John of Ávila

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Saint John of Ávila
Attributed to el Greco - Portrait of Juan de Avila - Google Art Project.jpg
A portrait by El Greco (1580)
Priest, Doctor of the Church
and Apostle of Andalusia
Born6 January 1499
Almodóvar del Campo, Ciudad Real, Spain
Died10 May 1569(1569-05-10) (aged 69)
Montilla, Córdoba, Spain
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 12 November 1893 by Pope Leo XIII
Canonized 31 May 1970 by Pope Paul VI
Major shrine Church of the Incarnation
Montilla, Córdoba, Spain
Feast 10 May
Patronage Andalusia, Spain, Spanish secular clergy
InfluencedSt. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of God, St. Francis Borgia and Ven. Louis of Granada.

John of Ávila (Spanish : Juan de Ávila; 6 January 1499 [1] – 10 May 1569) was a Spanish priest, preacher, scholastic author, and religious mystic, who has been declared a saint and Doctor of the Church by the Catholic Church. He is called the "Apostle of Andalusia", for his extensive ministry in that region.

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian, is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and today has over 450 million native speakers in Spain and in the Americas. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Preacher person who delivers sermons or gives homilies

A preacher is a person who delivers sermons or homilies on religious topics to an assembly of people. Less common are preachers who preach on the street, or those whose message is not necessarily religious, but who preach components such as a moral or social worldview or philosophy.

Scholasticism A method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics", or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700

Scholasticism was a medieval school of philosophy that employed a critical method of philosophical analysis presupposed upon a Christian theistic paradigm which dominated teaching in the medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700. It originated within the Christian monastic schools that were the basis of the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.



Early years

He was born in Almodóvar del Campo, in the Province of Ciudad Real, to Alfonso de Ávila, of Jewish converso descent, and Catalina Xixón (or Gijón), a wealthy and pious couple. [2] [3] [4] At the age of fourteen, in 1513, he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study law; he withdrew in 1517, however, without receiving a degree. [5]

Almodóvar del Campo town and municipality in Castile-La Mancha, Spain

Almodóvar del Campo is a town and municipality of Spain, in the province of Ciudad Real, some 14 km S.S.W. of Ciudad Real, on the northern side of the Sierra de Alcúdia. The etymological origin of Almodóvar is the Arabic: المدوّر‎, al-mudawwar, "round, circular (place)".

Province of Ciudad Real Province of Spain

The province of Ciudad Real is a province in the southwestern part of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha, Spain. It is bordered by the provinces of Cuenca, Albacete, Jaén, Córdoba, Badajoz, and Toledo. It is partly located in the old natural region of La Mancha. Its capital is Ciudad Real. It is the third largest province by area in all of Spain, after Cáceres and Badajoz. The historic comarca Campo de Calatrava is located in the center of the province.

Converso Jewish-descended community in Spain

A converso, "convert", was a Jew who converted to Catholicism in Spain or Portugal, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries, or one of their descendants.

Returning home, Ávila spent the next three years in the practice of austere piety. His sanctity impressed a Franciscan friar journeying through Almodóvar, on whose advice he resumed his studies by matriculating at the University of Alcalá de Henares (which was moved to the national capital in the 19th century and renamed the Complutense University of Madrid). There he undertook the study of philosophy and theology, in which he was fortunate to have as his teacher the noted Dominican friar Domingo de Soto. It appears that Ávila earned his bachelor's degree during his years at Alcalá and then left without completing requirements for the licentiate degree. [5]

Friar member of a mendicant religious order in Catholic Christianity

A friar is a brother member of one of the mendicant orders founded in the twelfth or thirteenth century; the term distinguishes the mendicants' itinerant apostolic character, exercised broadly under the jurisdiction of a superior general, from the older monastic orders' allegiance to a single monastery formalized by their vow of stability. The most significant orders of friars are the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Carmelites.

Alcalá de Henares Municipality in Community of Madrid, Spain

Alcalá de Henares is a Spanish city in the Community of Madrid. Straddling the Henares River, it is located 35 kilometres to the northeast of the centre of Madrid. As of 2018, it has a population of 193,751, making it the region's third most populated municipality.

