of Avila (1515- 1582)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
of Avila (1515- 1582)
By St Teresa of Avila
SIXTH MANSIONS (cont)
In which there are Eleven Chapters.
Treats of the way in which the Lord communicates Himself to the soul through imaginary visions and gives an emphatic warning that we should be careful not to desire to walk in this way. Gives reasons for the warning. This chapter is of great profit.
Let us now come to imaginary visions, in which the
devil is said to interfere more frequently than in
those already described. This may well be the case;
but when they come from Our Lord they seem to me in
some ways more profitable because they are in closer
conformity with our nature, except for those which
the Lord bestows in the final Mansion, and with which
no others can compare.
Let us now imagine, as I said in the last chapter, that this Lord is here. It is as if in a gold reliquary there were hidden a precious stone of the highest value and the choicest virtues: although we have never seen the stone, we know for certain that it is there and if we carry it about with us we can have the benefit of its virtues. We do not prize it any the less for not having seen it, because we have found by experience that it has cured us of certain illnesses for which it is a sovereign remedy. But we dare not look at it, or open the reliquary in which it is contained, nor are we able to do so; for only the owner of the jewel knows how to open it, and though he has lent it to us so that we may benefit by it, he has kept the key and so it is still his own. He will open it when he wants to show it to us and he will take it back when he sees fit to do so. And that is what God does, too.
And now let us suppose that on some occasion the owner of the reliquary suddenly wants to open it, for the benefit of the person to whom he has lent it. Obviously this person will get much greater pleasure from it if he can recall the wonderful brilliance of the stone, and it will remain the more deeply engraven upon his memory. This is what happens here. When Our Lord is pleased to bestow greater consolations upon this soul, He grants it, in whatever way He thinks best, a clear revelation of His sacred Humanity, either as He was when He lived in the world, or as He was after His resurrection; and although He does this so quickly that we might liken the action to a flash of lightning, this most glorious image is so deeply engraven upon the imagination that I do not believe it can possibly disappear until it is where it can be enjoyed to all eternity.
I speak of an "image", but it must not be supposed that one looks at it as at a painting; it is really alive, and sometimes even speaks to the soul and shows it things both great and secret. But you must realize that, although the soul sees this for a certain length of time, it can no more be gazing at it all the time than it could keep gazing at the sun.
So the vision passes very quickly, though this is not because its brilliance hurts the interior sight -- that is, the medium by which all such things are seen -- as the brilliance of the sun hurts the eyes. When it is a question of exterior sight, I can say nothing about it, for the person I have mentioned, and of whom I can best speak, had not experienced this; and reason can testify only inadequately to things of which it has no experience.
The brilliance of this vision is like that of
infused light or of a sun covered with some material
of the transparency of a diamond, if such a thing
could be woven. This raiment looks like the finest
cambric. Almost invariably the soul on which God
bestows this favour remains in rapture, because its
unworthiness cannot endure so terrible a sight.
I can tell you truly that, wicked as I am, I have
never feared the torments of hell, for they seem
nothing by comparison with the thought of the wrath
which the damned will see in the Lord's eyes -- those
eyes so lovely and tender and benign. I do not think
my heart could bear to see that; and I have felt like
this all my life. How much more will anyone fear this
to whom He has thus revealed Himself, and given such
a consciousness of His presence as will produce
unconsciousness! It must be for this reason that
the soul remains in suspension; the Lord helps it in
its weakness so that this may be united with His
greatness in this sublime communion with God.
True wisdom, without any effort on its own part, has overcome its stupidity and for a certain space of time it enjoys the complete certainty that this favour comes from God. However often it may be told that this is not so it cannot be induced to fear that it may have been mistaken. Later, when the confessor insinuates this fear, God allows the soul to begin to hesitate as to whether He could possibly grant this favour to such a sinner. But that is all; for, as I have said in these other cases, in speaking of temptations in matters of faith, the devil can disturb the soul, but he cannot shake the firmness of its belief.
On the contrary, the more fiercely he attacks it,
the more certain it becomes that he could never endow
it with so many blessings -- which is actually true,
for over the interior of the soul he wields less
power. He may be able to reveal something to it, but
not with the same truth and majesty, nor can he
produce the same results.
If the confessor is experienced, and has himself
been granted such visions, it will not be long before
he is able to form a judgment, for the account which
the soul gives will at once show him whether they
proceed from God or from the imagination or from the
devil, especially if His Majesty has granted him the
gift of discerning spirits. If he has this and is a
learned man, he will be able to form an opinion
perfectly well, even though he may be without
God is very anxious for us to speak candidly and clearly to those who are in His place, and to desire them to be acquainted with all our thoughts, and still more with our actions, however trivial these may be. If you do this, you need not be disturbed, or worried, for, even if these things be not of God, they will do you no harm if you are humble and have a good conscience. His Majesty is able to bring good out of evil and you will gain by following the road by which the devil hoped to bring you to destruction. For, as you will suppose that it is God Who is granting you these great favours, you will strive to please Him better and keep His image ever in your mind.
A very learned man used to say that the devil is a
skilful painter, and that, if he were to show him an
absolutely lifelike image of the Lord, it would not
worry him, because it would quicken his devotion, and
so he would be using the devil's own wicked weapons
to make war on him. However evil the painter be, one
cannot fail to reverence the picture that he paints,
if it is of Him Who is our only Good.
Let us place ourselves in His hands so that His
will may be done in us; if we cling firmly to this
maxim and our wills are resolute we cannot possibly
go astray. And you must note that you will merit no
more glory for having received many of these favours;
on the contrary, the fact that you are receiving more
imposes on you greater obligations to serve. The Lord
does not deprive us of anything which adds to our
merit, for this remains in our own power. There are
many saintly people who have never known what it is
to receive a favour of this kind, and there are
others who receive a favour of this kind, and there
are others who received such favours, although they
are not saintly. Do not suppose, again, that they
occur continually. Each occasion on which the Lord
grants them brings with it a great many trials; and
thus the soul does not think about receiving more,
but only about how to put those it receives to a good