The Interior Castle

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The Interior Castle
Author St. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.
Original title El Castillo Interior
Language Spanish
Subject Christian mysticism
Publication date
1588
Published in English
1675, 1852 and 1912

The Interior Castle, or The Mansions, (Spanish: El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas) was written by St. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D., the Spanish Discalced Carmelite nun and famed mystic, in 1577 as a guide for spiritual development through service and prayer. Inspired by her vision of the soul as a crystal globe in the shape of a castle containing seven mansions, which she interpreted as the journey of faith through seven stages, ending with union with God.[1]

After being ordered to write her autobiography, published posthumously as La Vida de la Santa Madre Teresa de Jesús (The Life of the Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus), Teresa was hesitant to begin writing again on her views of the perfection found in internal prayer.[1][2] She started writing her seminal work, Interior Castle, on June 2, 1577, Trinity Sunday, and completed it on the eve of St. Andrew's Day, November 29, 1577; however, there was a five months-long interruption in between, effectively leaving a fortnight each for first and second halves of the book.[3] In August 1586, it was decided to print Teresa's works, which had been collected and preserved by her secretary, the Venerable Ana of Jesus, O.C.D. The Augustinian friar and poet Luis de León, O.E.S.A., was selected as the editor, and finally in 1588 the book was published at Salamanca.[4][5]

The books The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection, taken collectively, are practical blueprints for "seekers" who want to really understand prayer as mystical union with God. Further, Teresa's exposure of how she was blessed with contemplation truly illuminates the Catholic theologies of grace, the sacraments, humility and ultimately love.

History[edit]

St. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.

In the hands of the Spanish Inquisition at that time, Teresa's Life was commonly believed to be the weight in the scale of whether to call her experiences heretical or not. Her humility and claims that "I am not meant for writing; I have neither the health nor the wits for it" almost prevented Teresa from composing The Interior Castle. However, according to a letter written by Fray Diego, one of Teresa's former confessors, Teresa was finally convinced to write her book after she received a vision from God. Diego wrote that God revealed to Teresa:

"...a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and beautifying them all. The nearer one got to the centre, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures."[6]

With that, The Interior Castle was born. It contained the basis for what she felt should be the ideal journey of faith, comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the seven mansions. It is also not unduly speculative that living in a walled city like Ávila, not to mention a Carmelite monastery, must have influenced her thinking from an interior perspective. This concept of an interior life is still important in Spanish thinking in the 21st century.

The first English translation was published in 1675; the second in London by the Rev. John Dalton, in 1852; and the third by the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in 1912.[7]

Overview: Seven Mansions or Dwelling Places[edit]

The Interior Castle is divided into seven mansions (also called dwelling places), each level describing a step to get closer to God. In her work, Teresa already assumed entrance into the first mansions by prayer and meditation.

The first three mansions are considered to be ordinary prayer or active prayer. The first mansions begin with a soul's state of grace, but the souls are surrounded by sin and only starting to seek God's grace through humility in order to achieve perfection. The second mansions are also called the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer because the soul seeks to advance through the castle by daily thoughts of God, humble recognition of God's work in the soul and ultimately daily prayer. The third mansions are the Mansions of Exemplary Life characterized through divine grace a love for God that is so great that the soul has an aversion to both mortal and venial sin and a desire to do works of charitable service to man for the ultimate glory of God.

The fourth through seventh mansions are considered to be mystical or contemplative prayer. The fourth mansions are a departure from the soul actively acquiring what it gains as God increases his role. The fifth mansions contains incipient Union in which the soul prepares itself to receive gifts from God. If the fifth mansion can be compared to a betrothal, the sixth mansion can be compared to lovers. The soul spends increasing amounts of time torn between favors from God and from outside afflictions. The soul achieves clarity in prayer and a spiritual marriage with God in the seventh mansions.

She candidly reveals this interior journey as being inseparable from her love for Christ and that the highest mansions can only be gained by being in a state of grace through the Church sacraments, fervent devotion of the soul's will to Him, and humbly receiving a love so great it is beyond human capability or description. Through prayer and meditation the soul is placed in a quiet state to receive God's gifts (she calls "consolations") of contemplation, and Teresa notes that man's efforts cannot achieve this if it is not His divine will. In fact she humbly repeats that she is never worthy of these consolations but is always immensely grateful for them.

In popular culture[edit]

St. Teresa's mystical experiences have inspired several authors in modern times, but not necessarily from Teresa's Christian theological perspective.

The 2006 book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert recognizes St. Teresa as "that most mystical of Catholic figures" and alludes to St. Teresa's Interior Castle as the "mansions of her being" and her journey as one of "divine meditative bliss". Gilbert was raised a Protestant Christian, but her book describes her path to God through yoga.[8]

The 2007 book by American spiritual author Caroline Myss Entering the Castle was inspired by St. Teresa's Interior Castle, but still has a New Age approach to mysticism.[9][10]

St. Teresa also inspired American author R. A. Lafferty in his novel Fourth Mansions (1969), which was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1970.

Brooke Fraser's song "Orphans, Kingdoms" was inspired by St. Teresa's Interior Castle.

Jeffrey Eugenides' 2011 novel The Marriage Plot refers to St. Teresa's Interior Castle when recounting of the religious experience of Mitchell Grammaticus, one of the main characters of the book.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]