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Mrs Sheila Grimwood

Research Student

Department: Pastoral and Social Studies

Teresa lf Avila’s letters as a source for understanding the tension between the contemplative and the active in her life.

As a foundress of seventeen monasteries for women and also with involvement in the foundations of friars, Teresa of Avila had to forgo much of the solitude and silence she prescribed for others because she needed to travel widely and interact with many people. This poses the question of tension between her desire on the one hand for contemplation and on the other hand her work of service following her discernment of the will of God which drove her to make more foundations where nuns might serve the world through their lives of prayer.

The collection of the surviving 468 of her letters written over the last twenty years of her life provide insights into this in a way that her other writings do not. Unlike her other writings the letters are free from censorship and she expresses her feeling unrestrictedly and often passionately. The letters are dated so can be placed beside the events of her life to understand their background fully. This investigation has to be placed alongside her other writings in order to discern what her ideal is and how she intended it to be lived out. The recipients of her letters are varied, providing a diversity of topics and comments. Although there has been much recent research into the background of Teresa’s writing style as a woman in sixteenth century Spain, and re-examinations of her mystical transformation, the assimilation of her administrative management and communication while at the same time experiencing an advanced spirituality (which would seem to need solitude and silence) has yet to be researched. By analysing the letters I hope to draw some conclusions about the possibilities of a reconciliation of these diverse roles and how or if Teresa managed to achieve this.