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Saint Teresa of Avila - The Plan of Her Book

Saint Teresa of Avila - The Plan of Her Book 0

Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila - The Nature of Her Book

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

The Plan of Her Book

Teresa's book, resembling a long letter, contained no pauses, divisions, intermediate titles, or any initial title. When she tried to divide the work into chapters and add chapter headings she met with unsurprising difficulty. According to the custom of the times each heading had to be a summary of the material covering the ten or twelve folios the chapter comprised, obliging her to figure out the common denominators, central themes, and, bookish formulas that her digressions and letter-writing tone would allow. She rarely succeeded, but limited herself to suggesting the general idea of what was being discussed, and then often adding, with engaging simplicity, a few words of praise for what is written, or an ingenuous exhortation to read and allow oneself to be convinced.

With all this in mind, one supposes that the final result would have to be a jumble of themes, held only loosely together by the thread of her personal story. The supposition proves false. Amazingly enough, the structural plan results in a remarkable unity, developed with sharp, impeccable logic, and articulated in four sections expertly joined and almost equal in length. By combining the basic outline with a summary of the contents the following guide can be constructed.

  1. She starts off by telling how from a very early age she began to receive God's abundant grace. She was introduced to the path of prayer and, in her early twenties, even led to some initial experience in mystical prayer. Though she repeatedly frustrated God's work, even to the point of abandoning prayer and the interior life, His mercy was finally victorious over her own sorry state. When, in the end, she surrendered more totally to His grace, God began His admirable and more immediate work within her soul (chaps. 1-10).
  2. So wonderful was this work that she finds it necessary, in order that it be understood, to present a detailed exposition of prayer, its nature, degrees, and effects. She goes about this task with the help of an allegory, that of four different ways of watering a garden: using buckets of water drawn from a well, the equal of meditation; using a bucket-type water wheel that has to be turned by hand, the equivalent of the prayer of recollection and quiet; diverting a stream along irrigation ditches, equal to the prayer of the sleep of the faculties; and allowing the garden to be watered with rain from heaven, the equivalent of the prayer of union (chaps. 11-22).
  3. From the detailed exposition of those forms of prayer the reader understands more easily how the latter ways of watering were accomplished in the soul of Teresa; how the Lord purified her, flooded her with grace, allowed her to perceive His divine presence, hear His voice, penetrate the mysterious abyss of His trinitarian life, and come into contact with the most varied realities of the supernatural world. Throughout the pages of her book a steady series of rare and wonderful things is set before our minds: ecstasies, visions, locutions from God, transpiercing of the soul, infused love of the purest and strongest kind, new wisdom, the flowering of sturdy virtues, premonitions of a probable death of love, and foretastes of beatific life (chaps. 23-31).
  4. A practical result of this outpouring of divine grace is the fruitfulness of her life of service. She observes that in the earlier period of her spiritual life only three persons, in the course of many years, profited from what she said to them. Later when she had been strengthened through God's favors, many profited within two or three years (ch. 13, 9). In Carmel itself, through the foundation of St. Joseph's she inaugurated a new, more contemplative lifestyle that stressed divine intimacy and was to spread throughout the entire world, serving as yeast, reminding all that if they seek resolutely through prayer the things that are above, they will soon enjoy the possession of perfect love, a blessing more precious than any earthly thing (ch. 11, 1-2).

She begins, furthermore, to live with surprising intensity the mystery of the communion of saints. She deals on familiar terms with the saints in heaven. Her prayer bears special efficacy for those in purgatory as well as for those on earth; it also gives her dominion over demons (chaps. 32-40).

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.

Saint Teresa of Avila - The Nature of Her Book

Saint Teresa of Avila - The Nature of Her Book 0

Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila - On The Book of Her Life

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

The Nature of Her Book

Although usually referred to as such, Teresa's book is not an autobiography; nor is it an intimate diary. What she deals with mainly are the supernatural (infused or mystical) realities of the interior life. Nonetheless, she does make use of autobiographical material as a backdrop against which she treats of the existence and value of the favors of God. The fragmentary and scattered biographical data comprise two levels, one exterior, the other interior. The difference between these two levels runs much deeper than any met with in everyday autobiographies. The exterior level deals with the historical facts; it is a personal chronicle limited in value. The interior level deals almost exclusively with the mystical facts, facts that by reason of their quality and depth lie beyond the layers of ordinary inner life, beyond the purely historical, and beyond the usual ways in which the psyche functions. It embraces higher states of consciousness, passive perception and love, relations with the transcendent God, intensification of the life of the spirit.

The evident preponderance of interior facts does not, however, prevent an interweaving of both levels that results in the ingenious plan of the book. As for the exterior events of her Life, the first part, 1515-1535, consists of twenty years of family life; the next twenty-seven years, 1535-1562, comprise her Carmelite life in the monastery of the Incarnation; the final period includes three years, 1562-1565, of her life at St. Joseph's, those initial years in her newly established form of Carmelite life, the expansion of which was to become her mission until her death in 1582.

As for the interior events, her life was by and large of an ascetical type until her conversion experience in 1554 (ch. 9, 1, 8). For the next two years or so she experienced the first inpouring of mystical graces: feelings of God's presence, passive recollection and quiet, and the first tastes of union (ch. 9, 9; 10, 1). About 1557 she received her first locution and rapture (ch. 19, 9; 25, 5). From the following year until 1560 she had to resist persistently, in obedience to her confessor, the locutions and raptures (ch. 25, 1, 15; 27, 2). In June, 1560, she had her first intellectual vision of the humanity of Christ (ch. 7, 2). In January, 1561, the sacred humanity in its risen form, was represented to her in an imaginative vision (ch. 28, 3). For two and a half years, 1561-1563, she frequently received this favor (ch. 29, 2). But then, "for over three years now," 1563-1565, "he has continually replaced this favor with another more sublime" (ch. 29, 2). This other more sublime favor belongs to the state she was in at the time of the writing of her book. It was a period of vehement impulses of love, spiritual wounds of love and the transpiercing of the soul. "You can't exaggerate or describe the way in which God wounds the soul and the extreme pain this wound produces, for it causes the soul to forget itself. Yet this pain is so delightful that there is no other pleasure in life that gives greater happiness" (ch. 29, 10). It feels that the only remedy for this painful sickness is death.

