to guide souls by the rule of faith and the law of God, according to the spirit which God gives to each. Their object, therefore, should be not to guide souls by a way of their own, suitable to themselves; but to ascertain, if they can, the way by which God himself is guiding them.’
Experience also showed how right the two saints were in their resistance to these observances, which were unwisely added to the rule. The prior of Corencuela fell away from the order; and the novice master in Pastrana was so wedded to his own inventions that he could not submit to a higher authority without great murmuring and discontent: a sure proof of self-will.
While he was checking extravagances, and moderating penances in others, his own life was the most penitential in the house. But his penances never were in the way, and his austerities never interfered with the regular observance of the community. His cell was the poorest and the most scantily furnished. He had in it but two books, his Breviary and the sacred writings; if he wanted other books he went to the library for them, and took them back as soon as he had done with them. He slept about two hours during the night, the rest was spent in prayer, either in the church before the Most Holy, or in his cell. He resumed the terrible penances of Duruelo, and gave his body no rest; and that was the only creature of God to which he showed himself without mercy.
The former prior of Mount Calvary, among other mortifications visible to the outer world, had allowed the friars to go out to beg for the monastery. Saint John of the Cross had always resisted this; it was not directed by the rule, and was in his eyes the high-road to dissipation, and the loss of that recollected spirit which is one of the graces and charms of Carmel. He would not allow any begging, under any conditions. The friars were the servants of God, he said, who had left everything to follow Him; and He, as the good Master of the house, would provide for their wants. The faith of the saint was strong and clear, and it pained him to see one of his religious give way to uneasy thoughts about the sustenance of his brethren.
One day he was told that there was no food in the house; but he was not troubled by the news. The community came to the refectory, according to the custom, at the appointed time; for he had given orders that no change should be made. A fragment of bread was found, and by his direction brought into the refectory, and grace was said. The fathers sat down before an empty table, and Saint John spoke to them of the hidden graces of poverty, of the merit of suffering, and conformity to the will of God, with so much unction that the fathers left the refectory with their hearts on fire; and gave thanks to God for His special mercy in leaving them that day without food to eat. They withdrew to their cells, and no sooner had they begun to prepare themselves for prayer than the whole house was disturbed by a loud knocking at the outer gate.
The porter went to the door, and saw there a man with a letter in his hand addressed to the vicar. The porter took it, and finding Saint John in the church, in prayer before the Most Holy, gave it to him. The saint opened it, and as soon as he saw what it meant, began to cry like a man in pain. The porter was greatly distressed, and begged the saint to tell him why he was weeping so bitterly. The saint replied, ‘I cry, my brother, because God thinks us too weak to bear hunger any longer; He could not trust us for one day, and is sending us food.’ In the course of the afternoon a servant of Dofia Philippa da Caravajal came from Ubeda with two mules laden with pro visions for the house.
On another occasion the community found itself without food for the sick fathers in the infirmary. The religious went down to the church to pray before the Most Holy, and while they were in prayer, abundant supplies of provision with medicine and two hundred reals were sent them by Don Andres Ortega Cabrio, who knew nothing whatever of the distress of the monastery which he was thus unexpectedly relieving.
In the town of Iznatorafe, distant about six miles from the monastery, was a man possessed of the devil, and whom the exorcisms of Holy Church had hitherto failed to deliver. His friends and relatives, having heard of the sanctity of the vicar of Mount Calvary, implored him to come to their relief. The saint yielded to their importunities, and went to Iznatorafe. The man possessed was brought to him; and the evil spirit, which had so cruelly tormented him, betraying before all who were present the terror which had seized upon him, in a whining voice began to complain that another Saint Basil had come. The servant of God commanded him, in the name of Christ, to cease from his possession, and on the instant the evil spirit departed; the man being restored to perfect health of mind and body, to the great joy of the people. But the devil, thus defeated, was bent on revenge; and entering into a woman, who lived in a village through which the servant of God had to pass on his way home, there waited his coming. When the saint had arrived, the woman came forth to meet him, and begged him to come into her house; but he, recognizing his enemy, turned away, saying he would rather go into hell than into her house.
From Corencuela he went once in every week to Veas, to hear the confessions of the nuns there, to their great consolation and help. The road was hilly and rough; but he, with his worn frame, went always on foot, never heeding either weather or distance.
The nuns were earnestly recommended by Saint Teresa through the prioress, Anne of Jesus, to have recourse to his services; for he was a man, she said, of ‘very great spirituality, learning, and experience.’ On another occasion she writes to the same prioress, and says that she has ‘not found one like him in all Castille.’
In the monastery of Mount Calvary, the saint began to write on mystical theology; and two of his books, the Subida del Monte Carmelo and the Noche escura del Alma, were written there.
Chapter 10: 1579
Foundation of Baeza – Poverty of the house – Miraculous succours – The Saint at Mass – Dona Maria de la Paz
One day in Veas, while conversing with some of the nuns, the servant of God said that he should not be long their confessor. They were surprised, and asked the reason; after some difficulty, for the words probably escaped him, he told them that he must leave Corencuela for Baeza, where another house of the order would be soon founded. When the nuns had heard this, they said they were not troubled at the news, for another foundation was then impossible. So it seemed at the time, because the Nuncio had for bidden the foundation of more monasteries; and there was no sign of any change in his dealings with the reform of Saint Teresa.
Nevertheless, the light broke in upon the Nuncio at last, and he confessed that he had been too hasty in trusting to the reports of the friars of the mitigation. He therefore recalled his prohibition, and allowed the friars of the reform to found monasteries as before. In the very beginning of April, 1579, he made Fra Angel de Salazar superior of the reformed friars and nuns, forbidding both friars and nuns at the same time to obey any of the prelates of the mitigation.
The people of Baeza, a rich and noble city, seeing the fathers of the reform in Penuela, wished to have them also within their own gates. The inhabitants were once a fierce race, divided into two factions; partisans of two noble families at enmity one with another. The city was dishonoured by brawling, fighting, and murder; the civil authority had neither power nor influence, and the city seemed doomed. Into this dwelling-place of unceasing bloodshed came the holy and venerable priest who has earned the title of the Apostle of Andalucia, Juan of Avila, with the determination, by the grace of God, to put an end to so much misery, and to quench hereditary hatreds. He preached in the churches and in private houses, in season and out of season, rebuking these inveterate sinners in all patience and doctrine. The people of Baeza yielded in the end, and laid their unholy feuds aside; and that Babylon of sin and disorder became, through his preaching, a city of peace and rest.
The venerable priest by whose ministry this miracle was wrought established schools in the place, and made provision for the teaching of Christian doctrine. Moreover, at the request of Don Rodrigo Lopez, chaplain of Paul III, he undertook the charge of all the schools in Baeza, including the university then founded, for the foundation of which Don Rodrigo obtained a Bull from his Holiness.
