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Teresa of Avila

1515-1582. Carmelite reformer, mystic, and writer. Born into a good Spanish family at Avila and educated by Augustinian nuns, she entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation there in 1533, at first suffering from serious illness which caused her withdrawal. Reentering, but purposeless, it was not until the 1550s that she sought the life of perfection, praying before a statue of the scourged Christ at the pillar, and soon to have divine locutions and heavenly visions. She knew ecstasy, and among her spiritual experiences was the mystical piercing of the heart by a spear of divine love. She wrote about this but never stressed it unduly, recognizing the dangers. Domingo Banez,* a Dominican priest, influenced her much in these years.

In middle life, with Peter of Alcántara* as her confessor, she founded a convent under the original (discalced) Carmelite Rule, St. Joseph's at Avila (1562). There she wrote her first work, The Way of Perfection, as instruction for her nuns. From 1567 she traveled in Spain, founding houses for both nuns and friars and receiving much assistance from John of the Cross.* She wrote Life (autobiography to 1562), Book of Foundations (account of her convents), and The Interior Castle which made her a doctor of the spiritual life, scientifically delineating the life of prayer from meditation through mystical marriage and noting intermediate stages. As the reformer of the Carmelite Order and a mystic, she proved in her distinguished life that great practical achievement and highest contemplation could coexist properly.

See V. Sackville-West, The Eagle and the Dove (1943), and E.A. Peers, Mother of Carmel (1945).

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