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Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict observance.

When this convent was originally founded, for the reasons set down in
the book which, as I say, I have already written, and also because of
certain wonderful revelations by which the Lord showed me how well He
would be served in this house, it was not my intention that there
should be so much austerity in external matters, nor that it should
have no regular income: on the contrary, I should have liked there to
be no possibility of want. I acted, in short, like the weak and
wretched woman that I am, although I did so with good intentions and
not out of consideration for my own comfort.

At about this time there came to my notice the harm and havoc that were
being wrought in France by these Lutherans and the way in which their
unhappy sect was increasing. [11] This troubled me very much, and, as
though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept
before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil. I felt
that I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single one of
all the souls that were being lost there. And, seeing that I was a
woman, and a sinner, [12] and incapable of doing all I should like in
the Lord’s service, and as my whole yearning was, and still is, that,
as He has so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be
trusty ones, I determined to do the little that was in me–namely, to
follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could, and to see
that these few nuns who are here should do the same, confiding in the
great goodness of God, Who never fails to help those who resolve to
forsake everything for His sake. As they are all that I have ever
painted them as being in my desires, I hoped that their virtues would
more than counteract my defects, and I should thus be able to give the
Lord some pleasure, and all of us, by busying ourselves in prayer for
those who are defenders of the Church, and for the preachers and
learned men who defend her, should do everything we could to aid this
Lord of mine Who is so much oppressed by those to whom He has shown so
much good that it seems as though these traitors would send Him to the
Cross again and that He would have nowhere to lay His head.

Oh, my Redeemer, my heart cannot conceive this without being sorely
distressed! What has become of Christians now? Must those who owe Thee
most always be those who distress Thee? Those to whom Thou doest the
greatest kindnesses, whom Thou dost choose for Thy friends, among whom
Thou dost move, communicating Thyself to them through the Sacraments?
Do they not think, Lord of my soul, that they have made Thee endure
more than sufficient torments?

It is certain, my Lord, that in these days withdrawal from the world
means no sacrifice at all. Since worldly people have so little respect
for Thee, what can we expect them to have for us? Can it be that we
deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated
Thee? Have we done more for them than Thou hast done that they should
be friendly to us? What then? What can we expect–we who, through the
goodness of the Lord, are free from that pestilential infection, and do
not, like those others, belong to the devil? They have won severe
punishment at his hands and their pleasures have richly earned them
eternal fire. So to eternal fire they will have to go, [13] though none
the less it breaks my heart to see so many souls travelling to
perdition. I would the evil were not so great and I did not see more
being lost every day.

Oh, my sisters in Christ! Help me to entreat this of the Lord, Who has
brought you together here for that very purpose. This is your vocation;
this must be your business; these must be your desires; these your
tears; these your petitions. Let us not pray for worldly things, my
sisters. It makes me laugh, and yet it makes me sad, when I hear of the
things which people come here to beg us to pray to God for; we are to
ask His Majesty to give them money and to provide them with incomes–I
wish that some of these people would entreat God to enable them to
trample all such things beneath their feet. Their intentions are quite
good, and I do as they ask because I see that they are really devout
people, though I do not myself believe that God ever hears me when I
pray for such things. The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ
once again, as it were, for they bring a thousand false witnesses
against Him. They would raze His Church to the ground–and are we to
waste our time upon things which, if God were to grant them, would
perhaps bring one soul less to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time
to treat with God for things of little importance.

Were it not necessary to consider human frailty, which finds
satisfaction in every kind of help–and it is always a good thing if we
can be of any help to people–I should like it to be understood that it
is not for things like these that God should be importuned with such

[11] French Protestantism which had been repressed during the reigns of
Francis I and Henry II, increased after the latter’s death in 1559, and
was still doing so at the time of the foundation of St. Joseph’s.

[12] Lit.: ”and bad.”

[13] Allá se lo hayan. ”And serve them right!” would, in most contexts,
be a more exact rendering of this colloquial phrase, but there is no
suspicion of Schadenfreude here.

Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded and of the good
that comes from poverty.

Do not think, my sisters, that because you do not go about trying to
please people in the world you will lack food. You will not, I assure
you: never try to sustain yourselves by human artifices, or you will
die of hunger, and rightly so. Keep your eyes fixed upon your Spouse:
it is for Him to sustain you; and, if He is pleased with you, even
those who like you least will give you food, if unwillingly, as you
have found by experience. If you should do as I say and yet die of
hunger, then happy are the nuns of Saint Joseph’s! For the love of the
Lord, let us not forget this: you have forgone a regular income; forgo
worry about food as well, or thou will lose everything. Let those whom
the Lord wishes to live on an income do so: if that is their vocation,
they are perfectly justified; but for us to do so, sisters, would be

Worrying about getting money from other people seems to me like
thinking about what other people enjoy. However much you worry, you
will not make them change their minds nor will they become desirous of
giving you alms. Leave these anxieties to Him Who can move everyone,
Who is the Lord of all money and of all who possess money. It is by His
command that we have come here and His words are true–they cannot
fail: Heaven and earth will fail first. [14] Let us not fail Him, and
let us have no fear that He will fail us; if He should ever do so it
will be for our greater good, just as the saints failed to keep their
lives when they were slain for the Lord’s sake, and their bliss was
increased through their martyrdom. We should be making a good exchange
if we could have done with this life quickly and enjoy everlasting

Remember, sisters, that this will be important when I am dead; and that
is why I am leaving it to you in writing. For, with God’s help, as long
as I live, I will remind you of it myself, as I know by experience what
a great help it will be to you. It is when I possess least that I have
the fewest worries and the Lord knows that, as far as I can tell, I am
more afflicted when there is excess of anything than when there is lack
of it; I am not sure if that is the Lord’s doing, but I have noticed
that He provides for us immediately. To act otherwise would be to
deceive the world by pretending to be poor when we are not poor in
spirit but only outwardly. My conscience would give me a bad time. It
seems to me it would be like stealing what was being given us, as one
might say; for I should feel as if we were rich people asking alms:
please God this may never be so. Those who worry too much about the
alms that they are likely to be given will find that sooner or later
this bad habit will lead them to go and ask for something which they do
not need, and perhaps from someone who needs it more than they do. Such
a person would gain rather than lose by giving it us but we should
certainly be the worse off for having it. God forbid this should ever
happen, my daughters; if it were likely to do so, I should prefer you
to have a regular income.

I beg you, for the love of God, just as if I were begging alms for you,
never to allow this to occupy your thoughts. If the very least of you
ever hears of such a thing happening in this house, cry out about it to
His Majesty and speak to your Superior. Tell her humbly that she is
doing wrong; this is so serious a matter that it may cause true poverty
gradually to disappear. I hope in the Lord that this will not be so and
that He will not forsake His servants; and for that reason, if for no
other, what you have told me to write may be useful to you as a

My daughters must believe that it is for their own good that the Lord
has enabled me to realize in some small degree what blessings are to be
found in holy poverty. Those of them who practise it will also realize
this, though perhaps not as clearly as I do; for, although I had
professed poverty, I was not only without poverty of spirit, but my
spirit was devoid of all restraint. Poverty is good and contains within
itself all the good things in the world. It is a great domain– I mean
that he who cares nothing for the good things of the world has dominion
over them all. What do kings and lords matter to me if I have no desire
to possess their money, or to please them, if by so doing I should
cause the least displeasure to God? And what do their honours mean to
me if I have realized that the chief honour of a poor man consists in
his being truly poor?

For my own part, I believe that honour and money nearly always go
together, and that he who desires honour never hates money, while he
who hates money cares little for honour. Understand this clearly, for I
think this concern about honour always implies some slight regard for
endowments or money: seldom or never is a poor man honoured by the
world; however worthy of honour he may be, he is apt rather to be
despised by it. With true poverty there goes a different kind of honour
to which nobody can take objection. I mean that, if poverty is embraced
for God’s sake alone, no one has to be pleased save God. It is certain
that a man who has no need of anyone has many friends: in my own
experience I have found this to be very true.

A great deal has been written about this virtue which I cannot
understand, still less express, and I should only be making things
worse if I were to eulogize it, so I will say no more about it now. I
have only spoken of what I have myself experienced and I confess that I
have been so much absorbed that until now I have hardly realized what I
have been writing. However, it has been said now. Our arms are holy
poverty, which was so greatly esteemed and so strictly observed by our
holy Fathers at the beginning of the foundation of our Order. (Someone
who knows about this tells me that they never kept anything from one
day to the next.) For the love of the Lord, then, [I beg you] now that
the rule of poverty is less perfectly observed as regards outward
things, let us strive to observe it inwardly. Our life lasts only for a
couple of hours; our reward is boundless; and, if there were no reward
but to follow the counsels given us by the Lord, to imitate His Majesty
in any degree would bring us a great recompense.

