Negotiating Pastoral Authority: Santa Teresa de Ávila as Spiritual Director

Teresa of Ávila’s autohagiographical account, Libro de la vida, illuminates the borderline heretical practice of recollective prayer and contributes greatly to modern understanding of the socio-political and religious structure of sixteenth-century Spain. Despite living the reality of the Spanish Renaissance, a period marked by suspicion of a nun’s predisposition to demonic influence, Teresa avoided Inquisitorial trial for her elimination of the Institution as mediator in her relationship with God, effectively giving her a source of power that did not depend on male instruction, intervention, or authority. Because of the saint’s ability to manipulate the discourses of authority and humility, and to anticipate hierarchical interpretations of her mystic episodes, Teresa acquired an unmediated contact with the divine. In this paper, I will discuss Teresa’s keen ability to blur the lines between spiritual director and humble penitent and to convert her life account into an instrument of instructive power over her confessors. 


  • Spanish Peninsular Studies