St. Teresa of Avila

Theresa, Saint ( (Theresa of Ávila))

Saint Theresa (Theresa of Ávila) (both: tĬrē´sə, –zə), 1515–82, Spanish Carmelite nun, Doctor of the Church, one of the principal saints of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the greatest mystics, and a leading figure in the Counter Reformation.

Life

Her original name was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, and her chosen name as a nun was Theresa of Jesus. She came of a well-to-do noble family. She entered the Carmelite order (possibly in 1536). Much later she underwent (c.1555) a "second conversion," after which she experienced mystic visions. She had entertained a desire to found a house of reformed Carmelites (the Discalced, or Barefoot, Carmelites, living in strict observance of the rule) long before she had the opportunity in 1562 to found the Convent of St. Joseph in Ávila. Other foundations were made, and in the busy years that followed she traveled much to the various houses. She also founded convents of friars, having as her collaborator another great mystic, St. John of the Cross.

St. Theresa combined intense practicality with the most rarefied spirituality. She was an excellent and tireless manager, waging a long and ultimately successful struggle with other branches of the clergy to have the Discalced Carmelites separated from the older order and eventually founding 17 convents. The reawakening of religious fervor that she brought about in Spain was astonishing. Soon after her death the movement spread beyond Spain and across Christendom, having a profound effect on the Counter Reformation. She brought mysticism and its fruits to the common person. She was canonized in 1622. Feast: Oct. 15.

Literary Works

The writings of St. Theresa have gained a steadily widening audience from the 16th cent. to the present; in 1970 Pope Paul VI named St. Theresa a Doctor of the Church, the first woman so honored. The Castilian in which St. Theresa wrote stems from common speech, and the imagery is rich but simple. Candor and overflowing spiritual strength lend a greater beauty to the sometimes terse, sometimes discursive expressions. Her works were dominated by love of God and characterized by humor, intelligence, and common sense.

The Life (written 1562–65) is a spiritual autobiography written for her confessors and containing not only the record of her progress in mysticism but also short treatises on prayer and vision; editions usually include the supplementary Relations, short pieces written for the same purpose as the Life. Her Way of Perfection was written after 1565 to supply her nuns worthy instruction on prayer; it is still found very useful by the religious and by layreaders. In Interior Castle (written in 1577) she gives a glowing and powerful picture of the contemplative life. The Foundations (written 1573–82) is an account of the launching of her order.

Her letters—brisk, vigorous, full of wisdom and humor—are much loved. She also wrote shorter pieces—Exclamations of the Soul to God (1569), rhapsodic meditations; a commentary on the mystic significance of the Song of Solomon; the Constitutions, for the Discalced Carmelite nuns; and Method for the Visitation of Convents of Discalced Nuns. There have been several translations of her writings, including E. Allison Peers (3 vol., 1957).

Bibliography

See biographies by H. A. Hatzfeld (1969), E. A. Peers (1945, repr. 1973), and C. Medwick (1999); studies by E. W. T. Dickens (1963) and R. T. Petersson (1970).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila
E. Allison Peers; E. Allison Peers.
Image Books, 1960
Religious Experience, Justification, and History
Matthew C. Bagger.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Loves Noble Historie: Teresa of Avila's Mystical Theology"
Between Exaltation and Infamy: Female Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain
Stephen Halixzer.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of St. Teresa of Avila in multiple chapters
Writing Anxiety in Teresa's 'Interior Castle.'
Walsh, Terrance G.
Theological Studies, Vol. 56, No. 2, June 1995
Renaissance Lives: Portraits of An Age
Theodore K. Rabb.
Basic Books, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Teresa of Avila" begins on p. 96
The Mystics of Spain
E. Allison Peers.
George Allen & Unwin, 1951
Librarian’s tip: "St. Teresa of Jesus, 1515-1582" begins on p. 80
Two Worlds Are Ours: An Introduction to Christian Mysticism
John Macquarrie.
Fortress Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Some Spanish Mystics: Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross"
Philosophers and Religious Leaders
Christian D. Von Dehsen.
Oryx Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of St. Teresa of Avila begins on p. 183
Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians
Patrick W. Carey; Joseph T. Lienhard.
Greenwood Press, 2000
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