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Posted March 11, 2003

Book: Teresa of Avila
Author: Rowan Williams presently bishop of Cantaberry
Morehouse Publication, Harrisburg, PA

Excerpt from Introduction:

Teresa of Avila is one of the most accessible and attractive of all the great writers in the Christian mystical tradition; but her very human attractiveness and the fascination of her unusual experiences of vision and rapture tend to obscure two salient facts about her. First, she was a woman reacting to a particularly difficult epoch in the history of the Spanish state and the Church; and second, she was an independent theological thinker. She lived in a society whose tensions and anxieties were more like those of modern South Africa than Europe in the last quarter of the twentieth century: though she would have recognized all too readily the horrors of Germany in the 1930s, and the threat of resurgent anit-Semitism in the France of 1990.

As a member of a disadvantaged and suspect group Christians of Jewish descent she had a perspective on her age rather different from that of many of her contemporaries, however hard she tried to be a "good" member of the institutions to which she belonged. Much of her theology becomes clearer in the light of her background; which is why this book spends some time examining the world in which she lived. But she is also a theologian of the contemplative life, tough she does not give that phrase quite the connotations we have come to expect. She is preoccupied with the contemplative's missionary vocation in a way far removed from the individualistic and slightly precious ambience that the word contemplation can suggest.

Looking at Teresa as far as possible in her own terms means some quite close study of her texts. This book cannot claim to be anything like an exhaustive commentary on her writings, but I hope to draw out some continuities in her often diffuse and sprawling works.

Excerpt from Book:

Teresa's account of her youth in the "Life" begins to set the scene for the later chapters on her struggles with her confessors and advisors in that it show a keen awareness of the difficulties of recognizing true motivation, especially in a context where rigid convention prescribes what it means to be loyal or virtuous. Teresa is intrigued by the possibilities of doing right for the wrong reason; of distorted ideas of virtue working against the grace of God; and, above all, of the gulf between reputation and reality. In other words, her youthful experience has shown her that it is hard to be truthful.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: A biological sketch
1. Purity and honour: Teresa's social world
2. Finding a pattern: Teresa's autobiography
3. "When books are taken away: The Way of Perfection
4. God at the center: The Interior Castle
5. Mysticism and incarnation