Jordan Aumann O.P.: Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition



The period covered by the title of this chapter corresponds to the third volume of Pourrat's Christian Spirituality,(1) that is, from the middle of the fifteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century. Several things should be noted about this particular period. First, the schools of spirituality are for the most part classified according to nations and not religious orders, as was true of the previous periods. As Pourrat points out:

The principle of nationality asserted itself in a very remarkable way, especially from the time of the Renaissance. This tendency. of each nation to converge upon the lines of its own genius and language and religion reacted upon every manifestation of its life, and therefore upon its spirituality. Hence we actually find in recent times a Spanish spirituality, an Italian spirituality, and a French spirituality, a spirituality which is fundamentally one and the same so far as it is Catholic, but differs in the way in which it is conceived and presented.(2)
There were, of course, certain individuals and certain religious orders which exerted such a tremendous influence during this period that they could be classified as leaders of distinct schools of spirituality, but even in these cases the national temperament and spirit could be discerned as a distinctive trait. Moreover, it was especially through the religious orders that a continuity with the past was preserved. Abrupt changes in ideas and attitudes are rare in history, and this is especially true of the history of spirituality.

Secondly, the prodigious output of spiritual writings during this period makes it impossible to discuss more than a few outstanding authors. Merely to list the writings and their authors would comprise a large volume. Consequently, we shall concentrate on initiators of new trends or schools which reflect the currents of spirituality between the Council of Trent and the mid-seventeenth century.


The state of the Church at the end of the Middle Ages was one of schism, lack of respect for authority and scandalous moral degradation at all levels of society. The Renaissance introduced a humanism that was at once Christian and pagan, but the self-indulgence of the latter reached such universal proportions that Rabelais stated that the rule of life for many people was simply: "Do as you please";(3) and Erasmus observed in 1501 that even among the pagans none were ever more corrupt than the average Christian.(4)

Faced with such conditions, fervent Christians had to resort to a spirituality that was one of withdrawal from the world, fortified by well-regulated spiritual exercises and definite methods of prayer. This itself was not an innovation in the Christian life, for Christ had taught the necessity of self-discipline, a certain detachment from the world and the practice of prayer. St. Paul had repeated the same doctrine, and the early Christians had lived it to such an extent that the word "ascetics" is applied to those who followed a program of spiritual exercises involving fasting, austerities and continence. The same teaching was incorporated in the monastic tradition, with the insistence that external discipline is ordained to the interior practice of prayer.

Ultimately, through various treatises on prayer composed toward the end of the medieval period,(5) methodical or systematized meditation was introduced in the Low Countries, France, Italy and Spain.(6) It is important to note that methodical meditation was introduced and promulgated primarily as a reform measure; it seemed to be a sure way to lead the clergy and religious back to a truly Christian life.

Spiritual exercises, or methodical mental prayer seem to have appeared for the first time in the Low Countries among the Canons of Windesheim and the Brethren of the Common Life.(7) It is probable that John Wessel Gransfort (+ 1489), a friend of Thomas à Kempis, constructed the first method of meditation. It comprised three stages; preparation for meditation by ridding oneself of distractions and selecting the material for meditation; the actual meditation by the application of mind, judgment and will; and the summation of the meditation, directing to God the desires that have been stimulated.(8) The effectiveness of meditation as a means of spiritual reform was soon evident, for it is difficult to imagine, as St. Teresa of Avila would later remark, the possibility of remaining in sin and at the same time practicing daily meditation.

The practice of meditation soon spread to France, through the influence of John Mombaer (+ 1502), abbot of a Benedictine monastery near Paris. His principal treatise, Rosetum, is based on the practices of Windesheim and is methodical to the point of weariness. Basically, his method is the same as the one drawn up by Gransfort, although he also advocated meditation on the mysteries of the rosary.(9)

We have stated that methodical meditation was utilized primarily as a means of reforming religious life, and that was nowhere more true than in the Benedictine monasteries of Italy and Spain. According to Watrigant,(10) the introduction of methodical mental prayer in Italy was the result of a direct influence of the Flemish devotio moderna. However, other authors such as Tassi and Petrocchi either reject this theory outright or say it is too early to make such a judgment.(11) A safer conjecture would be that there was a parallel development in southern Europe rather than an import from the Low Lands.(12)

In Italy the two great reformers of the clergy and religious were St. Laurence Justinian (+ 1455) and Louis Barbo (+ 1443). For both of them the instrument of reform was the practice of methodical mental prayer or meditation. St. Laurence Justinian was a Canon Regular of St. George and later became Patriarch of Venice. He composed numerous treatises -- on compunction, on humility, on disdain for the world, on the degrees of perfection, on divine love -- but in all of them he strove to inculcate the practice of meditation.(13)

Louis Barbo was also a Canon Regular of St. George, but he transferred to the Benedictine monastery at Padua, where he became abbot. Later, he was named bishop of Treviso. His reforming influence was felt at Montecassino and, through Garcia de Cisneros, at Valladolid and Montserrat in Spain.

Barbo's treatise on prayer is entitled Forma orationis et meditationis or Modus meditandi, and was first published in Venice in 1523. It describes three types of prayer: vocal prayer, which is best suited for beginners; meditation, which is a higher type of prayer suited for those who are more advanced; and contemplation, the highest type of prayer, to which one may rise through meditation. At the request of Pope Eugene IV, Barbo wrote to the Benedictines at Valladolid, Spain, to acquaint them with methodical meditation, and it was from this abbey in 1492 that Garcia de Cisneros went, with twelve monks, to reform the famous abbey of Montserrat, near Barcelona.

Although he did not attain the fame of St. Ignatius, even in Spain, García de Cisneros must be recognized as one of the most influential figures in the Tridentine reform of the Church and in early Spanish spirituality.(14) He left two works which were printed in Spanish at the printing press of Montserrat in 1500: Ejercitatorio de la vida espiritual and Directorio de las horas canónicas, and it is the first of the two that became a standard directory for spiritual exercises (in Spanish, ejercicios).

Normally, three weeks were assigned for the spiritual exercises; the fourth part of the directory is intended specifically for contemplatives. The method of making the exercises is spelled out in some detail, as are the themes for the meditations. At the appointed time the monk goes to chapel, kneels, blesses himself, and recites the prayer "Come, Holy Spirit," after which he recites three times: "O Lord, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me." Then, recollecting himself in the presence of God, he meditates on the three points given for that particular day, concludes with a prayer of petition, and then, striking his breast, repeats three times: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." He then stands to recite a psalm and a prayer and leaves the chapel in a state of recollection. The topics assigned for the purgative week are meant to arouse holy fear and contrition: sin, death, hell, judgment, the Passion of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, heaven.

In the illuminative week more freedom is given as regards method, and if devotion or love move the individual, he may abandon the method entirely. On the other hand, if necessary, the monk may spend as long as a month on the purgative meditations. In the illuminative week emphasis is placed on preparation for a worthy confession, sorrow for sin, and the arousal of love of God. The topics considered are creation, the supernatural order, religious vocation, justification, blessings received, divine providence, heaven; or one could meditate on the life of Christ or the saints or on the Lord's prayer.

The unitive way presupposes purification from sin and illumination from God; the individual is totally converted to God, desires to serve God alone, and is detached from the goods of this world. At this stage the soul rises to God more out of love than through use of the intellect. There are six degrees of unitive love, according to Cisneros, terminating in rapture.(15) The topics for the unitive way are God as principle of all things, as the beauty of the universe, as the glory of the world, as infinite charity, as rule of every creature, as governing all things, as supremely generous.

For those who have reached contemplation, Cisneros is much more permissive in regard to subject matter and method. His material is practically a transcription of Gerson's De monte contemplationis, but he does propose three ways of contemplating Christ: first, to consider the sacred humanity, as St. Bernard teaches; secondly, to look at Christ as God and man; thirdly, to rise above the sacred humanity and focus on the divinity of Christ. Each person, says Cisneros, should follow his own spiritual attraction, according to the degree of his prayer life.

Like Cisneros, another renowned Benedictine, Louis de Blois, known as Blosius (+ 1566), contributed to the Benedictine reform in the Low Lands through the practice of meditation and spiritual exercises. Blosius stated that external exercises such as the chanting of the Divine Office, recitation of vocal prayers, outward signs of devotion, fasting and vigils are no doubt pleasing to God, but infinitely superior are the spiritual exercises which enable a man to be interiorly and supernaturally united with God.(16) Blosius was an avid reader of the works of Tauler and Suso.

The works of Blosius are as follows: Institutio spiritualis (1551); Consolatio pusillanimum (1555); Conclave animae fidelis (1558); Speculum spirituale (1558). These treatises were quickly translated into all the vernacular languages and circulated throughout the monasteries of Europe. In fact, just as some of the Benedictine monks had resisted the efforts of Louis Barbo, so now some monks were fearful that the practice of mental prayer would threaten the devotion of the monks to liturgical prayer, the opus Dei.

Eventually the spiritual exercises were practiced by more and more of the laity, as Garcia de Cisneros had intended. Numerous devout laymen would go to the monasteries for the purpose of making the spiritual exercises, as very likely was the case with Ignatius Loyola at Montserrat in 1522. The Dominicans officially adopted the practice of meditation as a community exercise in 1505; the Franciscans followed suit in 1594.


The spiritual exercises were not the only weapon used against the encroachment of the pagan humanism of the Renaissance. A more direct attack was waged by the "Christian humanists." They have sometimes been criticized as the forerunners of the Protestant Revolt under Martin Luther. While it is true that many of their criticisms did provide ammunition for the attacks of the Protestants against the Church, the devout humanists were sincere; they can hardly be accused of deliberately preparing for a schism in the Church. Their basic . aims were to preserve Christians from the corruption of pagan humanism, to foster the interior life and the practice of prayer, and to encourage a return to the reading of Scripture, not for theologizing but for inspiration and instruction. Among the outstanding Christian humanists were Nicholas of Cusa, Pico della Mirandola, Lefèvre of Etaples, St. Thomas More and Erasmus, but only Erasmus is of interest to us in the history of spirituality.(17)

Born at Rotterdam between 1464 and 1466, Erasmus was educated at the school of the Brothers of the Common Life. Later he entered the Augustinians and, after being dispensed from his religious vows, was ordained a priest in 1492 by the Bishop of Cambrai. Renowned throughout Europe for his vast knowledge, he was highly esteemed by Pope Julius II, Pope Leo X, King Charles V, King Francis I, and King Henry VIII. He was an enemy of the monastic life and of Scholastic theology, as can be seen in his satirical treatise, Stultitiae laus. He was intensely dedicated to the formation of a new theology based on Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. His doctrine can be found in Enchiridion militis christiani (1504), Paraclesis (1516) and Ratio seu methodus perveniendi ad veram theologian (1518).(18) He died at Bile in 1536, while superintending the edition of his works.

For Erasmus, the Christian life is one of constant warfare against the world, the devil and our own passions. The principal weapons to be used by the Christian are prayer, which strengthens the will, and knowledge, which nourishes the intellect. The practice of prayer requires that the Christian flee from the world and concentrate on Christ, for the goal of the Christian life is the imitation of Christ. Even the external practices of religion, if not rightly used, can become obstacles to the true faith and may lead to a pharisaical observance which Erasmus calls "the religion of the common people."

In the Enchiridion (chap. 8) he gives twenty-two directives for the imitation of Christ and victory over sin and temptations. And if the Christian finds it difficult to detach himself from the world, Erasmus reminds him of the vanity of this world, the inevitability of death and the certainty of man's ultimate separation from the goods of this world. The same emphasis on death will be found later in the writings of Montaigne and many of the Spanish spiritual writers of the sixteenth century.

