TERESA OF ÁVILA: influential women of all time – Early Life and Reign, social and political life, major works and death

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Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power
Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power

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prudence she comments on the basis of her political program—the unity of the states of the Iberian Peninsula, the maintenance of control over the Strait of Gibraltar, and a policy of expansion into Muslim North Africa, of just rule for the Indians of the New World, and of reform in the church at home. If the overall impression is inevitably piecemeal, it is also clear that Isabella gave to her successors an exceptional document. It assures scholars that in allot- ting to Isabella the foremost place among their rulers, Spaniards do not misjudge this remarkable woman.

TERESA OF ÁVILA

(b. March 28, 1515, Ávila, Spain—d. Oct. 4, 1582, Alba de Tormes;

canonized 1622; feast day October 15)

T

T

he Spanish nun called Teresa of Ávila or Teresa of Jesus was one of the great mystics and religious women of the Roman Catholic church, and author of spir- itual classics. She was the originator of the Carmelite Reform, which restored and emphasized the austerity and contemplative character of primitive Carmelite life. Teresa was canonized in 1622 and elevated to doctor of the church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, the first woman to be so

honoured.

Born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumadaentered, she lost her mother in 1529. Despite her father’s opposition, she joined the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Ávila, probably in 1535. Within two years her health collapsed, and she was an invalid for three years, during which time she developed a love for prayer. After her recovery, how- ever, she stopped praying. She continued for 15 years in a state divided between a worldly and a divine spirit, until, in 1555, she underwent a religious awakening.

In 1558 Teresa began to consider the restoration of Carmelite life to its original observance of austerity, which

had relaxed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Her reform required utter withdrawal so that the nuns could meditate on divine law and, through a prayerful life of penance, exercise what she termed “our vocation of reparation” for the sins of mankind. In 1562, with Pope Pius IV’s authorization, she opened the first convent (St. Joseph’s) of the Carmelite Reform. A storm of hostility came from municipal and religious personages, especially because the convent existed without endowment, but she staunchly insisted on poverty and subsistence only through public alms.

John Baptist Rossi, the Carmelite prior general from Rome, went to Ávila in 1567 and approved the reform, directing Teresa to found more convents and to establish monasteries. In the same year, while at Medina del Campo, Spain, she met a young Carmelite priest, Juan de Yepes (later St. John of the Cross, the poet and mystic), who she realized could initiate the Carmelite Reform for men. A year later Juan opened the first monastery of the Primitive Rule at Duruelo, Spain.

Despite frail health and great difficulties, Teresa spent the rest of her life establishing and nurturing 16 more convents throughout Spain. In 1575, while she was at the Sevilla (Seville) convent, a jurisdictional dispute erupted between the friars of the restored Primitive Rule, known as the Discalced (or “Unshod”) Carmelites, and the obser- vants of the Mitigated Rule, the Calced (or “Shod”) Carmelites. Although she had foreseen the trouble and endeavoured to prevent it, her attempts failed. The Carmelite general, to whom she had been misrepresented, ordered her to retire to a convent in Castile and to cease founding additional convents; Juan was subsequently imprisoned at Toledo in 1577.

In 1579, largely through the efforts of King Philip II of Spain, who knew and admired Teresa, a solution was effected whereby the Carmelites of the Primitive Rule

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