Summer 1989, Vol.41 No. 2, pp. 112-132.

Scott Lewis:
      Balthasar Alvarez and The Prayer of Silence

Authentic mystical elements in early Jesuit spirituality were nearly suppressed because of suspicion and opposition surrounding the brilliant advisor of St. Teresa of Avila.

Fr. Scott M. Lewis, S.J., is presently studying scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He has degrees in history and philosophy from the Catholic University of America and Fordham University.

IN 1527, a thirty-five year old pilgrim known as Ignatius of Loyola was having his last and most serous brush with the Inquisition. He had recently returned from an arduous pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While undertaking some basic studies in Latin and philosophy, he engaged in spiritual conversation and direction. It was perilous for an untrained and unordained person to be engaged in such ministries in Spain of the 1520s. This and his practice of apostolic poverty brought him under suspicion of being a member of a heretical movement, the Alumbrados, and now Ignatius was spending some time in jail while the Dominican inquisitors examined his teachings and way of life. Finding nothing heretical, they released him with the admonition that he was not to speak on matters of faith or cases of conscience until he had studied theology for at least four years.

Theologically, Ignatius was unsophisticated. His literacy was limited to the vernacular. But following his conversion and a long and rigorous spiritual and ascetical discipline, he had received a series of life-transforming visions and mystical experiences. He was convinced that he was one taught by God, and that his experiences were a form of knowledge that at least equaled any in many cases surpassed those who were theologically trained. In his autobiography, written near the end of his life, describing his experiences with the inquisitors, he stated tersely and with confidence that, "in truth, the pilgrim was the one who knew the most, though his learning had little foundation. This was the first thing he used to say whenever they examined him."(1) But being both a realist and a man of the Church, Ignatius began his long journey to Paris for theological training so that he might be enabled to do what seemed most important to him, "to help souls."

Among his many and frequent visions and experiences, Ignatius held most precious those which he interpreted to be depictions and explanations of the Trinity, the method by which God created the world, and the humanity of Christ. These experiences were accompanied by profound joy. He insists in his autobiography that "The things he saw strengthened him then and always gave him such strength in his faith that he often thought to himself: if there were no Scriptures to teach us these matters of the faith, he would be resolved to die for them, only because of what he has seen."(2) By far the most profound of his visions took place by the River Cardoner. This was an experience of infused knowledge that became the guiding principle of his entire life:

the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and of learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him. Though there were many, he cannot set forth the details that he understood then, except that he experienced a great clarity in his understanding. This was such that in the whole course of his life, through sixty-two years, even if he gathered up all the many helps he had from God and all the many things he knew and added them together, he does not think they would amount to as much as he had received at that one time.(3)
> These intense and personal mystical experiences were the foundation for the Spiritual Exercises which Ignatius developed during the following years. Several written sources of late medieval spirituality also contributed to their formation, including the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian, a fourteenth-century mystic. Through Ludolph, Ignatius learned to use an imaginative and affective contemplation on the events in the life of Christ. He was encouraged to picture the scene in his imagination, noting all of the details, and then to insert himself into the scene and participate in it.(4)

Using his own life as paradigm, Ignatius intended to enable other seekers to experience total conversion. This included repentance for their past life, emptying of self, and an unqualified surrender to God for service and for God's greater glory. If they made the exercises correctly and with love and generosity, Ignatius expected that they would experience the love and the grace of God, an overwhelming experience of Presence that enabled them to offer themselves back to God out of love. This encounter with God and the experience of being companions of Jesus was the impetus for the genesis of the Society and its apostolic works. The graces received were always to be directed outward to the apostolate. Prayer and spirituality were never solely for oneself, but for service and for the perfection of all. This is a fundamental principle for the Society of Jesus and one that the Society has always tried to protect carefully.

