Saint Teresa of Ávila, Virgin, Doctor

Luke 11:37-41

Give thanks for what you have and it will all be clean

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’


Romans 1:16-25

These people knew God and failed to honour him

I am not ashamed of the Good News: it is the power of God saving all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen!


Psalm 18(19):2-5

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God,

and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.

Day unto day takes up the story

and night unto night makes known the message.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

No speech, no word, no voice is heard

yet their span extends through all the earth,

their words to the utmost bounds of the world.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

Source: Jerusalem Bible

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Jesus and the Law

577 At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued a solemn warning in which he presented God’s law, given on Sinai during the first covenant, in light of the grace of the New Covenant:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

578 Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all embracing detail – according to his own words, down to “the least of these commandments”. He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly. On their own admission the Jews were never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the least of its precepts. This is why every year on the Day of Atonement the children of Israel ask God’s forgiveness for their transgressions of the Law. The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”

579 This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus’ time to an extreme religious zeal. This zeal, were it not to lapse into “hypocritical” casuistry, could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.

580 The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son.In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone but “upon the heart” of the Servant who becomes “a covenant to the people”, because he will “faithfully bring forth justice”. Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself “the curse of the Law” incurred by those who do not “abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them”, for his death took place to redeem them “from the transgressions under the first covenant”.

581 The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi. He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law. Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes”. In Jesus, the same Word of God that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . But I say to you. . .” With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were “making void the word of God”.

582 Going even further, Jesus perfects the dietary law, so important in Jewish daily life, by revealing its pedagogical meaning through a divine interpretation: “Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him. . . (Thus he declared all foods clean.). . . What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts. . .” In presenting with divine authority the definitive interpretation of the Law, Jesus found himself confronted by certain teachers of the Law who did not accept his interpretation of the Law, guaranteed though it was by the divine signs that accompanied it. This was the case especially with the sabbath laws, for he recalls, often with rabbinical arguments, that the sabbath rest is not violated by serving God and neighbor, which his own healings did.


Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun, author, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. Active during the Counter-Reformation, she was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of her time; the movement she initiated, later joined by Saint John of the Cross, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither she nor John were alive when the two orders separated.

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, and, on 27 September 1970, she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work The Interior Castle, are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature as well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices. She also wrote Way of Perfection.

After her death, Saint Teresa was considered a candidate to become a national patron saint in Spain. A Santero image of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo, said to have been sent with one of her brothers to Peru, was Canonically crowned by Pope John Paul II on 28 December 1989 at the Shrine of El Viejo. Pious Catholic beliefs also associate Saint Teresa with the Infant Jesus of Prague with claims of former ownership and devotion.

Early life

Teresa of Ávila was born in 1515 in Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo, was a marrano (a Jewish man who was forcibly converted to Christianity). When Teresa’s father was a child, Juan was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith, but he was able to reassume a Christian identity. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, was a successful wool merchant and one of the wealthiest men in Ávila. Her father bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society.

Previously married to Catalina del Peso y Henao with whom he had three children, in 1509, Sánchez de Cepeda married Teresa’s mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, in Gotarrendura.

Teresa’s mother was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the town, having spotted the two outside the town walls.

When Teresa was eleven years old, her mother died, leaving her grief-stricken. This prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Teresa was also enamored of popular fiction, which, at the time was primarily medieval tales of knighthood and works about caring for one’s appearance. Teresa was sent for her education to the Augustinian nuns at Ávila.

In the monastery, she suffered greatly from illness. Early in her sickness, she experienced periods of religious ecstasy through the use of the devotional book Third Spiritual Alphabet (published in 1527 and written by Francisco de Osuna). This work, following the example of similar writings of medieval mystics, consisted of directions for examinations of conscience and for spiritual self-concentration and inner contemplation (known in mystical nomenclature as oratio recollectionis or oratio mentalis). She also employed other mystical ascetic works such as the Tractatus de oratione et meditatione of Saint Peter of Alcantara, and perhaps many of those upon which Saint Ignatius of Loyola based his Spiritual Exercises—possibly the Spiritual Exercises themselves.

