Preface and index



(Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, 1515-1582)


Translated & Edited by
from the Critical Editon of
Scanned by Harry Plantinga, 1995

From the Image Books edition, 1964, ISBN 0-385-06539-6
This etext is in the public domain
Only a few of the nearly 1200 footnotes of the image book edition have
been reproduced. Most of those that were not reproduced concern
differences between the manuscripts. The reader is referred to the
print edition.

The Way of Perfection

Although St. Teresa of Avila lived and wrote almost four centuries ago,
her superbly inspiring classic on the practice of prayer is as fresh
and meaningful today as it was when she first wrote it. The Way of
Perfection is a practical guide to prayer setting forth the Saint’s
counsels and directives for the attainment of spiritual perfection.

Through the entire work there runs the author’s desire to teach a deep
and lasting love of prayer beginning with a treatment of the three
essentials of the prayer-filled life –fraternal love, detachment from
created things, and true humility. St. Teresa’s counsels on these are
not only the fruit of lofty mental speculation, but of mature practical
experience. The next section develops these ideas and brings the reader
directly to the subjects of prayer and contemplation. St. Teresa then
gives various maxims for the practice of prayer and leads up to the
topic which occupies the balance of the book–a detailed and inspiring
commentary on the Lord’s Prayer.

Of all St. Teresa’s writings, The Way of Perfection is the most easily
understood. Although it is a work of sublime mystical beauty, its
outstanding hallmark is its simplicity which instructs, exhorts, and
inspires all those who are seeking a more perfect way of life.

”I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either in my
own life or in observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught
me in prayer.”– Prologue

Almost four centuries have passed since St. Teresa of Avila, the great
Spanish mystic and reformer, committed to writing the experiences which
brought her to the highest degree of sanctity. Her search for, and
eventual union with, God have been recorded in her own world-renowned
writings–the autobiographical Life, the celebrated masterpiece
Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection– as well as in the other
numerous works which flowed from her pen while she lived.

The Way of Perfection was written during the height of controversy
which raged over the reforms St. Teresa enacted within the Carmelite
Order. Its specific purpose was to serve as a guide in the practice of
prayer and it sets forth her counsels and directives for the attainment
of spiritual perfection through prayer. It was composed by St. Teresa
at the express command of her superiors, and was written during the
late hours in order not to interfere with the day’s already crowded

Without doubt it fulfills the tribute given all St. Teresa’s works by
E. Allison Peers, the outstanding authority on her writings: ”Work of a
sublime beauty bearing the ineffaceable hallmark of genius.”



Translator’s Note:

General Argument



Chapter 1–Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such
strict observance

Chapter 2–Treats of how the necessities of the body should be
disregarded and of the good that comes from poverty

Chapter 3–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

Chapter 4–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 friendships

Appendix To Chapter 4

Chapter 5–Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is
important that they should be learned men

Chapter 6–Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun

Chapter 7–Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives
certain counsels for gaining it

Chapter 8–Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both
interior and exterior, from all things created

Chapter 9–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

Chapter 10–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 together

Chapter 11–Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it
may be attained in times of sickness

Chapter 12–Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for
life and honour

Chapter 13–Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one
must renounce the world’s standards of wisdom in order to attain to
true wisdom

Chapter 14–Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone
whose spirit is contrary to the things aforementioned

Chapter 15–Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not
excusing ourselves, even though we find we are unjustly condemned

Chapter 16–Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of
contemplatives and in the lives of those who are content with mental
prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for God to raise a
distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason for this. This
chapter and that which comes next are to be noted carefully

Chapter 17–How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some
take long to attain it. True humility will walk happily along the road
by which the Lord leads it

Chapter 18–Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are
the trials of contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers
great consolation to actives

Chapter 19–Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot
reason with the understanding

Chapter 20–Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack
consolation on the road of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this
subject continually in their conversation

Chapter 21–Describes the great importance of setting out upon the
practice of prayer with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties
put in the way by the devil

Chapter 22–Explains the meaning of mental prayer

Chapter 23–Describes the importance of not turning back when one has
set out upon the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be

Chapter 24–Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection
and how closely allied it is to mental prayer

Chapter 25–Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it
practises vocal prayer perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to
things supernatural

Chapter 26–Continues the description of a method for recollecting the
thoughts. Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very
profitable for those who are beginning prayer

Chapter 27–Describes the great love shown us by the Lord in the first
words of the Paternoster and the great importance of our making no
account of good birth if we truly desire to be the daughters of God

Chapter 28–Describes the nature of the Prayer of Recollection and sets
down some of the means by which we can make it a habit

Chapter 29 – Continues to describe methods for achieving this Prayer of
Recollection. Says what little account we should make of being favoured
by our superiors

