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APPRECIATION AND INTRODUCTION
With a view to the work of my classes this session, I took old Abraham Woodhead’s two black-letter quartos with me to the Engadine last July. And I spent every rainy morning and every tired evening of that memorable holiday month in the society of Santa Teresa and her excellent old-English translator. Till, ever, as I crossed the Morteratch and the Roseg, and climbed the hills around Maloggia and Pontresina, a voice would come after me, saying to me, Why should you not share all this spiritual profit and intellectual delight with your Sabbath evening congregations, and with your young men’s and young women’s classes? Why should you not introduce Santa Teresa to her daughters in Edinburgh? For her daughters they are, so soon and as long as they live in self-knowledge and in self-denial, in humility and in meekness, and especially in unceasing prayer for themselves and for others. And I am not without some assurance that in this present lecture I am both hearing and obeying one of those same locutions that Teresa heard so frequently, and obeyed with such instancy and fidelity and fruitfulness.
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Luther was born in 1483, and he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the University Church of Wittenberg on the 31st October 1517. Loyola was born in 1491, and Xavier in 1506, and the Society of Jesus was established in 1534. Isabella the Catholic was born in 1451, and our own Protestant Elizabeth in 1533. The Spanish Inquisition began to sit in 1483, the Breviary was finally settled in 1568, and the Armada was destroyed in 1588. Columbus was born in 1446, and he set out on his great enterprise in 1492. Cervantes was born in 1547, and the First Part of his immortal work was published in 1605. And it is to be read in Santa Teresa’s Breviary to this day that Teresa the Sinner was born on the 29th day of March 1515, at five o’clock in the morning. She died in 1582, and in 1622 she was publicly canonised at Rome along with Loyola and Xavier and two other Spanish saints.
Teresa was greatly blessed in both her parents. ‘It helped me much that I never saw my father or my mother respect anything in any one but goodness.’ Her father was a great reader of the best books, and he took great pains that his children should form the same happy habit and should carefully cultivate the same excellent taste. Her mother, while a Christian gentlewoman of the first social standing, did not share her husband’s love of serious literature. She passed far too much of her short lifetime among the romances of the day, till her daughter has to confess that she took no little harm from the books that did her mother no harm but pastime to read. As for other things, her father’s house was a perfect model of the very best morals and the very best manners. Alonso de Cepeda was a well-born and a well-bred Spanish gentleman. He came of an ancient and an illustrious Castilian stock; and, though not a rich man, his household enjoyed all the nobility of breeding and all the culture of mind and all the refinement of taste for which Spain was so famous in that great age. All her days, and in all her ups and downs in life, we continually trace back to Teresa’s noble birth and noble upbringing no little of her supreme stateliness of deportment and serenity of manner and chivalry of character. Teresa was a perfect Spanish lady, as well as a mother in Israel, and no one who ever conversed with her could for a moment fail to observe that the oldest and best blood of Spain mantled in her cheek and shone in her eye. A lion encompassed by crosses was one of the quarters of her father’s coat of arms. And Teresa took that up and added out of it a new glory to all her father’s hereditary honours. For his daughter was all her days a lioness palisaded round with crosses, till by means of them she was transformed into a lamb. But, all the time, the lioness was still lurking there. Teresa’s was one of those sovereign souls that are born from time to time as if to show us what our race was created for at first, and for what it is still destined. She was a queen among women. She was in intellect the complete equal, and in still better things than intellect far the superior, of Isabella and Elizabeth themselves. As she says in an outspoken autobiographic passage, hers was one of those outstanding and towering souls on which a thousand eyes and tongues are continually set without any one understanding them or comprehending them. Her coming greatness of soul is foreseen by some of her biographers in the attempt which she made while yet a child to escape away into the country of the Moors in search of an early martyrdom, so that she might see her Saviour all the sooner, and stand in His presence all the purer. ‘A woman,’ says Crashaw, ‘for angelical height of speculation: for masculine courage of performance, more than a woman; who, while yet a child, outran maturity, and durst plot a martyrdom.
Scarce had she learnt to lisp the name
Of martyr, yet she thinks it shame
Life should so long sport with that breath,
Which, spent, can buy so brave a death.
Scarce had she blood enough to make
A guilty sword blush for her sake;
Yet has she heart dares hope to prove
How much less strong is death than love.
Be love but there, let poor six years
Be posed with the maturest fears
Man trembles at, we straight shall find
Love knows no nonage, nor the mind.’
