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1 The Genres of the Book of Her Life
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The Genres of the Book of Her Life

In the Book of Her Life , Teresa repeatedly asserts that she writes not of her own will but at the command of her confessors. She does not explain, however, not in any consistent or plausible way at least, the reason these confessors commanded her to write. Evidence in the Life and in the Inquisition's records on Teresa indicates that in addition to the various motives she does attribute to her confessors, such as their need to base pastoral guidance in thorough knowledge of her spiritual life and their wish to chronicle the founding of her reformed Carmelite order, the suspicion of unorthodox beliefs and practices, even of heresy, also prompted her commands to write. In the words of Enrique Llamas Martínez, the historian who first presented the record of Teresa's numerous encounters with the Inquisition, "The book of the Life of Mother Teresa was born under the Inquisitorial sign." This origin, he continues, "gives us the guide to determining its true structure, in its accurate dimension, and its architectural lines."[1] The potential charge of heresy affects nearly all the authorial choices Teresa made in the Life , most important among them for understanding her mode of self-interpretation, the genre.

The Directorium Inquisitorum , the most authoritative manual for Inquisitors during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, traces heresy etymologically to the verb to elect (eligo ); the heretic, then, is one who "refuses the true doctrine and chooses as


true a false and perverse doctrine."[2] This definition, implying deliberate choice of an erroneous doctrine, applied to male heretics only, however: women were not considered to possess the faculty of reason. While the heretical man was considered to have chosen his belief, the heretical woman was thought to be deluded by the devil. Defining possession by the devil in terms of sexual intercourse, medieval theologians held that the inordinate sexual appetite attributed to women made them particularly susceptible to heresy.[3] In Teresa's case, these theories translated into a fear that feminine irrationality might have caused her to ascribe her spiritual experience to God when actually it came from the devil and that thus her teachings on mental prayer and her plans for new Carmelite convents under reformed rule were diabolically instigated.

With its delineation of the consequences of heresy, the Directorium associates heresy with dissidence, social and political as well as religious, and with civil, political, and economic disorder.[4] The implied link between heresy and national weakness generated particularly intense fear in Spain, which had spent nearly eight centuries pushing Moorish invaders south from the Pyrenees before defeating them at Granada in 1492. In the belief that heresy threatened not only the authority of the Church but also the integrity of the state, Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile, whose marriage in 1469 led to reunification of Spain, founded the modern Inquisition as a branch of state government in 1480.[5] While the Catholic kings intended the Inquisition principally as a mechanism for converting Jews and Moriscos, their grandson, Philip II, who inherited the throne in 1555, defined its mission as eliminating all heresy, which he blamed for the rebellions against Spanish imperial rule in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Determining that he must step up the punishment of heresy, he ordered increasingly spectacular public trials (known as autos-de-fé from the Portuguese autos-da-fé , meaning acts of faith) for increasingly slight offenses.[6] Even the suspicion that Teresa might be a heretic, then, aroused enormous alarm among her confessors, who would themselves feel the force of both Church and state if they mistakenly encouraged her, and it represented mortal danger for her.

That the Inquisitional origin of her commands to write the Life has only recently been remarked can be attributed in part to the dexterity with which Teresa directed attention away from


the issue of heresy while satisfying her confessors' demands for a text they could use to measure the orthodoxy of her religious experience and practice. In so doing, she created an eclectic work that defies easy identification with respect to genre. The Life passed her confessors' scrutiny, but a few sixteenth-century readers did understand that her confessors probably did not have a work like the Book of Her Life in mind when they ordered her to write. In denouncing the Life for heresy in 1589, the year following its posthumous publication, one Inquisitor, Alonso de la Fuente, charges Teresa with exceeding the scope of her confessors' commands: "The author of this book writes a long history of her life, conversation, virtues, using the very slight pretext that she was ordered to do so by her confessors."[7] Fuente, an extremely acute if unsympathetic reader of Teresa, correctly perceives that Teresa manipulated her confessors' commands in the matter of genre.[8]

Twentieth-century critics have given numerous generic definitions of the Life , many of them subgenres of autobiography. E. Allison Peers established the trend of postwar Anglo-American criticism by defining the Life as a spiritual autobiography defined generally as an account of religious experience: "For the profundity and detail of its psychological analysis and for the sublimity of the spiritual mysteries which it unfolds, it is worthy of a place beside the Confessions of St. Augustine."[9] Américo Castro considers the Life an autobiography more nearly secular than religious. Distinguishing the Life from Augustine's Confessions and from the letters of Abelard and Heloise, Castro defines it as a biography as well as an autobiography, and he names the Life a precursor of Cervantes's Don Quijote and of the novel in general.[10]

Many critics writing in the past two decades have jettisoned the designation of autobiography for the Life , taking some version of the position that Ricardo Senabre states very strikingly: "The original thing about the Book of Her Life is that it is not the book of the life of St. Teresa."[11] These critics can be divided into those who have given the Inquisition a determining role with respect to genre and those who have not. Those in the latter group have related the Life to works in a number of other genres popular in sixteenth-century Spain. Emphasizing the exemplarity of the Life , Senabre labels it a treatise on humility in the tradition of Luis de Granada's collection of sermons, Guía de pecadores ; Fernando Lázaro Carreter considers the Life a manual


of spirituality with links to genres of penitential confession, the picaresque novel, self-portraiture, and Augustinian confession; Antonio Carreño likens the Life to the Renaissance personal letter and the picaresque novel.[12] Most of those who have considered the Inquisition a compositional constraint on the Life define it as one variety or another of self-defense: Francisco Márquez Villanueva identifies the Life as a spiritual apologia pro vita sua ; Alison Weber discusses the Life as "a psychological as well as a theological apologia ," a personal self-defense and a defense of women; Sol Villacèque defines the Life as a "chronicle of the fundamental antagonism between grace and sin, God and the Devil," made in the form of a confession to Church and Inquisition.[13]

These generic descriptions of the Life do not necessarily have to be considered mutually exclusive or contradictory, however. The Life can fruitfully be considered within many of the traditions these critics have named, both the religious—spiritual autobiography, confession, devotional manual, mystical treatise—and the secular—novel, biography, letter. Teresa drew on a range of the existing first-person genres, creating a discourse that can be described as dialogized heteroglossia, a Bakhtinian term for a discourse that puts the voices of more than one order of thought into dialogue.[14] Teresa gives these voices expression, not with characters as the novelist does but with an interplay of genres. In addition to wielding the rhetorical weapons that have been ably explored by Coneha and Weber, Teresa orchestrates the intonations of several genres as a means of defending herself against charges of heresy.