Chapter 30–Describes the importance of understanding what we ask for
in prayer. Treats of these words in the Paternoster: ”Sanctificetur
nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum”. Applies them to the Prayer of Quiet,
and begins the explanation of them

Chapter 31–Continues the same subject. Explains what is meant by the
Prayer of Quiet. Gives several counsels to those who experience it.
This chapter is very noteworthy

Chapter 32–Expounds these words of the Paternoster: ”Fiat voluntas tua
sicut in coelo et in terra.” Describes how much is accomplished by
those who repeat these words with full resolution and how well the Lord
rewards them for it

Chapter 33–Treats of our great need that the Lord should give us what
we ask in these words of the Paternoster: ”Panem nostrum quotidianum da
nobis hodie.”

Chapter 34–Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for
reading after the reception of the Most Holy Sacrament

Chapter 35–Describes the recollection which should be practised after
Communion. Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the
Eternal Father

Chapter 36–Treats of these words in the Paternoster: ”Dimitte nobis
debita nostra”

Chapter 37–Describes the excellence of this prayer called the
Paternoster, and the many ways in which we shall find consolation in it

Chapter 38–Treats of the great need which we have to beseech the
Eternal Father to grant us what we ask in these words: ”Et ne nos
inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo.” Explains certain
temptations. This chapter is noteworthy

Chapter 39–Continues the same subject and gives counsels concerning
different kinds of temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may be
freed from temptations

Chapter 40–Describes how, by striving always to walk in the love and
fear of God, we shall travel safely amid all these temptations

Chapter 41–Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves
from venial sins

Chapter 42–Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: ”Sed libera
nos a malo. Amen.” ”But deliver us from evil. Amen.”


A.V.–Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).

D.V.–Douai Version of the Bible (1609) .

Letters–Letters of St. Teresa. Unless otherwise stated, the numbering
of the Letters follows Vols. VII-IX of P. Silverio. Letters (St.)
indicates the translation of the Benedictines of Stanbrook (London,
1919-24, 4 vols.).

Lewis–The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, etc., translated by David
Lewis, 5th ed., with notes and introductions by the Very Rev. Benedict
Zimmerman, O.C.D., London, 1916.

P. Silverio–Obras de Santa Teresa de Jesús, editadas y anotadas por el
P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., Durgos, 1915-24, 9 vols.

Ribera–Francisco de Ribera, Vida de Santa Teresa de Jesús, Nueva ed.
aumentada, con introduction, etc., por el P. Jaime Pons, Barcelona,

S.S.M.–E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, London,
1927-30, 2 vols.

St. John of the Cross–The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross,
Doctor of the Church, translated from the critical edition of P.
Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., and edited by E. Allison Peers, London,
1934-35, 3 vols.

Yepes–Diego de Yepes, Vida de Santa Teresa, Madrid, 1615.







We owe this book, first and foremost, to the affectionate importunities
of the Carmelite nuns of the Primitive Observance at Ávila, and, in the
second place, to that outstanding Dominican who was also St. Teresa’s
confessor, Fray Domingo Bañez. The nuns of St. Joseph’s knew something
of their Mother Foundress’ autobiography, and, though in all
probability none of them had actually read it, they would have been
aware that it contained valuable counsels to aspirants after religious
perfection, of which, had the book been accessible to them, they would
have been glad to avail themselves. Such intimate details did it
contain, however, about St. Teresa’s spiritual life that her superiors
thought it should not be put into their hands; so the only way in which
she could grant their persistent requests was to write another book
dealing expressly with the life of prayer. This P. Bañez was very
anxious that she should do.

Through the entire Way of Perfection there runs the author’s desire to
teach her daughters to love prayer, the most effective means of
attaining virtue. This principle is responsible for the book’s
construction. St. Teresa begins by describing the reason which led her
to found the first Reformed Carmelite convent–viz., the desire to
minimize the ravages being wrought, in France and elsewhere, by
Protestantism, and, within the limits of her capacity, to check the
passion for a so-called ”freedom”, which at that time was exceeding all
measure. Knowing how effectively such inordinate desires can be
restrained by a life of humility and poverty, St. Teresa extols the
virtues of poverty and exhorts her daughters to practise it in their
own lives. Even the buildings in which they live should be poor: on the
Day of Judgment both majestic palaces and humble cottages will fall and
she has no desire that the convents of her nuns should do so with a
resounding clamour.