She claimed that, during her illness, she rose from the lowest stage, “recollection”, to the “devotions of silence” or even to the “devotions of ecstasy”, which was one of perfect union with God. During this final stage, she said she frequently experienced a rich “blessing of tears”. As the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin became clear to her, she says she came to understand the awful terror of sin and the inherent nature of original sin. She also became conscious of her own natural impotence in confronting sin and the necessity of absolute subjection to God.

Around 1556, various friends suggested that her newfound knowledge was diabolical, not divine. She began to inflict various tortures and mortifications of the flesh upon herself. But her confessor, the Jesuit Saint Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. On St. Peter’s Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ presented himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterrupted for more than two years. In another vision, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing an ineffable spiritual and bodily pain:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…

This vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini’s most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life, and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomized in the motto usually associated with her: “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.”

Activities as reformer

Teresa entered a Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila on 2 November 1535. She found herself increasingly in disharmony with the spiritual malaise prevailing at the monastery. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister—designed to protect and strengthen the spirit and practice of prayer—became so lax that it actually lost its very purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, spoiled the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vain conversations. These violations of the solitude absolutely essential to progress in genuine contemplative prayer grieved Teresa to the extent that she longed to do something.

The incentive to give outward practical expression to her inward motive was inspired in Teresa by the Franciscan priest Saint Peter of Alcantara, who became acquainted with her early in 1560 and became her spiritual guide and counselor. She resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found in the Cloister of the Incarnation and others. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds. Teresa worked for many years encouraging Spanish Jewish converts to follow Christianity.

The absolute poverty of the new monastery, established in 1562 and named St. Joseph’s (San José), at first excited a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the little house with its chapel was in peril of suppression; but powerful patrons, including the bishop himself, as well as the impression of well-secured subsistence and prosperity, turned animosity into approval.

In March 1563, when Teresa moved to the new cloister, she received the papal sanction to her prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a “Constitution”. Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation of the nun. For the first five years, Teresa remained in pious seclusion, engaged in writing.

Church window at the Convent of St Teresa

In 1567, she received a patent from the Carmelite general, Rubeo de Ravenna, to establish new houses of her order, and in this effort and later visitations she made long journeys through nearly all the provinces of Spain. Of these she gives a description in her Libro de las Fundaciones. Between 1567 and 1571, reform convents were established at Medina del Campo, Malagón, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes.

As part of her original patent, Teresa was given permission to set up two houses for men who wished to adopt the reforms; she convinced John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus to help with this. They founded the first convent of Discalced Carmelite Brethren in November 1568 at Duruello. Another friend, Jerónimo Gracián, Carmelite visitator of the older observance of Andalusia and apostolic commissioner, and later provincial of the Teresian reforms, gave her powerful support in founding convents at Segovia (1571), Beas de Segura (1574), Seville (1575), and Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia, 1576), while the deeply mystical John, by his power as teacher and preacher, promoted the inner life of the movement.

In 1576, a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the “definitors” of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned her to voluntary retirement to one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph’s at Toledo. Her friends and subordinates were subjected to greater trials.

Finally, after several years, her pleadings by letter with King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the processes before the inquisition against her, Gracian, and others were dropped, which allowed the reform to continue. A brief of Pope Gregory XIII allowed a special provincial for the younger branch of the discalced nuns, and a royal rescript created a protective board of four assessors for the reform.

During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded convents at Villanueva de la Jara in northern Andalusia (1580), Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Burgos, and Granada (1582). In total, seventeen convents, all but one founded by her, and as many men’s cloisters were due to her reform activity of twenty years.

Death and canonization

Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of 5–14 October from the calendar. She died either before midnight of 4 October or early in the morning of 15 October which is celebrated as her feast day. (According to liturgy as then in use, she died on the 15th in any case, counted from the sunset of the preceding day; 4 October, as it were, is occupied precisely on that rationale by the feast of St. Francis, who died on the evening of the 3rd. Her last words were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. The Cortes exalted her to patroness of Spain in 1617, and the University of Salamanca previously conferred the title Doctor ecclesiae with a diploma. The title is Latin for “Doctor of the Church” but is distinct from the papal honor of Doctor of the Church, which is always conferred posthumously and was finally bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI on 27 September 1970, along with Saint Catherine of Siena, making them the first women to be awarded the distinction. Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. The mysticism in her works exerted a formative influence upon many theologians of the following centuries, such as Francis of Sales, Fénelon, and the Port-Royalists.

