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The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself (Classics S.) [Paperback]

Teresa of Avila , J. Cohen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Aug 1987 Classics
Born in the Castilian town of Ávila in 1515, Teresa entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation when she was twenty-one. Tormented by illness, doubts and self-recrimination, she gradually came to recognize the power of prayer and contemplation - her spiritual enlightenment was intensified by many visions and mystical experiences, including the piercing of her heart by a spear of divine love. She went on to found seventeen Carmelite monasteries throughout Spain. Teresa always denied her own saintliness, however, saying in a letter: 'There is no suggestion of that nonsense about my supposed sanctity.' This frank account is one of the great stories of a religious life and a literary masterpiece - after Don Quixote, it is Spain's most widely read prose classic.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (27 Aug 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140440739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140440737
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.2 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Written at the command of her confessors, the books of this 16th-century Spanish saint and mystic--a beloved friend to another great Spanish mystic, John of the Cross--remain classics of Christian mysticism. Less abstract and theoretical than her friend, St Teresa's writings are no less noteworthy for the brilliance of their ability to convey with both warmth and rigour some flavour of this most extraordinary experience: union with God. Her autobiography may well be the best entry point into her work, and into the great mystical literature of the Christian church. Here she describes her early life and education, the conflicts and crisis she underwent, culminating in her determination to enter fully into the path of prayer. Following a description of the contemplative life, which she explores in four stages, she returns to her own life in order to describe (in erotic language reminiscent of the Song of Songs) the ecstatic experiences given to her by God.

If the idea of mysticism seems hopelessly otherworldly to you, try a taste of St Teresa, who can be as down to earth as Oprah--and sometimes just as amusing. --Doug Thorpe

About the Author

St Teresa (1515-1582) entered the Carmelite convent in Castile when she was 21. Approaching her vocation with determination but no enthusiasm, she slowly realised God can be loved in and through all things.

J.M. Cohen translated nine volumes for the Penguin Classics, including Cervantes, Montaigne, Rabelais and Rousseau. He died in 1989 and was described by the Times as "one of the great English men of letters".


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First Sentence
IF I had not been so wicked, the possession of devout and Godfearing parents, together with the favour of God's grace, would have been enough to make me good. Read the first page
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic spiritual autobiography 27 Oct 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
St Teresa wrote this story of her life under obedience to her superiors. It is not a conventional autobiography, there are few details of her childhood for example. She frequently digresses onto the subject of prayer and this contains some of the most lovely descriptions of the different stages of closeness to God. This is Spain's second most popular prose classic and allows a glimpse of the real woman behind the sainthood. Read this carefully, it is not a book to be read in one sitting. If you read it slowly, it will reward you with new insights into your own spiritual life.

For those who are more interested in the person than the spirituality, it gives insight into the life of a devout 16th century nun, who defied the conventions of her day and reformed a religious order, almost unheard of for a woman. However you approach this book, it is a classic of its type, sit back and imagine St Teresa writing these words at her tiny desk, by flickering lamplight and hear her speak to you.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable autobiography. 24 Feb 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Simply taken as an autobiography this is an entertaining and very readable book. However it does more than entertain as it develops Teresa's spiritual progress. Her imagery an description are very good. On a spiritual level she deals with problems in her own life that are relevent to most readers whether they share her religious convictions or not.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Christian classic 24 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As someone brought up by (very) atheist parents I'm still new to religion and religious thought. I was baptised and confirmed low church Anglican so I write this review as a novice when it comes to religious mysticism. So first I'll review it from my prospective. St Theresa has a way with words and I assume it translates easily since the simplicity she writes with allows clarity. I find her charming as a child, rebellious and leaving to be martyred by the moors has a sardonic humour by also shows her serious devotion which continues throughout her autobiography. She continues to be rebellious defying church standard practices but remains astonishingly obedient, ll this naturally appeals to me. The language is also beautiful, fragrant and highly spiritual and the writing also has an intimacy she i don't imagine for a minute the saint would have expected a 26 year old in 2012 to be reading it.

The book is also challenging; the saint writes of mental prayer almost a form of mediation that I would find difficult to follow however she does explain how to achieve this kind of communication with God. Obviously this not the best book for an agnostic to come to mysticism since the saint assumes, since she is writing to her superiors that anyone reading the book will be believers.

That said as a believer myself I did love the book and love the woman who wrote it. I also find myself thinking about her often and particularly the self help inclusion which has become famous. "Let nothing distress you, Let nothing disturb you, All things pass but God, Who alone is all. Patience will get you, All that you strive for. Cleave to God, and nothing else will fail you, for God alone is all."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself 2 July 2013
Format:Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful book. I found it took me a long time to read as it is deceptively simple to read but getting the understanding of what you have just read was far more difficult. She was a wonderful woman who entered the Carmelite convent when she was 21 years old. She had many trials and tribulations during her life. She had many visions and mystical experiences and went on to found 17 Carmelite monasteries throughout Spain.

I think the book is very well written and contains a detailed account of the life of St. Teresa of Avila. It covers Teresa's early childhood at home and she describes in detail the 4 stages of prayer. The analogy she uses in explaining the stages of prayer is the effort required in watering a garden, the hardest being drawing the water from a well, drawing the water from a stream, irrigation and finally falling from the sky as rain. She always denied her own saintliness and I was struck by the very low opinion she had of herself.

This book is a frank account of one of the great stories of a religious life and is regarded as a literary masterpiece. After Don Quixote, it is Spain's most widely read prose classic.

At her death her incorrupt body had such an aromatic fragrance that the people of the time dismembered her body in order to secure for themselves a relic. I found reading about this most distressing because the people of that time have robbed Spain of a wonderful treasure which I think would still be viewable today especially as incorrupt bodies are quite rare.

The book contains no photographs and I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the wonderful St. Teresa of Avila.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 12 Aug 2014
By ssm
Format:Paperback
very good
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