In this preamble to her book, which comprises Chapters 1-3, the author
also charges her daughters very earnestly to commend to God those who
have to defend the Church of Christ –particularly theologians and

The next part of the book (Chaps. 4-15) stresses the importance of a
strict observance of the Rule and Constitutions, and before going on to
its main subject– prayer–treats of three essentials of the
prayer-filled life –mutual love, detachment from created things and
true humility, the last of these being the most important and including
all the rest. With the mutual love which nuns should have for one
another she deals most minutely, giving what might be termed homely
prescriptions for the domestic disorders of convents with the skill
which we should expect of a writer with so perfect a knowledge of the
psychology of the cloister. Her counsels are the fruit, not of lofty
mental speculation, but of mature practical expedience. No less aptly
does she speak of the relations between nuns and their confessors, so
frequently a source of danger.

Since excess is possible even in mutual love, she next turns to
detachment. Her nuns must be detached from relatives and friends, from
the world, from worldly honour, and–the last and hardest
achievement–from themselves. To a large extent their efforts in this
direction will involve humility, for, so long as we have an exaggerated
opinion of our own merits, detachment is impossible. Humility, to St.
Teresa, is nothing more nor less than truth, which will give us the
precise estimate of our own worth that we need. Fraternal love,
detachment and humility: these three virtues, if they are sought in the
way these chapters direct, will make the soul mistress and sovereign
over all created things–a ”royal soul”, in the Saint’s happy phrase,
the slave of none save of Him Who bought it with His blood.

The next section (Chaps. 16-26) develops these ideas, and leads the
reader directly to the themes of prayer and contemplation. It begins
with St. Teresa’s famous extended simile of the game of chess, in which
the soul gives check and mate to the King of love, Jesus. Many people
are greatly attracted by the life of contemplation because they have
acquired imperfect and misleading notions of the ineffable mystical
joys which they believe almost synonymous with contemplation. The Saint
protests against such ideas as these and lays it down clearly that, as
a general rule, there is no way of attaining to union with the Beloved
save by the practice of the ”great virtues”, which can be acquired only
at the cost of continual self-sacrifice and self-conquest. The favours
which God grants to contemplatives are only exceptional and of a
transitory kind and they are intended to incline them more closely to
virtue and to inspire their lives with greater fervour.

And here the Saint propounds a difficult question which has occasioned
no little debate among writers on mystical theology. Can a soul in
grave sin enjoy supernatural contemplation? At first sight, and judging
from what the author says in Chapter 16, the answer would seem to be
that, though but rarely and for brief periods, it can. In the original
(or Escorial) autograph, however, she expressly denies this, and states
that contemplation is not possible for souls in mortal sin, though it
may be experienced by those who are so lukewarm, or lacking in fervour,
that they fall into venial sins with ease. It would seem that in this
respect the Escorial manuscript reflects the Saint’s ideas, as we know
them, more clearly than the later one of Valladolid; if this be so, her
opinions in no way differ from those of mystical theologians as a
whole, who refuse to allow that souls in mortal sin can experience
contemplation at all.

St. Teresa then examines a number of other questions, on which opinion
has also been divided and even now is by no means unanimous. Can all
souls attain to contemplation? Is it possible, without experiencing
contemplation, to reach the summit of Christian perfection? Have all
the servants of God who have been canonized by the Church necessarily
been contemplatives? Does the Church ever grant non-contemplatives
beatification? On these questions and others often discussed by the
mystics much light is shed in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters.

Then the author crosses swords once more with those who suppose that
contemplatives know nothing of suffering and that their lives are one
continuous series of favours. On the contrary, she asserts, they suffer
more than actives: to imagine that God admits to this closest
friendship people whose lives are all favours and no trials is
ridiculous. Recalling the doctrine expounded in the nineteenth chapter
of her Life she gives various counsels for the practice of prayer,
using once more the figures of water which she had employed in her
first description of the Mystic Way. She consoles those who cannot
reason with the understanding, shows how vocal prayer may be combined
with mental, and ends by advising those who suffer from aridity in
prayer to picture Jesus as within their hearts and thus always beside
them– one of her favourite themes.

This leads up to the subject which occupies her for the rest of the
book (Chaps. 27-42)–the Lord’s Prayer. These chapters, in fact,
comprise a commentary on the Paternoster, taken petition by petition,
touching incidentally upon the themes of Recollection, Quiet and Union.
Though nowhere expounding them as fully as in the Life or the Interior
Castle, she treats them with equal sublimity, profundity and fervour
and in language of no less beauty. Consider, for example, the apt and
striking simile of the mother and the child (Chap. 31), used to
describe the state of the soul in the Prayer of Quiet, which forms one
of the most beautiful and expressive expositions of this degree of
contemplation to be found in any book on the interior life whatsoever.