Erasmus is much more emphatic, however, when he discusses the type of knowledge which the Christian must have in order to be successful in combat. First of all, knowledge of self, which is a primary condition for victory. Secondly, knowledge of the truths revealed in Scripture; not the speculative and argumentative theology of the Scholastics, but the practical theology which leads to a holy life and is found in the authentic source which is the Bible. Everyone, says Erasmus, should read the Bible because the doctrine of Christ is for everyone. And in order not to go astray, one should heed the definitions of the Church and follow the teaching of the Fathers and commentators. In questions that have not been decided by the Church, it is the Holy Spirit that instructs the reader, but only if the reader approaches Scripture with faith and devotion. But anyone who reads only the literal sense in Scripture might just as well be reading a fable or a legend; Scripture is sterile unless one perceives the meaning hidden beneath the literal interpretation.

The humanism of Erasmus, Lefèvre and their companions has been severely criticized by many Catholic historians, in spite of the fact that educated Catholics of the sixteenth century found much sound instruction and guidance in the devotional treatises composed by these men and in spite of the fact that the Christian humanists dissociated themselves from Luther and the Protestant movement as soon as it was condemned by Pope Leo X in 1520.(19)

There are, however, several good reasons for the criticism of the Christian humanists. First, in their zeal for a "new theology" which was based exclusively on Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, they rejected all the theological wisdom of the Middle Ages and also weakened, unwittingly perhaps, the authority of the magisterium of the Church. Secondly, through their intensive study of the Greek and Latin classics they formed an erroneous opinion concerning man's inherent goodness, with the result that they underestimated the effects of original sill and man's need for mortification and self-denial. Thirdly, the very fact that Luther spoke approvingly of some of the theses of the humanists was sufficient to discredit them, just as Tauler and Gerson became somewhat suspect among Catholics because Luther quoted from their writings.(20) Thus, by an odd twist of events, the Christian humanism that attempted to reform the Church and renew the Christian life became a victim of its own excesses and helped to set the scene for the division of the Church. True Christian humanism would not appear until early in the seventeenth century, with St. Francis de Sales as its greatest exponent. What this devout humanism is has been described by Bremond as follows:

Devout humanism applies to the needs of the interior life and brings within the reach of all both the principles and the spirit of Christian humanism .... In theology, Christian humanism accepts the theology of the Church purely and simply .... Without neglecting any of the essential truths of Christianity, it prefers to bring into the light those that are the most comforting and cheering, in a word, the most human, which it further regards as the most divine and, if one may say s, as the most in accord with infinite goodness. Thus, it does not look upon original sin as the central doctrine, but on the Redemption .... Thus, too, it does not question the need of grace but, instead of measuring it out parsimoniously to some of the predestined, it sees it freely offered to all, more anxious to reach us than we can be to receive it ....

The humanist does not regard man as contemptible. He is always and with all his heart on the side of our nature. Even if he sees it miserable and impotent, he makes excuses for it; he defends and restores it.(21)


The Renaissance, as we have intimated, had much less influence on spirituality than one could have hoped; and as regards the Church as a whole, its effects seem to have been more divisive than reforming. The new trends initiated by Lefèvre and Erasmus never succeeded in causing a complete break with the great currents of medieval spirituality; rather, the personalities that emerged in the spirituality of the sixteenth century manifested a fidelity to the past by further developing the practice of methodical mental prayer, which, as we have seen, had its roots in the monastic tradition. This is especially evident in the case of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and the Spanish school of spirituality.

Actually, we are indebted to St. Ignatius for two outstanding contributions: he perfected the spiritual exercises and he gave to the Church a new form of religious life. Born in 1491 in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, he became a soldier but had to abandon a military career when his right leg was injured in the defense of Pamplona against the French in 1521. During the period of convalescence it seems that the reading of Ludolph of Saxony's Life of Christ and James of Voraginé's Golden Legend turned his thoughts toward conversion. After some wavering, scruples and doubts, he began his search for the discernment of God's will in his regard.(22)

Ignatius had contact with a variety of religious orders. At the start he gave some thought to becoming a Carthusian. Many of his relatives were Franciscan tertiaries and a cousin was foundress of a monastery of Poor Clares. He spent a long time at the Dominican priory in Manresa, where the prior was his confessor and director. Later, a group of Dominicans defended and aided the approbation of the Society of Jesus. But perhaps the most fruitful contact was with the Benedictines at Montserrat, where Ignatius very likely came into contact with the devotio moderna and the spiritual exercises of Garcia de Cisneros. Ignatius composed the first draft of the Exercises under divine guidance; he retouched it at Paris in 1534, and in 1548 the Exercises were approved by Pope Paul III.(23)

St. Ignatius assigns a period of four weeks to the Spiritual Exercises, although the time may be lengthened or shortened according to the needs of the retreatant and the judgment of the director. Originally, each retreatant was under the guidance of a director, but by 1539 the Jesuits started to give the Exercises to groups. Likewise, it was at first required that the retreatant be a Christian of good will, desirous of serving God more fervently, and possessing sufficient spiritual background; later, the Exercises were offered to a wider clientele. From the twenty annotations given by St. Ignatius in the introduction to the Exercises, we may note the following: a statement of the aim of the Exercises, namely, to help the retreatant purify his soul in order to discern his vocation and follow it faithfully; allowance for personal initiative so that the retreatant may abandon discursus and practice prayer when so moved; the necessity of adhering as strictly as possible to the schedule and method of the Exercises, but adapting them to the age, health, knowledge and state of life of the retreatant; a warning to the director not to intervene too much or try to influence the choices or resolutions of the retreatant.

At the very outset, St. Ignatius advises the retreatant to cultivate a holy indifference toward created things, stating that man is created to praise, reverence and serve God and thereby save his soul; all created things are for the use of man in striving for the end for which he was created; therefore, man is to use created things so far as they help him achieve his eternal goal and rid himself of them so far as they are obstacles to that goal. Very early in the first week he insists that all should be done for the service and praise of God, a thought that would later become the motto of the Jesuits and a characteristic of Ignatian spirituality: Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

St. Ignatius then introduces the subject matter for the meditations of the first week, which are sin and hell. He advises the retreatant to bring the three powers to bear on the subject; that is, to recall to one's memory the sin in question, using composition of place as much as possible; then to reflect on it with the intellect; and finally to move the feelings with the will. To meditation is added the particular examen, which St. Ignatius considers as important for spiritual progress as meditation itself. At the end of the material for the first week, he lists ten "additions" which instruct the retreatant on various matters such as comportment and penances.

During the second week the retreatant meditates on the life of Christ, as far as Palm Sunday. The goal of the second week, which may be extended to a period of twelve days, is to make one's election in response to God's call. On the first day the retreatant compares the response of good and loyal subjects to a liberal and kind king with the response Christians should give to Christ the King; he then provides meditations for the first three days. On the fourth day St. Ignatius introduces the symbol of the "two standards," that of Christ and that of Lucifer, and he explains that Christ wants to bring all souls to spiritual -- and even actual -- poverty, willingness to suffer contempt, and humility. From the fifth to the seventh day the meditations return to the life of Christ, after which St. Ignatius explains the three types of humility: that which is necessary for salvation, that which is more perfect, and that which is most perfect.

At the end of this second week, the retreatant is supposed to make his election, and this must be done in view of the glory of God and the salvation of one's soul. If the election does not concern the choice of one's vocation or some other matter that needs to be decided, it is suggested that one make an election concerning the reform of his own life or some detail that pertains to his state in life. But in every case, the glory of God must be the primary factor in the choice that is made.

The subject matter for the meditations of the third week is the passion and death of Christ, so that the retreatant will find motives for fidelity to Christ and will also be able to petition the graces and strength needed to carry out his election. This particular section of the Spiritual Exercises concludes with detailed rules for abstinence in food and drink. St. Ignatius here manifests his great prudence in matters of penance and he advises the retreatant to imagine how Christ acted in the matter of food and drink and then to imitate him.

The fourth and final week consists of meditations on the events of Christ's life from the resurrection to the ascension and the emphasis is not so much on asceticism, as in the third week, but on temperance and moderation. St. Ignatius then offers some outlines for meditations aimed at fostering growth in love and he follows this with directions on three different kinds of mental prayer: to make a reflection and self-examination on the Ten Commandments, the capital sins or the faculties of soul and body; meditation on one word or pausing at a word of a prayer for as long as one gains benefit from it, then moving on to the next one; or, thirdly, making a one-word aspiration each time one draws and exhales a breath or going through the Our Father or Hail Mary in his way.

Last of all, St. Ignatius gives a lengthy list of rules for the discernment of spirits, which are valuable for both the retreatant and the director and are to be studied especially during the first and second weeks of the retreat. Then, some rules for the distribution of alms, the famous and characteristically Jesuit rules for thinking with the Church, and a section on scruples complete the book of the Exercises proper.

From the beginning, the Spiritual Exercises proved a most effective weapon against the paganism of the Renaissance and the Quietism of Lutheranism. Many of the Catholic clergy and religious were converted to a better life and the Exercises received the endorsement of Louis de Blois, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Vincent de Paul. In I92o Pope Benedict XV proclaimed St. Ignatius the patron of spiritual retreats and in 1948 Pope Pius XII stated that "the Exercises of St. Ignatius will always remain one of the most efficacious means for the spiritual regeneration of the world, but on the condition that they continue to be authentically Ignatian."

St. Ignatius never lost sight of the fact that man must exert every effort to cooperate with God's grace; he was equally insistent that growth in grace is more God's doing than man's. He therefore emphasizes the importance of the prayer of petition for obtaining God's assistance, but because of the spiritual climate of his day, he also had to encourage the individual's cooperation with grace. Ignatian spirituality, therefore, will not tolerate passivity; it is a spiritual combat in which the chief weapons are meditation and particular examen. But it is an interior combat, a warfare which one wages against his own sins and predominant faults in order to prepare himself for the action of the Holy Spirit and the works of the apostolate.(24)

Since the sixteenth century the Church has been especially indebted to St. Ignatius for the following contributions to Christian spirituality: the practice of spiritual exercises or retreats; a successful method for the practice of mental prayer; the universal popularity of the general and particular examen; recognition of the need for mortification, but adjusted to the conditions and strength of the individual; the importance of the spiritual director; a theology of the apostolate as an obligation for all Christians; and an adaptation of religious life to the needs of the times.

With regard to the adaptation of religious life, it should be noted that St. Ignatius was as creative a founder as were St. Dominic and St Francis in their time. They took the monk out of the solitude of the cloister, away from manual labor, and sent him forth to preach the Gospel. St. Ignatius took from the friar his monkish habit, the choral Office, the monastic liturgy and monastic observances and gave the Church a new kind of religious. The Jesuit was to have no distinctive garb other than that worn by the diocesan priest of a given locality; he was to consider the Divine Office as an important exercise of prayer, but recite it privately; the liturgy would be a primary source of spiritual life; and finally, Jesuits would practice daily mental prayer according to a determined method, general and particular examen, and would submit to mandatory spiritual direction. The Church would not witness such a change in the consecrated life until the sudden growth of secular institutes in the twentieth century; and the majority of new religious institutes in the intervening period would implicitly or explicitly follow the pattern of the Society of Jesus.(25)


St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) has a double title to the preeminent place she holds in the history of spirituality: reformer of Carmel and unsurpassed authority on the theology of prayer. Born at La Moneda, near Avila, in 1515, she was from her earliest years drawn to God and her devout spirit was fostered by the example of her parents. When Teresa was thirteen, her mother died, and the young girl was sent to a boarding school conducted by Augustinian nuns. She left the school a mature young woman and assumed the duties of managing the family household for her father. By 1536 Teresa was convinced that her vocation was to religious life and in spite of her father's initial unwillingness, she entered the Carmelite monastery of the Incarnation at Avila.

