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Life Sketch of Saint Teresa of Ávila

Writing life sketches and/or interviews that focus on well-known poets, philosophers, and others remains part of my writing toolkit.

Saint Teresa of Ávila

Saint Teresa of Ávila

Early Life

On March 28, 1515, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in the village of Ávila, Spain, to deeply devout Catholic parents. Juan Sanchez de Toledo, Teresa’s paternal grandfather, had been of the Judaic faith, but he was coerced to convert to Christianity, which he did upon penalty of having to leave Spain. Nevertheless, he was branded a traitor by the Spanish Inquisition but managed to secure his Spanish identity and continue this life as a devout Catholic.

Teresa’s father, Alonso de Cepeda, became a successful business man, remaining one the wealthiest wool merchants in Ávila, accepting a knighthood and fully participating as a devout Catholic member of Spanish society.

Teresa's mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, died while Teresa was still quite young, and the devastation of losing her mother motivated the young child to seek refuge in the Virgin Mary. Similarly, the tragic loss of his mother at age eleven also propelled the great "Father of Yoga in the West," Paramahansa Yogananda, to seek the Divine in the Marian equivalent of the Divine Mother. In his spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, the great spiritual leader and founder of Self-Realization Fellowship explains: "I loved Mother as my dearest friend on earth. Her solacing black eyes had been my refuge in the trifling tragedies of childhood."

Teresa’s mother brought up Teresa and her brother, Rodrigo, to be devout Catholics. While still young children, the two siblings became so engrossed in tales of adventure of battling against the Moors that they took flight from home to become martyrs for the cause. They had become enthralled with the idea of going straight to heaven after being beheaded by the Moors. Luckily, their uncle spied them just outside the walls of the city and returned them home safely.

Monastic Life

For a short while during her teens, Teresa became interested in a worldly life including friendships and innocent flirtations with young men. But worldly pursuits did not satisfy her, because her spiritual longings were stronger than her desires for worldly experience; thus, she then found herself more and more drawn to the life of the monastic. After the death of her mother, Teresa’s father sent her to the nun’s Augustinian school in Ávila, where her desire to become a nun was deepened.

On Nov. 2, 1535, Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Ávila. Soon after entering the monastery, Teresa became ill. Her father took his daughter to a healer in the small village of Becedas, but the girl did not respond to treatment. Her father then moved her to the home of her uncle Pedro de Cepeda. However, instead of recovering, Teresa became worse, so her father took her back home to Ávila, where she fell into a coma.

The future saint remained in a coma for four days; then after she woke up, her legs remained paralyzed for three years. During this period of illness, Teresa developed the concept of "mental prayer." But for the next 15 years, she vacillated between intense spirituality and worldly interest.

The Soul in Grace or in Sin | Saint Teresa of Avila

Reform and Establishing Religious Houses

In 1555, Teresa’s religious dedication became even more intense and the permanent. The Carmelite order had allowed their principles and the functioning of the monastery to become lax, and Teresa began a campaign to return the order to its original status of austerity and religious observance.

Tenets of her reform effort required return to meditation on divine law and emphasis on a prayerful life of penance. She insisted that the vocation of the monastic was for reparation of the sins of humanity, and she took the original precepts very seriously.

With the authorization of Pope Pius IV, Teresa established St. Joseph’s, her first convent of the Carmelite Reform. Public hostility arose against the convent because it was unsupported by a permanent funding. Teresa, however, demanded that poverty was the nun’s lot, and a monastery could exist only through public donations.

In 1567, Carmelite Prior General John Baptist Rossi offered official authority for Teresa’s work to continue and encouraged her to establish other convents. Around this same time, Teresa became acquainted with the poet and mystic, Juan de Yepes, who later took the monastic name of Saint John of the Cross. With Teresa’s influence and encouragement, Saint John of the Cross, in Duruelo, Spain, established a monastery for men under the new Carmelite Reform.