In Chapter 38, towards the end of the commentary on the Paternoster,
St. Teresa gives a striking synthetic description of the excellences of
that Prayer and of its spiritual value. She enters at some length into
the temptations to which spiritual people are exposed when they lack
humility and discretion. Some of these are due to presumption: they
believe they possess virtues which in fact they do not–or, at least,
not in sufficient degree to enable them to resist the snares of the
enemy. Others come from a mistaken scrupulousness and timidity inspired
by a sense of the heinousness of their sins, and may lead them into
doubt and despair. There are souls, too, which make overmuch account of
spiritual favours: these she counsels to see to it that, however
sublime their contemplation may be, they begin and end every period of
prayer with self-examination. While others whose mistrust of themselves
makes them restless, are exhorted to trust in the Divine mercy, which
never forsakes those who possess true humility.

Finally, St. Teresa writes of the love and fear of God–two mighty
castles which the fiercest of the soul’s enemies will storm in
vain–and begs Him, in the last words of the Prayer to preserve her
daughters, and all other souls who practise the interior life, from the
ills and perils which will ever surround them, until they reach the
next world, where all will be peace and joy in Jesus Christ.

Such, in briefest outline, is the argument of this book. Of all St.
Teresa’s writings it is the most easily comprehensible and it can be
read with profit by a greater number of people than any of the rest. It
is also (if we use the word in its strictest and truest sense) the most
ascetic of her treatises; only a few chapters and passages in it, here
and there, can be called definitely mystical. It takes up numerous
ideas already adumbrated in the Life and treats them in a practical and
familiar way–objectively, too, with an eye not so much to herself as
to her daughters of the Discalced Reform. This last fact necessitates
her descending to details which may seem to us trivial but were not in
the least so to the religious to whom they were addressed and with
whose virtues and failing she was so familiar. Skilfully, then, and in
a way profitable to all, she intermingles her teaching on the most
rudimentary principles of the religious life, which has all the clarity
of any classical treatise, with instruction on the most sublime and
elusive tenets of mystical theology.

ESCORIAL AUTOGRAPH–The Way of perfection–or Paternoster, as its
author calls it, from the latter part of its content–was written
twice. Both autographs have been preserved in excellent condition, the
older of them in the monastery of San Lorenzo el Real, El Escorial, and
the other in the convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns at Valladolid.
We have already seen how Philip II acquired a number of Teresan
autographs for his new Escorial library, among them that of the Way of
perfection. The Escorial manuscript bears the title ”Treatise of the
Way of Perfection”, but this is not in St. Teresa’s hand. It plunges
straight into the prologue: both the title and the brief account of the
contents, which are found in most of the editions, are taken from the
autograph of Valladolid, and the humble protestation of faith and
submission to the Holy Roman Church was dictated by the Saint for the
edition of the book made in Évora by Don Teutonio de Braganza – it is
found in the Toledo codex, which will be referred to again shortly.

The text, divided into seventy-three short chapters, has no
chapter-divisions in the ordinary sense of the phrase, though the
author has left interlinear indications showing where each chapter
should begin. The chapter-headings form a table of contents at the end
of the manuscript and only two of them (55 and 56) are in St. Teresa’s
own writing. As the remainder, however, are in a feminine hand of the
sixteenth century, they may have been dictated by her to one of her
nuns: they are almost identical with those which she herself wrote at a
later date in the autograph of Valladolid.

There are a considerable number of emendations in this text, most of
them made by the Saint herself, whose practice was to obliterate any
unwanted word so completely as to make it almost illegible. None of
such words or phrases was restored in the autograph of Valladolid–a
sure indication that it was she who erased them, or at least that she
approved of their having been erased. There are fewer annotations and
additions in other hands than in the autographs of any of her remaining
works, and those few are of little importance. This may be due to the
fact that a later redaction of the work was made for the use of her
convents and for publication: the Escorial manuscript would have
circulated very little and would never have been subjected to a minute
critical examination. Most of what annotations and corrections of this
kind there are were made by the Saint’s confessor, P. García de Toledo,
whom, among others, she asked to examine the manuscript.

There is no direct indication in the manuscript of the date of its
composition. We know that it was written at St. Joseph’s, Ávila, for
the edification and instruction of the first nuns of the Reform, and
the prologue tells us that only ”a few days” had elapsed between the
completion of the Life and the beginning of the Way of perfection. If,
therefore, the Life was finished at the end of 1565 [or in the early
weeks of 1566] [1] we can date the commencement of the Way of
perfection with some precision. [But even then there is no indication
as to how long the composition took and when it was completed.]

