Oh, daughter, daughter! These Sisters in the Incarnation are My Sisters, and you delay? Well, take courage; behold I want it, and it isn’t as difficult as it seems to you. And whereas you think some harm will come to your houses, both they and the Incarnation will benefit. Do not resist, for My power is great.
Our Lord to St. Teresa, 10 July 1571
Spiritual Testimonies, 16
In Teresa’s “miserable times,” Castilian men followed the lure of adventure and fortune in lands across the sea. (Not one of Teresa’s nine brothers stayed in Avila.)
The ensuing lack of opportunities for women in the married life led to the overpopulation of nuns’ monasteries. In monasteries women could feel secure and socially accepted. Not much thought was given to their intentions for entering.
Sometimes they entered not because they couldn’t find a husband but because they did not want to accept the one their parents had selected for them. Doña Elvira de Guzmán entered the monastery of the Incarnation to spite her mother who “took away the husband she desired and selected another one for her against her will.”
In 1522, the community of the Incarnation numbered 40 nuns. By 1552 the number had reached 180. In 1565, a petition to the mayor of Avila for help mentioned that there were about 200 nuns in the monastery.
Of course, as the numbers increased the expenses rose. The monastery began contracting debts with the result that one of the sources of income, the dowries of new nuns, had to go immediately to pay contracted debts or to buy food.
The permanent source of income thereby could never grow. Sending someone home would require repayment of the dowry; that presented a problem because the dowry had already been spent.
The Council of Trent in 1563 called for a limit in numbers, stating that the norm would be the number that could be sustained by the income. But the Incarnation, unable to comply with these rules, resorted to a principle from the Carmelite rule: “Necessity has no law” (Carmelite Rule, 16).
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
The Way of Perfection: Study Edition
Chapter 14, Interpretive Notes
On 6 October 1571 Saint Teresa left the Carmel of Medina del Campo to assume the office of prioress at the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, by order of the Apostolic Visitator appointed by Pope Pius V. It had been almost nine years since Teresa had left the Incarnation to move to the Carmel of St. Joseph, the first of her reform.
Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O 2000 The Way of Perfection: A Study Edition, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
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.