Once professed, Teresa determined to strive for perfection, but perhaps with more fervor than prudence, for she soon became so seriously ill that her father had to take her to a neighboring town for treatment. However, the treatment was worse than the illness, and Teresa was brought back to her father's home in Avila, to await death. She did in fact sink into such a coma that for four days she lay as if dead. Her grave was prepared at the Incarnation and the only thing that saved her from being buried was her father's refusal. Gradually she recovered enough to return to the monastery, but she was completely paralyzed for some time. When at last she was completely recovered, she attributed her cure to the intercession of St. Joseph, and thereafter she always had a deep devotion to him.

However, life at the Incarnation was far from the eremitical spirit proper to Carmelites and Teresa herself spent much time at the parlor grille. The admonitions of her Dominican confessor, Father Barrón, were of no avail. What converted her was the impression made on her by a realistic representation of the Ecce Homo. From that day on, her interior life improved; she became more recollected and drawn to solitude. Another great help that she received was from a Jesuit confessor. Baltasar Alvarez, only twenty-five years old, but gifted with unusual discernment and the ability to recognize the workings of God in the soul of Teresa. Later she spent almost three years in the home of a very devout widow who was under the spiritual direction of the Jesuits.

At that time the law of enclosure was not observed strictly; indeed, in many respects the monastic life was very lax. .In t 56o Teresa and a few companions decided that what was needed was a reform of Carmelite life. Shortly thereafter Teresa received the command from heaven to lead the group. After numerous difficulties and delays, the first monastery of the Reform was opened at Avila in 1562 and placed under the patronage of St. Joseph.

For the rest of her life St. Teresa was engaged in the absorbing task of making numerous foundations throughout Spain; she was almost constantly beleaguered by the attacks and criticisms coming from ecclesiastical prelates, members of the nobility and her own fellow-Carmelites. Yet at the same time God provided good friends and loyal defenders; he also showered her with numerous mystical graces. Teresa passed to her eternal reward on October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, in 1582 at Alba de Tormes.(26)

As a teacher of the stages of prayer, St. Teresa has never been equalled, much less surpassed. Since her day, practically all spiritual writers have been influenced to some extent by her writings. St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Francis de Sales are especially noteworthy in this respect. She wrote primarily for the nuns and friars of the Carmelite Order and the success of her writings is all the more remarkable when we consider the heterodox tendencies that prevailed in sixteenth-century Spain: Spanish-Arabian mysticism, the illuminism of the Alumbrados, the traces of Lutheran Quietism. Nor should we overlook the severe Spanish Inquisition, personified in the zealous and ruthless Dominican, Melchior Cano.(27)

The teaching of St. Teresa can be found in her three major works, The Life, The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle, of which the last-mentioned is her masterpiece.(28) Unlike many of the treatises on prayer before the time of St. Ignatius, the works of St. Teresa are practical rather than theoretical, descriptive rather than expository, with invaluable psychological insights drawn from personal experience and a penetrating observation of the conduct of others. Using The Interior Castle as a guide, we shall trace the path of progress in prayer as outlined by St. Teresa.

She pictures the soul as a castle composed of numerous suites or apartments (moradas), in the center of which Christ is enthroned as King. As the soul progresses in the practice of prayer, it passes from one apartment to another until eventually, after passing .through seven apartments, it reaches the innermost room. Outside the castle there is darkness and in the moat surrounding the castle there are loathsome creatures crawling in the mud. Once the soul resolves to follow the path of prayer and detaches itself from created things, it enters the castle and begins to follow the path of prayer, which leads first through three stages of active or ascetical prayer and then through four stages of passive or mystical prayer. What does St. Teresa understand by prayer?

"In my opinion," she says, "mental prayer is nothing else but friendly conversation, frequently talking alone with him whom we know loves us." It is a loving dialogue between friends, and one's progress in prayer is a sure indication of one's progress in the spiritual life. Although she realizes the importance of knowledge, St. Teresa insists that progress in prayer consists not so much in thinking a great deal but in loving a great deal. Moreover, like St. John of the Cross, she is a great defender of the freedom of the soul to submit to the action of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, she is always alert to protect the soul from the tyranny of a set method. St. Teresa did not equate the entire spiritual life with the practice of prayer; she also treats of a variety of other topics such as self-knowledge, humility, fraternal charity, spiritual direction, spiritual friendships, asceticism and the apostolate.(29)

Coming now to trace the journey of the soul through the stages of prayer, according to The Interior Castle, we find that in the first "mansions" or apartment the soul is in the state of a beginner, living in the state of grace but still greatly attached to the things of earth and always in danger of falling away from its good desires. The practice of prayer at this stage is purely vocal prayer.

Upon entering the second "mansions," the soul begins to practice mental prayer in earnest, although there are frequent periods of dryness and difficulty which tempt the soul to give up the effort. The prayer characteristic of this stage is discursive meditation. Although discursive prayer is a reflective type of prayer, it should not consist entirely in reasoning but should terminate in love. For those who have a tendency to "use their intellects a great deal," St. Teresa recommends that they meditate on Christ and converse with him; for those who find difficulty in controlling their faculties in meditation, she suggests that they recite or read some vocal prayer slowly and think about the words.

Moving on to the third "mansions," the soul enters upon the last stage of natural or acquired prayer, which is called the prayer of acquired recollection. It is a consciousness of the presence of God that is so vivid that all the faculties are united in a state of recollection and attention to God. St. Teresa advises that this type of prayer can be fostered if the soul cultivates an awareness of God's presence within it, submits itself totally to the divine will, and strives habitually to live in the presence of God even when engaged in occupations other than the practice of prayer. Since this stage of prayer represents a transition from ascetical to mystical prayer, it may be experienced in various degrees of intensity.(30)

The fourth "mansions" introduces the soul to the first type of mystical prayer, which is a supernatural, infused prayer, called by the generic name of prayer of quiet. It is an infused or passive recollection which consists essentially in an intimate union of the intellect with God, so that the soul enjoys a vivid awareness of God's presence.(31)

However, the perfection of prayer in the fourth "mansions" is the prayer of quiet properly so called. It is a type of prayer in which the will is inundated by divine love and is united to God as its highest good. However, the memory and imagination are still free or "unbound" and they may sometimes threaten to disturb the soul. Therefore St. Teresa advises that one should remain quiet and recollected before God, submitting oneself entirely to the arms of divine love.

The goal of the divine operation on the soul is to captivate all the faculties and fix them on God. Consequently, in the fifth "mansions" the soul is introduced to the prayer of union, which admits of a variety of degrees of intensity. In the prayer of simple union, all the powers of the soul are recollected in God. Then the soul realizes that God is present in such a way "that when it turns in on itself, it cannot doubt that it is in God and God is in it.(32)

As God gains more and more dominion over the soul and floods it with his light and consolations, the soul experiences the prayer of ecstatic union, which is the beginning of the sixth "mansions" and the introduction to the "mystical espousal." As in the highest stages of ascetical prayer, so here at the heights of mystical prayer, the soul undergoes great trials and suffering, the difference being that now they are mystical or passive purgations.(33) It is not infrequent to find that souls at this stage of prayer are favored with extraordinary mystical phenomena such as raptures, flights of the spirit, locutions, visions, and so forth. Then, entering the seventh and last "mansions," the soul realizes the petition of Christ to his heavenly Father: "That they may be one as we also are one; I in them and thou in me" (Jn. 17:22-23). This is the state of mystical marriage or the transforming union and St. Teresa states that there is such a close relationship between the mystical espousal and the mystical marriage that the sixth and seventh "mansions" could well be joined together.(34)

In the transforming union the three divine Persons communicate themselves in an ineffable manner, often by an intellectual vision, and it is not unusual for Christ to reveal himself to the soul in his sacred humanity.(35) The result is that the soul is totally forgetful of self, it thirsts for suffering and rejoices in persecution, and it experiences a great zeal for the salvation of souls. Thus, the summit of mystical contemplative prayer is crowned with apostolic fervor. As St. Teresa says, "Martha and Mary work together."(36)

Although St. Teresa had read spiritual works such as the Confessions of St. Augustine, The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francis de Osuna, The Ascent of Mount Sion by Bernandine of Laredo and possibly The Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian, her doctrine is not from books. In fact, in reading books she usually discovered that they verified her own experience. According to her own testimony, the source of her teaching is God alone.

But it would be an error to think that St. Teresa's doctrine was exclusively mystical. She wrote for contemplative nuns, it is true, but she realized that not all of them were in the mystical state. In fact, she frequently stated that sanctity does not consist in the extraordinary but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. The basis of sanctity is complete conformity with the will of God, "so that as soon as we know that he wills a thing, we subject our entire will to it .... The power of perfect love is such that it makes us forget to please ourselves in order to please him who loves us."(37) And the surest and quickest way to reach this perfection of love, says St. Teresa, is obedience, by which we completely renounce our own will and submit it totally to God.(38) As means of growth in holiness she gives special attention to the reception of Communion; the cultivation of humility, obedience and fraternal charity; the observance of poverty; but above all. the love of God.(39)


One cannot discuss St. Teresa of Avila without thinking of her great collaborator, St. John of the Cross. They are so closely related in their life and work and doctrine that they are the two pillars on which is constructed the Carmelite school of spirituality. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) is not as widely known and read as he deserves, and there are several reasons for this: he wrote primarily for souls that are already advanced on the path of perfection; his teaching on detachment and purgation is too demanding for some Christians; his language is often too subtle and metaphysical to suit the taste of modern readers. Yet, his writings and those of St. Teresa complement each other so perfectly that one of the best ways to understand either one is to study the works of the other. There is, of course, a noticeable difference between them but it is a difference of approach rather than essentials.

To understand St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa it is necessary to consider the state of the Christian life in Spain in the sixteenth century. Persons who claimed to be favored with revelations, visions, and other extraordinary mystical phenomena were greatly admired and sought after. Some persons earnestly desired to receive these special gifts; others actually simulated the stigmata or visions in order to impress the faithful. Illuminism gained great headway, especially in relaxed religious houses, as a means to eminent holiness without the practice of asceticism or the effort of acquiring virtues. All the structured and institutional aspects of religion were rejected as obstacles or as totally unnecessary for immediate union with God in mystical experience. Pseudo-mysticism was the object of intense investigation by the Spanish Inquisition, which managed to control the situation but at the expense of further development of authentic, orthodox spirituality.(40) Some of the statements in the works of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross may be open to misinterpretation if the reader does not take into account the Spanish situation in the sixteenth century.

Born Juan de Yepes at Fontiveros, near Avila, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) was only a few months old when his father died. Reduced to poverty, the family moved to Medina del Campo, where John worked at various trades and attended the Jesuit school from 1559 to 1563. At the age of twenty-one he entered the Carmelite Order and was sent to Salamanca for his theological studies. Returning to Medina del Campo for his first Mass, John met St. Teresa of Avila. He had been thinking seriously about transferring to the Carthusians, but Teresa convinced him that he should join the Carmelite Reform.

The first house of the Carmelite friars of the Reform was founded at Duruelo and John and Anthony of Jesus were the founding Fathers. For the next few years John of the Cross held various offices: master of novices, rector of the college at Alcalá, and confessor for the Carmelite nuns at the Incarnation in Avila. It was in this last assignment that he was kidnapped by the Calced Carmelites (1577) and held prisoner in the monastery in Toledo for nine months.

On escaping from Toledo, John spent most of the remaining years of his life in Andalusia and was elected to various posts of importance. However, in the Provincial Chapter of 1591, held at Madrid, John disagreed publicly with the Vicar General, Nicholas Doria, who immediately deposed John. Humiliated, but happy to be able to return to a life of greater solitude and recollection, St. John of the Cross ended his days at Obeda, where he died after much suffering. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926.(41)

The major works by St. John of the Cross are The Ascent of Mount Carmel (1579-1585); The Dark Night of the Soul (1582-1585); The Spiritual Canticle (first redaction in 1584 and second redaction between 1586 and 1591); The Living Flame of Love (first redaction between 1585 and 1587 and second redaction between 1586 and 1591). All of these works are commentaries on poems composed by St. John of the Cross, but the first two treatises were never completed. However, it is commonly agreed that the two treatises Ascent--Dark Night cover the entire subject matter contained under the division of the active and passive purgations of the senses and the spiritual faculties.(42)

Having studied at Salamanca, St. John of the Cross was trained in Thomistic theology, but he also read the works of pseudoDionysius and St. Gregory the Great. However, the author that most influenced St. John seems to have been Tauler, although it is quite certain that he was familiar with the works of St. Bernard, Ruysbroeck, Cassian, the Victorines, Osuna and, of course, St. Teresa of Avila.(43) Nevertheless, John of the Cross was not a slavish imitator of others; his works have a distinctive character all their own.