Bakhtin's work on language, which he defines as responsive to other linguistic acts or dialogical rather than as referential to objects, serves well for explaining Teresa's approach to genre. For Bakhtin, the life of every word develops through its transfer "from one mouth to another, from one context to another context," and it carries the history of all these exchanges. Thus, Bakhtin considers that "when a member of the speaking collective comes upon a word, it is not as a neutral word of language, not as a word free from the aspirations and evaluations of others, uninhabited by others' voices."[15] Similarly, each genre, which Bakhtin defines as a "stratification of language" or a "sphere in which language is used" and without which it cannot be used, carries with it an ideology or belief system developed through


its entire history. "Even the archaic elements preserved in a genre are not dead but eternally alive; . . . A genre lives in the present, but always remembers its past, its beginning."[16] As a result, the same word, when used in a different genre, or accentual system, has a different meaning, and every word carries semantic pulls from the genres in which it has been used, as does also every syntactic structure and thematic content.[17] For this reason, any totalitarian institution, whether in his own Stalinist Russia or in Spain of the Inquisition, that attempts to dictate the meaning of words or genres must inevitably fail. By calling on the multiple intonations of the words she uses, then, Teresa undermines the Inquisition's hegemonic claim to them.[18]

Teresa's confessors, concerned that her unusual spiritual experience and her convictions concerning prayer might be diabolical in origin, commanded her to write a work that can be defined as a judicial confession. Judicial confession per se was by the sixteenth century a highly conventionalized sphere of written language. The formal judicial confession was written to or taken down by an officer of the Inquisition in the hearings, which according to Jean Pierre Dedieu, "always included (at least after 1565) a questionnaire on the suspect's identity, followed by a recitation of his genealogy (genealogía ), an autobiography (discurso de su vida ) and an interrogation of the accused on Christian doctrine (doctrina cristiana )."[19] Almost anything an accused had ever written (or said) could serve as a judicial confession, however. In connection with administering the sacrament of penance or with pastoral counseling, priests sometimes requested confessions in writing. These ecclesiastical confessions might take the form of a penitential confession (confesión general ), a confession of sin or of faith put in writing for the purpose of recalling previous events with sorrow sufficient to merit forgiveness, and a spiritual testimony (relación espiritual or cuenta de conciencia ), an account of spiritual experience. Once in writing, the penitential confession and the spiritual testimony frequently served as a prelude or as an adjunct to formal judicial confession.[20]

Writing in the genre of judicial confession, whether formal or informal, held the certainty of self-incrimination. Manuals of Inquisitional procedure define that genre as a sphere of language in which the writer inevitably condemns himself or herself. The Repertorium , a dictionary of Inquisitional concepts first


published in Valencia in 1494, directs that although the penitential or pastoral confession and the judicial confession might in practice coincide in every respect, the audience must take different stances toward them.

In the penitential forum, the penitent should always be believed, whether he speaks for himself or against himself, whether he affirms or denies, especially if he swears to what he confesses. In the judicial forum it is completely otherwise: here, the witness is believed only if he speaks against himself, never if he speaks on his own behalf.[21]

In Bakhtin's terminology, the genre of judicial confession gave to the words used in it an "accent" or self-condemnation. Once employed in the "accentual system" of "stratification" of judicial confession, no word could exonerate the writer. To have the possibility of clearing herself of the suspicion of heresy while appearing to obey her commands, Teresa gives the words she uses the accents of several other genres.

To counter the response mandated for a reader of judicial confession, Teresa draws from the several first-person genres that also have a semantic pull on the words she uses. The prologue to the Life illustrates Teresa's use of dialogized heteroglossia particularly well, as she substitutes words with the inflection of the various first-person genres in which she would have a chance of defending herself for those of a genre in which she could only confirm her guilt. With her opening complaint that she has not been permitted to narrate her sins, she immediately places the genre of penitential confession in competition with judicial confession.

Since my confessors commanded me and gave me plenty of leeway to write about the favors and the kind of prayer the Lord has granted me, I wish they would also have allowed me to tell very clearly and minutely about my great sins and wretched life. This would be a consolation. But they didn't want me to. In fact I was very much restricted [tied down] in those matters. (Life , prologue 1)[22]

Teresa's assertion here that she has been given "plenty of leeway," if only with regard to her spiritual favors and methods of prayer, and her subsequent depiction of herself as restricted, for which she uses an image of physical constraint not fully com-


municated in the English translation, contradict one another, not alone in substance but in significance for identifying the genre of the Life . In giving an account of "great sins and wretched life" in penitential confession, the confessant was encouraged to search through the events of his or her own life and to probe thoughts and feelings for evidence of sin. If confessors used a schema, such as the seven deadly sins or the Ten Commandments, it served more as a heuristic device than as a questionnaire.[23] In judicial confession, however, the confessor controlled the subject matter with a standard list of questions and, failing voluntary confession, with a rigorous and deliberately devious interrogation designed to elicit specific information or with physical torture. By opposing the relative freedom of penitential confession to the rigid requirements of judicial confession, then, Teresa suggests the possibility of reading the text of the Life in a genre other than judicial confession.[24]

In the remainder of the prologue, Teresa sounds the notes of several different genres, with judicial confession the faintest of them, in such a way as to reduce considerably the possibility that her readers will hear it alone, or even hear it at all.

And so I ask, for the love of God, whoever reads this account to bear in mind that my life has been so wretched that I have not found a saint among those who were converted to God in whom I can find comfort. For I note that after the Lord called them, they did not turn back and offend Him. As for me, not only did I turn back and become worse, but it seems I made a study out of resisting the favors His Majesty was granting me. I was like someone who sees that she is obliged to serve more, yet understands that she can't pay the smallest part of her debt.

May God be blessed forever, He who waited for me so long! I beseech Him with all my heart to give me the grace to present with complete clarity and truthfulness this account of my life which my confessors ordered me to write. And I know, too, that even the Lord has for some time wanted me to do this, although I have not dared. May this account render Him glory and praise. And from now on may my confessors knowing me better through this narration help me in my weakness to give the Lord something of the service I owe Him, whom all things praise forever. Amen. [Life , prologue 1, 2)[25]

Here Teresa continues her effort to subdue the self-condemnatory voice of judicial confession by imploring readers to construct for


themselves the penitential confession she was not permitted to write, the story of her "great sins and wretched life." And while claiming not to have written such a narrative and to have been denied the consolation of doing so, Teresa suggests that the Life might allow her confessors to fulfill the disciplinary and instructional functions associated with penitential confession: "From now on may my confessors knowing me better through this narration help me in my weakness." She also introduces a complex of other genres, including the multiple genres Augustine uses in his Confessions , especially the conversion narrative and the soliloquy with God, as well as hagiography in the first-person variant that has been called autohagiography,[26] which she begins here by protesting that she should not be compared to the saints "who were converted to God" and "did not turn back." Finally, in transferring the origin of the intention to write away from her confessors and to God with her statement, "The Lord has for some time wanted me to do this, although I have not dared," she suggests divine sponsorship of the Life more suitable to the treatise on mystical theology than to any of the confessional genres. The conclusion "Amen" evokes the discourse of both the prayer and the sermon.

With this heteroglot of the first-person genres adjacent to judicial confession, Teresa conducts what Bakhtin calls a "hidden polemic" with the assumptions of judicial confession. "In a hidden polemic," Bakhtin explains in Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics ,

the author's discourse is directed towards its own referential object, as in any other discourse, but at the same time every statement about the object is constructed in such a way that, apart from its referential meaning, a polemical blow is struck at the other's discourse on the same theme, at the other's statement about the same object.[27]

Bakhtin distinguishes the hidden polemic from the open polemic, in which the author presents the other discourse to discredit it (with a quoted passage, as in academic prose, or in the mouth of a character, as in fiction) or in which the writer obviously parodies or stylizes another discourse. In the hidden polemic the other discourse exercises its influence from outside the text. Even though absent, the other discourse governs the meaning of the text: "Alongside its referential meaning there


appears a second meaning—an intentional orientation toward someone else's words. Such discourse cannot be fundamentally or fully understood if one takes into consideration only its direct referential meaning."[28] The polemic Teresa constructed with dialogized heteroglossia disputes the condemnation inherent in judicial confession.