Ignatius did not, then, view experience of the divine or a personal relationship with the Trinity as something rare or worthy of fear. Nor did he believe them to be obstacles to apostolic service. Although he decreed that Jesuits were not to spend long periods of time in prayer and meditation, it was because he held that a man sufficiently "mortified;" i.e., open to God and emptied of self, could gain more in a few minutes of prayer than in a much longer period otherwise. One should be able to experience the nearness and the grace of God while being engaged in service to others. In view of all this it may seem strange that the Society of Jesus has been accused at times of being anti-mystical, conformist, and activist in the negative sense of that term. The early Society of Jesus had an easy familiarity with contemplative prayer and enjoyed close relationships with contemplative orders, among them the Carthusians and the nascent Discalced Carmelites. Several Jesuits were spiritual directors to St. Teresa of Avila. The most noted of these was her third, and according to the saint herself, her most able spiritual director, Balthasar Alvarez.(5) But in the latter half of the sixteenth century, Jesuit spirituality and prayer began moving in a direction that was more conformist and ascetical and less grounded in personal experience. The generalate of Everhard Mercurian marked a crisis point. To counter what he and others perceived as dangerous and divisive spiritual movements and tendencies within the Society of Jesus, especially in Spain, he enforced an almost obsessional conformity with the Institute and a narrow interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.(6) The need for unity and the fear of leading people into dangerous illusions have traditionally been adduced as reasons for the suppression in 1577 of the method practiced and taught by Alvarez known as "the prayer of silence." Other concerns may have been at work, among them a fear of "guilt by association" with the Alumbrados, a dislike of Alvarez's relationship with Teresa of Avila, a disapproval of the close ties between the Society and the Discalced Carmelites of Spain, and a general disdain for women. But the Alvarez affair was essentially a victory for those who felt strongly that widespread use of contemplative prayer and association with female contemplatives were detrimental to the essence and mission of the Society of Jesus.


The first quarter of the sixteenth century were years of growth, fervor, and hope in the Iberian Church. The devotio moderna had been introduced into Spain in the later part of the fifteenth and early part of the sixteenth century, greatly influencing Spanish spirituality.(7) The reforms of Cardinal Ximenes brought about the publication of the Complutensian Polyglot and the establishment of the University of Alcalá, and there was every reason to expect a renaissance in the Spanish Church. Indeed, Erasmian ideas were popular when first introduced in the 1520s. But many new ideas competed for minds and hearts. The works of Luther aroused enough interest to bring about a condemnation in 1525.(8) A very strong mystical movement in Spain was also fostered, especially by the Franciscans, Francisco de Osuna being one of the foremost representatives. These groups had been prone to what is known in the inquisitorial business as "exaggerations, illusions, and errors."

In 1525 the first group of Alumbrados, (Illuminati) was tried before the Inquisition, and the close relationship with Franciscan mysticism was noted. The experience of the Alumbrados was one of inner religious revelation: locutions, visions, raptures, and ecstasies. At times they practiced a spiritual abandonment similar to Quietism. They were accused by their detractors of relying solely on the infusions of the Holy Spirit; of disdaining the Church and the sacraments, and, for that matter, all external observances, and of engaging in sexual misconduct. It is difficult to assess properly the beliefs and practices of this group and the truth of the charges against them, as most of the sources are hostile. "Alumbrado" was a blanket term that was applied to almost any group of this type, which further complicates attempts at accurate description. It should also be noted that similar charges have been leveled at most spiritual groups of the enthusiastic type throughout the entire history of the Church.(9)

Thus, a strong anti-mystical current also existed in Spain, one comprised mostly of intellectuals and those in positions of ecclesiastical authority. Melchior Cano is typical of this group, which held that any overpowering religious sentiment or mystical experience was at least highly suspect and probably heretical. Indeed, they associated the abandonment to the love God (dexamiento) of the Alumbrados with Lutheranism. Unable to condemn mysticism per se, since it was so firmly a part of church tradition, they sought to confine it to a few individuals especially called by God, thereby rendering it "safe" from a social and institutional point of view.

The Alumbrados' trials continued sporadically throughout the sixteenth century, one occurring in 1577, the year of Alvarez's condemnation.(10) The Spanish Assistancy of the Society of Jesus was likewise the scene of spiritual unrest in the later half of the sixteenth century. Within the Society itself, factions were drifting towards or even advocating the eremetical life, contemplative monasticism, and purportedly exaggerated forms of asceticism. Many members of the Society left and entered the Carthusian Order, causing nervous shivers throughout the Jesuit Curia.(11) In this milieu the Alvarez affair occurred.


A Look at Alvarez's life reveals that he was an able man, advancing through the course of Jesuit formation at a brisk pace, being ordained in 1558, only three years after entering. From 1559 to 1566 he was minister of the Jesuit community in Avila and also Teresa's spiritual director. Later he was master of novices at Medina del Campo and rector of several colleges, as well as official visitor to the province of Aragon in 1579, after the suppression of his teachings. Shortly before his death in 1580 he was appointed provincial of Toledo. He was scarcely a bungling incompetent or someone in whom the Society had little trust. Termed "one of the holiest and most esteemed men in Spain," Alvarez was sought after as a spiritual director. He vehemently insisted on his adherence to orthodoxy and orthopraxis vis- -vis the Institute and the Spiritual Exercises. Personal failings were not, therefore, a significant cause of his troubles.

