Stephen vs. Teresa of Avila

Welcome to the Saintly Sixteen! With your help, we have successfully whittled our field from 32 saints to 16. For this round, rather than the basic biographical information, we enter the realm of Quirks and Quotes. Our brilliant Celebrity Bloggers will provide unusual information or legends surrounding their saints along with quotes either by or about their saints.

Yesterday, in the closest battle of Lent Madness 2022 to date, Thomas Aquinas narrowly defeated Jerome by the absolute thinnest of margins. See the update added at the conclusion of yesterday's post for a note on some voting irregularities. The SEC regrets confusion that was caused by several cheaters -- with a few more people cheating on behalf of Jerome than on behalf of Thomas.

If you’re a competing type and, well, maybe your original bracket blew up, you can start anew with the Saintly Sixteen! This new feature allows you to pit your predictions against others in the Lent Madness voting public. Give it a try here!

But enough jibber jabber. It's time to cast your first vote of the Saintly Sixteen, as Stephen squares off against Teresa of Avila. Go vote!


You can find the whole of Stephen’s “authorized biography” in Chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. It is a fairly sparse account.

We read how Stephen preaches the longest of the sermons recorded in that book – a sermon which ends with the accusation of his hearers: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit.” Stephen’s honesty is commendable, as is the realization that it directly leads to his martyrdom.

But like many other leading figures of the early church, Stephen’s story is continued in legends and traditions handed down through the generations. And many of these traditional stories concern the holiness of Stephen’s earthly remains – a visible sign of the holiness that Stephen showed in life and the grace that dwelt in him.

According to the Golden Legend, none other than the well-known Pharisees Gamaliel and Nicodemus uncovered Stephen's remains and gave them a proper burial. But the remains of Stephen did not remain in Jerusalem – in death the first deacon was very well travelled!

Augustine of Hippo devotes an entire chapter of his Confessions to the miracles attributed to Stephen when his relics were in North Africa. These included the healing of wounds, blind gaining sight, and numerous accounts of raising the dead.

The remains of Stephen eventually wound up at Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls – the resting place of Saint Lawrence, one of the first seven deacons of the church in Rome. Apparently, Lawrence was excited to welcome the first martyr of the church and the patron saint of deacons. When Stephen’s remains were brought there, the remains of Lawrence “as if enjoying his coming and smiling” moved over on their own accord to make room for Stephen.

Very early on, the church made the remembrance of Stephan a part of the Christmas celebrations. The Golden Legend proclaims that “Yesterday Christ was born in earth, that this day Stephen should be born in heaven.” The Feast of St Stephen falls on December 26 in the West (December 27 in the East), a reminder of the connection between the Nativity and the call for us to be prepared to lay down our very lives.

The Feast of Saint Stephen is often an occasion to remember his work  as a deacon – caring for the poor, hungry, and all people in need. It was just such a remembrance that drove a particular 10th century Bohemian royal to head out into the deep, crisp, and even snow to provide for a local peasants. The carol “Good King Wenceslaus” by John Mason Neale recalls for us the work of Stephen: “Ye who now will bless the poor, will yourselves find blessing.”

Preaching on St. Stephen’s Day, Kaj Munk draws out the Christmas connection of Stephen’s martyrdom: “True Christmas joy, no matter how much or how little of it you comprehend, means that you go where He wants you to go.”

-- David Hanson

Teresa of Avila

Look around and you’ll see the marks of Teresa of Avila all around - in art, popular culture, movies, and common idioms.

As a child, she was known to pray and repeat this quick familiar prayer: “For ever, for ever, for ever, for ever, they shall see God.”

In art, she is the subject of well-known and recognizable portraits by Pieter Paul Rubens and François Gérard. Bernini's imposing sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is located in Rome, depicting her mystical visions.

In music, she is found in a wide swath of styles: from classical (Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s compositions for her feast for two voices and two flutes); to current ("Theresa's Sound-World" by Sonic Youth on the 1992 album Dirty, and Saint Teresa  on Joan Osborne's Relish album, nominated for a Grammy Award in 1996); to opera (Four Saints in Three Acts by composer Virgil Thomson with libretto penned by Gertrude Stein).