Teresa does not restrict the Life to the defensive operation of the hidden polemic, however; she takes the offensive by centering the work in the genre of spiritual autobiography, specifically, the Christian version inaugurated by Augustine in the Confessions . Christian spiritual autobiography, Linda H. Peterson explains in Victorian Autobiography , is essentially a hermeneutic genre for two interrelated reasons: it emphasizes self-interpretation rather than self-expression, and it relies on the system of biblical hermeneutics known as typology.[29] While Augustine employs typological interpretation of his life principally to assert the theological proposition that individual and scriptural history comprise a single system of divine revelation, Teresa applies the genre to the problem of self-interpretation. With the dual purpose of explaining her past life and shaping her future, Teresa portrays herself as a figure of several New Testament women who met the incarnate Christ in this life.

Readings of the Life as Judicial Confession

The Inquisition never brought Teresa to trial, but potentially serious charges were made against her numerous times, and in response it conducted several formal investigations of her activities and those of the nuns in the Barefoot Carmelite convents she founded. Llamas Martínez judges that some of these encounters with the Inquisition had potentially serious consequences: "Without the mediation of certain particular circumstances and the interest of some influential persons, Teresa of Avila would have been a victim of the severity of the Inquisition."[30] For the proceedings of 1575, Domingo Báñez, one of the confessors who had commanded her to write some of the Life , wrote an analysis of the work for the Inquisition. This document provides a look at an Inquisitional reader reading the Life as judicial confession.

Teresa's name first appears in Inquisition records in connection with the 1574 trial of Dr. Bernardino Carleval by the


tribunal of Córdoba for the heresy of Illuminism. Teresa had a long-standing and well-known friendship with Carleval, rector of the University of Baeza, whom she had appointed confessor for her new convent at Malagón in 1568. Both Carleval and Teresa counted themselves followers of Juan de Avila (1500-1569), a priest who gave spiritual education and guidance to large numbers of laity and clergy in Andalucía.[31] From 1572 to 1574, the Inquisition conducted an intensive investigation of Carleval's work in spiritual advisement, in part because the small groups he organized for prayer meetings usurped the organizational prerogative of the Church, in part because he was thought to have encouraged Illuminist practices among his followers.

The term "Illuminism" (alumbradismo ) encompassed a wide range of approaches to spirituality, all emphasizing a personal relationship between God and the soul, or interior enlightenment.[32] Far from being heretical in origin, Illuminism can be traced to Franciscan affective spirituality.[33] The Church initially adopted some of these spiritual practices, such as meditation on the Passion and the imaginative imitation of the life of Christ, for the purpose of strengthening piety among its congregations. By the mid-sixteenth century, however, Illuminism had become synonymous with Lutheranism, a term used in Spain to refer not specifically to Protestantism but generally to any religious belief or practice perceived to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic church, including various forms of Erasmian humanism, mysticism, and charismatic movements.[34]

The Illuminists' concentration on the interior life, while not in itself heretical, challenged both the doctrine and the authority of the Church. The emphasis on individual contact with God tended to diminish the importance of works as a requisite for salvation, thus, when pressed to extremes, to approximate the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone.[35] And Illuminists extended recollection or concentration on God in prayer (recogimiento ) into an entirely passive state of absorption in God (dejamiento ), which they considered to render them incapable of sin. They considered this impeccability to allow them antinomian license in conduct as well as to exempt them from the mandate to do charitable works. Also, many Illuminists actively opposed the rituals of the Church, including vocal prayer, reverence of images of Christ and the Virgin, adoration of the cross, and intercession of the saints. Perhaps most important, as


Melchor Cano, a powerful Dominican ecclesiastic and theologian, fulminates, the Illuminists arrogated to themselves the authority for scriptural interpretation that the Church claimed for itself: "Without learning, human erudition, academic degrees, but guided by the Holy Spirit, they [Illuminists] betrothed themselves to the light of understanding, as if God opened to them, as to the apostles, the meaning of the Holy Scripture."[36] Put into practice, these beliefs not only undermined ecclesiastical authority but also threatened many of its means of raising revenue.

While Teresa's beliefs merge with those of the Illuminists in their emphasis on a personal relationship with God, her version of Christian doctrine departs from the Illuminist in significant ways. Teresa accepts the notion of the innate sinfulness of humankind, which the Illuminists repudiated; Teresa places Christ at the center of her devotional practice, while the Illuminists reduced the significance of Christ for human salvation. At some points she quite explicitly distinguishes the phenomena she experiences from those described by the Illuminists. In the Foundations , for example, she explains that while observers might perceive rapture (arrobamiento ), a stage in her own spiritual progress, and absorption (dejamiento ), a state the Illuminists cultivated, as identical, they would be "right as regards appearance but not as regards reality" (Foundations 6.4); rapture, she continues, effects an alteration in the faculties of the soul (memory, understanding, and will), while absorption leaves them unaffected: "A rapture leaves great effects in the soul; this other [absorption] leaves no more effects than if it had not occurred, but tiredness in the body" (Foundations 6.14).[37] On the issue of mental prayer, the term for silent meditation or contemplation, however, Teresa's experience and conviction did not allow her to avoid being linked with the Illuminists. The Church responded to the Illuminist rejection of vocal prayer, the oral recitation of standard prayers, by making it the sole type of prayer permitted to any but "learned men" (letrados ). While Teresa never opposed vocal prayer, she herself did not find it beneficial. From the outset, the greatest obstacle to her spiritual development was concentrating her attention on prayer. She discovered that she kept better focused if she had a book with her, a practice often forbidden by her confessors: "When I was without a book, ... my soul was thrown into confusion and my thoughts ran wild" (Life 4.9). Similarly, without a mental exercise to accompany


vocal prayers, Teresa found them meaningless. Weber observes that Teresa's second book, the Road to Perfection , encourages her nuns to engage in mental prayer even as they mouth the words of the Pater Noster or the Ave Maria .

Realize, daughters, that the nature of mental prayer isn't determined by whether or not the mouth is closed. If while speaking I thoroughly understand and know that I am speaking with God and I have greater awareness of this than I do of the words I'm saying, mental and vocal prayer are joined. (Road 22.1)[38]

Unlike the Illuminists, Teresa never rejected the institutional Church even though she differed with some of its policies. Indeed, by founding seventeen convents and monasteries that embraced many persons, including women without dowries and conversos, who otherwise would have remained on the margins of the Church, she may be said to have extended its authority.

