This Life has long stood the test of a classic in autobiography. Though couched in direct and unadorned diction—it was written in what spare half-hours the author could salvage from a very active life—there is a sweep to the thought and narrative not unlike the movement of a Mozart concerto. How she handled her theme is told in Teresa’s own words: “I have put down all that has happened to me with all the simplicity and sincerity possible.” (350) A disarming preface pictures her childhood, family, home, friends. Then quite easily the reader is borne up to the level of her mature years, and the work begins to take on power. Its course was defined for her by her then spiritual director, Pedro Ibáñez. To help him teach this most able student, he instructed her to “describe at length my way of prayer, and the workings of the grace of our Lord within me.” (1) She bared her soul with a candor that is very modern, while she exacted a promise that no one but he should see the manuscript while she was alive. The narrative ends in her forty-seventh year (1573) after her first foundation of a monastery following the original rule of the Carmelites.
Of great interest is her constant demand for confessors endowed with the power of analysis that rests on solid learning. Among them were such noted figures as Pedro de Alcántara, Juan de Ávila, Domingo Báñez and Balthasar Álvarez. This put her right in the center of the Catholic Reformation. Great families enter the narrative with names such as Doña de la Cerda. There, too, are her brothers in the Indies with whom she kept up an intimate correspondence. Though she protests in her Life that “I am only a woman,” few of her sex have matched her in the range and effectiveness of her influence. She became a legend that underlay the Golden Age of Spain.
The edition in hand is the fourth printing of David Lewis’ translation first published in London in 1870. David Knowles contributes a preface to set the saint in her proper historical position. Successive editors added notations to identify person and place. It has long ago been pointed out that this is really two “lives.” The first draft ended in June of 1562 (Chapter 34) just before the foundation of San José de Ávila, her first reformed house. The second continued until the fall of 1563 when all the tensions attending the first foundation were cleared up. At the same writing she introduced numerous additions into the earlier chapters, all harmoniously connected with the original work.
In contrast with this remarkable documentary of the sixteenth century, the book of Doctor Margaret is rather a vignette, an undocumented piece of art. Felipe de Jesús (1575-1597), first son of North America to be canonized, came of a worker family in the city of Mexico. Turned thirteen he decided to become a friar. He trudged eighty-five miles to Puebla and entered the small hermitage of San Francisco. Three years later found him on the Santiago bound from Acapulco to Manila. A mission to Japan there beckoned insistently. The dedicated youth, on orders, boarded the galleon returning to Mexico, and a typhoon broke the orders and threw him onto the shores of Shikoku. On Nagasaki’s “Hill of Wheat” he was tied to a cross, and expired. Only in 1862 was he made a saint. The picture is genuine.