Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
St. Teresa of Avila’s Vision of the
Battle of Alcácer-Quibir:
Punishment for Portugal and Christendom, Salvation for Portuguese Soldiers
Saint of the Day, Monday, October 14, 1968
“St. Teresa was at the Carmel of Toledo when the King of Portugal, Dom Sebastião, lost the great battle had waged against the Moors in Africa. The saint burst into tears as she had a revelation about the defeat, as she ardently desired to see Christendom prosper and the enemies of the Church humiliated. She complained, “My God, how hast thou allowed thy own people to sustain such a loss, and thy enemies to obtain such victory?” The Lord answered, “What are you afflicted with if I found them ready to bring them to Me?”
“The saint’s sorrow soon vanished as she considered the glory the Portuguese [fighters] must be receiving. She was filled with admiration, marveling that God would find ready for the beatitude soldiers who ordinarily have loose customs. She thus desired to extend her reform to Portugal. She prayed at length to know the divine will and received an answer on the Day of the Virgin’s Assumption. She wrote:
“After God, Our Lord, to console me for my grief, told me He had allowed the Portuguese army’s defeat in African fields because He found the Portuguese ready to come to Him, I so deeply esteemed that nation well-prepared even in its soldiers (usually depraved in other nations) that I had a great desire to go found houses of our reformed Carmelite Order in that kingdom. It seemed to me that would render great glory to God and increase religion among the Portuguese, whom I saw as very good and inclined to virtue.”
“I asked His Divine Majesty with the greatest possible insistence to do me this favor. On the Day of the Assumption of the Queen of Angels, the Lord said to me, ‘You, my daughter, will not go to Portugal to found your reformed convents, but your daughters and sons will go because I want to increase the number of good men and women religious in that kingdom to give Me a reason to suspend my punishment and show them mercy. Your left hand will also be taken away as I want to give them the hand of a much-loved spouse to lift them from the misery into which they have fallen, restore their former happiness, and give them a pledge of other glories.”
Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and this topic has been chosen with great care. It has two aspects, one concerning the battle of Alcácer-Quibir, and the other, the foundation of the convents of the Order of Saint Teresa in Portugal. The two things, by the way, are connected and presented together.
As Saint Teresa was praying, God revealed that King Dom Sebastião of Portugal had suffered a great defeat at Alcácer-Quibir. The battle of Alcácer-Quibir proved decisive from two points of view. King Dom Sebastião was very pious, the virgin king, the chaste king, so to speak, the last flower of Portugal. If King Dom Sebastião won that war, he would break the power of the Moors there, and Portugal could form a prosperous colony in North Africa.
That colony would be a kind of bridgehead of Christian Europe in Africa, which would shake the power of the Mohammedans throughout the Mediterranean basin. Indeed, the Mohammedans occupied the present-day Balkan peninsula, naturally including Turkey, Asia Minor, Egypt, Tunisia, Tripolitania, Algeria, and Morocco. But during this period, North Africa was the most flourishing part of their power.
So if the Portuguese could get a landing place in North Africa, it would become much easier for them, for Spaniards, and eventually, for the French to land in North Africa. With the poor means of navigation at that time, the Mediterranean was too difficult to stage a sea landing, so a bridgehead in Africa was of utmost importance. There was already a beachhead in Fez, but they had to expand, or they would lose it. The battle of Alcácer-Quibir was essential for that end.
King Dom Sebastião left Portugal to wage war with many nobles and soldiers, but it seems that he attacked the Moors rather recklessly. He died during the attack, the Portuguese were defeated, the possibility of having a bridgehead in North Africa was eliminated, Moorish power was consolidated in the Mediterranean, and this was very bad not only for the conversion of the Moorish nations but greatly helped the expansion of Protestantism.
Indeed, the Mohammedans were free to attack Austria and Hungary more and more and thus favor the Protestant enemies of the House of Austria. So, the defeat at Alcácer-Quibir was catastrophic for religion, and this catastrophe also befell Portugal’s independence. King Dom Sebastião left as his heir only the Cardinal-Infante Dom Henrique, whom the Holy See exempted from the vow of chastity. He was a prince of the Royal House but had no children, which is why, after Dom Henrique died, Portugal passed to the House of Spain, and the Portuguese dynasty became extinct as Philip II became the legitimate heir to the Portuguese Crown. Therefore, the battle of Alcácer-Quibir was a severe setback for the Catholic Cause, the Portuguese dynasty, and in some way, for Portugal as well.
Saint Teresa of Jesus trembled and wept upon having this revelation. And with the freedom she had with Our Lord (she had sacral and extraordinary space with Our Lord), she asked Him, “But how can You allow your adversaries to have such a great victory and your friends such a defeat?” God answered that Portuguese army soldiers were so well prepared to die that He thought it better to allow them to be defeated and take those good ancestors of ours to heaven.
As you can see, this answer is somehow evasive and does not fully answer the question. It was a very respectful question in all liberty, and Our Lord reserved the right to respond as He saw fit. There is here a kind of wonder of intimacy, almost from equal to equal if one could say that of an infinite God dealing with a great saint but still a creature as Saint Teresa of Jesus. God evaded her question, but God never lies, and the truth remains that the Portuguese went to heaven en masse.
