Saint Teresa of Avila
Teresa’s parents, Don Alfonso Sanchez de Capeda and Dona Beatriz Davila y Ahumada (his second wife) were people of position in Avila, where Teresa was born on March 28, 1515. It would appear that Teresa was an active, imaginative, and sensitive child. From an early age, Teresa was fascinated by the stories of saints and martyrs. So much so, that, when she was seven, she and her brother, Roderigo, decided to run away from home and go to Africa, so that they could be captured and beheaded by the Moors – thereby achieving martyrdom! Fortunately, they had only travelled a short distance when they were spotted by an uncle and taken home to their mother!
Teresa was 14 or 15 when her mother died, and she later wrote of her sorrow in these words: "As soon as I began to understand how great a loss I had sustained by losing her, I was very much afflicted; and so I went before an image of our Blessed Lady and besought her with many tears that she would vouchsafe to be my mother." Teresa started reading tales of chivalry, tried to write romantic stories, and wore fashionable clothes and perfumes (a typical teenager?). Her father noticed this change in her personality, and decided to send her to a convent of Augustinian nuns in Avila (also to be educated there). After a year and a half at the convent she returned home (due to contracting a form of malaria). Teresa began to deliberate whether she should become a nun (in part due to having fears that an uncongenial marriage might be forced upon her), and reading the writings of St Jerome helped her to reach a decision. Her father, however, did not wish her to take this path, which caused Teresa much inner conflict (she was very devoted to her father). At that time as well, her brother and confidant, Roderigo, had left for the war on the Rio de la Plata. She decided to go to the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation (outside the town of Avila) without telling her father, and applied for admission. Regarding this decision, she later wrote: "I remember . . . while I was going out of my father's house—the sharpness of sense will not be greater, I believe, in the very instant of agony of my death, than it was then. It seemed as if all the bones in my body were wrenched asunder.... There was no such love of God in me then as was able to quench the love I felt for my father and my friends." (It must be added that her father resigned himself to her decision.)
A year later Teresa received the habit (made her profession), but shortly after there was a recurrence of her previous illness. Her father had her removed from the convent during this period of illness. During this time she suffered greatly (even slipping into a coma for four days, leaving her paralyzed in her legs for three years), but, with time, she gradually started improving. She was helped by certain prayers that she started to use, and she believed that St Joseph played a part in her cure.
After three years Teresa went back to the convent. Back at the convent she went through a period of apparent wavering in the strength of her faith, e.g. she relaxed her habit of mental prayer, using the excuse of recovery from her illness. She later wrote: "This excuse of bodily weakness was not a sufficient reason why I should abandon so good a thing, which required no physical strength, but only love and habit. In the midst of sickness the best prayer may be offered, and it is a mistake to think it can only be offered in solitude." She returned to the practice of mental prayer and never again abandoned it, although, at that time, she had not yet the courage to follow God completely. She became depressed by her own unworthiness, and turned to the writings of St Augustine (e.g. his ‘Confessions’). She also experienced an overpowering urge to pray before a picture of the suffering Lord (penitence) and, of that experience, she wrote: "I felt Mary Magdalen come to my assistance.... From that day I have gone on improving in my spiritual life."
Growing In Faith Amid Trials and Tribulations
Teresa deepened w.r.t praying. She also started experiencing visions of divine things and hearing inner voices. Although she was sure these visions came from God, she was still fearful, and therefore consulted and confided in a number of persons. These included:
- Father Gaspar Daza: this priest stated that she was deluded, for how could an imperfect person such as she experience such things?
- A priest of the newly formed Society of Jesus: he stated that she was experiencing divine graces, but suggested that she should try to resist the visions and voices for two months (this proved useless).
- Francis Borgia (commissary-general of the above Society in Spain): he advised her that the spirit of God was working in her and thus not resist these manifestations any further, but also not to seek such experiences.
- Baltazar Alvarez, SJ (became director at Avila in 1558): he told her that some others were convinced that her visions, etc were the work of the devil (she should thus not communicate these manifestations so often). He also advised that she should ask God what was most pleasing to Him, and she must recite the hymn of St Gregory the Great (‘Veni Creator Spiritus’) daily. It was during one of these recitations that she heard the words, "I will not have you hold conversation with men, but with angels." She suffered greatly from ridicule and disapproval from those around her during Alvarez’s tenure at Avila.