Teresa continued to found monasteries throughout Spain, and by 1575, she had establish 16 additional new houses. A brief period of difficulty from 1577 to 1579 led to Teresa’s being prevented from establishing further orders; there was a dispute between the "Unhod" and "Shod" friars. Because of a misunderstanding, the Carmelite General ordered Teresa to return to her convent in Castile, and he put a moratorium on establishing further convents. Through the intercession of King Phillip II, however, she was allowed to continue her establishment work.

Despite ill health, and a weakening physical stamina, Teresa, nevertheless, managed to travel widely as she continued to found new convents for the reformed Carmelite order. On October 4, 1582, during her travels from from Burgos to Alba de Tormes, the future saint fell very ill and died.

Saint Teresa of Ávila was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.

Union with the Divine

Although Teresa had struggled with her spiritual path, she did not give up meditation and prayer, but for many years, she felt that she did not know how to become completely free of ego. However, even during her spiritually dry periods, Teresa experienced many mystical experiences. Finally, at age 39 while praying and meditating before an image of Christ, the saint became aware that she had escaped the worry of the ego interference, and from that important moment she became self-realized, aware of her union with the Divine.

Saint Teresa of Ávila has been known for centuries a great mystic. She authored a large number of enduring spiritual classics. Her ascetic doctrine has been established as the authoritative, classical exposition on the monastic life and calling to live a God-centered life. All of her spiritual writings have remained among the most widely read and studied of all time.

For her tireless labor of reforming the Carmelite order and establishing the numerous convents and monasteries throughout Spain, Teresa has been honored by those who appreciate that it is such austerity and willingness to sacrifice physical comforts that leads to the contemplative life of the monastic.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI bestowed on the saint the honor of being made Doctor of the Church. She was the first woman to receive such a position. Her many written works such as Conceptions on the Love of God, Spiritual Relations, Exclamations of the Soul to God (1588), The Interior Castle (1588), and The Way of Perfection (1583) continue to offer guidance to students of theology and interested devotees on the spiritual path.

Sources

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The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa of Ávila

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa of Ávila

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 10, 2021:

Thanks, Louise. Nice to hear from you. Writing about saints is one of my favorite activities. Saint Teresa is one of my favorite Catholic saints, especially because she was a mystic. Her work in establishing the many Carmelite convents and monasteries throughout Spain demonstrates how dedicated she was to helping others achieve the status of God-realization that she had attained.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 10, 2021:

That's very interesting to read, Maya. I enjoyed this article, thankyou. :)

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 10, 2021:

We follow the Guru, who speaks most directly to us . . .

Blessings to you on your spiritual path, manatita44

manatita44 from london on July 10, 2021:

Yes. After 40 years of Discipleship, many things come naturally to us without seeking. I have read all his works as well as his teachers ... the lineage. He was very influential in the West true and we have visited SRF but Vivikananda came before him and to many, was more of a Father of Yoga to the West as was St. Augustine to Christianity. Yogananda passed in the year I was born. Much Love.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 10, 2021:

Yes, both of those works are wonderfully significant, and— you're correct—well worth reading and studying . . . And I would suggest, if you have not yet accessed his works, those of Paramahansa Yogananda, "Father of Yoga in the West." His organization's Web site, housing information about all of his writings, is at https://yogananda.org

Thanks again, manatita44, for your response . . .

manatita44 from london on July 10, 2021:

Indeed!

One of my favourites! There are many more but there are a few that stand out. Brother Laurence's The Practice of the Presence of God and Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, are worth reading. (If you haven't yet). Keep up the good work.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 10, 2021:

Thank you, manatita44, for your response . . .

Saint Teresa's life is one of the most inspirational of all saints. And the fact that she wrote so many religious tracts plus poetry makes her a very endearing subject for all writers and those interested in the spiritual path through life.

manatita44 from london on July 10, 2021:

A lovely and inspirational take on the life of St Theresa of Avila. Excellent!

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