Teresa’s mother died just when her daughter was at that dangerous age in which a young girl needs a wise mother most; ‘the age when virtue should begin to grow,’ as she says herself. Teresa was an extraordinarily handsome and attractive young lady, and the knowledge of that, as she tells us, made her very vain, and puffed up her heart with foolish imaginations. She has a powerful chapter in the opening of her Autobiography on dangerous companionships in the days of youth. ‘Oh that all parents would take warning by me, and would look carefully into their children’s early friendships!’ She suffered terribly from bad health all her days, and that severe chastisement began to fall on her while she was yet a beautiful girl. It was a succession of serious illnesses, taken along with her father’s scrupulous care over her, that brought Teresa back to the simple piety of her early childhood, and fixed her for life in an extraordinary devotion to God, and to all the things of God. When such a change of heart and character comes to a young woman among ourselves, she usually seeks out some career of religion and charity to which she can devote her life. She is found labouring among the poor and the sick and the children of the poor, or she goes abroad to foreign mission work. In Teresa’s land and day a Religious House was the understood and universal refuge for any young woman who was in earnest about her duty to God and to her own soul. In those Houses such young women secluded themselves from all society and gave themselves up to the care of the poor and the young. In the more strict and enclosed of those retreats the inmates never came out of doors at all, but wholly sequestered themselves up to a secret life of austerity and prayer. This was the ideal life led in those Houses for religious women. But Teresa soon found out the tremendous mistake she had made in leaving her father’s family-fireside for a so-called Religious House. No sooner had she entered it than she was plunged headlong into those very same ‘pestilent amusements,’ the mere approach of which had made her flee to this supposed asylum. Though she is composing her Autobiography under the sharp eyes of her confessors, and while she is writing with a submissiveness and, indeed, a servility that is her only weakness, Teresa at the same time is bold enough and honest enough to tell us her own experiences of monastic life in language of startling strength and outspokenness. ‘A short-cut to hell. If parents would take my advice, they would rather marry their daughters to the very poorest of men, or else keep them at home under their own eye. If young women will be wicked at home, their wickedness will not long be hidden at home; but in monasteries, such as I speak of, their worst wickedness can be completely covered up from every human eye. And all the time the poor things are not to blame. They only walk in the way that is shown them. Many of them are to be much pitied, for they honestly wish to withdraw from the world, only to find themselves in ten times worse worlds of sensuality and all other devilry. O my God! if I might I would fain speak of some of the occasions of sin from which Thou didst deliver me, and how I threw myself into them again. And of the risks I ran of utterly shipwrecking my character and good name and from which Thou didst rescue me. O Lord of my soul! how shall I be able to magnify Thy grace in those perilous years! At the very time that I was offending Thee most, Thou didst prepare me by a most profound compunction to taste of the sweetness of Thy recoveries and consolations. In truth, O my King, Thou didst administer to me the most spiritual and painful of chastisements: for Thou didst chastise my sins with great assurances of Thy love and of Thy great mercy. It makes me feel beside myself when I call to mind Thy great grace and my great ingratitude.’
This leads us up to the conception and commencement of that great work to which Teresa dedicated the whole of her after life,—the reformation and extension of the Religious Houses of Spain. The root-and-branch reformation of Luther and his German and Swiss colleagues had not laid much hold on Spain; and the little hold it had laid on her native land had never reached to Teresa. Had Luther and Teresa but met: had Melanchthon and Teresa but met: had the best books of the German and Swiss Reformation but come into Teresa’s hands: had she been somewhat less submissive, and somewhat less obedient, and somewhat less completely the slave of her ecclesiastical superiors; had she but once entered into that intellectual and spiritual liberty wherewith Christ makes His people free,—what a lasting blessing Teresa might have been made to her native land! But, as it was, Teresa’s reformation, while it was the salvation of herself and of multitudes more who came under it, yet as a monastic experiment and a church movement, it ended in the strengthening and the perpetuation of that detestable system of intellectual and spiritual tyranny which has been the death of Spain from that day to this. Teresa performed a splendid service inside the Church to which she belonged: but that service was wholly confined to the Religious Houses that she founded and reformed. Teresa’s was intended to be a kind of counter-reformation to the reformation of Luther and Melanchthon and Valdes and Valera. And such was the talent and the faith and the energy she brought to bear on the work she undertook, that, had it been better directed, it might have been blessed to preserve her beloved native land at the head of modern Christendom. But, while that was not to be, it is the immense talent, and the unceasing toil, and the splendid faith and self-surrender that Teresa brought to bear on her intramural reformation; and, all through that, on the working out of her own salvation,—it is all these things that go to make Teresa’s long life so memorable and so impressive, not only in her own age and land and church, but wherever greatness of mind, and nobleness of heart, and sanctity of life, and stateliness of character are heard of and are esteemed.
