The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself

Synopsis

Born in the Castilian town of Avila in 1515, Teresa entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation when she was 21. Tormented by illness, doubts and self-recrimination she gradually came to recognize the power of prayer and contemplation. This frank account is one of the great stories of a religious life.

Excerpt

The autobiography of Santa Teresa is the story of a most remarkable woman's entry into the religious life, and at the same time a literary masterpiece that is, after Don Quixote, the most widely read prose classic of Spain. It is a piece of candid self-revelation, written in the liveliest and most unforced conversational prose. The saint herself states that it was composed in the first place at the request of her confessors, who required some account of her rare experiences to be circulated among those religious of a like bent, and who needed it also, in a day when accusations of heresy were frequent, as proof positive of her complete orthodoxy and utter obedience to the teachings and dictates of the Church. But although she herself protests that she lacked the time and leisure for her unwelcome task, and that she would have been better employed spinning or doing the household work in her poor convent, she was undoubtedly a born writer to whom words came freely and fast, and who took a craftsman's delight in them.

The book as we have it gives an account of Teresa's life up to her fiftieth year, 1565, but it was certainly begun some seven or eight years before the date when it was asked for by her confessors, and was addressed in the first place to those four close spiritual friends whom she mentions in Chapter 16 as her fellow members of 'the Five'. Much of it was, in fact, written at Toledo, during the time that Teresa spent there as the guest of the wealthy Doña Luisa de la Cerda, about whom she tells us in Chapter 34. In its complete form, however, it first began to pass from hand to hand at the beginning of 1565, and soon Father Bañez, the saint's confessor at the time and her firm ally and friend, was reproaching her for putting it about rather too freely. He realized, however, that the fault was not hers. Fashionable Spain was extremely interested in this active and forthright reformer of convents.

Much of the book's immediate success was the result of its sheer good writing. Teresa's thoughts seem naturally to clothe themselves in simple, direct, and picturesque language. Even when she is describing a difficult state of conscience or a very rare supernatural experience, she never fails to find the right homely words, the simple everyday metaphors, that will make it clear to readers whose life has never risen to such levels. Her language flows, as does that of Cervantes, like good talk; and she shares with Cervantes also a taste for proverbs and pithy country sayings. Teresa was a woman of little reading. The Imitation of Christ and Saint Augustine's Confessions were two of the few books that she knew well. In her youth, as she tells us, she had been fond also of the romances of chivalry . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.