Saint Teresa Of Avila (Doctor Of The Universal Church)
"Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough." - St. Teresa
- Feast day : 15 October
- Canonized : 1622
- Founder of the Carmelite reform (Discalced Carmelite Order)
- First woman founder of a community of men (Discalced Carmelite Friars)
- First woman to be declared "Doctor of the Church"
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain in 1515. At the age of twenty, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation. During her first twenty-one years in religious life, Teresa had all but abandoned prayer. In part, she believed that as a sinner she was unworthy to approach God in such a personal way. The future saint felt unworthy to ask for favors or special graces.
During this time Teresa had a number of serious illnesses, including debilitating headaches, paralysis and a coma. Her illnesses, and a miraculous cure that she attributed to Saint Joseph, helped her to begin to see suffering in the light of the cross. At the age of 41, a priest convinced Teresa to return to prayer. Her first attempts were fraught with distractions and setbacks. While there was discouragement, Teresa persevered and eventually began to experience real progress in her journey toward God. Teresa began experiencing a profound intimacy with God as He drew her into contemplative prayer. Her life was transformed by these encounters with the Divine.
During the time of Teresa, the Carmelite Order had become worldly, focusing on comforts and material possessions. Nuns from rich families often had servants and lived better than the others. Gossip was common among the women.
In her late forties Teresa began to imagine a new foundation of Carmelites, one that focused on prayer and the eremitical life, to live as the early hermits did on Mount Carmel. Her desire became a reality when she received permission to begin a new convent. She named her first foundation after Saint Joseph. Teresa also received permission to begin a community of friars. They also followed her prayer-centered way of a simple life. Her first friar was a young Carmelite named Father John of Saint Matthias. Upon joining with Teresa, he changed his name to John of the Cross.
Over the next twenty years, Teresa personally founded sixteen monasteries of her 'discalced' nuns. As a means to instruct her daughters in this new way of life, she wrote The Way of Perfection. She also wrote an autobiography called The Life, as well as her greatest work on prayer, the Interior Castle. This spiritual masterpiece of mystical theology chronicled her prayer journey and experiences of God.
Teresa was a gifted organizer endowed with common sense, tact, intelligence, courage, and humor, as well as a mystic of extraordinary spiritual depth. She purified the religious life of Spain and, in a period when Protestantism gained ground elsewhere in Europe, strengthened the forces that reformed the Roman Catholic church from within.
Teresa died on October 4, 1582 at the age of sixty-seven. The Discalced Carmelite Order continued to grow and spread throughout the world. Teresa was canonized in 1622.
Teresa's teachings on prayer are recognized by the Church as a major contribution to Catholic theology. The modern Catechism references Teresa of Avila more than any other when it comes to prayer the interior life. Because of the importance of her contribution to the theology of prayer, Teresa of Jesus was declared Doctor of the Universal Church in 1970, where she joined the company of theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas and Leo the Great. Teresa was the first woman to be given this great distinction.