It was a marvellous conversion, and its fruits were gathered in for more than forty years. At this time, when the barefooted friars of Carmel were invited to Baeza, the lay people were said to be like ecclesiastics and the ecclesiastics like religious. The students of the university were more like men than boys, heard Mass every morning, on Fridays held conferences on Christian doctrine, and on Saturdays visited the hospitals, nursed the sick and made their beds. No one was admitted to his degree in that university who had not, as part of his exercises, spent some days on the missions in the country round; and the university of Baeza, in spite of the learning of its doctors, was commonly regarded more as a religious community than a gathering of students, with their professors.
It was from this place, in the spring of 1579, that Fra Angel de Salazar, the new superior of the bare footed Carmelites, received a request for friars. Fra Angel, though himself a friar of the mitigation, was always friendly to the reform; and if he had not been frightened by his brethren in 1562, the reform might have been peaceably established, for he had once consented to it. Now that he was in power, he exercised his authority gently, and without any difficulty, yielding to the wishes of the people of Baeza, ordered Saint John of the Cross to make the foundation there.
The saint, in obedience to the commandment of his superior, went from Corencuela to the old house of Penuela, which had been peopled again by the friars after the emigration to Mount Calvary. The friars were glad to recover their former and cherished solitude, and the inhabitants of the country round had begged them to return. Fra Francis of the Conception, then confessor of the nuns in Malagon, was made prior by Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, the house being re-founded 11 August 1577.
From that house the saint took some of its members for the new foundation, and whilst staying in it, having obtained through the vicar-general of Jaen the sanction of the ordinary for the foundation, purchased a house in Baeza for 1800 ducats, the greater part of which sum was furnished by Dr. Pedro Roman, prior of the church of Iznatorafe. All the preparations being made, he returned to Mount Calvary, and thence, with his religious on foot and fasting, set out for Baeza – all the furniture they had being carried by one ass – on Saturday in Whitsun week, June 13, 1579.
They arrived in the evening, after a journey of nearly eighteen miles, and made preparations for the opening of the house on the following day. The next morning, which was Trinity Sunday, the little bell of the community, hung out of a window, was rung; Saint John of the Cross said Mass, and took possession. Fra Francis of the Conception, prior of Penuela, and three famous doctors of the university, known in Paris and Salamanca, Bernardin de Carleval, Diego Perez de Valdiera, and Pedro de Ojeda, were present at the ceremony.
This house was a college like that founded in Alcala de Henares in 1570, and Saint John of the Cross was founder and rector. The vice-rector was Fra Juan of Jesus, commonly called the saint, who had come from Penuela, with his prior, Fra Francis of the Conception, the founder of the college in Alcala nearly nine years before. A saintly priest, Alvaro Nunez Marzelo, who had helped greatly in the second foundation of Penuela, came to see the friars. He was shown the house and all it contained. The altar of their temporary church alone was furnished; the rest of the house was bare; and the furniture even of the altar was of the poorest kind consistent with reverence. The priest was edified exceedingly, and went his way. But he could not drive out of his thoughts the memory of what he had seen, so he sent some mattresses at once to the college, that the fathers might have at least something to sleep on. The messenger went with his burden, and the porter who opened the door for him told Saint John of the charity of the ‘Padre Marzelo.’ The rector was most grateful, as he always was for the slightest kindness shown him, but he would not accept the gift of the tender-hearted priest. ‘The Carmelites,’ he said, ‘sleep on the floor when well, and at present there is no sickness in the house.’
Saint John of the Cross had come from the prison in Toledo, where he had learned the inestimable worth of suffering and poverty, from the depths of which God had raised him to such heights of prayer as surpass the power of words to describe. He had seen and tasted, and would not throw away the heavenly food, nor refuse it to his brethren within the measure of the rule. He governed the house and trained it – as he had trained the others over which he had been placed – in silence, by prayer and meditation, and by the strict observance of the rule and constitutions. The doctors of the university could not refrain from the praise of the new house even in their public sermons, and the odour of its good name was spread abroad throughout Andalucia. The friars were hardly ever seen out of their church; only the students went abroad to the public lectures; and these were so recollected and so mortified as to cause devotion in those who saw them pass. Though the house was founded for the service of the students, yet such was the order and recollection of it that novices were admitted into it, and that without any inconvenience whatever either to them or to the students.
As the rector of the house, Saint John of the Cross was compelled to unite the active with the contemplative life; he had many cares necessarily, and often had to converse with seculars; living as he was on the alms of the faithful, he had obligations to fulfill towards those who did him good, and his very profession of a mendicant was a law that required of him a certain subjection to the importunities of strangers. In all this he was exact; but the silence of the house was never disturbed, and the religious were not seen in the streets. He commended his benefactors to the care of God, and served them to the utmost of his power in the pulpit and the confessional. He would not allow that there was any necessity for appearing abroad; a religious outside his monastery being in his opinion like a fish out of the water, on the point of spiritual death. If there was at any time any real necessity for the procurator’s going out, he always charged him to be very careful not to be too pressing, and to abstain as much as possible from troubling those on the affairs of the house with whom they were most familiar.
It happened more than once that the friars came to the refectory to find nothing but empty tables; on which Saint John would say, ‘We may return to our cells; for as we have nothing to eat, it is a proof that we ought not to do so, seeing that our Lord has not provided for us.’ But as our Lord never disappoints those who trust in Him, so was it in Baeza; for when the house was utterly empty, there would come men with provisions to the gate of the college sufficient for the wants of all therein.
The year 1580 was a year of sickness in Spain, and the house in Baeza suffered like the rest. At one time there were twenty friars in the infirmary – some of whom had been sent thither from Mount Calvary – and there were neither beds for them to lie on, nor food to nourish them, nor medicine to give them. The procurator in his distress went to the rector, and begged he might be allowed to go out to seek help from the charity of the town. The rector replied that he longed himself for means to relieve the sick, but he did not think it was right to be troublesome to those outside. ‘We have our Lord in the house to help us,’ he said; ‘and instead of wasting our time in going about the streets, let us spend it in the choir and ask Him to help us, and He will do it.’ The procurator had to be satisfied with the answer, and Saint John went to the church to pray. That very night, and again early the next morning, some good people sent twenty mattresses and much food to the house, and the sick were all relieved.
Some of the friars said to him one day, that people complained of him because none of the friars went to their houses for the alms they had ready for the college. ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘if these people really mean to help us, God would make them send the alms without being asked by us.’
