What is wrong with Teresa of Avila


I have a friend, who I thought was a Lutheran but I now thinking is becoming almost a fundamental evangelical, who sent me a link about certain people we (Christians) should ‘be aware of’ because of ‘apostasy and heresy’ and one of them was St. Teresa. I thought this was a little odd but I have only recently told her I was going back to the Catholic church and I wondered if this was just a little dig at me.

I e-mailed her and asked what her problem was with St. Teresa, that what I had read of her sounded ok and she replied

if you read her writings, on her type of prayer, it is a “centering prayer” thing, think nothing, repeat or chant, wait for a spirit to speak or enlighten … if you have to pray a prayer of protection before you engage in it, as you do NOT know which spirit it may be, it is not something I will do, or encourage anyone else to either. Prayer is an action between us and our Lord, Christ died to ensure nothing would stand between the Father & us again

She said that even by Catholic standards Teresa is ‘borderline unbiblical’ - is this true? I wouldn’t have thought so, being a saint and Dr. of the Church and all but I haven’t read a book on her as such, just information from Catholic websites and these didn’t go into detail about her ‘contemplative’ side. Can anyone help me out as to how I can refute this?

Just a small thought that occurred to me when I first read her e-mail though - she was saying how we had to be really careful of some preachers and always look back to the bible for confirmation (which of course I agree with) but … why do non-Catholics have a real problem with our use of Church Fathers’ writings and tradition to help our understanding of scripture but have no problem putting their trust into any Tom, Dick or Harry pastor or preacher who may be ‘in vogue’ at the time. **That **I just don’t understand… :confused:


Others can respond to this much better than i can, but as to the centering prayer claim…i find that hard to believe since Father Dubay did an EWTN series on her (is a big fan of hers) and yet Fr Dubay is someone who is very much against centering prayer.

Doing a quick search, i see Fr Dubay also wrote a book called the Fire Within which concentrates on the prayer life of both St Teresa and St John of the Cross. So that might be a good book to check out.


I think your friend is mixed up. I don’t think St. Teresa practiced “centering prayer”, she practiced “contemplative” prayer. As for asking proection from the devil, that is something all Christians should do. If it is so bad, why would Jesus include the line “Deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer? Many of the Saints had to do battle with the Evil One while at prayer.

The best way to counter this is to read her for yourself. She is very difficult to read, though, (for me, anyway) and it takes time.

As for your question about many Protestants, I don’t know the answer. Perhaps it is because there is no real authority for them to fall back on, and they are looking for one.


I note that a lot of people concern themselves about centering prayer or Biblical context.
Well St Teresa of Avila is one of the great saints of the world, her various writings such as The Way of Perfection and the Interior Castle are very much full of prayer and it is certainly not centred, it is outgoing and contemplative. When we pray we to Our Lord in many ways and after we pray we should remain silent and listen to comtemplate on what we have prayed and see if we reveive an answer to our prayer. All prayer is based on our needs and desires to abide by the Lords wish that we pray often and ceaslessly. The Bible is almost irrelevant in our Prayers, Within the Psalms there are many declarations that can be used in prayer but some may not relevant to your current needs…

I pray ceaselessly but sometimes I don’t listen enough . I pray that those who read this will listen to what God May be saying to us and develop a complete love of the Holy Trinity.

God Bless you all


If you haven’t read her, you can check her out on Christian Classics Etheral Library. You can read online for free. www.ccel.org. It is a great resource for those of us with limited budgets and lousy libraries.:slight_smile:



In a word, nothing.

I have read “The Interior Castle” as well as a couple of biographies of the saint and she is one of my favourites. She has the courage to talk to Christ directly, and the audacity to expect an answer; and she does.

She did not have an easy time of it and the Church of the time was not understanding her kind of mysticism and “free” prayer rather than repetition of prescribed prayers.

I often think of her in my contemplations and wonder how she would approach a question. Come to think of it she would probably go out and found a new convent.


St. Teresa of Avila was twice brought before the Spanish Inquisition because her form of mysticism was unique to the Church of her day. Both times she was exonerated and released.

But as others here have already said, her writings are sometimes hard to understand. It is important to find a really good translation. A Carmelite sister, last name Barrows (if I recall) wrote several books on St. Teresa’s writings. These were easy to understand, and I enjoyed them very much.


Nothing is wrong with her from a Catholic perspective. She did not practice centering prayer. She is associated with true contemplative prayer, which is very different from what most think of as centering prayer.

She was so holy and learned and her work promoted Christ’s cause so well that she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970. I believe she was also the first woman to be declared as such. While that doesn’t mean all of their work was free from error in all respects though, someone guilty of apostasy or heresy in their teachings would not be likely to receive the title of Doctor of the Church. Her works, along with those of the other Doctors of the Church (and many other saints), are well worth reading - although some are more difficult than others and not everyone is drawn to the same type of spirituality, etc.


A quick side question, without going off topic. What is “centering prayer?” I don’t know what that is and why it would be considered bad.

Thank you.


without seeing what your friend linked I cannot comment, except to note that the snippet OP gives is entirely antithetical to Teresa’s spirituality. Why not simply read her books, the Interior Castle is the most accessible, or a modern writer like Fr. Groeschel who can explain her way of praying and relating to God in ways most moderns can understand. Why on earth would you even consider taking advice from a non-Catholic site or correspondent on matters of Catholic spirituality? in a common sense point of view that does not seem very helpful. Her definition of contemplative prayer, which she simply calls mental prayer is NOT never has been never will be centering prayer as taught by certain modern writers. CP is also a banned topic here, so discussion should remain on what she actually did and wrote, not on what she didn’t say or do.