The fundamental principle of St. John's theology is that God is All and the creature is nothing. Therefore, in order to arrive at perfect union with God, in which sanctity consists, it is necessary to undergo an intense and profound purification of all the faculties and powers of soul and body. The Ascent--Dark Night traces the entire process of purgation, from the active purification of the external senses to the passive purification of the highest faculties; The Living Flame and The Spiritual Canticle describe the perfection of the spiritual life in the transforming union. The entire path to union is "night" because the soul travels by faith. St. John of the Cross presents his teaching in a systematic manner, with the result that it is spiritual theology in the best sense of the word; not because it is systematic, but because it uses as its sources Sacred Scripture, theology and personal experience.

In speaking of the union of the soul with God, St. John states that he is speaking of supernatural union, and not the general union by which God is present to the soul simply by preserving it in existence. The supernatural union of the mystical life is a "union of likeness" which is produced by grace and charity. But in order that this union of love be as perfect as possible and as intimate as possible, the soul must rid itself of all that is not God and of every obstacle to the love of God so that it can love God with all its heart and soul and mind and strength.

Since any deficiency in the union of love is due to the soul and not to God, St. John concludes that the soul must be completely purified in all of its faculties and powers -- those of the sensory order and those that are spiritual -- before it can be fully illuminated by the light of divine union. This results in the "dark night," which is so called because the point of departure is a denial and deprivation of one's appetite or desire for created things; the means or the road along which the soul travels to union is the obscurity of faith; and the goal is God, who is also a dark night to man in this life.(44)

The necessity of passing through this dark night is due to the fact that from God's point of view, man's attachments to created things are pure darkness, while God is pure light, and darkness cannot receive light (Jn. 1:5). Stated in philosophical terms, two contraries cannot coexist in the same subject. The darkness which is attachment to creatures and the light which is God are contraries; they cannot both be present in the soul at the same time.

St. John then proceeds to explain how the soul must mortify its appetites or concupiscence and must journey by faith through the active purgation of the senses and spirit. And although the treatment may sound negative and severely ascetical, he never tires of insisting that this purgation or nudity of spirit is not a question of the lack of created things, but the denial and uprooting of one's desire for them or attachment to them.(45) St. John gives a simple method for effecting the purgation: have a habitual desire to imitate Christ; and to do this, study Christ's life and works and then do as Christ did.(46)

In Book 2 of The Ascent, St. John discusses the active night of the spirit. He states that the purgation of intellect, memory and will is effected through the operation of the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and then explains why faith is the dark night through which the soul must pass to union with God. Turning then to the practice of prayer, he gives three signs by which the soul may know that it is passing from the practice of meditation to contemplative prayer. First, it is impossible to meditate as one was accustomed to do; secondly, there is no desire to concentrate on anything in particular; thirdly, there is a longing for God and for solitude. What the individual experiences is a "loving awareness of God," and this is a type of contemplative prayer.(47)

The passive purgations are explained in The Dark Night and at this stage God brings to completion the efforts of the soul to pure itself on the sensory level and in its spiritual faculties. The soul is gradually led into the dark contemplation that pseudo-Dionysius described as a "ray of darkness" and St. John calls "mystical theology."(48) And although one would expect that mystical contemplation would be delightful, St. John explains that the reason it causes pain is that when the divine light of contemplation strikes a soul that is not yet entirely purified, it causes spiritual darkness, for it not only transcends human understanding, but it deprives the soul of its intellectual operation.

Nevertheless, even during this dark and painful contemplation the soul can see the streaks of light which announce the coming of the dawn. In The Spiritual Canticle St. John describes the soul's anxious search for God and the ultimate encounter of love, using the symbol of a bride seeking the bridegroom and finally attaining to the perfect union of mutual love. God draws the soul to himself as a powerful magnet draws the metal particles, and the journey of the soul to God is increasingly more swift until, having left all else behind, it enjoys the most intimate union with God that is possible in this life: the mystical marriage of the transforming union.

Then, in The Living Flame of Love St. John describes the sublime perfection of love in the state of transforming union. The union between the soul and God is so intimate that it is singularly close to the beatific vision, so close that "only a thin veil separates it." The soul asks the Holy Spirit to tear now the veil of mortal life so that the soul may enter complete and perfect glory. The soul is so close to God that it is transformed into a flame of love wherein the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are communicated to it. It enjoys a foretaste of eternal life.(49)

And it should not be held as incredible in a soul now examined, purged, and tried in the fire of tribulations, trials, and many kinds of temptations, and found faithful in love, that the promise of the Son of God be fulfilled, the promise that the Most Blessed Trinity will come and dwell with anyone who loves him (Jn. 14:23). The Blessed Trinity inhabits the soul by divinely illumining its intellect with the wisdom of the Son, delighting its will in the Holy Spirit, and by absorbing it powerfully and mightily in the delightful embrace of the Father's sweetness.(50)
Taken together, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross have given the Church a spiritual doctrine that has never been surpassed. So great was their influence and so brilliant their exposition that they have far outshone all the other writers of the golden age of Spanish spirituality.


Sixteenth century Spain produced a wealth of spiritual literature and an amazing number of saints. To some extent this was due to the historical situation of the period and the geographical location of Spain. Cut off as it was by the Pyrenees from France, Germany and the Low Countries, Spain was not greatly upset by the effects of the Protestant Reformation as were the countries to the north. By comparison, Spain was enjoying the climate of peace that is necessary for the development of spirituality and the writing of treatises on the Christian life. And although the Inquisition prevented the amount of freedom that one may have desired, it nevertheless allowed for the emergence of some spiritual literature of the highest quality. Unfortunately, in men like Melchior Cano the Inquisition was also the cause of much suspicion, excessive severity, unjust accusation and, at last, a definitely anti-mystical trend that is completely alien to the Spanish temperament.(51) Some of the most illustrious spiritual writers of the period were imprisoned as suspect and many more saw their works listed on the Index.

On the other hand, there was good reason why the Inquisition doggedly pursued the Alumbrados. In the early sixteenth century pseudo-mysticism, with all its immorality and false visions, stigmata and ecstasies, had attracted many followers, especially from uneducated religious. From 1524 there was a gradual dissemination of Lutheran doctrine in Spain: a denial of objective morality, the rejection of good works and the claim of individual guidance by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual writers from the Franciscan and Dominican Orders tried to correct the exaggerations of the pseudo-mystics, but by 1551 it became evident that more severe measures were indicated, namely, the Spanish Inquisition.

The Franciscans were the first to provide the spiritual doctrine that was so sorely needed. Alonso of Madrid (+ 1521) published an ascetical treatise under the title The Art of Serving God. He first explained the basic theology of the spiritual life and warned against all types of sentimentality and illusion; then he developed three fundamental themes: self-knowledge, growth in virtue and the practice of mental prayer. St. Teresa of Avila recommended this work very highly for her nuns.

In 1527 Francis de Osuna (+ 1540) published his Third Primer of Spirituality, a mystical treatise on prayer which had a profound influence on St. Teresa of Avila.(52) In a manner reminiscent of the Rhineland mystics, Osuna insists that recollection in God can be attained only by detachment from the senses and that the perfection of the prayer of recollection consists in thinking of nothing in particular so that the soul can be completely absorbed in God. All this, however, must be done with a joyful spirit, for Osuna declares that those who are sad or downcast make little progress in the life of prayer. The entire treatise is developed from a psychological point of view, which greatly appealed to St. Teresa and characterized her own writings.

Bernardine of Laredo (+ 1540), a physician who became a Franciscan lay brother, published The Ascent of Mount Sion in 1535, and then in 1538 he published a new version which reflected considerable change in his doctrine. St. Teresa of Avila states that she found a great deal of enlightenment and consolation in The Ascent at a time when she was particularly concerned about her ability to meditate on Christ. It is interesting to note that, whereas the edition of 1535 follows the mystical teaching of Richard of St. Victor, the edition of 1538 reflects the teaching of pseudo-Dionysius, Hugh of Balma, the Carthusian, and Henry Herp.

The Ascent is divided into three parts, of which the first part deals with the process of spiritual self-annihilation, wherein the soul destroys sin and cultivates virtue, with self-knowledge and humility as indispensable elements. Bernardine maintains that contemplative prayer is not reserved for monks and friars but that all Christians can attain it if they cultivate humility and follow Christ. The second part of The Ascent provides meditations on the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Then, in the third part of the treatise, the teaching is entirely on contemplative prayer. In the edition of 1535 Bernardine stresses the role of the intellect in contemplation (following Richard of St. Victor); in the edition of 1538 he speaks of mystical contemplation in terms of the will, which surpasses the intellect by aspirations of love.(53)

Lastly, among the Franciscans we should mention St. Peter Alcántara (+ 1562), a reformer of the Franciscan Order in Spain and an advisor of St. Teresa of Avila. There has been a great deal of dispute concerning the authorship of the Treatise of Prayer and Meditation which is attributed to St. Peter. St. Teresa herself states that he was "the author of some little books on prayer, written in Spanish and widely used at the present time."(54) The most commonly accepted hypothesis is that St. Peter made an adaptation of the Book of Prayer and Meditation, first written by Louis of Granada in 1554. Then Louis of Granada made a new edition of his work in 1555 and a defmitive version in 1566. Both of these authors exerted a great influence beyond the Pyrenees, and their doctrine on prayer was used as a source by St. Francis de Sales.

Louis of Granada (+ 1588) was the outstanding spiritual writer among the Spanish Dominicans of the sixteenth century, although he did not escape the vigilance and condemnation of the Spanish Inquisition. Nevertheless, his books had such wide diffusion that they were soon translated into every language, including the languages of some of the mission countries. After several of his works were placed on the Index, Louis submitted the same books to the Council of Trent and received formal approbation for his teaching. What seemed to be the ruin of his vocation as a spiritual writer was turned into a victory beyond Granada's expectations, for in 1562 he received the title of Master of Sacred Theology by direct concession of the Master General of the Dominican Order. For thirty-five of the eighty-four years of his life he dedicated his efforts to preaching and writing, and at his death in 1588 the General Chapter of the Dominicans issued the terse statement: "Vir doctrina et sanctitate insignis et in toto orbe celebris."

After St. Ignatius Loyola, Louis of Granada was the first spiritual writer to formulate a method of prayer for the laity, a method which was adopted by some of the religious orders in Spain. It comprised six steps: preparation (usually the night before); reading of the material for meditation; meditation proper (which consisted of consideration, application, resolution); thanksgiving; offering; and petition. Louis distinguished between imaginative meditation (using scenes from the life of Christ) and intellectual meditation (consideration of a divine attribute or a theological truth). Few writers have excelled Louis of Granada as an expert on discursive meditation.

In addition to his works on prayer, Louis also composed treatises which were aimed at the conversion of Christians to a more devout life. Whether or not his early brush with the Inquisition had made him cautious, Louis of Granada rarely treats of mystical matters, but this is one of the reasons for his universal popularity. Great saints have eulogized his writings, among them: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac and St. Francis de Sales.

The basic theme which runs through the works of Louis of Granada is that all Christians are called to perfection, and although it is not obligatory that one be perfect here and now, all are obliged to do the best they can to strive for excellence. Each Christian should seek the goal of perfection in accordance with his temperament, his state in life, and the gifts he has received from God.

