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The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa of Avila

Although St. Teresa of Avila lived and wrote almost four centuries ago, her superbly inspiring classic on the practice of prayer is as fresh and meaningful today as it was when she first wrote it.  The Way of Perfection is a practical guide to prayer setting forth the Saint's counsels and directives for the attainment of spiritual perfection.

Through the entire work there runs the author's desire to teach a deep and lasting love of prayer beginning with a treatment of the three essentials of the prayer-filled life -- fraternal love, detachment from created things, and true humility. St. Teresa's counsels on these are not only the fruit of lofty mental speculation, but of mature practical experience. The next section develops these ideas and brings the reader directly to the subjects of prayer and contemplation. St. Teresa then gives various maxims for the practice of prayer and leads up to the topic which occupies the balance of the book -- a detailed and inspiring commentary on the Lord's Prayer.

Of all St. Teresa's writings, The Way of Perfection is the most easily understood. Although it is a work of sublime mystical beauty, its outstanding hallmark is its simplicity which instructs, exhorts, and inspires all those who are seeking a more perfect way of life.

"I shall speak of nothing of which I have no experience, either in my own life or in observation of others, or which the Lord has not taught me in prayer." 

Almost four centuries have passed since St. Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and reformer, committed to writing the experiences which brought her to the highest degree of sanctity. Her search for, and eventual union with, God have been recorded in her own world-renowned writings -- the autobiographical Life, the celebrated masterpiece Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection -- as well as in the other numerous works which flowed from her pen while she lived.

The Way of Perfection was written during the height of controversy which raged over the reforms St. Teresa enacted within the Carmelite Order. Its specific purpose was to serve as a guide in the practice of prayer and it sets forth her counsels and directives for the attainment of spiritual perfection through prayer. It was composed by St. Teresa at the express command of her superiors, and was written during the late hours in order not to interfere with the day's already crowded schedule.

Without doubt it fulfills the tribute given all St. Teresa's works by E. Allison Peers, the outstanding authority on her writings: "Work of a sublime beauty bearing the ineffaceable hallmark of genius."

THE WAY OF PERFECTION

BY

ST. TERESA OF AVILA

TRANSLATED & EDITED BY

E. ALLISON PEERS

FROM THE CRITICAL EDITION OF

P. SILVERIO DE SANTA TERESA, C.D.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Translator's Note:

General Argument

Protestation

Prologue

Chapter 1 -- Of the reason which moved me to found this convent in such strict observance

Chapter 2 -- Treats of how the necessities of the body should be disregarded and of the good that comes from poverty

Chapter 3 -- Continues the subject begun in the first chapter and persuades the sisters to busy themselves constantly in beseeching God to help those who work for the Church. Ends with an exclamatory prayer

Chapter 4 -- Exhorts the nuns to keep their Rule and names three things which are important for the spiritual life. Describes the first of these three things, which is love of one's neighbour, and speaks of the harm which can be done by individual friendships

Appendix To Chapter 4

Chapter 5 -- Continues speaking of confessors. Explains why it is important that they should be learned men

Chapter 6 -- Returns to the subject of perfect love, already begun

Chapter 7 -- Treats of the same subject of spiritual love and gives certain counsels for gaining it

Chapter 8 -- Treats of the great benefit of self-detachment, both interior and exterior, from all things created

Chapter 9 -- Treats of the great blessing that shunning their relatives brings to those who have left the world and shows how by doing so they will find truer friends

Chapter 10 -- Teaches that detachment from the things aforementioned is insufficient if we are not detached from our own selves and that this virtue and humility go together

Chapter 11 -- Continues to treat of mortification and describes how it may be attained in times of sickness

Chapter 12 -- Teaches that the true lover of God must care little for life and honour

Chapter 13 -- Continues to treat of mortification and explains how one must renounce the world's standards of wisdom in order to attain to true wisdom

Chapter 14 -- Treats of the great importance of not professing anyone whose spirit is contrary to the things aforementioned

Chapter 15 -- Treats of the great advantage which comes from our not excusing ourselves, even though we find we are unjustly condemned

Chapter 16 -- Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of contemplatives and in the lives of those who are content with mental prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for God to raise a distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason for this. This chapter and that which comes next are to be noted carefully