A complication occurs in the existence, at the end of a copy of the Way
of perfection which belongs to the Discalced Carmelite nuns of
Salamanca, and contains corrections in St. Teresa’s hand, of a note, in
the writing of the copyist, which says: This book was written in the
year sixty-two–I mean fifteen hundred and sixty-two.” There follow
some lines in the writing of St. Teresa, which make no allusion to this
date; her silence might be taken as confirming it (though she displays
no great interest in chronological exactness) were it not absolutely
impossible to reconcile such a date with the early chapters of the
book, which make it quite clear that the community of thirteen nuns was
fully established when they were written (Chap. 4, below). There could
not possibly have been so many nuns at St. Joseph’s before late in the
year 1563, in which Mar de San Jerónimo and Isabel de Santo Domingo
took the habit, and it is doubtful if St. Teresa could conceivably have
begun the book before the end of that year. Even, therefore, if the
reference in the preface to the Way of perfection were to the first
draft of the Life (1562), and not to that book as we know it, there
would still be the insuperable difficulty raised by this piece of
internal evidence. [2] We are forced, then, to assume an error in the
Salamanca copy and to assign to the beginning of the Way of perfection
the date 1565-6.

VALLADOLID AUTOGRAPH. In writing for her Ávila nuns, St. Teresa used
language much more simple, familiar and homely than in any of her other
works. But when she began to establish more foundations and her circle
of readers widened, this language must have seemed to her too
affectionately intimate, and some of her figures and images may have
struck her as too domestic and trivial, for a more general and
scattered public. So she conceived the idea of rewriting the book in a
more formal style; it is the autograph of this redaction which is in
the possession of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Valladolid.

The additions, omissions and modifications in this new autograph are
more considerable than is generally realized. From the preface onwards,
there is no chapter without its emendations and in many there are
additions of whole paragraphs. The Valladolid autograph, therefore, is
in no sense a copy, or even a recast, of the first draft, but a free
and bold treatment of it. As a general rule, a second draft, though
often more correctly written and logically arranged than its original,
is less flexible, fluent and spontaneous. It is hard to say how far
this is the case here. Undoubtedly some of the charm of the author’s
natural simplicity vanishes, but the corresponding gain in clarity and
precision is generally considered greater than the loss. Nearly every
change she makes is an improvement; and this not only in stylistic
matters, for one of the greatest of her improvements is the lengthening
of the chapters and their reduction in number from 73 to 42, to the
great advantage of the book’s symmetry and unity.

It is clear that St. Teresa intended the Valladolid redaction to be the
definitive form of her book since she had so large a number of copies
of it made for her friends and spiritual daughters: among these were
the copy which she sent for publication to Don Teutonio de Braganza and
that used for the first collected edition of her works by Fray Luis de
León. For the same reason this redaction has always been given
preference over its predecessor by the Discalced Carmelites.

[1] Cf. Vol. I, pp. 2-5, above

[2] See also the reference, in the ”General Argument” of the Valladolid
redaction, to her being Prioress of St. Joseph’s when the book was
written. Presumably the original draft is meant.


In the text of each of the chapters, of the Valladolid autograph there
are omissions–some merely verbal, often illustrating the author’s aim
in making the new redaction, others more fundamental. If the Valladolid
manuscript represents the Way of perfection as St. Teresa wrote it in
the period of her fullest powers, the greater freshness and
individuality of the Escorial manuscript are engaging qualities, and
there are many passages in it, omitted from the later version, which
one would be sorry to sacrifice.

In what form, then, should the book be presented to English readers? It
is not surprising if this question is difficult to answer, since
varying procedures have been adopted for the presentation of it in
Spain. Most of them amount briefly to a re-editing of the Valladolid
manuscript. The first edition of the book, published at Évora in the
year 1583, follows this manuscript, apparently using a copy (the
so-called ”Toledo” copy) made by Ana de San Pedro and corrected by St.
Teresa; it contains a considerable number of errors, however, and omits
one entire chapter–the thirty-first, which deals with the Prayer of
Quiet, a subject that was arousing some controversy at the time when
the edition was being prepared. In 1585, a second edition, edited by
Fray Jerónimo Gracián, was published at Salamanca: the text of this
follows that of the Évora edition very closely, as apparently does the
text of a rare edition published at Valencia in 1586. When Fray Luis de
Leon used the Valladolid manuscript as the foundation of his text
(1588) he inserted for the first time paragraphs and phrases from that
of El Escorial, as well as admitting variants from the copies corrected
by the author: he is not careful however, to indicate how and where his
edition differs from the manuscript.

Since 1588, most of the Spanish editions have followed Fray Luis de
León with greater or less exactness. The principal exception is the
well-known ”Biblioteca de Autores Españoles” edition, in which La
Fuente followed a copy of the then almost forgotten Escorial
manuscript, indicating in footnotes some of the variant readings in the
codex of Valladolid. In the edition of 1883, the work of a Canon of
Valladolid Cathedral, Francisco Herrero Bayona, the texts of the two
manuscripts are reproduced in parallel columns. P. Silverio de Santa
Teresa gives the place of honour to the Valladolid codex, on which he
bases his text, showing only the principal variants of the Escorial
manuscript but printing the Escorial text in full in an appendix as
well as the text of the Toledo copy referred to above.

