Teresa of Ávila
|Saint Teresa of Avila|
Teresa of Ávila by Peter Paul Rubens
|Virgin and Doctor of the Church|
|Born||March 28, 1515
Gotarrendura, Ávila, Crown of Castile (today Spain)
|Died||October 4, 1582
Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Spain
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church
|Beatified||April 24, 1614, Rome by Pope Paul V|
|Canonized||March 12, 1622, Rome by Pope Gregory XV|
|Major shrine||Convent of the Annunciation, Alba de Tormes, Spain|
|Attributes||habit of the Discalced Carmelites, Book and Quill, arrow-pierced heart|
|Patronage||bodily ills; headaches; chess; lacemakers; laceworkers; loss of parents; people in need of grace; people in religious orders; people ridiculed for their piety; Pozega, Croatia; sick people; sickness; Spain|
|Part of a series on|
Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582) was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, writer of the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered to be a founder of the Discalced Carmelites along with John of the Cross.
In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV and was in 1970 named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle) are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature as well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices as she entails in her other important work, Camino de Perfección (The Way of Perfection).
Early life 
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, in the province of Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan de Toledo, was a marrano (Jewish convert to Christianity) and was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa's mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the city, having spotted the two outside the city walls.
When Teresa was 14, her mother died, causing the girl a profound grief that prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Along with this good resolution, however, she also developed immoderate interests in reading popular fiction (consisting, at that time, mostly of medieval tales of knighthood) and caring for her own appearance.
In the cloister, she suffered greatly from illness. Early in her sickness, she experienced periods of religious ecstasy through the use of the devotional book "Tercer abecedario espiritual," translated as the Third Spiritual Alphabet (published in 1527 and written by Francisco de Osuna). This work, following the example of similar writings of medieval mystics, consisted of directions for examinations of conscience and for spiritual self-concentration and inner contemplation (known in mystical nomenclature as oratio recollectionis or oratio mentalis). She also employed other mystical ascetic works such as the Tractatus de oratione et meditatione of Saint Peter of Alcantara, and perhaps many of those upon which Saint Ignatius of Loyola based his Spiritual Exercises and possibly the Spiritual Exercises themselves.
She claimed that during her illness she rose from the lowest stage, "recollection", to the "devotions of silence" or even to the "devotions of ecstasy", which was one of perfect union with God. During this final stage, she said she frequently experienced a rich "blessing of tears." As the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin became clear to her, she says she came to understand the awful terror of sin and the inherent nature of original sin. She also became conscious of her own natural impotence in confronting sin, and the necessity of absolute subjection to God.
Around 1556, various friends suggested that her newfound knowledge was diabolical, not divine. She began to inflict various tortures and mortifications of the flesh upon herself. But her confessor, the Jesuit Saint Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. On St. Peter's Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ presented himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterrupted for more than two years. In another vision, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing an ineffable spiritual-bodily pain.
|“||I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it...||”|
This vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini's most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life, and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomized in the motto usually associated with her: Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.
Activities as reformer 
Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain on November 2, 1535. She found herself increasingly in disharmony with the spiritual malaise prevailing at the Incarnation. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister—designed to protect and strengthen the spirit and practice of prayer—became so lax that it actually lost its very purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, vitiated the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vain conversations. These violations of the solitude absolutely essential to progress in genuine contemplative prayer grieved Teresa to the extent that she longed to do something.
The incentive to give outward practical expression to her inward motive was inspired in Teresa by the Franciscan priest Saint Peter of Alcantara who became acquainted with her as Founder early in 1560, and became her spiritual guide and counselor. She now resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found in the Cloister of the Incarnation and others. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds. Teresa worked for many years encouraging Spanish Jewish converts to follow Christianity.
The absolute poverty of the new monastery, established in 1562 and named St. Joseph's (San José), at first excited a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the little house with its chapel was in peril of suppression; but powerful patrons, including the bishop himself, as well as the impression of well-secured subsistence and prosperity, turned animosity into applause.
In March 1563, when Teresa moved to the new cloister, she received the papal sanction to her prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a "Constitution". Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation of the nun. For the first five years, Teresa remained in pious seclusion, engaged in writing.
In 1567, she received a patent from the Carmelite general, Rubeo de Ravenna, to establish new houses of her order, and in this effort and later visitations she made long journeys through nearly all the provinces of Spain. Of these she gives a description in her "Libro de las Fundaciones." Between 1567 and 1571, reform convents were established at Medina del Campo, Malagon, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes.
