Childhood and Early Impressions. The Blessing of Pious Parents. Desire of Martyrdom. Death of the Saint's Mother.
1. I had a father and mother, who were devout and feared God. Our Lord also helped me with His grace. All this would have been enough to make me good, if I had not been so wicked. My father was very much given to the reading of good books; and so he had them in Spanish, that his children might read them. These books, with my mother's carefulness to make us say our prayers, and to bring us up devout to our Lady and to certain Saints, began to make me think seriously when I was, I believe, six or seven years old. It helped me, too, that I never saw my father and mother respect anything but goodness. They were very good themselves. My father was a man of great charity towards the poor, and compassion for the sick, and also for servants; so much so, that he never could be persuaded to keep slaves, for he pitied them so much: and a slave belonging to one of his brothers being once in his house, was treated by him with as
much tenderness as his own children. He used to say that he could not endure the pain of seeing that she was not free. He was a man of great truthfulness; nobody ever heard him swear or speak ill of any one; his life was most pure.
2. My mother also was a woman of great goodness, and her life was spent in great infirmities. She was singularly pure in all her ways. Though possessing great beauty, yet was it never known that she gave reason to suspect that she made any account whatever of it; for, though she was only three-and-thirty years of age when she died, her apparel was already that of a woman advanced in years. She was very calm, and had great sense. The sufferings she went through during her life were grievous, her death most Christian.
3. We were three sisters and nine brothers. All, by the mercy of God, resembled their parents in goodness except myself, though I was the most cherished of my father. And, before I began to offend God, I think he had some reason,--for I am filled with sorrow whenever I think of the good desires with which our Lord inspired me, and what a wretched use I made of
1. See ch. xxxvii. § 1; where the Saint says that she saw them in a vision both in Heaven.
2. Alfonso Sanchez de Cepeda, father of the Saint, married first Catalina del Peso y Henao, and had three children--one daughter, Maria de Cepeda, and two sons. After the death of Catalina, he married Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, by whom he had nine children--seven boys and two girls. The third of these, and the eldest of the daughters, was the Saint, Doņa Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada. In the Monastery of the Incarnation, where she was a professed nun for twenty-eight years, she was known as Doņa Teresa; but in the year 1563, when she left her monastery for the new foundation of St. Joseph, of the Reform of the Carmelites, she took for the first time the name of Teresa of Jesus (De la Fuente). The Saint was born March 28, 1515, and baptized on the 4th of April, in the church of St. John; on which day Mass was said for the first time in the Monastery of the Incarnation, where the Saint made her profession. Her godfather was Vela Nuņez, and her godmother Doņa Maria del Aguila. The Bollandists and Father Bouix say that she was baptized on the very day of her birth. But the testimony of Doņa Maria de Pinel, a nun in the Monastery of the Incarnation, is clear: and Don Vicente de La Fuente, quoting it, vol. i. p. 549, says that this delay of baptism was nothing singular in those days, provided there was no danger of death.
them. Besides, my brothers never in any way hindered me in the service of God.
4. One of my brothers was nearly of my own age; and he it was whom I most loved, though I was very fond of them all, and they of me. He and I used to read Lives of Saints together. When I read of martyrdom undergone by the Saints for the love of God, it struck me that the vision of God was very cheaply purchased; and I had a great desire to die a martyr's death,--not out of any love of Him of which I was conscious, but that I might most quickly attain to the fruition of those great joys of which I read that they were reserved in Heaven; and I used to discuss with my brother how we could become martyrs. We settled to go together to the country of the Moors, begging our way for the love of God, that we might be there beheaded; and our Lord, I believe, had given us courage enough, even at so tender an age, if we could have found the means to proceed; but our greatest difficulty seemed to be our father and mother.