He disliked exceedingly the too easy relations of some of the friars with the world without; and he was sore distressed when he heard that a grave superior was lax in his watchfulness over preachers and confessors whom he allowed to go out of their monasteries, and to burden themselves with the trifles which men in the world call business, and which was not the business of Carmel. On one occasion he was speaking of this to Fra John of Saint Anne, and at last broke out in the vehemence of his spirit, saying, ‘Look to it, father John, if any man, even a superior, were ever to tempt you with enlightened notions, even if he confirmed them with miracles, do not believe in them or accept them, but rather cling to penance and detachment from all things; do not seek Christ except on the cross. He has called us to be the barefooted friars of the Virgin to follow Him on the cross, and not to seek our own ease and comfort. Remember, and do not forget this, for it is a matter of grave importance.’
One day, at recreation with the friars, there came in one whose hood was of finer cloth than is usually worn, and some of them took notice of it, as a breach of holy poverty. The friar, not seeing Saint John, who was in another part of the room, replied with some confidence that a coarse habit was not an essential part of sanctity. Alas for his knowledge of theology! Saint John of the Cross heard the unlucky words, so unseemly in the mouth of a barefooted friar of the Carmel of Saint Teresa, and, like another Elias, broke forth in a storm of thunder upon his head. He made him know and feel that the sanctity of his vocation at least depended on a coarse habit; for he took his fine hood from him, and made him put on another worn and mended, that he might learn to value what he thought was of no worth. ‘He who does not love a poor habit is not worthy to wear it,’ said the saint, ‘and shows that he has not cleansed his soul of the filth of the world; and his religion is vain, who, being in conscience obliged to be a religious, outwardly resembles seculars.’
His great devotion to the Most Holy Trinity was observed now in Baeza by his brethren. The nuns of Veas had observed it before. He was continually saying the Mass of the Holy Trinity. They asked him one day why he said that Mass so often. He answered pleasantly, as if he could thereby hide his great devotion, ‘I say the Mass of the Most Holy Trinity because there is no one more holy in heaven.’
Saying Mass had become to him now what it is to so many saints, at once a torment and a joy. The in flowing of the divine communications was so abundant and so vehement as to overpower occasionally all resistance on his part; the humble and lowly servant of God, whose only wish was to be hidden from men, suffered exceedingly when these communications became known and visible to others. One day, while saying Mass in Baeza, all his efforts proved unavailing; for when he had drunk the Most Precious Blood, and before he could replace the chalice on the altar, his soul was carried away by the divine communications, and he remained motionless as if dead. After some time he recovered himself partially; but being still unconscious of the place he was in, and of the act he had done, he came down from the altar, and made for the sacristy, that he might hide himself and be alone. The people were amazed, and looked one to the other in wonder and awe; at last a pious woman, mother Penuela – so was she commonly called – broke the silence and cried out: ‘ The saint is unable to go on; call for the angels to finish the Mass, for they alone can do it with the true devotion.’ The friars in the house heard of what had happened, and one of them came down into the church, led the holy man back to the altar, and helped him to finish the Mass.
The nuns of Caravaca were in sore trouble, and Saint John of the Cross, at the request of Saint Teresa, went thither to console them. While there the nuns saw rays of light around him at the altar, and the prioress, Mother Anne of Saint Albert, asked him in the confessional – whither she betook herself to be ready for him as soon as he had made his thanksgiving – what had happened to him while at the altar; he replied at once, with great simplicity, that God revealed Himself to his soul with such force that he could hardly complete the sacrifice, and that he was occasionally afraid to say Mass.
Doñia Maria de la Paz thought the servant of God was a man without much learning, grounding her opinion on the simplicity of his speech, and the absence of that peculiar pomp which men who think themselves learned generally affect; but she never gave utterance to the thought. One day she went to his confessional, and before she could begin her confession, the holy man said, ‘I am a sinner, my child, that is true; but I am not ignorant.’
‘Why say that to me, father?’ asked Do˜a Maria.
‘Because you need it,’ was the answer of the saint.
The same lady on another occasion was troubled by some scruple or other, and wished to go to confession to one of the friars, and for that purpose went to the church. The brother to whom she spoke went to the father rector to ask for a confessor, without saying a word more. The saint said, ‘Tell her to go home; there is no necessity for her to go to confession.’ The brother delivered the message, and Doña Maria was amazed.
On another occasion she was in the church, and in great distress of mind. Saint John of the Cross came out of his confessional – around which a considerable crowd was waiting – and went up to her, heard her confession at once, and sent her home calm and tranquil, delivered from all her troubles.
One day Doña Maria wished to take a severe discipline, even unto blood. So she went to the saint and asked his permission. He consented at once, and ordered her to make use of a woollen cord for her purpose. She was a saintly woman, and obeyed him to the letter.
Chapter 11: 1579 – 1581
Peace restored to the order – Election of Fra Jerome – The saint returns to Baeza from the chapter – made prior of Granada – his visits of ceremony – discourages begging – his charity
The storm that threatened to destroy the Carmel of Saint Teresa died away in April 1579, when Saint John of the Cross was vicar of the house in Corencuela. Two friars, Fra John of Jesus and Fra Diego of the Trinity, chosen by Saint Teresa herself, were sent to Rome, to perfect the work begun by the Nuncio. Travelling in disguise, lest they should fall into the hands of their brethren of the mitigation, and be thrown into prison, they arrived in Rome safely, and notwithstanding much opposition, obtained from Gregory XIII the separation of the friars of the reform from those of the mitigated observance. The Bull of the Pope is dated 11 June 1580, and was put into execution in the beginning of March 1581, in Alcala de Henares, when Fra Jerome of the Mother of God was, by a majority of one, elected provincial of the order; Saint John of the Cross being elected one of the definitors.
The storm from without was over, but the storm from within began to gather. Fra Jerome’s election was brought about by the influence of Saint Teresa herself, exercised through the president of the chapter, Fra Juan de las Cuevas, then prior of the Dominicans in Talavera. Fra Jerome was a pleasant and affectionate man, unwilling to displease anybody; a man of flowing and tender devotion; but wanting in that firmness of character which comes close to severity, because it is just. He had great gifts, and was one of the most conspicuous friars of the reform, singularly trusted by Saint Teresa, who had a strong affection for him, though she had grave misgivings all the while. He had all the tenderness of Saint Teresa, but he had not all her strength; he was generally wise and ready in the affairs of the order, but the common sense of the foundress had not been granted to him, and so he made enemies in his house, out of the very sincerity and simplicity of his heart. It is confessed that he was a most holy man, but of an effusive spirit, active if not restless, loving external work, and disinclined to be alone. A great preacher, full and flowing, and fond of the work, his winning ways and graceful habits made him popular in the world, and in that breath of applause that followed he unhappily dilated and felt its influence. Then the charm of his manner was so great, that hardly any one could resist it, and it nearly won over the stern hearts of some of his more resolute brethren. He did good service to his order, and though he did it in his own way, he did it innocently, firmly believing that the primitive rule which he had professed fully sanctioned the many innovations of his rule.