These arms must appear on our banners and at all costs we must keep
this rule–as regards our house, our clothes, our speech, and (which is
much more important) our thoughts. So long as this is done, there need
be no fear, with the help of God, that religious observances in this
house will decline, for, as Saint Clare said, the walls of poverty are
very strong. It was with these walls, she said, and with those of
humility, that she wished to surround her convents; and assuredly, if
the rule of poverty is truly kept, both chastity and all the other
virtues are fortified much better than by the most sumptuous edifices.
Have a care to this, for the love of God; and this I beg of you by His
blood. If I may say what my conscience bids me, I should wish that, on
the day when you build such edifices, they [15] may fall down and kill
you all.

It seems very wrong, my daughters, that great houses should be built
with the money of the poor; may God forbid that this should be done;
let our houses be small and poor in every way. Let us to some extent
resemble our King, Who had no house save the porch in Bethlehem where
He was born and the Cross on which He died. These were houses where
little comfort could be found. Those who erect large houses will no
doubt have good reasons for doing so. I do not utterly condemn them:
they are moved by various holy intentions. But any corner is sufficient
for thirteen poor women. If grounds should be thought necessary on
account of the strictness of the enclosure, and also as an aid to
prayer and devotion, and because our miserable nature needs such
things, well and good; and let there be a few hermitages [16] in them
in which the sisters may go to pray. But as for a large ornate convent,
with a lot of buildings–God preserve us from that! Always remember
that these things will all fall down on the Day of Judgment, and who
knows how soon that will be?

It would hardly look well if the house of thirteen poor women made a
great noise when it fell, for those who are really poor must make no
noise: unless they live a noiseless life people will never take pity on
them. And how happy my sisters will be if they see someone freed from
hell by means of the alms which he has given them; and this is quite
possible, since they are strictly bound to offer continual prayer for
persons who give them food. It is also God’s will that, although the
food comes from Him, we should thank the persons by whose means He
gives it to us: let there be no neglect of this.

I do not remember what I had begun to say, for I have strayed from my
subject. But I think this must have been the Lord’s will, for I never
intended to write what I have said here. May His Majesty always keep us
in His hand so that we may never fall. Amen.

[14] An apparent reference to St. Mark xiii, 31.

[15] In the Spanish the subject is in the singular: P. Bañez inserted
”the house”, but crossed this out later.

[16] St. Teresa liked to have hermitages in the grounds of her convents
to give the nuns opportunity for solitude.

Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades the sisters to
busy themselves constantly in beseeching God to help those who work for the
Church. Ends with an exclamatory prayer.

Let us now return to the principal reason for which the Lord has
brought us together in this house, for which reason I am most desirous
that we may be able to please His Majesty. Seeing how great are the
evils of the present day and how no human strength will suffice to
quench the fire kindled by these heretics (though attempts have been
made to organize opposition to them, as though such a great and rapidly
spreading evil could be remedied by force of arms), it seems to me that
it is like a war in which the enemy has overrun the whole country, and
the Lord of the country, hard pressed, retires into a city, which he
causes to be well fortified, and whence from time to time he is able to
attack. Those who are in the city are picked men who can do more by
themselves than they could do with the aid of many soldiers if they
were cowards. Often this method gains the victory; or, if the garrison
does not conquer, it is at least not conquered; for, as it contains no
traitors, but picked men, it can be reduced only by hunger. In our own
conflict, however, we cannot be forced to surrender by hunger; we can
die but we cannot be conquered.

Now why have I said this? So that you may understand, my sisters, that
what we have to ask of God is that, in this little castle of ours,
inhabited as it is by good Christians, none of us may go over to the
enemy. We must ask God, too, to make the captains in this castle or
city–that is, the preachers and theologians–highly proficient in the
way of the Lord. And as most of these are religious, we must pray that
they may advance in perfection, and in the fulfilment of their
vocation, for this is very needful. For, as I have already said, it is
the ecclesiastical and not the secular arm which must defend us. And as
we can do nothing by either of these means to help our King, let us
strive to live in such a way that our prayers may be of avail to help
these servants of God, who, at the cost of so much toil, have fortified
themselves with learning and virtuous living and have laboured to help
the Lord.

You may ask why I emphasize this so much and why I say we must help
people who are better than ourselves. I will tell you, for I am not
sure if you properly understand as yet how much we owe to the Lord for
bringing us to a place where we are so free from business matters,
occasions of sin and the society of worldly people. This is a very
great favour and one which is not granted to the persons of whom I have
been speaking, nor is it fitting that it should be granted to them; it
would be less so now, indeed, than at any other time, for it is they
who must strengthen the weak and give courage to God’s little ones. A
fine thing it would be for soldiers if they lost their captains! These
preachers and theologians have to live among men and associate with men
and stay in palaces and sometimes even behave as people in palaces do
in outward matters. Do you think, my daughters, that it is an easy
matter to have to do business with the world, to live in the world, to
engage in the affairs of the world, and, as I have said, to live as
worldly men do, and yet inwardly to be strangers to the world, and
enemies of the world, like persons who are in exile–to be, in short,
not men but angels? Yet unless these persons act thus, they neither
deserve to bear the title of captain nor to be allowed by the Lord to
leave their cells, for they would do more harm than good. This is no
time for imperfections in those whose duty it is to teach.

And if these teachers are not inwardly fortified by realizing the great
importance of spurning everything beneath their feet and by being
detached from things which come to an end on earth, and attached to
things eternal, they will betray this defect in themselves, however
much they may try to hide it. For with whom are they dealing but with
the world? They need not fear: the world will not pardon them or fail
to observe their imperfections. Of the good things they do many will
pass unnoticed, or will even not be considered good at all; but they
need not fear that any evil or imperfect thing they do will be
overlooked. I am amazed when I wonder from whom they learned about
perfection, when, instead of practising it themselves (for they think
they have no obligation to do that and have done quite enough by a
reasonable observance of the Commandments), they condemn others, and at
times mistake virtue for indulgence. Do not think, then, that they need
but little Divine favour in this great battle upon which they have
entered; on the contrary, they need a great deal.

I beg you to try to live in such a way as to be worthy to obtain two
things from God. First, that there may be many of these very learned
and religious men who have the qualifications for their task which I
have described, and that the Lord may prepare those who are not
completely prepared already and who lack anything, for a single one who
is perfect will do more than many who are not. Secondly, that after
they have entered upon this struggle, which, as I say, is not light,
but a very heavy one, the Lord may have them in His hand so that they
may be delivered from all the dangers that are in the world, and, while
sailing on this perilous sea, may shut their ears to the song of the
sirens. If we can prevail with God in the smallest degree about this,
we shall be fighting His battle even while living a cloistered life and
I shall consider as well spent all the trouble to which I have gone in
founding this retreat, [17] where I have also tried to ensure that this
Rule of Our Lady and Empress shall be kept in its original perfection.

Do not think that offering this petition continually is useless. Some
people think it a hardship not to be praying all the time for their own
souls. Yet what better prayer could there be than this? You may be
worried because you think it will do nothing to lessen your pains in
Purgatory, but actually praying in this way will relieve you of some of
them and anything else that is left–well, let it remain. After all,
what does it matter if I am in Purgatory until the Day of Judgment
provided a single soul should be saved through my prayer? And how much
less does it matter if many souls profit by it and the Lord is
honoured! Make no account of any pain which has an end if by means of
it any greater service can be rendered to Him Who bore such pains for
us. Always try to find out wherein lies the greatest perfection. And
for the love of the Lord I beg you to beseech His Majesty to hear us in
this; I, miserable creature though I am, beseech this of His Majesty,
since it is for His glory and the good of His Church, which are my only

It seems over-bold of me to think that I can do anything towards
obtaining this. But I have confidence, my Lord, in these servants of
Thine who are here, knowing that they neither desire nor strive after
anything but to please Thee. For Thy sake they have left the little
they possessed, wishing they had more so that they might serve Thee
with it. Since Thou, my Creator, art not ungrateful, I do not think
Thou wilt fail to do what they beseech of Thee, for when Thou wert in
the world, Lord, Thou didst not despise women, but didst always help
them and show them great compassion. [18] Thou didst find more faith
and no less love in them than in men, and one of them was Thy most
sacred Mother, from whose merits we derive merit, and whose habit we
wear, though our sins make us unworthy to do so. [19] We can do nothing
in public that is of any use to Thee, nor dare we speak of some of the
truths over which we weep in secret lest Thou shouldst not hear this
our just petition. Yet, Lord I cannot believe this of Thy goodness and
righteousness, for Thou art a righteous Judge, not like judges in the
world, who, being, after all, men and sons of Adam, refuse to consider
any woman’s virtue as above suspicion. Yes, my King, but the day will
come when all will be known. I am not speaking on my own account, for
the whole world is already aware of my wickedness, and I am glad that
it should become known; but, when I see what the times are like, I feel
it is not right to repel spirits which are virtuous and brave, even
though they be the spirits of women.