- Even a priest to whom she confessed during Father Alvarez’s temporary absence informed her that her visions were the work of the devil and that she should make the sign of the cross and try to repel any visions.
Through all these trials she continued to receive comfort from God, and she even received the favour of transverberation. Of this experience she wrote: "I saw an angel very near me, towards my left side, in bodily form, which is not usual with me; for though angels are often represented to me, it is only in my mental vision. This angel appeared rather small than large, and very beautiful. His face was so shining that he seemed to be one of those highest angels called seraphs, who look as if all on fire with divine love. He had in his hands a long golden dart; at the end of the point methought there was a little fire. And I felt him thrust it several times through my heart in such a way that it passed through my very bowels. And when he drew it out, methought it pulled them out with it and left me wholly on fire with a great love of God."
In 1557, St Peter of Alcantara (a Franciscan of the Observance) came to Avila, and had great compassion for her suffering. He later told her: "Keep on as you are doing, daughter; we all suffer such trials." Her mystical experiences continued, and during these experiences she was sometimes even lifted from the ground. She stated: "God seems not content with drawing the soul to Himself, but he must needs draw up the very body too, even while it is mortal and compounded of so unclean a clay as we have made it by our sins."
At that time, Carmelite nuns had become very undisciplined. One of the nuns at the House of the Incarnation began talking of founding a new and stricter community, and Teresa decided to undertake its establishment. In this she received a promise of help from a wealthy widow, Dona Guiomar de Ulloa, and the project was also approved by Peter of Alcantara (who offered to act as mediator in obtaining permission needed for the foundation from Rome) and Father Angelo de Salazar (provincial of the Carmelite Order). Unfortunately, Father Angelo had to withdraw his permission due to pressure from various members of the community, e.g. Teresa’s fellow nuns, local nobility, etc (her confessor, Father Alvarez, later gave his approval, however). Father Ibanez (a Dominican) secretly encouraged both Teresa and Dona Guiomar, and one of Teresa's married sisters, Juana (together with her husband), erected a small convent at Avila in 1561 in order to shelter the new establishment.
During this time, a well-known event occurred: Teresa’s little nephew was crushed by a wall of the new structure which fell on him as he was playing, and his apparently lifeless body was to Teresa. She prayed over the little boy, and then returned the now living child to his mother!
The convent (dedicated to S. Jose) was founded in 1562, with four novices receiving the habit of the Discaled Carmelites. Many were opposed to this foundation (including the prioress at the Incarnation and a number of townspeople), but by the end of 1562, after various deliberations and assemblies, etc, Teresa was authorized to continue at the new convent as was officially appointed as prioress. She was now known as Teresa of Jesus, mother of the reform of Carmel.
Life As a Shoeless Carmelite
Nuns were strictly cloistered, under a rule of poverty (they were without regular revenues) and almost complete silence. They wore habits of coarse serge and sandals instead of shoes (thus known as "discalced" or shoeless Carmelites). Initially, Teresa limited the number of nuns to 13 (this was later increased to 21), and they were trained in all kinds of useful work and religious observances.
The prior general of the Carmelites, Giovanni Battista Rossi of Ravenna, after having visited Avila in 1567 and being impressed with Teresa and her prudent rule, authorized her to found other similar convents (including giving her permission to establish two houses for men who wished to follow this reform). Teresa thus founded convents at Medina del Campo, Malagon, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes. At Medina del Campo she met two friars who wished to adopt her reform: Antony de Heredia (prior of the Carmelite monastery there) and John of the Cross. With their help she established a reformed house for men at Durelo in 1568, and another one at Pastrana in 1569. John of the Cross was authorized (by Teresa) to direct these and other reformed communities that might be started for men. John became Teresa's friend, and was later made director and confessor in the mother house at Avila.
After these foundations, she was sent (by the Apostolic visitator, Pedro Fernandez, OP) to the Incarnation monastery in Avila to serve as prioress. Together with St John of the Cross (who was serving as confessor for the nuns), she was able, through gentleness and tact, to greatly improve this monastery and re-establish a measure of discipline. After three years there, she was ordered to return to her own convent.