Saint Teresa knew that many of the friars were unwilling to elect him as their provincial, and it distressed her very much; but she knew that his election was then necessary for the order, and so she exerted all her strength to secure it. She hoped probably to supply that which was wanting in Fra Jerome by the great gifts of Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria, the famous Doria, who had made his profession about a year before. Fra Nicolas she wished to see elected as the fellow of the provincial, for his zeal and austerity would be a check on the easy gentleness of Fra Jerome. She was not disappointed, for the friars elected fra Nicolas to be the fellow of the provincial; but Fra Jerome, as if aware of the intentions of his brethren and bent on thwarting them, and too indulgent to his own will, continued Fra Nicolas in his place as prior of Pastrana. He also made him provincial-vicar of New Castille, and at the same time announced his resolution to send him on behalf of the order to make known to the general what had been done in the chapter held in Alcala de Henares. This was removing Fra Nicolas from Spain, and making it impossible for him to dis charge the duties of the office in which he had been placed by his brethren. The friars believed that all this was done for the purpose of releasing himself from the vexation of being constantly watched by so zealous a friar as Fra Nicolas; they were probably not wrong, and resented his conduct. Nevertheless, it could hardly be a matter of doubt that Fra Nicolas, a Genoese, was the fittest man in the order to send to Rome, for he was not only a most able and sagacious man, but also familiar with the habits of those to whom he was about to be sent.
Fra Jerome in this disappointed both Saint Teresa and the friars, and chose Fra Bartholomew of Jesus for his fellow in the enforced absence of Fra Nicolas; and it was not a good choice. Saint Teresa had warned him, at least indirectly, for she was afraid of that friar because of his health, and because of the indulgences he required on that account, and which it was certain the provincial would not refuse.
She warned him on the 17th February, 1581, before the chapter was held; but she returned to the subject again a month later; and on Good Friday, March 24th, writing to Fra Jerome, she said, ‘I should like to know what is become of Fra Bartholomew; he would make a good prior,! The saint was too generous to speak more openly, but she did not hide her fears, and Fra Jerome might have seen that she wished him to recognize the danger of his choice. Unhappily he did not: and as Fra Bartholomew was too much under the spell of the provincial’s manner, Fra Jerome was never disturbed, and the complaints in the order became loud and strong.
Saint John of the Cross returned to Baeza from the chapter: but either before he did so, or immediately after, wrote to Saint Teresa to beg her to fulfill a promise she had once made him, that she would obtain his recall from Andalucia as soon as the separation of the barefooted friars from those of the mitigation should be accomplished. The two saints had not seen one another since they were both together in the monastery of the incarnation in Avila; so Saint John writes from Baeza, 6 July 1581, to Mother Catherine of Jesus: ‘Since I was swallowed up the whale ‘ – he means his imprisonment in Toledo – ‘ and cast forth in this strange haven, I never have been counted worthy to see her’ – Saint Teresa – ‘ or the saints who are there.’ Now that the friars of the reform were under their own provincial, he claimed the fulfillment of the promise and Saint Teresa wrote accordingly to Fra Jerome, on Good Friday of this year:
‘I forgot to beg one thing of your paternity,’ she said, ‘for my Easter cake. God grant you may give it. You must know that some time ago, when comforting Fra John of the Cross in his distress at his having to live in Andalucia – he cannot bear its people – I told him I should ask for his removal to Castille, whenever God should let us be a province by ourselves. He now claims the fulfillment of that promise, and is afraid they will elect him prior of Baeza. In his letter he asks me to beg your paternity not to con firm the election. If it be possible, it is only right he should have this comfort, for he has much to bear with. In fact, my father, I wish we had but few houses in Andalucia, for I believe they will do harm to those in Castille.’
The two saints were by birth Castillians, and as such had a certain natural dislike to the Andalucians. Saint Teresa herself had gone to Andalucia against her will, and it was out of the foundation in Seville, the first made in Andalucia – for that of Veas was not in Andalucia, though it was in the Carmelite province of Andalucia – grew the troubles which so nearly brought her reform to an end. She was never happy in Andalucia, and she confesses that she was not so ‘weak and cowardly’ anywhere as she was when making the foundation in Seville.
Fra Jerome was unable to grant the grace which Saint Teresa prayed for, and Saint John of the Cross returned to Baeza. In his absence a lay brother had fallen ill, and by the rector of the house had been sent to the public hospital of the town, partly because of the inconvenience of nursing him in the infirmary, and partly because he could be better attended to there. Saint John of the Cross was greatly displeased at this want of consideration, and severely rebuked the rector. He sent at once to the hospital, and had the lay brother brought home, and attended to, and that too with as much care as if he had been the provincial of the order.
He resigned the government of the house June 14th. At that time the priors were in office only two years, and he had entered on his in July 1579, when the house in Baeza was founded. But he was not allowed to rest as he had hoped, for the friars of Granada elected him prior.
In Granada he succeeded one of his own novices of Pastrana, Fra Augustin of the Kings, who had remembered and observed the lessons of his master. Fra Augustin lived and died as a saint, and after his death his body saw no corruption. Earnest, simple, and fervent, he governed his house according to the rule and constitutions; and Saint John had here no changes to make, nor fallen discipline to restore. The religious were docile and fervent, and the order of the house was exact.
The province was very large, too large for one visitor; so the provincial, Fra Jerome, chose three vicars to help him. To Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria he gave New Castille; to Fra Antonio of Jesus, Old Castille; and Andalucia to Fra Diego of the Trinity The latter came down to Granada to make his visitation, and the only thing he found fault with was the great retirement in which the fathers lived; the prior was never seen outside his monastery, and the visitor thought he showed by his observance of the rule a want of due consideration for the friends and bene factors of the order. Indeed, some of the friars themselves had more than once hinted to the prior that he might return some of the visits which the great people of the city had made, and continued to make to the monastery.
Saint John of the Cross, having learned the wishes of his superior, the visitor, gave up his own opinion, and – it being Christmas time – made up his mind to respect them and call upon the archbishop and the president of the chancery. As the house of the latter was the nearer of the two to the monastery, he called there first, having one of his friars with him. The president received him with the utmost respect and courtesy; for the saint, if not seen outside the monastery, was well known in the city. Saint John, after the usual salutations, with great humility begged the president to excuse him for his past negligence. The president, in answer, said that there was nothing to be excused; ‘for we like, father prior, to see you and your religious in your own houses rather than in ours; in the first you edify us, in the latter you entertain us.’ The servant of God took his leave as quickly as he could; and without making his visit to the arch bishop, returned to the monastery, saying to his companion, ‘This man has put us and the whole order to shame; I wish we had all of us heard him, that we might be convinced how little we gain by this folly of making visits, which is a custom brought in by satan under the cloak of necessity.’ Then as soon as he had returned to the house he told the community what had happened; and then added, ‘My fathers, you cannot have a more trustworthy proof of what people in the world ask of us than this given by one of them; they do not want us as courtiers, but as saints; and that not in their own houses, but in ours, praying to God on their behalf.’
