The Fourth State of Prayer. The Great Dignity of the Soul Raised to It by Our Lord. Attainable on Earth, Not by Our Merit, But by the Goodness of Our Lord.
1. May our Lord teach me words whereby I may in some measure describe the fourth water. I have great need of His help--even more than I had while speaking of the last; for in that the soul still feels that it is not dead altogether. We may thus speak, seeing that to the world it is really dead. But, as I have said, it retains the sense to see that it is in the world, and to feel its own loneliness; and it makes use of that which is outward for the purpose of manifesting its feelings, at least by signs. In the whole of the prayer already spoken of, and in all the states of it, the gardener undergoes some labour: though in the later states the labour is attended with so much bliss and comfort of the soul, that the soul would never willingly pass out of it,--and thus the labour is not felt as labour, but as bliss.
2. In this the fourth state there is no sense of anything, only fruition, without understanding what that is the fruition of which is granted. It is understood that the fruition is of a certain good containing in itself all good together at once; but this good is not
1. See ch. xi. § 11.
2. Ch. xvi. §§ 7, 8.
comprehended. The senses are all occupied in this fruition in such a way that not one of them is at liberty, so as to be able to attend to anything else, whether outward or inward.
3. The senses were permitted before, as I have said, to give some signs of the great joy they feel; but now, in this state, the joy of the soul is incomparably greater, and the power of showing it is still less; for there is no power in the body, and the soul has none, whereby this fruition can be made known. Everything of that kind would be a great hindrance, a torment, and a disturbance of its rest. And I say, if it really be a union of all the faculties, that the soul, even if it wished,--I mean, when it is in union,--cannot make it known; and if it can, then it is not union at all.
4. How this, which we call union, is effected, and what it is, I cannot tell. Mystical theology explains it, and I do not know the terms of that science; nor can I understand what the mind is, nor how it differs from the soul or the spirit either: all three seem to me but one; though I do know that the soul sometimes leaps forth out of itself, like a fire that is burning and is become a flame; and occasionally this fire increases violently--the flame ascends high above the fire; but it is not therefore a different thing: it is still the same flame of the same fire. Your learning, my fathers, will enable you to understand the matter; I can go no further.
5. What I undertake to explain is that which the soul feels when it is in the divine union. It is plain enough what union is--two distinct things becoming one. O my Lord, how good Thou art! Blessed be Thou for ever, O my God! Let all creatures praise Thee, Who hast so loved us that we can truly speak of this communication which Thou hast with souls in this our exile! Yea, even if they be good souls, it is on Thy part great munificence and magnanimity,--in a
3. Ch. xvii. § 5.
word, it is Thy munificence, O my Lord, seeing that Thou givest like Thyself. O infinite Munificence!--how magnificent are Thy works! Even he whose understanding is not occupied with the things of earth is amazed that he is unable to understand these truths. Why, then, give graces so high to souls who have been such great sinners? Truly, this passeth my understanding; and when I come to think of it, I can get no further. Is there any way at all for me to go on which is not a going back? For, as to giving Thee thanks for mercies so great, I know not how to do it. Sometimes I relieve myself by giving utterance to follies. It often happens to me, either when I receive these graces, or when God is about to bestow them,--for, in the midst of them, I have already said, I was able to do nothing,--that I would break out into words like these.
6. O Lord, consider what Thou art doing; forget not so soon the great evils that I have done. To forgive me, Thou must already have forgotten them; yet, in order that there may be some limit to Thy graces, I beseech Thee remember them. O my Creator, pour not a liquor so precious into a vessel so broken; for Thou hast already seen how on other occasions I allowed it to run waste. Lay not up treasure like this, where the longing after the consolations of this life is not so mortified as it ought to be; for it will be utterly lost. How canst Thou commit the defence of the city, and the keys of its fortress to a commander so cowardly, who at the first assault will let the enemy enter within? Oh, let not Thy love be so great, O King Eternal, as to imperil jewels so precious! O my Lord, to me it seems that it becomes a ground for undervaluing them, when Thou puttest them in the power of one so wretched, so vile, so frail, so miserable, and so worthless as I am, who, though she may labour not to lose them, by the help of Thy grace,--and I have need of no little grace for that end, being what I am,--is not
4. § 3.
able to win over any one to Thee,--in short, I am a woman, not good, but wicked. It seems to me that the talents are not only hidden, but buried, when they are committed to earth so vile. It is not Thy wont, O Lord, to bestow graces and mercies like these upon a soul, unless it be that it may edify many.
