I will now describe, as I promised, the difference between sweetness in prayer and spiritual consolations.

It appears to me that what we acquire for ourselves in meditation and petitions to our Lord may be termed ‘sweetness in devotion.’ It is natural, although ultimately aided by the grace of God.

I must be understood to imply this in all I say, for we can do nothing without Him. This sweetness arises principally from the good work we perform, and appears to result from our labours: well may we feel happy at having thus spent our time.

We shall find, on consideration, that many temporal matters give us the same pleasure….I have seen people weep from such happiness, as I have done myself. I consider both these joys and those we feel in religious matters to be natural ones.

Although there is nothing wrong about the former, yet those produced by devotion spring from a more noble source—in short, they begin in ourselves and end in God. Spiritual consolations, on the contrary, arise from God, and our nature feels them and rejoices as keenly in them, and indeed far more keenly, than in the others I described.

O Jesus! how I wish I could elucidate this point! It seems to me that I can perfectly distinguish the difference between the two joys, yet I have not the skill to make myself understood; may God give it me!

I remember a verse we say at Prime at the end of the final Psalm; the last words are: Cum dilatasti cor meum – ‘When Thou didst dilate my heart’ (Psalm 118:32).

To those with much experience, this suffices to show the difference between sweetness in prayer and spiritual consolations; other people will require more explanation.

The sensible devotion I mentioned does not dilate the heart, but generally appears to narrow it slightly; although joyful at seeing herself work for God, yet such a person sheds tears of sorrow which seem partly produced by the passions.

I know little about the passions of the soul, or I could write of them more clearly and could better define what comes from the sensitive disposition and what is natural, having passed through this state myself, but I am very stupid. Knowledge and learning are a great advantage to every one.

My own experience of this delight and sweetness in meditation was that when I began to weep over the Passion I could not stop until I had a severe headache; the same thing occurred when I grieved over my sins: this was a great grace from our Lord.

I do not intend to inquire now which of these states of prayer is the better, but I wish I knew how to explain the difference between the two. In that of which I speak, the tears and good desires are often partly caused by the natural disposition, but although this may be the case, yet, as I said, these feelings terminate in God.

Sensible devotion is very desirable if the soul is humble enough to understand that it is not more holy on account of these sentiments, which cannot always with certainty be ascribed to charity, and even then are still the gift of God.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Interior Castle 4,1,4-6.