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. Whenever Stephen appears in Lent Madness, I always feel "required" to vote for him as my first trek into ordained ministry was as a vocational deacon and, besides, I admire his faithfulness. Still, Teresa warms my heart so today she gets my vote.

  2. Stephen's history speaks of deeds done in Christ's name and example. Teresa's words are inspiring, but I will vote for the doing, rather than the saying.

  3. This deacon of Bohemian descent and who loves to travel will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of her ordination in June. How could I not vote for "well-traveled" Stephen?

  4. My favorite quote attributed to Teresa is said to have been uttered when the cart she and some her nuns were traveling in went off the road into a ditch (at night and in a storm, if I recall correctly). "If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it's no wonder you have so few of them." Someone who could pray with that kind of honesty gets my vote. (I also really love "God has no hands but yours..." quoted upstream.

  5. To the Supreme Executive Committee,
    What’s up?
    The first email we received this morning said that Thomas Aquinas won yesterday’s match-up in the closest Lent Madness vote ever.
    The bracket,, says that Thomas Aquinas won by one vote & the bracket shows him moving forward.
    The vote count shows Thomas and Jerome tied at 3704 each.
    This post says Jerome won 51% to 49%.
    Clarification & transparency, please!

  6. Teresa, oh, yes! One of my favorite stories about her tells of a time when she set out on an errand of mercy in the rain, and her horse's saddle slipped, dumping her in a mud puddle. "Lord, is this how you treat your friends?" she ranted. And Jesus said, "Yes." And Teresa shot back,"Then its' no wonder you don't have very many!" I love that someone who loved God so personally and completely, had a relationship of such trust that she could snap at Jesus the way we might, on a bad day, yell at a beloved spouse or child or friend, knowing that honest feelings are ok in such a relationship.

  7. I love St. Stephen as the first martyr but putting him against Teresa made it difficult and she got my vote. She had so many sayings that resonate with me, especially the one about my being the hands of Christ on earth. That is something I need to remind myself about frequently.

  8. No contest! I have loved Teresa for most of my long life..for the depth of her faith, the power of her example, and the gift of her humour. One is compelled to love a saint who, when travelling over a flooded road at the risk of her life and those of her companions, admonished God by asking why He always threw obstacles in her path. God's said, "This is how I treat all my friends." Teresa responded with, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!"

  9. I attended St. Stephen's School, an Episcopal high school in Rome, Italy, so of course had to vote for Stephen. I've often wondered if the fact that his saint's day falls during Christmas vacation, and thus, the school didn't have to close for a day for his day had any influence on the founder's choice of the school's patron saint.

  10. Teresa got my vote today. Her poem, which has been set to music (Nada te turbe...), clinched it.

  11. I have a hard time voting today!
    On the one hand, Stephen, patron of Deacons. (yay Deacons!!)
    On the other, Teresa, with so many amazing words of wisdom!

    I like hard choices though.
    In my opinion, choices between two saints SHOULD be hard. It would be sad if we had too many boring, lackluster saints with nothing to recommend them. Why would they be saints at all if that were the case?

  12. From St. Teresa,
    “Lord, if You will prove by trials, give strength & let them come.”

    This prayer has helped me through many situations in my life.

  13. So yesterday's results are causing quite the confusion. Time for come clarity from you all. The vote tally shows a tie. One page said Thomas Aquinas squeaked by. This page says Jerome squeaked by. The bracket shows Thomas won. Sounds like something fishy is going on here!!!!

  14. My favorite Teresa quotation is still (reportedly from when her carriage got stuck in the mud): "God, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them." A nun with a sense of humor trumps a man who didn't know the first rule of rhetoric: Know your audience. While "you brood of vipers" worked for John the Baptizer, Stephen didn't seem to have the same charisma. Unsurprisingly, his audience was not amused. Big round of applause for David Hanson, who did a bang up job of trying to get Stephen to the next round. But Teresa is more fun.

  15. There have been too many glitches this year in the voting and now the reporting of the results. Very disappointing, SEC.

  16. Teresa's poem, Nada te Turbe, was enough to decide my vote, as it's one of my favorite Taize chants.

  17. Early on the day of my ordination as transitional deacon, my bishop called me to his office and delivered an Episcopal Admonition: When asked if I believed I was called to be a deacon, I was NOT to say, "In so much as the Church requires ordination as a deacon before being ordained to the Order to which I was called, then I believe I am so called.
    I went with the script/BCP.
    I voted for Stephen.

  18. As one who was ordained the first Deacon who was called to be a deacon and not a priest I have to go with Stephen. (Women could not yet be ordained priests at the time.) I though this might be a close one, but I am sad to see Theresa so far ahead at the moment. Ah we. My bracket has to break some time. I still stick with Stephen.

  19. This year, I have to comment on the “doers vs contemplative pray-ers” thread which has been active in the Lent Madness discussions since I started participating some years ago. We need both types of saints in the world; doers are not necessarily better, they’re just different. sometimes a pray-er cannot be a doer, e.g. St. Therese of Lisieux, whose health prohibited her from doing missionary work. Nevertheless, she is a patron saint of missions because of her intensely active spiritual life, with prayer focused on Missions.

  20. Important "omissions" from the biography of St. Teresa of Avila which warrant mention from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
    The Spanish religious reformer Teresa de Ávila (Teresa of Jesus; 1515–1582) was an important figure in the Catholic Reformation (also called the Counter Reformation), a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church that took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Her most significant contribution was the founding of the Reformed Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite Convent of San Jose, a Catholic order for women. At the time of her death in 1582 she had started seventeen new Reformed Discalced Carmelite convents, or religious houses, in Spain. Teresa is best known today as one of the great Catholic mystics (those who believe in direct knowledge of God through intense spiritual experience). She had many mystical experiences, called raptures, which she described in several books. Among her most widely read works is her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1611).
    Teresa was canonized (declared a saint, or one who is holy) in 1622, and in 1970 she was the first woman to be named a doctor of the church (one who defends Roman Catholic teachings).

  21. About yesterday’s matchup: In today’s post it says Jerome won, but the bracket has Aquinas, and the vote tally has them tied. Is their an actual winner and does anyone know who it is?

    Wow, what a close election!!!

  22. I believe there is a story about Teresa of Avila, during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, "If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!"

  23. Stephen was the epitomy of a deacon,a call to servanthood. But the love of God and desire to serve comes from within ourselves
    That is why I vote with Teresa for helping that love within ourselves.

  24. I commend Stephen and all who are willing to die for their faith. But I voted for Teresa because her words are inspirational.

  25. Is there some sort of conspiracy? I see that Thomas and Jerome had the exact amount of votes, an even tie.