5. It astonished us greatly to find it said in what we were reading that pain and bliss were everlasting. We happened very often to talk about this; and we had a pleasure in repeating frequently, "For ever, ever, ever." Through the constant uttering of these
3. Rodrigo de Cepeda, four years older than the Saint, entered the army, and, serving in South America, was drowned in the river Plate, Rio de la Plata. St. Teresa always considered him a martyr, because he died in defence of the Catholic faith (Ribera, lib. i. ch. iii.). Before he sailed for the Indies, he made his will, and left all his property to the Saint, his sister (Reforma de los Descalįos, vol. i. lib. i. ch. iii. § 4).
4. The Bollandists incline to believe that St. Teresa may not have intended to quit Spain, because all the Moors were not at that time driven out of the country. The Bull of the Saint's canonization, and the Lections of the Breviary, say that she left her father's house, ut in Africam trajiceret.
5. The two children set out on their strange journey--one of them seven, the other eleven, years old--through the Adaja Gate; but when they had crossed the bridge, they were met by one of their uncles, who brought them back to their mother, who had already sent through Avila in quest of them. Rodrigo, like Adam, excused himself, and laid the blame on the woman (Ribera, lib. i. ch. iii.). Francisco de Santa Maria, chronicler of the Order, says that the uncle was Francisco Alvarez de Cepeda (Reforma de los Descalįos, lib. i. ch. v. § 4).
words, our Lord was pleased that I should receive an abiding impression of the way of truth when I was yet a child.
6. As soon as I saw it was impossible to go to any place where people would put me to death for the sake of God, my brother and I set about becoming hermits; and in an orchard belonging to the house we contrived, as well as we could, to build hermitages, by piling up small stones one on the other, which fell down immediately; and so it came to pass that we found no means of accomplishing our wish. Even now, I have a feeling of devotion when I consider how God gave me in my early youth what I lost by my own fault. I gave alms as I could--and I could but little. I contrived to be alone, for the sake of saying my prayers--and they were many--especially the Rosary, to which my mother had a great devotion, and had made us also in this like herself. I used to delight exceedingly, when playing with other children, in the building of monasteries, as if we were nuns; and I think I wished to be a nun, though not so much as I did to be a martyr or a hermit.
7. I remember that, when my mother died, I was about twelve years old--a little less. When I began to understand my loss, I went in my affliction to an image of our Lady, and with many tears implored her to be my mother. I did this in my simplicity, and I believe that it was of service to me; for I have by
6. She was also marvellously touched by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, of whom there was a picture in her room (Ribera, lib. i. ch. iv.). She speaks of this later on. (See ch. xxx. § 24.)
7. The last will and testament of Doņa Beatriz de Ahumada was made November 24, 1528 and she may have died soon after. If there be no mistake in the copy of that instrument, the Saint must have been more than twelve years old at that time. Don Vicente, in a note, says, with the Bollandists, that Doņa Beatriz died at the end of the year 1526, or in the beginning of 1527; but it is probable that, when he wrote that note, he had not read the copy of the will, which he has printed in the first volume of the Saint's writings, p. 550.
8. Our Lady of Charity, in the church of the hospital where the poor and pilgrims were received in Avila (Bouix).
experience found the royal Virgin help me whenever I recommended myself to her; and at last she has brought me back to herself. It distresses me now, when I think of, and reflect on, that which kept me from being earnest in the good desires with which I began.
8. O my Lord, since Thou art determined to save me--may it be the pleasure of Thy Majesty to effect it!--and to bestow upon me so many graces, why has it not been Thy pleasure also--not for my advantage, but for Thy greater honour--that this habitation, wherein Thou hast continually to dwell, should not have contracted so much defilement? It distresses me even to say this, O my Lord, because I know the fault is all my own, seeing that Thou hast left nothing undone to make me, even from my youth, wholly Thine. When I would complain of my parents, I cannot do it; for I saw nothing in them but all good, and carefulness for my welfare. Then, growing up, I began to discover the natural gifts which our Lord had given me--they were said to be many; and, when I should have given Him thanks for them, I made use of every one of them, as I shall now explain, to offend Him.
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Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. Chapter 1. / Revised 1 January 2004 / © Copyright 2003-2004, Elizabeth T. Knuth / URL: http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/teresa/life/chap1.html