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St, 'Teresa was led by God along such extraordinary
paths and granted so many sublime and miraculous
favours^ as to cause both the Saint herself, as well
as many other people, to fear that she was deluded
by the devil. She consulted several theologians who
were unable to agree on the subject and the Inquisitor,
Soto de Salazar, advised her to write a clear
account of her spiritual life and prayer and submit
it to the judgment of Blessed John of Avila, " who'^
he said, had " so much experience and authority,
that, if he approve of your book, your mind may be
set at rest for ever'' This narration of the Saint
constitutes the well known " Life of St, Teresa,
written by herself which is considered by the
Church a standard treatise on mystical Theology,
The following favourable reply from Blessed John
of Avila, made probably about 1563, brought her
great comfort, as she tells us in her letters. On
hearing of his death, St. Teresa wept, saying, " the
Church has lost one of her chief pillars, and many
souls are deprived of a guide and support, of whom
I am one.''

May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our
Lord be ever with you. I consented to read your
book which was sent me, not so much because

Vol. L a

iS Blessed John of Avila

I considered myself competent to judge of such
matters, as because I thought that, by the grace
of God, its teaching might benefit me. Although
I have had no leisure to study it as thoroughly
as it deserves, yet, thanks be to God, it has
^iven me great consolation, and it will be my
own fault if it does not profit my soul. On
my own account it might suffice to say no more
about it, yet I think the gravity of the subject
and the respect due to the person who sent it,
require me to express my opinion of it, at least
in general terms.

It is not a book proper for every one to
read — the language requires to be corrected in
some places and to be made clearer in others.
There are things in it which, though useful to
you in your own spiritual life, would not do
for every one to practise, for God guides some
souls along extraordinary paths which are not
intended for others. I have noted most of
these passages and will arrange them for you
as soon as possible, and send them to you
without fail. If you knew the infirm state of
my health, and how I am constantly employed
in many necessary duties, you would, I am
sure, be more inclined to pity me, than to accuse
me of neglect.

On the whole, your teaching on prayer is
correct, and you may safely trust to it and
practise it ; the raptures too afford proof of
being genuine. What you say about God's
teaching the soul without the use of the

Letter I


imagination, that is by interior or exterior
communications, is safe, and I can find no fault
with it. St. Augustine treats this subject welL
Such communications, both interior and exterior,
have misled many in our times ; the exterior
ones specially are less safe ; for though there is
little difficulty in knowing that they are not
from ourselves, it is not so easy to decide
whether they proceed from a good or from an
evil spirit. There are many rules for discovering
when they come from God ; one is, that they
should come to us in times of need ; or be
a great help to the soul, such as strengthening
it in times of temptation or doubt ; or warning
it of the approach of danger. For if even a
man who is good never speaks without purpose,
how much less would God do so. Considering
that the communications mentioned in your
book are conformable to the Holy Scriptures
and the teaching of the Church, I judge that,
if not all, at least the greater part of them,
come from God. Visions, whether imaginary
or corporeal, are the most deceptive : they are
never to be desired, and, should they come
uninvited they should, as far as possible, be
resisted. Unless, however, it is certain that
they proceed from an evil spirit, this should
not be done by making signs of contempt.
I was pained and shocked to hear of its having
been done in your case. We should beg of
God not to allow us to walk by sight, but to
defer the revelation of Himself and His Saints

20 Blessed yohn of Avila

until we reach Heaven, and we should ask
Him to guide us whilst on earth along the
common path by which He leads His faithful
friends. We must also take other suitable means
for shunning these visions. If, nevertheless,
they continue to come to us and are profitable
to the soul, not inciting her to vanity, but
increasing her humility ; if, moreover, these
communications be conformable to the teaching
of the Church, and if they last a considerable
time and infuse a spiritual joy into the soul
which can be better felt than described, I do
not think that it is necessary any longer to try
to avoid them. No one, however, should be
his own guide in these cases, but should com-
municate them at once to some enlightened
counsellor. This is the universal rule to be
followed on all such occasions, and we may
trust that God will not suffer any one to be
deceived who wishes to be safe and has the
humility to acknowledge his incompetence to
judge in such matters for himself. It is not
right, however, to cause alarm, and at once
condemn these favours because the soul to
whom they are vouchsafed is not perfect, for,
as I have often witnessed, God withdraws people
from harmful pleasures, and even from grievous
sins, by sending them His sweet consolations.
Who shall place limits to God's mercies ^ As
these graces, moreover, are not bestowed on
any one on account of his own merits or strength
but, on the contrary, are often given to souls