Hear us not when we ask Thee for honours, endowments, money, or
anything that has to do with the world; but why shouldst Thou not hear
us, Eternal Father, when we ask only for the honour of Thy Son, when we
would forfeit a thousand honours and a thousand lives for Thy sake? Not
for ourselves, Lord, for we do not deserve to be heard, but for the
blood of Thy Son and for His merits.

Oh, Eternal Father! Surely all these scourgings and insults and
grievous tortures will not be forgotten. How, then, my Creator, can a
heart so [merciful and] loving as Thine endure that an act which was
performed by Thy Son in order to please Thee the more (for He loved
Thee most deeply and Thou didst command Him to love us) should be
treated as lightly as those heretics treat the Most Holy Sacrament
today, in taking it from its resting-place when they destroy the
churches? Could it be that [Thy Son and our Redeemer] had failed to do
something to please Thee? No: He fulfilled everything. Was it not
enough, Eternal Father, that while He lived He had no place to lay His
head and had always to endure so many trials? Must they now deprive Him
of the places [20] to which He can invite His friends, seeing how weak
we are and knowing that those who have to labour need such food to
sustain them? Had He not already more than sufficiently paid for the
sin of Adam? Has this most loving Lamb to pay once more whenever we
relapse into sin? Permit it not, my Emperor; let Thy Majesty be
appeased; look not upon our sins but upon our redemption by Thy Most
Sacred Son, upon His merits and upon those of His glorious Mother and
of all the saints and martyrs who have died for Thee.

Alas, Lord, who is it that has dared to make this petition in the name
of all? What a poor mediator am I, my daughters, to gain a hearing for
you and to present your petition! When this Sovereign Judge sees how
bold I am it may well move Him to anger, as would be both right and
just. But behold, Lord, Thou art a God of mercy; have mercy upon this
poor sinner, this miserable worm who is so bold with Thee. Behold my
desires, my God, and the tears with which I beg this of Thee; forget my
deeds, for Thy name’s sake, and have pity upon all these souls who are
being lost, and help Thy Church. Do not permit more harm to be wrought
to Christendom, Lord; give light to this darkness.

For the love of the Lord, my sisters, I beg you to commend this poor
sinner [21] to His Majesty and to beseech Him to give her humility, as
you are bound to do. I do not charge you to pray particularly for kings
and prelates of the Church, especially for our Bishop, for I know that
those of you now here are very careful about this and so I think it is
needless for me to say more. Let those who are to come remember that,
if they have a prelate who is holy, those under him will be holy too,
and let them realize how important it is to bring him continually
before the Lord. If your prayers and desires and disciplines and fasts
are not performed for the intentions of which I have spoken, reflect
[and believe] that you are not carrying out the work or fulfilling the
object for which the Lord has brought you here.

[17] Lit.: ”making this corner.” The reference is to St. Joseph’s,

[18] The italicized lines which follow, and are in the nature of a
digression, do not appear in V., and in E. they have been crossed out.

[19] Here follow two erased lines which are illegible but for the words
”Thou didst honour the world”. The exact sense of the following words
(”We can . . . in secret”) is affected by these illegible lines and
must be considered uncertain.

[20] Lit.: ”of those.” P. Bañez wrote in the margin ”of the mansions”
using the word which is thus translated in the titles of the seven main
divisions of the Interior Castle. T. has: ”of the houses.”

[21] Lit., ”poor little one.”

Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which are important
for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these three things, which is
love of one’s neighbour, and speaks of the harm which can be done by individual

Now, daughters, you have looked at the great enterprise which we are
trying to carry out. What kind of persons shall we have to be if we are
not to be considered over-bold in the eyes of God and of the world? It
is clear that we need to labour hard and it will be a great help to us
if we have sublime thoughts so that we may strive to make our actions
sublime also. If we endeavour to observe our Rule and Constitutions in
the fullest sense, and with great care, I hope in the Lord that He will
grant our requests. I am not asking anything new of you, my
daughters–only that we should hold to our profession, which, as it is
our vocation, we are bound to do, although there are many ways of
holding to it.

Our Primitive Rules tells us to pray without ceasing. Provided we do
this with all possible care (and it is the most important thing of all)
we shall not fail to observe the fasts, disciplines and periods of
silence which the Order commands; for, as you know, if prayer is to be
genuine it must be reinforced with these things–prayer cannot be
accompanied by self-indulgence.

It is about prayer that you have asked me to say something to you. As
an acknowledgment of what I shall say, I beg you to read frequently and
with a good will what I have said about it thus far, and to put this
into practice. Before speaking of the interior life–that is, of
prayer–I shall speak of certain things which those who attempt to walk
along the way of prayer must of necessity practise. So necessary are
these that, even though not greatly given to contemplation, people who
have them can advance a long way in the Lord’s service, while, unless
they have them, they cannot possibly be great contemplatives, and, if
they think they are, they are much mistaken. May the Lord help me in
this task and teach me what I must say, so that it may be to His glory.

Do not suppose, my friends and sisters, that I am going to charge you
to do a great many things; may it please the Lord that we do the things
which our holy Fathers ordained and practised and by doing which they
merited that name. It would be wrong of us to look for any other way or
to learn from anyone else. There are only three things which I will
explain at some length and which are taken from our Constitution
itself. It is essential that we should understand how very important
they are to us in helping us to preserve that peace, both inward and
outward, which the Lord so earnestly recommended to us. One of these is
love for each other; the second, detachment from all created things;
the third, true humility, which, although I put it last, is the most
important of the three and embraces all the rest.

With regard to the first–namely, love for each other– this is of very
great importance; for there is nothing, however annoying, that cannot
easily be borne by those who love each other, and anything which causes
annoyance must be quite exceptional. If this commandment were kept in
the world, as it should be, I believe it would take us a long way
towards the keeping of the rest; but, what with having too much love
for each other or too little, we never manage to keep it perfectly. It
may seem that for us to have too much love for each other cannot be
wrong, but I do not think anyone who had not been an eye-witness of it
would believe how much evil and how many imperfections can result from
this. The devil sets many snares here which the consciences of those
who aim only in a rough-and-ready way at pleasing God seldom observe–
indeed, they think they are acting virtuously–but those who are aiming
at perfection understand what they are very well: little by little they
deprive the will of the strength which it needs if it is to employ
itself wholly in the love of God.

This is even more applicable to women than to men and the harm which it
does to community life is very serious. One result of it is that all
the nuns do not love each other equally: some injury done to a friend
is resented; a nun desires to have something to give to her friend or
tries to make time for talking to her, and often her object in doing
this is to tell her how fond she is of her, and other irrelevant
things, rather than how much she loves God. These intimate friendships
are seldom calculated [22] to make for the love of God; I am more
inclined to believe that the devil initiates them so as to create
factions within religious Orders. When a friendship has for its object
the service of His Majesty, it at once becomes clear that the will is
devoid of passion and indeed is helping to conquer other passions.

Where a convent is large I should like to see many friendships of that
type; but in this house, where there are not, and can never be, more
than thirteen nuns, all must be friends with each other, love each
other, be fond of each other and help each other. For the love of the
Lord, refrain from making individual friendships, however holy, for
even among brothers and sisters such things are apt to be poisonous and
I can see no advantage in them; when they are between other relatives,
[23] they are much more dangerous and become a pest. Believe me,
sisters, though I may seem to you extreme in this, great perfection and
great peace come of doing what I say and many occasions of sin may be
avoided by those who are not very strong. If our will becomes inclined
more to one person than to another (this cannot be helped, because it
is natural–it often leads us to love the person who has the most
faults if she is the most richly endowed by nature), we must exercise a
firm restraint on ourselves and not allow ourselves to be conquered by
our affection. Let us love the virtues and inward goodness, and let us
always apply ourselves and take care to avoid attaching importance to

Let us not allow our will to be the slave of any, sisters, save of Him
Who bought it with His blood. Otherwise, before we know where we are,
we shall find ourselves trapped, and unable to move. God help me! The
puerilities which result from this are innumerable. And, because they
are so trivial that only those who see how bad they are will realize
and believe it, there is no point in speaking of them here except to
say that they are wrong in anyone, and, in a prioress, pestilential.

In checking these preferences we must be strictly on the alert from the
moment that such a friendship begins and we must proceed diligently and
lovingly rather than severely. One effective precaution against this is
that the sisters should not be together except at the prescribed hours,
and that they should follow our present custom in not talking with one
another, or being alone together, as is laid down in the Rule: each one
should be alone in her cell. There must be no workroom at Saint
Joseph’s; for, although it is a praiseworthy custom to have one, it is
easier to keep silence if one is alone, and getting used to solitude is
a great help to prayer. Since prayer must be the foundation on which
this house is built, it is necessary for us to learn to like whatever
gives us the greatest help in it.