Our main source for information on Alvarez's life is the biography written by his admiring but rather uncritical disciple, Luis de la Puente, a spiritual teacher in his own right. But although the work contains many helpful letters and treatises, the biography as a whole must be used with caution. De la Puente is vague in many critical places; he strains nerve and muscle to defend his beloved teacher from calumny and to show that he was orthodox and Jesuit to the core. (More recent works, notably those of Joseph de Guibert, Paul Dudon, and Antonio Astrain, agree that Alvarez was orthodox, well-intentioned, and a good Jesuit. They also deplore the harshness with which he was treated. But all three Jesuits were of a less critical era than ours regarding authority, grudgingly affirming the decisions of the Jesuit superiors as being necessary to safeguard the unity and apostolic nature of the Society. (12)

De la Puente portrays Alvarez as a zealous young man formed in the disciplined piety of the Society in the 1550s and 1560s. During this period there appears to have been great flexibility in the length of the Jesuit course and the giving of the Exercises. Alvarez had a contemplative bent and had considered becoming a Carthusian before entering the Society. He seemed particularly drawn to asceticism and mortification, especially the type that makes one glad to live in the late twentieth century. De la Puente points out repeatedly that Alvarez adhered to the rules and the Exercises meticulously. Characteristically of the times, he expressed a fear of women as potential threats to his chastity, and he refused to see them outside the confessional unless other people were present. He also had a reputation for being "hard on self, hard on others (p. 47)." In fact, much of Alvarez' spiritual training was stoical, rugged, and individualistic in nature.

Self-abnegation was central to his spirituality: he mistrusted his body, deprived himself of pleasures, forced himself to do disgusting things, and cut himself off completely from his family and friends. Unfortunately, his directees were also beneficiaries of his training. They were often treated with harshness and severity. For example, he would keep them waiting for long periods, even days, apparantly ignoring them. Such Draconian measures were imposed to mortify their wills (pp. 51-52, 168ff.).

Alvarez' prayer was solidly grounded in Scripture, especially the New Testament. His spirituality was also Christ-centered, with special emphasis on the sacred humanity. Resignation to the divine will, meditation, devotion to the Passion and other devotions rounded out his spiritual life. In short, it was closer to the Imitatio Christi than to the Beneficio di Christo, which had a strong Pauline flavor and centered more on the life of Christ than did the Imitatio. Alvarez focused on mysteries of faith to stir the sentiments and then ruminated over the object of attention in order to penetrate more deeply into the truths it contained and their application. He emphasized detachment from creatures and the direction of the affections to God. He regarded dealings with others as a threat to his own perfection, and had to fight the urge to spend longer periods in prayer (pp. 37-38).


Alvarez' appointment in 1559 as minister in Avila was a turning point in his life. He was then twenty-six years old and newly ordained. He threw himself wholeheartedly into his work, and as de la Puente tells us, he learned how to serve others without detriment to his own perfection (pp. 90-109). He undertook the direction of some secular priests as well as some lay men and women, and finally, Teresa of Avila. Teresa claims to have benefited most from his help in detaching her from creatures, especially "particular friendships," and in moderating some of her impulsiveness. He was apparently rather severe with her at first. He accused her of frivolity, he denied her frequent communion, he refused to grant answers to her questions promptly, and he took away her books. Despite all this, a strong friendship and respect developed between the two (pp. 126ff).

Teresa had long been suspected of being an Alumbrada, and it must be said that many of her experiences were similar to the visions and raptures of the enthusiasts. Sexual improprieties attributed to the Alumbrados fed the fear of contact between male and female religious. In fact, Teresa's detractors denounced her for gross sexual misconduct (accusations later retracted), including supposed liaisons with her spiritual directors.(13)

When Teresa first confided her mystical experience of Christ to Alvarez, he was extremely skeptical. He demanded to know how she could be so certain that it was Christ. She claimed an inner illumination and experiential knowledge. She struggled to put the ineffable into words, and Alvarez was convinced she was a victim of diabolical possession. Shortly afterwards, while meditating in his cell Alvarez was graced with the same experience. As he excitedly related his experience to Teresa, she employed against him every counter-argument and suspicion that he had leveled at her. Filled with exasperation, he insisted that he just knew that it had been a true experience of Christ. Teresa observed, no doubt with a mixture of humor and sadness, that while it certainly seemed that way to him, there were many others who would not think so.(14)

It was during this period that he came under severe attack from Teresa's many detractors. They insisted not only that she -was deceived by the devil regarding her spiritual experiences, but that he was, too, if he persisted in believing and defending her. Alvarez judged that she was not so deceived; she had been totally forthright in all matters and had corrected all of the faults that he had brought to her attention. He also took a strong hand in the founding of her reformed monasteries, dealing with many financial and administrative matters, as well as examining postulants for the order.(15) This would come back to haunt him later.

