THE Church is facing another onslaught from film-makers. After the furore over The Da Vinci Code, it is now contending with an allegedly blasphemous account of the life of St Teresa of Ávila.
Geraldine Chaplin heads the cast of Teresa: Death and Life, a feature film about one of the great Christian figures.
The writings of the saint — a mystic who said that Christ conversed with her — are revered as spiritual masterpieces four centuries after her death.
But film-makers don’t do spirituality as easily as sexuality and, in exploring the saint’s sex life, they find themselves accused of treading sacrilegiously.
The film was denounced by Benedicta Ward, a nun and Reader in the History of Christian Spirituality in the Theology Faculty at Oxford University, who wrote the introduction to a recent edition of the saint’s celebrated work, Life.
On being told about the film’s content, she said: “The stress on her virginity and her sexuality are entirely modern interests — as if she were living now. That’s not fair. She is the greatest of the mystics. She has visions and writes about them and analyses them in an extraordinary way.”
The film, a Spanish, French and British co-production, is written and directed by Ray Loriga, who worked with Pedro Almodóvar on the script of Live Flesh.
He was prepared for a possible controversy, but said: “The vision we have been offered of St Teresa is very close to a holy image. So far, everybody has been careful not to touch on certain uncomfortable subjects — her sexuality, her relationship with God, which was so close, nearly skin to skin.
Alright first I must calm down and say three times slowly the words of St. Teresa “Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All thing pass” Okay I am breathing normally again.
Loriga said: “I’m convinced she’ll be the sexiest Saint Teresa ever seen on screen. Teresa was also a very pretty woman. In my opinion, her pleasing aspect helped to save her from the stake. Very likely, plainer and less sassy women were burnt alive for less.”
He said he had taken care not to portray the Church as the “bad guy”, but added: “I think that the conflict between the Catholic Church and women hasn’t been resolved.
“So far, they’ve only offered two models to women — The Virgin Mother, which, in my opinion, is an aberration and quite harmful to women, and the redeemed whore symbolised by Mary Magdalene. These role models worry me. The Church hasn’t been able to find a better explanation for women within the context of our relationship with God.”
Oops there goes the heart rate again. Bad enough to go after St. Teresa, but to say the model of the Virgin Mary is quite harmful to women is over the top. Plus the stupidity to say that the Church has only offered two models to women ignores the multitude of women canonized and three women Doctors of the Church.
The problem with most modern filmmakers is that they can only see things through modern eyes. Every strong women in history must be translated into some kind of proto-feminist. Look at all the modern films of Joan of Arc; none which are worth seeing and nothing to come close to the masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw were both able to write of St. Joan of Arc and not translate their own atheistic biases onto them. This ability has pretty much not been brought into modern times with film makers seeing through morose colored glasses where the idea of the joy of the true mystic can not shine through.
Future saint Edith Stein read St. Teresa’s autobiography in one night and proclaimed “This is truth!,” people watching this movie on the life of St. Teresa will proclaim “This is crap!” It is amazing how they can do movies on Kinsey and the Marque de Sade and make them into a hagiography, yet a true saint and mystic they have to go the other way.
There is an eight part Spanish mini-series called “Teresa de Jesús” (1984) which sometimes runs on EWTN. This series for me really catches the heart of St. Teresa. There are some great scenes in it. For instance one where they have started up their first Discalced Carmelite convent and are singing a song about their itchy habits and bugs. For me it captured the humor of St. Teresa and I could easily imagine the scene occurring.
St. Teresa of Avila pray for us.