Returning to the question of our love for one another, it seems quite
unnecessary to commend this to you, for where are there people so
brutish as not to love one another when they live together, are
continually in one another’s company, indulge in no conversation,
association or recreation with any outside their house and believe that
God loves us and that they themselves love God since they are leaving
everything for His Majesty? More especially is this so as virtue always
attracts love, and I hope in God that, with the help of His Majesty,
there will always be love in the sisters of this house. It seems to me,
therefore, that there is no reason for me to commend this to you any

With regard to the nature of this mutual love and what is meant by the
virtuous love which I wish you to have here, and how we shall know when
we have this virtue, which is a very great one, since Our Lord has so
strongly commended it to us and so straitly enjoined it upon His
Apostles–about all this I should like to say a little now as well as
my lack of skill will allow me; if you find this explained in great
detail in other books, take no notice of what I am saying here, for it
may be that I do not understand what I am talking about.

There are two kinds of love which I am describing. The one is purely
spiritual, and apparently has nothing to do with sensuality or the
tenderness of our nature, either of which might stain its purity. The
other is also spiritual, but mingled with it are our sensuality and
weakness; [24] yet it is a worthy love, which, as between relatives and
friends, seems lawful. Of this I have already said sufficient.

It is of the first kind of spiritual love that I would now speak. It is
untainted by any sort of passion, for such a thing would completely
spoil its harmony. If it leads us to treat virtuous people, especially
confessors, with moderation and discretion, it is profitable; but, if
the confessor is seen to be tending in any way towards vanity, he
should be regarded with grave suspicion, and, in such a case,
conversation with him, however edifying, should be avoided, and the
sister should make her confession briefly and say nothing more. It
would be best for her, indeed, to tell the superior that she does not
get on with him and go elsewhere; this is the safest way, providing it
can be done without injuring his reputation. [25]

In such cases, and in other difficulties with which the devil might
ensnare us, so that we have no idea where to turn, the safest thing
will be for the sister to try to speak with some learned person; if
necessary, permission to do this can be given her, and she can make her
confession to him and act in the matter as he directs her. For he
cannot fail to give her some good advice about it, without which she
might go very far astray. How often people stray through not taking
advice, especially when there is a risk of doing someone harm! The
course that must on no account be followed is to do nothing at all;
for, when the devil begins to make trouble in this way, he will do a
great deal of harm if he is not stopped quickly; the plan I have
suggested, then, of trying to consult another confessor is the safest
one if it is practicable, and I hope in the Lord that it will be so.

Reflect upon the great importance of this, for it is a dangerous
matter, and can be a veritable hell, and a source of harm to everyone.
I advise you not to wait until a great deal of harm has been done but
to take every possible step that you can think of and stop the trouble
at the outset; this you may do with a good conscience. But I hope in
the Lord that He will not allow persons who are to spend their lives in
prayer to have any attachment save to one who is a great servant of
God; and I am quite certain He will not, unless they have no love for
prayer and for striving after perfection in the way we try to do here.
For, unless they see that he understands their language and likes to
speak to them of God, they cannot possibly love him, as he is not like
them. If he is such a person, he will have very few opportunities of
doing any harm, and, unless he is very simple, he will not seek to
disturb his own peace of mind and that of the servants of God.

As I have begun to speak about this, I will repeat that the devil can
do a great deal of harm here, which will long remain undiscovered, and
thus the soul that is striving after perfection can be gradually ruined
without knowing how. For, if a confessor gives occasion for vanity
through being vain himself, he will be very tolerant with it in [the
consciences of] others. May God, for His Majesty’s own sake, deliver us
from things of this kind. It would be enough to unsettle all the nuns
if their consciences and their confessor should give them exactly
opposite advice, and, if it is insisted that they must have one
confessor only, they will not know what to do, nor how to pacify their
minds, since the very person who should be calming them and helping
them is the source of the harm. In some places there must be a great
deal of trouble of this kind: I always feel very sorry about it and so
you must not be surprised if I attach great importance to your
understanding this danger.

Appendix To Chapter 4

The following variant reading of the Escorial Manuscript seems too
important to be relegated to a footnote. It occurs the twelfth
paragraph of ch. 4 (cf. n. 24) , and deals, as will be seen, with the
qualifications and character of the confessor. Many editors substitute
it in their text for the corresponding passage in V. As will be seen,
however, it is not a pure addition; we therefore reproduce it

The important thing is that these two kinds of mutual love should be
untainted by any sort of passion, for such a thing would completely
spoil this harmony. If we exercise this love, of which I have spoken,
with moderation and discretion, it is wholly meritorious, because what
seems to us sensuality is turned into virtue. But the two may be so
closely intertwined with one another that it is sometimes impossible to
distinguish them, especially where a confessor is concerned. For if
persons who are practising prayer find that their confessor is a holy
man and understands the way they behave, they become greatly attached
to him. And then forthwith the devil lets loose upon them a whole
battery of scruples which produce a terrible disturbance within the
soul, this being what he is aiming at. In particular, if the confessor
is guiding such persons to greater perfection, they become so depressed
that they will go so far as to leave him for another and yet another,
only to be tormented by the same temptation every time.

What you can do here is not to let your minds dwell upon whether you
like your confessor or not, but just to like him if you feel so
inclined. For, if we grow fond of people who are kind to our bodies,
why should we not love those who are always striving and toiling to
help our souls? Actually, if my confessor is a holy and spiritual man
and I see that he is taking great pains for the benefit of my soul, I
think it will be a real help to my progress for me to like him. For so
weak are we that such affection sometimes helps us a great deal to
undertake very great things in God’s service.

But, if your confessor is not such a person as I have described, there
is a possibility of danger, and for him to know that you like him may
do the greatest harm, most of all in houses where the nuns are very
strictly enclosed. And as it is a difficult thing to get to know which
confessors are good, great care and caution are necessary. The best
advice to give would be that you should see he has no idea of your
affection for him and is not told about it. But the devil is so active
that this is not practicable: you feel as if this is the only thing you
have to confess and imagine you are obliged to confess it. For this
reason I should like you to think that your affection for him is of no
importance and to take no more notice of it.

Follow this advice if you find that everything your confessor says to
you profits your soul; if you neither see nor hear him indulge in any
vanity (and such things are always noticed except by one who is
wilfully dull) and if you know him to be a God-fearing man, do not be
distressed over any temptation about being too fond of him, and the
devil will then grow tired and stop tempting you. But if you notice
that the confessor is tending in any way towards vanity in what he says
to you, you should regard him with grave suspicion; in such a case
conversation with him, even about prayer and about God, should be
avoided–the sister should make her confession briefly and say nothing
more. It would be best for her to tell the Mother (Superior) that she
does not get on with him and go elsewhere. This is the safest way if it
is practicable, and I hope in God that it will be, and that you will do
all you possibly can to have no relations with him, though this may be
very painful for you.

Reflect upon the great importance of this, etc. (pp. 58-9).

[22] Lit.: ”are seldom ordered in such a way as.”

[23] ”Other” is not in the Spanish. ”When they are only between”, is
the reading of T., which also omits: ”and become a pest.”

[24] Here begins the passage reproduced in the Appendix to Chapter 4,

[25] Honra.

Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important that they should
be learned men.

May the Lord grant, for His Majesty’s own sake, that no one in this
house shall experience the trials that have been described, or find
herself oppressed in this way in soul and body. I hope the superior
will never be so intimate with the confessor that no one will dare to
say anything about him to her or about her to him. For this will tempt
unfortunate penitents to leave very grave sins unconfessed because they
will feel uncomfortable about confessing them. God help me! What
trouble the devil can make here and how dearly people have to pay for
their miserable worries and concern about honour! If they consult only
one confessor, they think they are acting in the interests of their
Order and for the greater honour of their convent: and that is the way
the devil lays his snares for souls when he can find no other. If the
poor sisters ask for another confessor, they are told that this would
mean the complete end of all discipline in the convent; and, if he is
not a priest of their Order, even though he be a saint, they are led to
believe that they would be disgracing their entire Order by consulting

Give great praise to God, Daughters, for this liberty that you have,
for, though there are not a great many priests whom you can consult,
there are a few, other than your ordinary confessors, who can give you
light upon everything. I beg every superior, [26] for the love of the
Lord, to allow a holy liberty here: let the Bishop or Provincial be
approached for leave for the sisters to go from time to time beyond
their ordinary confessors and talk about their souls with persons of
learning, especially if the confessors, though good men, have no
learning; for learning is a great help in giving light upon everything.
It should be possible to find a number of people who combine both
learning and spirituality, and the more favours the Lord grants you in
prayer, the more needful is it that your good works and your prayers
should have a sure foundation.

You already know that the first stone of this foundation must be a good
conscience and that you must make every effort to free yourselves from
even venial sins and follow the greatest possible perfection. You might
suppose that any confessor would know this, but you would be wrong: it
happened that I had to go about matters of consciences to a man who had
taken a complete course in theology; and he did me a great deal of
mischief by telling me that certain things were of no importance. I
know that he had no intention of deceiving me, or any reason for doing
so: it was simply that he knew no better. And in addition to this
instance I have met with two or three similar ones.

Everything depends on our having true light to keep the law of God
perfectly. This is a firm basis for prayer; but without this strong
foundation the whole building will go awry. In making their
confessions, then, the nuns must be free to discuss spiritual matters
with such persons as I have described. I will even go farther and say
that they should sometimes do as I have said even if their confessor
has all these good qualities, for he may quite easily make mistakes and
it is a pity that he should be the cause of their going astray. They
must try, however, never to act in any way against obedience, for they
will find ways of getting all the help they need: it is of great
importance to them that they should, and so they must make every
possible effort to do so.

All this that I have said has to do with the superior. Since there are
no consolations but spiritual ones to be had here, I would beg her once
again to see that the sisters get these consolations, for God leads
[His handmaidens] by different ways and it is impossible that one
confessor should be acquainted with them all. I assure you that, if
your souls are as they ought to be, there is no lack of holy persons
who will be glad to advise and console you, even though you are poor.
For He Who sustains our bodies will awaken and encourage someone to
give light to our souls, and thus this evil of which I am so much
afraid will be remedied. For if the devil should tempt the confessor,
with the result that he leads you astray on any point of doctrine he
will go slowly and be more careful about all he is doing when he knows
that the penitent is also consulting others.

If the devil is prevented from entering convents in this way, I hope in
God that he will never get into this house at all; so, for love of the
Lord, I beg whoever is Bishop to allow the sisters this liberty and not
to withdraw it so long as the confessors are persons both of learning
and of good lives, a fact which will soon come to be known in a little
place like this.

In what I have said here, I am speaking from experience of things that
I have seen and heard in many convents and gathered from conversation
with learned and holy people who have considered what is most fitting
for this house, so that it may advance in perfection. Among the perils
which exist everywhere, for as long as life lasts, we shall find that
this is the least. No vicar should be free to go in and out of the
convent, and no confessor should have this freedom either. They are
there to watch over the recollectedness and good living of the house
and its progress in both interior and exterior matters, so that they
may report to the superior whenever needful, but they are never to be
superiors themselves. As I say, excellent reasons have been found why,
everything considered, this is the best course, and why, if any priest
hears confessions frequently, it should be the chaplain; but, if the
nuns think it necessary, they can make their confessions to such
persons as have been described, provided the superior is informed of
it, and the prioress is such that the Bishop can trust her discretion.
As there are very few nuns here, this will not take up much time.

This is our present practice; and it is not followed merely on my
advice. Our present Bishop, Don Álvaro de Mendoza, under whose
obedience we live (since for many reasons we have not been placed under
the jurisdiction of the Order), is greatly attached to holiness and the
religious life, and, besides being of most noble extraction, is a great
servant of God. He is always very glad to help this house in every way,
and to this very end he brought together persons of learning,
spirituality and experience, and this decision was then come to. It
will be only right that future superiors should conform to his opinion,
since it has been decided on by such good men, and after so many
prayers to the Lord that He would enlighten them in every possible way,
which, so far as we can at present see, He has certainly done. May the
Lord be pleased to promote the advancement of this to His greater
glory. Amen.

[26] Lit.: ”I beg her who is in the position of a senior (mayor).”
Mayor was the title given to the superior at the Incarnation, Ávila,
and many other convents in Spain, at that time.

Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun.

I have digressed a great deal but no one will blame me who understands
the importance of what has been said. Let us now return to the love
which it is good [and lawful] for us to feel. This I have described as
purely spiritual; I am not sure if I know what I am talking about, but
it seems to me that there is no need to speak much of it, since so few,
I fear, possess it; let any one of you to whom the Lord has given it
praise Him fervently, for she must be a person of the greatest
perfection. It is about this that I now wish to write. Perhaps what I
say may be of some profit, for if you look at a virtue you desire it
and try to gain it, and so become attached to it.

God grant that I may be able to understand this, and even more that I
may be able to describe it, for I am not sure that I know when love is
spiritual and when there is sensuality mingled with it, or how to begin
speaking about it. I am like one who hears a person speaking in the
distance and, though he can hear that he is speaking, cannot
distinguish what he is saying. It is just like that with me: sometimes
I cannot understand what I am saying, yet the Lord is pleased to enable
me to say it well. If at other times what I say is [ridiculous and]
nonsensical, it is only natural for me to go completely astray.

Now it seems to me that, when God has brought someone to a clear
knowledge of the world, and of its nature, and of the fact that another
world (or, let us say, another kingdom) exists, and that there is a
great difference between the one and the other, the one being eternal
and the other only a dream; and of what it is to love the Creator and
what to love the creature (this must be discovered by experience, for
it is a very different matter from merely thinking about it and
believing it); when one understands by sight and experience what can be
gained by the one practice and lost by the other, and what the Creator
is and what the creature, and many other things which the Lord teaches
to those who are willing to devote themselves to being taught by Him in
prayer, or whom His Majesty wishes to teach–then one loves very
differently from those of us who have not advanced thus far.

It may be, sisters, that you think it irrelevant for me to treat of
this, and you may say that you already know everything that I have
said. God grant that this may be so, and that you may indeed know it in
the only way which has any meaning, and that it may be graven upon your
inmost being, and that you may never for a moment depart from it, for,
if you know it, you will see that I am telling nothing but the truth
when I say that he whom the Lord brings thus far possesses this love.
Those whom God brings to this state are, I think, generous and royal
souls; they are not content with loving anything so miserable as these
bodies, however beautiful they be and however numerous the graces they
possess. If the sight of the body gives them pleasure they praise the
Creator, but as for dwelling upon it for more than just a moment–no!
When I use that phrase ”dwelling upon it”, I refer to having love for
such things. If they had such love, they would think they were loving
something insubstantial and were conceiving fondness for a shadow, they
would feel shame for themselves and would not have the effrontery to
tell God that they love Him, without feeling great confusion.

You will answer me that such persons cannot love or repay the affection
shown to them by others. Certainly they care little about having this
affection. They may from time to time experience a natural and
momentary pleasure at being loved; yet, as soon as they return to their
normal condition, they realize that such pleasure is folly save when
the persons concerned can benefit their souls, either by instruction or
by prayer. Any other kind of affection wearies them, for they know it
can bring them no profit and may well do them harm; none the less they
are grateful for it and recompense it by commending those who love them
to God. They take this affection as something for which those who love
them lay the responsibility upon the Lord, from Whom, since they can
see nothing lovable in themselves, they suppose the love comes, and
think that others love them because God loves them; and so they leave
His Majesty to recompense them for this and beg Him to do so, thus
freeing themselves and feeling they have no more responsibility. When I
ponder it carefully, I sometimes think this desire for affection is
sheer blindness, except when, as I say, it relates to persons who can
lead us to do good so that we may gain blessings in perfection.

It should be noted here that, when we desire anyone’s affection, we
always seek it because of some interest, profit or pleasure of our own.
Those who are perfect, however, have trodden all these things beneath
their feet–[and have despised] the blessings which may come to them in
this world, and its pleasures and delights–in such a way that, even if
they wanted to, so to say, they could not love anything outside God, or
unless it had to do with God. What profit, then, can come to them from
being loved themselves?

When this truth is put to them, they laugh at the distress which had
been assailing them in the past as to whether their affection was being
returned or no. Of course, however pure our affection may be, it is
quite natural for us to wish it to be returned. But, when we come to
evaluate the return of affection, we realize that it is insubstantial,
like a thing of straw, as light as air and easily carried away by the
wind. For, however dearly we have been loved, what is there that
remains to us? Such persons, then, except for the advantage that the
affection may bring to their souls (because they realize that our
nature is such that we soon tire of life without love), care nothing
whether they are loved or not. Do you think that such persons will love
none and delight in none save God? No; they will love others much more
than they did, with a more genuine love, with greater passion and with
a love which brings more profit; that, in a word, is what love really
is. And such souls are always much fonder of giving than of receiving,
even in their relations with the Creator Himself. This [holy
affection], I say, merits the name of love, which name has been usurped
from it by those other base affections.

