MULTIFORMIS SAPIENTIA DEI
SAINT TERESA OF JESUS, VIRGIN OF AVILA,
IS PROCLAIMED DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
IN PERPETUAL MEMORY
The manifold Wisdom of God sometimes reveals itself more manifestly to certain beloved disciples of Christ and to them, by arcane design and singular liberality, it is granted to understand “the breadth and the length, and height and the depth… knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge” (Eph 3:18). In fact, “the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, “allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills, (1 Cor 12:11) He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and greater expansion of the Church” (LG 12).
Teresa of Jesus, great and noble virgin, and also reformer of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, was enriched by profusion of this divine abundance of sacred charisms. A woman of simple customs and ignorant of literary culture, she excelled so much in words and writings that these words can be referred to her: “in the full assembly she opened her mouth” (Sir 15:5), and she was rightly proclaimed a saint by holy men and also was venerated as a very sure guide and teacher by doctors of sacred sciences. Although she was involved in a great deal of business related to her duties, it was nevertheless seen that she constantly aspired to a better homeland, that is to say, to a heavenly homeland; almost always suffering in her body and laden with tribulations, she fearlessly faced any undertaking for the glory of God and for the benefit of Christ’s Church.
Therefore, since this servant of God always has been exalted, whether for the extraordinary facts of her life, the rare virtues of her soul, or for the acumen of her spirit, we consider with certainty this fact a just and noble reason wherefore, as our predecessor Gregory XV’s decree bestowed upon her the honours of the saints so that all the faithful of Christ might understand with what abundance God had filled his servant with the Holy Spirit (cf. Lett. Decr. Omnipotens sermo), so should we proclaim her — we do not doubt — a Doctor of the Church, first among women, especially for her knowledge and doctrine of divine things. In fact, we have faith and trust that Teresa of Jesus, declared by solemn decree a teacher of Christian life, strongly will encourage the men of our time as well to cultivate above all that which favours the soul’s love towards contemplation and the attainment of heavenly things.
Since these things are so, as early as 15 October 1967, we publicly declared our intention to include Saint Teresa of Jesus in the catalogue of the Doctors of the Church. And this intention was based not only on Our familiarity with the doctrine of this holy woman but also on the great esteem that our predecessors in the Roman Pontificate, who seemed to anticipate without doubt Our solemn proclamation, expressed with their words over and over again on the excellence of her doctrine. Among these is Gregory XV, who in the Bull of Canonisation gave the doctrine of Saint Teresa this testimony: “The Almighty . . . filled her so much with the spirit of intelligence that . . . he irrigated her with the rain of heavenly wisdom”. The comparison that Benedict XIII made in the Bull of Canonisation of Saint John of the Cross, between the same saint and Teresa is also very important: “. . . . . in explaining with his writings the mysterious secrets of mystical theology, he was divinely instructed, not differing from Teresa”; with this comparison, one doctor approaches another doctor. Moreover, the declaration of Saint Pius X is very famous: “This woman was so great and so useful to the salutary education of Christians that she seems to be either not much or not at all inferior to those great fathers and doctors of the Church, whom we have remembered (i.e., Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Anselm of Aosta)”. And the Supreme Pontiff himself, in his Apostolic Letter Ex quo Nostrae of 7 March 1914, did not hesitate to say: “Therefore, the Church is rightly accustomed to attribute to this virgin the honours proper to doctors”. Benedict XV then, speaking to the Cardinals on 24 December 1921, said that Teresa had united to the crown of holiness the wreath of doctrine. Pius XI in the Apostolic Constitution Summorum Pontificum of 25 July 1922 called her “sapientissimam matrem” (mother most wise) and “altissimam contemplationis magistra” (supreme teacher of contemplation). Pius XII, in his speech on 23 November 1951, declared that the Holy Spirit had provided the whole Church with the treasury of a spiritual doctrine through the work of Saint Teresa. Finally, John XXIII, Our immediate predecessor, precisely in his Apostolic Letter of 16 July 1962, called her the singular light of the Church.