She then continued to found a number of convents: at Segovia, Beas de Segura, Caravaca (Ana de S. Alberto was sent there by Teresa to found a convent in her name) and Seville (which proved a great challenge, e.g. the novice there was not keen on the idea, even reporting the nuns to the Inquisition).
Further Conflict and Opposition
Dissension existed between the Calced and the Discalced (the newly reformed and the unreformed). Various actions were conducted in an effort to stop reform, e.g. the entry of the Discalced Brethren into Andalusia was forbidden by Rossi, Teresa was ordered to retire to a convent, John of the Cross was imprisoned at Toledo, etc. Eventually the King of Spain (Philip II) intervened, and in 1580 an order came from Rome that gave each party (the reformed and the unreformed Carmelites) its own provincial (Jerome Gratian was elected the first provincial of the Discalced). This separation brought about an end to all the painful conflict. During all of this, Teresa wrote the Visitation of the Discalced Nuns, a part of The Foundations, and The Interior Castle.
Teresa continued to found new convents, e.g. Palencia, Soria, Burgos, and Granada. In total, she founded 16 convents.
In 1582, Teresa (approximately 67 years old and ill) set out for Alva de Tormez (also known as Alba) in order to visit an old friend. Anne-of-St. Bartholomew (her traveling companion), stated that Teresa grew worse on the road, and there were few habitations. The only food they could find were figs, and when they arrived at the convent, Teresa was totally exhausted. She never recovered, and three days later, she said to Anne, "At last, my daughter, I have reached the house of death." Extreme Unction was administered by Father Antony de Heredia, and when he asked her where she wished to be buried. she replied, "Will they deny me a little ground for my body here?" She received the Sacrament and exclaimed, "O my Lord, now is the time that we shall see each other!" She died in Anne's arms during the evening of October 4.
She was buried at Alva, but three years later, the body was secretly removed to Avila. The next year the Duke of Alva procured an order from Rome to return it to Alva de Tormez, and there it has remained.
Also Known As
Teresa de Avila
Teresa of Jesus
Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada
The Roving Nun
Theresa of Avila
March 28, 1515
Gotarrendura (Ávila), Old Castile, Kingdom of Spain
October 4, 1582
Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Kingdom of Spain
April 24, 1614, Rome by Pope Paul V
March 12, 1622, Rome by Pope Gregory XV
Convent of the Annunciation, Alba de Tormes, Spain<
Nun wearing the habit of a Discalced Carmelite
Carmelite nun with her heart pierced by an arrow held by an angel
Carmelite nun holding a pierced heart, book and crucifix
Carmelite nun with book and quill
Carmelite nun receiving a message from a dove
bodily ills; headaches; lacemakers; laceworkers; loss of parents; people in need of grace; people in religious orders; people ridiculed for their piety; Pozega,Croatia; sick people; sickness;Spain; WYD 2011; diocese of Amos, Canada
Oh my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value.
There is no such thing as bad weather. All weather is good because it is God’s.
There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.
We need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to look upon Him present within us.
Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.
You ought to make every effort to free yourselves even from venial sin, and to do what is most perfect.
If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that is we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example. What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For is at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.
It is love alone that gives worth to all things.
To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.
What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!
Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.
God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.
We shall never learn to know ourselves except by endeavoring to know God; for, beholding His greatness, we realize our own littleness; His purity shows us our foulness; and by meditating upon His humility we find how very far we are from being humble.
The most potent and acceptable prayer is the prayer that leaves the best effects. I don't mean it must immediately fill the soul with desire . . . The best effects [are] those that are followed up by actions-----when the soul not only desires the honor of God, but really strives for it.
I would never want any prayer that would not make the virtues grow within me.
Vocal prayer . . . must be accompanied by reflection. A prayer in which a person is not aware of Whom he is speaking to, what he is asking, who it is who is asking and of Whom, I don't call prayer-----however much the lips may move.
Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.
You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.
One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.
Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end . . . and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.
I am afraid that if we begin to put our trust in human help, some of our Divine help will fail us.
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world.
Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.
God aids the valiant...both to you and to me He will give the help needed