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Terrell DG St Teresa of Avila and the Practice of Prayer (Scribd)

Terrell DG St Teresa of Avila and the Practice of Prayer (Scribd)

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Published by David G Terrell
This essay briefly examines the sixteenth century Catholic mystic, Teresa of Avila and her prayer-related aspects of spiritual practices. Her writings on the practice of prayer will be examined in the light of their apophatic spirituality, gender and position relative to the Church organization.
This essay briefly examines the sixteenth century Catholic mystic, Teresa of Avila and her prayer-related aspects of spiritual practices. Her writings on the practice of prayer will be examined in the light of their apophatic spirituality, gender and position relative to the Church organization.

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Published by: David G Terrell on Jul 25, 2010
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ST. TERESA OF AVILA AND THE PRACTICE OF PRAYER David G. Terrell July 24, 2010
Pope Paul III responded to charges of loss of spirituality in the early modern Roman Catholic Church by convoking the Council of Trent (1545-63) to review and standardize doctrines.
1
 While the Council failed to completely reform Christian morality, it did restore some
of the Church’s spirit and energy.
2
 Much of this spiritual restoration came in the form of numinous experience related by individuals engaged in the ascetic practices of Catholic life, especially prayer.
3
 One of the approaches to such spiritual practices was labeled
apophatic
 by an unidentified monastic writer known as the Pseudo-Dionysius in late fifth-century. Apophatic spirituality is transcendent and involves the use of altered states of conscience to experience an imageless and wordless rapture that eliminates all anthropomorphic notions of God or attempts to rationally
understand God in favor of a direct acceptance of “
the unknowable.
4
 This essay will briefly examine the sixteenth century Catholic mystic, Teresa of Avila and her prayer-related aspects of spiritual practices. Her writings on the practice of prayer will be examined in the light of their apophatic spirituality, gender and position relative to the Church organization.
1
 Michael J. Call, "Boxing Teresa: The Counter-Reformation and Bernini's Cornaro Chapel"
Woman's Art Journal 
 ((Woman's Art, Inc.), Spring-Summer 1997: 34-39.), 34.
2
 Robert E. McNally, "The Council of Trent, the Spiritual Exercises and the Catholic Reform"
Church History
 ((Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History) XXXIV, no. 1 (March 1965): 36-49), 36.
3
 McNally, 37. Christopher M. Bellitto, "The Spirituality of Reform in the Late Medieval Church: The Example of Nicolas de Clamanges"
Church History
 ((Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History) LXVIII, no. 1 (March 1999): 1-13), 13.
4
 Barbara Mujica, "Beyond Image: The Apophatic-Kataphatic Dialectic in Teresa de Avila"
 Hispania
 ((American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese) LXXXIV, no. 4 (December 2001): 741-748), 741-742.
 
2 Teresa of Avila (or, Teresa de Jesus) was the child of a wealthy
conversa
 merchant family who
 joined the Carmelite religious order, against her father’s wishes in 1535.
5
 She experienced perennial poor health, including three years of debilitating paralysis that provided her opportunity for spiritual contemplation, during which she experienced a series of divine visions. She actively promoted her spiritual views, founding a branch of the Carmelite Order dedicated to a severe hermetic lifestyle.
6
 Teresa lived her religious live in the midst of masculine-dominated ideologies exemplified by the Council of Trent which directly targeted feminine religious, mandating their enclosure in monasteries; and limited the public religiosity  permitted to women while increasing the attention paid to their lifestyles by male-dominated ecclesiastical and secular officials, including those of the Inquisition. In Spain, where Teresa was raised, the tradition of influential independent religious women (
beatas
), prominently seen in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, almost disappeared.
7
 This official suspicion of
women’s
religiosity arose around two generalizations. The first resulted from the overall lack of formal theological schooling among women. A woman
 — 
and, indeed, an unlettered man
 — 
who experienced a spiritual awakening did not possess the specialized theological vocabulary that would allow her to describe, explain and preach upon her  personal experience to university-trained theologians. This situation was, in some respects, a struggle of epistemology between rational, learned theologians and non-rational, experientially-minded seekers after God, who were dismissed for their lack of an informed theological
5
 Jonathan W. Zophy,
 A Short History of the Renaissance and Reformation Europe
 (4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009), 260-261.
6
 Kieran Kavanaugh,
Teresa of Avila: The Way of Prayer,
 (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 2003), 10-11.
7
 Gillian T. W. Ahlgren, "Negotiating Sanctity: Holy Women in Sixteenth-Century Spain"
Church History,
 ((Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History) LVIV, no. 3 (September 1995): 373-388), 375-376.
 
3 vocabulary and inability to discuss doctrine in terms of classic theology.
8
 Women were thus sanctioned for their "holy ignorance" and illiteracy; unsurprising as the study of Latin was deemed illicit for women.
9
 Secondly, there was a significant gendered fear arising from poor masculine
opinions of women’s moral strength. Women were assumed to be easily deluded by
Satan or unable to find their own spiritual paths because of mental simplicity, ignorance, or inherent malice. It is telling, in this regard, that the Inquisition placed many women on trial
 — 
not  just as
alumbrados
, “illuminated” practitioners of previously
-rejected religious doctrines
 — 
 but also as
ilusas
, demonically-influenced or demon-possessed persons who pretended to be holy; or as actual practitioners of dark magic.
10
 In spite of this hostile environment, Teresa was a prolific author; writing between 15,000 and 25,000 manuscripts.
11
 She admitted, in her writings, that three particular books influenced her early spiritual life:
The Letters of Saint Jerome
, Francisco de Osuna’s
Third Spiritual  Alphabet 
 
and St. Gregory’s
 Morals on Job
.
12
 
Using Gregory’s models of prayer and practice; Osuna’s conceptualization of the “prayer of recollection”
13
 
and Job’s injunction to accept
whatever experiences God chooses to inflict upon oneself (Job 2:10)
14
; Teresa worked to visualize Christ while in deep internal reflection.
15
 
8
 Ahlgren, 376-377.
9
 Electa Arenal, and Stacey Schlau. "Stratagems of the Strong, Stratagems of the Weak: Autobiographical Prose of the Seventeenth-Century Hispanic Convent," (
Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
 (University of Tulsa) IX, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 25-42), 25.
10
 Ahlgren, 376-377.
11
 Kavanaugh, 14.
12
 Kavanaugh, 16-17, 28-31. Teresa of Avila,
The Book of Her Life,
 (Vol. I, in
The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila
, by Teresa of Avila, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 5-365. Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1565, 1976), 3.7, 4.6-7.
13
 Kavanaugh, 17. Avila,
 Life
, 5.8, 4.6-7.
14
 Avila,
 Life
, 5.8.
15
 Avila,
 Life
, 4.6-7.

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