Before adding the final touches to her work, Teresa was raised to a still higher form of mystical experience. It is an experience, she teaches, that comes much later than all the visions and revelations she spoke of. The soul is lifted far above itself and brought into a vast solitude in which it experiences intense spiritual pain. Just as the powerful spiritual joy of union and rapture suspends the faculties, so in this form of prayer it is pain that suspends them. "Who could give a good explanation of this prayer. ... It is what my soul is now always experiencing. Usually when unoccupied it is placed in the midst of these anxious longings for death; and when it sees they are beginning, it fears that it will not die. But once in the midst of them, it would desire to spend the remainder of its life in this suffering, even though the suffering is so excessive a person cannot endure it. ... I sometimes really think that if this prayer continues as it does now, the Lord would be served if my life came to an end, ... I am oblivious of everything in that anxious longing to see God; that desert and solitude seem to the soul better than all the companionship of the world. If anything could give the soul consolation, it would be to speak to someone who had suffered this torment" (ch. 20, 12-13). This painful spiritual fire never produced the death and subsequent vision of God she longed for. But what is worth pointing out is that the definitive work on her Life poured from her pen while she was at this particular milestone of her spiritual journey. In later works she speaks of a further deepening of her union with God, of a more gentle, peaceful fire in which the soul feels that it already enjoys the possession of God, although not the fruition, in which it goes about so forgetful of self that it thinks it has partly lost its being.

In giving personal testimony of her own experience, Teresa proceeds from her particular case to what can be said on a universal plane. In addition to a personal testimony, then, we have a teaching suitable for all. In giving her testimony she examines her conscience and analyzes her spiritual life, making an extraordinary effort to explain herself, and this truthfully and with simplicity. She tells of both sins and favors -- "good things and bad." With the favors preponderating over the sins the balance between these two constitutive elements of her account is broken. Although this is partly due to the fact that in her story the mystical element did prevail over the ascetical, there is, nonetheless, the added factor that the real object of her testimony is the supernatural; to witness to the existence and the value of these realities of her inner life and to affirm their excellence and importance on a universal plane. The resultant intermingling of testimony and doctrine is a characteristic of Teresa's method of teaching. Never does she attempt to camouflage her ignorance nor does she need to. She frankly admits the problem she has with explaining herself clearly in writing; that she doesn't know the precise terminology; that she doesn't know philosophy and theology. Nor does she even have for her use so much as a Bible. Irrespective of her lack of means she has certitude, the certitude of incontestable experience. "I know through experience that what I say is true" (ch. 27, 11). A certitude that would not cower before renowned theologians. "The mystery of the Blessed Trinity and other sublime things are so explained that there is no theologian with whom it [the soul] would not dispute in favor of the truth of these grandeurs" (ch. 27, 9).

Not all possess the charism to speak of the unutterable mystical experience, the grace of speech as Thomas Aquinas calls it (S. Th. 2-2, q.177, a.1-2). The Lord gave her his gift only after she had experienced years of stammering and powerlessness. By God's gift not only were her spoken words imbued with unction but her written ones were as well. Those who knew her testified that reading her words was like hearing her talk; the effect was the same, her manner of writing being the equivalent of her way of conversing. She herself was definitely aware of the divine source from which some of the pages flowed. "Many of the things I write about here do not come from my own head, but my heavenly Master tells them to me" (ch. 39, 8). She cherished her spiritual books and doesn't deny the debt contracted from some of them. But, though she thought she was understanding something of what she read in them, she later realized "that if the Lord didn't show me, I was able to learn little from books, because there was nothing I understood until His Majesty gave me understanding through experience" (ch. 22, 3). Often in setting about to describe a particular mystical state she begins to experience the very prayer she wants to describe. "I believe that on account of the humility your Reverence has shown in desiring to be helped by as simple-minded a person as myself, the Lord today after Communion granted me this prayer; and interrupting my thanksgiving, He put before me these comparisons, taught me the manner of explaining it, and what the soul must do here" (ch. 16, 2). Sometimes the force of the infused love welling up within her leaves a striking mark on what she writes. "Since while I write this I am not freed from such holy, heavenly madness coming from Your goodness and mercy -- for You grant this favor without any merits on my part at all -- either desire, my King, I beseech You, that all to whom I speak become mad from Your love, or do not permit that I speak to anyone!" (ch. 16, 4). She longs to attract souls to the practice of prayer and encourages them to persevere: longs that others be afflicted with her madness, and sick with her sickness (ch. 19, 4; 16, 6).

Where did Teresa discover her message? In the story of her own life. There she found the lessons she must write about, the practical doctrine she thought could be helpful to all who might read her work. Unconcerned about abstract notions, conceptualizations, systems of thought, or articulated outlines, she preferred to tell her story and teach her doctrine without any literary artifices or aids.

Continue Reading: Saint Teresa of Avila - The Plan of Her Book

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.

