Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity

Article excerpt

Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity. By Gillian T.WAhlgren. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 1996. Pp. xi, 188. $29.95.)

The last twenty years have witnessed an explosion of scholarship on Teresa of Avila. Works by Teofanes Egido,Tomas Alvarez, Rosa Rossi, J. Mary Luti, Alison Weber, Dominque de Courcelles, and Carole Slade, just to mention a few, have taken Teresian studies well beyond the confines of uncritical hagiography and examined this fascinating writer, monastic reformer, mystic, and woman within the context of her times. In Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity Gillian Ahlgren grapples with many of these same questions, trying to "situate [Teresa's] works in their theological and ecclesiastical milieu" (p.1) and to understand her life and sanctity within"the Counter-Reformation agenda" (p. 3).

In chapter 1 Ahlgren describes the well-known history of repression of heterodoxy, censorship, and self-censorship in sixteenth-century Spain, emphasizing the backlash against the Alumbrados, or "Enlightened Ones. She notes the paradox of a society that witnessed the"proliferation of mystical literature in an age that was not hospitable to it" (p. 8).

Chapter 2 examines how Teresa developed certain "textual survival strategies" (p. 66) when confronted with inquisitorial suspicion. Ahlgren provides English translations of excerpts from Teresa's beatification and canonization proceedings and other documents, making them accessible to non-specialists. She continues in the next two chapters, attempting to show how Teresa"forge[d] a new definition of religious authority for women" (p. 68) and mounted a spirited"defense of women's right to mental prayer and spiritual authority" and of her"teachings on visions and mystical union (p. …

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