As part of her original patent, Teresa was given permission to set up two houses for men who wished to adopt the reforms; she convinced John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus to help with this. They founded the first convent of Discalced Carmelite Brethren in November 1568 at Duruello. Another friend, Gerónimo Gracian, Carmelite visitator of the older observance of Andalusia and apostolic commissioner, and later provincial of the Teresian reforms, gave her powerful support in founding convents at Segovia (1571), Beas de Segura (1574), Seville (1575), and Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia, 1576), while the deeply mystical John, by his power as teacher and preacher, promoted the inner life of the movement.
In 1576 a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the "definitors" of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned her to voluntary retirement to one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph's at Toledo. Her friends and subordinates were subjected to greater trials.
Finally, after several years her pleadings by letter with King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the processes before the inquisition against her, Gracian, and others were dropped, which allowed the reform to continue. A brief of Pope Gregory XIII allowed a special provincial for the younger branch of the discalced nuns, and a royal rescript created a protective board of four assessors for the reform.
During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded convents at Villanueva de la Jara in northern Andalusia (1580), Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Burgos, and Granada (1582). In total seventeen convents, all but one founded by her, and as many men's cloisters were due to her reform activity of twenty years.
Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of October 5–14 from the calendar. She died either before midnight of October 4 or early in the morning of October 15, which is celebrated as her feast day. Her last words were: "My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another."
In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. The Cortes exalted her to patroness of Spain in 1617, and the University of Salamanca previously conferred the title Doctor ecclesiae with a diploma. The title is Latin for Doctor of the Church, but is distinct from the papal honor of Doctor of the Church, which is always conferred posthumously and was finally bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI in 1970 along with Saint Catherine of Siena making them the first women to be awarded the distinction. Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. The mysticism in her works exerted a formative influence upon many theologians of the following centuries, such as Francis of Sales, Fénelon, and the Port-Royalists[disambiguation needed].
The kernel of Teresa's mystical thought throughout all her writings is the ascent of the soul in four stages (The Autobiography Chs. 10-22):
The first, or "mental prayer", is that of devout contemplation or concentration, the withdrawal of the soul from without and specially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence (Autobiography 11.20).
The second is the "prayer of quiet", in which at least the human will is lost in that of God by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given of God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).
The "devotion of union" is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, a conscious rapture in the love of God.
The fourth is the "devotion of ecstasy or rapture," a passive state, in which the consciousness of being in the body disappears (2 Corinthians 12:2-3). Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, intermitted sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. From this the subject awakens in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, productive of the trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion (The Interior Castle St Teresa Of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr.)
Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology is unique. In all her writings on this subject she deals with her personal experiences, which a deep insight and analytical gifts enabled her to explain clearly. Her definition was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us."
Throughout her writings, persistent metaphors provide a vivid illustration of the image of mystic prayer as watering a garden.
Teresa's writings, produced for didactic purposes, stand among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church:
- The "Autobiography," written before 1567, under the direction of her confessor, Fr Pedro Ibáñez;
- " El Camino de Perfección", written also before 1567, at the direction of her confessor;
- "Meditations on Song of Songs", 1567, written nominally for her daughters at the convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
- "El Castillo Interior", written in 1577;
- "Relaciones", an extension of the autobiography giving her inner and outer experiences in epistolary form.
- Two smaller works are the "Conceptos del Amor" ("Concepts of Love") and "Exclamaciones". In addition, there are "Las Cartas" (Saragossa, 1671), or her correspondence, of which there are 342 extant letters and 87 fragments of others. St Teresa's prose is marked by an unaffected grace, an ornate neatness, and charming power of expression, together placing her in the front rank of Spanish prose writers; and her rare poems ("Todas las poesías", Munster, 1854) are distinguished for tenderness of feeling and rhythm of thought.
I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
— St Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila, 
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
— Teresa of Ávila
Saint Teresa and Infant Jesus of Prague 
Though there are no written historical accounts proving that Teresa of Avila ever owned the Infant Jesus of Prague statue, according to a pious legend Teresa once owned the statue and gave it to a noblewoman travelling to Prague.
