Teresa of Ávila

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Teresa of Ávila ( Peter Paul Rubens )

Teresa of Ávila ( Spanish Teresa de Ávila , born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada ; born March 28, 1515 in Ávila , Castile , Spain ; †  October 4, 1582 in Alba de Tormes , near Salamanca ) was a Carmelite and a mystic . In the Catholic Church she is venerated as a saint and doctor of the church . In addition, the Anglican and Evangelical Churches commemorate them with memorial days.

In Spanish and Italian her name is written without "h": Teresa , in German also as Theresia with "h"; she herself took the religious name Teresa of Jesus (Teresa de Jesús) . She is often called the "great Teresa" to distinguish her from St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (from Lisieux), who is also called "little Therese".


Convento de Santa Teresa in Avila

Teresa de Ahumada was born in Ávila in 1515, according to most biographers; only a minority names Gotarrendura ( province of Ávila ) as the place of birth, without citing convincing evidence and against a centuries-old tradition. Her paternal grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Toledo . In 1485, when Teresa's father Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda (1471–1543) was fourteen years old, the grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo Cepeda (1440–1507) converted to Christianity with his family, acquired a letter of nobility, and moved to Ávila to start a new life there. As the Reconquista progressed (see also the Reconquista chronological table ), there was increasing pressure on the Sephardic Jews to abandon their religious practice, which in 1492 led to an expulsion or compulsory baptism , conversos , with the Alhambra Edict .

From a first marriage of Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda came two children, from the second, which he concluded in 1508 with Doña Beatriz de Ahumada (1495–1528), ten, of which Teresa was the third. She wrote: "We were three sisters and nine brothers".

After her mother's death (1528), Teresa immersed herself in reading the chivalric novels customary at the time, which her mother had already eagerly read, became aware of their natural advantages, cultivated first friendships and fell into a religious crisis. When in 1531 her half-sister married, the father brought the sixteen for further education in the convent of the Augustinian nuns of Santa María de la Gracia in Ávila, they had to leave for health reasons after 18 months. On the way to her sister's recovery, she came across a number of books from her paternal uncle Pedro Sánchez de Cepeda, including the letters from the church father Jerome , which were important for her career choice. In the decision for the monastery, a real relationship with Christ played a role , but at the same time the unfavorable situation of the married woman and the fear of hell also played a role.

On November 2, 1535, Teresa entered the Carmel of the Incarnation ( Santa María de la Encarnación ) in Avila , against her father's will . At that time there were almost forty sisters living in the convent , but because of the immense surplus of women in Spain, the number grew to one hundred and ninety in just fifteen years, with all the economic, social and spiritual consequences that this entailed. On November 2, 1536 she was clothed and on November 3, 1537 she resigned from her religious profession.

The following year, Teresa became seriously ill. A retrospective diagnosis is not possible, although there has been much speculation; Epilepsy , depression and brucellosis , among others, were and are mentioned . On the way to a "healer" in Becedas, she came across the Tercer Abecedario Espiritual ("Third Spiritual ABC") of the Franciscan Francisco de Osuna from her uncle Pedro , through which she was able to perform the "inner prayer" she had long practiced. was strengthened. In July 1539 she returned terminally ill to her monastery, where in August she fell into a three-day, death-like paralysis; she was believed dead, the funeral prayers were prayed for her and the grave was already being excavated. She was more or less paralyzed for three years. From 1542 her health got better, but she got into a religious crisis; she gave up the inner prayer, which for her was "staying with a friend" because she considered herself too bad for it, but was given by Father Vicente Barrón OP , whom she met when her father died (December 26, 1543) Error free.

After the partial restoration of her health, she again took part in the lively interaction with the visitors to the monastery in the consulting rooms, mostly on the orders of her superiors, but suffered greatly because she was caught between more superficial interests and the desire to fully engage with God and felt torn. In the need of not being able to solve this dilemma on her own, she was given a deep experience of his love in Lent 1554 in front of a small statue of the Man of Sorrows , which brought about a complete inner conversion and liberation (her so-called "second conversion"). In this context, Teresa spoke of a "new life". In the following years she experienced first deep prayer experiences and visions, which, unsettled by incompetent confessors, terrified her, but she received information and help from knowledgeable Dominicans and Jesuits , including Francisco de Borja . The first notes for her autobiography were made during this time.

