perjantai 19. helmikuuta 2016

The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila wrote some of the most beautiful and animated descriptions of the intricacies of the spiritual life.

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 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.


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. 

The Interior Castle 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.

10 kommenttia:

  1. I've not read Teresa of Avila's words, but to enter one's castle through prayer sounds quite intriguing. I see its correlation in my own life. Thanks for sharing. We're neighbors today at #testimonyTuesday.

    1. Thank you for your visit and comment, Kristi! Teresa says that our soul is like piece of crystal or clear diamond. And this diamond contains our interior castle, which contains seven different mansions. With prayer we enter the mansions one by one, to finally enter the seventh, most interior one, where God is living on His throne in us. And once we enter that mansion, we will always be in His presence.

  2. Thanks for sharing about this book. I've never heard of it, but I love books that help us draw closer to God. Thanks for participating in the #LMMLinkup

    1. Thank you for your visit and comment! It is an old book and more commonly known by those who are Catholic. But in my opinion all Christian people who have truly believed in God and given their lives to Him are an example to us.

  3. I love to always know the stories of saints. They lead such interesting lives. The insights here are beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your visit and comment, Lux! I think there is so much we can learn from those who came before us.

  4. Joanna, I've only heard of Teresa of Avila, but wasn't familiar with her works.

    Thank you for sharing such an in-depth and thoughtful review of her writing.


    1. Thank you for your visit and comment, Karen! I hope you will try reading Interior Castle or some other book of hers.

  5. We recently read an excerpt from this book in our home group. I found it very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday!

    1. Thank you for your comment and visit, Tina! So glad to be part of Booknificent Thursday this week too!