“Whoever has not begun the practice of prayer, I beg for the love of the Lord not to go without so great a good.”saint teresa of avila
the book of her life, chap. 8, no. 5
In a letter to her brother Lorenzo, December 23, 1561, Teresa summed up her idea as she initially envisioned it:
“To found a monastery where there will be only fifteen nuns and no possibility for any increase in numbers. They will practice a very strict enclosure and thus never go out or be seen without veils covering their faces. Their lives will be founded on prayer and mortification.”
The practice of enclosure at the Incarnation was not a rigorous one, and Teresa often went outside the monastery. Not until August 21, 1564, when the nuncio Cardinal Alessandro Cribelli exempted her from the observance of the Incarnation was she free to practice enclosure in its rigorous form.
In this same period, the Council of Trent dealt with the restoration of the cloister as a tool for reform. But only in 1566 did its decrees become known in Spain. In that same year through the constitution Circa pastoralis Pius V imposed rigorous cloister on all religious women including those living in beaterios who had never even promised it.
When, understandably, requests began pouring into Rome for dispensations from cloister, Pius V resolutely launched, in 1570, the constitution Decori reaffirming the previous legislation and abolishing every contrary law or custom, restricting the causes for leaving the enclosure to “a serious fire, leprosy, or an epidemic.”
In 1572, the next pope, Gregory XIII, with the constitution Deo sacris defined the boundaries of the cloister and ordained that the doors leading into the monastery church should be boarded up, forbidding the nuns to go out to close the outside doors of the church. Teresa doesn’t seem to have become aware of these laws of Gregory XIII, stricter than her own, before 1581. She then began urging their observance.
Teresa’s own enthusiasm for cloister rested on her determination to provide a contemplative environment for her nuns through the authorized means that seemed safest in those times.
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
The Book of Her Foundations, Introduction (excerpt)
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
When I was in Carmel, one wise nun who was a converted Jew said that “under the fig tree” is, of course, an old testament image that’s full of meaning to the Jews. It doesn’t mean, “I saw you sitting in that particular location” but more like “I saw you sitting beneath the Torah or studying the Torah” because the Jews associate the fig tree with the Torah.
What a beautiful privileged vocation! Someone asked me in my 40s what I would have been, if I had had my free choice for my life. There was no hesitation before the thought rushed in: “A Carmelite nun”.