Saint Teresa of Avila: Carmelite nun, famed Spanish mystic, religious reformer, author, theologian, mental prayer, and even Doctor of the Church.

Before God told Saint Teresa: “No longer do I want you to converse with human beings but with angels,” some of her friends thought her visions were delusions of the devil.

One confessor was so sure that the visions were from the devil that he told her to make an obscene gesture, the fig, every time she had experienced a vision of Jesus.

The fig is a mildly obscene gesture, traditionally used since the Roman age to “ward off the evil eye,” insult someone, or turn down a request.

As her hagiography tells:

“She cringed but did as she was ordered, all the time apologizing to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t seem upset but told her that she was right to obey her confessor. In her autobiography she would say, “I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.” The devil was not to be feared but fought by talking more about God.”

It’s possible this moment gave rise to one of Saint Teresa’s most notable quotable:

“Not a fig shall I care then for all the devils in hell: it is they who will fear me. I do not understand these fears. “Oh, the devil, the devil!” we say, when we might be saying “God! God!” and making the devil tremble. Of course we might, for we know he cannot move a finger unless the Lord permits it. Whatever are we thinking of? I am quite sure I am more afraid of people who are themselves terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.”

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