Teresa’s intellect, her sheer power of mind, is enough of itself to make her an intensely interesting study to all thinking men. No one can open her books without confessing the spell of her powerful understanding. Her books, before they were books, absolutely captivated and completely converted to her unpopular cause many of her most determined enemies. Again and again and again we find her confessors and her censors admitting that both her spiritual experiences and her reformation work were utterly distasteful and very stumbling to them till they had read her own written account, first of her life of prayer and then of her reformation work. One after another of such men, and some of them the highest in learning and rank and godliness, on reading her autobiographic papers, came over to be her fearless defenders and fast friends. There is nothing more delightful in all her delightful Autobiography, and in the fine ‘censures’ that have been preserved concerning it, than to read of the great and learned theologians, the responsible church leaders, and even the secret inquisitors who came under the charm of her character and the spell of her pen. ‘She electrifies the will,’ confessed one of the best judges of good writing in her day. And old Bishop Palafox’s tribute to Teresa is far too beautiful to be withheld. ‘What I admire in her is the peace, the sweetness, and the consolation with which in her writings she draws us toward the best, so that we find ourselves captured rather than conquered, imprisoned rather than prisoners. No one reads the saint’s writings who does not presently seek God, and no one through her writings seeks God who does not remain in love with the saint. I have not met with a single spiritual man who does not become a passionate admirer of Santa Teresa. But her writings do not alone impart a rational, interior, and superior love, but a love at the same time practical, natural, and sensitive; and my own experience proves it to me that there exists no one who loves her but would, if the saint were still in this world, travel far to see and speak with her.’ I wish much I could add to that Peter of Alcantara’s marvellous analysis of Teresa’s experiences and character. Under thirty-three heads that great saint sums up Teresa’s character, and gives us a noble, because all unconscious, revelation of his own. And though Teresa has been dead for three hundred years, she speaks to this day in that same way: and that too in quarters in which we would little expect to hear her voice. In that intensely interesting novel of modern Parisian life, En Route, Teresa takes a chief part in the conversion and sanctification of the prodigal son whose return to his father’s house is so powerfully depicted in that story. The deeply read and eloquent author of that remarkable book gives us some of the best estimates and descriptions of Santa Teresa that I have anywhere met with. ‘That cool-headed business woman . . . that admirable psychologist and of superhuman lucidity . . . that magnificent and over-awing saint . . . she has verified in her own case the supernatural experiences of the greatest mystics,—such are her unparalleled experiences in the supernatural domain. . . . Teresa goes deeper than any like writer into the unexplored regions of the soul. She is the geographer and hydrographer of the sinful soul. She has drawn the map of its poles, marked its latitudes of contemplation and prayer, and laid out all the interior seas and lands of the human heart. Other saints have been among those heights and depths and deserts before her, but no one has left us so methodical and so scientific a survey.’ Were it for nothing else, the chapters on mystical literature in M. Huysmans’ unfinished trilogy would make it a valued possession to every student of the soul of man under sin and under salvation. I await the completion of his Pilgrim’s Progress with great impatience and with great expectation.
And then, absolutely possessed as Teresa always is by the most solemn subjects,—herself, her sin, her Saviour, her original method of prayer and her unshared experiences in prayer,—she showers upon us continually gleams and glances of the sunniest merriment, amid all her sighs and tears. She roasts in caustic the gross-minded, and the self-satisfied, and the self-righteous, as Socrates himself never roasted them better. Again, like his, her irony and her raillery and her satire are sometimes so delicate that it quite eludes you for the first two or three readings of the exquisite page. And then, when you turn the leaf, she is as ostentatiously stupid and ignorant and dependent on your superior mind as ever Socrates himself was. Till I shrewdly suspect that no little of that ‘obedience’ which so intoxicated and fascinated her inquisitors, and which to this day so exasperates some of her biographers, was largely economical and ironical. Her narrow cell is reported to have often resounded with peals of laughter to the scandal of some of her sisters. In support of all that, I have marked a score of Socratic passages in Woodhead, and Dalton, and Lewis, and Father Coleridge, and Mrs. Cunninghame Graham. They are very delicious passages and very tempting. But were they once begun there would be no end to them. You will believe Froude, for he is an admitted judge in all matters connected with the best literature, and he says in his Quarterly article on Teresa’s writings, ‘The best satire of Cervantes is not more dainty.’