The relationship was not one-sided, however. When Alvarez doubted his predestination to salvation, Teresa reassured him by means of a message received during prayer. Both of them corresponded by letter during his absences (p. 133). But although Alvarez's new experience of infused contemplation was probably influenced by his friendship with Teresa, the sources do not indicate that he actually derived his doctrine from her. Alvarez's teachings appear to be the result of his own study. He is reported in a famous account to have pointed to a mound of books, stating that he had read them all just to understand Teresa.(16) As for the experience that changed his life, he attributes it to a sudden gift from God.


It was in March of 1567, after having "worked for sixteen years like a laborer... without gathering any harvest from it," that Alvarez received the gift of infused contemplation. He states that for years he had felt sad at not being able to attain perfection, and that although he had increased his efforts and his time at prayer, all that he had succeeded in doing was to fatigue himself. Finally, he "entered into himself" and "perceived his foolishness" (pp. 141-42). After an initial period of confusion, Alvarez received many graces "all at once," among them discernment, certitude, peace, loss of fear, and the knowledge that he did not have to depend on a saint or a guide (although they could be of help). His official duties became easy for him. Three gifts are worth special note. First, he no longer yearned for longer periods of prayer, and he echoes St. Ignatius' statement that a mortified man receives more from one hour of prayer than an unmortified one gains from several. Secondly, his own defects and sins ceased to alarm him, and even consoled him, for they humbled him and reminded him of his weakness. All this parallels Luther's experience of ceaseless, anxious striving followed by helplessness before God, and acceptance of God's mercy. Finally, Alvarez experienced a "dilation of the heart." The defects of others, which had caused him such distress, now aroused only compassion. Whereas before he was "impatient" and "sent them away grieving and sorrowful," now tolerance was his guide.

Alvarez claimed that God still gives what he formerly gave to the saints; to obtain these gifts, the Jesuit practiced what he called the prayer of silence or the prayer of repose (p. 154). He first places himself in God's presence, believing that God is present both interiorly and exteriorly. He is tranquil and full of admiration and joy, and perceives God by a simple intuitive glance. Then he merely rejoices in God (pp. 145, 156). Alvarez adduces arguments from St. Thomas to prove that "It is therefore certain that union with God, and the enjoyment resulting from it, are common both to the citizens of heaven and the just who live upon earth" (pp. 145-48). In prayer he is usually silent and at rest, and in a passage that may describe what happens when the Lord does "take and receive;" he says

What need have I, in effect, to break silence? Everything in this world speaks to God: All in me is before his eyes; my heart, my faculties, my powers, my knowledge, my thoughts, my desires, my efforts, and my end. On the other hand, His glances are so powerful that they can correct my defects, influence my desires, and give wings to my soul (p. 147).
The soul listens attentively to the voice of God, and is taught by that voice. Alvarez denies that the mind is inactive during this silence: it sees, hears, understands, rejoices, and loves. If it is inactive, it is in a stupor and is being deceived by the spirit of darkness (p. 159).

Alvarez supports the "prayer of silence" from Scripture and the mystical theologians -- Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, John Climacus, and Thomas Aquinas, the latter to show that happiness and rest are the natural object of our desires, and therefore this prayer is in keeping with our nature and end (pp. 145-48). He claims that his prayer causes no injury to the soul, and that those who follow it are more submissive to superiors, pay more attention to spiritual growth, stand firmer in trails and tribulations (as he was to prove), and are better able to guide others (p. 152). Infused contemplation, given for the service of neighbor, not for solitude, is solely God's grace; we must wait and use ordinary methods until called. But if we purify our hearts, mortify our passions, and persistently knock, we should not be surprised when we are given the grace, for that is what God intends for us.