Complutense University of Madrid university in Madrid, and one of the oldest universities in the world

The Complutense University of Madrid is a public research university located in Madrid, and one of the oldest universities in the world. The university enrolls over 86,000 students, being the 3rd largest non-distance European university by enrollment, and consistently ranking as one of the top universities in Spain. According to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the university is widely regarded as the most prestigious academic institution in Spain. It is located on a sprawling campus that occupies the entirety of the Ciudad Universitaria district of Madrid, with annexes in the district of Somosaguas in the neighboring city of Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Both his parents died while Ávila was still a student, and after his ordination in spring 1526, he celebrated his first Mass in the church where they were buried. He then sold the family property and gave the proceeds to the poor. He saw in the severing of natural ties a vocation to foreign missionary work and prepared to go to Mexico. He therefore traveled to Seville to await departure for the Indies in January 1527 with the Dominican friar, Julián Garcés, appointed the first Bishop of Tlaxcala. While waiting in Seville, his unusually great devotion in celebrating Mass, and his skills in catechesis and preaching, attracted the attention of Hernando de Contreras, a local priest, who mentioned him to the Archbishop of Seville and Inquisitor General, Alonso Manrique de Lara. The archbishop saw in the young cleric a powerful instrument to stir up the faith in Andalusia, and after considerable persuasion Juan was induced to abandon his journey to America. [5]

Mass (liturgy) type of worship service within many Christian denomination

Mass is the main eucharistic liturgical service in many forms of Western Christianity. The term Mass is commonly used in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as in some Lutheran, Methodist, Western Rite Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches.

Seville Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Seville is a Spanish city, the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and the province of Seville. It is situated on the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir River, in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Seville has a municipal population of about 690,000 as of 2016, and a metropolitan population of about 1.5 million, making it the largest city in Andalusia, the fourth-largest city in Spain and the 30th most populous municipality in the European Union. Its Old Town, with an area of 4 square kilometres (2 sq mi), contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The Seville harbour, located about 80 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain. Seville experiences high temperatures in the Summer, with daily maximums routinely above 35 °C (95 °F) in July and August.

Julián Garcés

Julián Garcés O.P. was a Spanish Dominican priest born in Munébrega in the Kingdom of Aragon. Made Bishop in the Diocese of Yucatán in 1519 and subsequently first acting bishop of New Spain in the Diocese of Tlaxcala from 1525, he occupied his episcopal post between October 13, 1525 and his death, December 7, 1542.

The basement of the family home of John of Avila in Almodovar del Campo, Ciudad Real, Spain Cueva en la casa natal en Almodovar del Campo.jpg
The basement of the family home of John of Ávila in Almodóvar del Campo, Ciudad Real, Spain

John seems to have lived in the initial years after 1526 in a small house in Seville with another priest, probably Contreras, and disciples gathered around him, in a loosely structured fraternal life. It was at the request of the younger sister of one of these disciples, Sancha Carrillo, that he began in 1527 to write the Audi, filia (Listen, Daughter), a work he continued expanding and editing until his death. [5]

Apostle of Andalusia

John's first sermon was preached on 22 July 1529, and immediately established his reputation. During his nine years of missionary work in Andalusia, crowds packed the churches at all his sermons. However, his strong pleas for reform and his denunciation of the behaviour of the aristocracy meant that he was denounced to the office of the Inquisition in Seville in 1531, and put in prison in the summer of 1532. He was charged with exaggerating the dangers of wealth and with closing the gates of heaven to the rich. The charges were refuted and he was declared innocent and released in July 1533. [6]

Aristocracy is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning 'rule of the best'.

Around the end of 1534 or the beginning of 1535, John of Ávila was incardinated into the Diocese of Córdoba, from which he received a small benefice. This city became his base for directing his disciples and moving around Andalusia, preaching and establishing schools and colleges in various neighbouring cities such as Granada, Baeza, Montilla and Zafra. It is thought that during this time Ávila received the title of Master of Sacred Theology, probably in Granada around 1538.

Of special importance was the University of Baeza, established in 1538 by a papal bull of Pope Paul III. [7] Ávila served as its first rector, [8] and it became a model for seminaries and for the schools of the Jesuits. [6]

Ávila stayed in Granada from 1538-9, where it appears some kind of community was taking shape. Likewise, during the years 1546 to 1555, John lived with about 20 disciples in Córdoba, making it seem that he intended to begin some kind of formal foundation of apostolic priests. However, the foundation and fast expansion of the Jesuits meant that these ideas never came to fruition; from early 1551, when Ávila began to experience poor health, he began actively encouraging his disciples who so desired to join the Jesuits (around 30 in total seem to have joined). [9]


From early 1551 Ávila was in constant ill-health. He spent the last years of his life in semi-retirement in the town of Montilla, in the Province of Córdoba. He died there on 10 May 1569, and in accordance with his wishes was buried in that city, in the Jesuit Church of the Incarnation, which now serves as the sanctuary to his memory. [10]


The Spanish critical edition of 1970 presents Ávila's work in 6 volumes. These consist of two redactions he made of the Audi, filia, 82 sermons and spiritual conferences, a few Biblical commentaries, 257 letters (representing the period from 1538 until his death), several treatises on reform and other minor treatises. John wrote letters to prelates who consulted him, such as Pedro Guerrero, Archbishop of Granada, and Juan de Ribera and Thomas of Villanova, both archbishops of Valencia who were later canonised. He also wrote to Ignatius of Loyola, John of God and Teresa of Ávila.