In the search for scapegoats that developed with the economic and political setbacks to Spain during the late sixteenth century, the anti-Semitism that had caused Spain to expel those Jews on whom it could not force conversion reemerged. This racism took the official form of the "purity of blood" (limpieza de sangre ) statutes that through the century restricted more and more narrowly the economic opportunities and personal freedoms of the conversos. Unofficially, it surfaced as fear that the conversos were heretics, if not through reverting to Jewish traditions, then by subverting the Spanish state and the Catholic church in some other way. Philip II expressed, and undoubtedly helped to shape, the national sentiment when in a 1556 letter he attributed all heresies, in effect all his political problems in consolidating the Spanish empire, to conversos: "All the heresies which have occurred in Germany and France have been sown by the descendants of Jews, as we have seen and still see daily in Spain."[39] Accordingly, the Inquisition often automatically suspected a converso of heresy, and those religious movements that attracted large numbers of conversos, Illuminism the most important of them, were investigated continually.[40]

Carleval, like his mentor, Juan of Avila, and most of his own followers, had a family lineage that included conversos. This heritage almost certainly contributed to the initial suspicion that he was a heretic, and for the zealous Inquisitor who requested permission to detain him when he entered the region, it increased


the likelihood of leading to other dissidents.[41] While it would not have been usual practice to have entered as formal evidence his family's genealogy, it probably influenced both the course and the outcome of the proceeding. Angel Alcalá has observed with regard to the proceedings against Luis de León for his translation of the Song of Songs from Hebrew into the vernacular that his Jewish lineage did not cause him to be brought to trial, but it "explains the rancor with which the trials were conducted."[42]

Teresa first came to the attention of the Córdoba tribunal when María Mejías, one of the women Carleval advised on the spiritual life, told the Inquisition that he had validated her propensity to make prophecies by referring to the Life . On this information, the Inquisition initiated another investigation, one of Teresa herself, and in interviewing everyone who had known her when she had been in the region in 1568 to found a convent at Malagón, the Inquisition received a report that described her as follows: "She [Teresa] was a great servant of God, and she had a book of revelations higher than those of Catherine of Siena, and among them was a vision that there would be many martyrs from her Order [the Barefoot Carmelites]."[43] (Carleval probably referred to the vision in which a saint appears before Teresa and reads a prophecy: "'In the time to come this order will flourish; it will have many martyrs'" [Life 40.13].)[44] This characterization of Teresa as a prophet would seem complimentary, and indeed after her death it was adduced as evidence for her canonization. Yet in mentioning prophecy, which from those not already designated as saintly the Inquisition defined as a form of blasphemy, it accused Teresa of heresy. Even Saints Catherine of Siena and Bridget of Sweden had for their prophecies been named in Inquisitional trials as sources of heretical ideas.[45] In the margin beside this reference to the Life , an officer of the Inquisition wrote, "Have it sent to the Holy Office immediately." The Inquisition concluded its investigation of Carleval and Mejías by bringing them to trial, where they were convicted of Illuminism and sentenced to burn at the stake. Unable to turn up a copy of the Life , the Córdoba tribunal sent the accusation against Teresa to the Holy Office in Madrid on 12 March 1575.[46]

When this charge against Teresa arrived in Madrid, the Holy Office had just received another report linking Teresa to someone else suspected of teaching Illuminist beliefs, Ignatius of


Loyola. Melchor Cano had denounced Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises as heretical for their emphasis on techniques of meditation through which the individual might acquire knowledge of God's will and for their apparent reliance on Ignatius's own spiritual experience rather than on Church doctrine.[47] To a request from the Holy Office in Madrid for information that could be used as evidence against Ignatius and others suspected of Illuminism, an officer of the Valladolid tribunal replied that he would proceed by obtaining what he described as "the book by Teresa de Jesús."[48] On instructions from Madrid, Valladolid Inquisitors located the manuscript of the Life in Avila and in preparation for bringing formal charges against Teresa, commissioned at least two reviews of it.[49]

In one of those reviews, a document entitled Censure (Censura), Domingo Báñez (1528-1604), the Dominican confessor who is thought to have commanded Teresa to write the section on her visions and favors from God (chaps. 37-40 of the Life ), represents himself as a reader of judicial confession (my translation of the Censure appears in Appendix A). Even though he identifies the Life as a spiritual testimony, asserting that she originally wrote "for the purpose of being taught and guided by her confessors," he declares that he has always maintained the judicial reader's predisposition to find her guilty rather than innocent, particularly where heresy might be concerned: "I have always proceeded cautiously in the examination of this account of prayer and the life of this religious woman. No one has been more skeptical than I in regard to her visions and revelations, though not in regard to her virtues and good desires." Ecclesiastical authority, not the state of Teresa's soul, occupies Báñez's full attention in the Censure . On the one hand, he worries that she might be one of the "mockers who paint themselves virtuous," and, on the other, he hesitates to condemn her since that punishment, should it prove misplaced, could reduce the authority of the Church by calling its judgment into question: "It is curious how much weak and worldly people amuse themselves by seeing people with this kind of virtue deprived of authority [desautorizados ]." As evidence against her having previously arrogated authority, Báñez cites her consultation with authorities in the Church, praising "her humility and discretion in always choosing enlightenment and learning in her confessors," himself presumably among them. Nevertheless, he ar-


gues, the suspicion of heresy should be maintained, not because she has visions, for he is able to cite scriptural and historical evidence that visions have provided important guidance for the Church, not even because these visions although once certified as divine might change and become demonic, since he admits that the devil meddles in the lives of even the most pious, but because as a woman she would be incapable of judging the source of her experience. On Báñez's recommendation, the Inquisition impounded the Life and held it until 1586.[50]

Báñez bases his conclusion that the author of the Life is not a heretic on a stylistic property he calls plainness (llaneza ). He makes a causal relationship between the plainness of the Life and his decision that she does not represent a threat to ecclesiastical authority.

Although she is deceived in some things, this woman, as far as can be seen in this account, is not a deceiver, because she speaks plainly [llanamente ], both the good and the bad things, and with such a desire to express them accurately that she leaves no doubt about her good intentions. (My emphasis)[51]

Báñez gives no particular stylistic requirements for plainness, except to say that the detail should be exhaustive and the information accurate. Instead he specifies that he requires sincerity, which he defines as a manifestation of an author's submission to the authority of the Church: "I have looked, with great attention, at this book in which Teresa de Jesús, a Carmelite nun and founder of the Barefoot Carmelites, gives a sincere report [relación llana ] of all her spiritual experiences, for the purpose of being taught and guided by her confessors." As a reader of judicial confession, Báñez easily dismisses her sins, which he euphemistically calls "the bad things," as a sign she belongs to that spiritual elite with especially intense inclinations to both sin and virtue, but he reads carefully for any violation of stylistic plainness, which he counts as a challenge to the authority of the Church, that is, as evidence of heresy.

Teresa frequently indicates that she understands the requirements of her writing assignment. She concludes the Life , as she opens it (Life , prologue 2, quoted above), by offering its plainness as evidence of her sincerity: "I have put down what happened with plainness and truth" (Life 40.25). Yet Teresa also implies that such plainness represents a risk to her. Her plain


response to several priests investigating charges against her around 1559 permitted them to interpret her visions as demonic: "They asked me some things; I responded plainly [con llaneza ] and carelessly.... Since I spoke carelessly about some things, they interpreted my intention differently and thought that what I said, without my being careful, as I say, showed little humility" (Life 28.17).[52] Plainness, she elsewhere explains, is the appropriate style for confessing to God: "Here there is no demand for reasoning but for knowing what as a matter of fact [con llaneza ] we are and for placing ourselves [with simplicity] in God's presence" (Life 15.8). Because God, as Teresa explains in Life 10.9, already knows who she is and what she intends, there is no possibility for misunderstanding. With a human audience, however, plainness amounts to the carelessness of permitting herself to be misinterpreted.