The great work to which Teresa gave up her whole life, after her full conversion, was the purification of the existing monastic system, and the multiplication and extension of Religious Houses of the strictest, severest, most secluded, most prayerful, and most saintly life. She had been told by those she too much trusted, that the Church of Christ was being torn in pieces in Germany, and in Switzerland, and in France, and in England by a great outbreak of heretical error; and, while the Society of Jesus and the Secret Inquisition were established to cope with all such heresy, Teresa set herself to counteract it by a widespread combination of unceasing penance and intercessory prayer. It was a zeal without knowledge; but there can be no doubt about the sincerity, the single-mindedness, and the strength of the zeal. For forty as hard-working years as ever any woman spent in this world, Teresa laboured according to her best light to preserve the purity and the unity of the Church of Christ. And the strength and the sagacity of mind, the tact, the business talents, the tenacity of will, the patience, the endurance, the perseverance, the sleepless watchfulness, and the abounding prayerfulness that she brought to bear on the reformation and multiplication of her fortresses of defence and attack in that holy war, all taken together, make up one of the most remarkable pages in the whole history of the Church of Christ. Her difficulties with Rome, with the Inquisition, with her more immediate superiors, confessors, and censors, and, most of all, with the ignorance, the stupidity, the laziness, the malice, and the lies of those monks and nuns whose reformation she was determined on: her endless journeys: her negotiations with church-leaders, landowners, and tradesmen in selecting and securing sites, and in erecting new religious houses: the adventures, the accidents, the entertainments she met with: and the fine temper, the good humour, the fascinating character, the winning manners she everywhere exhibited; and, withal, her incomparable faith in the Living God, and the exquisite inwardness, unconquerable assurance, and abounding fruitfulness of her own and unshared method and secret of prayer,—had Teresa not lived and died in Spain, and had she not spent her life and done her work under the Roman obedience, her name would have been a household word in Scotland. As it is, she is not wholly unknown or unloved. And as knowledge extends, and love, and good-will; and as suspicion, and fear, and retaliation, and party-spirit die out among us, the truth about Teresa and multitudes more will become established on clearer and deeper and broader foundations; and we shall be able to hail both her and multitudes more like her as our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom hitherto we have hated and despised because we did not know them, and had been poisoned against them. I am a conspicuous case in point myself. And when I have been conquered by a little desultory reading and by a little effort after love no man need despair. And if you will listen to this lecture with a good and honest heart: with a heart that delights to hear all this good report about a fellow-believer: then He who has begun that good work in you will perfect it by books and by lectures like this, and far better than this, till you are taken absolutely captive to that charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth: and which beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Follow after charity, and begin with Santa Teresa.
Forbid it, mighty Love, let no fond hate
Of names or words so far prejudicate;
Souls are not Spaniards too; one friendly flood
Of baptism blends them all into one blood.
What soul soe’er in any language can
Speak heaven like hers, is my soul’s countryman.
But the greatest and the best talent that God gives to any man or woman in this world is the talent of prayer. And the best usury that any man or woman brings back to God when He comes to reckon with them at the end of this world is a life of prayer. And those servants best put their Lord’s money to the exchangers who rise early and sit late, as long as they are in this world, ever finding out and ever following after better and better methods of prayer, and ever forming more secret, more steadfast, and more spiritually fruitful habits of prayer: till they literally pray without ceasing, and till they continually strike out into new enterprises in prayer, and new achievements, and new enrichments. It was this that first drew me to Teresa. It was her singular originality in prayer and her complete captivity to prayer. It was the time she spent in prayer, and the refuge, and the peace, and the sanctification, and the power for carrying on hard and unrequited work that she all her life found in prayer. It was her fidelity and her utter surrender of herself to this first and last of all her religious duties, till it became more a delight, and, indeed, more an indulgence, than a duty. With Teresa it was prayer first, and prayer last, and prayer always. With Teresa literally all things were sanctified, and sweetened, and made fruitful by prayer. In Teresa’s writings prayer holds much the same place that it holds in the best men and women of Holy Scripture. If I were to say that about some of the ladies of the Scottish Covenant, you would easily believe me. But you must believe me when I tell you that about a Spanish lady, second to none of them in holiness of life, even if her holy life is not all cast in our mould. All who have read the autobiographic Apologia will remember the fine passage in which its author tells us that ever since his conversion there have been two, and only two, absolutely self-luminous beings in the whole universe of being to him,—God and his own soul. Now, I do not remember that Newman even once speaks about Teresa in any of his books, but I always think of him and her together in this great respect. God is to them both, and to them both He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. And it is just here, at the very commencement and centre of divine things, that we all make such shipwreck and come so short. The sense of the reality of divine and unseen things in Teresa’s life of prayer is simply miraculous in a woman still living among things seen and temporal. Her faith is truly