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 desires to enjoy God which He gives the soul and which are so great and impetuous that they endanger its life. Treats also of the profit which comes from this favour granted by the Lord.
Have all these favours which the Spouse has granted the soul been sufficient to satisfy this little dove or butterfly (do not suppose that I have forgotten her) and to make her settle down in the place where she is to die?
Certainly not; she is in a much worse state than
before; for, although she may have been receiving
these favours for many years, she is still sighing
and weeping, and each of them causes her fresh pain.
The reason for this is that, the more she learns
about the greatness of her God, while finding herself
so far from Him and unable to enjoy Him, the more her
desire increases. For the more is revealed to her of
how much this great God and Lord deserves to be
loved, the more does her love for Him grow. And
gradually, during these years, her desire increases,
so that she comes to experience great distress, as I
will now explain. I have spoken of years, because I
am writing about the experiences of the particular
person about whom I have been speaking here. But it
must be clearly understood that no limitations can be
set to God's acts, and that He can raise a soul to
the highest point here mentioned in a single moment.
His Majesty has the power to do all that He wishes
and He is desirous of doing a great deal for us.
While the soul is in this condition, and interiorly burning, it often happens that a mere fleeting thought of some kind (there is no way of telling whence it comes, or how) or some remark which the soul hears about death's long tarrying, deals it, as it were, a blow, or, as one might say, wounds it with an arrow of fire.
I do not mean that there actually is such an arrow, but, whatever it is, it obviously could not have come from our own nature. Nor is it actually a blow, though I have spoken of it as such; but it makes a deep wound, not, I think, in any region where physical pain can be felt, but in the soul's most intimate depths.
It passes as quickly as a flash of lightning and
leaves everything in our nature that is earthly
reduced to powder. During the time that it lasts we
cannot think of anything that has to do with our own
existence: it instantaneously enchains the faculties
in such a way that they have no freedom to do
anything, except what will increase this pain.
However patient a sufferer she may be, and
however accustomed to enduring great pain, she cannot
help doing this, because this pain, as I have said,
is not in the body, but deep within the soul. It was
in this way that the person I have mentioned
discovered how much more sensitive the soul is than
the body, and it was revealed to her that this
suffering resembles that of souls in purgatory;
despite their being no longer in the body they suffer
much more than do those who are still in the body and
It is not that it feels any bodily pain
whatsoever, notwithstanding such a dislocation of the
limbs that for two or three days afterwards it is in
great pain and has not the strength even to write; in
fact the body seems to me never to be as strong as it
was previously. The reason it feels no pain must be
that it is suffering so keenly within that it takes
no notice of the body. It is as when we have a very
acute pain in one spot; we may have many other pains
but we feel them less; this I have conclusively
proved. In the present case, the soul feels nothing
at all, and I do not believe it would feel anything
if it were cut into little pieces.
she is absent from her Good, why should she wish to
live? She is conscious of a strange solitude, since
there is not a creature on the whole earth who can be
a companion to her -- in fact, I do not believe she
would find any in Heaven, save Him Whom she loves: on
the contrary, all earthly companionship is torment to
her. She thinks of herself as of a person suspended
aloft, unable either to come down and rest anywhere
on earth or to ascend into Heaven. She is parched
with thirst, yet cannot reach the water; and the
thirst is not a tolerable one but of a kind that
nothing can quench, nor does she desire it to be
quenched, except with that water of which Our Lord
spoke to the Samaritan woman, and that is not
given to her.
So true is this that, despite all its torment and
distress, which cannot, I believe, be surpassed by
any such things on earth (many of which this person
had endured, both bodily and spiritual, and they all
seemed to her nothing by comparison), the soul feels
this affliction to be so precious that it fully
realizes it could never deserve it. But the anguish
is of such a kind that nothing can relieve it; none
the less the soul suffers it very gladly, and, if God
so willed, would suffer it all its life long,
although this would be not to die once, but to be
always dying, for it is really quite as bad as that.
I assure you it is impossible to
explain to anyone who has not experienced it what a
grievous thing is the soul's suffering and how
different it is from the suffering of the body. The
Lord will have us understand this so that we may be
more conscious of how much we owe Him for bringing us
to a state in which by His mercy we may hope that He
will set us free and forgive us our sins.
So just imagine anyone thinking that these
attacks can be resisted! It is no more possible to
resist them than for a person thrown into a fire to
make the flames lose their heat and not burn her. She
cannot hide her anguish, so all who are present
realize the great peril in which she lies, even
though they cannot witness what is going on within
her. It is true that they can bear her company, but
they only seem to her like shadows -- as all other
earthly things do too.
The soul has far more contempt for the world than
it had previously, for it sees that no worldly thing
was of any avail to it in its torment; and it is very
much more detached from the creatures, because it
sees that it can be comforted and satisfied only by
the Creator, and it has the greatest fear and anxiety
not to offend Him, because it sees that He can
torment as well as comfort.