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Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD
St. Teresa of Avila chronicled her life and her work as a foundress in two of her pivotal books, the Life and the Foundations. Despite the openness and candor she shows in both, Teresa was also looking over her shoulder, knowing they would be read by the Inquisition’s censors (and what a “critical review” might mean!)
But her letters are another case entirely. This was intimate personal correspondence, never intended for the public. In her letters we discover Teresa at her most human, sharing her joys and sorrows, troubles and triumphs. Here we have la Madre as she was: engaging, humorous and loving, diplomatic and outspoken. She suggests health remedies (and asks for some), weighs in on the suitability of postulants for her Carmels, and offers practical (and not always welcome) advice for her nuns, her relatives, and friends. She knows how to be politely politically correct in dealing with clergy and nobility, and with others can be tender and complaining, funny, and scolding.
The letters we have are just a small sampling of the thousands we know Teresa wrote. But this rich collection shows us the woman, foundress and mystic opening her heart and mind to dozens of people who were pivotal players both in Spanish society and to the work of her Carmelite reform: family members, religious, friends, advisors, theologians, the nobility and business people.
It’s said that the best way to really know a person is to read their correspondence. Teresa’s hundreds of extant letters open an intimate window into her mind and heart.