of Avila (1515- 1582)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
of Avila (1515- 1582)
By St Teresa of Avila
In which there are four Chapters.
Continues the same subject. Describes the difference between spiritual union and spiritual marriage. Explains this by subtle comparisons.
Let us now come to treat of the Divine and Spiritual Marriage, although this great Favour cannot be fulfilled perfectly in us during our lifetime, for if we were to withdraw ourselves from God this great blessing would be lost.
When granting this favour
for the first time, His Majesty is pleased to reveal
Himself to the soul through an imaginary vision of
His most sacred Humanity, so that it may clearly
understand what is taking place and not be ignorant
of the fact that it is receiving so sovereign a gift.
To other people the experience will come in a
different way. To the person of whom we have been
speaking the Lord revealed Himself one day, when she
had just received Communion, in great splendour and
beauty and majesty, as He did after His resurrection,
and told her that it was time she took upon her His
affairs as if they were her own and that He would
take her affairs upon Himself; and He added other
words which are easier to understand than to
The Lord appears in the centre of the soul, not through an imaginary, but through an intellectual vision (although this is a subtler one than that already mentioned), just as He appeared to the Apostles, without entering through the door, when He said to them: "Pax vobis". This instantaneous communication of God to the soul is so great a secret and so sublime a favour, and such delight is felt by the soul, that I do not know with what to compare it, beyond saying that the Lord is pleased to manifest to the soul at that moment the glory that is in Heaven, in a sublimer manner than is possible through any vision or spiritual consolation.
It is impossible
to say more than that, as far as one can understand,
the soul (I mean the spirit of this soul) is made one
with God, Who, being likewise a Spirit, has been
pleased to reveal the love that He has for us by
showing to certain persons the extent of that love,
so that we may praise His greatness. For He has been
pleased to unite Himself with His creature in such a
way that they have become like two who cannot be
separated from one another: even so He will not
separate Himself from her.
We might say that union is as if the ends of
two wax candles were joined so that the light they
give is one: the wicks and the wax and the light are
all one, yet afterwards the one candle can be
perfectly well separated from the other and the
candles become two again, or the wick may be
withdrawn from the wax. But here it is like rain
falling from the heavens into a river or a spring;
there is nothing but water there and it is impossible
to divide or separate the water belonging to the
river from that which fell from the heavens. Or it is
as if a tiny streamlet enters the sea, from which it
will find no way of separating itself, or as if in a
room there were two large windows through which the
light streamed in: it enters in different places but
it all becomes one.
For from those Divine breasts, where it seems that God is ever sustaining the soul, flow streams of milk, which solace all who dwell in the Castle; it seems that it is the Lord's will for them to enjoy all that the soul enjoys, so that, from time to time, there should flow from this mighty river, in which this tiny little spring is swallowed up, a stream of this water, to sustain those who in bodily matters have to serve the Bridegroom and the bride. And just as a person suddenly plunged into such water would become aware of it, and, however unobservant he might be, could not fail to become so, the same thing may be said, with even greater confidence, of these operations to which I refer.
For just as a great stream of
water could never fall on us without having an origin
somewhere, as I have said, just so it becomes evident
that there is someone in the interior of the soul who
sends forth these arrows and thus gives life to this
life, and that there is a sun whence this great light
proceeds, which is transmitted to the faculties in
the interior part of the soul. The soul, as I have
said, neither moves from that centre nor loses its
peace, for He Who gave His peace to the Apostles when
they were all together can give peace to the
Thus, one day,
when Jesus Christ was praying for His Apostles (I do
not know where this occurs), He asked that they
might become one with the Father and with Him, even
as Jesus Christ our Lord is in the Father and the
Father is in Him. I do not know what greater love
there can be than this. And we shall none of us fail
to be included here, for His Majesty went on to say:
"Not for them alone do I pray, but also for all who
believe in Me"; and again: "I am in them."
I may seem to be giving the impression that, when the soul reaches the state in which God grants it this favour, it is sure of its salvation and free from the risk of backsliding. But that is not my meaning, and whenever I treat of this matter and say that the soul seems to be in safety I should be understood as meaning for so long as the Divine Majesty holds it thus by the hand and it does not offend Him.
At all events, I know for certain that, even when it finds itself in this state, and even if the state has lasted for years, it does not consider itself safe, but goes on its way with much greater misgiving than before and refrains more carefully from committing the smallest offence against God. It is also strongly desirous of serving Him, as will be explained later on, and is habitually afflicted and confused when it sees how little it is able to do and how great is the extent of its obligations, which is no small cross to it and a very grievous penance; for the harder the penance which this soul performs, the greater is its delight.
Its real penance comes when God takes away its health
and strength so that it can no longer perform any. I
have described elsewhere the great distress which
this brings, but it is much greater here. This must
be due to the nature of the ground in which the soul
is planted, for a tree planted by the streams of
water is fresher and gives more fruit, so how
can we marvel at the desires of this soul, since its
spirit is verily made one with the celestial water of
which we have been speaking?