Alvarez appeals to the experiences of St. Ignatius himself (pp. 162-66). In this respect the writings of Jeronimo Nadal are an excellent place to look in determining the mind of the founder. Nadal, who entered the Society in 1657, represents the teachings of Ignatius well, for he was viewed as his alter ego as well as the interpreter and mediator of his thought and spirituality. (Ignatius himself had stated that Nadal ". . .altogether knows my mind and enjoys the same authority as myself.")(17) And, in a word, Nadal had insisted that such experience be verified with Church teaching and that practice of moral virtues and vocal prayer is important before one can hope to progress higher. But he does believe that this call comes, and he favors an openness to God's call to deeper prayer and contemplation, always with discernment and guidance.


Alvarez's method is not meant for all. That laid down by St. Ignatius is the standard: those who have mastered vocal prayer and meditation over a period of time, whom God calls to a higher state, should be allowed to progress under the guidance of a director. Prayer is a process not to be interrupted. For a director to recall to an active state those whom God has called to the prayer of quiet would endanger both souls and bodies. Alvarez quotes Osuna in saying that God will shorten the lives of those directors who tyrannize their charges and interfere with God's will (pp. 152-53).

During the few years following his gift of grace in 1568, Alvarez was novice master. De la Puente assures us he was scrupulous in seeing that the novices were grounded in the Institute and the Spiritual Exercises, especially in their method of prayer. However, he also shared his own experiences and views of silent prayer, and it is from the indiscretions of some of these and other disciples that his later troubles arose.

His conversion of heart continued, and revelations in prayer increased his compassion towards the faults of others. During this period, Alvarez's transformation was noted throughout the province, and he wrote that the Lord was giving him both the spirit of gentleness (espiritu de blandura) and a greater desire to be of service to others.(18) During his tenure as Rector of one of the colleges, he warned of the "dangers of study," insisting on the unity of the interior life with studies and stressing the "need for saints, not noble or learned men (II, pp. 35ff.). Any one of these statements would earn him enemies, especially when repeated inaccurately by over-enthusiastic followers. But an examination of letters to and from Rome reveals that from entrance up until the early 1570s, Alvarez was held in high esteem by nearly everyone, including the Jesuit General, Francis Borgia. There is no hint of the storm to come. During the few years following his "conversion," however, as his teachings became more widely known, opposition 9o him began to build. It became manifest in the period 1571-73.(19)

The murmuring began while Alvarez was rector of Salamanca. Concerned that he was teaching dangerous ideas to novices and directees, some accused him of being deceived by the devil. A letter to Rome reported that he spent too much time with nuns. In 1573, Borgia died and a provincial congregation was called to Burgos to elect delegates to the General Congregation in Rome. An accusation against Alvarez brought a reprimand before the entire assembly, a reprimand which de la Puente informs us Alvarez bore in silence for the sake of humility and mortification.(20)

At the General Congregation in Rome in 1573, two of the three delegates, Gil Gonzalez and Juan Suarez, raised the matter, which from this point on was known as the "Alvarez problem." The particular issue was the practice of the prayer of silence, or as it was called in Rome, "the strange method of prayer" (peregrino manera de oración). Everhard Mercurian was elected general, and events began to move fairly rapidly after that. Mercurian was obsessed, as were others, with conformity to the Institute and the Spiritual Exercises as taught by St. Ignatius, convinced that measures to ensure this conformity would cure the Society of its ills. The Constitutions stated that Jesuits should not generally undertake the direction of souls especially as regular confessors or directors of religious women. Mercurian was concerned, however, with apostolic mobility, and he had acquired a certain wariness after an unhappy experience with Isabel Roser, a domineering noblewoman who used political influence to force her way into the Society.(21)

Suarez, made provincial after his return, became the bête noire in the following controversy. He peppered Rome with letters, and made repeated attempts to dissuade Alvarez from his views.(22) In 1574, Antonio Cordeses was censured for his teaching and practice of affective prayer. Aware that many of his directees had difficulty with meditation, Cordeses had taught them a form designed to stir the affections. This Mercurian condemned and Cordeses was ordered to conform to the Institute and the Exercises.(23) Suarez sent a copy of the letter to Alvarez. The message was clear. Contained in the letter were vague warnings about the importance of the college and the need to adhere to the Institute, possibly an oblique suggestion that Alvarez was shirking his duties as rector. But Alvarez interpreted the warning benignly, feeling that he was not obliged at this time to abandon his way of proceeding.(24)

In 1575, heretics and Alumbrados became the focus of the Inquisition in Andalusia, especially an active group in Llerena. Suarez, as provincial, ordered Alvarez to write a treatise refuting the errors of the Alumbrados. Thus Suarez removed the Society from the baleful eye of the Inquisition, prevented scandal, and forced Alvarez to commit himself on several key points. Nevertheless, many of his statements in this treatise were later used against him when further charges were delated to Rome, although the treatise was orthodox enough to be cited in entirety by de la Puente. Further attempts to dissuade Alvarez failed.