It is known that Teresa always did carry a portable statue of the Child Jesus wherever she went; she is so portrayed in the 1984 Teresa de Jesús (film), and shown in the movie protecting this infant statue in her many calamitous travels. In some scenes, the other religious sisters take turn in changing its vestments. The devotion to the child-Jesus spread quickly in Spain, possibly due to her mystical visions.
In the 1620s Spain debated who should be the country's patron- the current patron Saint James Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-slayer) or a combination of him and the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Ávila. Teresa's promoters said Spain faced new challenges, especially the threat of Protestantism, and the declining society at home and needed a modern patron saint who understood these problems and could lead the Spanish nation back. Santiago's supporters ("santiaguistas") fought back viciously and won the day, but Teresa of Avila remained far more popular at the local level.
- A biography of Saint Teresa was written by Marcelle Auclair (available in English, written originally in French)
- "St. Teresa" was painted in 1819–20 by François Gérard, a French neoclassical painter.
- Saint Teresa was the inspiration for one of Bernini's most famous sculptures, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
- Simone de Beauvoir singles out Teresa as a woman who lived her life for herself (perhaps the only woman to do so) in her book The Second Sex.
- Saint Teresa is the subject of the song "Theresa's Sound World " by Sonic Youth off the 1992 albulm "Dirty", lyrics by Thurston Moore.
- Saint Teresa features prominently in Joan Osborne's song with the same name.
- She is a principal character of the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by the composer Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein.
- She is mentioned prominently in Kathryn Harrison's novel Poison. The main character, Francisca De Luarca, is fascinated by her life.
- R. A. Lafferty was strongly inspired by El Castillo Interior when he wrote his novel Fourth Mansions. Quotations from St. Teresa's work are frequently used as chapter headings.
- Pierre Klossowski prominently features Saint Teresa of Ávila in his metaphysical novel Baphomet.
- George Eliot compared Dorothea Brooke to St. Teresa in Middlemarch (1871–1872) and wrote briefly about the life and works of St. Teresa in the "Prelude" to the novel.
- Thomas Hardy took St Teresa as the inspiration for much of the characterisation of the heroine, Tess (Teresa) Durbeyfield, in Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), most notably the scene in which she lies in a field and senses her soul ecstatically above her.
- The contemporary poet Jorie Graham features Saint Teresa in the poem Breakdancing in her volume The End of Beauty.
- Paz Vega stars as Teresa in Teresa, el cuerpo de Cristo, a 2007 Spanish biopic directed by Ray Loriga.
- Barbara Mujica's novel Sister Teresa, while not strictly hagiographical, is based upon Teresa's life.
- St. Teresa was the subject of a 1959 play, "La Madre"; she was portrayed by actress Kate Wilkinson.
- Performance artist Linda Montano has cited Teresa of Ávila as one of the most important influences on her work and since her return to Catholicism in the 2000s has done performances of her life.
- Concha Velasco portrays Teresa in Teresa de Jesús (film), a 1984 television miniseries directed by Josefina Molina.
- Timothy Findley's 1999 novel Pilgrim features St. Teresa as a minor character.
See also 
- Visions of Jesus and Mary
- Saints and levitation
- Carmelite Rule of St. Albert
- Book of the First Monks
- Constitutions of the Carmelite Order
- Byzantine Discalced Carmelites
- Spanish Renaissance literature
- Asín on mystical analogies in St. Teresa of Avila and Islam
- Mental prayer
- Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites
- Teresa de Jesús, 1984 Spanish language mini-series
- At some hour of the night between October 4 and October 15, 1582, the night of the transition in Spain from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar
- Notable Lutheran Saints
- The Church Calendar
- Church of England calendar of "Holy Days"
- "Holy Men and Holy Women"
- Medwick, Cathleen, Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul
- St. Teresa of Avila at CNA
- Teresa wrote that it must be a cherub (Deben ser los que llaman cherubines), but Fr. Domingo Báñez wrote in the margin that it seemed more like a seraph (mas parece de los que se llaman seraphis), an identification that most editors have followed. Santa Teresa de Ávila. "Libro de su vida". Escritos de Santa Teresa.
- Reform of St. Teresa of Avila
- 2000 Years of Prayer by Michael Counsell 2004 ISBN 978-1-85311-623-0 page 207
- Catechism para. 2709
- Pedro Ibáñez, "La Vida de la Santa Madre Teresa de Jesús", Madrid, 1882; English translation, The Life of S. Teresa of Jesus, London, 1888.
- "El Camino de Perfección", Salamanca, 1589; English translation, "The Way of Perfection", London, 1852.
