John of Avila, St.
JOHN OF AVILA, ST.
Preacher, spiritual director, and mystical writer; b. Almodóvar del Campo (New Castile), Spain, 1500 (1499) ; d. Montilla (Córdoba), May 10, 1569. He was born of a wealthy and pious family and received an excellent education. At the age of 14 he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study law, but he soon abandoned this profession in favor of training in philosophy and theology. These he studied at Alcalá, where he was a student of Domingo de Soto. John's parents died leaving him the sole heir of the family fortune, but after his ordination he distributed his inheritance to the poor and prepared to become a missionary in America. In 1527 he went to Seville from whence he hoped to journey to Mexico, but there Abp. Hernando de Contreras persuaded him to stay and work for the faith in Spain.
As a missionary in Andalusia for nine years, he attracted great crowds by his magnificent preaching and was in great demand for confession and spiritual direction. However, his strong pleas for reform and his denunciation of vice in high places won him the enmity of certain influential persons. He was accused before the Inquisition, but the charges were easily refuted and he was declared innocent in 1533. From Seville he went to Córdoba and then to Granada in 1537 where he collaborated with Abp. Gaspare Avalos in the organization of the university there.
John of Avila's greatest work was as a reformer of clerical life in Spain. He became the center of a circle of disciples, secular priests of devout life who dedicated themselves to the spiritual direction and teaching of youths in the colleges that John founded. Outstanding among these clerical schools was the University of Baeza, which became a model for seminaries and for the schools of the Jesuits. Among the many saintly persons who enjoyed the friendship and spiritual direction of John of Avila were St. John of God, St. Francis Borgia, St. Teresa of Avila, and Louis of Granada, who wrote a biography of John. He is especially revered by the Jesuits with whom he had a close relationship and whose work he particularly encouraged. The spread of the Society of Jesus in Spain was greatly facilitated by his friendship and support.
His Audi filia is a masterwork on Christian perfection and a singularly fine example of the mystical literature of the period. His other writings include many sermons and letters of spiritual direction that are considered classics of Spanish literature. Not long after his death his writings were collected and translated into other languages. A critical and annotated edition of John's works was published in 1952 by Luigi Sala Balust. John of Avila was beatified by Leo XIII on April 15, 1894 and canonized by Paul VI on May 31, 1970.
Feast: May 10.
Bibliography: Obras. completas, ed. l. sala balust, 2 V. (BAC; 1952–53) ; Lettres de direction, ed. and tr. j. m. de buck (Louvain 1927). Certain selected spiritual epistles, 1631 (Ilkley, Eng. 1977). l. de oddi, Life of the Blessed Master John of Avila, ed. j. g. macleod (New York 1898), tr. from Ital. Baudot-Chaussin 13:37–45. c. m. nannei, La Doctrina cristiana de San Juan de Avila: Contribución al estudio de su doctrina catequética (Pamplona 1977). j. gautier, Catholicisme 6:417–419. Vidas del padre maestro Juan de Avila, Luis de Granada, Luis Muñoz, ed. l. s. balust (Barcelona 1964).
[j. c. willke]