A noted mystic who was not afraid to speak out her mind, even tell the Pope when she thought he was wrong.

For that, she was not always treated nicely. Because of that, she once told the Pope: "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies."

Teresa of Avila is also well known because of her writings. Her wonderful, sometimes mystic, other times quite down-to-earth prose has won her an outstanding place within Spanish literature. Not to be forgotten what it means for a woman in 16th century Europe to be aknowledged as a writer.

She has a very interesting biography. It is commonly agreed that her family was of Jewish origin, which converted to Catholicism to avoid expulsion from Spain.

"One of the things that makes me happy here is that there is no suggestion of that nonsense about my supposed sanctity."

St. Teresa of Ávila, writing from Seville

St. Teresa (1515-1582) was born Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada in Ávila, Spain. At twenty-one she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation, and progressed well there. She wrote about her mystical experiences, but did not give them any special significance early on.

In her middle age, she resolved to found a convent under the Carmelite rule in Ávila. In 1562, she founded the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St. Joseph at Avila, the first house under the Reformed or Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite rule, a reformed version of the original Carmelite rule, with St. John of the Cross. For the next twenty years she travelled all over Spain, founding a total of seventeen convents. She died on October 4, 1582 (a reform of the calendar made this October 15). Her body is preserved incorrupt in Alba, and her heart is on display for veneration. St. Teresa was beatified in 1614 by Paul V, and canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV. She was declared a Doctor of the Church.

St. Teresa combined a serious and contemplative religious life with great activity, and she recorded both in her writings. Like her co-reformed, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa's writings are easily readable and intensely personal. She does not seem to have been influenced by the Areopagite, patristic writings, or earlier mystic theologies. Like St. John's, her writings go back to her own experiences. Her most important works include:

  • The Life of St. Teresa of Avila by Herself: one of the greatest prose classics in the Spanish language, most widely read only after Cervantes' Don Quixote. Written in a lively and interesting conversational style, it is the story of a young woman's entry into the religious life, and of her conversion beginning in middle age. It is full of visions and weird states of consciousness, and analyses of them. She herself states in the Life that she wrote at the request of her confessors, who required a documented account of her rare experiences as proof of her orthodoxy (remember this ocurred near the height of the Inquisition, where accusations of heresy were frequent and dangerous). However from other parts of the work we know that she also addressed the book to her close spiritual friends. The Life was an immediate success in Spain, and has continued to endure. The only autobiography I can compare this work to is the The Confessions of St. Augustine.
  • the Way of Perfection: this book, intended for the instruction of her nuns, follows the same ideas set forth in her Life and in The Interior Castle.
  • the Book of Foundations: in which St. Teresa tells the story of her founding of the first convents in the Discalced Carmelite rule, her meeting of St. John of the Cross, and the establishment of the reform among the friars. She often met with great hardship and violent opposition, but in every instance assistance from above guided her. She never found a lack of generous souls willing to live under the harsh conditions of the rule.
  • The Interior Castle: in this work, St. Teresa takes a less personal approach to mystical theology. As a gifted writer, she enters the role of teacher to help the reader to God.
The feast day of St. Teresa of Ávila is October 15. She is the patron saint of: bodily ills, headaches, lacemakers, laceworkers, loss of parents, opposition of Church authorities, people in need of grace, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, sick people, sickness, and Spain.

Isn't it cool that there is a patron saint for "Opposition of Church authorities"!!!

The prayer by St. Teresa is:

O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in "wedding garments." Amen.
The prayer to St. Teresa is:
Dear wonderful Saint, model of fidelity to vows, you gladly carried a heavy cross following in the steps of Christ who chose to be crucified for us. You realized that God, like a merciful Father, chastises those whom he loves - which to worldlings seems silly indeed. Grant to {name of sufferer} relief from grant pains, if this is in line with God's plans.

An additional note from the Catholic Encyclopedia

A word must be added on the orthography of her name. It has of late become the fashion to write her name Teresa or Teresia, without "h", not only in Spanish and Italian, where the "h" could have no place, but also in French, German, and Latin, which ought to preserve the etymological spelling. As it is derived from a Greek name, Tharasia, the saintly wife of St. Paulinus of Nola, it should be written Theresia in German and Latin, and Thérèse in French.

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