the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Our Lord was as real, as present, as near, as visible, and as affable to this extraordinary saint as ever He was to Martha, or Mary, or Mary Magdalene, or the woman of Samaria, or the mother of Zebedee’s children. She prepared Him where to lay His head; she sat at His feet and heard His word. She chose the better part, and He acknowledged to herself and to others that she had done so. She washed His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She had been forgiven much, and she loved much. He said to her, Mary, and she answered Him, Rabboni. And He gave her messages to deliver to His disciples, who had not waited for Him as she had waited. Till she was able to say to them all that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken such and such things within her. And hence arises what I may call the quite extraordinary purity and spirituality of her life of prayer. ‘Defecate’ is Goodwin’s favourite and constant word for the purest, the most rapt, the most adoring, and the most spiritual prayer. ‘I have known men’—it must have been himself—‘who came to God for nothing else but just to come to Him, they so loved Him. They scorned to soil Him and themselves with any other errand than just purely to be alone with Him in His presence. Friendship is best kept up, even among men, by frequent visits; and the more free and defecate those frequent visits are, and the less occasioned by business, or necessity, or custom they are, the more friendly and welcome they are.’ Now, I have sometimes wondered what took Teresa so often, and kept her so long, alone with God. Till I remembered Goodwin’s classical passages about defecated prayer, and understood something of what is involved and what is to be experienced in pure and immediate communion with God. And, then, from all that it surely follows, that no one is fit for one moment to have an adverse or a hostile mind, or to pass an adverse or a hostile judgment, on the divine manifestations that came to Teresa in her unparalleled life of prayer; no one who is not a man of like prayer himself; no, nor even then. I know all the explanations that have been put forward for Teresa’s ‘locutions’ and revelations; but after anxiously weighing them all, the simplest explanation is also the most scientific, as it is the most scriptural. If our ascending Lord actually said what He is reported to have said about the way that He and His Father will always reward all love to Him, and the keeping of all His commandments; then, if there is anything true about Teresa at all, it is this, that from the day of her full conversion she lived with all her might that very life which has all these transcendent promises spoken and sealed to it. By her life of faith and prayer and personal holiness, Teresa made herself ‘capable of God,’ as one describes it, and God came to her and filled her with Himself to her utmost capacity, as He said He would. At the same time, much as I trust and honour and love Teresa, and much good as she has been made of God to me, she was still, at her best, but an imperfectly sanctified woman, and her rewards and experiences were correspondingly imperfect. But if a holy life before such manifestations were made to her, and a still holier life after them—if that is any test of the truth and reality of such transcendent and supernatural matters,—on her own humble and adoring testimony, and on the now extorted and now spontaneous testimony of absolutely all who lived near her, still more humility, meekness, lowly-mindedness, heavenly-mindedness and prayerfulness demonstrably followed those inward and spiritual revelations to her of her Lord. In short and in sure, ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? On the whole, then, I for one am strongly disposed toward Teresa, even in the much-inculpated matter of her inward voices and visions. The wish may very possibly be father to the thought: but my thought leans to Teresa, even in her most astounding locutions and revelations; they answer so entirely to my reading of our Lord and of His words. I take sides, on the whole, with those theologians of her day, who began by doubting, but ended by believing in Teresa and by imitating her. They were led to rejoice that any contemporary and fellow-sinner had attained to such fellowship with God: and I am constrained to take sides with them. ‘One day, in prayer, the sweetness was so great that I could not but contrast it with the place I deserved in hell. The sweetness and the light and the peace were so great that, compared with it, everything in this world is vanity and lies. I was filled with a new reverence for God. I saw His majesty and His power in a way I cannot describe, and the vision kept me in great tenderness and joy and humility. I cannot help making much of that which led me so near to God. I knew at that great moment what it is for a soul to be in the very presence of God Himself. What must be the condescension of His majesty seeing that in so short a time He left so great an impression and so great a blessing on my soul! O my Lord, consider who she is upon whom Thou art bestowing such unheard-of blessings! Dost Thou forget that my soul has been an abyss of sin? How is this, O Lord, how can it be that such great grace has come to the lot of one who has so ill deserved such things at Thy hands!’ He who can read that, and a hundred passages as good as that, and who shall straightway set himself to sneer and scoff and disparage and find fault, he is well on the way to the sin against the Holy Ghost. At any rate, I would be if I did not revere and love and imitate such a saint of God. Given God and His Son and His Holy Spirit: given sin and salvation and prayer and a holy life; and, with many drawbacks, Teresa’s was just the life of self-denial and repentance and prayer and communion with God that we should all live. It is not Teresa who is to be bemoaned and blamed and called bad names. It is we who do all that to her who are beside ourselves. It is we who need the beam to be taken out of our own eye. Teresa was a mystery and an offence; and, again, an encouragement and an example to the theologians and the inquisitors of her day just as she still is in our day. She was a stumbling-stone, or an ensample, according to the temper and disposition and character of her contemporaries, and she is the same to-day.