The sixteenth-century Spanish plain style resembled other variations of the plain style, from the Ciceronian to the English Puritan. The common goal of all the versions is clarity, and the prescriptions for achieving it are similar: avoidance of rhetorical embellishment, of calculated stylistic effects, and of figurative language.[53] In Spanish debates about the most appropriate style for sermons, the word plainness sometimes refers to a stylistic choice an author might make to communicate with an uneducated audience.[54] While this use of the word implies that it is a human linguistic or rhetorical skill, other instances define plainness, particularly when used to express divine truths, as a sign of spiritual perfection or a supernatural gift.[55] When Báñez attests to the plainness of Teresa's Life , he does not mean that it is an effective means for teaching or that it constitutes proof of spiritual purity, however. When applied to the language of the confessant, plainness meant submission to the authority of the Church.

The definition of llano in Sebastián de Covarrubias Horozco's Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española , the first Spanishlanguage dictionary (1611), demonstrates that in everyday usage the word had connotations of the subservience that Báñez required in judicial confession: "The castrated steer is plain [llano ], unlike the bull with balls. To become plain is to reduce oneself and to adjust oneself to the will of the other."[56] While the Tesoro does not consider plainness as a prose style, the qualities the Te-


soro forbids in the plain thing or the plain person can be considered as qualities of language.

Metaphorically, plain describes the thing that has no impediments [estropieço ninguno ], only plainness [llaneza ] and truth. The plain man is not haughty [no tiene altivezes ] nor cunning [ni cautelas ]. To confess openly [plano ], which is the same as plainly [llano ], means to tell everything that happens.[57]

Estropieço , which I translate as "impediment(s)" to show its connotation of the pitfalls a foot-traveler might encounter, also refers, through the Tesoro 's definition of estropieço as trampa , to verbal strategies of deception in jokes and stories, whether lies or misleading plot lines. The qualities a plain person should avoid can also be translated into stylistic qualities: altivez , which in addition to arrogance or insolence means having "elevated thoughts or ideas" and when used to describe architecture, has connotations of excessive grandeur; and cautelas , or cunning, which the Tesoro defines in verbal terms as "the ingenious deception of one by another, using ambiguous terms and equivocal, indeterminate words." What these qualities described as antithetical to plainness—cunning, deceptiveness, arrogance, and secretiveness—share in common is the exercise of authorial power over the audience, whether with a display of rhetorical or linguistic wealth, with exploitation of the ambiguity of language to deceive, or with manipulation and evasion.

The demand for plainness in the sense of "tell[ing] everything that happens" in judicial confession exceeded that for penitential confession, where, Henry C. Lea explains, "forgotten sins are charitably held to be included."[58] Completeness in penitential confession required a thorough examination of conscience but not an account of every incidence of sin. Jean Gerson, the fifteenth-century French theologian who wrote a tract on confession, exhorted penitents to avoid "irrelevancies," apparently preferring the risk of incompleteness to that of superfluity, which might lead to boredom on his part or bragging by the confessant.[59] With the judicial confession, however, completeness required a detailed listing of every incidence of wrongdoing, without exception. Any omission, Lea explains, renders the confession "nugatory, ficta and diminuta , and an aggravated guilt."


While Teresa evaded the requirement for plainness in various ways, she certainly cannot be said to have used an elevated style; to the contrary, her style has been labeled rustic, uncultivated, conversational, spontaneous, feminine. For example, Robert Ricard describes her as "a spontaneous spirit, intuitive, who usually proceeds by association of ideas, whose vocabulary has no consistency or stability and whose works abound in parentheses, repetitions, and logical leaps forward and backward."[60] It is true that Teresa's prose gives the reader and translator many difficulties: the sentences often run together; the syntax is sometimes convoluted to the point of unintelligibility; many words appear in corrupted or misspelled forms; pronoun reference is frequently ambiguous; the organization often appears to be associational.

For the colloquial and haphazard effect, Teresa's style has often been judged natural and sincere. Many early twentieth-century commentators regarded her prose as transparent. In 1914, Bianca de los Ríos wrote, "The prose of St. Teresa is inseparable from her spirit; it is the esthetic of her sanctity"; Peers continues the tradition of considering Teresa's texts as a window into her self: "In studying her style, therefore, we shall be studying herself, and it is that, above all, which makes the task worthwhile."[61] More recently, critics have better appreciated the subtlety and intricacy of Teresa's writing and begun to regard her as a resourceful writer who made deliberate compositional choices: Ramón Menéndez Pidal attributes the rusticity of her style to "ascetic mortification" and "eremetic humility" and judges that "departing from the correct forms undoubtedly cost her more work than following them"; Felicidad Bernabéu Barrachina proposes that Teresa chose an uncultivated style to distance herself from the conversos, who were known for emphasis on education, and to affiliate herself with the Old Christian peasantry; Elías Rivers proposes that she "refuses to accept the analytical or linear sequence of linguistic discourse, and she strives for simultaneity, for saying everything at once"; Weber argues that "Teresa wrote as she believed women were perceived to speak."[62] While any of these theories might have value for analyzing a particular passage, it must also be said that Teresa's style is not low in every respect. Concha and Weber demonstrate that she wields a number of sophisticated rhetorical devices, chief among them ambiguity and irony, and she employs figurative language,


the tropes of doubleness forbidden by the mandate of Inquisitional plainness.

Some aspects of a high style, such as ornamentation and correctness, would not have served Teresa's purpose of interpreting her experience as divine, but she did need figurative language, metaphor in particular. Experience with God can be communicated only with metaphoric or symbolic language, Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologiae .

Reply to Objection 1 . There are some names which signify these perfections flowing from God to creatures in such a way that the imperfect way in which creatures receive the divine perfection is part of the very signification of the name itself as stone signifies a material being, and names of this kind can be applied to God only in a metaphorical sense.[63]

In Paul Tillich's words, "Nothing else [apart from the abstract statement 'that God is being—itself or the absolute'] can be said about God as God which is not symbolic."[64] Despite the theological necessity for metaphor, Teresa invariably introduces her metaphors with invitations to ridicule her skimpy imaginative resources, as in her introduction of the section of the Life known as Four Ways of Watering the Garden.

I shall have to make use of some comparison, although I should like to excuse myself from this since I am a woman and write simply what they ordered me to write. But these spiritual matters for anyone who like myself has not gone through studies are so difficult to explain. I shall have to find some mode of explaining myself, and it may be less often that I hit upon a good comparison. Seeing so much stupidity will provide some recreation for your Reverence. (Life 11.6)[65]

Teresa contrasts metaphor and "spiritual language," by which she probably means rational argument and abstraction, but in fact metaphor is spiritual language, the only linguistic means of attempting to make visible the invisible.