What were the accusations against him? Boado has grouped them according to type and identified them according to author. Most of the charges emanated from Suarez, the rest from Avellaneda and a few others:

Alvarez' method of prayer is a "modo peregrino," a possible association with the Alumbrados.
The things that he says are dangerous
The prayer is susceptible to illusion.
He does not deal with contemplation in the same way as the saints.
He advocates an elevation to contemplation without solid grounding in the moral virtues.
He is guilty of dissembling.
He neglects his duties.
He disseminates division in the Society and thinks he is above obedience.
He relies on his own judgment.
He shows contempt for the Exercises and destroys the spirituality of the Society.(25)

For the most part, the accusations are half-truths and reductions to absurdity, their only justification being the indiscretions of Alvarez' over-enthusiastic disciples, who, as de la Puente reports, derided conventional prayer and piety, asserting that such methods were for children but not for the advanced. Alvarez always took pains to disclaim such attitudes and de la Puente informs us that he insisted publicly over one hundred times that conventional approaches and a solid foundation in virtue were essential before one could think of contemplation (pp. 167-68). The charges of danger and illusion refer to the excesses of the Alumbrados, and reveal the Society's fear of being associated with them.

Alvarez's detractors were never able to substantiate their criticisms of his teachings. Most of the charges faulted the application of those teachings or the direction in which they tended. And if St. Ignatius' Exercises do not mention the prayer of silence explicitly, he defines contemplation as considering things as if they were present. In the contemplation to attain the love of God, moreover Ignatius states that

love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice-versa, the beloved shares with the lover. Hence, if one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors, or riches. Thus, one always gives to the other.(26)
Alvarez's sin in the eyes of others was taking this statement at face value. He believed that if one were sufficiently mortified and well disposed towards God, God would communicate love and knowledge in return. We should not be shocked and surprised when this happens; God is merely keeping his promises. The suscipe, then, is a total donation of self with all its faculties, and is similar to the experience described by Alvarez. Silence before God is total giving to God. Dudon faults Alvarez for teaching that the prerogatives of a privileged few lay within reach of most who were willing to dispose themselves to God. This, apparently, was the heinous sin that caused Alvarez's downfall.(27)

The charges of dissembling and being above obedience refer to Alvarez's attitude towards earlier warnings. Obedient though he was, he was willing to put the most liberal interpretation on directives from superiors. He would accede more than was absolutely necessary, which is probably why the final measures set forth by Avellandea were so repetitious and explicit: he was closing all loopholes. The charge that Alvarez neglected his duties refers to the amount of time he spent with nuns and with the affairs of the Carmelite Order. As a consequence, the measures against Alvarez were followed by the Society's withdrawal from ministry to female contemplative orders.

In 1576, Hernandez, the newly-elected procurator, took this document to Rome with some solicited denunciations. He took up the matter with Mercurian, but on the advice of the consulter, Gonzalez, did not show him the treatise, unwilling to bother the General with such a long document. Apparently willing to help in the case against Alvarez in any way he could, however, Gonzalez produced a document he claimed was written by Alvarez in 1568 at the request of his superiors.

Mercurian warned Alvarez not to teach his ideas to those in or outside of the house because of the dangerous times and the need for unity and conformity with the Institute and Exercises. Soon after, Alvarez was removed and made Rector of Villa Garcia where the controversy played out to its bitter end.(28) Avellaneda was appointed Visitor and went to see Alvarez with the purpose of bringing him back into line (reducir). But neither friendly persuasion nor strong-arm pressure "reduced" Alvarez, who maintained his adherence to the Institute and the Exercises. He was willing to admit that some of his ideas were poorly expressed, but he defended them in substance, insisting they came from God.