His religious on the whole, no doubt agreeing with him, were yet tempted from time to time to urge upon him certain maxims of prudence and discretion, which they regarded as eminently safe and highly necessary to observe. They were not wholly weaned from the breasts of worldly wisdom, and would ask leave occasionally to pay certain visits which in their judgment were demanded of them by Christian charity and consideration for others, never, of course, for their own pleasure. He answered by asking them wherein a religious differed from people in the world if he must still do as they do. ‘If the world,’ he said, ‘has brought in this custom of paying visits, our business is to act otherwise, because we are under another law.’ He was always unyielding in this matter, afraid that the spirit of prayer would evaporate if the friars frequented the houses of people in the world.
One day a certain personage in Granada tried to move him from his course; he urged upon him the advantage of calling on some wealthy persons, who would then give him abundant alms, wherewith he might complete the building of the monastery. The servant of God replied: ‘ These people will give their alms either for my sake or for the sake of God; if the latter, there is no reason why I should press them; if for my sake, I see no reason why I should trouble them to give away their goods for so poor an end as giving pleasure to me.’
One night after compline, Fra Augustin of Saint Joseph, the procurator, came to him, and having told him there was nothing in the house for the next day, asked leave to beg for the necessary food. ‘Well,’ said the saint, ‘God has plenty of time to provide for us, we need not be in such a hurry to make Him a defaulter; we have had our supper; and He who gave us our supper to-night will give us our dinner tomorrow.’ The procurator withdrew, but the next morning came back with the same request, and begged to be allowed to seek relief from those without who could grant it. The servant of God would not listen to him, notwithstanding his importunity and the distress he was in. The saint had put his whole trust in God, and was not put to shame; for while the friars were saying Prime, there came a man to the gate who asked the porter what it was the religious were in want of; he had been unable, he said, to sleep the whole night because of an interior voice which said: ‘Thou art at ease, and the friars in the monastery of the martyrs are in want.’ The porter told him that there was no food in the house, and the good man immediately supplied it.
Another day, another procurator, Fra John of the Evangelist, begged leave to go out, to beg for food, there being none in the house. The saint as usual refused; the request was made again some time later, and the saint replied, ‘Only one day; shall we never be patient? Go to your cell and pray.’ The procurator went again and made the same request, saying that the matter was pressing, because some of the friars were ill and required food. The saint bade him return, saying that he had very little trust in God, for his duty was to obtain succour for the house, not by begging, but by praying in his cell. The procurator went away with a heavy heart, but he soon came back, unable to bear the distress he was in, and said to the saint, ‘Father, this seems to be a tempting of God, Who will have us do our utmost in our necessities; let me go out to beg.’ The saint smiled and replied, ‘Well, then, you may go; but you will be put to shame.’ The procurator went out, and immediately met an officer of the chancery coming to the house with a good sum of money, a fine inflicted by the court and ordered to be given to the friars for the relief of their necessities.
Fra John of the Evangelist, having received the alms, went to the rector and told him how he had fared. The servant of God showed no sign either of pleasure or displeasure, but said to the procurator, who was very much ashamed of himself, that the alms would have given him more satisfaction if he had waited in his cell. ‘Learn from this,’ he said, ‘that we are to live in poverty, and that the relief thereof is to come, not from our industry, but from our trust in God. Let us be really poor, for the religious who cast all their care upon God will never be in want.’
These lessons of the saint seem to have been forgotten from time to time, for on another occasion when the house was without food the procurator went in search of the servant of God, and found him in the church. He was hearing the confession of one of the great ladies of Granada, great also in her piety and goodness, dona Juana de Peraca. The procurator interrupted the confession to tell the saint that he had no food for the fathers and no money to buy it. The saint told him that the way to get food was to withdraw into his cell, and there obtain it from God by the hands of the faithful. The procurator went away; but harassed by his anxieties returned, and asked leave to go out to beg; receiving no answer from the saint, he repeated his request. Then the saint said: ‘My brother, do not trouble yourself; I do not wish you to go out, neither is it necessary.’ Doña Juana in the confessional heard all that passed, and asked the saint why he would not let the pro curator go out, seeing that there was no other way of providing for the house. The saint answered that he could not let him go because there was a person coming to the monastery with alms. Doña Juana soon after left the church, and on her way home met a stranger who asked her if the prior was in the monastery of the martyrs. Dona Juana told her, and then asked her why she wished to know; the stranger replied that she was a suitor in the chancery, and was going to the monastery with alms for Masses to obtain the help of God in her necessities. Dona Juana went home wondering; she believed that the servant of God had seen the woman in a trance into which he fell while she was in the confessional.
The saint, though he disliked and discouraged begging, lived on alms all his life, and cherished his poverty as a special grace from God. In populous and wealthy places, however, such as Baeza and Granada, he would allow two of the brothers to go out twice in the week, Wednesday and Saturday, to beg alms at the doors of houses: but that was done to keep people from saying that the houses he governed were always fed by miracle. He had given up the world; he made his profession as a poor friar of our Lady of Carmel, and the rest of his life was spent in unceasing efforts to keep that profession pure and undefiled. He trusted in God and had no misgivings; he was His servant in His house, and he knew that the Master would provide for His household. But if he was thus hard with the pro curators of little faith, he was never hard with any one in sickness or in need. He would go into the infirmary himself, and give their food and medicine to the sick. Once when a lay brother was very ill, and the physicians promised him only a little relief from a most expensive remedy, the saint, notwithstanding the poverty of the house, ordered that relief to be given at whatever cost.
Chapter 12: 1581
Anne of Jesus – The saint founds a house in Granada – is insulted in the street – watches over the novices under Anne of Jesus
The people of Granada, edified by the friars, wished to have the nuns also of the new Carmel in their city, and some of the chief personages in it, especially two auditors of the chancery, the doctor Laguna, who died bishop of Cordova, Don Luis de Mercado, afterwards a member of the supreme council of Castille, and a priest in 1591, pressed the matter upon Fra Diego of the Trinity, the then provincial vicar of Andalucia. The vicar gave his consent, and when making his visitation of the monastery of the nuns in Veas, in the month of October 1581, made the matter known to the venerable Anne of Jesus, who had been prioress of Veas for six successive years, and was now a simple nun in the community. At that time the re-election of a prioress without an interval between each priorate was no violation of the constitutions of the order.
