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Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul [Paperback]

By Cathleen Medwick (Author)
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Item description for Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul by Cathleen Medwick...

In this finely wrought portrait of Teresa of Avila, a 14th century reformer of Carmelite convents in Europe, the author brings to life a woman, a devoted daughter of the church, who bent the rules and barely survived the Spanish Inquisition to achieve her goals.

Publishers Description
A refreshingly modern reconsideration of Saint Teresa (1515-1582), one of the greatest mystics and reformers to emerge within the sixteenth-century Catholic Church, whose writings are a keystone of modern mystical thought.
From the very beginning of her life in a convent, following the death of her mother and the marriage of her older sister, it was clear that Teresa's expansive nature, intensity, and energy would not be easily confined. Cathleen Medwick shows us a powerful daughter of the Church and her times who was a very human mass of contradictions: a practical and no-nonsense manager, and yet a flamboyant and intrepid presence who bent the rules of monastic life to accomplish her work--while managing to stay one step ahead of the Inquisition. And she exhibited a very personal brand of spirituality, often experiencing raptures of an unorthodox, arguably erotic, nature that left her frozen in one position for hours, unable to speak. Out of a concern for her soul and her reputation, her superiors insisted that she account for every voice and vision, as well as the sins that might have engendered them, thus giving us the account of her life that is now considered a literary masterpiece.
Medwick makes it clear that Teresa considered her major work the reform of the Carmelites, an enterprise requiring all her considerable persuasiveness and her talent for administration. We see her moving about Spain with the assurance (if not the authority) of a man, in spite of debilitating illness, to establish communities of nuns who lived scrupulously devout lives, without luxuries. In an era when women were seldom taken seriously, she even sought and received permission to found two religious houses for men.
In this fascinating account Cathleen Medwick reveals Teresa as both more complex and more comprehensible than she has seemed in the past. She illuminates for us the devout and worldly woman behind the centuries-old iconography of the saint.

"From the Hardcover edition."

Citations And Professional Reviews
Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul by Cathleen Medwick has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 1086
  • New York Times - 01/21/2001 page 28
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 856

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Image
Pages   304
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.18" Width: 5.51" Height: 0.87"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 16, 2001
Publisher   Image
ISBN  0385501293  
ISBN13  9780385501293  

Availability  1 units.
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More About Cathleen Medwick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Cathleen Medwick, an inveterate New Yorker, lives on a small farm in northern Westchester County. She has worked as a features editor for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mirabella, and, most recently, House & Garden, for which she is now a contributing editor. Her feature articles and book reviews have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, Mirabella, Vogue, House & Garden, Vanity Fair, and Elle.

From the Hardcover edition.

Cathleen Medwick was born in 1948.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical
4Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Leaders & Notable People > Religious

Christian Product Categories
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Reviews - What do customers think about Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul?

If you've never been introduced to Teresa of Avila, this is a good way  Aug 24, 2007
I noticed the previous reviews of this book are all over the place from 5 stars to 1 star and almost equally balanced in those ratings. But I think this book is for a particular audience and in that light is an excellent book.

I think the audience for this book is for the person, not previously introduced to St Teresa of Avila. When I purchased this book to read some 6 or 7 years ago, I chose it over the autobiography "The Life of St Teresa of Avila by Herself". Why? It was easier to read. I could not put down the book once I started. But to preface this, I have to tell you my knowledge of St Teresa was of the "levitating saint" - I did not know anything else about her.

This book clearly introduced a living, breathing human being "warts and all." It also revealed in some ways, Teresa's strengths and weaknesses from a very understandable point of view, and showed how she grew into holiness. In my words I would describe her as a naughty (extremely lovable kind of naughty), astute, amusing, charming, practical level headed woman. If it's one thing the general public needs to know about Saints is, they did not fall from the sky as perfect human beings, neatly tied up in a box ready for heaven. I was able to discern the writer's opinions and see a person. In this light, this book is not a dogmatic expose of the sanctity of Teresa's soul. Therefore to my way of thinking, this should not be the only book you ever read about Teresa of Avila. As I have titled this review, it is an introduction to her.

Very soon after reading this book, I did read the autobiography and between the two books have come to admire this beautiful and strong woman now declared as a Doctor of the Church.

Short description: This book is like a 2 hour movie thriller that gives you pretty good facts about the subject at hand. The autobiography "The Life of St Teresa of Avila by Herself" is more like a 16 hour mini-series filling out the missing details.