The pressing question with me is not the truth or the falsehood, the amount of reality or the amount of imagination in Teresa’s locutions and visions. The pressing question with me is this,—Why it is that I have nothing to show to myself at all like them. I think I could die for the truth of my Lord’s promise that both He and His Father will manifest Themselves to those who love Him and keep His words; but He never manifests Himself, to be called manifestation, to me. I am driven in sheer desperation to believe such testimonies and attainments as those of Teresa, if only to support my failing faith in the words of my Master. I had rather believe every syllable of Teresa’s so-staggering locutions and visions than be left to this, that ever since Paul and John went home to heaven our Lord’s greatest promises have been so many idle words. It is open to any man to scoff and sneer at Teresa’s extraordinary life of prayer, and at the manifestations of the Father and the Son that were made to her in her life of prayer, and some of her biographers and censors among ourselves have made good use of their opportunity. But I cannot any longer sit with them in the seat of the scorner, and I want you all to rise up and leave that evil seat also. Lord, how wilt Thou manifest Thyself in time to come to me? How shall I attain to that faith and to that love and to that obedience which shall secure to me the long-withheld presence and indwelling of the Father and the Son?
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Teresa’s Autobiography, properly speaking, is not an autobiography at all, though it ranks with The Confessions, and The Commedia, and The Grace Abounding, and The Reliquiae, as one of the very best of that great kind of book. It is not really Teresa’s Life Written by Herself, though all that stands on its title-page. It is only one part of her life: it is only her life of prayer. The title of the book, she says in one place, is not her life at all, but The Mercies of God. Many other matters come up incidentally in this delightful book, but the whole drift and the real burden of the book is its author’s life of prayer. Her attainments and her experiences in prayer so baffled and so put out all her confessors that, at their wits’ end, they enjoined her to draw out in writing a complete account of a secret life, the occasional and partial discovery of which so amazed, and perplexed, and condemned them. And thus it is that we come to possess this unique and incomparable autobiography: this wonderful revelation of Teresa’s soul in prayer. It is a book in which we see a woman of sovereign intellectual ability working out her own salvation in circumstances so different from our own that we have the greatest difficulty in believing that it was really salvation at all she was so working out. Till, as we read in humility and in love, we learn to separate-off all that is local, and secular, and ecclesiastical, and circumstantial, and then we immensely enjoy and take lasting profit out of all that which is so truly Catholic and so truly spiritual. Teresa was an extraordinary woman in every way: and that comes out on every page of her Autobiography. So extraordinary that I confess there is a great deal that she tells us about herself that I do not at all understand. She was Spanish, and we are Scottish. She and we are wide as the poles asunder. Her lot was cast of God in the sixteenth century, whereas our lot is cast in the nineteenth. She was a Roman Catholic mystic, and we are Evangelical Protestants. But it is one of the great rewards of studying such a life as Teresa’s to be able to change places with her so as to understand her and love her. She was, without any doubt or contradiction, a great saint of God. And a great saint of God is more worthy of our study and admiration and imitation and love than any other study or admiration or imitation or love on the face of the earth. And the further away such a saint is from us the better she is for our study and admiration and imitation and love, if we only have the sense and the grace to see it.
Cervantes himself might have written Teresa’s Book of the Foundations. Certainly he never wrote a better book. For myself I have read Teresa’s Foundations twice at any rate for every once I have read Cervantes’ masterpiece. For literature, for humour, for wit, for nature, for photographic pictures of the time and the people, her Foundations are a masterpiece also: and then, Teresa’s pictures are pictures of the best people in Spain. And there was no finer people in the whole of Christendom in that day than the best of the Spanish people. God had much people in the Spain of that day, and he who is not glad to hear that will never have a place among them. The Spain of that century was full of family life of the most polished and refined kind. And, with all their declensions and corruptions, the Religious Houses of Spain enclosed multitudes of the most saintly men and women. ‘I never read of a hermit,’ said Dr. Johnson to Boswell in St. Andrews, ‘but in imagination I kiss his feet: I never read of a monastery, but I could fall on my knees and kiss the pavement. I have thought of retiring myself, and have talked of it to a friend, but I find my vocation is rather in active life.’ It was such monasteries as Teresa founded and ruled and wrote the history of that made such a sturdy Protestant as Dr. Johnson was say such a thing as that. The Book of the Foundations is Teresa’s own account, written also under superior orders, of that great group of religious houses which she founded and administered for so many years. And the literature into which she puts all those years is literature of the first water. A thousand times I have been reminded of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as I read Teresa’s account of her journeys, and of the people, and of the escapades, and of the entertainments she met with. Yes, quite as good as Cervantes! yes, quite as good as Goldsmith!—I have caught myself exclaiming as I read and laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks. This is literature, this is art without the art, this is literary finish without the labour: and all laid out to the finest of all uses, to tell of the work of God, and of all the enterprises, providences, defeats, successes, recompenses, connected with it. The Foundations is a Christian classic even in Woodhead’s and Dalton’s and David Lewis’s English, what must it then be to those to whom Teresa’s exquisite Spanish is their mother-tongue!