Convento de la Encarnación in Avila
Carmel in Alba de Tormes, where Teresa's tomb is located.

A further deepening of her spiritual experience was the so-called "Hell Vision" (1560), which she described according to the ideas of the time, but the core of which was a deepened awareness of the free mercy of God. The impact on Teresa was a desire for a more consistent life and apostolic enthusiasm. In this condition, she and some friends experienced the so-called “founding meeting” in her monastery cell in September 1560, at which the wish was expressed to found a community like the so-called Descalzos (“barefooted”), like the followers of then Reform movements within their respective orders were mentioned.

With the help of the Bishop of Ávila, Álvaro de Mendoza, Teresa received permission from Pope Pius IV to found a monastery in Ávila in which the original rule of the order of St. Albert of Jerusalem should be followed. So it was able to found its first foundation on August 24th, 1562, the convent of St. Joseph ( Convento de San José ) in Ávila. According to the custom, they were called "Discalced Carmelites". The first monasteries of the Discalced were established with the small number of thirteen sisters, which later increased to no more than twenty-one sisters.

The first was followed by sixteen other foundations for sisters, and in collaboration with John of the Cross , Teresa also became the founder of the male branch of the Teresian Carmel . In August / September 1568 she carefully introduced John of the Cross to her new goals in Valladolid , the characteristics of which were a fraternal lifestyle, practice in dying ego (liberation from the ego ) and above all cultivating an intensive friendship with God; the whole thing should be based on humility - understood as a constant striving for self-knowledge. With this, Teresa clearly set herself apart from the then common reform ideal of the Descalzos in Castile, which relied on rigorism , the characteristics of which were sensational penance exercises ( self-flagellation , extreme fasting and a total abstinence requirement ), with which one hoped to gain and maintain God's favor.

On October 6, 1571, Teresa was appointed Prioress of the Carmel of the Incarnation, into which she had originally entered, by the Apostolic Visitator Pedro Fernández OP, against her and the will of the sisters . In the summer of the following year she brought John of the Cross to this convent, which had meanwhile grown to about two hundred sisters, as spiritual and confessor . With their spiritual guidance based on suavidad ( meekness ) and not on the rigorism customary at the time, they managed to carry out a real renewal there. In April 1575, Teresa met the educated Carmelite Jerónimo Gracián (1545-1614), who came from Seville . A deep bond developed between the two.

In the course of the escalating disputes in the reform policy between the papal curia in Rome ( Council of Trent , concluded in 1563) and the court of Philip II , who sought to push back relevant influences from abroad (regalism), a new foundation arose between Teresa's new foundation and the tribal order violent dispute, which only after the establishment of an independent province by Pope Gregory XIII. was settled with the Breve Pia consideratione of June 22, 1580; The result was the establishment of an independent order province of the emerging Teresian Carmel on March 7, 1581.

When she was on her way home from her last foundation in Burgos to the Carmel of St. Joseph was in Avila, Teresa was delegated by Provincial Vicar Antonio de Jesús (Heredia) to Alba de Tormes, where she was supposed to assist the young Duchess of Alba during the birth. She arrived there terminally ill on September 20, 1582 and died in the Carmelite convent there on October 4, 1582 around nine o'clock in the evening. Due to the Gregorian calendar reform , October 4th immediately followed October 15th, on which Teresa was buried.


Teresa is considered a great mystic . She was beatified in 1614, made the patron saint of Spain in 1617 and canonized in 1622 . 1944 she was by Pope Pius XII. declared the patron saint of chess players. On September 18, 1965, Paul VI appointed Teresa patroness of Hispanic writers and on September 27, 1970, the first woman in Church history to be a Doctor of the Church . Further honors include her appointment as co-patroness of Spain in 1627 (next to Santiago, St. James ), an honorary doctorate from the University of Salamanca on March 4, 1922 and, on the occasion of her 500th birthday, an honorary doctorate from her home university, the Catholic University of Ávila on August 5, 2015.

