William James criticism Teresa of Avila


Can anyone who has read William James’s work clarify something for me?

I am an avid reader of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and consider them reliable guides on the path. They have been sure and solid support for me for many years.

Recently a friend of mine started to read William James and found that James makes the claim that Teresa of Avila got off track over time and became arrogant. Can anyone clarify where James was coming from with this criticism?



Ahhh, psychology and pholosophy… wonderful and often bloody sport…just remember they are academic and not necessairly spiritual pursuits, just as is theology, so accept or deny what anything a psychologist, philosopher, or theologian offers, and take it with a grain of salt, especially if your weak in heart or spirit!



Thanks for the reply. Are you aware of the specific criticism James offered though? I cannot find anything on the net that describes that there even was a criticism let alone what the exact nature of it was.



Not aware of him specifically calling out Ste. T, but perhaps others have taken his writings on religion and God as to be applicable to Ste. T’s thoughts.

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Fr. Benedict Groeschel (†) taught on many subjects. One in particular was the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. In his typically ascerbic Bronx style, he explained,

“They are not called the theological virtues because theologians necessarily have them”

I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

As to Mr. James, would the Church have declared Saint Teresa of Avila either Saint or Doctor of the Church had she wandered from orthodoxy or into arrogance? I strongly suspect that Mr. James is revealing more about himself than about the great Saint.



In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James mentions St. Teresa for the first time on pp. 20-21 (link below). In the index at the back of the book you’ll find a half-dozen further references.



Thank you. I found the criticism on pg 346-347.

He seems to think that the act of writing down her mystical experiences quickly for the instruction of the less advanced, her “need” as he calls it for many mystical encounters and her humility in regards to various sins rather than a radical humility based upon sinful nature, and her uselessness towards any human good, and her very active nature made her a “shrew” – shallow.

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Which makes it seem that he didn’t know her very well. I have to wonder if he ever really studied her writings at all, or just glossed over the surface.

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What is his religious background?

It strikes me that he criticizes her for recognizing the gifts that she had been given and being willing to share that with those who might be helped by it. There is nothing arrogant about recognizing the gifts you have been given and using them to bring about positive change for those around you.

That she eagerly embraced her vocation and God’s will for her life is not a fault. It is a virtue, and one for which she is rightly venerated.

As someone said upthread, his criticism says more about him than it does about her.

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I only have this to say to Mr. William:

“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”

~Saint Teresa of Ávila



I will need more time to digest his criticism of her. It strikes me as out of place. He seems to be judging her as being basically a shallow person lacking depth of insight.

I find that criticism as somewhat cruel minded. I think he lacks generosity towards her.

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I haven’t read the book but it doesn’t matter what he thinks. Teresa of Avila has been declared a saint so she is now in Heaven. That is all I need to know.



Well the question was more about apologetics ie looking for information to address the man who told me this. I read the criticism and can see through it now having had a few hours to think about it. I have read Teresa of Avila work for years. She is not arrogant.



William James was a Protestant, and not to start a flame war, but non-Catholics generally do a poor job of telling our stories because they don’t understand us.

And what if St Theresa of Avila did fall into arrogance sometimes.
So what?
The Bible tells us that the just man falls seven times a day. (Proverbs 24:16)
It certainly doesn’t negate the good she did or the depth of her insight.

To paraphrase Mr Rogers, the very same people who act good sometimes are the very same people who act bad sometimes.



If he would read her works, the introduction clearly states that she wrote under obedience to her spiritual director, and was disturbed since she found little time for this among her duties. She therefore never read anything she wrote, and added that she was not a woman of letters skilled in this.

How is Mr. James able to discern her intention, which is hidden to all but God, and make such a rash judgment of a Saint and Doctor of the Church? Mind you, before being declared a Doctor, the Church examines the writings of the person so that this pronouncement will not harm the faithful who read them. It is an exemplary title that only 33 have been given. Link

I echo the words of St. Paul in her regard also,
1 Cor. 4:3, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s … I judge not mine own self - I leave myself entirely to God, whose I am.”



Questionable literature should be appraised for Nil Obstat. Bring it in to a priest. Don’t be surprised if he fans it quickly, they know key points that are garbage revealers. Good thing you asked. :slightly_smiling_face:



Interesting claim … but not factual. I refer to the great St. Paul who made this claim also in Gal. 1:11-12:
11 For I certify to you, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not devised by man. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Was he arrogant? Off track with his teaching of revelation?
Same story with St. Teresa. Her revelations were proven, and having disclosed them in writing under obedience, have been a source of solid teaching on the mystical life with Christ.



I can’t find the exact bit, but didn’t she say something along the lines of, “I’m not writing this down because I’m hot stuff, but rather, to share the greatness and generosity of God?”

The closest I can get is— “Why should we not feel pleasure for a brother receiving divine favors? It certainly does not deprive us of our share. Should we not rather rejoice at God manifesting His greatness wherever He chooses? …God does not bestow these favors on special souls because they are more holy than others who don’t receive them. He does it to manifest His greatness-- as in the case of the Apostle Paul and Mary Magdalene-- so that we may glorify Him in His creatures.”

–but there’s another bit I can’t put my hands on.


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