All will not follow the same path to holiness and therefore Louis enumerates the various ways: the direct way of prayer, the way of the practice of the virtues, contempt of the world, the painful way of the Cross, the imitation of the saints, the simple way of obedience to the commandments, and the contemplation of God in creation and then of the order of grace and the supernatural.

Whatever the path that is followed, Louis always insists that the Christian should live the life of Christ and be identified with Christ through the grace he merited for us by his passion and death and communicates to us through the Church and the sacraments. But again and again Louis returns to the notion that the most direct and effective way to holiness is the way of the practice of prayer. For him, this is simply a logical consequence of the theological principle that the essence of Christian perfection consists primarily in charity; hence, prayer is the language of love and therefore an essential element in the Christian life.(55)

Similar to Louis of Granada in his apostolate and in his suffering at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition was the diocesan priest, St. John of Avila (+ 1569), known as the apostle of Andalusia. He was so universally respected that practically every person of recognized holiness had some contact with him. St. Teresa of Avila had correspondence with him on several occasions, and he was responsible for the conversion of St. Francis Borgia and St. John of God. He possessed the gift of discernment of spirits to a remarkable degree, and in his personal life he attained great heights of mystical experience.

Like Louis of Granada, St. John taught a type of meditation that was simple, Christocentric and suited to persons of every walk of life. A man of great caution in dealing with mystical matters, he nevertheless defended mystical experience against those who suspected it. Thus, when St. Teresa sent him a copy of The Life, he stated in his letter to her that she should correct certain expressions and give a better explanation of others.

John of Avila was denounced to the Spanish Inquisition in 153 1 and spent more than a year in prison before he was exonerated. In 1556 his treatise, Audi, filia, et vide, was published without his permission and was placed on the Index in 1559. It was not republished until 1574, after the death of the author. It was greatly modified, however, and for this reason historians of spirituality have lamented the fact that the Inquisition acted as a restraint on great mystics like John of Avila who dared not put into print the lofty theology which they preached in their sermons and conferences.

John of Avila's greatest apostolate was among the priests of his day, and, although he-himself did not found a religious institute for priests, many who came under his influence entered the Jesuits, which Avila himself had desired to do but never succeeded. The disciples of John of Avila promoted a spirituality that was' characterized by filial obedience to their director, the practice of mental prayer, cultivation of a spiritual -theology based on the Gospels and St. Paul, and an apostolate of preaching. Anyone who came under his spiritual guidance soon realized that John of Avila was exceptionally gifted with an insight into the meaning of the mystery of Christ. His Christocentric spirituality can be summarized in the following statements: all blessings come to us through Christ; in the measure of our union with Christ we share in the fruits of redemption; our incorporation in Christ begins with faith and baptism and is perfected through the Eucharist; total dedication to Christ produces in us the fruits of hope and joy.(56)

Among the Augustinians the most renowned spiritual writer was Louis of León (1528-1591), professor at the University of Salamanca and literary editor for the first edition of the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. Well versed in Hebrew, he made a translation and a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, for which he was arrested by the Inquisition and imprisoned for almost five years.

The masterpiece of Louis of León is undoubtedly The Names of Christ.(57) The work is based on biblical and patristic sources, although some scholars have detected traces of the spirituality of Germany and the Low Countries as well as similarities with the style of St. John of the Cross. Although the writings of Louis of León have been highly and deservedly praised, he is perhaps regarded more for his literary and esthetic contributions than for his influence on spirituality.(58)

The Jesuits made no contribution to Spanish spiritual literature until the seventeenth century, although individual Jesuits were very much involved with contemporary trends. It is not difficult to find reasons for this lack of Jesuit writers during the golden age of Spanish spirituality. First of all, the Society of Jesus was still young enough to be seeking its definitive form and was at the same time struggling for survival in the face of the opposition of some of the bishops and older religious orders. Secondly, St. Ignatius had firmly established the Spiritual Exercises as the framework of Jesuit spirituality, and there was little incentive for the Jesuits to seek elsewhere for methods of prayer or a theology of the spiritual life. Thirdly, the Spanish Inquisition was a constant menace, and a newly founded religious institute was not likely to risk incurring its animosity. Lastly, the Jesuits themselves were faced with an internal crisis concerning the correct balance between contemplation and action within the Society.(59)

When St. Ignatius died in 1556 almost two-thirds of the members of his Society were Spaniards. Orientated as they were to a life of action and living in a period in which most spiritual writing emphasized the practice of prayer with a view to mystical contemplation, the Jesuits had to make a decision concerning the practice of obligatory formal prayer. When no agreement could be reached in the Second General Congregation of 1565, the delegates left the matter in the hands of the newly elected Superior General, Francis Borgia. A month later he prescribed a full hour of formal prayer each day for all the members of the Society.

Gradually more prayers were added until the Third General Congregation of 1573 again took up the question of formal prayer, hoping to return to the original practice instituted by St. Ignatius. But Mercurian, the Superior General, refused to make any changes, although in March of 1575 he forbade the reading of certain authors as not in keeping with the spirit of the Society: Tauler, Ruysbroeck, Mombaer, Herp, Llull, St. Gertrude, St. Mechtild, and others.(60)

In the course of the dispute concerning the place of formal prayer in the life of the Society a good number of Jesuits transferred to the Carthusians, but the argument continued and it eventually was formulated as follows: discursive meditation is the type of formal prayer that is proper to the Society of Jesus; affective prayer and contemplative prayer are foreign to the Jesuit spirit. A few Jesuits continued to defend and teach the practice off affective prayer, notably Cordeses, who was condemned by Mercurian in 1574, and Báltasar Alvarez, who was silenced by the same Superior General in 1577.(61)

Alvarez had been ordained to the priesthood in 1558 and his first assignment was to Avila, where he had the distinction of being named the spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila. He was only twenty-five years old at the time, and St. Teresa was going through a very difficult period, as she says in her autobiography. Later, when he was transferred to Medina del Campo, he himself experienced mystical prayer, and on the order of his provincial he composed a little treatise to explain the prayer of quiet. It is one of the best refutations of the false mysticism of the Alumbrados.(62)

Although there was a real opposition between the Jesuits who fostered affective and contemplative prayer and those who held for what they believed to be the authentic teaching of St. Ignatius on discursive prayer, the division must not be exaggerated. Those of the contemplative persuasion were totally dedicated to the apostolic ends of the Society and those who defended discursive prayer were convinced of the need for an interior life and formal prayer. The crisis was definitively resolved by the fifth Superior General, Aquaviva, who seems to have desired above all else to preserve the unity of the Society of Jesus. He decided in favor of discursive prayer and asceticism, but he also pointed out that it would be an error to evaluate prayer exclusively in terms of the apostolate. Prayer is a value in itself and its essential function is to lead us to a knowledge and love of God -- even to contemplation. Prayer is in itself a very noble goal, but in the Society it may never be dissociated from the active vocation of the Jesuits. Aquaviva preferred not to set any specific limit to formal prayer, but to leave it to the needs and the circumstances of the individual, which is much more in accordance with the teaching of St. Ignatius.(63) After the generalate of Aquaviva the Jesuits began to produce a literature of the spiritual life.

The first name on the list of Jesuit writers of the seventeenth century is that of St. Alphonsus Rodríguez (+ 1617), a humble coadjutor brother who seems to go directly contrary to the spirituality endorsed by Aquaviva for the Society of Jesus. Having been refused admittance to the Society on two occasions, he was finally accepted by Cordeses, the provincial of Aragon. Alphonsus entered as a widower and spent his entire religious life as porter at the Jesuit college in Palma de Mallorca. At the request of his superiors he left an autobiography of his spiritual life, which was one of many trials, severe temptations, and the highest degrees of mystical prayer.(64) Most of his writings were not published until the nineteenth century and for that reason Alphonsus did not enjoy the popularity that he deserves. He was a mystic who reached the heights of contemplative prayer by the path of humility, total resignation to God and literal obedience.

Totally different from St. Alphonsus and much better known is Alphonsus Rodríguez (+ 1616), Jesuit novice master in Andalucia, whose lengthy work was published under the title Ejercicio de la perfección y las virtudes cristianas.(65) Rodriguez was over seventy years of age when the book was compiled from the spiritual conferences he had given to Jesuit novices. They are almost exclusively ascetical and moral in tone, but since the material concerns the formation of novices, it seems unfair to accuse Rodriguez of being anti-mystical simply because he did not spend much time on mystical topics. Yet Rodriguez seems to make too wide a distinction between ascetical or discursive prayer and mystical prayer, to the point that he seems to see mystical contemplation as something extraordinary, and he does not make allowance for any kind of transitional prayer between discursive and mystical prayer. His Practice of Christian Perfection was widely distributed and, once it was translated into French, it was adopted by many religious institutes as obligatory spiritual reading, although in modern times it has fallen into disuse because of its legalistic morality and extreme asceticism.

Louis de la Puente (+ 1624) began his career as a writer when he was over fifty years of age, beginning with a two-volume study entitled Meditations on the Mysteries of our Holy Faith.(66) From the days of his tertianship in the Society he was greatly influenced by Baltasar Alvarez, and toward the end of his life he wrote a biography of Alvarez. Although his teaching is almost entirely restricted to ascetical grades of prayer, he helped to break down the prejudice against mystical prayer and the mystical state.

Logically, Louis advocates the use-of the Spiritual Exercises and he admits that although mystical prayer is a special gift from God, it is usually given to those who have been faithful to the practice of meditation and recollection on the divine mysteries. He gives a variety of names to contemplative prayer: prayer of the presence of God, prayer of repose, prayer of silence, prayer of interior recollection. But in describing contemplation, de la Puente is in the orthodox tradition of the great teachers: "contemplation . . . by a simple gaze regards the sovereign truth, admires its greatness and delights in it."(67)

Of all the Jesuit authors of this period, however, Alvarez de Paz (+ 1620) was the first to make a complete synthesis of ascetical and mystical theology. Other writers had composed treatises that touched upon both the ascetical and mystical phases of the spiritual life, but they were books of spiritual direction rather than books of spiritual theology. Alvarez de Paz labored in Peru, where he wrote his books in Latin and then had them. published in France (likely through fear of the Spanish Inquisition). The titles of his three published volumes indicate the vastness of the theological project that he had envisioned: De vita spirituali ejusque perfectione (1608); De exterminatione mali et promotione boni (1613); and De inquisitione pacis sive studio orationis (1617). He had also intended to write a volume on the active life of the apostolate but he never finished it.

The author defines the spiritual life as the life of sanctifying grace, which admits of various degrees, and then he explains how the individual soul, in either the active or the contemplative life, can strive for the perfection of the spiritual life by an ever increasing charity. He treats at some length of the avoidance of sin, the importance of cultivating humility, chastity, poverty and obedience, and the practice of mortification.

Alvarez de Paz divides mental prayer into four basic types: discursive meditation, affective prayer, inchoate contemplation and perfect contemplation. He provides something that others before him had failed to do, namely, a form of prayer that would serve as a transition between ascetical prayer and mystical prayer. He can also be credited with introducing a classification that is original -- affective prayer -- and the name has been preserved by succeeding writers. He is careful to insist, however, that just as discursive prayer cannot be exclusively the work of the intellect (which would turn prayer into study), so affective prayer is not exclusively an activity of the affections. It is simply a question of what predominates in the particular type of prayer, but man must use both intellect and the affections in all forms of prayer. The aim of prayer is to increase charity, and therefore affective prayer is a more pure form of prayer than discursive prayer. It may be practiced in three ways: by repeated acts of love made under the impulse of grace, by a simple, pure act of love in the presence of God, and by a special operation of God on the soul (inchoate contemplation).