- "El Castillo Interior," English translation, "The Interior Castle," London, 1852, comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the seven heavens.
- Bielecki, pp 238-241
- Teresa of Avila, 2008 Life of St. Teresa of Jesus ISBN 978-1-60680-041-6 page 246
- Teresa of Avila. Let Nothing Disturb You: A Journey to the Center of the Soul with Teresa of Avila. Editor John Kirvan. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-87793-570-4
- Howell, James C. (2009). Introducing Christianity : exploring the Bible, faith, and life (1st ed. ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 151. ISBN 9780664232979.
- "The Journey with Jesus: Poems and Prayers". Retrieved 6 December 2012.
- Infant Jesus of Prague
- DEVOTIONS & PRAYERS: Infant of Prague
- Infant Jesus of Prague » Saints.SQPN.com
- Erin Kathleen Rowe, Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain (2011)
- Auclair, Marcelle; Kathleen Pond (trans.) (1988). Saint Teresa of Avila (Reprint; Originally published: New York: Pantheon, 1953 ed.). Petersham, MA: St. Bede's Publications. ISBN 9780932506672. ISBN 0932506674, OCLC 18292197 (457 pages); French original: Auclair, Marcelle (1950). La vie de Sainte Thérèse d'Avila, la Dame Errante de Dieu. Paris, France: Éditions du Seuil. OCLC 4154440 (493 pages)
- Du Boulay, Shirley (2004). Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life. Katonah, New York: BlueBridge. ISBN 0-974-24052-4; ISBN 978-0-97424-052-7.
- Williams, Rowan (2004). Teresa of Avila. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8264-7341-7.
- Bielecki, Tessa; tr. by Mirabai Starr (2008). Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-1-59030-573-7.
- This article was originally based on the text in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.
Further reading 
- Teresa of Ávila, Way of perfection, London, 2012. limovia.net ISBN 978-1-78336-025-3
- "The Interior Castle - The Mansions," TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-604-2
- "The Way of Perfection," TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-602-8
- Teresa of Avila, "The Book of Her Life" (Translated, with Notes, by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD. Introduction by Jodi Bilinkoff). Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-87220-907-7
- "The Delighted Angel" drama about Teresa of Ávila and Rabija al-Adavija by Dževad Karahasan, Vienna-Salzburg-Klagenfurt, ARBOS 1995.
- "The Interior Castle (Edited by E. Allison Peers)," Doubleday, 1972. ISBN 978-0-385-03643-6
- "The Way of Perfection (Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers)," Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-06539-9
- "The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila (Translated by E. Allison Peers)," Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-01109-9
- "Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life", Shirley du Boulay, Bluebridge, 1995 ISBN 978-0-9742405-2-7
- "Teresa: Outstanding Christian Thinkers," Rowan Williams, Continuum, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8264-5081-4
- "The Eagle and the Dove" Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. by Vita Sackville-West. First published in 1943 by Michael Joseph LTD, 26 Bloomsbury Street, London, W.C.1
- "Castles in the Sand" fiction with cited sources about Teresa of Avila by Carolyn A. Greene, Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9791315-4-7
- "15 Days of Prayer with Saint Teresa of Avila" by Jean Abiven, New City Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-56548-366-8
- Bárbara Mujica, Teresa de Ávila: Lettered Woman (Nashville, Vanderbilt University Press, 2009).
- E. Rhodes, "Teresa de Jesus's Book and the Reform of the Religious Man in Sixteenth Century Spain," in Laurence Lux-Sterritt and Carmen Mangion (eds), Gender, Catholicism and Spirituality: Women and the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and Europe, 1200-1900 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011),
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- "St. Teresa, Virgin", Butler's Lives of the Saints
- Statue of St Teresa in St Peter's Basilica
- Biography Online: St Teresa of Avila
- Patron Saints: Saint Teresa of Avila
- Books written by St Teresa of Avila, including St John of the Cross
- Works by Teresa of Avila at Project Gutenberg
- Basilica of Saint Teresa in Alba de Tormes (in Spanish)
- Alba de Tormes, sepulcro de Santa Teresa - Tomb of Saint Teresa (in Spanish, YouTube)
- Convent of St Teresa in Avila
- Poems of St Teresa
- Santa Teresa: an Appreciation, 1900, by Alexander Whyte, from Project Gutenberg
- "St. Teresa of Avila". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.