St. Teresa of Avila died on the last day of the Julian calendar in the then Catholic areas. Because of the Gregorian calendar reform , St. Teresa on October 15, immediately following October 4.

A peasant rule corresponding to the day of remembrance is: At Theres 'the wine begins'.

In Christian iconography, Teresa of Ávila is depicted in the brown habit of the Discalced Carmelite Sisters with a white choir cloak and black veil , with the attributes of a book and pen, with a heart with the Christ monogram , with a scourge, thorns and arrow, with the dove of the Holy Spirit .

One of the most famous representations is the marble statue of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the Roman church of Santa Maria della Vittoria . It shows Teresa in the mystical ecstasy of the transverberation .

Gaspar de Crayer painted the vision in which Maria and Josef Teresa gave a white robe and "a beautiful gold chain [...] with a very valuable cross on it".

Spiritual experience

Teresa's teaching is centered on the inner prayer ( oración ) that she had already practiced before entering the monastery. It may have its origin in her natural disposition to friendship and communication: "God gave me the grace that I aroused sympathy everywhere I went, and so I was very popular". She extended this affection for people especially to the abandoned and betrayed person Jesus of Nazareth , and from this she developed her "prayer" as cultivating friendship with God or Jesus, especially after she was given the book " Tercer Abecedario espiritual ”(Third Spiritual ABC) of the Franciscan Francisco de Osuna was strengthened on this“ path ”. It consisted of "imagining Christ within me"; later she referred to her prayer as "staying with a friend". This means that people should turn to God again and again as who they are, without suppressing or devaluing anything, in the awareness that they are so loved by the incarnate God, “who does not care about the weaknesses of people appalled, but understands our poor situation ”. In these efforts, reading, looking, pensive to be close to him, “it happened to me that quite unexpectedly a feeling of the presence of God came over me, so that I could in no way doubt that He was within me or that I was entirely within Him was sunk ".

In the course of time, Teresa also made mystical experiences (inner speeches, visions , raptures up to the intuitive foreboding of the Most Holy Trinity, referred to as “intellectual vision” ). But Teresa puts these experiences into perspective. They are not the essence of the mystical experience , because in the most sublime state, the so-called “mystical marriage”, they disappear. The core, however, remains the personal relationship, the “friendship with God incarnate”, which proves itself in the lived neighborly love: “One can never know whether we love God; but one recognizes the love for one's neighbor very well. "

Her best-known vision was the so-called transverberation , the piercing of her heart:

“I saw an angel next to me, on my left side, in a physical form, which I rarely see anywhere else. [...] He was not tall, rather small, very handsome, with such a shining face that he apparently belonged to the very sublime angels who look as if they were all on fire. [...] I saw a long golden arrow in his hands, and a little fire seemed to lick at the tip of this iron. I felt as if he thrust it into my heart a few times, and as if it penetrated my bowels. When he pulled it out, I felt as if he was going to tear it out with him and leave me burning with a strong love of God. The pain was so strong that it made me utter [...] complaints, but at the same time the tenderness that this tremendously great pain triggers in me is so overwhelming that not even the wish arises that it should pass, nor that the Soul contented with less than God. This is not a physical pain, but a spiritual one, even if the body certainly has a part in it, and even quite a lot. "

In the Teresian Carmel, August 26th is celebrated as the day of remembrance of the Transverberation.

At the end of her main work, the apartments in the inner castle , which were built in 1577, she writes: “Ultimately, my sisters, what I conclude with is that we should not build towers without a foundation, because the Lord does not look so much at the size of the works rather than the love with which they are done. And if we do what we can, His Majesty will add that we can do more and more every day, provided that we do not get tired right away, but for the short duration of this life - and perhaps it is shorter than the individual thinks - inwardly and Outwardly offering the Lord the sacrifice we make. His Majesty will connect it with what he offered on the cross for us to the Father, so that it would have the value that our will would have deserved, even if the works were small. "


