Teresa of Avila

teresa of avila photo

“If we start with the false principle of wishing God to follow our will and to lead us in the way we thank best, upon what firm foundation can this spiritual edifice rest?”

– St. Teresa of Avila


Saint Teresa of Avila (Introduction)

St. Teresa of Avila a Carmelite nun, prominent Spanish mystic and Roman Catholic saint (1515-1582), has captured readers’ attention for centuries by her vivid writing style and imaginative similitude’s. Having several noteworthy books accredited to her, we will be taking a look at exerts from The Interior Castle.

 ChristianMystics.com provides a free download of The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila or you can purchase Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle (Classics of Western Spirituality). For those of you who have more time to listen than read, I suggest downloading the audio version at: Audible.com, they have a great selection of Christian Mysticism audio books including The Interior Castle.

Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle

Replete with vivid expressions, passionate humility, and revealed mysticism, The Interior Castle is addressed to Teresa of Avila’s Carmelite sisters. Inspired by a vision, penned during times of failing health, and requisite duties of cloistered life that would keep her from her true passion of prayer. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle is an imaginary simile of a “crystal globe like a castle” through which she overlays certain motions of the soul that are common to many who enter into the practice of the “prayer of quite”.

Saint Teresa of Avila uses the framework of the visionary castle, its inhabitants, and mansions or dwelling places within to guide readers through her process of unknowing, ultimately leading to divine union of the soul with the object or her affections, Jesus Christ.

Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle (Dwelling Places or Mansions Summary)

Keep in mind that these “mansions” can be understood in today’s vernacular as the condition of the soul, it’s level of awareness, whereby we gauge relation to divine presence. The mansions themselves are symbolic, being spacious yet still defined within the castle. How long a soul gropes along the walls trying to find a door into the next room is relative to the soul’s desire and willingness to leave behind the comfort and boundaries they find themselves encased in (should they dare to proceed at all).

Mansion 1: We find ourselves in the courtyard of the castle in want of the King yet easily distracted and enticed by things of the world.

Mansion 2: Deepened by faith, the practice of prayer begins. We find ourselves leaning from our own understanding and becoming more perceptive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Here light is gained more through external means such as sermons, books and life’s trials. Here also forces of evil are felt more deeply and the souls desire for God’s will not their own pulsates.

Mansion 3: “Speaks to individuals who poses a reverence toward God, are careful to guard even against venial sin, and practice charity to their neighbor along and achieving consolations through periods of recollection (meditation on God’s word and works). They are good Christians, and the Lord will not deny these souls entrance into the final dwelling place if they so desire. Like the young man in the gospel, however, they could turn away on hearing the requirements for becoming perfect. Any threat to wealth or honor will quickly uncover their attachments to these, and they are excessively discreet about their health – to the point of fearing everything…Though these persons find more consolation in the spiritual life than they do in material comforts and distractions, they seldom receive the deeper, more delectable peace and quiet of contemplation except occasionally as an invitation to prepare better for what lies ahead.”

Mansion 4: “The turning point or the beginning of the mystical. Here St Teresa of Avila begins to describe infused prayer by contrasting the differences between consolations and spiritual delights. She notes that “consolations have their beginning in our human nature and end in God while spiritual delight has its beginning in God and overflows to human nature. The consolations, then, result from our own efforts accompanied by God’s grace; the spiritual delight is received not through human efforts but passively…

This contemplative prayer begins with a passive experience of recollection, a gentle drawing of the faculties inward; it is different from the recollection achieved at the cost of human effort. This prayer of infused recollection is a less intense form of initial contemplation or as called by Teresa of Avila, the prayer of quiet. While the will finds rest in the prayer of quiet, in the peace of God’s presence, the intellect continues to move about. One should let the intellect go and surrender oneself into the arms of love, for distractions, the wandering mind, are part of the human condition and can no more be avoided and began eating and sleeping.”

Mansion 5: “The prayer of union characterizes these rooms, an experience in which the faculties become completely silent, or, in Teresa’s words, are suspended, and which leaves a certitude that the soul was “in God and God was in it.” Such certitude is not present when the union is merely partial as in the previous dwelling place.

Here Teresa of Avila, turns to another analogy: The silkworm. Through the image of the silkworm she speaks ingeniously of death and of new life in Christ. In this prayer of union God Himself becomes the dwelling place or cocoon in which a person dies. Once a soul is indeed dead to itself and its attachments, it breaks forth from the cocoon transformed, as does a small white butterfly.