Perfect contemplation, on the other hand, is of two kinds: first, the extraordinary gifts which are sometimes given to the soul by God as mystical phenomena (raptures, visions, and so forth) and, secondly, "a simple knowledge of God . . . effected by the gift of wisdom, which elevates the soul, suspends the operations of its faculties, and places it in a state of admiration, joy and ardent love."(68) Souls may desire contemplation and even humbly request it of God because "it is the most efficacious way of attaining perfection."

With this, we conclude our survey of Spanish spirituality and although we have discussed only a few of the spiritual writers who are the glory of Spain's golden age, we must note that no other Catholic nation has contributed so much to spiritual theology. The Spain that gave the Church St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Ignatius Loyola also produced founders of apostolic orders, countless missionaries to Latin America and the Orient and, in recent times, one of the most flourishing institutes of consecrated life: Opus Dei.


While Spanish spirituality was from the outset psychological in its approach and, after the golden age, tended to become academic and speculative,(69) Italian spirituality in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was practical and tended towards the cultivation of a reforming spirit. Even great mystics like the Carmelite St. Magdalen of Pazzi and the Dominican St. Catherine de Ricci were preoccupied to a great extent with the reform of the Church. The reason for this was the alarming inroads made by the pagan customs of the Renaissance throughout the whole of Italy, and spiritual writers, in the tradition of Savanarola, were soon demanding that steps be taken to restore both the clergy and the laity to an authentic Christian life. The effort was further complicated by the fact that fear of the Protestant Revolt led to the establishment of the Inquisition, so that even the advocates of reform had to exercise great caution. The Italians were more afraid of heresy than they were of worldliness and sensuality.

One of the prime movers in the Italian reaction against the pagan influence of the Renaissance was the Dominican John Baptist da Crema, a renowned preacher, director of souls and spiritual writer. After his death in 1552 his works were placed on the Index by the Italian Inquisition and it was not until 1900 that they were removed .(70) His spirituality was one which placed great emphasis on personal effort, cooperation with grace and the eradication of vice. Because of his insistence on voluntary effort and his inadequate treatment of the doctrine of pure love, some critics claimed to find the taint of semi-Pelagianism in his doctrine. Nevertheless, the movement which he began was to bear fruit in several areas: the emergence of the clerics regular as a new form of religious life and the publication of The Spiritual Combat, attributed to Laurence Scupoli.

John Baptist da Crema had been the spiritual director of some very holy people, among them, St. Cajetan, the founder of the Theatines (t 542) and St. Anthony Zaccaria, the founder of the Barnabites (53o). Like St. Ignatius, who had come to Rome in 1537, these men were convinced that the only way to reform the clergy was by way of example and by personal influence on small groups. As a result, the clerics regular were founded precisely as a vehicle for the reformation of the clergy.

The clerics regular did not live a monastic style of life nor did they observe poverty in the manner proper to the mendicants; rather, they emphasized interior poverty and detachment from the goods of this world. Their practice of prayer was free and simple, unlike the methodical prayer of the Ignatian Exercises, although they did follow the system of self-combat advocated by St. Ignatius.

In this period of reform, Italy produced numerous saints and a large number of new religious institutes, dedicated either to the reform of the Church or the apostolate of the works of mercy. Thus, we may mention St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Philip Neri (founder of the Oratorians), St. Charles Borromeo (founder of the Oblates), St. Cajetan (founder of the Theatines), St. Angela Merici (founder of the Ursulines), St. Anthony Zaccaria (founder of the Barnabites), St. Camillus (founder of the Fathers of a Good Death), and so forth. In spite of the reforming spirit of Italian spirituality, it never became harsh or severe; it was always a spirituality of interior mortification, cultivation of divine love, tenderness and joy, as was manifested in the lives of the saints that it produced.

The most influential spiritual literature of the period was The Spiritual Combat, the work of the Theatine, Laurence Scupoli (+ 1610).(71) 3 Reflecting as it does a period of Church reform and renewal, The Spiritual Combat aims primarily at conversion from sin and the cultivation of an interior life. It states as a fundamental principle that the spiritual life does not consist essentially in external practices but in the knowledge and love of God.

Christian perfection is primarily interior and therefore it demands death to self and complete submission to God through love and obedience. Again and again it stresses the pure love of God and a desire for his glory as the proper motives for Christian living, although fear of hell and a desire for heaven may be good motives for beginners. Considering man's sinful state, perfection can be achieved only by constant warfare against self. The chief weapons in this spiritual combat are distrust of self (of ourselves we can do nothing); trust in God (in him we can do all things); proper use of our faculties of body and soul; and the practice of prayer.

The Spiritual Combat, as the name indicates, is concerned primarily with the proper use of our faculties and powers, and to this end it treats in particular of the various faculties, offers advice on how to control them, and urges constant custody. Nevertheless, there is no attempt to smother the senses or to imply that they are necessary sources of evil and sin. Rather, it is a question of learning how to reach God through the proper use of the senses, much as was explained by St. Ignatius in his Exercises.

As regards the practice of prayer, we find none of the detailed explanations that characterize Spanish spirituality. Three styles of prayer are recommended, and all of them are ascetical: meditation, especially on the passion and death of Christ; communion with God by frequently recollecting oneself in his presence and making use of ejaculations or short vocal prayers; and examination of conscience, which is not prayer in the strict sense of the word, although it may lead to prayer. There, is, finally, the suggestion to receive Communion as frequently as possible and, when that is not possible, to practice "Communion of desire" or spiritual Communion.

Two renowned mystics of the period also exercised a social and reforming mission, very similar to that of St. Catherine of Siena. The first, a Carmelite named St. Magdalen of Pazzi (+ 1607), was an ecstatic who was gifted with phenomenal mystical gifts. Her written works were all dictated while in ecstasy and she used the services of six secretaries who were hard pressed to copy down the torrent of words that she expressed. Her works can be divided under five headings: contemplations on the mysteries of faith and the life of Christ; the religious life and the virtues; commentaries on Sacred Scripture; contemplations on the divine perfections; and exclamations similar to those composed by St. Teresa of Avila.(72)

Like St. Magdalen, St. Catherine de Ricci (+ 1590), Dominican, was a mystic totally dedicated to the reform of the Church, but unlike St. Magdalen, she carried on her apostolate by means of letters addressed to the persons concerned.(73) In spite of her zeal for the reform of the Church and her intense suffering on receiving the stigmata of the Lord's passion, her biographer, Serafino Razzi, relates that God flooded Catherine's soul with indescribable joy. Other mystics of the time manifested the same concern for the reform of the Church and received similar mystical phenomena, for example, the Dominican tertiary Blessed Osanna of Mantua and the Poor Clare Blessed Battista Varani.

The happiness of the Italian mystics is especially noteworthy in St. Philip Neri (+ 1595),(74) who has been called "the loving saint par excellence." He is in many ways a forerunner of the spirit of St. Francis de Sales, for he maintained that "the spirit of joy wins Christian perfection more easily than does the spirit of sadness." Nevertheless, he also insisted on the importance of interior mortification and, with St. Charles Borromeo, on the practice of prayer. Indeed, he maintained that mortification is one of the best preparations for the practice of prayer. In periods of dryness his advice was the same as that of St. Teresa of Avila: under no circumstances should one abandon the practice of prayer. If a book were used, St. Philip advocated that one should read until devotion is aroused and then close the book and begin to pray. "Prayer," said St. Philip, "is in the supernatural order what speech is in the natural order."(75)

St. Philip Neri dedicated himself as often as possible to the care of the sick. He even maintained that nursing the sick is a short path to perfection. His biographer, Cardinal Capecelatro, says of him: "[He] made himself the master of a mild, sweet, tender, compassionate asceticism. Throughout his life hardly two or three instances of moderate severity are to be met with; and, on the contrary, an infinite sweetness of charity towards one's neighbor is seen at every step."(76)

One characteristic of Italian spirituality at this period is the theme of divine love. Historically, it can be traced back to St. Catherine of Genoa (+ 1510), the foundress of Italian hospitals.(77) One of her disciples, Ettore Vernazza, founded a religious group under the title, Oratorio del divino Amore, and it very quickly spread throughout Italy.

The writings of St. Catherine of Genoa were edited by Ettore Vernazza and Cattaneo Marabotto, St. Catherine's confessor, in 1530; then, in 1548, Battista Vernazza composed the Dialogues, which were added to St. Catherine's Life and Treatise on Purgatory in the edition of 1551. Although not the work of St. Catherine herself, the Dialogues do faithfully reflect her teaching on divine love. The importance of the Dialogues is that they correspond with the mystical experiences of several saints of the time; they propose a high degree of love of God which is free from self-interest; and they place as a condition for the attainment of this perfect love the expression of love of neighbor. The devotion of divine love led to a proliferation of "companies," a title that was used by numerous new institutes dedicated the apostolate of the corporal works of mercy in various cities of Italy.


"St. Francis de Sales forms a school of spirituality by himself alone. He is its beginning, its development, its sum-total."(78) Philip Hughes states that it is in Francis de Sales that "the French Renaissance is baptized and humanism becomes devout.(79) He is also a bridge between the Renaissance and the modern period and has been one of the strongest single influences on spirituality from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Born at Savoy in 1567, Francis de Sales studied under the Jesuits at Paris and then went on to Padua, where he received his doctorate in civil and canon law. Ordained to the priesthood in December of 1593, he was named Provost of the Chapter of Geneva, an office second only to that of the bishop. Immediately he dedicated himself with great vigor to the evangelization of the Calvinists and he succeeded so. well that he was named coadjutor to the Bishop of Geneva; then, on December 8, 1602, he was consecrated Bishop of Geneva. Until his death in 1622, he dedicated himself to preaching, spiritual writing and the direction of souls as well as the administration of his diocese. Together with St. Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the religious institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, a semi-cloistered community for young women and widows. In 1887 Pope Pius IX declared St. Francis de Sales a Doctor of the Church, the first time this honor was bestowed on a Frenchman.(80)

From his earliest years St. Francis de Sales was strongly attracted to the things of God and various incidents in his life give every indication that his call to the clerical life was an immediate divine vocation. Michael de la Bedoyere says that Francis de Sales is "the greatest of the saints -- at least for modern times. And I base this conviction on the sense I had all the time that here was the human being of our period of Western history who, naturally, instinctively, as well as supernaturally, reflected most directly the character and way of Christ our Lord.(81)

The doctrine taught by St. Francis de Sales was not new, but he did present spiritual teaching in an original manner and he deserves credit for removing Christian spirituality from the monastic framework in which it had been confined for many centuries. Trained as he was by the Jesuits, St. Francis was clearly Ignatian in his spiritual practices, but in his theology he is an Augustinian with the realism and optimism of a Thomist. Very likely he was familiar with the writings of the Flemish school, St. Catherine of Siena (for whom he had a great love), St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Philip Neri, and numerous writers of the Spanish school, especially St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Louis of Granada, John of Avila and García de Cisneros. The Spiritual Combat was a favorite meditation book since his days at Padua. In Paris he had contacts with the Capuchin, Richard Beaucousin, Bérulle, the Carmelite nuns and Mme. Acarie.

The critical edition of the works of St. Francis de Sales comprises twenty-seven volumes, of which twelve volumes contain his letters. The rest of the edition contains The Defense of the Standard of the Holy Cross, Introduction to the Devout Life, Treatise on the Love of God, Spiritual Interviews, his controversies and four volumes of sermons. For our purposes it will suffice to summarize the doctrine contained in Introduction to the Devout Life.

The Introduction to the Devout Life first appeared in 1609 and a final edition, made by St. Francis himself, was published in 1619. The book was written precisely for the laity and perhaps St. Francis de Sales is the first spiritual writer to compose a treatise of lay spirituality. As he states in his preface, those who have written previously on the spiritual life have done so for the instruction of persons who have given up association with the world or they have taught a spirituality that would lead persons to do so. The intention of St. Francis, however, is to give spiritual instruction to those who remain in the world, in their professions and in their families, and falsely believe that it is impossible for them to strive for the devout life.