Letter I 21

because of their weakness, they neither necessarily
increase sanctity, nor are always granted to the
greatest saints. It is unreasonable for any one
to disbelieve these matters because of their
sublime nature, or since it appears incredible
that a Majesty so exalted should abase Himself
to hold such loving intercourse with His
creatures. It is written that "God is love" —
and if He is love, He must needs be infinite
love and infinite goodness, and it is no wonder
that such love and goodness should at times
bestow on certain souls an affection which
confounds those who do not understand it.
Although many know this by faith, yet, unless
they have experienced it themselves, they cannot
understand the affectionate, and more than
affectionate way, in which God elects to treat
some of His creatures. Those who themselves
are far from having received favours of this
kind, cannot believe God would deal with others
in so different a manner. Yet it would be only
reasonable to think that such love, a love which
fills us with wonder, must come from God,
Who is marvellous in all His works, but still
more marvellous in His mercies. But what
should really be a proof of the truth of these
favours, (provided other circumstances confirm
the evidence) is taken by some people as a
pretext to deny their reality.

From your book it is clear that you have
resisted in these matters even more firmly than
necessary. These graces have evidently benefited

2 2 Blessed yokn of Avila

you, especially by showing you your misery and
faults, and helping you to correct them. They
have continued for a long time and always
profited your soul, moving you to love God
and despise yourself and to do penance. I am
therefore more inclined to think these favours
beneficial than to condemn them, if you are
cautious, and do not blindly trust to them,
especially those of an unaccustomed kind, or
those which urge you to perform any action
doubtfully good. In cases such as this, you
must suspend your belief in them, and at once
seek counsel. I warn you that, though these
graces should be sent by God, yet the devil
might mingle falsehood with them : therefore
always be on your guard. Even though it be
certain that the favours come from God, yet
do not let your mind dwell on them with
complacency, for holiness does not consist in
such things, but in a humble love of God and
our neighbour. Fear all ways other than this,
and practise humility, the virtues, and the love
of our Lord. Do not worship any of these
visions, but only our Lord Jesus Christ, either
in Heaven, or in the Blessed Sacrament. If
one of the Blessed should appear to you, raise
your heart to that Saint in Heaven, and not to
what you see before you : let the image lead
your thoughts to the reality. The things of
which you treat in your book happen to many
souls in these times, and there is no doubt
that they proceed from God, Whose arm is not

Letter I 23

shortened so that He cannot do now what He
did in past ages : He chooses the weaker vessels
the better to manifest His glory. Continue in
in this path then, but be watchful against
robbers and pray for guidance. Thank God
for having given you a love for Him, a
knowledge of yourself, and an attraction for
penance and for the cross. Do not concern
yourself much about the other matters ; though
you should not despise them, for many show
signs of coming from God, and the rest can do

fou no harm if you ask direction about them,
cannot believe that I have written this by my
own power, for I have none, but it is the result
of your prayers. I beg you for the love of
Jesus Christ our Saviour, to pray for me to
Him : He knows that I need it urgently, and I
feel sure that is enough to make you grant my
request, I must beg you now to let me conclude,
as I am obliged to write another letter.

May Jesus be glorified by all and in all !

Your servant for Christ's sake,

Juan de Avila.

24 Blessed John of Avila

letter \\


Father Diego de Gusman and Doctor Loarte
were amongst the earliest disciples of Blessed John
of Avila to enter the Society of Jesus.

