ST. TERESA, TOO, WAS SHOWN HELL
"While I was at prayer one day, I found myself in a moment, without knowing how, plunged apparently into Hell. I understood that it was Our Lord's will that I should see the place which the devils kept in readiness for me, and which I had deserved by my sins. It lasted but for a moment, but it seems to me impossible that I should ever forget it even if I were to live many years.
"The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined. All this was ever pleasant to behold in comparison with what I felt there. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying.
"But as to what I then felt, I do not know where to begin if I were to describe it; it is utterly inexplicable. I felt a fire in my soul but such that I am still unable to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, and, as the physicians say, the greatest that can be borne, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed, without speaking of other ills of different types - yet, even those of which I have spoken, inflicted on me by Satan; yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I then felt, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission nor any end to them.
"These sufferings were nothing in comparison with the anguish of my soul, a sense of oppression, of stifling, and of pain so acute, accompanied by so hopeless and cruel an infliction, that I know not how to speak of it. If I say that the soul is continually being torn from the body it would be nothing - for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another - but here it is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces. I cannot describe that inward fire or that despair, surpassing all torments and all pain. I did not see who it was that tormented me, but I felt myself on fire, and torn to pieces, as it seemed to me; and I repeat it, this inward fire and despair are the greatest torments of all.
"Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down; there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness. I do not understand how it is; though there was no light, yet everything that can give pain by being seen was visible.
"Our Lord at that time would not let me see more of Hell. Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishment of certain sins. They were the most horrible to look at, but because I felt none of the pain, my terror was not so great. In the former vision Our Lord made me really feel those torments and that anguish of spirit, just as if I had been suffering them in the body there. I know not how it was, but I understood distinctly that it was a great mercy that Our Lord would have me see with my own eyes the very place from which His compassion saved me. I have listened to people speaking of these things and I have at other times dwelt on the various torments of Hell, though not often, because my soul made no progress by the way of fear; and I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all is as nothing before this: It is a wholly different matter. In short, the one is a reality, the other a description; and all burning here in this life is as nothing compared with the fire that is there.
"I was so terrified by that vision - and that terror is on me even now as I write - that though it took place nearly six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear even now when I think of it. And so, amid all the pain and suffering which I may have had to bear, I remember no time in which I do not think that all we have to suffer in this world is as nothing. It seems to me that we complain without reason. I repeat it, this vision was one of the grandest mercies of God. It has been to me of the greatest service, because it has destroyed my fear of trouble and of the contradictions of the world, and because it has made me strong enough to bear up against them, and to give thanks to Our Lord who has been my Deliverer, as it now seems to me, from such fearful and everlasting pains.
"Ever since that time, as I was saying, everything seems endurable in comparison with one instant of suffering such as those I had then to bear in Hell. I am filled with fear when I see that, after frequently reading books which describe in some manner the pains of Hell, I was not afraid of them, nor made any account of them. Where was I? How could I possibly take any pleasure in those things which led me directly to so dreadful a place? Blessed forever be Thou, O my God! And oh, how manifest is it that Thou didst love me much more than I did love Thee! How often, O Lord, didst Thou save me from that fearful prison! And how I used to get back to it contrary to Thy will.
"It was that vision which filled me with very great distress which I felt at the sight of so many lost souls, especially of the Lutherans - for they were once members of the Church by Baptism - and also gave me the most vehement desires for the salvation of souls; for certainly I believe that to save even one from those overwhelming torments, I would willingly endure many deaths. If here on earth we see one whom we specially love in great trouble or pain, our very nature seems to bid us compassionate him; and if those pains be great, we are troubled ourselves. What, then, must it be to see a soul in danger of pain, the most grievous of all pains, forever? It is a thought no heart can bear without great anguish. Here we know that pain at last ends with life, and that there are limits to it, yet the sight of it moves us so greatly to compassion; that other pain has no ending, and I know not how we can be calm when we see Satan carry so many souls daily away.