What does St. Francis understand by the devout life or true devotion? First of all, it does not consist in any kind of extraordinary grace or favor, and St. Francis states this quite emphatically:

There are certain things which many people esteem as virtue and they are not that at all .... I refer to the ecstasies, raptures, insensibilities, impassibilities, deific unions, elevations, transformations and other similar perfections discussed in certain books which promise to raise the soul to- a purely intellectual contemplation, to the essential application of the spirit and a supereminent life . . . These perfections are not virtues; rather, they are rewards that God gives for virtues or small samples of the delights of the future life .... Nevertheless, one should not aspire to such graces, because they are in no way necessary for loving and serving God well, which should be our only aim.(82)
Secondly, true devotion does not consist in any particular spiritual exercise:
I hear nothing but perfections, and yet I see very few people who practice them .... Some place their virtue in austerity; others in abstemiousness in eating; some in almsgiving, others in frequenting the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist; another group in prayer, either vocal or mental; still others in a certain sort of passive and supereminent contemplation; others in those gratuitously given, extraordinary graces. And all of them are mistaken, taking the effects for the causes, the brook for the spring, the branches for the root, the accessory for the principal, and often the shadow for the substance. For me, I neither know nor have experienced any other Christian perfection than that of loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Every other perfection without this one is a false perfection.(83)
True devotion, which for St. Francis de Sales is the same as Christian perfection, is the fulfillment of the twofold precept of charity enunciated by Christ (Mt. Za:34-40). In the Introduction to the Devout Life he gives a detailed exposition which is similar to the definition of devotion according to Louis of Granada:(84)
True and living devotion, Philothea, presupposes the love of God; indeed, it is nothing else but the true love of God, but it is not just any kind of love. Insofar as divine love beautifies our souls, it is called grace and makes us pleasing to the divine Majesty; insofar as it gives us the power to do good it is called charity; but when it reaches a degree of perfection in which it not only makes us do good, but makes us do it carefully, frequently and promptly, then it is called devotion.(85)
Although he mentions the good works that flow from true devotion, St. Francis is insistent that the devout life is essentially an interior life. Moreover, the devout life will be lived differently by persons in different vocations or professions; all, therefore, should seek the perfection of the devout life, but each one in accordance with his personal strength and the duties of his state in life.

Immediately after stressing the universal call of all Christians to perfection, St. Francis de Sales insists on the need for a spiritual director. He admits that a good director is hard to find and he states that he must be a man of charity, learning and prudence. He also warns that spiritual direction must never impede the working of the Holy Spirit or be an obstacle to the freedom of the soul, for all persons are not called by the same road to perfection. This, of course, is the same advice that was offered by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

The first task facing the soul is purgation from sin, and here St. Francis follows the teaching of St. Ignatius Loyola, proposing meditation on the last ends and a general confession. Then, there must be a complete renunciation of all attachment to sin, without which there can be no lasting conversion and no progress in perfection. To achieve this second and more profound purgation it is necessary to avoid all occasions of sin and to be involved in worldly affairs only when necessity requires and not out of love for created things. And although the soul must. sometimes learn to live with its own imperfections and weaknesses, it should never willingly accept the faults that proceed from temperament or habit. To grow in virtue, says St. Francis, we must overcome even our indeliberate faults.

In the second part of the Introduction St. Francis proposes a daily schedule of spiritual exercises in which the practice of mental prayer holds a central position. Basically, they are the same spiritual exercises as listed in The Spiritual Combat and followed by the clerics regular: daily mental prayer, morning and evening prayers, examination of conscience, weekly confession and frequent Communion, spiritual reading, and the practice of interior recollection.

The Salesian method of mental prayer is simple, clear and brief. In many respects it resembles the forms of prayer taught by Louis of Granada, St. Ignatius Loyola and The Spiritual Combat. At the very outset, following the teaching of St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Francis de Sales emphasizes the importance of meditation on the life of Christ.

The body of the meditation proper consists in the application of the intellect and the will to the subject matter. Calmly and without haste, the mind should meditate on the various aspects of the mystery proposed for consideration, and as soon as it finds inspiration and delight in any point, it should pause and dwell on that point. Then the meditation will produce good movements in the will such as the love of God and neighbor, zeal for the salvation of souls, imitation of Christ, confidence in the goodness and mercy of God.

The result of these movements of the affections should be twofold: conversation with God and practical resolutions for the future. Since the purpose of meditation is growth in virtue and the love of God, St. Francis insists that the soul should not be satisfied with arousing affections and conversing with God, but should make particular resolutions to put into practice during the day.

"To all this," says St. Francis, "I have added that one should gather a little bouquet of devotion, and this is what I mean: . . . . when our mind considers some mystery through meditation, we should select one or two or three points which we have found to be most suitable to our taste and most helpful for our advancement, in order to recall them during the rest of the day . . . . "(86)

St. Francis also offers counsels concerning the behavior of the individual after meditation is completed: seek an occasion for putting into practice one's resolutions; remain in silence for a time and then calmly take up the duties of the day. Then, returning to the practice of meditation, St. Francis states that although he has provided a method of procedure, the soul must always yield at once to any holy inspirations and affections aroused in prayer. Holy affections are never to be restrained, but all resolutions should be made only at the end of the meditation.

In the third part of the Introduction St. Francis considers the practice of virtue, selecting those which are particularly necessary for the Christian layman. Of all the virtues treated we could say that, after charity, the predominantly Salesian virtue is meekness. Thus, St. Francis writes in one of his letters: "Remember the principal lesson, the one which [our Lord] has left us in three words, so that we would never forget it and which we should repeat a hundred times a day: `Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart.' That is all. Just keep your heart meek in regard to your neighbor and humble in regard to God."(87)

Finally, in the last two parts of the Introduction St. Francis treats of temptations, sadness, consolations and aridity and concludes the work with a series of self-examinations and considerations whereby the soul can judge its progress in true devotion. Thus, in its totality the Introduction to the Devout Life provides a complete program for the spiritual advancement of the laity.

Whereas the Introduction was composed for all Christians of good will, the Treatise on the Love of God was addressed to a select group. According to Dom Mackey, it also reveals the soul and heart of Francis de Sales at the height of his holiness.(88) The doctrine contained in the Treatise was not always esteemed as highly as it should have been, due to the fact that the Jansenists, the Quietists and Fénelon attempted to use the teaching of Francis de Sales in defense of their errors. According to Dom Mackey, even Bossuet did harm to the teaching of St. Francis when he tried to refute the errors of Fénelon.(89) The result was that St. Francis did not enjoy the influence on the French school that he might otherwise have had.

The purpose of the Treatise is to trace the progress of the soul from its fallen state to the heights of divine love, which constitutes Christian perfection and holiness. St. Francis provides the psychological explanations which are necessary for understanding the theology of love. He then develops the theme of the divine origin of love, showing that man's love for God is a participation in the eternal charity of God himself. And since it is the nature of love to increase or to fall away, St. Francis treats of growth in charity, which can be effected by even the most insignificant actions; the obstacles to charity; and the various ways in which a soul may abandon divine love for the love of creatures. He emphasizes the distinction between love of complacency and love of benevolence, stating that the former is proper to glory, where love is experienced in contemplation and repose, while the latter is proper to the soul in this life.

In speaking of mystical prayer and the ecstatic experiences that may accompany it, St. Francis, who constantly expressed a fear of illusion and a repugnance for mystical phenomena,(90) seems to be writing of something that he himself had experienced. But the life of charity does not consist exclusively in the delight of mystical prayer; it is also a question of obedience and suffering. Therefore St. Francis discusses the "love of conformity," by which the soul obeys the commandments, the counsels and particular inspirations, and the "union of our will with the divine will of good pleasure," by which the soul accepts suffering.

The Treatise ends with a summary of the theology of charity. St. Francis discusses the precepts of love of God and neighbor; charity as the bond and impulse of all the virtues; the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit; and precise suggestions for performing one's actions as perfectly as possible.

From a doctrinal point of view, one of the most significant contributions of St. Francis de Sales to spiritual theology was to unify all Christian morality and holiness under the bond of charity. This doctrine, to be sure, had been taught explicitly by St. Thomas Aquinas(91) and other medieval theologians, but by the time of St. Francis de Sales it was necessary to insist again that Christian perfection does not consist in any particular exercise or practice but in the love of God and neighbor. Few authors have treated of charity and the other virtues with greater unction and power of persuasion. Another contribution was the insistence that the perfection of charity is the vocation of all Christians, regardless of their vocation or state in life. Lastly, he explained in detail two exercises that are fundamental to the Christian life: the practice of mental prayer and the cultivation of the virtues proper to one's state in life. St. Francis de Sales may rightly be called the father of modern spirituality, although changing events prevented his influence from being as effective as one would have hoped.