Anne of Jesus was then very ill, and, moreover, had no confidence in the promises that had been made to Fra Diego, and was persuaded moreover that the archbishop, Don Juan de Salvatierra, would not allow another monastery to be built in Granada. One morning in communion she changed her mind, and having consulted her confessor, Saint John of the Cross, she determined to go to Granada, as one of the nuns, hoping that Saint Teresa herself would come from Avila for the foundation.
On the 13th of November, Fra Diego ordered Saint John of the Cross, at that time with him in Veas, to go to Avila, where Saint Teresa was then staying, and bring her to Granada, with the care and consideration ‘befitting her person and her years.’ Saint John went and saw the mother of Carmel there for the first time since the seizure of his person in the cottage by the monastery of the incarnation in Avila, and his subsequent imprisonment by the friars of the mitigation in Toledo, but she could not go herself to Granada, because she was about to make a foundation in Burgos. The two saints were also as poor as they well could be, for on the 29th November 1581, the day on which she sent the nuns from Avila to Veas, for the foundation in Granada, she wrote thus to the father provincial, who was also himself in distress in Salamanca:
‘Fra John of the Cross wished very much to send you some money, and fully counted on it, if he could spare a part of that which had been given him for his journey, but he could not. I think he will try to send you some. Antonio Ruiz . . . has give me four scudi for you: I am waiting for the means of sending them on. It is as much as I can do not to keep them myself, for as matters are at present I should not be surprised if I were tempted to steal.’
Saint John returned to Veas with two nuns from Avila, and another from Toledo, on the feast of the immaculate conception, and there the nuns remained till the middle of January. From Avila he brought the mother Mary of Christ, who had been prioress there for five years, with Antonia of the Holy Ghost, who was one of the four religious with whom Saint Teresa began the reform of Carmel in the house of Saint Joseph nineteen years before. From Toledo he brought Beatriz of Jesus, who had been long professed, and was a niece of Saint Teresa. Meanwhile, during the journeyings of Saint John of the Cross, Fra Diego was busy in Granada, trying to overcome the objections of the archbishop, and searching for a house to lodge the community in.
On Monday, 15 January 1582, the venerable Anne of Jesus, with her nuns, attended by Saint John of the Cross and Fra Pedro of the Angels, set out from Veas, in the cold of winter, at three o’clock in the morning. The company consisted of ten nuns, two of them being lay sisters from Villanueva, and were conveyed in carriages, while the two friars rode on mules. During the journey none of their spiritual exercises were omitted, the hours of prayer and meditation were observed, and the divine office said devoutly as if they had been in choir in a monastery. In the inns at night they were carefully lodged, the friars taking every precaution against interruptions. They reached Dayfuentes on Friday, a village not far from Granada, and there were told that the house taken for them in the city could not be had. It had been hired of an alderman of Granada, who, when he heard that his tenants were religious, broke his promise, and refused to fulfill his bargain, though he was offered a large sum of money for it. The alderman was obstinate, and refused to have anything to with the religious, who had come from Veas relying on the contract he had made.
It was too late now to stop the nuns, who were on the road, though there was no house to be had in which they could be lodged even for a time. Their friends were therefore in the greatest trouble, not knowing what to do; besides, they had not obtained, and could not obtain, the consent of the archbishop to make the foundation: he was resolved to have no more nuns in the city.
On Friday night, while the nuns were still at Davfuentes. Thev heard the sound of fearful thunder. The tempest raged in Granada, and the palace of the Archbishop was struck; part of his library was burnt, and some of his mules were killed. The lightning entered close to the room where he was sleeping, and he was so much frightened as to become ill, and to keep his bed at least for the following day.
There was in Granada a penitent of Saint John of the Cross, dona Ana de Mercado y Penalosa, a widow who lived in great retirement, mourning the loss of her husband and an only daughter. She dwelt in a good house, with her brother, Don Luis de Mercado, who was one of the chief persons who had urged the foundation, and on whom now pressed the whole charge of the nuns. Don Luis said to his sister, ‘ The nuns are on the road, and it would be well if they could come here till they can find a house.’ Dona Ana, knowing nothing of her brother’s trouble, not only gave her consent, but busied herself in making the necessary arrangements, especially in furnishing a room to be used as a chapel. At three o’clock on the morning of Saturday, January 20th 1582, the two friars, with the nuns, came to the door and there stood dona Ana ready to receive them.
Anne of Jesus, of whom Saint Teresa had just written that she ‘would have everything under her own control,’ took possession of the house, as if it were her own, and, on entering, began with the nuns to sing Laudate Dominum. She then ordered the doors to be shut, and would not let any of the friars, not even the vicar of the province, who was present, say Mass before she communicated with the archbishop. She sent a letter to the archbishop announcing her arrival in Granada, and begged his blessing. She also begged him to come and reserve the most Holy, adding that though it was a feast day, she would not hear Mass without his sanction. It was said that the archbishop was much changed after the storm, and it seems that there was truth in the report. He sent word back that he was sorry he could not come himself, being unwell, but he would send his vicar-general, who would say Mass, and do all that Anne of Jesus desired. The vicar came, and at seven o’clock said Mass, gave communion to the nuns, and reserved the most Holy.
Saint John of the Cross, when thus dismissed with the provincial vicar, returned to his own house, and left the matter in the hands of the venerable Anne of Jesus; but he had afterwards to supply her with food and many necessary things; for it happened here, as in other places, that wealthy and generous benefactors of the Carmelites never observed the distress they were in. The people of the city also, seeing crowds of the poor daily relieved at her door, never suspected, any more than dona Ana did herself, that the ten nuns within were often in want. Saint Teresa was left in want of food by her friend, dona Luisa de la Cerdo, and again in Seville, though her friends were rich and many. Dona Ana saw the nuns always contented and cheerful, and never suspecting that they were hiding their needs from her, left them in sore distress, so that Saint John of the Cross, out of his poverty, had to come to their relief.
Soon after this the servant of God, coming out from his monastery, was met in the street by a woman with a child in her arms. She held out the child before him, and asked him to maintain it, for it was his own. The holy man bade her begone, but she persisted in following and insulting him. At last he stopped, for a crowd was gathering, and calmly asked her who was the mother of the child. The wretched woman answered it was a great lady in Granada, against whom nothing could be said, for nobody knew any evil of her.
‘How long has she lived in Granada?’ asked the saint.
The answer was that she was born in the place, and had never been half a league away from it all her life.
‘How old is the child?’ asked the saint.
The woman answered, ‘About twelve months.’
‘Ah’ says the saint, ‘it is a grand miracle, for I have not been a year in Granada yet, and in the whole course of my life have never been within many leagues of it.’