"This also makes me wish that, in a matter which concerns us so much, we did not rest satisfied with doing less than we can do on our part - that we left nothing undone. May Our Lord vouchsafe to give us His grace for that end."
St. Teresa, 1515-1582, was given a vision of HELL. She said of this experience:
"The humble man never forgets that Christ had delivered him from the fires of Hell."
One of the most unforgetable experiences in St. Teresa's life was her famous vision of HELL which she considered a "most signal favor" from God. She beheld souls tormented by fire and despair, saw the place the devils had prepared for her because of her sins, and realized most vividly that only God's mercy had delivered her from such terrible and enduring torments (Life, Chapter XXXII). This vision of HELL was one of the significant events in St. Teresa's life that led ultimately to the foundation of the Carmelite Reform; but it also influenced her to thoughts of humility. Her words on humility are often related to HELL.
And the following are some of her accounts taken from her Collected Works published by The Institute of Carmelite Studies:
Volume 1 of The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Chapter 38, parts 23 & 24 & 25:
23. "Once, while approaching to receive Communion, I saw with my soul's eyes more clearly than with my bodily eyes two devils whose appearance was abominable. It seems to me their horns were wrapped around the poor priests's throat, and in the host that was going to be given to me I saw my Lord with the majesty I mentioned placed in the priest's hands, which were clearly seen to be His offender's; and I understood that that soul was in mortal sin. What would it be my Lord, to see Your beauty in the midst of such abominable figures? They were as though frightened and terrified in Your presence, for it seems they would have very eagerly fled had You allowed them. This vision caused me such great disturbance I don't know how I was able to receive Communion, and I was left with a great fear, thinking that if the vision had been from God, His Majesty would not have permitted me to see the evil that was in that soul. The Lord Himself told me to pray for him and that He had permitted it so that I might understand the power of the words of consecration and how God does not fail to be present, however evil the priest who recites them, and that I might see His great goodness since He places Himself in those hands of His enemy, and all out of love for me and for everyone. I understood well how much more priests are obliged to be good than are others, how deplorable a thing it is to receive this most Blessed Sacrament unworthily, and how much the devil is lord over the soul in mortal sin. It did me a great deal of good and brought me deep understanding of what I owed God. May He be blessed forever and ever.
24. At another time something else happened to me that frightened me very much. I was at a place where a certain person died who for many years had lived a wicked life, from what I knew. But he had been sick for two years, and in some things it seems he had made amends. He died without confession, but nevertheless it didn't seem to me he would be condemned. While the body was being wrapped in its shroud, I saw many devils take that body; and it seemed they were playing with it and punishing it. This terrified me, for with large hooks they were dragging it from one devil to the other. Since I saw it buried with the honor and ceremonies accorded to all, I reflected on the goodness of God, how He did not want that soul to be defamed, but wanted the fact that it was His enemy to be concealed.
25. I was half stupefied from what I had seen. During the whole ceremony I didn't see another devil. Afterward when they put the body in the grave, there was such a multitude of them inside ready to take it that I was frantic at the sight of it, and there was need for no small amount of courage to conceal this. I reflected on what they would do to the soul when they had such dominion over the unfortunate body. May it please the Lord that what I have seen -a thing so frightful!-will be seen by all those who are in such an evil state; I think it would prove a powerful help toward their living a good life. All of this gives me greater knowledge of what I owe God and of what He freed me from. I was very frightened until I spoke about it to my confessor, wondering if it was an illusion caused by the devil to defame that soul. Although it wasn't considered to be the soul of someone with a very deep Christian spirit. Truly since the vision was not an illusion, it frightens me every time I think of it."
The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 1, Chapter 31, parts: 1-11 :
Deals with some exterior temptations and representations of the devil and the torments he inflicted on her. Treats also of some matters very beneficial for advising persons who journey on the path of perfection.
