This is one of the longest chapters in the book. There is a reason for this. One cannot make progress in the spiritual life unless one knows the enemy. This enemy does not want our progress. The devil hates God and therefore those who strive to love God. If we do not wake up each day and live our day knowing that we are entering into a spiritual battleground – then we will have many pitfalls and possibly be overcome by giving up the fight – not knowing that we were even in a battle!
St. Teresa did not view the devil as some mysterious, malicious power but a living being. She knew him on a personal level. In this chapter we will learn from her experience and her teaching about the nature and the power of the devil, the frequency and the modes of his intervention in the spiritual life, the means of discerning his presence and of resisting his attacks.
To these angels which are now evil spirits filled with hatred for God, God had given permission to intervene in the world. Since they are pure spirits, Satan and his angels can dominate the inferior world of matter and the senses. The devil knows the laws and reactions of the world. He can move them to action and use them intelligently for his own ends. It must be known that the fallen angels cannot penetrate into the higher faculties of the soul unless the will gives one entry. The spiritual relations of the soul with God are for them an impenetrable mystery. But by means of sensible impressions and images that are presented to the intellect and the will and have normally an influence on their activity, the devil can intervene indirectly in the activity of the soul and the spiritual life. These can be so subtle and so rapid that the soul can be easily deceived and not suspect the activity of an evil spirit.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus relates that the mysterious illness from which she suffered at the age of nine, was produced by the devil who, she said, wanted to take revenge on her for the great harm that her family was to do to him in the future.
We see even in the writings of St. John of the Cross in his Dark Night, he states: “As the devil sees that he cannot succeed in thwarting them in the depth of the soul, he does what he can to disturb and disquiet the sensual part, to which he is able to attain – now by means of afflictions, now by terrors and fears, with intent to disquiet and disturb the higher and spiritual part of the soul by this means, with respect to that blessing which it then receives and enjoys. At other times, when the spiritual communication is not made in any great measure to the spirit, but the senses have a part therein, the devil more easily succeeds in disturbing the spirit and raising a tumult within it, by means of the senses, with these terrors.”
It is also mentioned here that the devils can cause disquiet among a group of souls, a society, a community, a parish, etc. This was expressed by St. Teresa when she explains the turmoil that the devil stirred when she started the Reform. She as well as the community were agitated by her first convent, St. Joseph of Avila, The devil had guessed the importance of the work that was beginning and his zeal for destroying it appears to us today well justified.
In the Living Flame by St. John of the Cross, he points out how the devil, “ takes his stand, with great cunning, on the road which leads from sense to spirit, deceiving and luring the soul by means of sense, and giving it sensual things, as we have said, so that it may rest in them and not escape from him.”
A testimony from St. Teresa from her Life p. 205, “From long experience, I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once; it has happened again and again and I have observed it most attentively.” “And so we all used to carry a little gourd of holy water, suspended to our cincture, and she wanted to have hers.”
In the Dark Night, St. John confirms this by stating that the white vestment of faith protects the soul from the devil. Faith lifts the soul above the domain of the senses, over which the devil can exercise power, and introduces it into the supernatural world which he cannot enter. By the soul lifting itself to God, it is protected from the temptation of the devil. We must immediately send acts of faith to God when the soul begins to be tormented. Once this becomes a habit, flight from the enemy will be spontaneous and will have beneficial results.
The Chapter ends with the understanding that God allows the evil one to tempt us and try us in our lives in order to strengthen us, to prove us, to humble us, to increase our merits, to make our virtues more pure and strong, and to make our progress toward Him more rapid.
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene