Saint Teresa of Avila 

(b. 1515-d. 1582)

During the sixteenth century corruption became even more widespread when the religious enthusiasm that religious orders were found upon had been lost.  When Teresa tried to reform convents to bring the "original idea" of the church back into life, many people opposed, making it harder for her to establish them.  Not only did she face opposition for reforming convents, but  she also endured her own personal hardships as well.  One factor that took a toll in Saint Teresa's life was her health.  At a young age, she suddenly became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment.  After a close encounter with death, she finally revived after her four day coma, but she remained paralyzed in her legs for three years.  The experiences she endured would become essential in shaping the reasons that would help her to become a leader in the Catholic Church.

Known as one of the most charismatic of the Church's counter-reformation saints, Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born the daughter of a saintly father and pious mother in Avila, Spain on March 28, 1515.  After her mother's death, Teresa was sent to be educated with Augustinian nuns, but after she became ill she moved back home with her father.  She was then acquainted with the Letters of Saint Jerome from her uncle, which led her to pursue a religious life.  She was so inspired that at the age of twenty, Teresa joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila.

Although she was dedicated and devout at first, she became discouraged when she started suffering from personal issues.  These personal issues included her illness and the death of her father.  However, she led herself to reform again through intense prayer, and began to have religious experiences which she, and the priests she consulted, thought were delusions.  Two Jesuit confessors, on the other hand, thought the delusions were genuine graces, and advised her to lay a firm spiritual foundation through private prayer and the practice of virtue.  During this time, she had even more spiritual experiences.  Her confessors ordered her to write her spiritual experiences down for the practice of prayer.  This led to her writings Way of Perfection, Foundations, and The Interior Castle as a guide for all.  Her writings are intensely personal and spiritual autobiographies that are based on her own experiences and insights.  They especially focus on giving people spiritual strength and learning how to experience the discussion of prayer.  It was principally for these writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church four centuries later.

Aside from her writings, she also established convents.  She undertook the project of establishing a reformed convent that would be restored to the devotion it had in earlier times.  For this project, she faced strong opposition from several groups of people.  However, she overcame people's opinions, and in 1562, she received approval for a new foundation, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of Saint Joseph, at Avila.  She continued restoring several convents even though difficulties and opposition to the newly established reformed Discalced Carmelite foundations persisted.  

Although opposition persisted, Teresa never gave up.  Throughout her life she established seventeen foundations of the Discalced Carmelites, her last at Burgos in July, 1582.  Instead of returning to Avila from Burgos, she headed for Alba de Tormes.  What made the trip even more difficult was her health problems.  Three days after reaching Alba, she died on October 4, 1582, and was interred there.  Paul V declared her blessed on April 24, 1614, and in 1617 the Spanish parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain.  Her persistence and determination to bring the restoration of the Catholic church back into life was one of her greatest accomplishments.  In 1622, Gregory XV canonized her, making her Saint Teresa of Avila.  This achievement was so invigorating that in 1969, she became one of the first woman ever named Doctor of the Church.  The remembrance of Saint Teresa occurs every year on her feast day which is October 15th.


Annotated Bibliography

Auclair, Marcelle.  Saint Teresa of Avila.  St. Bebe's Publications, 1988.
Throughout Marcelle Auclair's life, she studied the writings of Teresa of Avila.  She was interested in Teresa because she admired the idea that she was a modern woman.  Yet, as modern as she was, her genius ideas permitted her to break through the restrictions of her time.  Auclair decided to retranslate the saintís writings and to write her life.  This book is especially personable because Auclair obtained authentic background material from the actual Carmelite cloisters in Spain for her book.  She dedicated two years of life to research for this book, and in the end it produced great results.  This book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to be fascinated with the most vivid biography of Saint Teresa of Avila. 

Dubay, Thomas.  Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer.  Ignatius Press, 1989.
Dubay focuses on the teachings on prayer of the two great doctors of the Church on prayer, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.  This book is well-documented in scriptural and historical references.  Dubay exceeds the expectations of even those who have enjoyed his other writings.  He balances the book out because he draws from both aspects on the spirituality of two great Carmelites.  These two Carmelites are different in approach, but both brilliant, and he represents this idea well in an easy to understand language.  This is probably the best overall introduction to Carmelite spirituality available in English. 

Medwick, Cathleen.  Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul.  Image, 2001.
The book effectively describes Teresa's progress in establishing convents and monasteries against political oppositions.  It does not, however, go into detail about her "spiritual experiences."   Teresa was a woman of extraordinary and intelligence and wit, yet this book seems more concerned with naming every last person she came into contact with.  The author did a tremendous amount of research to find out about people in Spain during Teresa's time, but then fails to go into detail about the people or what they did to help shape Teresa's life.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wishing to better understand what life was like for a spiritual woman in 16th century Europe whose ultimate goal was to be as close to God as possible.