1. Now that I've mentioned some interior, secret temptations and disturbances the devil caused me, I want to tell about others he caused almost publicly and in which one could not be mistaken that he was the source.
2. I was once in an oratory, and he appeared to me in an abominable form at my left side. Because he spoke to me, I looked particularly at his mouth-which was frightening. It seemed that a great flame, all bright without shadow, came forth from his body. He told me in a terrifying way that I had really freed myself from his hands but that he would catch me with them again. I was struck with great fear and blessed myself as best I could; he disappeared, but returned right away. This happened to me twice. I didn't know what to do. There was some holy water there, and I threw it in that direction; he never returned again.
3. Another time I was tormented for five hours with such terrible interior and exterior pains and disturbance that it didn't seem to me I could suffer them any longer. The sisters who were with me were frightened and didn't know what to do, nor did I know how to help myself. When bodily pains and sickness become intolerable I have the custom of making interior acts of supplication to the Lord as best I can, that if His Majesty be served by my doing so He might give me patience and I might remain in this state until the end of the world. Well, since I was suffering so severely this time, I was helping myself through these acts and resolutions so as to be able to bear it. The Lord wanted me to understand it was the devil because I saw beside me a black, very abominable little creature, snarling like one in despair that where he had tried to gain he had lost. When I saw him I laughed to myself and was not afraid. There were some sisters there with me who were unable to help nor did they know of any remedy for so much torment; without being able to resist, I was striking myself hard on the body, head, and arms. What was worse was the interior disturbance, for I wasn't able to feel calm of any sort. I didn't dare ask for holy water lest I frighten them and they come to understand what the trouble was.
4. I often experience that there is nothing the devils flee from more-without returning-than holy water. They also flee from the cross, but they return. The power of holy water must be great. For me there is a particular and very noticeable consolation my soul experiences upon taking it. Without a doubt my soul feels ordinarily a refreshment I wouldn't know how to explain, like an interior delight that comforts it entirely. This isn't some fancy or something that has happened to me only once, but something that has happened often and that I've observed carefully. Let us say the relief is like that coming to a person, very hot and thirsty, when he drinks a jar of cold water; it would seem that he felt the refreshment all over. I consider everything ordained by the Church to be important, and I rejoice to see the power of those words recited over the water so that its difference from unblessed water becomes so great.
5. Well, since the torment didn't stop, I said: "If you wouldn't laugh, I'd ask for holy water." They brought it to me and sprinkled some on me, but it didn't help. I threw some toward where the devil was, and instantly he went away and all the illness left me as if it were taken away by hand, except that I remained weary as though I had been badly beaten with a stick. It did me a lot of good to reflect upon what he will do to the soul he possesses as his own if even when the soul and body don't belong to him, he causes so much harm-when the Lord permits. It made me again eager to be freed from such dreadful company.
6. Another time, not long ago, the same thing happened to me; although it didn't last as long, and I was alone. I called for holy water, and those who entered after the devil had already gone (for they were two nuns well worthy of belief, who would by no means tell a lie) smelled a foul stench like that of brimstone. I didn't smell it. It so lingered that one could notice it.
Another time I was in the choir, and there came upon me a strong impulse toward recollection. I left the choir so that the others wouldn't notice, although all of them heard the striking of loud blows near the place where I was; I heard some coarse words next to me as though the devils were plotting something, although I didn't understand anything nor did I have any fear. It happened, almost every time, when the Lord granted me the favor of persuading some soul to advance in perfection.
7. It is certain that what I shall now tell happened to me. (And there are many witnesses to this, especially the one who is now my confessor since he saw it written in a letter; without my telling him who the person was to whom the letter belonged, he knew very well who it was.)
