Her book Interior Castle is one of the most celebrated books on mystical theology in existence. It is the most sublime and mature of Teresa of Avila's works, and expresses the full flowering of her deep experience in guiding souls toward spiritual perfection.
In addition to its profound mystical content, it is also a treasury of unforgettable maxims on such ascetic subjects as self-knowledge, humility, detachment, and suffering.
TERESA OF AVILA
Teresa of Avila was an instigator of the sixteenth-century reform of the Carmelite monastic order. She wrote several volumes that articulated her understanding of mystical union with God for the benefit of her cloistered sisters. The most notable of her books is The Interior Castle, her mature work.
It is probable that no other books by a Spanish author have received such wide popular acclaim as the Life and Interior Castle of St. Teresa of Avila.
It is remarkable that a woman who lived in the sixteenth century, who spent most of her life in an enclosed convent, who never had any formal schooling and never aspired to any public fame, should have won such an extraordinary reputation, both among scholars and among the people.
Although some of her ideas and descriptions appear to be strange to the modern mind, her words still have something to give to this present age, an age of narcissism and selfishness.
THE INTERIOR CASTLE
In The Interior Castle, the obstacle to union with God for the human person is the space that exists between where the soul lives outside of itself and where God is at the soul’s center. For Teresa, this distance exists because “we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are”.
Teresa’s language, though metaphorical, suggests that the center is the destination, the place where the soul should be. And therefore the center is the place where we must travel to, through prayer, in order to experience full intimacy with our Creator.
To assist her readers on their pilgrimage toward mystical union, Teresa images the soul as a spacious translucent structure containing many mansions, in the center chamber of which lives “His Majesty,” God. The task of the contemplative is to journey inward through the soul’s many mansions until he or she can be unified with God in the soul’s most inward chamber.
How then does a person even enter one’s self or castle?
In Interior Castle, Teresa makes it clear that self-entry occurs through prayer. Prayer is the vehicle by which the soul navigates through all of its inner chambers.
Her understanding of the role and function of prayer is one of the most complex and revealing aspects of her teaching on union because it is both something the soul does and something God does in the soul on the journey toward mutual union, and it is also, mysteriously, union itself.
Is Teresa’s mystical model for everyone?
In my opinion, probably not.
e is an indirect telling of Teresa’s own inward journey, and as such it is unwise to set it up as an exact map for every pilgrim. She also wrote it as a guide book for the nuns of her order, people who have chosen to live in prayer and mystical contemplation of God their whole life.
Teresa says that the soul should feel at leisure to explore its own mansions, implying that not everyone will explore the same mansions on their way toward union with God. But the end is the same for all souls who enter themselves and persevere through the dynamic work of prayer.
Mystical union is a gift to be sought now, for it is by seeking and receiving that gift that the soul also becomes a gift to others, and better still, to God.