Saint Teresa of Avila - On <i>The Book of Her Life</i>

Saint Teresa of Avila - On The Book of Her Life 0

Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila - Her First Spiritual Directors

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

On The Book of Her Life

At the time Teresa took up her pen to begin The Book of Her Life she was approaching fifty and had been experiencing a steady flow of mystical grace for close to ten years. She was obliged, finally, to report in writing her unusual and sometimes disconcerting experiences so as to submit all to the judgment of professionals. She did not at once meet with the best of fortune. Neither Salcedo nor Daza were prepared to deal with anything of this kind and depth. Fearful about her experiences, as was mentioned, they obliged her to go from one counselor to another, Jesuit as well as Dominican. These counselors, in turn, asked for detailed written information.

The painful difficulty for Teresa was that, though she could give a report in word and writing of her sins, the mystical life she was experiencing stubbornly resisted all her attempts to describe it. Her final resort was Laredo'sAscent of Mount Sion, in which she underlined and marked passages that seemed to be telling of something similar to her own experiences. "For a long time, even though God favored me, I didn't know what words to use to explain His favors: and this was no small trial" (ch. 12, 6). To give an adequate explanation of what she was experiencing she still needed other graces. "For it is one grace," she later discovered, "to receive the Lord's favor; another, to understand which favor and grace it is; a third, to know how to describe it" (ch. 17, 5).

Still extant among Teresa's writings are some accounts of her spiritual state written before she wrote her Life. These are the first two of her Spiritual Testimonies. It was García de Toledo, the one most eager, it seems from what she says of him, to know all he could about her, who told her to write a more extended and detailed report of her whole spiritual life and not just of her actual state.

In the wealthy, somewhat peaceful surroundings of the palace of Doña Luisa de la Cerda, where she had been staying, at this noble lady's request and by order of her provincial, Teresa set her mind to the task of putting her story on paper. Satisfied with her first draft, without dividing her work into paragraphs or chapters, she presented the finished product to Fr. García in June, 1562, before returning to Avila. The manuscript read more like a long letter, in which she frequently addressed the person for whom she wrote, carried on a dialogue with him, made appeals to his theological competence, and so on.

Unfortunately, the first draft of her Life has been lost. The learned Dominican priest did however read that composition, making some observations about certain phrases that seemed too strongly worded. He most probably shared the manuscript with some who were close friends, such as Ibáñez, and then returned it to its author with the request, again with his customary eagerness for further details, that she not only transcribe it but add an additional section on the foundation of St. Joseph's in Avila. This request, which Teresa ascribes to her confessors, reached her at the end of 1563, when she had been given verbal permission to reside in her new foundation -- or perhaps later, after the year 1564 had begun. The second draft must have been written somewhat quickly amid the tranquil contemplative life of religious observance that was followed in her new monastery, in a cell stark for its poverty, without any comforts, without even a table or chair.

The revisions she made were not all minor ones. Anxious to make matters clear and herself understood, she added eleven new chapters (from chapters 11 to 22 inclusive) in which, using the allegory of the four ways of watering a garden, she composed a complete little treatise on the degrees of prayer. She added, as well, the requested account of the foundation of St. Joseph's (chapters 32-36), and then tacked on four additional chapters, most gratifying we surmise to Fr. García, that tell of other extraordinary favors she received up until the end of 1565. This latter date accounts for the supposition that it was at this time she finished the book.

Continue Reading: Saint Teresa of Avila - The Nature of Her Book

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.

Saint Teresa of Avila - In the Context of Her Times

Saint Teresa of Avila - In the Context of Her Times 0

 Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila - Life at the Incarnation

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

In the Context of Her Times

Readers nowadays can not readily grasp the reason for Teresa's fears, and for those of her confessors, unless they have some notion of the spiritual movements and problems existing in Spain during the sixteenth century. Spain at that time was a world in effervescence not only politically but also spiritually. A longing for deep spirituality took hold among the people themselves and pervaded their lives, having at its center three basic characteristics: a call to the interior life; the practice of mental prayer; and strong leanings toward higher levels of the mystical life. Giving support to this spiritual rebirth was the Spanish Catholic reform initiated before the Council of Trent and championed by the militantly fervent and energetic Cardinal Cisneros. It coincided with the first half of Teresa's life. Prior to the work of Teresa there were other highly influential reform movements, those of St. John of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Benedictines, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. Newly founded printing presses offered to the people a large supply of literature on prayer and the interior life: translations from the Fathers, from the Italian, Flemish, and German schools, from Erasmus, the scholastics, the Protestants, and the humanists. The cross-fertilization of ideas that resulted from contact among these schools and movements was only to be expected.

Previously, medieval Spain had been the most tolerant land in Europe, with Christian, Mohammedan, and Jew living there side by side in peace and sometimes, in the closest friendship. But such relations did not last; in a country devoid of political unity a common faith was gradually seen to serve as a tool for binding together Castilians, Aragonese, and Catalans. In the constant interplay between politics and religion, the establishment of an Inquisition throughout Spain was seen as a convenient means to further the cause of Spanish unity, deepening the sense of common national purpose.

Now since in the Netherlands Christianity had developed a strong pietist strain, tending to stress mental prayer at the expense of forms and ceremonies, and in the Florence of Savonarola it had acquired a visionary, apocalyptic character, having an appeal to a number of Spanish Franciscans at that time in Italy, Spain was to find devotees for both these types of Christianity -- particularly among devout women, often referred to as beatas, and among Franciscans of converso origin. It was only in the early years of the sixteenth century, however, that these types began to inspire any form of religious movement. For along with a push for the reform of the ecclesial community and of individuals, they gave rise to an illuminist movement which produced excellent as well as distorted forms of spirituality. Its members were known as alumbrados.

The alumbrados linked up with the movement of Erasmus in its stress on inwardness and its reaction against the misuse of devotional practices and formalism. They later divided into groups having common trends but distinguished by certain differences. Those known as the recogidos attached highest importance to recollection. This term referred to the effort the soul makes to withdraw from and forget everything created so as to allow itself to be penetrated by the divine action. The other group, called the dejados, built its spirituality on the idea of self-abandonment.