7. Thou, O my God, knowest already that I beg this of Thee with my whole will, from the bottom of my heart, and that I have done so more than once, and I account it a blessing to lose the greatest blessings which may be had on earth, if Thou wouldst but bestow these graces upon him who will make a better use of them to the increase of Thy glory. These, and expressions like these, it has happened to me often to utter. I saw afterwards my own foolishness and want of humility; for our Lord knoweth well what is expedient, and that there is no strength in my soul to be saved, if His Majesty did not give it with graces so great.
8. I purpose also to speak of the graces and effects which abide in the soul, and of that which the soul itself can do, or rather, if it can do anything of itself towards attaining to a state so high. The elevation of the spirit, or union, comes together with heavenly love but, as I understand it, union is a different thing from elevation in union itself. To him who may not have had any experience of the latter, it must seem that it is not; and, according to my view of it, even if they are both one, the operations of our Lord therein are different: there is a growth of the soul's detachment from creatures more abundantly still in the flight of the spirit. I have clearly seen that this is a particular grace, though, as I say, it may be the same, or seem to be so, with the other; but a little fire, also, is as much fire as a great fire--and yet there is a visible difference between them. Before a small piece of iron is made red-hot in a little fire, some time must pass; but
5. See ch. xx. § 10; and Relation, viii. § 10.
if the fire be great, the iron very quickly, though bulky, loses its nature altogether in appearance.
9. So, it seems to me, is it with these two kinds of graces which our Lord bestows. He who has had raptures will, I am sure, understand it well; to him who has not had that experience, it must appear folly. And, indeed, it may well be so; for if a person like myself should speak of a matter of this kind, and give any explanation at all of that for the description of which no words ever can possibly be found, it is not to be wondered at that I may be speaking foolishly.
10. But I have this confidence in our Lord, that He will help me here; for His Majesty knoweth that my object in writing--the first is to obey--is to inspire souls with a longing after so high a good. I will speak of nothing that I do not know by great experience: and so, when I began to describe the last kind of water, I thought it more impossible for me to speak of it at all than to speak Greek. It is a very difficult matter; so I left it, and went to Communion. Blessed be our Lord, who is merciful to the ignorant! Oh, virtue of obedience! it can do everything! God enlightened my understanding--at one time suggesting the words, at another showing me how to use them; for, as in the preceding state of prayer, so also now, His Majesty seems to utter what I can neither speak nor understand.
11. What I am saying is the simple truth; and therefore whatever is good herein is His teaching; what is erroneous, clearly comes out of that sea of evil--myself. If there be any--and there must be many--who, having attained to these states of prayer whereunto our Lord in His mercy has brought me--wretch that I am!--and who, thinking they have missed their way, desire to treat of these matters with me, I am sure that our Lord will help His servant to declare the truth more plainly.
6. See ch. xiv. § 12.
12. I am now speaking of the water which cometh down from heaven to fill and saturate in its abundance the whole of this garden with water. If our Lord never ceased to pour it down whenever it was necessary, the gardener certainly would have plenty of rest; and if there were no winter, but an ever temperate season, fruits and flowers would never fail. The gardener would have his delight therein; but in this life that is impossible. We must always be careful, when one water fails, to obtain another. This water from heaven comes down very often when the gardener least expects it.
13. The truth is that, in the beginning, this almost always happens after much mental prayer. Our Lord advances step by step to lay hold of the little bird, and to lay it in the nest where it may repose. He observed it fluttering for a long time, striving with the understanding and the will, and with all its might, to seek God and to please Him; so now it is His pleasure to reward it even in this life. And what a reward!--one moment is enough to repay all the possible trials of this life.
14. The soul, while thus seeking after God, is conscious, with a joy excessive and sweet, that it is, as it were, utterly fainting away in a kind of trance: breathing, and all the bodily strength, fail it, so that it cannot even move the hands without great pain; the eyes close involuntarily, and if they are open, they are as if they saw nothing; nor is reading possible,--the very letters seem strange, and cannot be distinguished,--the letters, indeed, are visible, but, as the understanding furnishes no help, all reading is impracticable, though seriously attempted. The ear hears; but what is heard is not comprehended. The senses are of no use whatever, except to hinder the soul's fruition; and so they rather hurt it. It is useless to try to speak, because it is not possible to conceive a word; nor, if it were conceived, is there strength sufficient to utter it;
for all bodily strength vanishes, and that of the soul increases, to enable it the better to have the fruition of its joy. Great and most perceptible, also, is the outward joy now felt.
15. This prayer, however long it may last, does no harm--at least, it has never done any to me; nor do I remember, however ill I might have been when our Lord had mercy upon me in this way, that I ever felt the worse for it--on the contrary, I was always better afterwards. But so great a blessing, what harm can it do? The outward effects are so plain as to leave no doubt possible that there must have been some great cause, seeing that it thus robs us of our bodily powers with so much joy, in order to leave them greater.