But God did explain it later, in the course of the revelation. He said that the battle and defeat had been a punishment for Portugal. To make that defeat less harmful, He was going to provide for Carmelites to go to Portugal and, along with other good religious orders already there, have the Portuguese nation recover from the sin that cost them that punishment. In the second part, we will deal with the founding of the Carmelite Order in Portugal, but for now let us stick to the subject of Alcácer-Quibir.
You can see how the theme of this revelation is different from what ‘white heresy’ people like to imagine as being unique and exclusive in relations between God and men. Here a saint converses with God, and what does God show her? In usual revelations to saints, God deals with strictly spiritual things, His relations with souls, a soul’s progress or decay in virtue, a religious Order, or, at most, the whole Church.
Spiritual authors do not like to refer to what God says about humanity’s earthly developments. The reason is that white heresy people are displeased to see God intervening so deeply in earthly events and seeing the Catholic Cause so completely consubstantiated, embedded in affairs of a political nature. Here you have two kingdoms fighting: the kingdom of Portugal and some other Moorish kingdom, which I don’t know what it was called at that time.
The two kingdoms are fighting. A battle is a slaughter, and in white heresy eyes, it is a sin even when waged by the good side. White heresy people do not like to imagine people fighting for the good. No! First, you have to smile softly and then give in. Secondly, the battle was a political event, and white heretics like to insinuate that religion does not bother with politics. A zealous man should not be concerned with politics but solely, strictly, directly, and immediately with spiritual matters. As a result, such revelations do not figure in the lives of saints or treatises on the spiritual life written under the breath of white heresy.
For this reason, the lady who picks texts for the saint of the Day did very well in selecting this passage. Through it, you can see God making that revelation about a battle—an earthly, human event—because on it hinged the salvation of many souls. God did that amid His revelations to a highly chosen soul who died of love. A Seraphim appeared to Saint Teresa of Jesus and pierced her heart with an arrow of love. Her heart is preserved in Avila, and you can see the hole in it. She died in an ecstasy of love for God Our Lord.
On the other hand, we see that while God had a keen interest in winning that battle, He also wanted to punish the unfaithful Portuguese, who were displeasing to him. So there was a side fighting the war on God’s side, and when God’s warriors lose, Catholic souls must grieve. Saint Teresa was so distressed about the defeat that she asked God why He had done this—as if God could do something wrong.
Moving on to another order of ideas, we also see how beautiful the designs of God are. God’s wisdom comprises multiple facets that man’s sight cannot encompass in their entirety. God’s answer, “All were very well prepared for death (roughly speaking, not necessarily each one), so I took them.” In other words, when deciding to punish the Portuguese with defeat in Alcácer-Quibir, God weighed the spiritual interest of those soldiers and, in His goodness, took them to heaven because they were very well prepared for death.
Were those soldiers not ready to die, God might have arranged Portugal’s punishment differently. We see His goodness, mercy, and care even when punishing them.
Saint Teresa’s special mission in the Church was to spread the reformed Carmelites. The purpose of her mission was for the Carmelites, through prayer and penance, to attract God’s blessings to the countries where Carmelite convents exist, more broadly for the entire Christendom, and to convert the whole world to the Catholic Religion.
Seeing that the Portuguese nation was so fervent, she soon decided to found convents in Portugal. If we heard about such a fervent nation, we would consider establishing a TFP there with precisely the same reasoning. Our reasoning would be: we can make an active TFP there and beat up the Revolution. Her reasoning was: we can make a praying Carmelite convent there and beat up the Revolution.
While pleased with her excellent thinking, God answered that she would not go, but her nuns would go to Portugal to found the reformed Carmelite Order, of which she was the matriarch. The Order would do very well there and drive away from Portugal even greater punishments that He wanted to give. You can see His goodness: while revealing that Portugal will be punished, He also discloses the salvation of numerous souls in the Portuguese army. At the same time, He arouses in her a desire to found the Order in Portugal and says the Order will benefit Portugal and alleviate the great punishment hovering upon that country.
That is what happened. Portugal was invaded and incorporated by Spain because Philip II, the king of Spain, was the legitimate heir to the Portuguese throne. With that, Portugal and Spain constituted a single monarchy. The Carmelite Order entered Portugal and produced great spiritual fruits. What punishments did that avert? Probably only Divine Justice knows; only in heaven will we know, and then we will admire even more God’s Providence and the history of His relationships with Saint Teresa of Jesus’s privileged soul.
Should this lead us to some conclusion? I think it should. It should lead us to greater fervor in reading news clippings. Why? Because by taking an interest in the events of our time to the extent they relate to the salvation of souls, the Catholic Cause, the crushing of the Revolution, and the exaltation and victory of the Holy Church, we make an outstanding act of love of God inherent to our vocation, which consists precisely in acting on these events.
Let us become interested in every international event precisely as Saint Teresa was interested in the battle of Alcácer-Quibir. That is the conception that we must have.