In her report that inaugurated the celebrations in Terni for the fifth centenary of Teresa’s birth, Deborah Sawyer, a theologian from the University of Lancaster, put the role and works of the saint of Avila in the context of the history of revelation: the female figures included in this tradition were to be linked not only and not so much by their common sex but above all by the way in which they interpreted God’s revelation. Their influence on the Western religious tradition and hence on the foundation of Western culture that was exercised only outside the visible buildings of temple, synagogue or church, flowed from direct communication with God. However, if on the one hand a prophetic communication that does not pass through conventional mediators is subject to suspicion on the part of the authorities, on the other it nevertheless has a great power to orient the faithful towards fresher and more innovative directions. It is in this tradition, whose pivot is Mary by virtue of her special place in Christ’s ministry, that Teresa fits, on the path already marked out by Clare, “a beacon”, Sawyer maintains, “in the religious witnessing borne by women”. Putting Teresa in this context means developing reflection at the theological level and on the original contribution of women to the Christian faith: all women who over the course of the centuries have embraced poverty as a lifestyle have reassessed those who lack means and power, they have reformed (founding new monastic orders) with courage and determination, never separated from constant and profound prayer. It was a spirituality that could not be ignored by their contemporaries, whether they were princes or popes. In spite of the social obligations to which they were subject, their mystical union with the divine led them far beyond what is attainable through worldly powers.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 17, 2019
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