16. The truth is, it passes away so quickly in the beginning--at least, so it was with me--that neither by the outward signs, nor by the failure of the senses, can it be perceived when it passes so quickly away. But it is plain, from the overflowing abundance of grace, that the brightness of the sun which had shone there must have been great, seeing that it has thus made the soul to melt away. And this is to be considered; for, as it seems to me, the period of time, however long it may have been, during which the faculties of the soul were entranced, is very short; if half an hour, that would be a long time. I do not think that I have ever been so long. The truth of the matter is this: it is extremely difficult to know how long, because the senses are in suspense; but I think that at any time it cannot be very long before some one of the faculties recovers itself. It is the will that persists in the work; the other two faculties quickly begin to molest it. As the will is calm, it entrances them again; they are quiet for another moment, and then they recover themselves once more.
17. In this way, some hours may be, and are, passed in prayer; for when the two faculties begin to
7. See Anton. a Sp. Sancto, Director. Mystic. tr. iv. § 9, n. 72.
drink deep, and to perceive the taste of this divine wine, they give themselves up with great readiness, in order to be the more absorbed: they follow the will, and the three rejoice together. But this state of complete absorption, together with the utter rest of the imagination,--for I believe that even the imagination is then wholly at rest,--lasts only for a short time; though the faculties do not so completely recover themselves as not to be for some hours afterwards as if in disorder: God, from time to time, drawing them to Himself.
18. Let us now come to that which the soul feels interiorly. Let him describe it who knows it; for as it is impossible to understand it, much more is it so to describe it. When I purposed to write this, I had just communicated, and had risen from the very prayer of which I am speaking. I am thinking of what the soul was then doing. Our Lord said to me: It undoes itself utterly, My daughter, in order that it may give itself more and more to Me: it is not itself that then lives, it is I. As it cannot comprehend what it understands, it understands by not understanding.
19. He who has had experience of this will understand it in some measure, for it cannot be more clearly described, because what then takes place is so obscure. All I am able to say is, that the soul is represented as being close to God; and that there abides a conviction thereof so certain and strong, that it cannot possibly help believing so. All the faculties fail now, and are suspended in such a way that, as I said before, their
8. Thomas à Jesu, De Contemplatione Divina, lib. v. c. xiii.: "Quasi dicat: cum intellectus non possit Dei immensam illam claritatem et incomprehensibilem plenitudinem comprehendere, hoc ipsum est illam conspicere ac intelligere, intelligere se non posse intellectu cognoscere: quod quidem nihil aliud est quam Deum sub ratione incomprehensibilitatis videre ac cognoscere."
Philip. à SS. Trinitate, Theolog. Mystic. Disc. Proem. art. iv. p. 6: "Cum ipsa [S. Teresa] scire vellet, quid in illa mystica unione operaretur intellectus, respondit [Christus] illi, cum non possit comprehendere quod intelligit, est non intelligere intelligendo: tum quia præ claritate nimia quodammodo offuscatur intellectus, unde præ altissima et supereminentissima Dei cognitione videtur anima potius Deum ignorare quam cognoscere."
9. Ch. x. § 1, and ch. xviii. § 16.
operations cannot be traced. If the soul is making a meditation on any subject, the memory of it is lost at once, just as if it had never been thought of. If it reads, what is read is not remembered nor dwelt upon; neither is it otherwise with vocal prayer. Accordingly, the restless little butterfly of the memory has its wings burnt now, and it cannot fly. The will must be fully occupied in loving, but it understands not how it loves; the understanding, if it understands, does not understand how it understands--at least, it can comprehend nothing of that it understands: it does not understand, as it seems to me, because, as I said just now, this cannot be understood. I do not understand it at all myself.
20. In the beginning, it happened to me that I was ignorant of one thing--I did not know that God was in all things: and when He seemed to me to be so near, I thought it impossible. Not to believe that He was present, was not in my power; for it seemed to me, as it were, evident that I felt there His very presence. Some unlearned men used to say to me, that He was present only by His grace. I could not believe that, because, as I am saying, He seemed to me to be present Himself: so I was distressed. A most learned man, of the Order of the glorious Patriarch St. Dominic, delivered me from this doubt; for he told me that He was present, and how He communed with us: this was a great comfort to me.
21. It is to be observed and understood that this water from heaven,--this greatest grace of our Lord--always leaves in the soul the greatest fruits, as I shall now show.
10. See Inner Fortress, v. ch. i. § 11.
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Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. Chapter 18. / Revised 31 December 2003 / © Copyright 2003, Elizabeth T. Knuth / URL: http://www.users.csbsju.edu/~eknuth/teresa/life/chap18.html