Worldwide literary greats highlight her: Simone de Beauvoir, Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D’Urbervilles), George Eliot, and Kathryn Harrison's popular novel Poison.

Numerous films and television shows in various languages portray the life or interpretation of Teresa. In movies, who can forget the blockbuster Angels and Demons where her sculpture is an important link to the tale.Nonetheless it’s her words that are notable and known (how many do you know?):

“Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”

“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”

“To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.”

“I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible.”

“We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can - namely, surrender our will and fulfill God's will in us.”

“I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.”

“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”

“Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs, and desires it finds.”

“To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience.”

“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.”

She wrote much poetry, including this popular piece: “God alone is enough.”

Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins
all it seeks.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing:
God alone is enough

The final words of St. Teresa, muttered after a prolonged illness, were telling of her entire life: “O my Lord! Now is the time that we may see each other.”

-- Neva Rae Fox


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110 comments on “Stephen vs. Teresa of Avila”

  1. As we start this next round of contention
    St. Theresa deserves your attention:
    For isn’t it great
    That she could levitate
    And so fly in the face of convention?

    1. It is one letter in Greek. The ph sound is a transliteration. There are numerous Stefans, Estebans and others who do not have the ph.

      In any case Stephen is more than the spelling of his name. He is the protomartyr! And the inspiration for deacons everywhere.

    1. The "ph" in Stephen? The martyr's blood had a ph of 7.4, probably.
      He could have been "Steven" or "Steve" or "Esteban" or "Etienne" and his blood would have been just as holy. "Teressa"? How about "Teresa" or "Theresa" or "Therese"?

  2. Good gravy Marie.... This is already getting hard. I was so torn this morning in my vote, but Teresa's "God is enough" got me.

  3. Must vote for the deacon who continues to inspire others to acts of service even after death.

  4. I do not love you Lord. I do not want to love you Lord. But oh, I want to want to love you Lord. Saint T.

  5. Much as I love Teresa, I cast my vote for Stephen. We spent some happy years as a family living in the parish of St Stephen's Worcester. Every St Stephen's Day we gathered in church for the 'alka seltzer' mass, later than usual to allow for a degree of fragility after the Christmas Day celebrations. We had incense, sang Of the Father's Love Begotten, and Good King Wenceslas, and after the service had sherry and nibbles. A new deacon was asked to preach, honoured by the invitation at Peter tide, panicked by the Christmas rush, who always rose to the occasion beautifully. I still feel a little lost on St Stephen's Day without it.

    1. We should sing "Of The Father's Love Begotten" more frequently. What a wonderful way to celebrate Saint Stephen!

  6. Reading the commentary on St. Teresa I looked up Joan Osborne's song "St. Teresa" on youtube.... fabulous! Great filming as well. St. Teresa gets my vote on the strength of Osborne's song alone.

  7. Male v. female= female wins (exception: Melania v. Hillary because of the names)

    Person of color v. European= POC wins

    So the winner of the Golden Halo will be one of the female persons of color.

    1. How silly would it be to say I'm going to begin voting for male saints only, to stand against the trend of voting for a saint based on gender vs works/life...?

  8. Deacons do not carry out their ministries for recognition, they do it for their love of God and their love of others. I am voting for Stephen because of that love.

  9. The most memorable impact of Bernini's Ecstasy was on a celebrated roue who observed "I know nothing saints, but I've seen that look often."

  10. Inquiring minds want to know. The final vote shown online for yesterday's Thomas-Jerome contest was dead even. How was the winner decided?

    1. Yes I want to know as well. When I saw the voting from yesterday, it was totally tied - down to the last vote!!

    2. I too have this question along with you and Fiona.

      I just checked and it does indeed show exactly 3,704 votes for each.

      I voted for Jerome and that's who is said to have gotten the most votes in today's post, but since the returns are showing a dead heat and in support of free and fair elections, a coin should be tossed to break the tie, and let God have the tie-breaking vote.