Because, as Terence Hawkes explains, metaphor "interferes with the system of literal usage by its assumption that terms literally connected with one object can be transferred to another object," the plainness Báñez commanded would preclude its use.[66] In common usage, the word metaphor had negative connotations. Defining metaphor as "inappropriate words," the


Tesoro illustrates its meaning with an anecdote that emphasizes the potential of metaphor for deception through the potentially ambiguous substitution of meaning.[67] The Directorium warns Inquisitors about deceptive techniques based on verbal ambiguity, such as the confusion of an indeterminate pronoun reference.

Questioned on the true body of Christ, they [the accused] respond with regard to the mystical body. Thus, if one says to them, "Do you believe that that is the body of Christ?" they respond, "Yes, I believe that that is the body of Christ" (meaning a stone that they see, or their own body in the sense that all bodies are of Christ, because they are of God, who is Christ).[68]

Also, the Directorium explains, a conditional clause can be used to negate or alter the meaning of an assertion: "If you ask the accused, 'Do you believe that marriage is a sacrament?' he responds, 'If God wills it, of course I believe it' (the subtext is that God does not will that he believe it)."[69] The Directorium instructs Inquisitors that they should be the ones to take advantage of ambiguity, advising them in methods of trapping the accused into admission of guilt, by, for example, asking the same question several ways or constructing a line of misleading questions to conceal the exact nature of the charge.

The distrust of metaphor cast suspicion also on allegory, one of its extended forms. A contemporary dictionary of rhetorical figures defines allegory as a kind of ambiguity: "It is effected when the meaning of the words and the meaning the orator gives them are different."[70] And the related forms to which it directs readers—catachresis, enigma, and parable—all violate the Inquisitional requirement for plainness. The prohibition on allegory, like that on metaphor, had consequences for Teresa more serious than the mere limitation of stylistic resources: it precluded the writing of Christian spiritual autobiography. John Freccero explains that Christian autobiography, which he calls confession here, requires the allegorical reading of one's own life: "Christian allegory ... is identical with the phenomenology of confession, for both involve a comprehension of the self in history within a retrospective literary structure."[71] The writer of Christian autobiography employs allegory, in the sense of the interpretation of one story in reference to another story, to locate his or her individual history in relation to universal history, the personal in relation to the divine.


If judicial confession may be said to require a naive narrator, Christian autobiography requires a narrator with a perspective on the events narrated, what I will call a converted narrator. In Freccero's words, "Biblical allegory, conversion, and narrative all share the same linguistic structure."[72] While the narrator of penitential confession takes essentially the same stance as the protagonist, Robert Bell explains that "spiritual autobiography, as Augustine presents it, posits a crucial disparity between the narrator and the protagonist, which involves more than the usual autobiographical time lag."[73] In Augustine's Confessions , the prototypical Christian autobiography, conversion entails directing his desire away from the material world, that is, the sensual pleasures and professional accolades he chronicles in books 1 through 7. In practical terms, as Robert Durling explains, he must "resolve the split in his own will that holds back his commitment to Christian abstinence and a monastic way of life."[74] His conversion takes place when he interprets Paul's epistles to Romans 13:13-14, a verse that concludes with the injunction to "spend no more thought on nature and nature's appetites" (Conf. 8.12), as counsel for his own life, specifically, as instructions to retire from the world to the priesthood. Augustine thus locates his life in relation to sacred history, and to communicate the connection between the two, he must draw on Christian allegory.

In the Life , Teresa conceals her use of metaphor and allegory with a style so apparently plain that most Inquisitors were satisfied that she had entirely surrendered authority for interpretation to the reader. Although several readers saw heresy and blasphemy in her writings, Fuente, a posthumous Inquisitional reader, was one of a very few who charged her with the stylistic violations of deception (engaño ) and contrivance (artificio ).[75] And he notices that her narrative operates on two levels.

She mixes falsehood with truth and water with oil.... And the water, which is heresy, remains on the bottom, covered with the oil of truth. It will be necessary to stir these two liquids many times to uncover the concealed water, to discover the poisonous meaning that lies underneath sweet words and spiritual language.[76]

In particular, he finds her self-referential language to mean something other than it seems to mean: "Among many words


that have a humble meaning, she speaks a million vanities."[77] Fuente's exasperation demonstrates the extraordinary subtlety with which Teresa forges her self-interpretation in the Life . Appreciating the artfulness requires a look back at Teresa's first autobiographical essays.

Teresa's Development as a Writer of Christian Autobiography

Teresa's earliest autobiographical writing did not serve her nearly as well as the Life did, in spite of the fact that by underscoring passages in Bernardino de Laredo's Ascent of Mount Sion to indicate those that best described her spiritual experience, she aligned her narrative with a text the Inquisition had already certified as orthodox.[78] Teresa made this first written confession at the request of Francisco de Salcedo (d. 1580), a distant relative in whom she began to confide when priests offered her no advice but to discontinue prayer and when gossip that she could trace to them began to circulate.[79] The talk held considerable danger for Teresa because, as she puts it, "at that time other women had fallen into serious illusions and deceptions caused by the devil" (Life 23.2). Most editors consider "other women" a reference to Magdalena de la Cruz, an abbess in Córdoba who was respected throughout Spain for her visions. As Teresa would also, Magdalena de la Cruz even enjoyed favor with the royal family: the infant Prince Philip was wrapped in her vestments as a protection against the devil.[80] When some of her nuns also began to have visions, including a vision of black goats at the head of Magdalena's bed, the Inquisition investigated the convent and, as Perry puts it, "convinced sor Magdalena to confess that for forty years she had been a servant of the devil."[81] In a dramatic, widely publicized auto-de-fé, Magdalena was sentenced to banishment from the convent and lifelong isolation.

Salcedo comforted Teresa at first, but after a time he also began to doubt the divinity of her experiences. Speculating that "her sins were not compatible with her gifts from God" (Life 23.11), he asked her to submit a written report to himself and Gaspar Daza, a parish priest in Avila whose previous advocacy of religious reforms might have inclined him to support Teresa.[82] In complying, Teresa submitted what she calls a "general


account of her life and sins" (Life 23.14) and, in place of a spiritual testimony, her underlined copy of Laredo's Ascent . For some reason, which Teresa does not give, Salcedo and Daza traced her experiences not to God but to the devil: "At length they gave me the reply I had awaited with such dread.... [W]hen this gentleman [Salcedo] came to me, it was to tell me with great distress that to the best of their belief my trouble came from the devil" (Life 23.14; Peers's translation). Unable to help her further, they suggested she seek counsel in the new Jesuit convent in Avila, where she found a more sympathetic audience in Diego de Cetina, a young intern.[83]

Apart from a brief business letter arranging payment for a delivery of wheat, Teresa's first extant writing is an autobiographical narrative known as Spiritual Testimony 1, dated October-December 1560.[84] Teresa again wrote in threatening circumstances. Opposition to her plans for a new convent in Avila had arisen on every side, from her Jesuit confessor (Baltasar Alvarez), influential members of the clergy, citizens of Avila, and nuns in the convent of the Incarnation, where she was prioress at the time (Life 33.1). Teresa appealed to Pedro Ibáñez, a Dominican priest and theologian who had spoken in favor of the project, to receive a written confession, specifically, to decide whether anything in her spiritual experience contradicted Holy Scripture (Life 33.5). Ibáñez wrote an evaluation of this testimony, a statement known as Judgment (Dictamen), for a group of Avilan priests and citizens who were concerned about Teresa's project.[85] (My translation of the Judgment appears in Appendix B.)

This first spiritual testimony, although written little more than a year before she began writing the Life , demonstrates Teresa taking the role of the naive narrator required by judicial confession. Apparently adhering strictly to Ibáñez's request, she narrates her experiences as isolated events in the present, without interpreting their significance for either personal or salvation history.

My present procedure in prayer is as follows: I am seldom able while in prayer to use my intellect in a discursive way, for my soul immediately begins to grow recollected; and it remains in quiet or rapture to the extent that I cannot make any use of the senses. This recollection reaches such a point that if it were not for hearing—and this hearing does not include understanding—none of the senses would be of any avail. (Testimony 1.1)[86]


In the most vigorous passages, Teresa simply asserts her certainty that her inspiration is divine, here, for example, insisting that she would not waver even before the kind of torture that was associated with the Inquisition.

If when I'm in prayer or on the days in which I am quiet and my thoughts are on God, all the learned men and saints in the world were to join together and torture me with all the torments imaginable, and I wanted to believe them, I wouldn't be able to make myself believe that these things come from the devil; for I cannot. (Testimony 1.26)[87]

While she persuades with sheer strength of conviction, she does not, as she will in the Life , employ the genre of Christian autobiography to make her conclusion inevitable for readers.

Ibáñez's Judgment gives none of the indications found in Báñez's Censure that either Teresa or her text causes him to worry about ecclesiastical authority. His repetition of her claims in nearly the same words can be counted an unstated acknowledgment of the plainness of the testimony (his paragraph 4 echoes Testimony 1.2 and paragraph 27 rephrases Testimony 1.26, for example). Further, it is Ibáñez, not Teresa, who undertakes her defense against specific charges, that as a woman and a converso she probably followed the devil's dictates and that her prior relationship with the Jesuits indicates that she might collaborate with them. By attributing virtue and chastity to her, Ibáñez clears her of feminine sexual weakness: "She is above the frivolity and childishness of women, who are very much without scruples; she is extraordinarily virtuous." In using the word clean to describe Teresa's soul, Ibáñez implies that she comes from an Old Christian, rather than converso, heritage.[88] Finally, Ibáñez goes to great lengths to emphasize Teresa's independence from the Jesuits, possibly because their spiritual exercises, like Teresa's mental prayer, were associated with Illuminism: "She has told me that if she were to know that perfection does not include conversing with the Jesuits, she never would see or speak to them again, even though they are the ones who calmed her and led her to these visions." In her later works Teresa does not leave the answering of these kinds of charges, actual or potential, to her readers.

In this testimony Teresa expresses a desire to write a more complete report of her experience: "When I meet any person who


knows something about me, I want to explain my life to him" (Testimony 1.25). Exactly why she eventually received such a command and what had happened in the interim to permit her to take the stance of a converted narrator are not entirely known. Teresa gives conflicting versions of the source of the commands that provided her that opportunity. In a spiritual testimony written for the Inquisition in Sevilla during the 1576 investigation of her convent there, she attributes the suggestion to an Inquisitor, Francisco de Soto.

It was about thirteen years ago, a little more or less, that the Bishop of Salamanca [Soto] went there [to Avila], for he was the Inquisitor, I believe, in Toledo and had been here [in Seville]. For the sake of greater assurance she [Teresa] arranged to speak with him and gave him an account of everything. He told her this whole matter was something that didn't belong to his office because all that she saw and understood strengthened her ever [sic] more in the Catholic faith.... Since he saw she was so concerned, he told her that she should write to Master Avila—who was alive—a long account of everything, for he was a man who understood much about prayers and that with what he would write her, she could be at peace. (Testimony 58.6)[89]

It seems unlikely that an Inquisitor, particularly when visiting the convent to investigate it, as Soto was, would have asked her to write outside the judicial context, and it seems improbable as well that he suggested that she send the Life to Juan de Avila, whose works the Inquisition had placed on the 1559 Index. When Teresa did send Juan the Life in 1568, she did so against Báñez's expressed orders, stealing the manuscript and urgently charging her emissaries with getting it back to her before Báñez returned from a trip.[90] In the 1577 prologue to the Foundations , Teresa ascribes her commands to García de Toledo, the confessor to whom she presented at least a portion of the Life with the June 1562 letter that is usually printed with it.[91] In the canonization hearing, Báñez described another scenario, assigning the original command to Ibáñez and the commands for additional material, probably the chapters on the mystical way (10-22) and on the founding of St. Joseph (32-36), to García de Toledo and asserting that he asked her to add chapters on her subsequent spiritual favors (37-40). While all these explanations may have some basis in fact, they come closest to the truth when taken as


a composite: her confessors commanded her to write, in part because her activities continually attracted Inquisitional scrutiny, in part because her accomplishments were remarkable.

For the purpose of explaining her life, Teresa takes the stance of a converted narrator, a narrator separated from the protagonist by an experience of conversion. Religious conversion, in the definition of Arthur Darby Nock, is "the reorientation of the soul of an individual, a turning which implies a consciousness that a great change is involved, that the old was wrong, and the new is right."[92] Or, in William James's more psychologically oriented definition, conversion is "the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and right, superior and happy."[93] Jean Starobinski proposes that all autobiographical writing requires some kind of radical change in the writer: "It is the internal transformation of the individual—and the exemplary character of this transformation—that furnishes a subject for a narrative discourse in which 'I' is both subject and object."[94] For Christians, conversion provides this transformation of perspective, as Freccero explains: "The literature of confession needs a point outside of itself from which its truth can be measured, a point that is at once a beginning and an end.... 'Conversion' was the name that Christians applied to such a moment in history and in the soul."[95] In keeping with the requirements of the genre of Christian autobiography (which Freccero calls confession here), the Life includes a testimony of the events that provided her this new perspective.

Chapter 9 contains narratives of two events, both placed by biographers in 1554, that have often been interpreted as Teresa's conversion, the first relating Teresa's emotional reaction to an image of Christ in passion, the second what might now be called her reader's response to book 8 of Augustine's Confessions . Critics generally designate these narratives either as a two-part conversion or as a primary conversion, which has variously been taken to be either of the two, consolidated by a secondary experience. Alberto de la Virgen del Carmen asserts that her reading of Augustine produced "marvelous effects" and a "consequent conversion"; Efrén and Steggink judge that her conversion consists in a resolve first made before the painting and then confirmed in the reading of Augustine; Concha writes that the reading of the Confessions provided an authentic reve-


lation but that the contemplation of the wounded Christ "moved her to conversion."[96] Contrary to the tradition of comparing some part of Teresa's chapter 9 to Augustine's book 8, Freccero does not find a conversion scene in the Life at all.