In the course of years an evolution took place that accentuated the slightly divergent directions. The partisans of recollection were very largely of the religious orders. Their efforts were directed to building up a technique of the interior life and mental prayer for the sake of helping souls along the path to total nakedness of spirit and union with God. These partisans gradually became known as the "spiritual men," or "men of experience." Since this recollection was practiced above all among the Franciscans, it was not surprising that a Franciscan friar, named Osuna, should give the movement its definitive expression in his Third Spiritual Alphabet.

The supporters of abandonment on the other hand insisted more and more, sometimes imprudently, on the importance of interior inspiration and passivity and opposed all exterior devotion. This form was promoted particularly by the Franciscan, Isabel de la Cruz and her disciple, a layman, Pedro de Alcaraz.

The heart of the spirituality by the alumbrados is identical with that of other illuminist movements. It brings into greater focus the importance of mental prayer, contemplation, and the manifestations of mystical phenomena. In this sense, Osuna, Laredo, and Teresa herself can be considered among the alumbrados. Where there was danger, it lay in exaggeration, in an exclusivism with which these themes were proposed, and in the practical consequences of such distortions. For example, through mental prayer one acquits oneself of everything else -- works of penance, asceticism, and virtue. Furthermore, it was taught that as a means of avoiding any detriment to abandonment, recollection, or quiet, one should abstain from interior acts and exterior works, even from turning one's thoughts to Christ in His humanity. All of this, it was claimed, as well as obedience, did harm to the union contracted with God through passivity and abandonment. Once united to God through passivity and abandonment a person could not sin. As always this unqualified teaching gave rise to some depraved moral consequences. For example, in 1529 the Inquisition arrested a leading woman illuminist, Francisca Hernández. The circle this attractive woman gathered around her in Valladolid consisted of alumbrados, some of whom, it seems, freed from their qualms by such a theory, brought their spiritual companionship with her down to the level of the physical.

In addition, an unrestrained infatuation with ecstasy and other extraordinary phenomena developed. These experiences were thought of as something to be obtained at all costs. Among some noted but deceptive visionaries of the time was the stigmatic, María de Santo Domingo (1486-1524), known as the Beata of Piedrahita. Her monastery became a center of spirituality and high prayer; she herself wrote a book on prayer and contemplation. But soon the Master General of the Dominicans had to isolate her because of certain aberrations and prophetic revelations. No one in the order, with the exception of her confessor, was allowed to converse with her or administer the sacraments to her; nor was anyone allowed to speak about her prophecies, ecstasies, and raptures, except to the provincial.

Another visionary, Magdalena de la Cruz, a Poor Clare with a reputation for holiness, severe fasts, and long vigils, also bearing the stigmata, let it be known that she no longer required any food except the consecrated Host in daily Communion. In an investigation by the Inquisition she confessed to being a secret devil worshiper. Inspired by two incubuses with whom she had made a pact, she became very skillful at all sorts of legerdemain. Through her success in fooling both bishops and kings, she brought the fear of being deceived to all of Spain.

Turning its attention understandably to the activities of the alumbrados, the Inquisition condemned, in 1525, forty-eight illuminist propositions. That same year a decree was promulgated against the heresies of Luther, for the Inquisition suspected that Lutheranism and Illuminism were closely connected in that both movements emphasized internal religion at the expense of outward ceremonial. Anyone suspected of illuminist practices was quickly taken into custody, the net having been thrown wide enough to ensnare even St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was forbidden to preach for three years. Followers of Erasmus as well fell into disfavor.

The driving force behind the revolt of the Comuneros had been hatred of the foreigner and of foreign ways and ideas. Although the Comuneros were defeated, naturally enough the many ideas that inspired them lived on, defended and upheld by the more conservative members of the religious orders. If the friars who ran the Inquisition bridled at alien briefs, they also acted under the impulse of fear, a fear that in a land where heterodox views abounded new heresies might easily take root. The result was a tendency to generate a climate of mistrust and mutual suspicion, one peculiarly propitious for the informer and the spy -- victims never being informed of their accusers, and accusers often finding an ideal opportunity for the settlement of old scores. Authors even of non-theological works tended just the same to exercise a kind of self-censorship, if only to keep their writings free of anything capable of misleading the ignorant and the uneducated.

There is no reason to assume, on the other hand, that the Inquisition was the sole source of constraint. Suspicion of those who deviated from the common norm was deeply rooted in sixteenth-century Spain, even though deviation was more normal there than elsewhere. People could be suspect because of their race just as well as because of their faith. In addition to all the concern about purity of faith there was an inordinate concern about purity of blood.

Another prevalent fear in the society of Teresa's time was fear of the devil. From the fourteenth century the attention of Christians turned more and more to the devil and his powers, and fear of his forces and wiles loomed large. The measured terms and prudent skepticism with which St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century had dealt with the subject of diabolical temptations and marvels had been too readily ignored. The idea gradually grew more widespread that woman, the daughter of Eve, could serve as Satan's intermediary in order the more easily to tempt man and draw him to evil. The diabolical powers that astounded the masses made the Inquisitors feel that they were at grips with supernatural powers.