Modern editions

Saint John of Ávila's works were collected at Madrid in 1618, 1757, 1792 and 1805; a French translation by D'Andilly was published at Paris in 1673; and a German translation by Schermer in six volumes was issued at Regensburg between 1856 and 1881.

The Audi, filia was translated into English in 1620. [11] A modern translation was published by the American scholar Joan Frances Gormley in 2006.

A selection of his letters, entitled Spiritual Letters, were translated into English in 1631, a facsimile edition of which was printed in 1970. [12]


Ávila's saintly reputation, as well as his efforts to reform the clergy, to establish schools and colleges, and to catechise the laity, were the inspiration for many later reformers. He is especially revered by the Jesuits. [6] Their development in Spain is attributed to his friendship and support for the Society of Jesus. [6]

There is a church in Alcalá de Henares dedicated to him: St. John of Ávila Parish Church.


A relic of St. John of Avila preserved in Almodovar del Campo Reliquia de San Juan de Avila en Almodovar del Campo.JPG
A relic of St. John of Ávila preserved in Almodóvar del Campo

Ávila was declared Venerable by Pope Clement XIII on 8 February 1759 and beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 15 November 1893. On 31 May 1970 he was canonized by Pope Paul VI.

Pope Benedict XVI named him a Doctor of the Church on 7 October 2012, the Feast of the Holy Rosary. [13] The proclamation of the two new Doctors of the Church was made by Pope Benedict before tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square. [14] During his homily, Pope Benedict said that John of Ávila was a "profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church". [15]

According to the Apostolic letter for the proclamation to Doctor of the Church, John of Ávila explained that "Christian spiritual life, as a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity, begins with faith in the God who is Love, is grounded in God’s goodness and mercy as expressed in the merits of Christ, and is wholly guided by the Spirit". More than a venerable professor, "Father Master Avila” was primarily a preacher and closely friend of Ignatius Loyola. John of Ávila authored a "prayerful and sapiential" theology, based on the "primacy of Christ and of grace in relation to the love of God, for which he showed "a profound knowledge of the Bible", without setting forth a systematic synthesis. [16]

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  1. Some authorities, following Luis de Granada, give 1500 as the date of Avila's birth. The date 1499 is based on the records of the Inquisition. See Obras Completas (2000), vol. 1, pp. 15-22 for more information.
  2. Wilke 2003 , p. 963
  3. Note that Ávila is simply John's family name — not his place of origin.
  4. Domínguez Ortiz 1992
  5. 1 2 3 4 Avila, John of; Gormley, Joan Frances, translator (2006). Audi, filia - Listen, O Daughter. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. pp. 6–11.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Wilke 2003 , p. 964
  7. Introducción Histórica, Universidad de Jaén, 2005-09-26. Accessed online 2010-02-05.
  8. José Biedma, Juan de Ávila y la Universidad de Baeza, Accessed online 2010-02-05.
  9. Avila, John of; Gormley, Joan Frances, translator (2006). Audi, filia - Listen, O Daughter. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 15.
  10. Wikimapia "Iglesia de la Encarnación (Santuario de San Juan de Ávila) (in Spanish)
  11. Juan de Ávila, The Audi filia, or, A Rich Cabinet Full of Spiritual Jewels, trans. Toby Matthews (1620). Reprinted in English Recusant Literature 1558-1640, vol. 49 (Menston: Scolar Press, 1970).
  12. Juan de Ávila, Certain selected spirituall epistles, 1631, English recusant literature, 1558-1640, vol. 331 (Ilkley, UK: Scolar Press, 1977).
  13. Vatican Radio (2012-10-07). "Pope : Two new Doctors of the Church". NEWS.VA.
  14. "Pope Declares Spanish Saint a Doctor of the Church". Latin American Herald Tribune. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  15. Pope opens synod on new evangelization, declares 2 new doctors of the Church
  16. Pope Benedict XVI (Oct 7, 2012). "Apostolic Letter: Proclaiming Saint John of Avila, diocesan priest, a Doctor of the Universal Church". Holy See (in English and Latin). Archived from the original on Jul 21, 2015.

Further reading

English translations

Spanish editions

Secondary literature

PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). " article name needed ". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton.