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Daughter of the Church

Teresa_of_Avila_dsc01644Barbara Mujica's article about St. Teresa of vila is now available tononsubscribers here. The article, titled "Teresa of vila: A Woman of Her Time, a Saint for Ours," is both a personal account of how Mujicawas changedbyher discovery ofTeresa's writings and a survey of the current literature about the saint, some of which softpeddles her distinctively Catholic (and sixteenth-century) attitudes and beliefs. As Mujica writes:

Although it is true that there are important connections between Teresas teachings and the meditative-contemplative traditions of other faiths, admirers who see Teresa as nonsectarian or transsectarian sometimes forget that her teachings are firmly rooted in Catholic doctrine. She called herself a daughter of the church and derived strength and inspiration from the writings of church fathers such as St. Augustine and St. Jerome. Teresa often criticized abusive confessors, but she cherished the sacrament of confessionone reason she insisted on forming a male branch of the Discalced Carmelites was to provide her nuns with confessors immersed in the Discalced charism. Teresa was also not tolerant in the modern sense, though she was less harsh than some of her contemporaries in that she believed in praying for Lutherans and unbaptized Indians rather than slaughtering them. Yet she regretted that, as a woman, she could not be more effective in the conversion of heretics and pagans (all of her brothers fought in the New World with the Conquistadors), and she saw nuns prayers on behalf of infidels as a form of female activism.

About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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An interesting article, but I think Barbara Mujica underestimates (or deliberately downplays) the converso issue.Even today, Spaniards are obsessed with "limpieza de sangre", blood not "tainted" with Jewish or Moorish ancestry.(I met a man a few years ago, a Spaniard who was a graduate student at a Jesuit university in America. His surname was Irish, because among his ancestors was a ggggggrandfather who fled Ireland with the Wild Geese. If the family had stayed in Ireland instead of moving to Spain, this young man would have been "The" O'Brien/O'Neill/MacCarthy/etc. (I won't mention his real name, because this is a true story.) To prove to me that he was the current chief of his clan, he showed me a lot of family papers, including Limpieza de Sangre certificates for several generations, signed and sealed. He thought nothing of displaying these documents with pride.)Did Teresa and John of the Cross know of their Jewish roots? Their families went to great pains to hide their backgrounds. Some writers explain this with greater clarity than Barbara Mujica does, including Rowan Williams in Teresa of Avila. Other explanations, available online: anyone who hasn't seen the Concha Velaquez t.v. series on Teresa of Avila, it is GREAT, imho. EWTN shows it now and then, and Amazon has it:

Sorry if that Times Books link doesn't work. Here's the Amazon link for the same book, Teresa of Avila by Cathleen Medwick. Search term: converso.

Teresa of Avila like so many great figures of the church have to be revisited in the light of our more transparent age which tells the truth rather than taints history by centering on those parts which relate to orthodoxy. Teresa lived in one of the most dynamic eras of history and the church. Galileo was being condemned and Descartes was revealing how we must believe what is in front of us and not be misguided that theology is the only criteria. (Bonaventure). Plus the reformation and the ventures into the New World.Notable that so many are surprised that this kind of prayer life exists in Catholicism. At the same time mysticism needs the balance of justice which Teresa seemed to have. As with anyone else here story has to be seen in the times in which she lived. I was surprised to see how much contemporary interest exists in Teresa.I don't know if Mujica down plays the that Teresa was a Jew. But this fact was rarely mentioned in Catholic circles. In Spain no less. Certainly the Catholic world is so much in denial when it comes to denegration of the Jews. Especially the horrors of the Third Reich.There is another article you might bring attention to that John Donnelly wrote for the magazine. A bit more detail and truth than one usually finds.

Bill, Your confidence in "our more transparent age" always astonishes me. As if human beings weren't as prone to forgetting as they are to learning. As if the truths we tell will not also be questioned by generations to come, which may be better than ours, or worse.

Matthew,A better word might be transparency by default. As in the videotapes contribution to the dismantiling of Soviet Communism. As in the Boston Globe collecting the facts that an inquisition would have stopped or colored. I was educated in a Catholic seminary where all the old fallacies were trumpeted. Which made me appreciate a Hans Kung, a Congar etc.The fallacies can still be touted. But few believe them.

Bill, thanks for the link to the review of The Aryan Jesus. Scary. (I'll probably be too chicken to read it.)As to conversos hiding their roots, some were so successful, that it is only recently that various families in New Mexico, Colorado, etc., have learned of their families' pasts. Some who have discovered Jewish ancestors are delighted with the knowledge and have reverted to Judaism. Some are happy to understand finally why Grandma lit candles on Friday nights, etc.With Henry Louis Gates's shows (Conclusion, Wed. night, PBS) about searching for ancestors and with the forthcoming show, "Who Do You Think You Are," I think more and more people will learn how easy ancestor searches are. And more people will find Jewish ancestors. (Starts March 5th.) Babylonian Exilarchs intermarried with the nobility of Europe, in the 8th c. (and before and afterwards), thus becoming the ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II (whom she mentions with pride) and of countless other descendants.Some Catholics feel quite comfortable with expressing hatred of Jews. Some say they hate Israel, not Jews in general. The discussions of the forthcoming canonization of Pius XII have revealed a lot of animosity toward Jews.

I was taken with Mujica's conversion through "knowing" St. Teresa. I think there are lots of us who often doubt that God is with us, or that the Church is truly our home, but who have never doubted for a moment that a patron saint we have come to love walks alongside us as our friend in heaven.

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