Saint Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family origins have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born. READ MORE
HOW does a late twentieth-century person read a spiritual classic like St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, which was originally composed for a small and select audience, her confessors and spiritual directors, in a cultural milieu, sixteenth-century Spain, from which we are separated by four hundred years? This is an important question for our age, which seeks to rediscover the Western spiritual tradition.(1)
The contemporary reader most often has two complaints about the text of St. Teresa’s Life. The first is that her literary style is diffuse and digressive. As Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, one of the modern translators of the Life, has remarked: “As though her thoughts were jostling with each other for position, her sentences often become highly involved with parentheses and digressions, causing her sometimes to lose the thread — which never prevents her from leaping forward quickly and easily to a new thought.”(2) A second complaint has to do with St. Teresa’s focus on, and minute analysis of, supernatural favors and phenomena in the Life. The author of a recent essay on St. Teresa puts it this way: “Her record of raptures and visions answers to nothing in the experience of most Christians.”(3)
While today’s readers may experience formal and conceptual difficulties in reading St. Teresa’s Life, they also have at their disposal two contemporary interpretative aids to assist them in this endeavor: developmental psychology, particularly as it has been recently transposed into a Christian key by Evelyn and James Whitehead(4); and what is called in academic circles “narrative theology” and more popularly “theology of story.” In this essay I suggest how insights from developmental psychology and the theology of story facilitate the reading of St. Teresa’s Life, while respecting its original purpose and context.