Fray Mariano de San Benito
I sent out from Toledo the second day after Pentecost traveling by way of Madrid. There my companions and I went for lodging to a monastery of Franciscan nuns, with a lady, who had founded it and lived in it, named Doña Leonor Mascareñas. She had been the king’s governess and is a very good servant of our Lord. I had lodged there at other times when on certain occasions I had to pass by, and she always showed me much kindness.
This lady told me she was happy I had come at that time because a hermit was there who eagerly desired to meet me and that it seemed to her the life he and his companions were living was very similar to that of our rule. The thought came to me that if this were so it would be a good thing since I had only two friars, and so I begged her to arrange for us to speak. He was staying in a room given him by this lady. He was there with another young brother named Fray Juan de la Miseria, a great servant of God and very simple with regard to the things of the world. While we were speaking together, this hermit told me that he wanted to go to Rome.
Before going on, I want to mention what I know about this Father, named [Ambrosio] Mariano de San Benito. He was Italian, a doctor, and very intelligent and talented. While he was living as the supervisor of the entire household of the queen of Poland, our Lord called him to leave all so as to better obtain his salvation. He had not been inclined to marry, but was a knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He had undergone some trials in which he had been falsely accused of being involved in a man’s death and thus put in prison for two years. While there, he didn’t want to be defended by any learned man or anyone else, but only by God and His justice, for there were witnesses who said that he had ordered them to kill the man. Resembling the old men in the story about Saint Susanna, when each was asked where the accused was at the time, one said that he was seated on a bed; and the other, at a window. In the end they confessed to having calumniated him. And he assured me that he had spent much money to free them so that they would not be punished, and that certain information had come into his possession against the one who had caused him the trouble and that he likewise did as much as he could not to do that one any harm.
Through these and other virtues — for he is a clean-living and chaste man, unwilling to have any dealings with women — he must have merited from our Lord knowledge of what the world is so that he would strive to withdraw from it. And thus he began to think about which religious order to join. And, from what he told me, in thinking about the different orders, he found in each one some difficulty for his temperament. He learned that near Seville some hermits had come together to live in a desert called El Tardon, under a very holy man, named Padre Mateo [de la Fuente], whom they took as their superior. Each one lived apart in a cell. They did not recite the divine office together but did gather in an oratory for Mass. They had no fixed income; neither did they want to receive alms, nor did they. But they supported themselves by the work of their hands, and each one ate alone and very poorly. When I heard about this, it seemed to me to be a living picture of the life of our own holy fathers. Father Mariano had spent eight years in this manner of life. When the holy Council of Trent came and took away authorization for the eremitical life, he wanted to go to Rome to seek permission that they might continue as they were, and this was his intention when I spoke to him.
Well now, when he told me the manner of his life, I showed him our primitive rule and told him that without so much trouble he could observe all of that since his life was the same as that prescribed in the rule, especially living by the work of one’s hands. He was very much inclined to the latter and told me that the world was lost because of greed and that this was why religious life was not valued. Since I felt the same, we quickly agreed in this and even in everything else. When I gave him reasons about how much he could serve God in this habit, he told me that he would think over the matter that night. I already saw that he was nearly decided, and I understood that what I had learned in prayer (that I was going to Pastrana for more than the foundation of a monastery of nuns) referred to this. The thought gave me the greatest happiness since it seemed to me that the Lord would be much served if this hermit were to enter the order. He was so moved that night by His Majesty, who desired this, that the next day he called for me, now very determined and even very surprised to see how quickly he himself had changed, especially through the instrumentality of a woman, for even now he sometimes mentions this to me, as though what I said were the cause and not the Lord who can change hearts.
Great are God’s judgments. Mariano had gone many years without knowing what to decide concerning his state, for the life he had been living was not that of a religious, since the hermits did not make vows and take on any obligation other than to remain there in solitude. And God quickly moved him and revealed how much His Majesty would be served by him in this state and the need for him in order to carry on what had been begun. For he has helped a great deal, and up to now it has cost him many trials. And by what can be seen from the opposition the followers of this primitive rule now experience [in 1574–76], the work will cost him more until it is firmly established. For through his talent, intelligence, and good life he is influential with many persons who favor and defend us.
Saint Teresa of Avila
The Foundations, ch. 17 (excerpts)
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: Susana acusada de adulterio (Susanna accused of adultery) is a detail from a 17th c. painting by the French artist Antoine Coypel (1661–1722) in the collections of the Prado Museum in Madrid. The gallery label from the Prado indicates that this large oil on canvas artwork (147 x 215 cm) was executed in 1696–1697. Further, in the years 1699 and 1704 it was exhibited in the French Salon, which was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Although this beautiful oil painting, rich in detail, is not on display in the museum, you can view the entire artwork and read its details in Spanish here.