Do you ask, again, by what they are attracted if they do not love
things they see? They do love what they see and they are greatly
attracted by what they hear; but the things which they see are
everlasting. If they love anyone they immediately look right beyond the
body (on which, as I say, they cannot dwell), fix their eyes on the
soul and see what there is to be loved in that. If there is nothing,
but they see any suggestion or inclination which shows them that, if
they dig deep, they will find gold within this mine, they think nothing
of the labour of digging, since they have love. There is nothing that
suggests itself to them which they will not willingly do for the good
of that soul since they desire their love for it to be lasting, and
they know quite well that that is impossible unless the loved one has
certain good qualities and a great love for God. I really mean that it
is impossible, however great their obligations and even if that soul
were to die for love of them and do them all the kind actions in its
power; even had it all the natural graces joined in one, their wills
would not have strength enough to love it nor would they remain fixed
upon it. They know and have learned and experienced the worth of all
this; no false dice can deceive them. They see that they are not in
unison with that soul and that their love for it cannot possibly last;
for, unless that soul keeps the law of God, their love will end with
life– they know that unless it loves Him they will go to different

Those into whose souls the Lord has already infused true wisdom do not
esteem this love, which lasts only on earth, at more than its true
worth–if, indeed, at so much. Those who like to take pleasure in
worldly things, delights, honours and riches, will account it of some
worth if their friend is rich and able to afford them pastime and
pleasure and recreation; but those who already hate all this will care
little or nothing for such things. If they have any love for such a
person, then, it will be a passion that he may love God so as to be
loved by Him; for, as I say, they know that no other kind of affection
but this can last, and that this kind will cost them dear, for which
reason they do all they possibly can for their friend’s profit; they
would lose a thousand lives to bring him a small blessing. Oh, precious
love, forever imitating the Captain of Love, Jesus, our Good!

Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain counsels for
gaining it.

It is strange to see how impassioned this love is; how many tears,
penances and prayers it costs; how careful is the loving soul to
commend the object of its affection to all who it thinks may prevail
with God and to ask them to intercede with Him for it; and how constant
is its longing, so that it cannot be happy unless it sees that its
loved one is making progress. If that soul seems to have advanced, and
is then seen to fall some way back, her friend seems to have no more
pleasure in life: she neither eats nor sleeps, is never free from this
fear and is always afraid that the soul whom she loves so much may be
lost, and that the two may be parted for ever. She cares nothing for
physical death, but she will not suffer herself to be attached to
something which a puff of wind may carry away so that she is unable to
retain her hold upon it. This, as I have said, is love without any
degree whatsoever of self-interest; all that this soul wishes and
desires is to see the soul [it loves] enriched with blessings from
Heaven. This is love, quite unlike our ill-starred earthly
affections–to say nothing of illicit affections, from which may God
keep us free.

These last affections are a very hell, and it is needless for us to
weary ourselves by saying how evil they are, for the least of the evils
which they bring are terrible beyond exaggeration. There is no need for
us ever to take such things upon our lips, sisters, or even to think of
them, or to remember that they exist anywhere in the world; you must
never listen to anyone speaking of such affections, either in jest or
in earnest, nor allow them to be mentioned or discussed in your
presence. No good can come from our doing this and it might do us harm
even to hear them mentioned. But with regard to the lawful affections
which, as I have said, we may have for each other, or for relatives and
friends, it is different. Our whole desire is that they should not die:
if their heads ache, our souls seem to ache too; if we see them in
distress, we are unable (as people say) to sit still under it; [27] and
so on.

This is not so with spiritual affection. Although the weakness of our
nature may at first allow us to feel something of all this, our reason
soon begins to reflect whether our friend’s trials are not good for
her, and to wonder if they are making her richer in virtue and how she
is bearing them, and then we shall ask God to give her patience so that
they may win her merit. If we see that she is being patient, we feel no
distress–indeed, we are gladdened and consoled. If all the merit and
gain which suffering is capable of producing could be made over to her,
we should still prefer suffering her trial ourselves to seeing her
suffer it, but we are not worried or disquieted.

I repeat once more that this love is a similitude and copy of that
which was borne for us by the good Lover, Jesus. It is for that reason
that it brings us such immense benefits, for it makes us embrace every
kind of suffering, so that others, without having to endure the
suffering, may gain its advantages. The recipients of this friendship,
then, profit greatly, but their friends should realize that either this
intercourse–I mean, this exclusive friendship–must come to an end or
that they must prevail upon Our Lord that their friend may walk in the
same way as themselves, as Saint Monica prevailed with Him for Saint
Augustine. Their heart does not allow them to practise duplicity: if
they see their friend straying from the road, or committing any faults,
they will speak to her about it; they cannot allow themselves to do
anything else. And if after this the loved one does not amend, they
will not flatter her or hide anything from her. Either, then, she will
amend or their friendship will cease; for otherwise they would be
unable to endure it, nor is it in fact endurable. It would mean
continual war for both parties. A person may be indifferent to all
other people in the world and not worry whether they are serving God or
not, since the person she has to worry about is herself. But she cannot
take this attitude with her friends: nothing they do can be hidden from
her; she sees the smallest mote in them. This, I repeat, is a very
heavy cross for her to bear.

Happy the souls that are loved by such as these! Happy the day on which
they came to know them! O my Lord, wilt Thou not grant me the favour of
giving me many who have such love for me? Truly, Lord, I would rather
have this than be loved by all the kings and lords of the world–and
rightly so, for such friends use every means in their power to make us
lords of the whole world and to have all that is in it subject to us.
When you make the acquaintance of any such persons, sisters, the Mother
Prioress should employ every possible effort to keep you in touch with
them. Love such persons as much as you like. There can be very few of
them, but none the less it is the Lord’s will that their goodness
should be known. When one of you is striving after perfection, she will
at once be told that she has no need to know such people–that it is
enough for her to have God. But to get to know God’s friends is a very
good way of ”having” Him; as I have discovered by experience, it is
most helpful. For, under the Lord, I owe it to such persons that I am
not in hell; I was always very fond of asking them to commend me to
God, and so I prevailed upon them to do so.

Let us now return to what we were saying. It is this kind of love which
I should like us to have; at first it may not be perfect but the Lord
will make it increasingly so. Let us begin with the methods of
obtaining it. At first it may be mingled with emotion, [28] but this,
as a rule, will do no harm. It is sometimes good and necessary for us
to show emotion in our love, and also to feel it, and to be distressed
by some of our sisters, trials and weaknesses, however trivial they may
be. For on one occasion as much distress may be caused by quite a small
matter as would be caused on another by some great trial, and there are
people whose nature it is to be very much cast down by small things. If
you are not like this, do not neglect to have compassion on others; it
may be that Our Lord wishes to spare us these sufferings and will give
us sufferings of another kind which will seem heavy to us, though to
the person already mentioned they may seem light. In these matters,
then, we must not judge others by ourselves, nor think of ourselves as
we have been at some time when, perhaps without any effort on our part,
the Lord has made us stronger than they; let us think of what we were
like at the times when we have been weakest.

Note the importance of this advice for those of us who would learn to
sympathize with our neighbours’ trials, however trivial these may be.
It is especially important for such souls as have been described, for,
desiring trials as they do, they make light of them all. They must
therefore try hard to recall what they were like when they were weak,
and reflect that, if they are no longer so, it is not due to
themselves. For otherwise, little by little, the devil could easily
cool our charity toward our neighbours and make us think that what is
really a failing on our part is perfection. In every respect we must be
careful and alert, for the devil never slumbers. And the nearer we are
to perfection, the more careful we must be, since his temptations are
then much more cunning because there are no others that he dare send
us; and if, as I say, we are not cautious, the harm is done before we
realize it. In short, we must always watch and pray, for there is no
better way than prayer of revealing these hidden wiles of the devil and
making him declare his presence.

Contrive always, even if you do not care for it, to take part in your
sisters’ necessary recreation and to do so for the whole of the
allotted time, for all considerate treatment of them is a part of
perfect love. It is a very good thing for us to take compassion on each
others’ needs. See that you show no lack of discretion about things
which are contrary to obedience. Though privately you may think the
prioress’ orders harsh ones, do not allow this to be noticed or tell
anyone about it (except that you may speak of it, with all humility, to
the prioress herself), for if you did so you would be doing a great
deal of harm. Get to know what are the things in your sisters which you
should be sorry to see and those about which you should sympathize with
them; and always show your grief at any notorious fault which you may
see in one of them. It is a good proof and test of our love if we can
bear with such faults and not be shocked by them. Others, in their
turn, will bear with your faults, which, if you include those of which
you are not aware, must be much more numerous. Often commend to God any
sister who is at fault and strive for your own part to practise the
virtue which is the opposite of her fault with great perfection. Make
determined efforts to do this so that you may teach your sister by your
deeds what perhaps she could never learn by words nor gain by

The habit of performing some conspicuously virtuous action through
seeing it performed by another is one which very easily takes root.
This is good advice: do not forget it. Oh, how true and genuine will be
the love of a sister who can bring profit to everyone by sacrificing
her own profit to that of the rest! She will make a great advance in
each of the virtues and keep her Rule with great perfection. This will
be a much truer kind of friendship than one which uses every possible
loving expression (such as are not used, and must not be used, in this
house): ”My life!” ”My love!” ”My darling!” [29] and suchlike things,
one or another of which people are always saying. Let such endearing
words be kept for your Spouse, for you will be so often and so much
alone With Him that you will want to make use of them all, and this His
Majesty permits you. If you use them among yourselves they will not
move the Lord so much; and, quite apart from that, there is no reason
why you should do so. They are very effeminate; and I should not like
you to be that, or even to appear to be that, in any way, my daughters;
I want you to be strong men. If you do all that is in you, the Lord
will make you so manly that men themselves will be amazed at you. And
how easy is this for His Majesty, Who made us out of nothing at all!

It is also a very clear sign of love to try to spare others household
work by taking it upon oneself and also to rejoice and give great
praise to the Lord if you see any increase in their virtues. All such
things, quite apart from the intrinsic good they bring, add greatly to
the peace and concord which we have among ourselves, as, through the
goodness of God, We can now see by experience. May His Majesty be
pleased ever to increase it, for it would be terrible if it did not
exist, and very awkward if, when there are so few of us, we got on
badly together. May God forbid that.

If one of you should be cross with another because of some hasty word,
the matter must at once be put right and you must betake yourselves to
earnest prayer. The same applies to the harbouring of any grudge, or to
party strife, or to the desire to be greatest, or to any nice point
concerning your honour. (My blood seems to run cold, as I write this,
at the very idea that this can ever happen, but I know it is the chief
trouble in convents.) If it should happen to you, consider yourselves
lost. Just reflect and realize that you have driven your Spouse from
His home: He will have to go and seek another abode, since you are
driving Him from His own house. Cry aloud to His Majesty and try to put
things right; and if frequent confessions and communions do not mend
them, you may well fear that there is some Judas among you.

For the love of God, let the prioress be most careful not to allow this
to occur. She must put a stop to it from the very outset, and, if love
will not suffice, she must use heavy punishments, for here we have the
whole of the mischief and the remedy. If you gather that any of the
nuns is making trouble, see that she is sent to some other convent and
God will provide them with a dowry for her. Drive away this plague; cut
off the branches as well as you can; and, if that is not sufficient,
pull up the roots. If you cannot do this, shut up anyone who is guilty
of such things and forbid her to leave her cell; far better this than
that all the nuns should catch so incurable a plague. Oh, what a great
evil is this! God deliver us from a convent into which it enters: I
would rather our convent caught fire and we were all burned alive. As
this is so important I think I shall say a little more about it
elsewhere, so I will not write at greater length here, except to say
that, provided they treat each other equally, I would rather that the
nuns showed a tender and affectionate love and regard for each other,
even though there is less perfection in this than in the love I have
described, than that there were a single note of discord to be heard
among them. May the Lord forbid this, for His own sake. Amen.

[27] Lit.: ”There remains, as people say, no patience”; but, as the
phrase ”as people say” (which E. omits) suggests that this was a
popular phrase, I have translated rather more freely and picturesquely.
T. has (after ”ache too”): ”and it upsets us, and so on.”

[28] Ternura. Lit.: ‘tenderness.”

[29] Lit.: ”My life!” ”My soul!” ”My good!”

Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and exterior,
from all things created.

Let us now come to the detachment which we must practise, for if this
is carried out perfectly it includes everything else. I say ”it
includes everything else” because, if we care nothing for any created
things, but embrace the Creator alone, His Majesty will infuse the
virtues into us in such a way that, provided we labour to the best of
our abilities day by day, we shall not have to wage war much longer,
for the Lord will take our defence in hand against the devils and
against the whole world. Do you suppose, daughters, that it is a small
benefit to obtain for ourselves this blessing of giving ourselves
wholly to Him, [30] and keeping nothing for ourselves? Since, as I say,
all blessings are in Him, let us give Him hearty praise, sisters, for
having brought us together here, where we are occupied in this alone. I
do not know why I am saying this, when all of you here are capable of
teaching me, for I confess that, in this important respect, I am not as
perfect as I should like to be and as I know I ought to be; and I must
say the same about all the virtues and about all that I am dealing with
here, for it is easier to write of such things than to practise them. I
may not even be able to write of them effectively, for sometimes
ability to do this comes only from experience–[that is to say, if I
have any success, it must be because] I explain the nature of these
virtues by describing the contraries of the qualities I myself possess.

As far as exterior matters are concerned, you know how completely cut
off we are from everything. Oh, my Creator and Lord! When have I
merited so great an honour? Thou seemest to have searched everywhere
for means of drawing nearer to us. May it please Thy goodness that we
lose not this through our own fault. Oh, sisters, for the love of God,
try to realize what a great favour the Lord has bestowed on those of us
whom He has brought here. Let each of you apply this to herself, since
there are only twelve of us [31] and His Majesty has been pleased for
you to be one. How many people–what a multitude of people!–do I know
who are better than myself and would gladly take this place of mine,
yet the Lord has granted it to me who so ill deserve it! Blessed be
Thou, my God, and let the angels and all created things praise Thee,
for I can no more repay this favour than all the others Thou hast shown
me. It was a wonderful thing to give me the vocation to be a nun; but I
have been so wicked, Lord, that Thou couldst not trust me. In a place
where there were many good women living together my wickedness would
not perhaps have been noticed right down to the end of my life: I
should have concealed it, as I did for so many years. So Thou didst
bring me here, where, as there are so few of us that it would seem
impossible for it to remain unnoticed, Thou dost remove occasions of
sin from me so that I may walk the more carefully. There is no excuse
for me, then, O Lord, I confess it, and so I have need of Thy mercy,
that Thou mayest pardon me.

Remember, my sisters, that if we are not good we are much more to blame
than others. What I earnestly beg of you is that anyone who knows she
will be unable to follow our customs will say so [before she is
professed]: there are other convents in which the Lord is also well
served and she should not remain here and disturb these few of us whom
His Majesty has brought together for His service. In other convents
nuns are free to have the pleasure of seeing their relatives, whereas
here, if relatives are ever admitted, it is only for their own
pleasure. A nun who [very much] wishes to see her relatives in order to
please herself, and does not get tired of them after the second visit,
must, unless they are spiritual persons and do her soul some good,
consider herself imperfect and realize that she is neither detached nor
healthy, and will have no freedom of spirit or perfect peace. She needs
a physician–and I consider that if this desire does not leave her, and
she is not cured, she is not intended for this house.

The best remedy, I think, is that she should not see her relatives
again until she feels free in spirit and has obtained this freedom from
God by many prayers. When she looks upon such visits as crosses, let
her receive them by all means, for then they will do the visitors good
and herself no harm. But if she is fond of the visitors, if their
troubles are a great distress to her and if she delights in listening
to the stories which they tell her about the world, she may be sure
that she will do herself harm and do them no good.

[30] Lit.: de darnos todas a Él todo: ”giving ourselves wholly to Him

[31] The thirteenth was St. Teresa.

Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings to those who
have left the world and shows how by doing so they will find truer friends.

Oh, if we religious understood what harm we get from having so much to
do with our relatives, how we should shun them! do not see what
pleasure they can give us, or how, quite apart from the harm they do us
as touching our obligations to God, they can bring us any peace or
tranquillity. For we cannot take part in their recreations, as it is
not lawful for us to do so; and, though we can certainly share their
troubles, we can never help weeping for them, sometimes more than they
do themselves. If they bring us any bodily comforts, there is no doubt
that our spiritual life and our poor souls will pay for it. From this
you are [quite] free here; for, as you have everything in common and
none of you may accept any private gift, all the alms given us being
held by the community, you are under no obligation to entertain your
relatives in return for what they give you, since, as you know, the
Lord will provide for us all in common.

I am astounded at the harm which intercourse with our relatives does
us: I do not think anyone who had not experience of it would believe
it. And how our religious Orders nowadays, or most of them, at any
rate, seem to be forgetting about perfection, though all, or most, of
the saints wrote about it! I do not know how much of the world we
really leave when we say that we are leaving everything for God’s sake,
if we do not withdraw ourselves from the chief thing of all–namely,
our kinsfolk. The matter has reached such a pitch that some people
think, when religious are not fond of their relatives and do not see
much of them, it shows a want of virtue in them. And they not only
assert this but allege reasons for it.

In this house, daughters, we must be most careful to commend our
relatives to God, for that is only right. For the rest, we must keep
them out of our minds as much as we can, as it is natural that our
desires should be attached to them more than to other people. My own
relatives were very fond of me, or so they used to say, and I was so
fond of them that I would not let them forget me. But I have learned,
by my own experience and by that of others, that it is God’s servants
who have helped me in trouble; my relatives, apart from my parents,
have helped me very little. Parents are different, for they very rarely
fail to help their children, and it is right that when they need our
comfort we should not refuse it them: if we find our main purpose is
not harmed by our so doing we can give it them and yet be completely
detached; and this also applies to brothers and sisters.