      1. Miss Jan, I don't have any inside information, but it looks to me like this morning the SEC detected some voting chicanery in yesterday's contest and has removed those votes. With the candidates in a dead heat, that has changed the outcome from 50.01%-49.99% (initial posted result) to 49%-51% the other way (revised result).

        Based on past history, the website's "vote counter" and the online bracket are the last items to be corrected when such a situation arises. I should also point out that the vote counter itself is frequently not deactivated until several minutes after an election is officially called. IIRC, at 7:56 AM this morning the vote counter read something like 3702-3701.

        I expect that the SEC is currently reviewing the contest for any additional voting naughtiness before making a formal announcement. Hopefully we'll hear from them before too long.

        1. It might not have been intentional additional votes - the voting button is being wonky this year - I had trouble with it early on and wasn't sure if I;d accidentally voted more than once( I let our executive committee know so they could check and adjust the numbers and be aware it wasn't intentional....) have a great day!

    3. On the Website today. Tie vote, a statement that Jerome snuck past Thomas 51%-49% and the bracket shows Thomas the winner. I think we need a formal explanation!

      1. This stinks. I updated the 16 brackets in our office today with highlighter, giving Thomas the win based on my early reading of the blog. I will wait to see how this plays out, but sad that I messed up all of the brackets.

  11. I voted for Theresa of Avila because of these words attributed to her, which always speak to me:

    Christ has no body but yours,

    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which He looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

    1. These words are actually a combination of things written by Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree and Mark Guy Pearse, and are not very similar to Teresa’s actual writings. 🙂

  12. Practical...mystical? The good we do lives on after us. Hard choice. Will join with those inspired by Teresa.

  13. Stephen it is! I can’t even imagine the courage he showed in following The Way in the days before Saul became Paul. Clearly his life and death provided inspiration for many.

  14. “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!”

    Amen, St. Teresa of Avila!

  15. Come on folks! Stephen is the one who should be the winner. He was, and is the example of a true disciple of Christ-tending to the windows and orphans, laying down his life for his work done in Christ's name. How can you not vote for him?
    Stephen is the exaple of what we so often fail to do in todays's society.

  16. No matter how one may vote, Stephen is a good example for us right now. Many are in need of a deacon's care and support. Deacons seek out the need and bring it to the attention of those who can help. Had to vote for Stephen

    1. Thank you for this. Beautiful. I miss classical choral music, living now in a small resort town in the mountains.

  17. “God deliver me/us from sullen saints”
    Should be the motto of Lent Madness
    St. Teresa it is!

  18. Well, this is an easy one for me. I go to St. Stephen's church, my first priest (I returned to the church after 25 years in the wilderness) was named Fr. Lawrence (or Larry, as I called him) who gave a triptych to our church of Sts. Stephen and Lawrence (I hope this link will work):
    While I'm sure Teresa is moving on, my vote is in honor of St. Stephen's Church and my now sadly deceased former pastor and friend.

  19. St Teresa of Avila is beyond a Saint. She touches our deepest HEART& teaches us pure LOVE. her short life lives everyday. Thank you God for sending her to us.
    St Stephen is a favorite Saint also .

  20. So many good sayings from Teresa and do not know how much more can be dug up about Stephen. She gets my vote and now will end my visit by going back and prayfully read their collects.

  21. In your introduction, you say that Jerome snuck past Thomas Aquinas yesterday but Thomas Aquinas is listed in the bracket as the winner. So, who was it who advanced?

  22. I am confused. I vote, but do not see the "thank you for your vote" remark. Does this mean my vote didn't count? I am concerned about voting again. I don't want to be a multiple voter, but I want my vote to count. This has been a very frustrating Lent Madness process this year. If my vote did not count yesterday, then my candidate would have won. Did my vote count? How do I find out?

  23. Love them both, but Teresa gets my vote. And I’m a deacon! I feel sure blessed Stephen will forgive me as he and Teresa no doubt enjoy a relationship of mutual respect in Glory!