Chapter 17 -- How not all souls are fitted for contemplation and how some take long to attain it. True humility will walk happily along the road by which the Lord leads it

Chapter 18 -- Continues the same subject and shows how much greater are the trials of contemplatives than those of actives. This chapter offers great consolation to actives

Chapter 19 -- Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with the understanding

Chapter 20 -- Describes how, in one way or another, we never lack consolation on the road of prayer. Counsels the sisters to include this subject continually in their conversation

Chapter 21 -- Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice of prayer with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put in the way by the devil

Chapter 22 -- Explains the meaning of mental prayer

Chapter 23 -- Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set out upon the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be resolute

Chapter 24 -- Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection and how closely allied it is to mental prayer

Chapter 25 -- Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it practises vocal prayer perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to things supernatural

Chapter 26 -- Continues the description of a method for recollecting the thoughts. Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very profitable for those who are beginning prayer

Chapter 27 -- Describes the great love shown us by the Lord in the first words of the Paternoster and the great importance of our making no account of good birth if we truly desire to be the daughters of God

Chapter 28 -- Describes the nature of the Prayer of Recollection and sets down some of the means by which we can make it a habit

Chapter 29 - Continues to describe methods for achieving this Prayer of Recollection. Says what little account we should make of being favoured by our superiors

Chapter 30 -- Describes the importance of understanding what we ask for in prayer. Treats of these words in the Paternoster: "Sanctificetur nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum". Applies them to the Prayer of Quiet, and begins the explanation of them

Chapter 31 -- Continues the same subject. Explains what is meant by the Prayer of Quiet. Gives several counsels to those who experience it. This chapter is very noteworthy

Chapter 32 -- Expounds these words of the Paternoster: "Fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in terra." Describes how much is accomplished by those who repeat these words with full resolution and how well the Lord rewards them for it

Chapter 33 -- Treats of our great need that the Lord should give us what we ask in these words of the Paternoster: "Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie."

Chapter 34 -- Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for reading after the reception of the Most Holy Sacrament

Chapter 35 -- Describes the recollection which should be practised after Communion. Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the Eternal Father

Chapter 36 -- Treats of these words in the Paternoster: "Dimitte nobis debita nostra"

Chapter 37 -- Describes the excellence of this prayer called the Paternoster, and the many ways in which we shall find consolation in it

Chapter 38 -- Treats of the great need which we have to beseech the Eternal Father to grant us what we ask in these words: "Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo." Explains certain temptations. This chapter is noteworthy

Chapter 39 -- Continues the same subject and gives counsels concerning different kinds of temptation. Suggests two remedies by which we may be freed from temptations

Chapter 40 -- Describes how, by striving always to walk in the love and fear of God, we shall travel safely amid all these temptations

Chapter 41 -- Speaks of the fear of God and of how we must keep ourselves from venial sins

Chapter 42 -- Treats of these last words of the Paternoster: "Sed libera nos a malo. Amen." "But deliver us from evil. Amen."

 

PRINCIPAL ABBREVIATIONS

A.V. -- Authorized Version of the Bible (1611).

D.V. -- Douai Version of the Bible (1609) .

Letters -- Letters of St. Teresa. Unless otherwise stated, the numbering of the Letters follows Vols. VII-IX of P. Silverio. Letters (St.) indicates the translation of the Benedictines of Stanbrook (London, 1919-24, 4 vols.).

Lewis -- The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, etc., translated by David Lewis, 5th ed., with notes and introductions by the Very Rev. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D., London, 1916.

P. Silverio -- Obras de Santa Teresa de Jesús, editadas y anotadas por el P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., Durgos, 1915-24, 9 vols.

Ribera -- Francisco de Ribera, Vida de Santa Teresa de Jesús, Nueva ed. aumentada, con introduction, etc., por el P. Jaime Pons, Barcelona, 1908.

S.S.M. -- E. Allison Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, London, 1927-30, 2 vols.

St. John of the Cross -- The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, translated from the critical edition of P. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C.D., and edited by E. Allison Peers, London, 1934-35, 3 vols.

Yepes -- Diego de Yepes, Vida de Santa Teresa, Madrid, 1615.

TO THE GRACIOUS MEMORY OF

P. EDMUND GURDON

SOMETIME PRIOR OF THE CARTHUSIAN MONASTERY

OF MIRAFLORES

A MAN OF GOD

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