If we keep all of this in mind, it is not difficult for us to understand why the times were weighed down by distrust of mental prayer, especially that practiced by women (nuns, beatas, or "foolish women"), by suspicion of spiritual books that fostered the practice, and by an open hostility toward mystical manifestations, symptoms of a certain morbid religiosity or of Illuminism. It is not a wonder that there was skepticism and caution among Teresa's directors over her unusual experiences. Nor a wonder that Teresa herself, though she experienced certitude during the actual moments when she received these favors, began to feel doubts and fears that she might be a victim of diabolical deception. She herself testifies: "since at that time other women had fallen into serious illusions and deceptions caused by the devil, I began to be afraid. I experienced wonderful delight and sweetness ... and in addition I was aware of the greatest assurance that this delight was from God, especially when I was in prayer ... But after a little distraction I began to fear and wonder whether the devil, making me think the experience was good, wanted me to suspend the intellect ... this fear increased in such a way that it made me diligently seek out spiritual persons to consult" (ch. 23, 2). Some zealous individuals went so far as to warn her confessor to be careful of her. "I feared that I would have no one who would hear my confession, but that all would run from me" (ch. 28, 14).

Teresa came to realize in the midst of these suspicions that the safest course of action was to hide nothing from her confessor, to lay open before him the whole state of her soul and tell simply and humbly about the favors she received. She also came to the conclusion that the confessor should be learned and that she should obey. Not without some perplexity, she discovered, in turn, that when she obeyed her confessor's direction to resist the favors, they only increased (ch. 29, 7). Through her experience Teresa also acquired the ability to discern when a passive experience was not the result of the workings of God's grace. "I have so much experience now of when something is from the devil that since he at present sees that I understand him, he doesn't torment me in this way as often as he used to. He is recognized clearly by the disturbance and disquiet with which he begins, by the agitation the soul feels as long as his work lasts, by the darkness and affliction he places in the soul, and by dryness and the disinclination toward prayer or toward any good work" (ch. 30, 9).

If people can be misled and deceived by desires for God's favors in prayer, these favors in themselves are not to be disparaged, being, as they were for Teresa, a source of fortitude and strengthening in faith. The foretaste of heavenly things left her with feelings of detachment she could hardly believe after having had so much experience with her own futile efforts, and it prepared her for her mission. "By these gifts, the Lord gives us the fortitude that by our sins we are losing. If people don't have, along with a living faith, some pledge of the love God has for them, they will not desire to be despised and belittled by everyone and have all the other great virtues that the perfect possess. For our nature is so dead that we go after what we see in the present. Thus these very favors are what awaken faith and strengthen it" (ch. 10, 6).

Though Teresa feared greatly that she might by deceived by her experiences, go astray, and lose her Lord, the Inquisition was not the type of thing that could frighten her. When others approached and cautioned her with such fears, she writes: "This amused me and made me laugh ... And I said they shouldn't be afraid about these possible accusations; that it would be pretty bad for my soul if there were something in it of the sort that I should have to fear the Inquisition; that I thought if I did have something to fear I'd go myself to seek out the Inquisitors" (ch. 33, 5). What was considered the most ignominious thing that could happen to a person at that time, Teresa saw as a fortuitous opportunity to submit her spirit totally to the judgment of the Church. Any disgrace involved she did not look upon as a cause for shrinking in terror but as a chance to grow in love for her Lord. Though subsequently accused at different times before the Inquisition, she was never found guilty.

In general it can be said that where there was exaggeration, Teresa in her time was a sign of contradiction; where there were aspects of truth, she was a reconciler. Stressing throughout her life the absolute necessity of prayer and the interior life, her path was that of a devotee of Christ. She found it extremely difficult to be open to any system of mysticism that would demand setting aside the corporeal for the sake of mounting to the spiritual. Devotion to Christ in His humanity was never for her an obstacle to the most perfect contemplation. The obstacle for her was the mistaken notion that all thought of Him must be set aside; to do this, she stated, would impede "raptures and visions and other favors God grants to souls" (ch. 22, 2). She believes that in trying to rid themselves of any thought of the human Christ so as to approach the Divinity many souls do not pass beyond the prayer of union. Paintings and images of Christ, these simple means, were greatly prized and devoutly venerated by Teresa, devotion never being a roadblock for her. But when God desired to suspend all the faculties in the higher degrees of prayer -- yes, then the presence of the humanity of Christ is taken away. "Then let it be so -- gladly; blessed be such a loss that enables us to enjoy more that which it seems is lost" (ch. 22, 9). "When one is in the midst of business matters, and in times of persecution and trials, when one can't maintain so much quietude, and in other times of dryness, Christ is a very good friend because we behold Him as man and see Him with weaknesses and trials -- and He is company for us" (ch. 22, 10). Her spirited defence of friendship with and devotion to Him even in higher stages of the mystical life did not spring from any special talent she had for picturing things with her imagination. "For God didn't give me talent for discursive thought or for a profitable use of the imagination. In fact, my imagination is so dull that I never succeeded even to think about and represent in my mind -- as hard as I tried -- the humanity of the Lord" (ch. 4, 7). Frequently, as a result, in speaking of meditation she has in mind a simple quiet presence to Christ through one of His earthly mysteries. "But one should not always weary oneself in seeking these reflections but just remain there in His presence with the intellect quiet. And if we are able we should occupy ourselves in looking at Christ who is looking at us" (ch. 13, 22).

News that the sacred images of Christ and His saints were being destroyed in other parts of Christian Europe was a torment to her. Even a simple devotional object like holy water left her with the imprint of its efficacy. "The power of holy water must be great. For me there is a particular and very noticeable consolation my soul experiences upon taking it. Without a doubt my soul feels ordinarily a refreshment I wouldn't know how to explain, like an interior delight that comforts it entirely ... and I rejoice to see the power of those words recited over the water so that its difference from unblessed water becomes so great" (ch. 31, 4). On the other hand, those devotions popular in her day, especially among women, that were downright superstitious, she confesses she never cared for (ch. 6, 6).