And the saints who, by the heavenly counsel of God’s providence, had friendships with Teresa, never separated veneration of her holiness from her divinely inspired doctrine. And they were certainly men of great fame, such as Peter of Alcantara, Francis Borgia, John of the Cross, Juan de Ribera, John of Avila. All of them had her as a teacher of contemplation, enlightened by God, or to express ourselves more exactly, teacher of teachers of the spirit. Later there were saints who were Doctors of the Church who venerated her with equal esteem, such as Francis de Sales and Alphonsus de Liguori and other saints, such as Anthony Mary Claret, Charles of Sezze, Vincent Pallotti.
The thought that the Virgin of Avila could be esteemed a Doctor never ceased to exist in the Church. Suffice it to mention the opinion of the theologians of Salamanca who, since there was a controversy on the subject, wrote openly in 1657: “Now our blessed Mother Teresa has the halo of a doctor and the Church receives and approves her singular doctrine . . . as coming from heaven”. So with the great desire that the holiness and doctrine of such a great woman may be of greater use to all, it seemed good to us that we can attribute to her the cult of doctor of the Church which until now has been attributed only to holy men. However, we have entrusted to the Sacred Congregation for Rites the task of discussing the matter with the greatest diligence. And [this Congregation] after having previously made use of the work and the opinion of the learned, in the ordinary assembly of 20 December 1967 proposed that the point on which it was undecided should be examined, whether the title and the cult of Doctor of the Church could be attributed not only to men but also to women who had contributed to the common good of the faithful for holiness and excellent doctrine, according to the norms and decrees of Pope Benedict XIV. On 21 March 1968, we ratified and confirmed the thought of the Cardinals, Prelates, and Officials present, who assured that this was possible. Since the beloved son Michelangelo of Saint Joseph, General Superior of the Discalced Carmelite Order, expressing his own desire and that of his Order, had asked that we proclaim Teresa of Jesus Doctor of the Church and since many Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Superiors of Religious Orders, and of Secular Congregations and Institutes had also asked the same thing, and other very learned people from Universities and Higher Institutes, we sent these prayers and wishes to the Sacred Congregation of Rites to evaluate them, and it prepared the so-called special “positio”, of great importance, which examined the whole matter with care and diligence. When the Cardinals in charge of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which had been established in the meantime, examined the matter with great care, they expressed their opinion in the Ordinary Assembly of the same Congregation held in the Vatican Basilica on 15 July 1969, after hearing both the report of our Venerable Brother Cardinal Arcadio Larraona, Promoter of this cause and the opinion of the Official Prelates; they all agreed that Saint Teresa of Jesus was certainly worthy of being inscribed in the catalogue of the Doctors of the Church. Finally, after having been informed on 21 July of last year and after having carefully examined everything, we approved and confirmed the deliberation of the same Congregation, establishing that it should be brought to completion with solemn rites.
And this happened today, with the help of God and with the approval of the whole Church. In fact, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, with the participation of legions of faithful from all nations and above all from Spain, in the presence of many Cardinals and Sacred Prelates of the Roman Curia and of the Catholic Church, who ratify all the decrees, who adhere to the requests of the members of the Discalced Carmelite Order and who willingly and graciously hear the wishes of the other supplicants, during the divine sacrifice we pronounced these words:
“WITH TRUE KNOWLEDGE AND THOUGHTFUL DECISION AND FOR THE FULLNESS OF OUR APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY WE DECLARE SAINT TERESA OF JESUS, VIRGIN OF AVILA, DOCTOR OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH”.
After saying these words and thanking God together with those present, we gave a speech about the marvellous holiness and doctrine of this doctor of the Church, and we sacrificed the divine victim at the high altar of the basilica.
We now decide in this regard that Our Letter should be preserved devoutly and that it should have its full completion in the future, and that it should be judged and defined as such in the proper way and that it should be vain and without foundation that which is different surrounding this by anyone who might be involved, with whatever authority, consciously or out of ignorance.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, under the ring of the Fisherman, on 27 September of the year of the Lord 1970, the eighth of our Pontificate.
Watch this historic newsreel from Spain showing clips from the Solemn Mass on 27 September 1970, His Holiness St. Paul VI, presiding
View the newsreel in higher definition at the Filmoteca Española website