The former^ who may be called his first-bom
spiritual child^ was son of Count Baylen^ but
renounced his rank and wealth in early youth to
become a priest. He spent fifteen years in preaching
with great fruit and was then^ in 1552, received
into the Society of Jesus by St. Francis Borgia. He
continued his former work until called to Rome by
St. Ignatius Loyola^ who sent him to preach in
different parts of Italy : he died in Andalusia with
the reputation of a Saint.

Doctor Loarte was a famous theologian and
assisted Father Gusman in his work in Spain., but
his great humility made him choose the office of
catechising children and hearing confessions. They
were received together into the Society of Jesus and
went to Rome at the same time. Doctor Loarte
was afterwards made head of the college at Genoa^
and died in Spain in 1582.

I. Do not select any particular means for
promoting your own ends nor hn your affections
on any persons, but content yourself with

Letter II 25

wishing them well and interceding for them to
God. Beware of desiring to aid them by any-
special ways of your own choosing : on the
contrary resist such thoughts as you would
a temptation.

II. Do not imagine that you enter the Society
to criticise other people, but ever keep in your
heart that saying of a holy monk : " 1 am come
to be judged by other men, not to judge them."
Be most careful to avoid this danger, especially
if you consider yourself wise and enlightened,
for it is easy to make mistakes in such matters
and even to risk losing divine grace. Believe
that God directs those He sets to govern, and
that Superiors may have some special motive
or intention for their actions of which you
know nothing. In short, do not judge other
men, and keep clear of all that does not concern
you ; " What is it to thee ? follow thou me "
(St. John XXI. 22.), otherwise you will live
in a state of constant anxiety and trouble.

III. Ground yourself thoroughly in obedience,
and consider that God has shown you great
mercy in calling you to practise it in this hfe.
Trust that He will make His will known to
you through your superiors, having this confi-
dence, not on account of any wisdom they
possess, but because He has promised to aid the
humble. If you obey implicitly, you will enjoy
great peace and make rapid progress in a short

IV. Although you are not allowed the liberty

2 6 Blessed John of Avila

you think necessary for you to win souls, but
are occupied in duties of a different kind, do
not be disauieted on this account. The main-
tenance ana extension of this Order contribute
gready to the salvation of men, which is the
object for which it was instituted. Therefore,
if you are merely washing dishes you are helping
to convert souls, and you should be perfectly
content with such work, and should consecrate
your life to helping the Society in whatever
way you are bidden by those set over you.
Do not let your thoughts dwell on any other
service, but willingly do whatever is commanded
you, not so much for the sake of the merit of
the action itself, as because obedience requires it
of you. Consider that Christ has given you
a great grace in calling you to be a member of
this Society in which He is so fervently served.
V. Be prepared for the cross, and have it ever
before your eyes : strive to give no cause for
complaint to others and bear patiently with their
faults. Let not differences of character in the
various members of the community disturb
your mind, for until you have well stood the
test of living in the society of your brethren,
you must not consider that you have made
much spiritual progress. Your principal care
should be to live in charity with your brethren,
suffering injuries joyfully and willingly ; taking
example from the meekness of Christ our Lord,
let others tread you as the mire beneath their
feet. You will meet with so many temptations

Letter II 27

on this point, that unless you watch vigilantly,
you will be certain to fall. Keep your attention
fixed on yourself; never argue with or rebuke
other people, nor try to rule them, unless the
duty is laid upon you : if it is not, let your
watchword be : "I am not come to judge but
to be judged."

VI. Apply yourself to work at your own
progress in the spiritual life v/ith all the diligence
proper for accomplishing God's designs. Re-
member that you have been called to behold
the celestial vision of Christ hanging upon the
cross, and that you stand on holy ground ;
therefore let no immortified affection reign
within you. " Be strengthened in Christ and
in the power of his might," (Ephes. VI. 10.) ;
deny yourself not only in your senses, but
chiefly in your will, and most of all in your
understanding, for it is this which saps the
foundations of good and is the enemy of peace ;
this is the presumptuous ring-leader of rebellion
and the judge of its superiors ; this is the father
of divisions and the enemy of obedience, because
it is an idol set up in the place of God. Again
and again I exhort and entreat you by the
mercies of Christ, to humble your understanding
and let God reign over it by faith : holding
firmly that what your superiors command is
our Lord's will. Let this thought and no
other be ever your consolation and your refuge
in all difficulties, for as long as you hold to it,
all will be well with you.