The contribution of narrative form to the phenomenology of conversion or maturation becomes apparent when we contrast St. Teresa's observation of her conflicting moments of sin and sanctity with the strict linearity of Augustine's crisis.... There is probably no escape from these conflicts in real life, but in literature there does seem to be a way to transform discontinuous moments into linear trajectory.[97]

Measured against Augustine's conversion, Teresa's does lack narrative condensation, but not because the Life is less literary than the Confessions . The Life does have linear trajectory, albeit partly submerged, but it traces a conversion that differs experientially from the Augustinian. Caroline Walker Bynum explains that because of lack of control over their own lives, medieval women wrote spiritual autobiographies that avoid the sharp turns and definitive conversions characteristic of men's accounts.

Men were inclined to tell stories with turning points, to use symbols of reversal and inversion.... Women more often used their ordinary experiences (of powerlessness, of service and nurturing, of disease, etc.) as symbols into which they poured ever deeper and more paradoxical meanings.[98]

Teresa's conversion in the Life , which embraces both the narratives in chapter 9 but is not resolved in either of them, evinces the intensification of prior experience that Bynum designates as feminine and articulates a resistance to the widely held belief that Augustine's religious experience was paradigmatic for all Christians.

The form a conversion takes, James explains in The Varieties of Religious Experience , "is the result of suggestion and imitation."[99] Erich Auerbach considers the mimetic aspect of conversion particularly significant for Christianity, which the New Testament demonstrates to gain historical momentum by describing "time and time again the impact of Jesus' teaching, personality, and fate upon this and that individual."[100] Teresa's allusion to Augustine's conversion might suggest that she imitates


Augustine. Augustine himself enters a series of mimetic conversions with his reading of Romans 13 in the garden: he imitates the two Roman agents, who were converted by reading the Life of St. Antony , while Antony had been converted by reading the Gospel, which narrates the prototypical Christian conversion experience, Paul's confrontation with Christ on the road to Damascus (Conf. 8.6, 12). In schematic outline, Augustine's conversion corresponds to Paul's: he journeys away from God; he responds to a call from God; he accepts a vocation in the Church. As I will show in subsequent chapters, Teresa does not understand her life as following this pattern. She considers her lack of vocation not a result of her refusal to serve but rather of the Church's rejection of her efforts. Not surprisingly, then, she construes her conversion differently, taking a female object for imitation, not Augustine but Mary Magdalene.

Teresa's narrative of her reaction to an image of Christ, which nuns identified in the canonization hearings as a painting that included the figure of Mary Magdalene rather than as the statue Teresa mentions here, represents a decisive experience, though not one with the closure of Augustine's conversion.

Well, my soul now was tired; and, in spite of its desire, my wretched habits would not allow it rest. It happened to me that one day entering the oratory I saw a statue they had borrowed for a certain feast to be celebrated in the house. It represented the much wounded Christ and was very devotional so that beholding it I was utterly distressed in seeing Him that way, for it well represented what He suffered for us. I felt so keenly aware of how poorly I thanked Him for those wounds that, it seems to me, my heart broke. Beseeching Him to strengthen me once and for all that I might not offend Him, I threw myself down before Him with the greatest outpouring of tears.

I was very devoted to the glorious Magdalene and frequently thought about her conversion, especially when I received Communion. For since I knew the Lord was certainly present there within me, I, thinking that He would not despise my tears, placed myself at His feet. And I didn't know what I was saying [He did a great deal who allowed me to shed them for Him, since I so quickly forgot that sentiment); and I commended myself to this glorious saint that she might obtain pardon for me.

But in this latter instance with this statue I am speaking of, it seems to me I profited more, for I was very distrustful of myself and placed all my trust in God. I think I then said that I would


not rise from there until He granted what I was begging Him for. I believe certainly this was beneficial to me, because from that time I went on improving. (Life 9.1-3)[101]

The episode relates the kind of deepening of prior experience that Bynum considers typically feminine. Through repeated use of the imperfect tense, which indicates habitual action in the past, Teresa emphasizes that she had repeatedly taken the same postures: she used to think of the Magdalene's conversion; she often knelt before Christ; she frequently commended herself to Mary Magdalene. On previous occasions she had not been able fully to identify with Mary Magdalene, however, because the "hardness of her heart" prevented her from weeping along with the Magdalene. Contrary to Freccero's estimate that she has not transformed her experience into linear trajectory, she does give singular importance to the events of this particular day, distinguishing them with verbs in the preterite tense to indicate a single action in the past. This time, she felt sympathy with His suffering, and taking the posture of Mary Magdalene, she threw herself at His feet. This breakthrough of emotion moves her to make an unprecedented request to Christ for help, the action to which she traces the beginning of her spiritual renewal: "from that time I went on improving." Still, as the imperfect tense in this sentence implies, she does not consider that her conversion has reached closure.

With the first episode of chapter 9 read as an initiatory gesture toward conversion, the second, her reading of Augustine's Confessions , can be seen as a premature attempt to conclude the experience of conversion. Although Teresa expresses the desire to imitate Augustine's conversion and Paul's, her experience differs from theirs in crucial ways.

At this time they gave me the Confessions of St. Augustine . It seems the Lord ordained this, because I had not tried to procure a copy, nor had I ever seen one....

As I began to read the Confessions , it seemed to me I saw myself in them. I began to commend myself very much to this glorious saint. When I came to the passage where he speaks about his conversion and read how he heard that voice in the garden, it only seemed to me, according to what I felt in my heart, that it was I the Lord called. I remained for a long time totally dissolved in tears and feeling within myself utter distress and weariness. (Life 9.7, 8)[102]


While Paul and Augustine are portrayed as hearing sounds from external sources, Paul's words from Christ audible to his traveling companions in one account (Acts 9:4-7) and Augustine's voices of children calling "Tolle, lege " presumably also heard by others, Teresa hears interior words spoken by God to her alone, and then she asserts only that she seemed to hear them, not that she actually heard them.[103] Further, Teresa closes the passage by describing this event as exacerbating rather than alleviating the sensations of fatigue and affliction that conversion typically resolves.

Teresa's account of reading Augustine does adumbrate the experience that eventually culminates the prior experience. In straining to hear interior words from God, Teresa indicates that her conversion awaits a reply to her request. Teresa relates that the first words God spoke to her in rapture, "No longer do I want you to converse with men but with angels" (Life 24.5), made a definitive change in her life: "From that day on I was very courageous in abandoning all for God, as one who had wanted from that moment—for it doesn't seem to me that it was otherwise—to change completely" (Life 24.7).[104] The next locution from God, which Teresa also discusses in terms of Christian renewal, echoes Christ's words to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection: "'Do not fear, daughter; for I am, and I will not abandon you'" (Life 25.18).[105] Efrén and Steggink label the first locution experience her mystical betrothal,[106] and although I would reserve this term for later stages of her mystical experience, as Teresa herself does, they correctly point out the mystical quality of Teresa's conversion, which centers on communication with God, first her request to Him from the stance of Mary Magdalene and then, probably about two years later, His response.

To explain the significance Teresa gives to Mary Magdalene and the other New Testament women she uses as prototypical figures for herself, in chapter 2 I define the hermeneutic Teresa applied to Scripture and describe some of the interpretations she derived.


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1 The Genres of the Book of Her Life
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