The first two persons Teresa consulted about her experiences decided after examining her written testimony that her supernatural experiences were from the devil. Told not to remain alone, she seldom dared to stay in a room by herself during the daytime. Once, while terrified that the devil would deceive her, agitated and weary and not knowing what to do, she heard the Lord speak to her. "I was given calm together with fortitude, courage, security, quietude, and light so that in one moment I saw my soul become another" (ch. 25, 18). The words of His Majesty liberated her from the unnecessary and terrible fears of the devil with which society had burdened her. As for devils, she could then say with complete freedom: "I pay no more attention to them than to flies" (ch. 25, 20). The key element of her teaching about the devil, then, so psychologically and spiritually sound, is the utter uselessness of all fears concerning him. "I don't understand these fears, 'The devil! The devil!', when we can say 'God! God!', and make the devil tremble" (ch. 25, 22). With disapproving words she concludes this little section: "I fear those who have such great fear of the devil more than I do the devil himself, for he can't do anything to me. Whereas these others, especially if they are confessors, cause severe disturbance" (ch. 25, 22).

A deep division slowly developed in Spain between those persons Teresa refers to as learned men (theologians or intellectuals) and spiritual men (those with experience in prayer, who nowadays might be referred to as mystics or charismatics). The men of learning often scorned quietism, distrusted prayer, and spoke deprecatingly of the mystical life, especially when promoted among women. They denounced to the Inquisition books dealing with all such matters. On the other hand, the spiritual men often looked down on theologians as professionals in the letter of the law but lacking in the spirit; they grimaced at any mention of the competence of these men in spiritual matters and declared them to be inept in the business of guiding souls.

The intellectualist tendency, spearheaded by the schools of Salamanca and by Dominican theologians, was definitively assumed and imposed as the norm of the Inquisition. Two of the more notorious among the theologians were the formidable Dominican, Melchior Cano, and the Archbishop of Seville and Supreme Inquisitor, Fernando Valdés. Cano taught that the practice of mental prayer was a danger not only for the Church but for the Christian republic as well. Rather incredibly for so illustrious a theologian, he reasoned that since it is impossible to devote oneself to both the active and the contemplative life, colleges and universities would have to be suppressed, books closed, and studies annihilated if all were to dedicate themselves to prayer. As for the assertion that the practice of prayer serves for the acquisition of virtue more than any other practice does, he complained that it was ridiculous.

In 1559, Fernando Valdés published an index of forbidden books among which were included almost all books dealing with prayer; cherished spiritual books by the most renowned contemporary Spanish authors as well as translations from classic writers: St. Francis Borgia, St. John of Avila, Luis of Granada, Osuna, Tauler, Harphius, and Denis the Carthusian. Many of Teresa's favorites.

The prohibition of Francis Borgia's Obras del Cristiano, it is interesting parenthetically to note, is perhaps more easily explained in view of the anti Jesuit sentiments prevalent in the Spanish Church in the sixteenth century. Never one to make facile condemnations, Teresa, despite what others thought, felt high esteem for the Fathers of the Society, and she consulted Father Francis personally, finding him to be a wonderful help because, as she says, he was a man of experience, one who "was advancing in the favors and gifts of God" (ch. 24, 3). In her judgment the Jesuits were spiritual men, men of prayer and experience: "I see that what happened was all for my greater good, that I might get to know and deal with people as holy as are those of the Society of Jesus" (ch. 23, 3, 9, 15).

Despite the Inquisition and Melchior Cano and the index, this Carmelite nun had little doubt about the central place prayer must take. She views prayer as the source of the good things God worked in her. Turning away from prayer would be the equivalent of shutting the door on God who longs to share His life intimately with us. So her tribute to a spiritual and experienced man like St. Peter of Alcántara is glowing. And she agrees also with him that there are many more women than men to whom God grants His favors (ch. 40, 8).

Experience in prayer and prudence, she taught, were the more necessary qualifications in the spiritual direction of beginners. "I say that if these learned men do not practice prayer their learning is of little help to beginners" (ch. 13, 16). On the other hand, she cautioned that anyone experiencing favors, women especially, should consult learned men. "Let not the spiritual person," she wisely warns and reasons, "be misled by saying that learned men without prayer are unsuitable for those who practice it. ... For though some don't have experience, they don't despise the Spirit nor do they ignore it, because in Sacred Scripture, which they study, they always find the truth of the good spirit" (ch. 13, 18). Learning was of particular value, then, in the cases of those who had begun to experience God's favors. The learned man could discern if one were walking in conformity with the truths taught in Scripture. But expertise in Scripture studies doesn't make up for experience and humility; so there may be much that is baffling to the learned man. He may prove somewhat obtuse in puzzling over the infused loving experience that the psychologist William James, exploring the varieties of religious experience, apologetically but not without sarcasm refers to as an amatory flirtation between the devotee and the deity. But Teresa's source of wisdom was her Lord, and she has some motherly-sounding advice for the learned man in his quandary: "As for the rest he shouldn't kill himself or think he understands what he doesn't ... Let him not be surprised ... that the Lord makes a little old woman wiser, perhaps, in this science than he is, even though he is a very learned man" (ch. 34, 11, 12).

Teresa could not be content that men of learning be simply men of learning. She suffered too keenly because she had no one to consult who had experience of the spiritual path she was being drawn along (ch. 28, 18). Deficient in experience, those she consulted frequently disturbed and afflicted her (ch. 40, 8). It was Friar Peter of Alcántara, austere and saintly, who ultimately understood her and, through his own experience, was able to explain things, comfort, and encourage her.

