St Teresa & A Woman’s Longing to Preach


François_Gérard_-_St_Theresa_(detail)Saint Teresa of Avila was a 16th-century mystic and Carmelite nun who traveled around teaching and writing mystical treatises on the interior life of maturing Christian spirituality and contemplative practices. (Here’s a great intro on her life.)

To read her writings and to read about her life is one of the most powerful testimonies to a woman’s place in the Christian church. She constantly rubbed the male power structures the wrong way and in many of her writings one can see how she bends over backwards to accommodate their concerns about a powerful woman, trying to demonstrate how a woman can teach and lead while also living in accordance to the doctrines of the scriptures. And yet, more than any intellectual argument, it is her grace, maturity, and powerful insight into the Bible, the Christian Life, and the human soul that are some of the greatest apologetics for a woman’s full right to teach and preach and lead in the Church. I am currently reading through her magnum opus, The Interior Castle, and it is breathtaking. I ran across this brief passage and lamented along with Teresa…

No matter how hard she [the Soul] tries, she cannot conjure up the desire for anything else but to abandon herself into [God’s] loving embrace…. She has come to believe that the only remedy against deception lies in obedience to her teachers and reverence for God. Knowing that she cannot help committing occasional transgressions distresses her terribly; she would rather be crushed to pieces than knowingly miss the mark.

God gives the soul the most intense desire not to dishonor him in any way and to avoid even the most petty imperfections. If for no other reason, this is why the soul wants to flee from people. She envies those who live in the wilderness. On the other hand, she would like to plunge right into the heart of the world in the hopes of getting even one person to praise God more.

For a woman, this work is generally thwarted. Who will listen to her? She is envious of a man’s freedom to go around the world openly spreading the word about who this great God of the multitudes is.

Oh, poor little butterfly, bound by so many chains that keep you from flying wherever you want to go! Have mercy on her, my God. Let her do something toward fulfilling her desires for your honor and glory. Pay no attention to how little she deserves Your Grace or how undeveloped her nature maybe. You are all-powerful, Lord….

Extend your mighty arm, Lord, so that this Soul does not have to waste her life in unholy ways. Manifest your greatness in this simple, feminine creature, so that all may see that this greatness is not hers but yours and be moved to give you praise. This is all she wants. She would gladly give a thousand lives, if she had them, so that one single soul my praise you a little more through her. She would consider such lives to be well spent.

Would you not be honored to have this woman as your faithful Pastor, teacher, and preacher at your church?

3 thoughts on “St Teresa & A Woman’s Longing to Preach

  1. This is not to be argumentative, but to give you something to think about. I have never had this conversation with a priest or a monk or anyone enlightened, but having been part of the Church for sometime now, you begin to understand things without actually having to ask questions or read on a specific topic. The reason that female priests/pastors is problematic is that it is an implicit denial of an objective ontological reality; that is, the sexes are different regardless of capability. It is no coincidence that congregations & denominations that accept female priests/pastors/elders eventually accept same sex unions as inherently good. Why? Because both deny that what you are given (male or female) matters. “You are more than your genitals” goes the argument. I can understand the underlying attempt at goodwill in this statement, but it is basically gnostic by making primary the spirit and secondary the physical.

    Additionally, in Classical Christianity, capable oration is not an essential matter in being a priest/pastor. A priest leads the people in prayer & serves the gifts. Sermons are of secondary importance. Many Sundays, there isn’t one.

    Finally, the perceived need for female priests/pastors also comes from the void created by a lack of proper veneration of the Theotokos.

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    • I actually only just now ran across this comment, over five years later! Don’t know if you’ll get a notification about it. Just two points.

      First, I’ll just point out that bad motives and perceived negative outcomes within very specific cultural and historical time periods is not proof that a truth is not true.
      The Anglican Church has accepted women’s ordination since 1975, and they still maintain a traditional view of marriage, gender, and sexuality. LGBT controversies within the Church are relatively new, and in the span of the millennia in which the church has existed, I wouldn’t use the controversies of the Western Church in the past couple of decades define a truth as important as ordination. I believe even the Orthodox recognize there have been decades (or centuries!) where the Church has found itself in disobedience and disrepute in areas such as politics, violence, apostolic authority, ecclesial organization, discipleship, money, mission, etc. and yet that does not negate whatever core truths initially led them down the path to those extremes.

      Second, I want to stress a very important point: I have never heard even the most egalitarian of theologians and pastors ever say that men and women are not different. This is largely a caricatured strawman that conservative polemicists throw out against egalitarian beliefs around church leadership (not saying you’re doing that–just that a lot of the leaders in this argument do). Yes, men and women are objectively, ontologically different. Sex and gender are real, discreet things. But that doesn’t change WHAT each sex does, but HOW they will do it. The sexes are ontologically different, but they both wear clothing–it’s just that women will wear clothing differently than men will (generally). So to me, the real differences don’t mean THAT women don’t preach and perform priestly functions, but it HOW they preach and perform priestly functions. Men and women will do all those things differently which is why, to me, it’s so important to have both sexes represented among church leadership so they can reflect the full image of God to God’s people.

      I’ll also just add that veneration of the Theotokos does not negate women priests any more than the veneration of Christ negates male leadership. I know you were just talking about perception, but it goes the same way. A perception of a lack of adequate male leadership is not lessened by venerating Christ more. If there are voids in leadership, there are voids in leadership. I understand your point, and would probably make the same point if I were you (I think Catholic nuns have filled a lot of that role in Catholicism so that “void” isn’t perceived as strongly, for example). I just think it’s a little inadequate.

      In the end, we need to go to Scripture and the earliest traditions of the Church to answer this question. Reasonable people can disagree, but I feel like both of those support women’s ordination to the priesthood.

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