  • Vida (completed in 1565, an earlier version has been lost)
The book of my life. Herder, Freiburg 2001, 8th edition 2013: translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 1), ISBN 978-3-451-05211-8 ( PDF; 2 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Camino de Perfección . (both versions [Escorial and Valladolid] 1566/1567)
Way of perfection . [Code of Escorial]. Herder, Freiburg 2001, 4th edition 2012: translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisbeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 2), ISBN 978-3-451-05318-4 ( PDF; 1.1 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Meditaciones sobre los Cantares
Thoughts on Song of Songs, poems and smaller writings . Herder, Freiburg 2004, 2nd edition 2012, translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 3), ISBN 978-3-451-05477-8 ( PDF; 1.7 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Moradas del Castillo Interior (1577)
Inner Castle Apartments . Herder, Freiburg 2005, 4th edition 2012, translated, edited and introduced by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 4), ISBN 978-3-451-05655-0 ( PDF; 1.4 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Libro de las fundaciones
The book of foundations . Herder, Freiburg 2007, translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 5), ISBN 978-3-451-05847-9 ).
  • Letters (I, 1–150, 1546–1576)
Please send me a couple of pigeons . Herder, Freiburg 2010, 2nd edition 2012, translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 6), ISBN 978-3-451-06223-0 ( PDF; 4.4 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Letters (II, 151–300, 1576–1579)
I have never loved you as much as I do now . Herder, Freiburg 2011, translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 7), ISBN 978-3-451-06299-5 ( PDF; 4.1 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).
  • Letters (III, 301–468, 1579–1582)
We can love this great God anywhere . Herder, Freiburg 2013, translated and edited by Ulrich Dobhan, Elisabeth Peeters. (Collected Works Volume 8), ISBN 978-3-451-06311-4 ( PDF; 5 MB ( Memento from May 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive )).


  • Ramón J. Sender: Tres novelas teresianas . Destino, Barcelona 1967, ISBN 84-233-2104-5 ; (German: Die Heilige und die Sünder. Novel in 3 pictures. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1971, ISBN 3-421-01542-2 ).
  • Reinhold Schneider: Theresia of Spain . Schnell and Steiner, Munich 1940.
  • Dževad Karahasan : Povučeni andjeo - The raptured angel . Drama, with music by Wolfgang Danzmayr, Arbos, Vienna / Salzburg / Klagenfurt 2005 DNB 94952848X ( German / Croatian , as a radio play on ORF 1995, director: Herbert Gantschacher).


German, English, Spanish

  • Benedict Zimmerman: St. Teresa of Avila . In: Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 14, Robert Appleton Company, New York 1912. (English)
  • Irene Behn: Spanish mysticism. Representation and interpretation . Patmos, Düsseldorf 1957, OCLC 4336495 .
  • Ulrich Dobhan: God, human being, the world in Teresa's view of Avila . Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1978, ISBN 3-261-02423-2 .
  • Joseph Kotschner (ed.): The way to the source. Teresa of Avila 1582–1982 . Patmos, Düsseldorf 1982, ISBN 3-491-77255-9 .
  • Johann Hoffmann-Herreros: Teresa of Avila. Your life between mysticism and order reform , Matthias-Grünewald, Mainz 1986, ISBN 3-7867-1258-1 .
  • Erika Lorenz, Helmuth N. Loose: Teresa von Avila. A biography . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, ISBN 3-451-23446-7 .
  • Efrén de la Madre de Dios, O. Steggink: Tiempo y vida de Santa Teresa. Biblioteca de autores cristianos , 3rd edition, Madrid 1996, ISBN 84-7914-220-0 .
  • Jutta Burggraf: Teresa of Avila. Humanity and Faith Life . Schöningh, Paderborn 2001, ISBN 3-506-71819-3 .
  • Britta Souvignier: The dignity of the body. Healing and healing with Teresa of Ávila . Böhlau, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-412-15900-X .
  • Elisabeth Münzebrock: Teresa of Avila [Master of Spirituality]. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2004, ISBN 3-451-05150-8 .
  • Francisco de Ribera: La vida de la madre Teresa de Jesús: Fundadora de las descalzas y descalzos carmelitas . Edibesa, Madrid 2005, ISBN 84-8407-427-7 .
  • Waltraud Herbstrith: Teresa of Avila. Life path and message. New City, Munich / Zurich / Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-87996-698-1 .
  • Joseph Pérez: Teresa de Ávila y su tiempo . Algaba Ediciones, Madrid 2007, ISBN 978-84-96107-80-9 .
  • Maria Antonia Sondermann: Meeting Teresa of Avila . St. Ulrich, Augsburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-936484-93-9 .
  • Manuel Diego Sánchez: Bibliografía sistemática de Santa Teresa de Jesús . Editorial de Espiritualidad, Madrid 2008, ISBN 978-84-7068-340-4 .
  • Hartmut Sommer: With Teresa von Ávila and Johannes von Kreuz in Castile. In: The great mystics . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 978-3-534-20098-6 .
  • Klaus Kleffner: Providence and impertinence. Sketches for a theology of providence from the work of Teresa of Avila . Eos, St. Ottilien 2012, ISBN 978-3-8306-7570-9 .
  • Linda Maria Koldau , Teresa of Avila. Agent of God 1515–1582. A biography. CH Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-66870-8 .
  • Alois Prinz , Teresa of Avila. The biography. Insel, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-458-17618-3 .
Lexicon entries


Web links

Commons : Teresa of Ávila  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


Teresa's works are quoted by Ulrich Dobhan and others after the complete edition published by Herder-Verlag since 2001.

  1. ^ Ulrich Dobhan: On the Jewish descent of Teresa of Avila. In: Edith-Stein-Jahrbuch 3 (1997) pp. 86-98
  2. The Book of My Life 1.3
  3. The Book of My Life 2: 1–2
  4. The Book of My Life 2,8-3,1
  5. The Book of My Life 3, 4–3, 6
  6. See Britta Souvignier 2001; and Daniel Helminiak: Neurology, psychology and extraordinary religious experiences . In: Journal of Religion and Health . 23, No. 1, 1984, pp. 33-46. doi : 10.1007 / BF00999898 .
  7. The Book of My Life 4, 7, "Way of Collection"
  8. The Book of My Life 5.9–6.1f
  9. The Book of My Life 7:17
  10. The Book of My Life 32: 9
  11. The Book of My Life 9: 1-3
  12. The Book of My Life 23: 1
  13. The Book of My Life 24: 3
  14. The Book of My Life 32: 1-7
  15. The Book of My Life 32:10
  16. The Book of Foundations 13: 5
  17. Carlos Ros Carballar: Jerónimo Gracián, el amigo de Teresa de Jesús. Editorial Monte Carmelo, 2014, ISBN 978-84-8353-611-7 .
  18. ^ Ernst Strouhal: Eight x eight: on the art of the game of chess ; Springer, Vienna 1996, ISBN 3-211-82775-7 , p. 28.
  19. Ralf Birkner: 500th birthday of Teresa von Avila. The guide. Deutschlandradio Kultur , March 22, 2015, accessed on October 19, 2015 .
  20. ^ «Lamp of Spain»: Saint Teresa receives an honorary doctorate on her 500th birthday. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  21. Teresa of Ávila in the Ecumenical Lexicon of Saints. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  22. See Heinrich Pfeiffer, Bernini's figure group of St. Theresa, in: Teresianum 35 (1982) pp. 679–693.
  23. The Book of My Life 33: 14-15
  24. ^ Barbara Böhm: Theresia (Teresa) (from Jesus) von Avila. In: Wolfgang Braunfels (Ed.): Lexicon of Christian Iconography. Volume 8, column 463-468, Herder-Verlag, Freiburg 1976. ISBN 3-451-14498-0 .
  25. a b c The Book of My Life 9.4
  26. The Book of My Life 2.8
  27. The Book of My Life 8.5
  28. The Book of My Life 37.5
  29. The Book of My Life 10.1
  30. Fifth apartment 3.8
  31. On the phenomenon of transverberation see Pierre Adnès: Transverberation. In: Dictionnaire de Spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire. Volume 15. Beauchesne, Paris 1991, Sp. 1174-1184.
  32. The Book of My Life 29:13
  33. Seventh apartment 4.15
  34. a b Iris Roebling-Grau, Even the founder of an order can fall in love , book review in FAZ from October 7, 2014, page 10