St. Teresa of Avila The Way of Perfection: Study Edition

· ICS Publications

About this ebook

A Study Edition, with Introduction, Commentary,
Discussion Questions, Glossary, and a fully
linked Index.

St. Teresa of Avila is an unsurpassed teacher
of Christian prayer and spirituality, and in
The Way of Perfection she is at her best. Now,
with the help of this study edition, everyone
can enjoy the benefits of her wisdom.

In The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa gives
practical counsels and advice on prayer,
destined originally for the few nuns who
embraced the reformed Carmelite life she
established. As a handbook for spiritual
formation, it presented them with the basic
Christian spirituality undergirding their
Constitutions and Rule.

Over the centuries, the book's appeal has
reached far beyond the walls of Carmelite
monasteries, and The Way of Perfection has
become a spiritual classic. More and more
today, Teresa's instructions speak to all
those interested in prayer, providing them
with basic guidelines for praying and
showing how to avoid potential pitfalls.
But as the readership and interest grow,
so does the need for some help in working
with this sixteenth-century text.

The principles and teachings in Teresa's
book, first presented within the limited
horizons of her own situation, clearly lend
themselves to broader applications, and can
work well in all walks of life. This study
edition-with its introduction, commentary,
notes, discussion questions, glossary, and
a fully linked Index-provides what is needed
to assist contemporary readers in making
these applications and delving more deeply
into the text's spiritual riches.

About the author

Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was
born at Avila, Old Castile, 28 March, 1515;
died at Alba de Tormes, 4 Oct., 1582.

She was the third child of Don Alonso
Sanchez de Cepeda by his second wife,
Doña Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, who died
when the saint was in her fourteenth year,
Teresa was brought up by her saintly father,
a lover of serious books, and a tender and
pious mother. After her death and the
marriage of her eldest sister, Teresa was
sent for her education to the Augustinian
nuns at Avila, but owing to illness she
left at the end of eighteen months, and
for some years remained with her father
and occasionally with other relatives,
notably an uncle who made her acquainted
with the Letters of St. Jerome, which
determined her to adopt the religious life,
not so much through any attraction towards
it, as through a desire of choosing the
safest course. Unable to obtain her
father's consent she left his house
unknown to him on Nov., 1535, to enter
the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation
at Avila, which then counted 140 nuns.
The wrench from her family caused her
a pain which she ever afterwards compared
to that of death. However, her father
at once yielded and Teresa took the habit.
After her profession in the following year
she became very seriously ill, and
underwent a prolonged cure and such
unskillful medical treatment that she was
reduced to a most pitiful state, and even
after partial recovery through the
intercession of St. Joseph, her health
remained permanently impaired. During these
years of suffering she began the practice
of mental prayer, but fearing that her
conversations with some world-minded
relatives, frequent visitors at the
convent, rendered her unworthy of the
graces God bestowed on her in prayer,
discontinued it, until she came under
the influence, first of the Dominicans,
and afterwards of the Jesuits. Meanwhile
God had begun to visit her with
"intellectual visions and locutions",
that is manifestations in which the
exterior senses were in no way affected,
the things seen and the words heard being
directly impressed upon her mind, and
giving her wonderful strength in trials,
reprimanding her for unfaithfulness, and
consoling her in trouble. Unable to
reconcile such graces with her
shortcomings, which her delicate
conscience represented as grievous faults,
she had recourse not only to the most
spiritual confessors she could find, but
also to some saintly laymen, who, never
suspecting that the account she gave them
of her sins was greatly exaggerated,
believed these manifestations to be the
work of the evil spirit. The more she
endeavored to resist them the more
powerfully did God work in her soul. The
whole city of Avila was troubled by the
reports of the visions of this nun. It was
reserved to St. Francis Borgia and St.
Peter of Alcantara, and afterwards to a
number of Dominicans (particularly Pedro
Ibañez and Domingo Bañez), Jesuits, and
other religious and secular priests, to
discern the work of God and to guide her
on a safe road.

The account of her spiritual life
contained in the "Life written by herself"
(completed in 1565, an earlier version
being lost), in the "Relations", and in
the "Interior Castle", forms one of the
most remarkable spiritual biographies
with which only the "Confessions of St.
Augustine" can bear comparison. To this
period belong also such extraordinary
manifestations as the piercing or
transverberation of her heart, the
spiritual espousals, and the mystical
marriage. A vision of the place destined
for her in hell in case she should have
been unfaithful to grace, determined her
to seek a more perfect life. After many
troubles and much opposition St. Teresa
founded the convent of Discalced
Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of
St. Joseph at Avila (24 Aug., 1562), and
after six months obtained permission to
take up her residence there. Four years
later she received the visit of the
General of the Carmelites, John-Baptist
Rubeo (Rossi), who not only approved of
what she had done but granted leave for
the foundation of other convents of
friars as well as nuns. In rapid
succession she established her nuns at
Medina del Campo (1567), Malagon and
Valladolid (1568), Toledo and Pastrana
(1569), Salamanca (1570), Alba de Tormes
(1571), Segovia (1574), Veas and Seville
(1575), and Caravaca (1576). In the
"Book of Foundations" she tells the story
of these convents, nearly all of which
were established in spite of violent
opposition but with manifest assistance
from above. Everywhere she found souls
generous enough to embrace the
austerities of the primitive rule of
Carmel. Having made the acquaintance of
Antonio de Heredia, prior of Medina, and
St. John of the Cross, she established
her reform among the friars (28 Nov.,
1568), the first convents being those
of Duruelo (1568), Pastrana (1569),
Mancera, and Alcalá de Henares (1570).

A new epoch began with the entrance
into religion of Jerome Gratian,
inasmuch as this remarkable man was
almost immediately entrusted by the
nuncio with the authority of visitor
Apostolic of the Carmelite friars and
nuns of the old observance in Andalusia,
and as such considered himself entitled
to overrule the various restrictions
insisted upon by the general and the
general chapter. On the death of the
nuncio and the arrival of his successor
a fearful storm burst over St. Teresa
and her work, lasting four years and
threatening to annihilate the nascent
reform. The incidents of this persecution
are best described in her letters. The
storm at length passed, and the province
of Discalced Carmelites, with the support
of Philip II, was approved and canonically
established on 22 June, 1580. St. Teresa,
old and broken in health, made further
foundations at Villanuava de la Jara and
Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Granada
(through her assistant the Venerable Anne
of Jesus), and at Burgos (1582). She left
this latter place at the end of July,
and, stopping at Palencia, Valladolid,
and Medina del Campo, reached Alba de
Torres in September, suffering intensely.
Soon she took to her bed and passed away
on 4 Oct., 1582, the following day, owing
to the reform of the calendar, being
reckoned as 15 October. After some years
her body was transferred to Avila, but
later on reconveyed to Alba, where it is
still preserved incorrupt. Her heart, too,
showing the marks of the Transverberation,
is exposed there to the veneration of the
faithful. She was beatified in 1614, and
canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV, the
feast being fixed on 15 October.

St. Teresa's position among writers on
mystical theology is unique. In all her
writings on this subject she deals with
her personal experiences, which a deep
insight and analytical gifts enabled
her to explain clearly. The Thomistic
substratum may be traced to the
influence of her confessors and
directors, many of whom belonged to
the Dominican Order. She herself had
no pretension to found a school in the
accepted sense of the term, and there
is no vestige in her writings of any
influence of the Areopagite, the
Patristic, or the Scholastic Mystical
schools, as represented among others,
by the German Dominican Mystics. She is
intensely personal, her system going
exactly as far as her experiences, but
not a step further.

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