The people who had gathered around laughed, and then hooted the woman, though they were ready to hoot the saint a minute before. The man of God went calmly on his way perfectly undisturbed.
At this time, in addition to the government of his own house and the care of many penitents who came to him, he had to watch over and encourage the nuns in the new foundation, begun, as usual, in complete poverty. Many religious of all the orders in the city, and devout people of great prudence living in the world, visited the nuns from time to time, and the sum of their conversation was the rashness of beginning the foundation in such poverty and in utter absence of human comforts. Prudent and discreet persons! The venerable Anne of Jesus was a child of Saint Teresa, and a penitent of Saint John of the Cross, so she remained unmoved by such wisdom as this.
After waiting for seven months the nuns found a house, and meanwhile more than two hundred persons sought admission into the community. In all that number, however, Anne of Jesus says in her account of the foundation, there was not one whom she could accept. Some of them she refused at once, and others she recommended to study their way of life, promising to try them as soon as she found a house of her own. She accepted six novices at last, whom Saint John of the Cross watched over, and instructed in the way of prayer and perfect detachment from all created things.
Some of the novices grew alarmed at the severities of their new life, and were tempted to leave the monastery. One of these made up her mind to depart; the life was so hard and the temptation so strong. Saint John of the Cross knew of her trials, and knowing also how long the temptation would last, said to her one day, ‘I do not wish to persuade you to take the veil, but I ask you to consider yourself as being in prison on account of your sins for the next two months, and then you can go.’ The novice went her way rejoicing, thinking that she could well bear her pain for two months, if then it should be over. But when the two months had passed by, and the day of her departure had come, she found herself unable to go; she had changed her mind, and now begged to remain. She made her profession in due time, and never forgot how much she owed to the wise counsel of her confessor.
Another novice kept secret from the prioress and the other nuns the resolution she had formed to quit the monastery. She, however, did not hide it from Saint John; but he laughed at her, and said that she did not know her own mind. Some time after she was attacked by a disease which was regarded as incurable, and then in her distress she went to the saint and told him she was afraid the nuns would keep her in the monastery out of pure charity, but would never suffer her to make her profession. The saint asked her what had become of her purpose to return to the world. She had even forgotten that she ever had such a purpose, and now had no wish to leave. The saint bade her be of good cheer; as the temptation, so the illness passed away, and the novice was professed.
Chapter 13: 1582 – 1585
Troubles in the order – Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria – Chapter of Almodovar – The saint opposes the re-election of the priors and the foreign missions – Famine – Writings of the saint – Foundation in Malaga – Restoration of a nun to health – Mary of Christ – The saint in Malaga
The death of Saint Teresa, 4 October 1582, brought out into clearer light the discontent of the friars, who, disliking the gentle sway of Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, their provincial, persuaded themselves that he was a source of disorder and laxity, and that regular observance was failing under his rule. While Saint Teresa lived, the murmurings of the fathers were not always loud, but they were not unknown to her; and now that her departure had come, the friars felt themselves free, and made their grave apprehensions public. The provincial was so tender-hearted that he could scarcely be persuaded to visit any of his subjects with chastisement, and that grave defect was not counter-balanced by watchfulness in hindering dis orders which might need correction. He was unwilling to refuse any man anything, and, on the other hand, the friars, and it is to their credit, wished to be ruled with a strong hand and a resolute will. Saint Teresa, notwithstanding her marvellous affection for Fra Jerome, was not blind to these shortcomings. About a month before her death she wrote a long letter to him: ‘You have great need of Fra Nicolas,’ Fra Jerome had sent him to Rome, ‘for I think it impossible for you to do all the work yourself.’ She then goes on, and it must have cost her much to say it: ‘Fra Juan de las Cuevas thinks so too . . . He says you are going against the regulations that have been made, in not choosing another fellow – I do not remember if he said with the consent of the priors – and that he thought it was not possible for you to do all that ought to be done; that Moses had I know not how many to aid him. To this I answered, that you could not help it; you could hardly find friars enough to be priors. His answer was, that your having a fellow was the chief thing. Since I came here, to Valladolid, I have heard that you are accused of being unwilling to have any friar of weight near you. I know the reason is that you cannot help it; but as the chapter is near at hand now, I wish they had nothing to say against you. Look to this for the love of God, and consider how you preach in Andalucia.’
The chapter of which the great saint spoke was held at Almodovar on the 1st of May in the following year, 1583. Saint John of the Cross, as prior of Granada, was present. Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria had returned from Italy, whither he had been sent to give the general an account of the new province of the barefooted friars. He was one of those who disliked the government of Fra Jerome, because of its ease and the risks of laxity involved in it.
Fra Nicolas of Jesus Maria was one of the most distinguished men in the order, and Saint Teresa herself held him in great respect, though she did not like him as she liked Fra Jerome. She wished very much that the two friars were friends, and did all she could not only to keep the peace between them, but also to make them respect and cherish each other. Fra Nicolas was a man of strong will, perhaps stern, certainly unbending, while Fra Jerome was soft and tender, unable to resist. Each had great gifts, but they were not the same; and now, Saint Teresa being dead, the two friars came together, and there was no one to make peace between them.
Fra Nicolas, on his way to Almodovar, travelled on foot for the most part, with an ass to carry his and his fellow’s mantle. In the inn at Toledo, where they rested for the night, they were overtaken by fra Jerome with his companion, Fra Gregorio, each on a mule well caparisoned. Fra Nicolas did not like the sight, so he said to the provincial, as if in jest, but really in serious earnest, ‘How came your paternity and companion to break the rule so lately made by yourself, that we are not to use saddles? ‘ The provincial answered in the only way possible for him, he made a change in the saddle; but Fra Nicolas was not satisfied; and the provincial at last, with his companion, had his mule brought down to the poor state of the wretched ass, which Fra Nicolas led on the way.
Again, there was more trouble on the road; for when they arrived in Malagon, the nuns there, to do honour to their friars, and especially to their provincial, entertained them in their monastery, and gave them a dinner which Fra Nicolas regarded as wholly unbecoming the profession of poverty in Carmel. He looked at the fat capons and the partridges, with other meats of the like nature, and then, unable to restrain himself, he cried out, ‘Are we, my fathers, going into chapter for the reform of the order, and eating food like this? For my part, I shall have something else, if I can get it; let who will eat meat, I will not.’ The friars were made ashamed, and many of them withdrew from the table.
This was not a good preparation for the chapter. The more austere friars were dissatisfied with Fra Jerome, and turned their eyes towards Fra Nicolas as the true guardian of the reform, which they fully believed to be in great danger in the hands of Fra Jerome.