28 Blessed John of Avila

Five grades of humility.

The first grade is that, recognising his own
baseness, a man should treat his own will with

The second is outwardly to show this self-
contempt both in dress and manners, and by-
choosing work of a mean and servile character.

The third is to be patient when despised by

The fourth is to rejoice in being despised.

The fifth is to desire with the whole heart to
be despised by others.

Twelve other degrees of humility.^

The first degree is the fear of God.

The second, is to deny our own will.

The third, is obedience.

The fourth, is patience.

The fifth, is the confession of sins.

The sixth, is contempt of oneself.

The seventh, is to prefer others to oneself,
esteeming them more highly.

The eighth, is to avoid singularity in outward

The ninth, is to be silent unless spoken to.

The tenth, is not to be prompt to laughter.

The eleventh, is to speak little and with

The twelfth, is to prefer a low estate and

^ These are a short epitome of the famous twelve degrees of humih'ty,
contained in the 7th chapter of the Holy Rule of St, Benedict,

Letter II 29

Ten counsels to lead the soul in the way
of salvation.

I. At once to reject from your mind not
only rash judgments of your neighbour but the
very thought of his faults or sins. Turn your
mind towards God and show Him the wounds
of your own soul that He may cure them.

II. If you have not the strength to desire suf-
ferings, censures, vexations, or affronts, rudeness
and hard work, at least endure them patiently
and in silence: do not concern yourself to know
from whom they come, but look upon them as
sent from the hand of God. Pray to Him for
those who are the cause of these trials and beg
Him to give you grace to bear them for His
love, reflecting that patience in suffering is a sign
of salvation.

III. Return thanks to God for all your
spiritual graces, natural gifts and every other
good that you possess, attributing nothing to
yourself except your sins, faults and imper-

IV. When any feeling of jealousy arises in
your mind on account of the spiritual, natural,
or temporal advantages of your neighbour, lift
up your heart to God, begging of Him to
increase these gifts in your brethren; rejoice in
the well-being of others and be sorry for their

V. Let it be your firm conviction that you
should neither desire nor strive for anything

30 Blessed 'John of Avila

but to possess the grace and love of God, to
avoid offending Him and to please Him in all
things. Whether death or life, sickness or
health, joy or sadness, honour or shame, be
your lot, — whether you be the Rector or the
cook, either here or at the other end of the
world, — it will matter nothing, except in so far
as it brings you nearer to God.

VI. Be persuaded of this truth, that as long
as you live you will have to suffer trials, sorrows,
temptations, and the cross, for this is the livery
of the servants of Jesus Christ our Lord. Bear
these patiently, remembering that your sins are
many and deserve far greater punishments :
"The life of man upon earth is a warfare."
(Job VII. I.) and: "He that shall persevere
unto the end, he shall be saved." (St. Matth.

X. 22.)

VII. Whenever you give way to any thought,
word, or work of pride, such as, that you are
better, or more useful, or in any way preferable
to others, reject it instandy as most abhorrent
to God. Confess your sins and faults to Him
and beg Him to remedy them: "For God
resisteth the proud, but to the humble he
giveth grace." (i. Pet. V. 5.)

VIII. When reason tells you that others are
guilty of some matter as to which you are
innocent, do not excuse yourself, though you
are not blameworthy, but accuse yourself and
praise your brother, even if it bring upon you
punishment, or reproof, or pain. Though upon

Letter II 31

this occasion you have not deserved it, yet your
past sins have merited this penance; thus you
can never suffer as one wholly innocent, and
therefore never exculpate yourself.

IX, Frequently during the day, but especially
when you make your examination of conscience,
remember to render thanks to our Lord Jesus
Christ for having redeemed you and made you
a friend of God, and for having gained so many
benefits for you by His Passion and sufferings.
Bless God for having given Him to you; you
should also glorify God for His own Perfections.