My recommendation is to read both books, starting with this one if you don't already know her. The struggles she faced and overcame will inspire your own life.
Balanced, informative  Aug 3, 2007
Well researched and well written the author avoids going too far into mysticism or Catholicism or hero worship, presenting a balanced, informative, fascinating account of an amazing woman in (by our standards) strange times of Christian fighting Christian (Catholics vs. Protestants), Christians fighting Moors, Catholics fighting Catholics (Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans), men suppressing women, the poor vs. the rich.
And the Inquisition.
Teresa, a truly amazing woman; strong willed, smart, able to reform and instruct, leader, and mystic. Oh yeah, and some times she would levitate.
You can read this biography without having to be admitted to the Catholic Church first. An excellent place to start if one wants to go further into Teresa's own writing as the biographer places everything in context of religion and history while telling the story
Very good introduction to the woman and the saint and her time  May 17, 2006
It's very well written, clear, and gives an overview of what was going on during her time. It gives you a good picture of how Teresa was and how savvy she was in her dealings with the church and the male leaders. She was a woman navigating in a male dominated world -- something every woman can identify with. I would absolutely recommend this as a great introduction to a very interesting saint.
Doesn't "get" Teresa  Oct 24, 2005
One of the hardest things for biographers to do is to convey the personality and essence of their subject while still effectively describing the chronology of the person's life. This book focuses almost entirely on the latter. Teresa was a woman of extraordinary humor and intelligence, one of the great wits of the Church, yet this book seems mostly concerned with cataloguing even the most temporary contacts she had with other people. Clearly the author did a huge amount of research into the Spain of Teresa's day. But it comes across as though she felt compelled to include every last name her research turned up, often without explanation as to who the person was in the larger context of Teresa's life.
The author mentions that she is writing as a non-Catholic. Although that could have been a useful new perspective, and certainly prevents her from fallling into a kind of sentimental hagiography, in this case it means that she doesn't understand the most important thing in Teresa's life. In fact, the author makes occasional minor errors concerning Catholic practice and belief that tend to cast doubt on the accuracy of the whole book. For example, she says more than once that Teresa "said Mass." Even without a moment's research into the saint's life and times, I can assure the reader that Teresa never said Mass in her life. That was (and is) reserved for priests in Catholicism.

If I didn't know better, I would have said after reading this book that Teresa was a querulous, rebellious, somewhat mean-spirited nun. But having read her own work as well as other biographies, I know she was in fact a witty, brilliant, yet humble daughter of the Church who would quite literally have died rather than commit any infidelity to Catholic teaching. There is a habit among some modern biographers to try to impose their own value systems on their subjects. It is as though, having found a person in history they admire enough to write about, they can't bear for that person to hold beliefs the author doesn't approve of. Though Medwick isn't the worst offender, she does miss the boat when it comes to Teresa's beliefs, which, after all, are the core of who she was.
Biography of Teresa as historical figure  Oct 9, 2004
I think that Medwick may have written a book that will manage to completely please very few people who read it. While it talks about the development of her spiritual history as a historical event, it is not a book that focuses on Teresa as mystic visionary. On the other hand, while it contains much historical background and fact, it also elides and skips over much that would have been interesting-- presumably in the interest of making it a quicker read appealing to a broader audience. While I was fine with the direction Medwick chose (there has been enough said about Teresa as mystic) I felt like some sections were frustratingly incomplete and occasionally the treatment of the background was too superficial.

For instance, while a lot was said about her struggles with the church hierarchy, I found that Medwick gave surprisingly few details about the tangle Teresa had with the Inquisition. We know that the threat was hanging over her. We know that she was reported to the Inquisision. We even know the name of her enemy. However, she elides quite a bit of what surely must have been a historically interesting time in the life of Teresa as she actually faced Inquisition scrutiny. In her (successful) effort to make Teresa approachable as person, Medwick at times nearly lifts her out of history. It takes more than interpersonal relationships and anecdote to make a historical biography.

I am sorry to begin the review with criticism. I am sorry because, while I see the flaws with the book, I still feel like Teresa of Avila is a loving and obviously well-researched treatment of a subject which is very difficult to approach in a neutral way. Medwick is to be commended for the effort that she put into it, and the way in which she managed to make readable very alien customs from a very different age. The book is very interesting indeed when she places Teresa in the context of Spain and the Spanish culture. She does a very good job of communicating why Teresa is one of the two patron Saints of Spain.

Medwick talks in her introduction about how long she has been researching this book and her notion of Teresa as a soul in progress. Both points are interesting. If I had to guess, I would think that many of the gaps were unintentional and that Medwick had so much material that it was edited down at a certain point to try to make it more readable for a popular audience. Too bad, whatever happened.

Truthfully, this book is more a three star book, but I am rating it for four stars both because of the fascinating subject matter and because I truly believe that the flaws should not dissuade you from reading the book if you have interest in the Saint. It is still a readable and admirable effort, whatever else.

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