Cool site! Thanks for the link.


This part about “thinking about nothing” stood out to me because somewhere in one of her books St. Teresa of Avila wrote specifically she doesn’t understand how anyone can think of nothing. (I can’t remember which book of hers–I’ve read several and if would take me some time to find the exact quote.)

St. Teresa was a mystic, but she was a practical mystic with a sense of humor. Some people try to force mysticism and your friends caution about centering prayer and “thinking of nothing” may be valid concerns–but St. Teresa probably would have shared some your friend’s concerns. St. Teresa cautioned her readers that not every spirit that speaks to us is of God. Your friend is confused and misunderstands St. Teresa and her prayer life–your friend isn’t alone as already pointed out some of the Spanish Inquisitors were also confused by St. Teresa.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with St Teresa of Avila :slight_smile: she’s a Doctor of the Church. She never practiced “centering prayer”. Contemplative prayer is something else… it’s filling your mind with something, not emptying it. I think that the person who wrote this just doesn’t know much about her spirituality. I suggest maybe reading her autobiography, it is really good and explains a lot of things :slight_smile: I think it’s available online too.

God bless!


There is absolutely nothing wrong with St Teresa of Avila. In fact, she is this ;)little old-fashioned Methodist girl’s favorite saint!!
There is, I have become aware, a perfectly poisonous little book out there about St Teresa & several other wonderful Catholic saints (like St Francis of Assisi, if you can believe it!), which attempts to paint them as :rolleyes:psychics or even :eek:trance channelers! The author is a super-fanatic anti-Catholic fundamentalist Baptist, from, as I recall, Bob Jones University.
Once upon a time, when I was young, I would have read it just to be able to tear it to pieces, but since I had heart surgery 5 years ago, I decided that life is too short to dirty up my mind with this (ahem, cough, cough) three-day-old :mad:carp(ahem,cough,cough).
My advice is to trust St Teresa and ignore your friend’s nonsense, which is clearly, well…just another kettle of the same (ahem, cough, cough) fish.

This is an unsolicited opinion from an opinionated old lady:
If all the people who waste their time trying to write anti-Catholic garbage would spend that time praying, they could change the world.


Mrs. Miggins, I’d recommend getting your info from Catholic sources rather than from non-Catholics who don’t understand contemplative prayer and confuse it for what it is not.

You can read up on how contemplative prayer is Biblical in **these pages **from Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Fire Within. Contemplative prayer is described in the Psalms:

One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)


Mrs. Miggins and God is Gracious:

I think this link will answer many questions: innerexplorations.com/catchspmys/from13.htm

By the way the author I called Barrows is actually Ruth Burrows, an OCD prioress.


Thought you might be interested. The author’s name is Ruth Burrows and yes, she wrote wonderful books explaining Teresa and John.


This thread inspired me to pick up my old copy of St. Teresa’s books. Such great reading! I ran across this passage in The Interior Castle The Fourth Mansion, Chapter 3 point 4.

Some books advise that as a preparation for hearing what our Lord may say to us we should keep our minds at rest, waiting to see what He will work in our souls. But unless His Majesty has begun to suspend our faculties, I cannot understand how we are to stop thinking without doing ourselves more harm than good. This point has been much debated by those learned in spiritual matters; I confess my want of humility in having been unable to yield to their opinion*.” (His Majesty is a term St. Teresa frequently uses for God)

She discusses mysticism further, but repeatedly says this is something God draws people into and not something people can do for themselves. She cautions that trying to force the mind to think of nothing may do more harm than good. Here are a couple more points she makes in point 6 that refute your friend’s claims "I believe that human efforts avail nothing in these matter, which His Majesty appears to reseve to Himself, setting this limit to our powers…any painful effort does us more harm than good. By ‘painful effort’ I mean any forcible restraint we place on ourselves…the very effort to think of nothing excites our imagination the more…How can we be self-oblivious , while keeping ourselves under such strict control that we are afraid to move, or even to think, or to leave our minds enought liberty to desire God’s greater glory and to rejoice in the glory He possesses? When His Majesty wishes the mind to rest from working He employs it in another manner, giving it a light and knowledge far about vany obtainable by its own efforts and absorbing it entirely into Himself The, though it knows not how, it is filled with wisdom such as it could never gain for itself by striving to suspect the thoughts. God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher."


All Gods people get attacked, and no one is perfect not even saints


Thanks so much for all the answers guys :thumbsup:- you are all quite right in that I should read some books by her - have been waiting for payday to order her autobiograpy :slight_smile: but wanted some quick rebuttals - like I say she (the friend) has been getting more and more what I would call ‘fundamentalist’ - she says with more than a touch of pride about how her children (who are 9 and 10) often say to her they can’t wait for Jesus to come and take them away. I am as eager as the next Christian to be in heaven when my time comes but to look forward to ‘armageddon’ - makes me cringe a bit in all honesty - don’t think there’s a long walk from that kind of indoctrination with children to ‘cultish’ thinking. :confused:

So I think she was just trying to snipe at me actually - she still hasn’t sent me the long e-mail she promised outlining all that was wrong with Teresa and various other saints - probably didn’t expect me to come back so quickly or heavily in support of Teresa and so has thought better of it - ha ha … :wink:

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