Teresa of Avila

Today is the feast day of Teresa of Avila.

To honor her, I thought I’d mention a few books that newcomers to her work might find helpful.

Teresa’s writings fill three large volumes, not to mention her letters which fill up another two books. But for students of the contemplative life, three works are truly essential: her autobiography, and two manuals of instruction in prayer and mystical theology: The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. Here are my recommendations for exploring each of these:

The Book of My Life is Teresa’s autobiography; this edition features a contemporary translation by Mirabai Starr that beautifully captures Teresa’s enthusiastic voice.
The Way of Perfection: Study Edition is from the definitive translation of Teresa’s work published by the Institute for Carmelite Studies.
The Interior Castle with Spiritual Commentary features the classic translation by E. Allison Peers, along with new annotations from Redemptorist Father Dennis Billy.

The Interior Castle is one of the truly essential works of Christian mysticism. But it can be a dense and challenging work, in which Teresa’s profound theology is often as not obscured rather than helped by her rambling, stream of consciousness writing style. Thankfully, a number of contemporary scholars have written guide books to help us explore the Interior Castle. Here are three commentaries you might find particularly useful:


Entering Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle by Gillian T. W. Ahlgren
Interior Castle Explored by Ruth Burrows, OCD
Where Lovers Meet: Inside the Interior Castle by Susan Muto

Gillian Ahlgren, Ruth Burrows and Susan Muto are all recognized as authorities on Teresa and/or on the spiritual life in general, and each of these books are accessible and handy guides to Teresa’s masterpiece.

Finally, let me wrap this up my letting the great mystic speak for herself…

The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.

— Teresa of Avila

The Intelligent Person's Guide to Prayer
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  1. All sounds interesting, but I’ve never liked that quote about “not to think much but to love much”. Personally I find that as much as possible of both is the way to enlightenment (not that I have yet reached that blessed state).

  2. Thank you, I love Teresa and her books…didn’t realize today is her feast day.

  3. I just posted this week on this fascinating lady too . Thanks for sharing resources with us. I had several comments in emails and on my blog that they had never heard of her. surprised me.

  4. Certainly, the call to love rather than think could be misconstrued (and abused), but I think it’s a call not to irrationality but rather transrationality. It’s also important for me, as someone who tends to be stuck in my head too much.

  5. Rowan Williams’ Teresa of Avila (Continuum 2000) is also quite good.

  6. Excellent book selection, I have read the first three, Teresa is a great example.

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