X. The fruit of Holy Communion and of all
other spiritual exercises should be to obtain for
us greater strength to serve and love our Lord,
to resist temptations, to bear our trials with
patience, and not to afford us sweetness or
pleasant feelings, which are usually signs of
imperfection and may even be sent by the devil
to deceive us. Do not therefore strive to gain
these sentiments if our Lord does not send
them to you, and if He should, beware of
presumption by despising your neighbour
because he is without them, for, very possibly,
he is holier and more dear to God than you are.

Fifteen rules for one who purposes entering
the religious state.

L Keep your sins ever before your mind und
repent of them daily.

IL Consider yourself most vile and negligent

32 Blessed yohn of Avila

in all things and unworthy of the company or
sight of other men, and so, despairing of any
good in yourself, trust solely in the mercy
of God.

III. Not only must you abstain from judging
others, but you must keep your mind solely
fixed upon your own faults, so that you may
neither perceive nor reflect upon the defects of
other people.

IV. Neither show nor feel anger towards
anyone, nor bear them any ill-will or hatred,
but keep your heart quiet, peaceful and humble,
and let your demeanour be grave and modest.

V. Show yourself prompt and willing to help

VI. Use no idle word nor joke, nor speak
lightly, unless charity to your brethren demand

VII. Bear patiendy all annoyances, contra-
dictions, abuse and hard words sent you by
God to try you: suffer them cheerfully and
even desire them; be resigned and do not let
your soul rebel against them.

VIII. Mortify all desires to know, hear,
experience, or possess anything which is un-
necessary; let your one earnest effort be to
profit your soul.

IX. Instantly drive away all thoughts which
would lead you from God.

X. Let your only care in this life be to please
the Almighty.

XI. Do not puzzle over events which happen

Letter II 33

or wonder why such and such things occur, but
take them all thankfully from God's hands,
trusting firmly that He watches over you and
all men, and will never permit anything to
happen but for our greater good, however little
we may understand it.

XII. Be content with the food which is given
to the community in general, and do not ask
for anything extra as long as you are well. If
you cannot eat what is set before you, give
thanks for the opportunity of mortifying your

XIII. Do not concern yourself about what is
no business of yours, particularly in respect to
the faults of your brethren or the actions of

XIV. Always render obedience, respect and
sincere affection to your superiors; hold them
in high esteem and never allow anything to be
said or done in your presence either against
them or other people.

XV. Let your soul as well as your body
keep solitude; never be idle, and endeavour to
despise all earthly things. Diligently observe
the rules and constitutions in the proper place,
time and manner, and all other necessary
circumstances, for these are the weapons of
your warfare, and unless you wish to run the
risk of temptation, you must be most strict on
this point.

34 Blessed yohn of Avila

letter ni


// was the custom in Spain at the time this letter
was written^ as we often read in St. Teresa's works^
for young girls to consecrate themselves to our Lord
by a vow of virginity and to live henceforth a life
of penance in the world^ like the consecrated virgins
of the early Church, The letter is probably addressed
to Dona Sancha Carillo^ a court beauty^ who on the
eve of a brilliant marriage made her confession to
B. John of Avila^ and at once decided to renounce
the world. She made a vow of chastity and lived
a most austere life in a hermitage adjoining her
father s house at Quadalcazar. At the age of
twenty-four^ Andalusia being threatened with famine
for want of water^ Dona Sancha offered herself as
a victim to appease Divine Justice that the country
might be spared : God accepted the sacrifice^ a time
of plenty followed and the virgin was afflicted with
the terrible disease of which she died on August lyh
^531' ^^ was for Dona Sancha that B. John of
Avila wrote his celebrated treatise called ^^ Audi
Filia'' Her life has been written by Father
Martin de Roay S. J.

Devout servant of Jesus Christ,

I cannot find words to
express my joy at hearing that you, who might

Letter 11 35

easily have made an advantageous marriage in
the world, have resolved to take the King of
Heaven for your Spouse. The tidings, although
new to me, as I had not been told it, yet was
not altogether unexpected, for I had already
secretly chosen you to be consecrated to the

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