A curious incident illuminates the malevolent personality of Avellaneda and the misogynism that motivated the Visitor and many others. Magdalene Ulloia, a wealthy widow of the nobility, was not only the foundress of Villa Garcia, but its continued patron. Known for her lavish gifts of charity, she was a friend and spiritual confidant of Alvarez. She had built a new church for the novices within the college, and the day after the consecration ceremony, with Alvarez's permission, she bought her family on tour of the college and the church. Avellandea, furiously invoking papal directives concerning the cloister, insisted that she could not come in, even though Alvarez and other tried to convince him that no harm would occur and that she had i some rights as foundress. Despite the pleas of Alvarez, the Visitor forced him to dismiss the lady from the grounds before her family and attendants. De la Puente maintains that it was one of the most humiliating experiences of Alvarez's life; perhaps it helped prepare him for what was to come (II, p. 105). There is a comment attributed to Araoz, a "court Jesuit" of this period, to the effect that while one might meet a woman who was not in a state of mortal sin, one would not find a perfected woman.(29) From this, we may infer how such people would regard Jesuits who were heavily involved in contemplative orders of women and had spiritual relationships with individual members.

At the end of 1577, Visitor Avellandea rendered his verdict. Invoking the vow of obedience, divine providence, and the will of Father General (Mercurian's name was on the letter as its author), the Visitor imposed the following list, which can be grouped into three categories: house administration, prayer, and dealings with others. As for house administration, Alvarez was to apply himself to his duties as rector and master of novices; he was not to neglect the details of running the house; he was not to be absent to the detriment of the novices; he was not to invite guests and, if they showed up unannounced, they were to be dismissed as quickly as possible. As for his dealings with others: he was not to "spend time with women, especially Carmelite nuns"; he was to direct men because there was less danger and promised more long-lasting results. Additionally, he was to apply himself to cases of conscience, a work more appropriate to the Society and more fruitful to others. But the most force in the letter is reserved for the statements on prayer. The injunctions are repeated throughout the document, just in case Alvarez missed the point: he is to teach and hold as an opinion only the mode of prayer set forth in the Exercises; he is to discourage anyone from following his former mode of prayer; under the vow of obedience, he is to show more respect and esteem for the method of prayer in the Exercises, preferring it to any other, and is to follow it himself. If any changes in prayer are to occur, they will come from proper authority in Rome. Such matters are not left up to the discretion of the individual.(30)

Alvarez, trained to value the vow of obedience highly, submitted completely. But over the next few months he suffered immensely. Reports reached Rome that he was in intense anguish, that he had doubts that the orders to which he had submitted were in fact given by Mercurian, and that he wanted "a couple of lines" in Mercurian's own hand. Mercurian responded that he "approved" these measures, although scholars hold that he approved them after the fact. They represented his views in substance, however, if not in severity.(31)

Alvarez submitted to the ban on teaching others, but in his own prayer life, he found compliance impossible. Try as he might to convince himself otherwise, when he experienced the graces to which he had become accustomed, he knew that they were from God.(32)


Measures were taken to disengage the Society of Jesus from the Discalced Carmelites. Jesuit superiors were told to withdraw their men "bit by bit;" and "smoothly and efficiently." There was a little protest in the form of a letter from some Jesuits who felt that such work was fitting for the Society, but that was shortlived. St. Teresa herself expressed some worry that she might not attract as many women postulants if they knew that they were not going to be directed by Jesuits. And although she maintained cordial relationships with some Jesuits, the numbers of those working with her order continued to dwindle. Alvarez was appointed Visitor to the province of Aragon in 1579, and provincial in 1580, only a few moths before he died.(33) Teresa, who wept uncontrollably for an hour upon hearing of his death, died herself in 1582.(34)

The deaths of Alvarez and Teresa mark the end of a period of spiritual ferment and cooperation between the two orders. Not only did the Jesuits and Discalced Carmelites become more distant from one another, but the Society of Jesus began a steady retreat from things mystical. Dudon and de Guibert nevertheless r point out that Alvarez was vindicated, for de la Puente popularized his teachings, and the Directory of the Spiritual Exercises of 1599 as well as a letter from the General in that year permit those who are called by the Holy Spirit to higher contemplation to use other methods under the scrutiny of a spiritual director. One might be tempted to agree with Henri Bremond, for whom Alvarez was a martyred mystic and saint, that at this critical juncture the Society recoiled from the mystical tradition of the Church and endorsed asceticism under the guise of prayer.(35) This is an exaggeration, but it is this incident and others like it (e.g. the condemnation of Cordeses) blunted the edge of a vibrant and personalized spirituality in favor of an emphasis on discipline and conformity. During this period the Spiritual Exercises were practiced somewhat haphazardly; surveys reveal that only some Jesuits had made the complete Exercises, some in parts, and others not at all.(36)

The descriptions of Alvarez's spiritual formation suggest that the Exercises had begun to go stale, at least in their contemplative aspect. In some instances the Exercises resembled lectio divina and meditation rather than contemplation, and it is for this reason that so many were turning to other forms of prayer and spirituality. The idea that one should experience contemplation in the classical sense while doing the Exercises had become an alarming and novel idea to some. Alvarezs teaching thus became a battleground between opposed views of spirituality within the Society, one stressing the contemplative and mystical, the other emphasizing devotion, mental prayer, and asceticism. In spiritual matters, both the Society and the Church opted for institutional conformity over which greater control can be exer- cised. It benefitted many people, and for a time was even more effective apostolically, but we are left to wonder if the sad religious history of the first half of the seventeenth century might have been different if religion had been more an immediate experience of heart and spirit.