The first translations of this book into English, by Woodhead (1675:
reprinted 1901) and Dalton (1852), were based, very naturally, on the
text of Luis de León, which in less critical ages than our own enjoyed
great prestige and was considered quite authoritative. The edition
published in 1911 by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, described on its
title-page as ”including all the variants” from both the Escorial and
the Valladolid manuscript, uses Herrero Bayona and gives an eclectic
text based on the two originals but with no indications as to which is
which. The editors’ original idea of using one text only, and showing
variants in footnotes, was rejected in the belief that ”such an
arrangement would prove bewildering for the generality of readers” and
that anyone who could claim the title of ”student” would be able to
read the original Spanish and would have access to the Herrero Bayona
edition. Father Zimmerman, in his introduction, claimed that while the
divergences between the manuscripts are sometimes ”so great that the
[Stanbrook] translation resembles a mosaic composed of a large number
of small bits, skilfully combined”, ”the work has been done most
conscientiously, and while nothing has been added to the text of the
Saint, nothing has been omitted, except, of course, what would have
been mere repetition”.

This first edition of the Benedictines’ translation furnished the
general reader with an attractive version of what many consider St.
Teresa’s most attractive book, but soon after it was published a much
more intelligent and scholarly interest began to be taken in the
Spanish mystics and that not only by students with ready access to the
Spanish original and ability to read it. So, when a new edition of the
Stanbrook translation was called for, the editors decided to indicate
the passages from the Escorial edition which had been embodied in the
text by enclosing these in square brackets. In 1911, Father Zimmerman,
suspecting that the procedure then adopted by the translators would not
”meet with the approval of scholars”, had justified it by their desire
”to benefit the souls of the faithful rather than the intellect of the
student”; but now, apparently, he thought it practicable to achieve
both these aims at once. This resolution would certainly have had the
support of St. Teresa, who in this very book describes intelligence as
a useful staff to carry on the way of perfection. The careful
comparison of two separate versions of such a work of genius may
benefit the soul of an intelligent reader even more than the careful
reading of a version compounded of both by someone else.

When I began to consider the preparation of the present translation it
seemed to me that an attempt might be made to do a little more for the
reader who combined intelligence with devoutness than had been done
already. I had no hesitation about basing my version on the Valladolid
MS., which is far the better of the two, whether we consider the
aptness of its illustrations, the clarity of its expression, the
logical development of its argument or its greater suitability for
general reading. At the same time, no Teresan who has studied the
Escorial text can fail to have an affection for it: its greater
intimacy and spontaneity and its appeal to personal experience make it
one of the most characteristic of all the Saint’s writings–indeed,
excepting the Letters and a few chapters of the Foundations, it reveals
her better than any. Passages from the Escorial MS. must therefore be
given: thus far I followed the reasoning of the Stanbrook nuns.

Where this translation diverges from theirs is in the method of
presentation. On the one hand I desired, as St. Teresa must have
desired, that it should be essentially her mature revision of the book
that should be read. For this reason I have been extremely conservative
as to the interpolations admitted into the text itself: I have
rejected, for example, the innumerable phrases which St. Teresa seems
to have cut out in making her new redaction because they were trivial
or repetitive, because they weaken rather than reinforce her argument,
because they say what is better said elsewhere, because they summarize
needlessly [3] or because they are mere personal observations which
interrupt the author’s flow of thought, and sometimes, indeed, are
irrelevant to it. I hope it is not impertinent to add that, in the
close study which the adoption of this procedure has involved, I have
acquired a respect and admiration for St. Teresa as a reviser, to whom,
as far as I know, no one who has written upon her has done full
justice. Her shrewdness, realism and complete lack of vanity make her
an admirable editor of her own work, and, in debating whether or no to
incorporate some phrase or passage in my text I have often asked
myself: Would St. Teresa have included or omitted this if she had been
making a fresh revision for a world-wide public over a period of

