- The Collected Letters of St. Teresa of Avila. Vol. 2 (1578–1582)
With the publication of this second volume of the letters of Teresa of Avila, Kieran Kavanaugh, Discalced Carmelite, concludes the translation into English of the writings of Saint Teresa. This project began with the translation of The Book of Her Life in 1976. Kavanaugh’s collaborator in these translations, with the exception of the letters, was Otilio Rodriquez, OCD, who died in 1994. The two scholars also collaborated on the translation of the writings of John of the Cross, the latest edition of which was published in 1991. The first volume of Teresa’s letters was published in 2005 and was reviewed by Professor Jane Ackerman in this journal (vol. 3, no 1, 2003, 137–139). These translations have been published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies whose mission has been to publish Carmelite classics in English and to do so inexpensively. Those who consult volume 2 of Teresa’s letters will need to go to volume one for Kavanaugh’s brief but quite informative Introduction. Helpful also for users of the two volumes of Teresa’s letters is the following essay based on a study of Teresa’s correspondence: Kevin Culligan, OCD, “Teresa of Jesus: A Personality Profile,” Spiritual Life 29 (1983), 131–162.
The writings of Teresa of Avila have had a commanding role to play in the retrieval of Western mysticism during the last half century. This Spanish Carmelite saint and first woman doctor of the church (1970), with very little formal education, has composed the acknowledged masterpiece, The Interior Castle, along with other significant texts: The Book of Her Life, The Way of Perfection, Meditations on the Song of Songs as well as the much neglected Book of Her Foundations. Even more neglected have been Teresa’s letters which now have a modern American English version that will alert scholars to the value of these letters. Teresa’s formal treatises are immensely insightful with regular evocations of transcendental moments that move the heart and mind and make one feel that the author is directly addressing the reader. Yet, important aspects of the outsized personality of this Carmelite mystic are revealed only in her letters. Teresa’s correspondence shows her to have been outgoing, warm, gregarious, and energetic, with countless friends with whom she managed to stay intimately engaged. Her correspondence also reveals Teresa to be an able leader of the reform that she instigated as well as an astute manager of the myriad affairs of the reform’s female monasteries and [End Page 129] male house’s friars. Teresa labored unceasingly on behalf of her reform until she died in 1582. The Discalced Carmelites became an independent branch separated from the parent order only after the deaths of both Teresa and John of the Cross.
According to Kavanaugh (Letters, vol. 1, 11), Teresa’s letters constitute about one half of her written output. The letters in volume two were composed during the last four years of Teresa’s life, 1578–1582, when issues concerning the Teresian Reform of the Carmelite Order were coming to a head. Teresa was convinced that the best way to insure the success of this reform was to obtain permission from the papacy to establish a separate province in Spain of Carmelite nuns and friars. Letters in this volume show Teresa working tirelessly to gain this permission that was finally granted by papal brief in June of 1580. In March of 1581, Teresa’s dedicated associate, Jerónimo Gracián, was elected the province’s first provincial. This election pleased Teresa, whose closest male friend was Gracián, a friar thirty years Teresa’s junior, but to whom Teresa made a vow of obedience. Teresa’s own words reveal her admiration for this friar, whom she met for the first time in the spring of 1575. Not long afterwards, Teresa wrote to Isabel de Santo Domingo:
Oh, Madre, how I have desired that you be with...