Randall, Beth.  "Teresa of Avila."  <http://www.mcs.drexel.edu/~gbrandal/Illum_html/Teresa.html>  (19 December 2005).
This website strongly illuminates the life of Saint Teresa.  Not only does it contain a significant amount of information, but it also contains first hand accounts of what Saint Teresa actually said.  The quotes that are provided illustrate a greater picture of how charismatic Saint Teresa really was.  This site is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in finding primary sources as well as learning about the fabulous and desirous life of Saint Teresa of Avila.

Saint Teresa, and Otilio Rodriguez.  The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila.  Ics Pubns, 1976.
Because Teresa was not an ordinary woman, this is no ordinary autobiography.  Despite her extraordinariness, the book is written in a conversational tone, which makes her ideas easy to understand and remember.  This book sets the vibe as if she is talking to the reader personally.  She also puts forth ideas and struggles that ordinary people confront, such as not being sure if she has a calling for the religious life, wondering what God's plan for her is, and experiencing spiritual dryness.  This is inspirational for any reader because it shows them how she finds solutions to her questions.   This is a recommended book for anyone who is interested in learning what was going on inside the mind of Teresa.  It especially is recommended for people who need help in their spirituality because she outlines the different stages of prayer that exist.

"St. Teresa of Avila."  New Advent.  2003.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14515b.htm>   (19 December 2005).
This site is provided by Catholic Encyclopedia and displays a sufficient amount of information.  It starts out by providing information about her childhood, and then goes into detail with her spiritual life.  It even discusses the several different ways her name can be spelled.  This site is recommended for anyone who is interested in learning a brief summary of the life and spirituality of Saint Teresa of Avila.

"St. Teresa of Avila."  The Teresian Carmel.  Austria.  <http://www.karmel.at/eng/teresa.htm>   (19 December 2005).
This is a phenomenal website to anyone who is interested in learning about the life and religion of Saint Teresa of Avila.  It vividly describes her life, from childhood to vocation, to reforming and the foundations she created.  This site is linked off The Teresian Carmel site which goes into more detail about the Carmelites around the world.  This is extremely recommended to anyone researching the life and trials of Saint Teresa.

"Saint Teresa of Avila."  Women For Faith and Family.  <http://www.wf-f.org/StTeresaAvila.html#anchor7332638>  (19 December 2005).
This website was created by women for women.  In retrospect to Teresa's life, it contains a brief summary of Teresa's struggles and achievements.  This site is recommended when trying to find the major events that occurred in Teresa's life.  It also provides several readings from the Bible that help describe the kind of person she was.

Saint Teresa of Avila, E. Allison Peers Tr.  Interior Castle.  New York: Image, 1972.
Interior Castle is an insightful book because it enables the reader to gain a better understanding and perspective of the levels of faith toward union with God.  It was written over four centuries ago by Teresa of Avila, but reprinted again in 1972. This book is recommended for anyone who is interested in learning about the perspective of Saint Teresa's spirituality.  In the book, she describes the soul as a castle with interior mansions and in each of the mansions, there are many rooms.  The journey of the soul is toward the inner most chamber of the castle where God resides. For anyone interested in learning about their own spirituality as well, Saint Teresa describes the features and characteristics in each of these mansions. 

"Saint Teresa of Avila Virgin, Foundress: 1515-1582."  Eternal World Television Network.  <http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/AVILA.htm>  (19 December 2005).
This is a marvelous website that displays how remarkable Saint Teresa was.  It has a wide variety of information containing the life of Saint Teresa.  It also has information on who the Carmelites were and how she played a major role for the Carmelites.  It goes into explicit detail, even so far as to talking about an incident that occurred with her nephew.  The site concludes beautifully at the bottom with an Epilogue that was taken from Saint Teresa's own work, Interior Castle.

Teresa of Avila. The Way of Perfection.  Image, 1991.
Written over four centuries ago as a guide for the daughters and sisters belonging to the Carmelite Order, this instructional-type book discusses the attributes of a prayerful life.  The book is addressed to the nuns of whom she is prioress.  It is mainly intended for their use, but it also contains information for people who want a prayer-filled relationship with God.  It is undoubtedly a work deeply rooted in Catholicism.  However, Teresa's own intimate relationship with God is one to be acknowledged by all Christians.  She begins her work by laying out the requirements to begin a prayerful life, she then follows with a discussion on the vocal and mental prayer.  Throughout this book she provides guidance to all who endure the reading.

Teresa of Avila, J.M. Cohen Tr.  The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself.  London: Penguin Classics, 1988.
Rather than a history of her works and the events that determine her life, this book is more of a spiritual autobiography.  In this book, she recounts her childhood desires and the passion at a young age to be with God.  She talks of her illnesses and how she came closer to God through them with different levels of prayer.  She described how God began to speak to her more directly when she was having visions. She also talk about the opposition she faced in establishing the convents.  Throughout this book, she wanders from her main point to give her understanding of several spiritual matters.


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