At the same time, though admitting only a minimum of interpolations
into my text, I have given the reader all the other important variants
in footnotes. I cannot think, as Father Zimmerman apparently thought,
that anyone can find the presence of a few notes at the foot of each
page ”bewildering”. Those for whom they have no interest may ignore
them; others, in studying them, may rest assured that the only variants
not included (and this applies to the variants from the Toledo copy as
well as from the Escorial MS.) are such as have no significance in a
translation. I have been rather less meticulous here than in my edition
of St. John of the Cross, where textual problems assumed greater
importance. Thus, except where there has been some special reason for
doing so, I have not recorded alterations in the order of clauses or
words; the almost regular use by E. of the second person of the plural
where V. has the first; the frequent and often apparently purposeless
changes of tense; such substitutions, in the Valladolid redaction, as
those of ”Dios” or ”Señior mío” for ”Señior”; or merely verbal
paraphrases as (to take an example at random) ”Todo esto que he dicho
es para . . .” for ”En todo esto que he dicho no trato . . .” Where I
have given variants which may seem trivial (such as ”hermanas” for
”hijas”, or the insertion of an explanatory word, like ”digo”) the
reason is generally that there seems to me a possibility that some
difference in tone is intended, or that the alternative phrase gives
some slight turn to the thought which the phrase in the text does not.

The passages from the Escorial version which I have allowed into my
text are printed in italics. Thus, without their being given undue
prominence (and readers of the Authorized Version of the Bible will
know how seldom they can recall what words are italicized even in the
passages they know best) it is clear at a glance how much of the book
was intended by its author to be read by a wider public than the nuns
of St. Joseph’s. The interpolations may be as brief as a single
expressive word, or as long as a paragraph, or even a chapter: the
original Chapter 17 of the Valladolid MS., for example, which contains
the famous similitude of the Game of Chess, was torn out of the codex
by its author (presumably with the idea that so secular an illustration
was out of place) and has been restored from the Escorial MS. as part
of Chapter 16 of this translation. No doubt the striking bullfight
metaphor at the end of Chapter 39 was suppressed in the Valladolid
codex for the same reason. With these omissions may be classed a number
of minor ones–of words or phrases which to the author may have seemed
too intimate or colloquial but do not seem so to us. Other words and
phrases have apparently been suppressed because St. Teresa thought them
redundant, whereas a later reader finds that they make a definite
contribution to the sense or give explicitness and detail to what would
otherwise be vague, or even obscure. [4] A few suppressions seem to
have been due to pure oversight. For the omission of other passages it
is difficult to find any reason, so good are they: the conclusion of
Chapter 38 and the opening of Chapter 41 are cases in point.

The numbering of the chapters, it should be noted, follows neither of
the two texts, but is that traditionally employed in the printed
editions. The chapter headings are also drawn up on an eclectic basis,
though here the Valladolid text is generally followed.

The system I have adopted not only assures the reader that he will be
reading everything that St. Teresa wrote and nothing that she did not
write, but that he can discern almost at a glance, what she meant to be
read by her little group of nuns at St. Joseph’s and also how she
intended her work to appear in its more definitive form. Thus we can
see her both as the companion and Mother and as the writer and
Foundress. In both roles she is equally the Saint.

But it should be made clear that, while incorporating in my text all
important passages from the Escorial draft omitted in that of
Valladolid, I have thought it no part of my task to provide a complete
translation of the Escorial draft alone, and that, therefore, in order
to avoid the multiplication of footnotes, I have indicated only the
principal places where some expression in the later draft is not to be
found in the earlier. In other words, although, by omitting the
italicized portions of my text, one will be able to have as exact a
translation of the Valladolid version as it is possible to get, the
translation of the Escorial draft will be only approximate. This is the
sole concession I have made to the ordinary reader as opposed to the
student, and it is hardly conceivable, I think, that any student to
whom this could matter would be unable to read the original Spanish.

One final note is necessary on the important Toledo copy, the text of
which P. Silverio also prints in full. This text I have collated with
that of the Valladolid autograph, from which it derives. In it both St.
Teresa herself and others have made corrections and additions–more, in
fact, than in any of the other copies extant. No attempt has been made
here either to show what the Toledo copy omits or to include those of
its corrections and additions–by far the largest number of them–which
are merely verbal and unimportant, and many of which, indeed, could not
be embodied in a translation at all. But the few additions which are
really worth noting have been incorporated in the text (in square
brackets so as to distinguish them from the Escorial additions) and all
corrections which have seemed to me of any significance will be found
in footnotes.

[3] E.g., at places where a chapter ends in E. but not in V.

[4] One special case of this class is the suppression in V. of one out
of two or three almost but not quite synonymous adjectives referring to
the same noun.


Composed by TERESA OF JESUS, Nun of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel,
addressed to the Discalced Nuns of Or Lady of Carmel of the First Rule.