A person came to me who had been in mortal sin for two and a half years. It was one of the most abominable I've heard of, and in all this time he hadn't confessed or made amends; and he was saying Mass. Although he was confessing other sins, of this one he asked how he could confess something so ugly. He had a great desire to give it up, but he wasn't able to help himself. He made me feel great pity, and my seeing that he offended God in such a way caused me deep sorrow. I promised him I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would beg God very much to liberate him and that I would get others better than myself to do the same, and I wrote to him through a certain person he told me I could give the letters to. And so it happened that after receiving the first letter he went to confession. For God desired (through the many very holy persons to whose prayers I recommended him) to grant this soul that mercy; and I, although miserable, did what I could with great care. He wrote to me that he was so much better that for days he had not fallen into the sin, but that the torment the temptation gave him was so intense it seemed from what he suffered he was in hell; he asked me to commend him to God. I in turn recommended him to my sisters through whose prayers the Lord must have granted me this favor, for they took the matter very much to heart. No one could guess who the person was. I begged His Majesty to mitigate those torments and temptations and that those devils would come to afflict me, provided that I would not offend the Lord in anything. As a result, for a month I suffered severe torments; it was during this time that these two things I mentioned happened.
8. The Lord was pleased that they leave him; this he wrote to me, for I told him what I was going through during that month. His soul was fortified, and he was left completely free. He didn't have enough of thanking God and me as though I had done anything. But the reputation I had from the fact that the Lord granted me favors benefitted him. He said that when he found himself very distressed he read my letters, and the temptation left him. He was very impressed by what I had suffered and how he had been freed. Even I was amazed, and I would have suffered many more years to see that soul free. May the Lord be praised for everything, for the prayer of those who serve Him (as I believe do these sisters in this house) can do much. But since I sought these prayers, the devils must have been more angry with me; and the Lord on account of my sins permitted this.
9. Also one night during this time I thought they were choking me; after much holy water had been sprinkled around, I saw a great multitude of them go by, as though they were being thrown down a precipice. There are so many times that these cursed creatures torment me, and so little is the fear I now have of them, seeing that they cannot stir unless the Lord allows them, that I would tire your Reverence and tire myself if I told about all these instances.
10. May what was said be of help that the true servant of God might pay no attention to the scarecrows the devils set up in order to cause fear. We should know that each time we pay no attention to them they are weakened and the soul gains much more mastery. Some great benefit always remains, which I won't go into so as not to enlarge. I shall only mention what happened to me on the night of All Souls: while I was in the oratory after having recited a nocturn and while saying some very devotional prayers that come at the end, a devil appeared on the book so that I couldn't finish the prayer. I blessed myself, and he went away. When I began again to recite the prayers, he returned. I believe it was three times I began, and until I threw holy water at him I couldn't finish. I saw that some souls left purgatory at that instant; little must have been lacking to their freedom, and I wondered if he had aimed at preventing this.
A few times I've seen him in physical form, but many times with no physical form-as for instance in the vision mentioned above in which without seeing any form one knows he is there.
11. I also want to tell the following because it frightened me a lot: one day on the feast of the Trinity, being in the choir of a certain monastery and in rapture, I saw a great battle of devils against angels. I couldn't understand what that vision meant. In less than fifteen days it became easily understandable on account of a certain conflict that arose between people of prayer and many who were not, and a lot of harm was done in the house in which it took place. It was a battle that lasted a long time and caused much disquiet.
At other times I saw a large multitude of devils around me, and it seemed that a great brightness encircled me, and this prevented them from reaching me. I understood that God was watching over me so that they could not get to me in order to make me offend Him. From what I sometimes saw in myself, I understood that it was a true vision. The fact is that now I have understood so well the little bit of power he has provided I'm not against God, that I have almost no fear . The powers of devils are nothing if these devils do not find souls cowardly and surrendered to them: it is with such souls that they show their power. Sometime, in the temptations I already mentioned, it seemed to me that all the vanities and weaknesses of the past were again awakening within me; I had really to commend myself to God. At once the torment came of thinking that since those thoughts arose in me the favors I experienced must all be from the devil. It seemed to me that there shouldn't have been even the first stirrings of a bad thought in one who was receiving so many favors from the Lord. But then my confessor put me at peace.