If Vaughan had but read The Foundations, which he is honest enough to confess he had only glanced at in a French translation, it would surely have done something to make him reconsider the indecent and disgraceful attack which he makes on Teresa. His chapter on Teresa is a contemptuous and a malicious caricature. Vaughan has often been of great service to me, but if I had gone by that misleading chapter, I would have lost weeks of most intensely interesting and spiritually profitable reading. Vaughan’s extravagant misrepresentation of Teresa will henceforth make me hesitate to receive his other judgments till I have read the books myself. I shall not tarry here to controvert Vaughan’s utterly untruthful chapter on Teresa, I shall content myself with setting over against it Crashaw’s exquisite Hymn and Apology, and especially his magnificent Flaming Heart.
Teresa’s Way of Perfection is a truly fine book: full of freshness, suggestiveness, and power. So much so, that I question if William Law’s Christian Perfection would ever have been written, but that Teresa had written on that same subject before him. I do not say that Law plagiarised from Teresa, but some of his very best passages are plainly inspired by his great predecessor. You will thank me for the following eloquent passage from Mrs. Cunninghame Graham, which so felicitously characterises this great book, and that in language such as I could not command. ‘To my thinking Teresa is at her best in her Way of Perfection with its bursts of impassioned eloquence; its shrewd and caustic irony; its acute and penetrating knowledge of human character, the same in the convent as in the world; above all in its sympathetic and tender instinct for the needs and difficulties of her daughters. The Perfection represents the finished and magnificent fabric of the spiritual life. Her words ring with a strange terseness and earnestness as she here pens her spiritual testament. She points out the mischievous foibles, the little meannesses, the spirit of cantankerousness and strife, which long experience of the cloister had shown her were the besetting sins of the conventual life. She places before them the loftier standard of the Cross. Her words, direct and simple, ring out true and clear, producing somewhat the solemn effect of a Commination Service.’ Strong as that estimate is, The Perfection deserves every word of it and more.
Teresa thought that her Mansions was one of her two best books, but she was surely far wrong in that. The Mansions, sometimes called The Interior Castle, to me at any rate, is a most shapeless, monotonous, and wearisome book. Teresa had a splendid imagination, but her imagination had not the architectonic and dramatic quality that is necessary for carrying out such a conception as that is which she has laid in the ground-plan of this book. No one who has ever read The Purgatorio or The Holy War could have patience with the shapeless and inconsequent Mansions. There is nothing that is new in the matter of the Mansions; there is nothing that is not found in a far better shape in some of her other books; and one is continually wearied out by her utter inability to handle the imagery which she will not let alone. At the same time, the persevering reader will come continually on characteristic things that are never to be forgotten as he climbs with Teresa from strength to strength on her way to her Father’s House.
To my mind Teresa is at her very best, not in her Mansions which she made so much of, but in her Letters which she made nothing of. I think I prefer her Letters to all her other books. A great service was done to this fine field of literature when Teresa’s letters were collected and published. What Augustine’s editor has so well said about Augustine’s letters I would borrow and would apply to Teresa’s letters. All her other works receive fresh light from her letters. The subjects of her more elaborate writings are all handled in her letters in a far easier, a far more natural, and a far more attractive manner. It is in her letters that we first see the size and the strength and the sweep of her mind, and discover the deserved deference that is paid to her on all hands. Burdened churchmen, inquiring students in the spiritual life, perplexed confessors, angry and remonstrating monks, husbands and wives, matrons and maidens, all find their way to Mother Teresa. Great bundles of letters are delivered at the door of her cell every day, and she works at her answers to those letters till a bird begins to flutter in the top of her head, after which her physician will not suffer her to write more than twelve letters at a downsitting. And what letters they are, all sealed with the name of Jesus—she will seal now with no other seal. What letters of a strong and sound mind go out under that seal! What a business head! What shrewdness, sagacity, insight, frankness, boldness, archness, raillery, downright fun! And all as full of splendid sense as an egg is full of meat. If Andrew Bonar had only read Spanish, and had edited Teresa’s Letters as he has edited Rutherford’s, we would have had that treasure in all our houses. As it is, Father Coleridge long ago fell on the happy idea of compiling a Life of Teresa out of her extant letters, and he has at last carried out his idea, if not in all its original fulness, yet in a very admirable and praiseworthy way. But I would like to know how many of the boasted literary and religious people of Edinburgh have bought and read Father Coleridge’s delightful book. A hundred? Ten? Five? I doubt it. Or how many have so much as borrowed from the circulating library Mrs. Cunninghame Graham’s first-rate book? Of Teresa’s Letters, that greatest living authority on Teresa says—‘That long series of epistolary correspondence, so enchanting in the original. It is in her letters that Teresa is at her best. They reveal all her shrewdness about business and money matters; her talent for administration; her intense interest in life, and in all that is passing around her. Her letters show Teresa as the Castilian gentlewoman who not only treats on terms of perfect equality with people of the highest rank in the kingdom, but is in the greatest request by them. Her letters, of which probably only a tithe remains, show us how marvellously the horizon of her life had expanded, and how rapidly her fame had grown. Perhaps no more finished specimen of epistolary correspondence has ever been penned than those letters, written in the press of multifarious occupations, and often late at night when the rest of the convent was sleeping.’