With her ideal that men of learning be also men of experience, or spiritual men, Teresa managed to win the illustrious Dominican theologians García de Toledo and Pedro Ibáñez to the path of prayer. Through her charming influence, dedicating themselves earnestly to this newly discovered way, they soon themselves began to experience God's favors. Contrary to the prosaic teaching of some scholars of the time that many years of arduous asceticism were required before there could be any passivity in the spiritual life, the Lord, Teresa taught, follows no fixed time schedules. Often "the contemplation the Lord doesn't give to one in twenty years He gives to another in one" (ch. 34, 11). Instances of this fact she observed, too, in the young sisters entering the newly established monastery of St. Joseph (ch. 39, 10). Of Pedro Ibáñez, "the most learned man" in Avila, she writes: "I told him then as clearly as I could about all the visions and my manner of prayer and the great favors the Lord granted me. I begged him to consider my prayer very carefully and tell me if there was something opposed to Sacred Scripture and what he felt about it all.... For although he was very good, from then on he dedicated himself much more to prayer and withdrew to a monastery of his order where there was much solitude so that he could practice prayer better" (ch. 33, 5). When she saw him again and heard of his happiness for having done what intensified his life of prayer, she was the recipient of some of its benefits: "And I, too, was able to agree because previously he assured me and consoled me only by his learning, but now he did so also through his spiritual experiences" (ch. 33, 6). In chapter thirty-four she tells of how, when she considered the striking talents and gifts of García de Toledo, she felt an uncontrollable longing that he give himself entirely to God and of how this prayer was answered and God began to favor him.

Worth recalling is that in the Spain of that time the faithful were unable to read Scripture, unless, of course, they had knowledge of Latin, since no vernacular edition was permitted. Teresa had to turn to other spiritual books, which usually abounded with quotations from Scripture. When many spiritual books were placed on Valdés's Index, she was beside herself, wondering what to do. In the midst of her consternation she received a locution from the Lord telling her not to be sad but that He would become for her a living book. Subsequently she began to receive mystical understanding of many truths His Majesty wanted to teach her and, as a result, felt little or almost no need for books (ch. 26, 5). Because of the consequent lack of spiritual books dealing with prayer, she later wrote her own books to explain and give instructions to her new followers about the path to union with God.

Continue Reading: Saint Teresa of Avila - Her First Spiritual Directors

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.

Saint Teresa of Avila - Her First Spiritual Directors

Saint Teresa of Avila - Her First Spiritual Directors 0

Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila - In the Context of Her Times

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

Her First Spiritual Directors

The early group of censors and confessors that played a role in Teresa's story was made up of about eight persons. Francisco de Salcedo, the first whom she consulted, was a pious layman, who had been practicing mental prayer for about forty years and had diligently followed the course in theology at the College of St. Thomas for twenty years, never, it seems, being able to hear enough about the sacred science. It was he who received the first account of Teresa's life and sins, the first sketch of her future book. Salcedo, bewildered, in turn consulted the ascetical priest, Gaspar Daza. They were the two who concluded that her experiences were from the devil, and unrelentingly held to this conclusion for a number of years.

Following the suggestion of the well-intentioned Salcedo, Teresa next consulted the Jesuits. Those she approached at this time were young, little more than half her age. Diego de Cetina, the first, was twenty-four, and one year a priest. After only a couple of months he was transferred and followed by Juan de Prádanos, twenty-seven, but also only one year ordained. After serving two years as Teresa's confessor, this second was also transferred. The third, most noted, was Baltasar Alvarez, twenty-five or twenty-six, and one year ordained at the time he consented to accept the task of directing Teresa.

Perplexed and wavering in his guidance of this extraordinary woman, Alvarez was, nonetheless, heroic in standing by her, ever willing and quick to give a boost to her sagging spirits during the crucial years when everything seemed to be going wrong. But his own uncertainties lagged on and were slow to dissipate completely. Only ten years later, when he began to feel drawn himself into the mystical path of prayer, did he win total peace about the experiences of Madre Teresa. Once, years later, he laconically confided to Ribera, pointing to a large pile of books: "All those books I read in order to understand Teresa of Jesus."

In the group of Dominicans three eminent figures stand out: García de Toledo, Pedro Ibáñez, and Domingo Báñez. García de Toledo, to whom Teresa relates as to a disciple as well as to a director and confessor, and whom she calls "my father and my son," is addressed directly in the Life as though Teresa were writing him a letter. A true aristocrat, being a nephew of the Count of Oropesa and cousin of the Viceroy of Peru, it was he, most likely, who urged Teresa not to worry about going on at too much length or about getting lost in a multiplicity of details. He had held various offices within his order, including that of provincial of Peru. Having known him from some years before, Teresa met him once again in Toledo, an event she speaks of enthusiastically in chapter 34. Within a short while, through her influence and prayers, he underwent a more complete conversion to God and began to grasp, by his own deeper experiences, a great deal more about spiritual matters.

Pedro Ibáñez was a professor of theology. Little by little Teresa opened her soul to him, and he, in turn, was attracted to prayer. Her account of his death, a death that took place before she finished the second redaction of her book, provides us with a notion of the kind of person for whom she was writing initially: "His prayer had reached such a degree that at the time of his death when he wanted to avoid mental prayer because of his great weakness, he couldn't on account of his many raptures. He wrote to me a little before he died asking what he should do, because when he finished saying Mass he often went into rapture without being able to prevent it" (ch. 38, 13).

Domingo Báñez didn't appear on stage until the spring of 1562. Highly respected for his powers of mind and his doctrinal authority, he had some influence on the definitive redaction of the Life and played a part in the later history of the manuscript, giving a favorable opinion of it to the Inquisition.

Two other persons, who were a consolation and great help to Teresa, were later canonized by the Church: Francis Borgia, the Duke of Gandía, who renounced all and entered the Jesuits; and Peter of Alcántara, the Franciscan penitent and reformer.

Continue Reading: Saint Teresa of Avila - On The Book of Her Life

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.

