Theresa, Saint

Theresa or Teresa, Saint

(Theresa of Ávila) (both: tĭrē`sə, –zə), 1515–82, Spanish Carmelite nun, Doctor of the Church, one of the principal saints of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the greatest mystics, and a leading figure in the Counter ReformationCounter Reformation,
16th-century reformation that arose largely in answer to the Protestant Reformation; sometimes called the Catholic Reformation. Although the Roman Catholic reformers shared the Protestants' revulsion at the corrupt conditions in the church, there was present
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Her original name was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, and her chosen name as a nun was Theresa of Jesus. She came of a well-to-do noble family. She entered the Carmelite order (possibly in 1536). Much later she underwent (c.1555) a "second conversion," after which she experienced mystic visions. She had entertained a desire to found a house of reformed Carmelites (the Discalced, or Barefoot, Carmelites, living in strict observance of the rule) long before she had the opportunity in 1562 to found the Convent of St. Joseph in Ávila. Other foundations were made, and in the busy years that followed she traveled much to the various houses. She also founded convents of friars, having as her collaborator another great mystic, St. John of the CrossJohn of the Cross, Saint,
Span. Juan de la Cruz, 1542–91, Spanish mystic and poet, Doctor of the Church. His name was originally Juan de Yepes. He was a founder of the Discalced Carmelites and a close friend of St.
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St. Theresa combined intense practicality with the most rarefied spirituality. She was an excellent and tireless manager, waging a long and ultimately successful struggle with other branches of the clergy to have the Discalced Carmelites separated from the older order and eventually founding 17 convents. The reawakening of religious fervor that she brought about in Spain was astonishing. Soon after her death the movement spread beyond Spain and across Christendom, having a profound effect on the Counter Reformation. She brought mysticism and its fruits to the common person. She was canonized in 1622. Feast: Oct. 15.

Literary Works

The writings of St. Theresa have gained a steadily widening audience from the 16th cent. to the present. In 1970 Pope Paul VI named St. Theresa a Doctor of the Church; she was the first woman so honored. The Castilian in which St. Theresa wrote stems from common speech, and the imagery is rich but simple. Candor and overflowing spiritual strength lend a greater beauty to the sometimes terse, sometimes discursive expressions. Her works were dominated by love of God and characterized by humor, intelligence, and common sense.

The Life (written 1562–65) is a spiritual autobiography written for her confessors and containing not only the record of her progress in mysticism but also short treatises on prayer and vision; editions usually include the supplementary Relations, short pieces written for the same purpose as the Life. Her Way of Perfection was written after 1565 to supply her nuns worthy instruction on prayer; it is still found very useful by the religious and by layreaders. In Interior Castle (written in 1577) she gives a glowing and powerful picture of the contemplative life. The Foundations (written 1573–82) is an account of the launching of her order.

Her letters—brisk, vigorous, full of wisdom and humor—are much loved. She also wrote shorter pieces—Exclamations of the Soul to God (1569), rhapsodic meditations; a commentary on the mystic significance of the Song of Solomon; the Constitutions, for the Discalced Carmelite nuns; and Method for the Visitation of Convents of Discalced Nuns. There have been several translations of her writings, including E. Allison Peers (3 vol., 1957).


See biographies by H. A. Hatzfeld (1969), E. A. Peers (1945, repr. 1973), and C. Medwick (1999); studies by E. W. T. Dickens (1963) and R. T. Petersson (1970).

Theresa or Thérèse, Saint

(Theresa of Lisieux), 1873–97, French Carmelite nun, one of the most widely loved saints of the Roman Catholic Church, b. Alençon. Her original name was Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, and her name in religion was Theresa of the Child Jesus; she is known as the Little Flower of Jesus. The youngest of five surviving daughters of St. Marie-Azélie Guérin and St. Louis Martin, who were a lacemaker and a jeweler and watchmaker, she became, as proclaimed by Pope Pius XI, "the greatest saint of modern times." At the age of 15 she was permitted to follow two of her sisters into the Carmelite convent at Lisieux. There she spent the remaining nine years of her life and died of tuberculosis.

Many miracles are attributed to her, but perhaps the greatest miracle connected with her is that she became known at all. A simple nun in an obscure convent, she was remarkable only for her goodness. The holiness of her life so impressed her superior that Theresa was asked to write her spiritual autobiography. This has become one of the most widely read religious autobiographies. It is filled, as are her letters, with her message of seeking good with childlike simplicity. She exemplified the "little way"—achieving goodness by performing the humblest task and carrying out the most trivial action.

She was canonized in 1925, just 28 years after her death, and Lisieux has become a major place of pilgrimage. There are churches dedicated to St. Theresa throughout the Roman Catholic world, and meditations from her writings are read by many of the devout with the frequency of a manual of prayer. She is often represented in art with an armful of roses, because of her cryptic promise: "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses." In 1997, Pope John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church. She is the patron of aviators and foreign missionaries. Feast: Sept. 30. Her parents were canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.


See her autobiography (tr. 1958; new tr. 1975, 3d. ed. 1996); selected correspondence in Maurice and Thérèse (ed. by P. V. Ahern, 1998); biographies by B. Ulanov (1965) and G. Gaucher (tr. 1993).

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