Saint John of the Cross
Juan de Yepes was born in Fontiveros (Avila, Spain) in the year 1542. He entered the Carmelite Order in Medina del Campo and in 1567 he was ordained a priest in Salamanca. The summer of that year he met Mother Teresa of Jesus in Medina del Campo. At the time of that fortunate encounter the Foundress was 52 and the “santico” fray Juan was 25.
The intuition of St. Teresa was accurate and undeniable. From then on these two great mystic authors of Christianity walked together in the history of Carmel and Christian spirituality. Won over by her for the new ideal of Carmel, John of the Cross initiated the new experience of the Carmelite life with Fr. Antonio de Jesus and others in Duruelo, Avila, on November 28, 1568.
He shines with his own light in Carmel and the Church. He was the formator of the first Teresian Carmelites in various houses of formation and the director and spiritual master of Carmelite nuns and the laity in Castile and Andalusia. He instructed and encouraged them by his preaching but his special charism was manifested more in his spiritual direction. He had responsibility for government in the houses and in the religious Province. A lack of comprehension between the Calced and Discalced Carmelites caused him to be imprisoned for almost nine months in the monastery jail of Toledo. This cramped environment without light favoured him with an interior introspection which he sang about in his first poems and which were the first beginnings of his future books.
His books reflect the teachings of his spiritual direction and instructions. At the beginning is the poem, almost beyond analysis for its inspiration, its allegory and its symbolism. The analytical commentary follows with liberty, but which can be so inspired for the profound theology and for the astonishing poetic revelation. Standing out in all his teachings and commentaries is the image of the living Christ. As the foundation and reason for all asceticism and spirituality he recommends having “a habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds, conforming your self to his life which you must study in order to know how to imitate it.” (Ascent, Bk. I, 13,3)
In the standard classification, which is imperfect since it does not take into account the unity and profundity of his thought, his books: Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night are considered ascetical works. Writings of the mystical level are the Spiritual Canticle (which treats the exercise of love between the soul and Christ the Spouse) and the Living Flame of Love. Other minor writings follow, such as the Cautions, the Sayings of Light and Love and the Letters and various Poems.
St John of the Cross died in Ubeda, on the night of December 13 towards midnight in 1591. His body rests in Segovia. Canonized in 1726, two centuries later on August 24, 1926, Pius XI declared him a Doctor of the Church for his teachings in the domain of mysticism.
Saint Teresa of Jesus
Saint Teresa of Jesus (1515-1582) is the fountain of inspiration and orientation and the Mother Foundress of the Teresian Carmel. This Spanish mystic was born in Avila to the family of Cepeda y Ahumada, March 28, 1515.
She became a Carmelite nun at the age of 20 in the Monastery of the Incarnation in the city where she was born. She remained there 27 years until August 24, 1562 when she inaugurated her own new Carmel. Through new and strong ecclesial experiences, she continued by order of the Superior General, Juan Bautista Rubeo, to found 17 foundations in Spain beginning in 1567. One year later, November 28, 1568, she organized with St John of the Cross the beginning of the new life of the Discalced Carmelite friars in Duruelo, in the Province of Avila. At the age of 67 she died “a daughter of the Church” at Alba de Tormes in the afternoon of October 4, 1582.
Her communities were to be “little colleges of Christ”, aspiring to live faithfully the evangelic counsels, founded on prayer “as a friendship with one whom we know loves us,” and a community of equals and friends, giving themselves completely for the good of the Church. The friars were to have the same contemplative heart and dedicate themselves generously to activity in the service of the Church.
A lover of reading since her childhood, she wrote a few books to clarify her conscience before her confessors and spiritual directors or in order to help others on the spiritual path at the request of superiors and her own Carmelite sisters. The Book of Life or Autobiography is an x-ray of her interior life in search of God. In this search she clings with cordial passion to Christ the Man, who becomes for her a “living book.” The Way of Perfection is a book of formation, above all in regard to the life of prayer and fraternal life in a Carmelite community according to the new ideals of Carmel. The Interior Castle or the Book of the Mansions is a narration of the process of her mystical experience, centered on Christ and the mystery of the Trinity. In the Book of Foundations she recounts the anecdotal history, external and personal, of the monasteries she founded until Burgos in 1582.
Along with her major works her minor writings, always rich in spiritual content and literary value, should be taken into account. Teresa of Jesus is a writer who gives witness to her convictions, her experience and the work of God in her soul. A captivating sincerity runs through all her writings. An exceptional collection of 500 letters have been conserved. There is manifested a diverse world of addressees with whom she dealt in the Iberian Peninsula, in Rome and in America. Above all, the humanity of daily life spontaneously appears and the grand ideals of her soul, the loving entrustment to the divine, to Christ and his Church, embodied with the total naturalness of her relations, her preoccupations and her state of mind.
St Teresa of Jesus has her own place in the history of Christian mysticism and Spanish literature. She was canonized March 12, 1622. On September 18, 1965, Pope Paul VI named her “Principle Patron of Spanish Catholic Writers of Spain.” The same Pope declared her the first woman Doctor of the Church on September 27, 1970.