in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Lord Walks Amongst the Pots and Pans - Closing of Teresa 500th Year - Aylesford, Kent, Saturday October 17th

Dear All

First of all, apologies for not writing anything over the past couple of months. The beginning of term had a double whammy of new responsibilities to take over. However I have just been preparing my talk for the Carmelite final event of the Teresa 500th anniversary year at Aylesford this Saturday (17th October) and thought I would share some of it here. All are very welcome to this event which I think will be fitting end to a most wonderful year.

All good wishes


Teresa was a true original who offered a path for her contemporaries between the Scylla of fundamentalist iconoclasm and the Charybdis of inquisitorial reaction. In the Book of Foundations and the Way of Perfection we hear the voice of a sometimes lonely woman trying to walk that precarious path of liberation on behalf of her sisters and brothers in Christ. For Teresa, central to this reform was the belief that each baptised Christian should be able to have access to the contemplative life which she saw as the natural home of all the faithful.[1] In this respect she was of course simply returning to the original foundational charism of Carmel that we explored in Chapter Three. As she says later in the Interior Castle:

All of us who wear this sacred habit of Carmel are called to prayer and contemplation (a la oración y contemplación) – because that was our     origin, that is, we are descended from those Holy Fathers of ours of          Mount Carmel who in such great solitude and with such contempt of     the world sought this treasure, this precious pearl of which we speak.       (M: 5.1.1)

The aim of her reform, then, was to recreate, or perhaps better, create the conditions where, at first, ‘her daughters’, and later, ‘her sons’, could cultivate that special pearl of great price.

Unlike the Way of Perfection, written rapidly after the Life, the Foundations was (by necessity) longer in its gestation and, in fact, was left uncompleted as la Madre lay dying in October 1582. From the foundation of San José to her death, Teresa’s life had been absorbed with the task of creating a network of Discalced Convents dedicated to promoting and protecting the contemplative life that she had discovered in Avila and now sought to share with the world. This task was completed after her death when her foundations spread across the whole globe.

          Beginning with Medina del Campo in 1567, the foundations Teresa made in her lifetime were as follows: Malagón (1568), Valladolid (1568), Toledo (1569), Pastrana (1569), Salamanca (1570), Alba de Tormes (1571), Segovia (1574), Beas de Segura (1575), Seville (1575), Caravaca (1576), Villanueva de la Jara (1580), Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Granada (1582, although Teresa did not personally visit this one) and Burgos in 1582, after which she died at Alba de Tormes in October 1582. Considering the state of transport and communication in Spain at the time,[2] the rapidity with which Teresa made these foundations is a quite remarkable testament in itself.

          According to the Prologue to the Foundations (F: Prol. 3) she began the work in Salamanca in August 1573, eleven years after The Life was written. This was after the suggestion of her Jesuit confessor, Jerónimo Ripalda, who had been so edified after reading The Life. However, according to a testimony written by Teresa in Malagón around 1570, the origin of The Book of the Foundations had a divine mandate. Having seen a vision of the wounded Christ after communion, so the Saint relates in her Spiritual Testimonies, and shown concern for his sufferings, Christ turned to her and said:  


That I shouldn’t grieve over those wounds, but over the many that were now being inflicted upon Him. I asked Him what I could do as a remedy for this because I was determined to do everything I could. He told me that now was not the time for rest, but that I should hurry to establish these houses and that He would find rest with the souls that would live there; and that I must take all the houses that might be given to me because there were many souls who could not serve Him because they had no place in which they could do so; that the houses I founded in small towns should be just like this one… and that I should write about the foundation of these houses. Spiritual Testimonies: 5


Teresa, according to the testimony, felt unable to write, but rather than being a hindrance, the Lord felt this ‘place of unknowing’ was exactly what he wanted as a starting point for her narrative:

I thought of how with regard to the house at Medina I never understood anything of how I could write of this foundation. He told me that that was all the more reason to write of it since He wanted it     to be seen that the Medina foundation had been miraculous… and as a result I determined to undertake this work (of writing about the foundations). (CC: 6)


Thus, the Foundations was begun from a specified position of ‘unknowing’. The Lord would reveal the purpose of the text as it appeared.

          Consequently, work on the text would proceed in a stuttering fashion as and when she found time in her busy schedule of founding the new convents. From what we can derive from the internal textual evidence, Chapters 1 – 9 were written whilst at Segovia and Salamanca between 1573 and 1574; Chapters 10 - 19 were begun in Valladolid and written variously up to 1576 (Chapter 13, for instance, was written in 1575). Chapters 20 to 27 were written in Toledo and the final chapters 28 – 33 were left uncompleted at her death in Alba in 1582. Thus, along with The Interior Castle, The Foundations contains some of Teresa’s most mature writing. Yet, as I indicated earlier, her task in this book is, as it were, to extract the narrative part of the Life and present it without the ‘mystical context’ of, say, The Interior Castle. But, Teresa being Teresa, this is not quite possible. She cannot forget the divine mandate of her actions as we shall see shortly. The book itself is her answer to the question, ‘How does God act in the world?’ The answer is simple – Look around you! Look at His workings in bringing these convents into the world! This then is the subtext of the book.

           In contrast to her other later works, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, the Book of Foundations  had another inbuilt problem. She tells us in the Prologue that ‘the account will be given in all truthfulness… in conformity with what has taken place’ (F: Prol.3) yet many of the people and incidents, some as difficult and controversial as anything so far in her life, had to be dealt with no little tact and diplomacy, not least because many of the characters involved were still alive at the time of writing. Although la Santa never utters any ‘untruthfulness’ we sometimes have to ‘read between the lines’ to see her true view on situations. We discussed a good example of this in Chapter Two earlier regarding her discussion of the converso lineage of Alonso Alvarez in connection with her Toledo foundation (F: 15.15).

          Despite her best efforts the work was not included in Fray Luis’ first edition and the first printed edition appeared in Brussels in 1610 under the supervision of her two co-workers Ana de Jésus and Jerónimo Gracián. However, as both were now regarded with some suspicion by the Order in Spain they were not given access to the original autograph (by this time deposited at the Escorial) and this edition was not perfect, also containing much editing and omissions. The situation with regard to the text was only clarified in the late nineteenth century when P. Silverio used the autograph to present an authentic text. This text formed the basis of Allison Peers’ English translation and most subsequent English translations.

          Reading The Foundations and The Way of Perfection as our guides it is, then, possible to trace the shape of the reform of the Carmelite Order in Spain as Teresa led it through her final two decades.



[1] WhileTeresa was rather uncomplimentary about what she referred to as ‘the Lutherans’, her daughters, when they moved into Northern Europe, saw their reform as allowing all Christians, including those at this point separated from Rome, to have access to the contemplative life.
For more on this see Wilson (2006).
[2] See F: 18.4 and Kavanaugh and Rodriguez CW: 3.48-52 for good descriptions of this.

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