Before I place Teresa of Avila back on the shelf, I would like to share the first page of the preface from Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle (Classics of Western Spirituality). The following quotation eloquently summarizes three questions that, I have found myself pondering in times past. Often we are drawn, form this or that belief, by questions that seem to loudly announce themselves as we humbly seek God…
What is Holiness?
“In our anthropocentric (humanistic) times it is common to hear too much of an anthropomorphic concept of sanctity, considered as the summit of human perfection. A person is said to be a saint, in this humanistic climate, when he is perfect. That is not altogether wrong, but depends on the meaning we give to the concept of “human perfection”. Beauty, for instance, is undoubtedly a human perfection, but does it strictly belong to sanctity? Perfection means fullness, completion, and a being is perfect when it does not lack anything that is due to it, (when it has no holes). If that being is composite it is required further that all its parts are blended in a harmonic unity (so that again it has no gaps). But what is the human being, so that we may know its perfection? When does a person reach his fullness? Is there or can there be real sanctity here on Earth?
To follow these philosophical ascending considerations we would come to the conclusion that only God is perfect and that consequently holiness is His exclusive attribute, so far as we can speak of attributes in the Godhead. We could, further, from here develop some theological — descending reflections, of some importance for our subject.
Only God is holy. Strictly speaking, only God is good and beautiful and true, and even only He is, only He is being. Nevertheless, there is a participation, an analogy, a communication of all this in the creatures. Our human being — for example — only “is” and, in consequence, only as good and beautiful and true insofar as it participates and receives all this from God.
But there is something peculiar with sanctity. Every being by the very fact that it “is”, is good and beautiful and true, but it is not holy. It may be sacred, each existence being a participation in God, but as such it is not holy.
What is sanctity?
What is, then, sanctity? It is God himself, it is His very Life, His Existence, the proper Structure of His Being, if we may speak so. God bestows and communicates along with being all the constitutive attributes of being to the creatures. But He does not communicate Sanctity, because it cannot properly be created or given along with being, for it is the very Essence of God Himself.
And yet there are saints on earth, because the Almighty can still do one thing, namely, communicate and give Himself. He can descend and dwell in the person of the saint. He can simply take possession of His creatures and in a personal and intimate way. Here lies the role of Christ as an ontic (physical) mediator between God and creation.
So sanctity is on the one hand an absolute perfection, viz. God, and on the other hand, it is the Life of this very God in some of His creatures. It is not, in consequence, primarily a moral concept, but an ontological reality; the divine reality, communicating His intimate and proper Life to some of his children. The saint is thus not primarily the humanly perfect man, but the divinised human person. Of course, the divinisation implies a very peculiar transformation of the saint and an ontological — and in consequence also moral — purity, but it does not require humanistic perfect man.
What is a Saint?
The saint — “santus” — is, thus, the man God has taken specially for Himself, the man He has “reserved” and “segregated”. God calls everybody to be divinely perfect, i.e., holy. Each person receives his personal vocation to sanctity. But only the saint’s answer fully to the divine call and freely accepts, wills, loves to be this living Temple of the Holy. Each saint is, in consequence, a kind of revelation of God, he has a message to deliver, though not always with words, is an instrument of the Divine, he is the Man (and Woman) in whom God, who is Love, finds not only His resting but also His acting place. True sanctity is not so much God-realisation on man’s part, as Man-realisation on God’s part. The saint is the ontological full human personality in spite of our rational concepts about human perfection, and notwithstanding the objective shortcomings in his pilgrimage towards God. We cannot forget that sanctity is a concept-limit, only attainable here on earth as far as the everlasting life of Union has already shattered all human limitations.”