The Devil and the Saint: The Case of Teresa de Jesús

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:20 PM
Room 202 (Hynes Convention Center)
Elizabeth Rhodes , Boston College
Teresa de Jesús worked for years on the text we now know as her spiritual life story, which she called her "Book."  Her first thorough written version of her experiences had alarmed her confessors, who suspected that the devil, not God, was working through her, and they asked for successive elaborations through 1565.  Teresa represents her final triumph over their doubts and her own in Chapter 25, when her superiors gathered to inform her they wanted to exorcise her, she went into a panic, God intervened to support her, and Teresa emerged confident and able to convince them of her orthodoxy.  This paper traces how the figure of the devil transforms across the text, in tandem with Teresa's self-confidence: he is initially an amorphous power inside her against which she fights, and finally a fully exteriorized, symbolic figure such as a little black man or a toad, over whom she exercises complete control.  Closely allied with her confessors and the threat they posed to Teresa, the devil is not a theological entity rather a character that functions as an index of Teresa's belief in herself.  The metamorphosis in the character of the devil in her Book suggests that the interrogation of presumably fixed theological figures of good and evil, such as the devil or the saints, can tell us as much about the religious author as the first-person declarations in the texts they wrote.