Rowan Williams on Teresa of Avila  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

On today's feast of St Teresa, we offer a passage from Archbishop Rowan Williams' excellent Teresa of Avila (Continuum 1991). The context of this quote is Teresa's personal history. In 1492 the large Jewish community in Spain was given the choice of conversion to Catholicism or expulsion. The Jews who agreed to baptism almost immediately came under the suspicion of the Inquisition, which doubted the sincerity of their conversion. Talk about double binds. Teresa's own family were conversos of this sort, and she would have grown up feeling somewhat marginalized in Spanish society. The quote is found on pp 162-163.


We have been made more attentive than ever in recent years to the extent to which context (rightly) sets the agenda for the enterprise of Christian reflection. Teresa's case is no exception. For her, the unity of the story is, as we have seen, centered in the twofold sense of God as wanting our company and God as the enemy of the human systems of status. If Teresa's family and social world had been different, this would not have been so manifestly the focus of her thought. As we saw in the first chapter, she was in several ways an anomalous person, not an insider. Thus the unifying thread she perceives is to do with the God who is hidden within the diversities of human life (the King in the centre of the castle), who is 'anomalous' in refusing to stay within the proper hierarchical structures of a well-ordered universe, and whose action is essentially at odds with the quest for personal security and legitimacy on the basis of good behavior. 'God at the centre' is consistently set in opposition to a 'centre' of social order and power and purity--the centre from which Teresa, as a woman and a Jew, is distant. Turning to God within is a very familiar strategy in religious protest; when the approved centre of public existence is not accessible, it is necessary to relocate the centre in the inner life. But what makes Teresa so interesting in this respect is that this shifting of the centre is conceived as God's own characteristic movement; God is a reality moving away from a centre of self-possession towards being-in-another. And so the moving of the centre of meaning that is involved in turning from external ambiguity to inner clarity is is saved from being simply a move into the private sphere by its association with God's journey into creation. The rejection of the world's standards is also a claim on behalf of God's will and ability to penetrate the world and to remake it in self-abandoning love.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 15, 2009 at Thursday, October 15, 2009 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



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