Believe me, sisters, if you serve God as you should, you will find no
better relatives than those [of His servants] whom His Majesty sends
you. I know this is so, and, if you keep on as you are doing here, and
realize that by doing otherwise you will be failing your true Friend
and Spouse, you may be sure that you will very soon gain this freedom.
Then you will be able to trust those who love you for His sake alone
more than all your relatives, and they will not fail you, so that you
will find parents and brothers and sisters where you had never expected
to find them. For these help us and look for their reward only from
God; those who look for rewards from us soon grow tired of helping us
when they see that we are poor and can do nothing for them. This cannot
be taken as a generalization, but it is the most usual thing to happen
in the world, for it is the world all over! If anyone tells you
otherwise, and says it is a virtue to do such things, do not believe
him. I should have to write at great length, in view of my lack of
skill and my imperfection, if I were to tell you of all the harm that
comes from it; as others have written about it who know what they are
talking about better than I, what I have said will suffice. If,
imperfect as I am, I have been able to grasp as much as this, how much
better will those who are perfect do so!

All the advice which the saints give us about fleeing from the world
is, of course, good. Believe me, then, attachment to our relatives is,
as I have said, the thing which sticks to us most closely and is
hardest to get rid of. People are right, therefore, when they flee from
their own part of the country [32] –if it helps them, I mean, for I do
not think we are helped so much by fleeing from any place in a physical
sense as by resolutely embracing the good Jesus, Our Lord, with the
soul. Just as we find everything in Him, so for His sake we forget
everything. Still, it is a great help, until we have learned this
truth, to keep apart from our kinsfolk; later on, it may be that the
Lord will wish us to see them again, so that what used to give us
pleasure may be a cross to us.

[32] De sus tierras. The phrase will also bear the interpretation:
”from their own countries.”

Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is insufficient if we
are not detached from our own selves and that this virtue and humility go

Once we have detached ourselves from the world, and from our kinsfolk,
and are cloistered here, in the conditions already described, it must
look as if we have done everything and there is nothing left with which
we have to contend. But, oh, my sisters, do not feel secure and fall
asleep, or you will be like a man who goes to bed quite peacefully,
after bolting all his doors for fear of thieves, when the thieves are
already in the house. And you know there is no worse thief than one who
lives in the house. We ourselves are always the same; [33] unless we
take great care and each of us looks well to it that she renounces her
self-will, which is the most important business of all, there will be
many things to deprive us of the holy freedom of spirit which our souls
seek in order to soar to their Maker unburdened by the leaden weight of
the earth.

It will be a great help towards this if we keep constantly in our
thoughts the vanity of all things and the rapidity with which they pass
away, so that we may withdraw our affections from things which are so
trivial and fix them upon what will never come to an end. This may seem
a poor kind of help but it will have the effect of greatly fortifying
the soul. With regard to small things, we must be very careful, as soon
as we begin to grow fond of them, to withdraw our thoughts from them
and turn them to God. His Majesty will help us to do this. He has
granted us the great favour of providing that, in this house, most of
it is done already; but it remains for us to become detached from our
own selves and it is a hard thing to withdraw from ourselves and oppose
ourselves, because we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves
very dearly.

It is here that true humility can enter, [34] for this virtue and that
of detachment from self, I think, always go together. They are two
sisters, who are inseparable. These are not the kinsfolk whom I counsel
you to avoid: no, you must embrace them, and love them, and never be
seen without them. Oh, how sovereign are these virtues, mistresses of
all created things, empresses of the world, our deliverers from all the
snares and entanglements laid by the devil so dearly loved by our
Teacher, Christ, Who was never for a moment without them! He that
possesses them can safely go out and fight all the united forces of
hell and the whole world and its temptations. Let him fear none, for
his is the kingdom of the Heavens. There is none whom he need fear, for
he cares nothing if he loses everything, nor does he count this as
loss: his sole fear is that he may displease his God and he begs Him to
nourish these virtues within him lest he lose them through any fault of
his own.

These virtues, it is true, have the property of hiding themselves from
one who possesses them, in such a way that he never sees them nor can
believe that he has any of them, even if he be told so. But he esteems
them so much that he is for ever trying to obtain them, and thus he
perfects them in himself more and more. And those who possess them soon
make the fact clear, even against their will, to any with whom they
have intercourse. But how inappropriate it is for a person like myself
to begin to praise humility and mortification, when these virtues are
so highly praised by the King of Glory –a praise exemplified in all
the trials He suffered. It is to possess these virtues, then, my
daughters, that you must labour if you would leave the land of Egypt,
for, when you have obtained them, you will also obtain the manna; all
things will taste well to you; and, however much the world may dislike
their savour, to you they will be sweet.

The first thing, then, that we have to do, and that at once, is to rid
ourselves of love for this body of ours–and some of us pamper our
natures so much that this will cause us no little labour, while others
are so concerned about their health that the trouble these things give
us (this is especially so of poor nuns, but it applies to others as
well) is amazing. Some of us, however, seem to think that we embraced
the religious life for no other reason than to keep ourselves alive
[35] and each nun does all she can to that end. In this house, as a
matter of fact, there is very little chance for us to act on such a
principle, but I should be sorry if we even wanted to. Resolve,
sisters, that it is to die for Christ, and not to practise
self-indulgence for Christ, that you have come here. The devil tells us
that self-indulgence is necessary if we are to carry out and keep the
Rule of our Order, and so many of us, forsooth, try to keep our Rule by
looking after our health that we die without having kept it for as long
as a month– perhaps even for a day. I really do not know what we are
coming to.

No one need be afraid of our committing excesses here, by any
chance–for as soon as we do any penances our confessors begin to fear
that we shall kill ourselves with them. We are so horrified at our own
possible excesses–if only we were as conscientious about everything
else! Those who tend to the opposite extreme will I know, not mind my
saying this, nor shall I mind if they say I am judging others by
myself, for they will be quite right. I believe–indeed, I am sure
–that more nuns are of my way of thinking than are offended by me
because they do just the opposite. My own belief is that it is for this
reason that the Lord is pleased to make us such weakly creatures; at
least He has shown me great mercy in making me so; for, as I was sure
to be self-indulgent in any case, He was pleased to provide me with an
excuse for this. It is really amusing to see how some people torture
themselves about it, when the real reason lies in themselves; sometimes
they get a desire to do penances, as one might say, without rhyme or
reason; they go on doing them for a couple of days; and then the devil
puts it into their heads that they have been doing themselves harm and
so he makes them afraid of penances, after which they dare not do even
those that the Order requires–they have tried them once! They do not
keep the smallest points in the Rule, such as silence, which is quite
incapable of harming us. Hardly have we begun to imagine that our heads
are aching than we stay away from choir, though that would not kill us
either. One day we are absent because we had a headache some time ago;
another day, because our head has just been aching again; and on the
next three days in case it should ache once more. Then we want to
invent penances of our own, with the result that we do neither the one
thing nor the other. Sometimes there is very little the matter with us,
yet we think that it should dispense us from all our obligations and
that if we ask to be excused from them we are doing all we need.

But why, you will say, does the Prioress excuse us? Perhaps she would
not if she knew what was going on inside us; but she sees one of you
wailing about a mere nothing as if your heart were breaking, and you
come and ask her to excuse you from keeping the whole of your Rule,
saying it is a matter of great necessity, and, when there is any
substance in what you say, there is always a physician at hand to
confirm it or some friend or relative weeping at your side. Sometimes
the poor Prioress sees that your request is excessive, but what can she
do? She feels a scruple if she thinks she has been lacking in charity
and she would rather the fault were yours than hers: she thinks, too,
that it would be unjust of her to judge you harshly.

Oh, God help me! That there should be complaining like this among nuns!
May He forgive me for saying so, but I am afraid it has become quite a
habit. I happened to observe this incident once myself: a nun began
complaining about her headaches and she went on complaining to me for a
long time. In the end I made enquiries and found she had no headache
whatever, but was suffering from some pain or other elsewhere.

These are things which may sometimes happen and I put them down here so
that you may guard against them; for if once the devil begins to
frighten us about losing our health, we shall never get anywhere. The
Lord give us light so that we may act rightly in everything! Amen.

[33] The sense of this passage, especially without the phrase from E.
which V. omits, is not very clear. T. remodels thus: ”You know there is
no worse thief for the perfection of the soul than the love of
ourselves, for unless etc.”

[34] Here, in the margin, is written: ”Humility and mortification, very
great virtues.”

[35] Lit.: ”to contrive not to die.” But the reading of E. (”to think
that we came to the convent for no other reason than to serve our
bodies and look after them”) suggests that this is what is meant.