  1. Cf. P. Pourrat, Christian Spirituality, tr. W. H. Mitchell, 3 vols., Newman Press, Westminster, Md., 1953.
  2. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. v.
  3. Cf. Gargantua, 5, 47.
  4. Cf. Erasmus, Enchiridion militis christiani, 5, 40, 8.
  5. Cf. Guigo I, Scala claustralium, PL 184, 476; Aelred, De Vita eremetica, PL 32, 1461; David of Augsburg, De exterioris et interioris hominis compositione, Quaracchi, 1899.
  6. Cf. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. .3, pp. 4-22.
  7. Cf. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 13.
  8. J. W. Gransfort, Tractatus de cohibendis cogitationibus et de modo constituendarum meditationum, in Opera omnia, Amsterdam, 1617.
  9. Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium et sacrarum meditationum, Paris, 1494. The Rosetum was widely circulated and reprinted in many places.
  10. Cf. H. Watrigant, Quelques promoteurs de la méditation méthodique au XVe siècle, Enghien, 1919.
  11. Cf. I. Tassi, Ludovico Barbo (1381-1483) Rome, 1952; M. Petrocchi, Una "devotio moderna" nel Quattrocento italiano? ed. altri studi, Florence, 1961.
  12. Cf. the excellent study by A. Huerga, "La vida cristiana en los siglos XV-XVl," in Historia de la Espiritualidad, ed. B. Duque--L. S. Balust, Juan Flors, Barcelona, 1969, Vol. I, pp. 34-41.
  13. Cf. N. Barbato, Ascetica dell'orazione in S. Lorenzo Giustiniani, Venezia, 1960.
  14. Cf. E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, London, 1930, Vol. 2, pp. 3-37.
  15. This is in the tradition of St. Bonaventure and Richard of St. Victor. Some authors add two more degrees of unitive love: sense of security and perfect tranquillity.
  16. Cf. L. Blosius, The Book of Spiritual Instruction, London, 1925, chap. 5.
  17. Few of the Christian humanists were concerned explicitly with spiritual theology. Pico della Mirandola, who died at the age of thirty-one (1494), wrote the manifesto of Christian humanism, of which thirteen theses were declared heretical. Lefevre, the greatest French humanist, wrote commentaries on part of the Bible and on pseudo-Dionysius; he also translated and commented on the works of Aristotle. Luther used the works of Lefevre to defend his doctrine on justification by faith alone. Cf. F. Robert, L'humanisme essai de définition, Paris, 1946.
  18. Cf. R. G. Villosleda, "Erasme," in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, Vol. 4, pp. 925-936; Opera omnia, Leyden, 1703, 10 vols.; Opus epistolarum, ed. P. S. Allen and H. M. Allen, Oxford, 1906-1947.
  19. Cf. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 59-62.
  20. Cf. P. Pourrat, op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 72-79.
  21. M. Bremond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment réligieux en France, Paris, 1916, Vol. 1, pp. 10-12, passim.
  22. Cf. G. de Guibert, Ignace mystique, Toulouse, 1950; H. Rahner, Ignaz von Loyola and das geschichtliche Werden seiner Frommigkeit, Vienna, 1947; H. Pinard de la Boullaye, La spiritualité ignatienne, Paris, 1949.
  23. Cf. I. Iparraguirre, Historia de la Espiritualidad, Vol. 2, pp. 210-211. For further details on the life and spirituality of St. Ignatius, see P. de Leturia, Estudios ignacianos, 2 vols., Rome, 1957. The standard critical edition of the Exercises is found in Obras completas de san Ignacio de Loyola, ed. I. Iparraguirre, and C. de Dalmeses, Madrid, 3rd corrected ed. 1963. For bibliographies, see I. Iparraguirre, Orientaciones bibliográficas sobre san Ignacio de Loyola, Rome, 1957.
  24. According to F. Charmot, the teaching of St. Ignatius Loyola is based on two fundamental theological principles: "without me you can do nothing" and the necessity of cooperation with God's grace. The second principle is developed in the Spiritual Exercises. Cf. Ignatius Loyola and Francis de Sales, B. Herder, St. Louis, Mo., 1966, p. 41.
  25. Cf. I. Iparraguirre, op. cit., pp. 207-230.
  26. For further details on the life and works of St. Teresa, cf. St. Teresa, The Life, tr. E. Allison Peers, Sheed & Ward, New York, N.Y., 1946; Silverio de Santa Teresa, Saint Teresa of Jesus, tr. Discalced Carmelite, Sands, London, 1947; W. T. Walsh, Saint Teresa of Avila, Bruce, Milwaukee, Wis., 1954; E. Allison Peers, Handbook to the Life and Times of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, Newman, Westminster, Md., 1954.
  27. Cf. M. Menéndez y Pelayo, Historia de los Heterodoxos Españoles, Madrid, 1880, Vol. 2; E. Allison Peers, Spanish Mysticism, a Preliminary Survey, London, 1924; A. Huerga, "La vida cristiana en los siglos XV-XVI, " in Historia de la Espiritualidad, pp. 75-103.
  28. For information on the autographs and various editions of the works of St. Teresa, cf. Obras Completas, ed. E. de la Madre de Dios, Madrid, 1951. For English translations, cf E. Allison Peers, The Complete Works of St. Teresa, 3 vols. Sheed & Ward, New York, N.Y., 1946, and The Letters of St. Teresa, 2 vols., London, 1951; K. Kavanaugh-O. Rodriguez, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, 2, vols., ICS, Washington, D.C., 1976-1980.
  29. Cf. P. Eugene-Marie, I Want to See God, tr. M. Verde Clare, Chicago, Ill., 1953.
  30. Cf. The Way of Perfection, chap. 28.
  31. For a comparative study of St. Teresa's terminology regarding passive recollection and the prayer of quiet, cf. E. W. T. Dicken, The Crucible of Love, New York, N.Y., 1963, pp. 196-214. Most authors prefer to speak of passive recollection and the prayer of quiet as specifically distinct: cf. J. G. Arintero, Stages in Prayer, tr. K. Pond, St. Louis, Mo., 1957, pp. 24-27; 36-44.
  32. Cf. The Interior Castle, E. Allison Peers tr. Vol. 2, pp. 253-258; 264-268; The Life, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. I, pp. 105-110.
  33. Cf. The Interior Castle, E. Allison Peerstr., Vol. 2, pp. 324-326.
  34. Cf. The Interior Castle, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 2, pp. 287.
  35. Cf. ibid., E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 2, pp. 333-334.
  36. Cf. The Way of Perfection, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 2, p. 129. For studies on the teaching of St. Teresa, E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. I, New York and Toronto, 1927; E. W. T. Dicken, The Crucible of Love, New York, N.Y., 1963; J. G. Arintero, Stages in Prayer, tr. K. Pond, St. Louis, Mo., 1957; P. Marie-Eugene, I Want to See God, tr. M. Verda Clare, Chicago, Ill., 1953, and I am a Daughter of the Church, tr. M. Verda Clare, Chicago, Ill., 1955.
  37. Cf. Book of Foundations, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 3, p. 23.
  38. Cf. ibid., loc. cit.
  39. Cf. The Way of Perfection, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 2, pp. 15-21; 30-37; 57-59.
  40. Cf. A. Huerga, "Introduction" to Louis of Granada, Summa of the Christian Life, tr. J. Aumann, B. Herder, St. Louis, Mo., 1954, Vol. 1; M. Menéndez y Pelayo, Historia de los heterodoxos españoles,.ed. BAC, Madrid, 1951, pp. 4-59.
  41. For further details on life of St. John of the Cross, cf M. del Niño Jesús, Vida y Obras de San Juan de la Cruz, Madrid, 1950; E. Allison Peers, Spirit of Flame, London, 1943; C. de Jesús Sacramentado, The Life of St. John of the Cross, London, 1958; G. of St. Mary Magdalen, St. John of the Cross, Mercier, Cork, 1947.
  42. Cf. K. Kavanaugh-O. Rodriguez, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Doubleday, New York, N.Y., 1964, pp. 54-56.
  43. Cf. C. de Jesús, San Juan de la Cruz: su obra científica y literaria, Avila, 1929, Vol. I , p. 51.
  44. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book I, chapter 2, no. I.
  45. Cf. ibid., Book I, chap. 3, no. 4.
  46. Cf. ibid., Book I, chap. 13, nos- 3-4.
  47. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, chap. 13, nos. 2-4. Cf. K. Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Faith according to St. John of the Cross, tr. J. Aumann, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Calif, 1981.
  48. Cf. ibid., Book 2, chap. 5.
  49. The Living Flame of Love, Stanza I.
  50. The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh-O. Rodriguez, p. 585.
  51. Cf. M. Menéndez y Pelayo, op. cit., pp. 4-59.
  52. The complete edition of the three Primers (Abecedarios) was published at Seville in 1554 and the first one written, that of 1527, is placed third in the complete edition. The other two, written in 1528 and 1530, treat of the passion of Christ and ascetical matters. Cf. Neuva biblioteca de autores españoles, Madrid, 1911, Vol. 16; F. de Res, Un mâitre de sainte Thérèse: le P. François d'Osuna, Paris, 1936; E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. 1, pp. 77-131. For an English version, cf. Francisco de Osuna, The Third Spiritual Alphabet, Paulist Press, New York, N.Y., 1983.
  53. Cf. F. de Ros, Un inspirateur de S. Thérèse: Le Frère Bernardin de Laredo, Paris, 1948; K. Pond, "Bernardino de Laredo," in Spirituality through the Centuries, ed. J. Walsh, Kenedy, New York, N.Y., 1964; The Ascent of Mount Sion, tr. E. Allison Peers, London, 1952, which contains only the third part on contemplative prayer. See Vida 27; E. Allison Peers tr. Vol. 1, 171.
  54. The Life, E. Allison Peers tr., Vol. 1, p. 194.
  55. Cf. A. Huerga, "Introduction" to Summa of the Christian Life, tr. J. Aumann, St. Louis, Mo., 1954-1958, 3 vols. This work is now available from TAN Books, Rockford, Ill.
  56. Cf. Obras Completas, ed. L. S. Balust, 2 vols., Madrid, 1952-1953; A. Huerga, El Beatojuan de Avila, Rome, 1963; E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, Vol. 2.
  57. Los Nombres de Cristo was published at Salamanca in 1583; for an English version, cf. The Names of Christ, tr. E. J. Schuster, B. Herder, St. Louis, Mo., 1955.
  58. Cf. E. Allison Peers op. cit.
  59. Cf. P. de Leturia, Estudios ignacianos, Rome, 1957, Vol. 2.
  60. His exact words were: "Instituti nostri rationi minus videntur congruere. "
  61. Cf. B. Alvarez, Escritos espirituales, ed. C. M. Abad and F. Boado, Barcelona, 1961, pp. 134-160. See Vida 28, 33; E. Allison Peers tr. Vol. 1, 185-186; 224-225.
  62. Cf. L. de la Puente, Vida del V. F. Báltasar Alvarez, Madrid, 1615.
  63. Cf. P. de Leturia, op. cit., p. 321.
  64. Cf. J. Nonell, Obras espirituales del Beato Alonzo Rodriguez, 3 vols. Barcelona, 1885; V. Segarra, Autobiografía. San Alonso Rodriguez, Barcelona, 1956; The Autobiography of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, tr. W. Yeomans, London, 1964.
  65. A Rodriguez, The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues, tr. J. Rickaby, 3 vols., Chicago, Ill., 1929.
  66. Cf. Meditaciones de los misterios de la nuestra santa fe, Valladolid, 1605.
  67. Cf. Vida del Báltasar Alvarez, Madrid, 1612, p. 14.
  68. Cf. De inquisitione pacis, 5.
  69. The Carmelite writers, John of Jesus-Mary (+ 1615), Thomas of Jesus (+ 1627) and Joseph of the Holy Spirit (+ 1674), were principally responsible for introducing the argument on the distinction between acquired and infused contemplation. Later, another Carmelite, Joseph of the Holy Spirit (+ 1730), published a lengthy theological synthesis entitled Cursus theologiae mystico-scholasticae in six volumes.
  70. Melchior Cano, the ruthless Spanish inquisitor, considered John Baptist da Crema to be as "dangerous" as Tauler and Herp.
  71. The work has sometimes been attributed to the Spanish Benedictine, John Castañiza, or the Italian Jesuit, Achille Gagliardi, but there seems to be little doubt that the work comes from the Italian school of the Theatines. The first edition appeared at Venice in 1589. The treatise was enlarged in later editions.
  72. The works of St. Magdalen were published by the Carmelite, Laurence Brancaccio, under the title, Opera di Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi carmelita di S. Maria di Firenze, Florence, I 6o9. A later edition at Florence (1893) includes her letters.
  73. See Lettere, ed. C. Guasti, Prato, 1861.
  74. Cf. Cardinal Capecelatro, Vie de saint Philippe de Néri, tr. H. Bézin, Paris, 1889, Vol. I, p. 512.
  75. A. Bayle, Vie de saint Philippe de Néri, Paris, 1859, p. 247.
  76. Cf. Cardinal Capecelatro, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 483.
  77. Cf. F. von Hügel, The Mystical Elements of Religion as Studied in Saint Catherine of Genoa and her Friends, 2 vols., London, 1908.
  78. P. Pourrat, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 3, p. 272.
  79. P. Hughes, A Popular History of the Catholic Church, Garden City, New York, N.Y., 1954, p. 196.
  80. For details on the life of St. Francis de Sales, cf. H. Burton, The Life of St. Francis de Sales, London, 1925-1929, M. de la Bedoyere, François de Sales, New York, N.Y., 1960; M. Henry-Coüannier, Francis de Sales and His Friends, tr. V. Morrow, Staten Island, New York, N.Y., 1964; F. Trochu, S. François de Sales, Lyon-Paris, 1941-1942, 2 vols.; M. Trouncer, The Gentleman Saint: St. François de Sales and His Times, London, 1963.
  81. Cf. M. de la Bedoyere, op. cit., p. 9. Oeuvres de Saint François de Sales (Annecy 1892-1964) 27 v., published under the direction of the Visitandines at Annecy, with introductory material by Dom B. Mackey, O.S.B.
  82. Cf. Oeuvres 3, 131.
  83. Quoted from St. Francis de Sales by Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus. Cf. F. Charmot, Ignatius Loyola and Francis de Sales, tr. M. Renelle, St. Louis, Mo., 1966, p. 7.
  84. Cf. L. Granada, Libro de la Oración y Meditación, 2, 1.
  85. Oeuvres, 3, 14.
  86. Cf. Oeuvres, 3, 82-83.
  87. Cf. Oeuvres, 13, 358.
  88. Cf. Oeuvres, Vol. 4, Introduction.
  89. Cf. Oeuvres, Vol. 4, p. vii.
  90. Cf. Oeuvres, 3, 109; 131-132.
  91. Cf. Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, q. 23, art. 4-8.