General Argument of this Book

J. H. S.

This book treats of maxims and counsels which Teresa of Jesus gives to
her daughters and sisters in religion, belonging to the Convents which,
with the favour of Our Lord and of the glorious Virgin, Mother of God,
Our Lady, she has founded according to the First Rule of Our Lady of
Carmel. In particular she addresses it to the sisters of the Convent of
Saint Joseph of Ávila, which was the first Convent, and of which she
was Prioress when she wrote it. [7]


In all that I shall say in this Book, I submit to what is taught by Our
Mother, the Holy Roman Church; if there is anything in it contrary to
this, it will be without my knowledge. Therefore, for the love of Our
Lord, I beg the learned men who are to revise it to look at it very
carefully and to amend any faults of this nature which there may be in
it and the many others which it will have of other kinds. If there is
anything good in it, let this be to the glory and honour of God and in
the service of His most sacred Mother, our Patroness and Lady, whose
habit, though all unworthily, I wear.

[8] This Protestation, taken from T., was dictated by St. Teresa for
the edition of the Way of perfection published at Évora in 1583 by D.
Teutonio de Braganza.


J. H. S.

The sisters of this Convent of Saint Joseph, knowing that I had had
leave from Father Presentado Fray Domingo Bañes, [9] of the Order of
the glorious Saint Dominic, who at present is my confessor, to write
certain things about prayer, which it seems I may be able to succeed in
doing since I have had to do with many holy and spiritual persons,
have, out of their great love for me, so earnestly begged me to say
something to them about this that I have resolved to obey them. I
realize that the great love which they have for me may render the
imperfection and the poverty of my style in what I shall say to them
more acceptable than other books which are very ably written by those
who [10] have known what they are writing about. I rely upon their
prayers, by means of which the Lord may be pleased to enable me to say
something concerning the way and method of life which it is fitting
should be practised in this house. If I do not succeed in doing this,
Father Presentado, who will first read what I have written, will either
put it right or burn it, so that I shall have lost nothing by obeying
these servants of God, and they will see how useless I am when His
Majesty does not help me.

My intent is to suggest a few remedies for a number of small
temptations which come from the devil, and which, because they are so
slight, are apt to pass unnoticed. I shall also write of other things,
according as the Lord reveals them to me and as they come to my mind;
since I do not know what I am going to say I cannot set it down in
suitable order; and I think it is better for me not to do so, for it is
quite unsuitable that I should be writing in this way at all. May the
Lord lay His hand on all that I do so that it may be in accordance with
His holy will; this is always my desire, although my actions may be as
imperfect as I myself am.

I know that I am lacking neither in love nor in desire to do all I can
to help the souls of my sisters to make great progress in the service
of the Lord. It may be that this love, together with my years and the
experience which I have of a number of convents, will make me more
successful in writing about small matters than learned men can be. For
these, being themselves strong and handing other and more important
occupations, do not always pay such heed to things which in themselves
seem of no importance but which may do great harm to persons as weak as
we women are. For the snares laid by the devil for strictly cloistered
nuns are numerous and he finds that he needs new weapons if he is to do
them harm. I, being a wicked woman, have defended myself but ill, and
so I should like my sisters to take warning by me. I shall speak of
nothing of which I have no experience, either in my own life or in the
observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer.

A few days ago I was commanded to write an account of my life in which
I also dealt with certain matters concerning prayer. It may be that my
confessor will not wish you to see this, for which reason I shall set
down here some of the things which I said in that book and others which
may also seem to me necessary. May the Lord direct this, as I have
begged Him to do, and order it for His greater glory. Amen.

[9] The words ”Fray Domingo Bañes” are crossed out, probably by P.
Bañez himself. T. has: ”from the Father Master Fray Domingo Bañez,
Professor at Salamanca.” Bañez was appointed to a Chair at Salamanca
University in 1577.

[10] The pronoun (quien) in the Spanish is singular, but in the
sixteenth century it could have plural force and the context would
favour this. A manuscript note in V., however (not by P. Bañez, as the
Paris Carmelites– Oeuvres, V, 30–suggest), evidently takes the
reference to be to St. Gregory, for it says: ”And he wrote something on
Job, and the Morals, importuned by servants of God, and trusting in
their prayers, as he himself says.”

[5] With few exceptions, the footnotes to the Way of perfection are the
translators. Square brackets are therefore not used to distinguish them
from those of P. Silverio, as elsewhere. Ordinary brackets, in the
footnote translations, are placed round words inserted to complete the

[6] This title, in St. Teresa’s hand, appears on the first page of the
Valladolid autograph (V.) which, as we have said in the Introduction,
is the basis of the text here used. The Escorial autograph (E.) has the
words ”Treatise of the Way of Perfection” in an unknown hand, followed
by the Prologue, in St. Teresa’s. The Toledo copy (T.) begins with the

[7] These lines, also in St. Teresa’s hand, follow the title in the
Valladolid autograph. P. Bañez added, in his own writing, the words: ”I
have seen this book and my opinion of it is written at the end and
signed with my name.” Cf. ch. 42, below.