The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila: Review

I haven’t read many autobiographies, so I was rather gambling when I bought this autobiography of one of the most famous Catholic Saints: Teresa of Ávila. Firstly because autobiography is usually serious; and this one, particularly, is religious. Tough combination! But I don’t know why, this one is tempting me since I put it in my WEM Project, and so….I dared myself to read it. In the end, it is so worth it! Although Teresa’s writing is not quite chronologic—she used to return to the past things related with the current issue that she might have forgotten, or which she thinks now is important, while is wasn’t then—and she seems to have difficulties to make things more clearly. But maybe this is because she had restriction (from God or from her superiors at that time). But above all, her autobiography is really inspiring.

I usually do the three levels inquiries for WEM, but this time I go directly to review. I will still do the inquiries after this, though :). Now about the book…..

Teresa of Ávila (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada) was born at Ávila in 1515, into a family with good virtues, which I believe is the solid foundation of her own devotion to God in the age of six or seven. Her mother taught her to pray. Unfortunately, at age 14, Teresa began to lose her virtues through bad friends’ influences and amusements of the world. Scared that she might fall to sin, her parents took her to a convent, although with her bitterly aversion. The secluded convent seemed to bring back Teresa’s virtues, however she began to suffer from heart disease, and this forced her father to bring her out, and put her in her relative’s.

Teresa took the habit at the Convent of the Incarnation on 3rdNovember 1536, when she was 21 years old. Here she began to have great joy to serve God. Meanwhile, her health got worsened, and so she must be brought out of town for treatment, which unfortunately didn’t work as expected. It seemed that God deliberately sent the illness for her to endure, and she did endure it with patience. She was paralyzed for almost three years, yet she endured the great torment with joy. At this stage she regretted her former sins, and took St. Joseph as her advocate to God. However, once again she fell to sins because the convent provided too much liberty for a restless nun like her. One day Christ appeared before her, looking severe, telling her that her friendship with her current friend displeased Him. While she still disobeyed, God appeared in another vision.

Teresa was weary of her sin, that she lost her previous joy in virtuous things. She abandoned her communing with God (meditation). Through her confessors’ guidance, Teresa returned to her prayers, but she still lived two lives: the earthly and the divine ones. But during those times, God never ceased to veil her sins from public, as He knew that Teresa, deep in her heart, always longed to serve Him. For twenty years Teresa fell and rose in her spiritual life, again and again; this state disturbed her, but thank God, He gave her courage to keep praying, because praying helps us to be nearer to Him, as He will bear so long for us to come to Him.

Reading St. Augustine’s Confessionshas helped her to incline more to spiritual graces and to stay away from things that did her harm. She taught us that there are four stages in prayer; the higher the stage the more intimate we would be with God. After 5 or 6 years exercising to 3rd stage of praying, Teresa was being accused and attacked by people who said that it’s only her innovations. She was disturbed by this fuss, and fell again to sins, until a Dominican Friar woke her up from it, and she realized how God is never tired to forgiving sinners.

Teresa now often had an ecstasy, when God enraptured her. She was afraid at first whether it was not a deception from the devils, however in many visions and appearances God convinced her that it was from Him. God gave her favours in the raptures and visions; He even brought her to visit Hell and Heaven. The ‘tour’ to Hell was very horrible, that she couldn’t even describe it in words. Not only the tortures to body—she felt greater pain than she had ever endured on earth—but also the torture of soul, which was still much more painful than of the body. With these favours, Teresa began to incline to save souls, with the guidance from God.

God commanded her to found a convent of St. Joseph’s. Through so many obstacles (that distressed Teresa so much, since, as usual, she was torn between God’s promise that everything would be OK as this was His wish, and her own thoughts that she was deceiving herself and others—which was clearly came from the devils), the convent was finally founded on 1562. During the process, Teresa received much opposition from others, including her colleagues and superiors, and even her confessors. However, as this was a work from God—and God was extra patience to convince the stubborn Teresa about it—the new convent was finally established. People opposed it because it was a reformation of convent’s standard system. St. Joseph’s convent took poverty as its main rule, and this they did not accept dowry from new members—as the standard of convents at that time—and strictly closed the convent from outer world so that the nuns could focus their devotion mainly to God. It really fitted Teresa, whose sins were mostly from her connection with the outer world.

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From this autobiography, I learned that Saints are ordinary people like us; that although they have achieved higher step in spirituality: 1) They still sinned every now and then. 2) It doesn’t mean that the devils stop tempting them; the tighter your relation with God is, the bolder the devils would tempt and attack you. They become even more aggressive now that the chance to snatch the souls from God is smaller. The only consolation we get from God, is that He won’t let us fall if we put 100% trust in His protection and keep on praying. That is very relieved, but we almost always forget it during trials! :)

People who oppose Catholic and other Christian Church often attack us by saying: If God loves us, why, while we are so devoutly to him, that He let the devils tempt and attach us, that we must suffer much? Oh yes, God do let them do it, as I read from Teresa’s words. God allows the devils to do that to test our strength and to make us realize of His power to save us from harm. That’s why, we mustn’t retreat from our virtuous life when trials come, but strengthen it with more prayers and with humility.

One important fact that astonished me is the powerful effect of Holy Water. Teresa told us that one day a devil appeared to her when she was praying; she was afraid, so she raised a cross to it, and it soon went away. However, a moment later it re-appeared. Teresa did the same action twice more, but the devil kept coming. So, Teresa reached for Holy Water, and sprinkled it to the devil, and this time it vanished and never returned. So great is the power of the Holy Water!

There are so many valuable things I got from this inspiring book, a book which Teresa has written by the guidance of God. Teresa then submitted the manuscript to a Reverence to be published. She died on October 1582, but not before she founded many more St. Joseph’s convents (the Carmelite nuns). Forty years after her death, Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.

Last but not least, here’s a lovely quote to help us all living this hard lives….

“For in this life we cannot always remain in the same state. Sometimes we are fervent, and at other times not; sometimes we are restless and at other times calm in spite of temptations. He told me to trust Him and not be afraid.”

In fact, Teresa’s life was like that, she was not a perfect human being, but she kept loving God, did her best to please Him, and put her trust in Him. We are not perfect either, and we might not become Saints, but we can do our best to reach the eternal life as long as we put trust in Him to guide us.

Four and a half stars for this autobiography, for although it is very inspiring, but so tough in reading, with the small fonts and Teresa’s inconsistent writing and sometimes full of ramblings.

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I read Penguin Classics paperback edition

*This book is counted as:*


5th book for Baca Bareng BBI – September theme: biography