  1. Joseph O'Callaghan, trans., The Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola (New York: Harper and Row, 1974) p. 65.
  2. Ibid., p. 39.
  3. Ibid., pp. 39-40.
  4. Joseph de Guibert, S.J., The Jesuits: Their Spiritual Doctrine and Practice (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1972), pp. 154-55.
  5. See Luis de la Puente, The Life of Father Balthasar Alvarez, 2 vols. (London: Thomas Richardson and Son, 1868), p. 127. Further references to this work will be cited in the text with page numbers in parentheses.
  6. Joseph de Guibert, The Jesuits: Their Doctrine and Practice (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1964), pp. 227-29.
  7. Ralph Tapia, The Alumbrados of Toledo. A Study in Sixteenth Century Spanish Spirituality (Park Falls, Wisconsin: F.A. Weber and Sons, 1974), p. 25.
  8. Stanley Payne, Spanish Catholicism: A Historical Overview (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 39-46.
  9. Tapia, Alumbrados, p. 26.
  10. Ibid., p. 30.
  11. De Guibert, Jesuits, p. 222.
  12. See Paul Dudon, "Les Leçons d'oraison du P.B. Alvarez," Revue d'ascétique et de mystique, II (1921): 37-51.; Antonio Astrain, Historia de la Compañia de Jesus en la Asistencia de Expaña, Tomo III (Madrid, 1909), p. 196.
  13. See Victoria Lincoln, Teresa: A Woman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), pp. 207, 215, 237, 323-24.
  14. See Stephen Clissold, St. Teresa of Avila, (London: Sheldon Press, 1979), pp. 5256.
  15. Lincoln, Teresa, pp. 160, 166-68, 70-71; Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, trans., The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila (Washington: Institute for Carmelite Studies, 1976), p. 217.
  16. Cándido de Dalmases, S.I., "Santa Teresa y los Jesuitas," Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu XXXV (1966): 361, 364.
  17. John W. O'Malley, S.J., "To Travel to Any Part of the World: Jeronimo Nadal and the Jesuit Vocation," Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 16, 2 (March, 1984):3. Also cf. Miguel Nicolau, Jerónimo Nadal, S.I. Sus obras y doctrinas espirituales (Madrid, 1949), pp. 433-34.
  18. Faustino Boado S.I., "Baltasar Alvarez S.I. en la Historia de la Espiritualidad Española del Signo VI," Miscelánea Comillas, 41 (1964): 159-257.
  19. Ibid., p. 198.
  20. Ibid., p. 201; de la Puente, Life, vol. II, p. 150.
  21. Ignatius of Loyola, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, trans. and editor George E. Ganss, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1970), pp. 262-63.
  22. Boado, p. 204; Astrain, Historia, p. 190.
  23. De Guibert, Jesuits, pp. 223-24.
  24. Boado, p. 207.
  25. Boado, pp. 231-34.
  26. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, tran. and editor, Louis J. Puhl., S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1949), pp. 101-102.
  27. Dudon, "L'oraison du P.B. Alvarez;" pp. 52-53.
  28. Boado, pp. 209, 229; Astrain, Historia, p. 190.
  29. Dalmases, "Santa Teresa," pp. 367-68.
  30. Boado, pp. 224-25; Astrain, Historia, pp. 193-94.
  31. Boado, pp. 226-28.
  32. Dalmases, "Santa Teresa," p. 368.
  33. Ibid., pp. 368-74.
  34. Lincoln, Teresa, pp. 347-48.
  35. Henri Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqua à nos jours, VIII (Paris, 1924-1936), p. 229.
  36. Ignacio Iparraguirre, S.J. Practica de los Ejercicios de San Ignacio, Vol II, Desde la muerte de San Ignacio hasta la promulgacion del Directorio Oficiel (1556-1599) (Roma: Institutum Historicum, S.I., 1955) p. 393.