Neoplatonism Through the Renaissance

Renaissance Humanism

Who was St. Teresa and what were her main ideas?

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) entered the Carmelite order when she was 22, and there she sought guidance in how to pray until she was 47. In 1560 she became part of the reform movement among the Spanish Carmelites. Her main works were the Vida (Life), which was her spiritual autobiography, and Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. Her main project was to help readers surrender to the divine Trinity.

Teresa held that mysticism developed in stages. In her Life, she says that the soul is like a garden. First, weeds need to be removed and then water must be carried from a well. The senses must be subdued to minimize distraction during this initial labor of prayer and meditation. The prayer of quiet in the second stage is like irrigation with the help of a water wheel; and in the third stage a condition of contemplation is achieved, which is analogous to having a running brook through one’s garden. By this time, the senses no longer function normally and the soul wants to withdraw from the world and unite with God. In the fourth stage, this union is achieved.

In The Interior Castle, Teresa uses the analogy of a castle with many rooms to describe a life of contemplation. After six early stages, the soul comes into the direct presence of God.


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