The chapter assembled on the third Sunday after Easter, 1 May 1583, and having elected the four definitors, discussed the election of the priors. Saint John of the Gross wished the election to be made in the monasteries, and not in the provincial chapter, but the chapter decided against him, and keeping the rule it had made, elected him once more prior of Granada.
The saint not only objected and disapproved of this rule, by which the priors were to be elected in the general chapter, but further pressed upon the fathers the change in the practice of re-election, saying that it was not good to continue the same persons in office, the effect of which was to make men ambitious and fond of power. He begged them to allow at least an interval during which the priors might remain subject, which would be profitable to them and highly advantageous to the order, for in that way it would have more men fitted to be priors, because there would be more with experience trained for government. Many of the fathers were of his opinion, but the greater number thought otherwise, and for the present the practice of re-election was preserved.
The provincial proposed new foreign missions, but Saint John of the Cross spoke very strongly against the proposal, and reminded the fathers of the duties of prayer and retirement, which were theirs in a special way; there were other orders, he said, to undertake the missions, for which they were fitted, and for which they might be said to have been founded. The reform of Carmel was founded for another purpose, and would be endangered if it did not keep its own rule and foster the spirit thereof. The friars were bound not to go abroad, but to remain at home in their cells, meditating day and night in the law of God, seeking their own sanctification, and striving after perfection. Charity towards our neighbours, he said, must be directed by the law of life under which we are living; for if it were not, nothing would come of it but con fusion and the ruin of the order.
Fra Jerome, the provincial, had set his heart on the foreign missions, and was marvellously given to external work, preaching everywhere, and even lecturing. He did not think as Saint John of the Cross did, so he answered the saint; and in the end his judgment prevailed.
Before he left Almodovar, the servant of God took an opportunity of speaking privately to the provincial of the danger he feared from his government of the order. In the chapter itself this matter had been already entertained, and even the deposition of the provincial had been spoken of as a possible necessity. Saint John now, fearless in his charity, represented in all humility, as a subject should, the great need there was of certain changes in his way of governing the friars, and of greater strictness. Too much heed was given to the revelations and visions of nuns, too much license in going abroad to preach and hear confessions, and then too much indulgence, made perhaps necessary, to those who were wearied by work which was not really the work of a friar of the reform of Carmel. The servant of God delivered his own soul, and having done so went his way, but with a heavy heart.
The next year, 1584, was a year of sore distress and famine in Spain, especially in Andalucia. The people from the country around flocked into Granada, the wealthy city, asking for the bread which they could not find at home. Saint John, like his Master, had compassion on the multitude struggling with hunger, and though living upon alms himself, and with a large household to maintain, gave alms abundantly out of the riches of his poverty. In the first place, he employed as many men as he could on the buildings of the monastery, which he carried on during the famine, and with the money he received from the charitable he bought all the corn he could, and charged the porter at the gate to distribute it to the poor, and never to send any one empty away. The more he relieved, the more came from all quarters of the city for relief, and at last many even of the noble families confided to the saint their state of helpless destitution. Saint John’s heart was full of tenderness for those who were ashamed to beg. These also he re lieved, and even maintained, by means of two lay-brothers whom he sent out with the necessary succours; but he himself dwelt within the monastery, in his cell in prayer and in the discharge of his duties in the community.
Though he ministered to the wants of so many, he did not neglect the friars; he provided for them as it there had been no famine in the land; while to human eyes all the resources of the house were at the service of the multitudinous poor, who but for his help and trust in God would have died of hunger in the streets.
The great meekness of the saint was now tested in Granada. He had to correct one of the friars for some fault or other, and did so in his accustomed way, very seriously but very tenderly. The poor friar utterly forgot himself, and instead of receiving his correction meekly, burst out in a flood of angry and unseemly language, and even reviled his superior. The servant of God did not check him, but threw himself on the ground, and remained prostrate while the friar’s anger lasted, and then rising, addressed him as he should have addressed his superior, saying, ‘For the love of God,’ and went away. The friar’s eyes were then opened to the extravagance of his conduct, and with recovered senses went and threw himself at his father’s feet, confessing his wrong, and thanking him for having borne so patiently with him in his waywardness.
He was at this time writing the explanation of the spiritual canticle Adonde Te escondiste, composed in the prison in which the friars of the mitigation held him in Toledo. We owe this service to the venerable Anne of Jesus, whose importunities overcame the saint’s reluctance to write. The book was dedicated to her, and is now religiously kept by the Carmelites of Jaen. At the same time he occupied himself, at the urgent request of his penitent, Doña Ana de Peflalosa, in writing his explanation of another of his hymns, and the most wonderful of them all perhaps, O Llama de amor viva. He yielded to the request of Doña Ana with great unwillingness, because the hymn is of matters so interior and spiritual as to be beyond the compass of human speech. He always wrote after earnest prayer, without help from any books what ever, and very slowly, lest he should be carried away and make his work the expression of mere human wisdom, rather than that of the Holy Ghost, Whose work is never hurried.
In December of this year, 1584, the provincial, Fra Jerome of the Mother of God, sanctioned the foundation of a monastery of nuns in Malaga, where the friars had established themselves about six months before. Fra Jerome could not go to Malaga himself, so he sent Saint John of the Cross, who was at the time vicar provincial of Andalucia, as well as prior of Granada. When the order of the provincial was brought to Saint John, the latter was in constant attendance on the sister Isabel of the Incarnation, believed to be in her last illness. The servant of God was therefore troubled, for he must leave his penitent in the hour of her greatest distress because of the order of the provincial. He betook himself to prayer, and while so employed was sent for to the sick nun, whom the physician believed to be at the point of death. The saint went to her at once, and having heard her confession gave her the last sacraments. But suddenly inspired of God, he began to read the gospel of Saint Mark, and when he came to the words, ‘upon the sick they shall lay their hands,’ he laid his hands on the sister who was in her agony, and the sickness departed from her. The next day she left her bed, the physicians confessing that her healing was miraculous.
He now set out on his journey to Malaga, with the nuns who were to be the founders of the house there. Mary of Christ, the prioress of the new foundation, and whom he had brought from the house of Saint Joseph in Avila to the new monastery in Granada, had a grievous fall, which rendered her unconscious; the nuns around her seeing the blood flow abundantly from her head, while she gave no signs of life, began to bemoan her as one who was dead. Meanwhile, the servant of God came up to them, and laid his hand on the wound; the sister rose up, and went on her way with the others, as if no accident had taken place.
They arrived in Malaga, seven nuns, one of them being Antonia of the Holy Ghost, who in 1562 was with Saint Teresa when she founded the house of Saint Joseph in Avila; and on the 17th of February 1585 the new monastery was founded, under the patronage of Saint Joseph, Saint John of the Cross saying the first Mass.