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Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul

by Cathleen Medwick

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347260,777 (3.95)4
A refreshingly modern reconsideration of Saint Teresa (1515-1582), one of the greatest mystics and reformers to emerge within the sixteenth-century Catholic Church, whose writings are a keystone of modern mystical thought. From the very beginning of her life in a convent, following the death of her mother and the marriage of her older sister, it was clear that Teresa's expansive nature, intensity, and energy would not be easily confined. Cathleen Medwick shows us a powerful daughter of the Church and her times who was a very human mass of contradictions: a practical and no-nonsense manager, and yet a flamboyant and intrepid presence who bent the rules of monastic life to accomplish her work--while managing to stay one step ahead of the Inquisition. And she exhibited a very personal brand of spirituality, often experiencing raptures of an unorthodox, arguably erotic, nature that left her frozen in one position for hours, unable to speak. Out of a concern for her soul and her reputation, her superiors insisted that she account for every voice and vision, as well as the sins that might have engendered them, thus giving us the account of her life that is now considered a literary masterpiece. Medwick makes it clear that Teresa considered her major work the reform of the Carmelites, an enterprise requiring all her considerable persuasiveness and her talent for administration. We see her moving about Spain with the assurance (if not the authority) of a man, in spite of debilitating illness, to establish communities of nuns who lived scrupulously devout lives, without luxuries. In an era when women were seldom taken seriously, she even sought and received permission to found two religious houses for men.         In this fascinating account Cathleen Medwick reveals Teresa as both more complex and more comprehensible than she has seemed in the past. She illuminates for us the devout and worldly woman behind the centuries-old iconography of the saint. From the Hardcover edition.… (more)
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Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul by Cathleen Medwick. (Section 3 B). This bio donated by Pastor Andrea, is readable and interesting, even witty in some places. Born in Avila, Spain in 1515, Teresa came from a well-to-do merchant family one of whose ancestors may have been a “converso”, a Jew who converted to Christianity so as not to be murdered during the Spanish Inquisition. When she was a teen she ran away from home to enter a convent. Over the decades she became a prioress (convent leader) and eventually began to found new convents on a wide swath across central Spain from north to south. To do this she had to get permission from the religious powers of a particular area, learn how to repair derelict buildings, attract nuns who were pious and willing to live very simply, how to raise alms, keep an eye on all her prioresses, and much more. While she would have preferred a life of solitude and prayer, she became a traveler to all these different convents and their chief administrator and religious leader.
Besides all this worldly business and a huge correspondence that went with it, she wrote down most of what she experienced, including an autobiography as well as many other books. She was considered a mystic. She found convent life lax – too much food, possessions, visitors, conversation. She whipped them into shape, instituting times of silence, no gossip, very few possessions, no visitors.
She loved nothing more than feeling at one with God during prayer, but she also needed a dependable confessor, always male, of course.
Her health was poor and she had periods where her body went rigid – one day a helper found her leaning like a board against a wall. She also had raptures, and so it is said, levitations that became so embarrassing to her that she asked her sister nuns to grab her habit hem and pull her back down. A mental image of this is pretty funny especially if there were guests at mass that day..... Since she wrote down nearly every bout of illness or unusual feeling, she provides a rare medical record for neurologists who suggest that she may have had epilepsy which could have caused her bodily rigidity and perception difficulties – hallucinations, visions, and the like.
Upon her death she was buried at one of her convents. She was disinterred now and then, with a body part being removed every time! Crikey! What about resting in peace? Wikipedia tells where these various body parts are located – her left hand in Lisbon, a finger at a church in Paris, etc. Welcome to the world of holy relics!
This is the first book about a saint I have ever read. She did so much in an era where women had NO power unless through a wealthy husband. She was pious, smart and businesslike. She had to tread softly in a world where the Inquisition still had the power imprison or kill anyone they felt too powerful or who broke rules. She lived with a big target on her back, yet she fought back with skill – her letters could cajole, threaten, order, or be kind. An example of such skill: when opening a new convent she and her few nuns would enter the town during the night so they would be set up and firmly ensconced by morning. She was a crafty one, Teresa of Avila! ( )
  Epiphany-OviedoELCA | Jul 19, 2021 |
I always thought it was a shame that Teresa, the brilliant, beautiful, and charismatic founder of the Discalced Carmelites, was mostly known for the famous Bernini sculpture of her that looks like she's doing very un-nunlike things with an angel. Medwick's biography goes a long way towards correcting that. ( )
  drewandlori | Oct 16, 2007 |
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For Jeff, Lucy, and Peter, and in memory of my mother and father.
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A refreshingly modern reconsideration of Saint Teresa (1515-1582), one of the greatest mystics and reformers to emerge within the sixteenth-century Catholic Church, whose writings are a keystone of modern mystical thought. From the very beginning of her life in a convent, following the death of her mother and the marriage of her older sister, it was clear that Teresa's expansive nature, intensity, and energy would not be easily confined. Cathleen Medwick shows us a powerful daughter of the Church and her times who was a very human mass of contradictions: a practical and no-nonsense manager, and yet a flamboyant and intrepid presence who bent the rules of monastic life to accomplish her work--while managing to stay one step ahead of the Inquisition. And she exhibited a very personal brand of spirituality, often experiencing raptures of an unorthodox, arguably erotic, nature that left her frozen in one position for hours, unable to speak. Out of a concern for her soul and her reputation, her superiors insisted that she account for every voice and vision, as well as the sins that might have engendered them, thus giving us the account of her life that is now considered a literary masterpiece. Medwick makes it clear that Teresa considered her major work the reform of the Carmelites, an enterprise requiring all her considerable persuasiveness and her talent for administration. We see her moving about Spain with the assurance (if not the authority) of a man, in spite of debilitating illness, to establish communities of nuns who lived scrupulously devout lives, without luxuries. In an era when women were seldom taken seriously, she even sought and received permission to found two religious houses for men.         In this fascinating account Cathleen Medwick reveals Teresa as both more complex and more comprehensible than she has seemed in the past. She illuminates for us the devout and worldly woman behind the centuries-old iconography of the saint. From the Hardcover edition.

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