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John of Ávila

(1500—1569)


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(1500–69),

priest, writer, and mystic. Born at Almodovar-del-Campo (New Castile) of wealthy parents of Jewish extraction, he studied law at Salamanca, but then renounced it. He gave himself to prayer and penance at home for three years, and then studied philosophy and theology at Alcalá under Dominic de Soto for six years until 1526. Ordained in 1525, he gave away most of his inheritance to the poor and intended to join the missions in Mexico. The archbishop of Seville however persuaded him to re-evangelize Andalusia instead. This southernmost province had been ruled by the Moors and needed the Gospel message to be preached again. John won almost universal acclaim: the Inquisition however accused him in 1531–3 of teaching rigorism and the exclusion of the rich from heaven. These accusations were never proved: when John was released, he received strong popular support.

He was also highly esteemed by some of the most notable saints of the time. Theresa of Avila chose him as her counsellor, Francis Borgia and John of God owed their conversions to him. John's writings, mainly letters and sermons, are substantial in quantity and notable for their spiritual depth. The most famous is Audi filia, a treatise on Christian perfection written in 1530 for Donna Sancha Carillo, who had renounced wealth and status to lead a life of prayer and solitude.

John suffered much illness in his last fifteen years. His admiration for Ignatius of Loyola inclined him to join the Jesuits, but he was dissuaded by the Provincial of Andalusia. He was, however, buried in the Jesuit church at Montilla. Long esteemed as a spiritual writer, he was canonized in 1970. Feast: 10 May.

Works ed. by L. Sala Balust (Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 2 vols.), 1952–3; Audi Filia (Espirituales Espagnoles, 1963); Spiritual Letters, ed. V. Garcia de Diego (Classicos Castellanos, 1912, Eng. tr. by a Benedictine of Stanbrook, 1914). Life by Luis of Granada, ed. L. Sala Balust (Espirituales Espagnoles 1964); other Lives by M. Ruiz (1618) and L. degli Oddi (1754). See also the specialist review Maestro Avila (Montilla, 1946– ), O.D.C.C., s.v.; B.L.S., v. 56–7; Bibl. SS., ii. 649–56.

Subjects: Christianity — Early Modern History (1500 to 1700).


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