Saint Teresa of Avila - Life at the Incarnation

Saint Teresa of Avila - Life at the Incarnation 0

Continued from Saint Teresa of Avila: The Early Years

The following selection, a brief biography of St. Teresa of Avila, is taken from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition, copyright 1987 by the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. Published by ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.

Life at the Incarnation

Recent studies have shown that at the time of Teresa's entry the Incarnation numbered among eleven Carmelite monasteries for nuns in Spain. Its canonical status lay midway between that of the sanctimoniales, those with the obligation to choir office and enclosure, and that of the beaterios, where the life resembled tertiary life. The nuns were required to recite the Divine Office but not to observe enclosure. They engaged in no outside forms of service. Some two hundred persons, including servants and nuns' relatives, were living together at the Incarnation in Teresa's days there.

Contrary to common belief, religious life at the Incarnation was austere. Days each week were set aside for fasting and abstinence; silence was carefully maintained so as to encourage the spirit of continual prayer. With many kinds of detailed, minute rubrics, the Divine Office was celebrated in solemnity and splendor. No time, however, was designated in the legislation for mental prayer -- a deficiency not without its drawbacks in what must have been a crowded monastery. Novices received instructions about the Carmelite order, its eremitical origins, its devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the prophets Elijah and Elisha. They were also trained in the practice of the intricate ceremonies used in the chanting of the Divine Office.

Oddly enough and irrespective of the Carmelite rule's exhortation to continual prayer, Teresa states that until reading Osuna's Third Spiritual Alphabet, given to her later by her uncle, she didn't know how to go about praying or being recollected. The spiritual books she mentions were by Franciscan not Carmelite authors, and she offers no clear indication of receiving instruction about mental prayer during her novitiate training.

Although Teresa's decision about her vocation had been costly, once she was inside the monastery she threw herself into the life with zest and found that it, in fact, delighted her. But shortly after her profession, which took place two years later, her health gave way once more. Authors can only speculate about the nature of this illness. Teresa herself attributes it to the food and lifestyle at the Incarnation. Some are of the opinion that she suffered a kind of nervous breakdown from the strain and tension brought on by her great hunger to please God on the one hand and the awareness of her own faults and distractions on the other. After the doctors admitted they could find no cure for her sickness, her worried father decided to bring her to Becedas for treatment by a quack, famous there for many cures. The harsh, painful methods of cure, lasting three months, only aggravated Teresa's poor condition; in fact they almost killed her. She was brought back, a pitiful sight, to Avila, where she remained an invalid and paralytic for three years -- until, as she devoutly testifies, through the intercession of her glorious father St. Joseph, she was able to walk again. But, probably as a consequence, she suffered the rest of her life from miserable health, a wide variety of illnesses. Antonio Aguiar, after his medical examination of Teresa when she was sixty-seven and nearing the end of her life, claimed that it was impossible to find the focal cause of her illnesses because her body had become a whole arsenal of ailments.

Able to get about again, Teresa next experienced a protracted period of great difficulty with prayer. She writes: "And very often, for some years, I was more anxious that the hour I had determined to spend in prayer be over than I was to remain there... and so unbearable was the sadness I felt on entering the oratory, that I had to muster up all my courage" (ch. 8, 7). According to Fr. Efrén, her most recent biographer, her difficulties amounted chiefly to a problem of technique. She didn't realize that the mind, or imagination, and feelings can wander, as St. John of the Cross points out, while the soul on a deeper level may remain quiet in a hardly perceptible contemplation. These difficulties with prayer went on for about eighteen years until she experienced before a very devotional image of the wounded Christ and again while reading from the Confessions of St. Augustine some unusually strong and efficacious feelings of compunction. On these two occasions of peak experience she learned to lose completely any trust she had in herself and place it all in His Majesty.

Compunction is a basic sentiment running through the entire Life. To the undiscerning or inexperienced, Teresa's outpourings of compunction might seem like exaggerated guilt feelings. But for Teresa, true sorrow does not disquiet, does not agitate. Her compunction consoled her; permeated with humility, it was a gift -- quiet, gentle, and in the light (ch. 30, 9). The Desert Fathers, in fact, constantly exhorted their disciples to pray for the gift of compunction, the gift of tears. These Fathers felt that when the soul was softened by this interior weeping, God would give the experience of his light; in the shadow of sorrow was to be found the spiritual joy of enlightenment. And so it was with Teresa. In addition, her feelings of compunction later became more intense through the mystical experience she had of God's transcendent majesty, and of the shabbiness of sin beside His boundless outpouring love. Spiritual humiliations preceded her spiritual exaltations. "I don't recall His ever having granted me one of the very notable favors of which I shall speak if not at a time when I was brought to nothing at the sight of my wretchedness" (ch. 22, 12).

Teresa began, then, at the time of this conversion, to experience passively and in a living way the presence of God in the center of her soul. To qualify experiences in prayer that she couldn't acquire through her own efforts but that were experienced passively Teresa often used the term "supernatural." With the onset of the supernatural another, new life began for her. "This is another, new book from here on" (ch. 23, 1).

Unfamiliar, unusual experiences started to occur, and Teresa, not yet enlightened about the stages of prayer, felt the surge of a new fear. "His Majesty began to give me the prayer of quiet very habitually -- and often, of union -- which lasted a long while. Since at that time other women had fallen into serious illusions and deceptions caused by the devil, I began to be afraid" (ch. 23, 2). The fear so increased that, she says, it made her diligently seek spiritual persons for consultations, marking the beginning of her struggles to explain her supernatural experiences. This recourse to spiritual men, and learned ones as well, led ultimately to the writing of her Life.

Continue Reading: Saint Teresa of Avila - In the Context of Her Times

This selection from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1 is offered for your personal use as an individual reader only. Please note that this material is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information, storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the publisher.