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St. Teresa of Avila

Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic

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 St. Teresa of Avila
Source: Wikipedia

Born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515, St. Teresa was the daughter of a Toledo merchant and his second wife, who died when Teresa was 15, one of ten children. Shortly after this event, Teresa was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns. After reading the letters of St. Jerome, Teresa resolved to enter a religious life. In 1535, she joined the Carmelite Order. She spent a number of relatively average years in the convent, punctuated by a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, but then experienced a vision of "the sorely wounded Christ" that changed her life forever.

From this point forward, Teresa moved into a period of increasingly ecstatic experiences in which she came to focus more and more sharply on Christ's passion. With these visions as her impetus, she set herself to the reformation of her order, beginning with her attempt to master herself and her adherence to the rule. Gathering a group of supporters, Teresa endeavored to create a more primitive type of Carmelite. From 1560 until her death, Teresa struggled to establish and broaden the movement of Discalced or shoeless Carmelites. During the mid-1560s, she wrote the Way of Perfection and the Meditations on the Canticle. In 1567, she met St. John of the Cross, who she enlisted to extend her reform into the male side of the Carmelite Order. Teresa died in 1582.

St. Teresa left to posterity many new convents, which she continued founding up to the year of her death. She also left a significant legacy of writings, which represent important benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. These works include the Way of Perfection and the Interior Castle. She also left an autobiography, the Life of Teresa of Avila.

The Catholic Encyclopedia includes a lengthy article on St. Teresa of Avila. Another article is available from the Teresian Carmel in Austria.

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Works by St. Teresa of Avila

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Interior Castle is the work of 16th century Carmelite nun and Christian mystic St. Teresa of Avila. She wrote Interior Castle as a spiritual guide to union with God. Her inspiration for the work came from a vision she received from God. In it, there was a crystal globe with seven mansions, with God in the innermost mansion. St. Teresa interpreted this vision as an allegory for the soul's relationship with God; each mansion represents one place on a path towards the "spiritual marriage"--i.e. union--with God in the seventh mansion. One begins on this path through prayer and meditation. She also describes the resistance that the Devil places in various rooms, to keep believers from union with God. Throughout, she provides encouragements and advice for spiritual development. Beyond its spiritual merit, Interior Castle also contains much literary merit as a piece of Spanish Renaissance literature. A spiritually challenging book, Interior Castle stands on par with other great works of this time, such as Dark Night of the Soul.

Readers interested in basic Christian mysticism need look no further than Saint Teresa of Avila. Theresa expresses in beautiful language her deep relationship with God, and her words of wisdom and ever-hopeful outlook have inspired Christians everywhere for centuries. The Spanish Carmelite nun's autobiography provides a perfect entrance point to the world of mental prayer. She begins her story with tales of her childhood in the early 1500s--the death of her mother, how she became a nun, and the hardships of her life including illness and a period of "lukewarmness" during which she ceased to pray. St. Teresa also relates the visiosn and instructions she recieved form God later in her life. This book also contains St. Teresa's writings on the four states of mental prayer. In the first stage, believers learn to pray. In the second, they experience the supernatural aspect of prayer. In the third, the soul is bathed inthe pleasure of God's presence, and in the fourth, senses are abandonded in a sort of out-of-body experience where the sould feels only divine union. This book also contains a series of "relations," letters she send to colleagues giving further thoughts of her beliefs. St. Teresa's warm and personal descriptions of union with God provide a wonderful and accessible starting point for engagement in her life and theology of mysticism.

Although she designed her book for her fellow sisters of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa's Way of Perfection remains accessible to modern readers. In it, she sets out to lead others along the way to union with God through prayer, silence, and meditation. A few of the book's 42 chapters could be called a collection of rules, but the majority of the book more rightly fits the description of advice. As she suggests ways for readers to seek self-perfection, her words are practical, heartfelt, and drawn from personal e xperience. Not only this, but because of the book's less formal and less poetically obscure nature, it offers up a more direct articulation of St. Teresa's theological views than do her autobiography or her most famous work, The Interior Castle.

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Works About St. Teresa of Avila

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