Her confessor, who commanded Teresa to throw her Commentary on the Song of Solomon into the fire, was a sensible man and a true friend to her reputation, and the nun who snatched a few leaves out of the fire did Teresa’s fame no service. Judging of the whole by the part preserved to us, there must have been many things scattered up and down the destroyed book well worthy of her best pen. The ‘instance of self-esteem’ which Teresa so delightfully narrates is well worth all the burnt fingers its preservation had cost the devoted sister: and up and down the charred leaves there are passages on conduct and character, on obedience and humility and prayer, that Teresa alone could have written. All the same, as a whole, her Commentary on the Song is better in the fire.
Her Seven Meditations on the Lord’s Prayer ran no danger of the censor’s fire. I have had occasion to read all the best expositions of the Lord’s Prayer in our language, and I am bound to say that for originality and striking suggestiveness Teresa’s Seven Meditations stands alone. After I had written that extravagant sentence I went back and read her little book over again, so sure was I that I must have overpraised it, and that I would not be believed in what I have said concerning it. But after another reading of the Meditations I am emboldened to let the strong praise stand in all its original strength. I have passages marked in abundance to prove to demonstration the estimate I have formed of this beautiful book, but I must forego myself the pleasure and the pride of quoting them.
Sixteen Augustinian Exclamations after having Communicated: sixty-nine Advices to Her Daughters, and a small collection of love-enflamed Hymns, complete what remains to us of Teresa’s writings.
Teresa died of hard work and worry and shameful neglect, almost to sheer starvation. But she had meat to eat that all Anne Bartholomew’s remaining mites could not buy for her dying mother. And, strong in the strength of that spiritual meat, Teresa rose off her deathbed to finish her work. She inspected with all her wonted quickness of eye and love of order the whole of the House into which she had been carried to die. She saw everything put into its proper place, and every one answering to their proper order, after which she attended the divine offices for the day, and then went back to her bed and summoned her daughters around her. ‘My children,’ she said, ‘you must pardon me much; you must pardon me most of all the bad example I have given you. Do not imitate me. Do not live as I have lived. I have been the greatest sinner in all the world. I have not kept the laws I made for others. I beseech you, my daughters, for the love of God, to keep the rules of your Holy Houses as I have never kept them. O my Lord,’ she then turned to Him and said, ‘the hour I have so much longed for has surely come at last. The time has surely come that we shall see one another. My Lord and Saviour, it is surely time for me to be taken out of this banishment and be for ever with Thee. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit away from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God.’ ‘A broken and a contrite heart; a broken and a contrite heart,’ was her continual cry till she died with these words on her lips, ‘A broken and a contrite heart Thou wilt not despise.’ And, thus, with the most penitential of David’s penitential Psalms in her mouth, and with the holy candle of her Church in her hand, Teresa of Jesus went forth from her banishment to meet her Bridegroom.
O sweet incendiary! shew here thy art
Upon this carcass of a cold hard heart;
Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day,
Combined against this breast at once break in
And take away from me myself and sin;
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be,
And thy best fortune such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dower of lights and fires;
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;
By all thy lives and deaths of love;
By thy large draughts of intellectual day;
And all thy thirsts of love more large than they;
By all thy brim-filled bowls of fierce desire;
By thy last morning’s draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seized thy parting soul, and sealed thee His;
By all the Heavens thou hast in Him,
(Fair sister of the Seraphim!);
By all of Him we have in thee;—
Leave nothing of myself in me.
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may die.
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