The Ascetic Spirituality of Juan de Ávila (1499-1569)


Juan de Ávila (1499-1569) was one of the most significant exponents of Spanish Golden Age spirituality. His work throughout Andalusia gave rise to the school of Avilista spirituality, a spirituality adopted by both lay men and women as well as secular and regular members of the clergy who were inspired by his stress on moral and spiritual formation and were bound together by the observance of a rigorous program of spiritual discipline. Scholars have increasingly identified him as the author of a distinctively judeoconverso spirituality. Currently, however, there are no comprehensive studies of his spirituality that seriously take into account his judeoconverso background. The present work seeks to analyze his ascetic spirituality and place it against its proper early-modern Spanish context.

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Rady Roldan-Figueroa, Th.D. (2005), Boston University, is Assistant Professor of Religion at Baylor University. He has published on early modern Spanish spirituality, missions, and biblical translations.
“Rady Roldán-Figueroa’s careful and comprehensive study of the writings of Juan de Ávila will be warmly welcomed by scholars of early modern Spain and Catholic Europe. Thanks to his efforts this crucially important figure has been 'rediscovered'.”
Jodi Bilinkoff, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In: The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 64, No. 1 (January 2013), pp. 173-175.

“Der Verfasser bietet mit seiner Studie eine sorgfältig erarbeitete Darstellung der Lehre Ávilas vom geistlichen Leben und verortet diese plausibel im Kontext der spanischen Gesellschaft des 16. Jh.s. […]. Die Ankündigung Papst Benedikts XVI. im August 2011, er werde Johannes von Ávila zum Kirchenlehrer der römisch-katholischen Kirche ernennen, unterstreicht noch die Relevanz dieser Arbeit.“
Ulrike Treusch, Kassel. In: Theologische Literaturzeitung, Vol. 137, No. 6 (2012), pp. 700-701.

“Das Buch wirkt kompositorisch und argumentativ in hohem Maße gelungen. Der Autor vermag es, verschiedene Disziplinen ausgewogen ineinander zu spielen […]. Gerade weil das Ineinander der verschiedenen Perspektiven und Disziplinen ohne Scheuklappen vorgenommen wird und daher umso besser gelingt, liest sich die komplexe Untersuchung leicht und flüssig.“
Daniel Bogner, Luxemburg. In: Zeitschrift für historische Forschung, 40. Bd., Heft 3 (2013), pp. 508-510.

List of Abbreviations

Juan de Avila and Mental Prayer as the Hallmark of his Judeoconverso Spirituality
Juan de Avila in Contemporary Scholarship
Juan de Avila and Mental Prayer as a Mark of Holiness
Outline of the Work

Chapter One. The Spiritual Exercises of Juan de Avila: His Rule for the Clergy
Avila's Letter to His Disciple from Cordoba (1538)
Juan de Avila's Letter to Master Garcia Arias (2 [January] 1538)
The Rule in the Letter "to a Priest," post-1542
The Rule in the Letter to Fray Luis de Granada of c. 1544

Chapter Two. The Spiritual Exercises of Juan de Avila: His Rule for the Laity
The Short Rule of Christian Life in the Wider Context of Fray Luis de Granada's Guia de pecadores (1556)
Villanueva's Reglas in Relation to Avila's Short Rule
The Short Rule of Christian Life of 1556
The Posthumous Correction of the Short Rule
The Fall of Maria de la Visitacion and Juan Diaz's Edition of the Diez documentos
The Question of Personal Merits in the Revised Edition of the Short Rule

Chapter Three. Juan de Avila and the Audi, filia of 1556 as a Manual for Holy Women
Of Beatas and Religiosas: Women Disciples of Juan de Avila
The Audi, filia of 1556 as a Manual for Holy Women
The Visions and Experiences of Ana Ponce de Leon: A Woman's Experience of Mental Prayer

Chapter Four. Juan de Avila and Frequent Communion: Historical Background
Frequent Communion in New Testament and Patristic Sources
Medieval and Scholastic Sources on Frequent Communion
Erasmus, the Spanish Erasmians, and Frequent Communion
The Council of Trent on Frequent Communion
The Spanish Debate over Frequent Communion

Chapter Five. Juan de Avila and Frequent Communion: His Sermons on the Eucharist
Juan de Avila on Frequent Communion: His Sermon on the Eight Day of Corpus Christi, 1542
The Problem of Annual or Rare Communion: The Protestant Heresy
Frequent Communion and Spiritual Discipline: Avila's "Bien Comulgar"
Frequent Communion, Social Discipline, and Avila's Views on Women
Frequent Communion, Social Discipline, and Avila's Criticism of the Spanish Grandees

Chapter Six. Juan de Avila and his Ascetic Doctrine of Union with the Holy Spirit
Espirituacion, or Union with the Holy Spirit
Espirituacion: Avila's Vision of Moral Reform

Chapter Seven. Juan de Avila and the Spiritual Discipline of Public Service
The Spirituality of Public Service in His Sermons
The Spirituality of Public Service in His Letters

Concluding Remarks: Juan de Avila and the Contours of Converso Spirituality
Marcel Bataillon and the Definition of Judeoconverso Spirituality
Juan de Avila: Ascetic Spirituality as Social Practice


All those interested in historical theology, spirituality, women's asceticism, mental prayer, frequent communion, poltical theology, as well as early modern Spain, history of Christianity, and the Counter Reformation.