Mysticism

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

The kernel of Teresa’s mystical thought throughout all her writings is the ascent of the soul in four stages (The Autobiography Chs. 10-22):

The first, Devotion of Heart, is mental prayer of devout concentration or contemplation. It is the withdrawal of the soul from without and especially the devout observance of the passion of Christ and penitence (Autobiography 11.20).

The second, Devotion of Peace, is where human will is surrendered to God. This is by virtue of a charismatic, supernatural state given by God, while the other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet secure from worldly distraction. While a partial distraction is due to outer performances such as repetition of prayers and writing down spiritual things, yet the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).

The third, Devotion of Union, is absorption in God. It is not only a supernatural but an essentially ecstatic state. Here there is also an absorption of the reason in God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, or a conscious rapture in the love of God.

The fourth, Devotion of Ecstasy, is where the consciousness of being in the body disappears. Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. The subject awakens from this in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, producing a trance. Indeed, she was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.

Teresa is one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology is unique. In all her writings on this subject, she deals with her personal experiences. Her deep insight and analytical gifts helped her to explain them clearly. Her definition was used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” She used a metaphor of mystic prayer as watering a garden throughout her writings.

Philosophical works

Christia Mercer, a Columbia University philosophy professor, claims that the seventeenth-century Frenchman, René Descartes, lifted some of his most influential ideas from Teresa of Ávila, who, fifty years before Descartes, wrote popular books about the role of philosophical reflection in intellectual growth. Mercer lays out her case in the journal Philosophical Studies, describing a number of striking similarities between Descartes’s seminal work Meditations on First Philosophy and Teresa’s Interior Castle.

Excerpts

Saint Teresa, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water, claiming to have used it with success to repel evil and temptations. She wrote: “I know by frequent experience that there is nothing which puts the devils to flight like holy water.”

A poem:

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing make you afraid.

All things are passing.

God alone never changes.

Patience gains all things.

If you have God you will want for nothing.

God alone suffices.

— St Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila,

The modern poem Christ has no body, though widely attributed to Teresa, is not found in her writings.

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Saint Teresa and the Infant Jesus of Prague

Though there are no written historical accounts proving that Teresa of Ávila ever owned the Infant Jesus of Prague statue, according to a pious legend, Teresa once owned the statue and gave it to a noblewoman travelling to Prague. The age of the statue dates to approximately the same era as Teresa.

It was thought that Teresa carried a portable statue of the Child Jesus wherever she went.

Contemporary history cannot confirm that the Prague image was what she was thought to have owned. Catholic pious beliefs follow the local legend, certainly already circulated by the early 1700s.

Teresa is also portrayed in the biographical 1984 film Teresa de Jesús as protecting this infant statue in her many calamitous travels. In some scenes, the other religious sisters take turn in changing its vestments. The devotion to the Child Jesus spread quickly in Spain, possibly due to her mystical visions. The Spanish nuns who established Carmel in France brought this devotion with them, and it became widespread in France. Indeed, one of Teresa’s most famous disciples, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite, herself named for Teresa, took as her religious name Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

Patron saint

In the 1620s, Spain debated who should be the country’s patron saint; the choices were either the current patron, Saint James Matamoros, or a pairing of him and the newly canonised Saint Teresa of Ávila. Teresa’s promoters said Spain faced newer challenges, especially the threat of Protestantism and societal decline at home, thus needing a more contemporary patron who understood those issues and could guide the Spanish nation. Santiago’s supporters (Santiaguistas) fought back and eventually won the argument, but Teresa of Ávila remained far more popular at the local level.Saint James the Greater kept the title of patron saint for the Spanish people, and the most Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Immaculate Conception as the sole patroness for the entire Spanish Kingdom.

Source: Wikipedia.