Karen Armstrong has written a book about her time as a nun in Catholic convent.
Karen Armstrong entered a convent age seventeen. After seven years she suffered a severe illness and had a nervous breakdown. She was released from her vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and is now telling her story in a book called 'Through The Narrow Gate'.
Karen Armstrong has written about her life as Sister Martha in a convent where they tried to bring about the complete subjugation of 'the self' in order to allow the spirit of God to enter.
She was one of the last to enter a convent under what were the old Victorian traditional rules. Since then, Vatican II has introduced new approaches to training nuns. Her training under the St Ignatius rules meant she had to give up all personal judgement into the hands of her superiors as representatives of God.
St Ignatius had been a soldier and he expected military obedience from his subjects because they were going to be soldiers of Christ.
Some of the strange things that Karen Armstrong had to do as a novice included scrubbing a flight of steps with a nail brush. She also used a sewing machine for several weeks without any needle in it to avoid the wrath of the assistant novice mistress. The novices also had to get up very early each morning for prayer but only had access to an alarm clock that told the wrong time.
You're not ever as a nun supposed to answer back.
The novices were being trained to be saints which requires absolute ruthlessness. Although Karen Armstrong entered the convent of her own free will, she eventually fell ill and had a nervous breakdown.
The idea was that a nun gives all her affection entirely to God and friendships were not allowed. She says that there were good nuns like Sr Catherine and Mother Bianca.
The religious life is a heroic life and very few people are able to live it heroically.
When Karen Armstrong finally decided to leave the convent and dispensation came through from Rome, she still felt sad and that she had failed.
The moment you take these papers in your hands, you cease to be a nun.
This episode of The Late Late Show was broadcast on 15 May 1982. The presenter is Gay Byrne.