Saint Teresa of Avila - Her First Spiritual Directors
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.
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.
- Mark Leopold