Having made the point of the soul’s death in Christ, Teresa introduces her final analogy, which serves to lead her readers through the remaining dwelling places to the center of the castle. In her day before two people became engaged, they progressed through certain stages by which they sought to know first if there was any likeness between them and then whether there was any chance for love. If these were affirmatively established, they shared in additional meetings so as to deepen their knowledge of each other. In these experiences of union, then, His Majesty is desirous that the soul may get to know Him better.”

Mansion 6: “Through both vehement desires for God and the suffering of these desires cause, the Lord enables the soul to have the courage to be joined with Him and take Him as its Spouse… The betrothal itself takes place when his Majesty gives the soul raptures that draw it out of its senses. For if it were to see itself so near the great majesty while in its senses, it would perhaps die, though the soul in ecstasy is without consciousness in its outward life. It was never before, so awake to the things of God nor did it ever before have so deep and enlightenment and knowledge of God.

The inability of contemplative souls to engage in discursive thought about the mysteries of the Passion and the life of Christ in their prayer is very common, holds Teresa of Avila. But contemplating these mysteries, “dwelling on them with a simple gaze,” in Teresa’s words, “will not impede the most sublime prayer.” The desires of love are always increasing and the flight of the butterfly is ever more restless.”

Mansion 7: “On account of these moments of great illumination, St. Teresa of Avila is able to teach that there are no closed doors between the sixth and seventh dwelling places. If she divides them, it is “because there are things in the last that are not revealed to those who have not yet reached it.” In the prayer of union explained in the fifth dwelling place and in the raptures of the six, the Lord makes a soul blind and deaf as was St. Paul in his conversion. When God joins the soul to Himself, it does not understand anything of the nature and kind of favor enjoyed. But in the seventh dwelling place the union is wrought differently: “Our good God now desires to remove the scales from the soul’s eyes and let it see and understand, although in a strange way, something of favor He grants it.”

At this point the butterfly dies with the greatest joy because its new life is Christ. In Saint Paul’s words: “He that is joined are united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him,” and “for me to live is Christ.” The ultimate goal, then, of Teresa’s journey, the spiritual marriage, is a union with Jesus incarnate, now no longer living as the divine Logos but as the Word incarnate.”

*Note: Mansions Summary 3-7 are exerts quoted from the Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle (Classics of Western Spirituality)

Reflections St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila warns that mansions can be lost as well as gained… “Extreme humility is the principle point; it is the want of this, I believe that stops people’s progress.” Teresa’s advice to those entangled in religion… “Knowing as I do that Judas was amongst the Apostles and that he held constant intercourse with God Himself, to Whose words he listened, I learn that the state of religion does not make us safe.” – St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila Prayers

More of St. Teresa of Avila prayers, quotes, and other resources can be found at: ( Saint Teresa of Avila ) or from the Mystical Catholic Saints or Women Mystics section of Christian Mystics Library where you can find the answer to the question, what did Teresa of Avila do? In short, I have posted my personal notes on The Interior Castle in the library. It is a great place to go if you are on the fence about reading the book our just don’t have time for the whole book but would like to read some of the highlights… Other freely available books by Teresa of Avila is The Way of Perfection and The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus by Saint Teresa of Avila.

Let’s Talk Christian Mysticism Castle Style…

In which mansion do you find yourself dwelling? How did you come to realize the walls that define your current spiritual condition? What advice do you offer based on your experience, that would serve to guide those, who have just entered the castle, or who maybe lingering in a particular mansion that you have long experienced?

Pax Vobiscum
-C.M. Gregory

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2 Responses to Teresa of Avila

  1. Hi Gregory,

    Thanks for posting this! Using Theresa’s model, I have to admit that on a daily basis I find myself cycling, stumbling, even skipping and hopping, through Mansions 1 through 4. However, the states, experiences or realizations associated with Mansions 5 through 7, or even just the memory or intuition of them, are always in the background of my personal consciousness.

    I find it increasingly difficult to speak of 5 through 7 in terms of some experience *I* have. The tricky thing about mystical union is that there is no I or Thou, only what could be inadequately called a Thisness, which has no need to name Itself. This ties together with something I recall from Meister Eckhart, which is to the effect that we are never closer to God than when we have no thought of God at all.

    In her analogies and commentaries, I hear Theresa trying to go back and forth between pointing at such ineffableness on the one hand, and describing the effects of its realization upon one’s personal consciousness. The mystic of the “upper” mansions has not reached out and grabbed the mind of Christ and pulled it into the heart of his or her soul, but simply awakened to the fact that this is already the way things are. To a mystic, this awakening may be thought of as the Second Coming.

  2. soma says:

    I feel each mansion that Teresa of Avila is referring to can be related to a layer of the mind. I feel on the spiritual journey we go through the layers of the mind and it seems Saint Teresa is leading or explaining this journey.

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