Summary of Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

Resources used:

  • Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle. London: T. Jones, 1852.
  • Dubay, Thomas. Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel—On Prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989.
Introduction to Interior Castle

St. Teresa of Avila wrote Interior Castle under “the power of obedience” (xxiii) towards the end of her life, starting the book on June 2, 1577, and finishing it on November 29 of the same year.

Fr. Thomas Dubay had this to say:

“The saint’s Interior Castle is not only her most mature work; it is also the all-time classic on the question of the development of prayer from its incipient beginnings to its mature fullness in the transforming union” (Fire Within, 73).

“Interior Castle is a book on the maturing process we find both in prayer and in the rest of life, for the two cannot be separated” (81).

Why a castle?

The origin of St. Teresa’s Interior Castle came after she received a vision from Christ, picturing “the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions” (1). In the centre of crystal castle is the Sun, or the King, who gives all the splendour and beauty to the rest of the castle. The closer we approach the centre, the greater the light. Note that this vision bears remarkable similarities to the final vision in the New Testament: chapter 21 of the book of Revelation (private and public revelation matchup). Also, note that the seven mansions are more of a continuity (a gradual and imperceptible growth) rather than separate rooms. It is not like a video game where we jump from one level to the next.

2 reasons to study St. Teresa’s Interior Castle:
  1. Self-knowledge: By knowing all of the stages of growth in prayer, we come to know almost automatically where we are on the journey – something St. Teresa insisted on. With this knowledge, we will how the best way to approach prayer (since we pray differently according to the stage one’s prayer has reached).
  2. Encouragement: When we understand the sacrifices and difficulties that are a normal part of the journey to our destination, we will not be surprised but rather encouraged to see our growth along the way. Also, when we know the joys of contemplative fulfilment, we will be much more likely to make the sacrifices that are entailed in reaching it.

1st Mansion

NB: The 1st Mansion corresponds to St. Teresa’s 1st way of obtaining water, that of drawing the water up from a well by using a bucket, which entails a great deal of human effort. 

People: These people are free from serious sin and want to avoid offending God (so the King does dwell in their castle), yet they are still immersed in worldly matters and pleasures (a weak relationship with the King, so they scarcely see His light).

Prayer: Although prayer methods are secondary, St. Teresa does value discursive meditation, especially on the Gospels. No complicated steps (don’t think much – love much). Prayer directed towards self-knowledge and humility is important.

Advice:

  1. Conversion: Since Christic communion is ultimately a love matter, it cannot be produced by techniques, but rather demands an end to anything that hinders Trinitarian intimacy. As Fr. Dubay said, “St. Teresa’s starting point is the absolutely basic condition for a serious prayer life: an earnest, continuing effort to rid oneself of sins, imperfections and attachments” (81). We must convert from a worldly life to a Trinitarian life.
  2. Prayer: St. Teresa considers it crucial that we meditate on Our Lord because He leads us to true self-knowledge and humility.

Quotes:

“As far as I can understand, the gate by which we are to enter this castle is prayer and consideration. I speak of mental as well as vocal: being prayer, it should be made with attention; for she who does not consider with whom she speaks, and what she asks, and who she is that asks, and of whom she asks, knows little of prayer, however much her lips may move” (5).

“This knowledge of ourselves is so very important, that I wish you never to admit any relaxation therein, however highly elevated you may be, because while we live on this earth, nothing is more necessary for us than humility… for, in my opinion, we shall never be able to know ourselves, except we endeavour to know God. By considering His greatness, we discover our own baseness; by contemplating His purity, we discover our own filthiness, and beholding His humility, we shall discover how far we are from being truly humble… our imperfections better discovered by being contrasted with the divine perfections” (11–12).

“Let us remember, daughters, that true perfection consists in the love of God and our neighbour; the more perfectly we observe these two precepts, the more perfect we shall be” (16).

2nd Mansion

People:  These people have experienced some growth from the 1st mansion, yet they are in the midst of a tug-of-war battle. The world’s tug makes earthly pleasures very attractive and penances seem unreasonable and scary (will damage our health). God’s tug makes the worldly message appear vain and love for Him more important. Overall, they are “children” in the practice of virtues, having just begun to hear God and follow Him.

Advice:

  1. Companionship – the soul should avoid a close association with “evil” and mediocre people and make it a point to mix with the good, that is, not only with those in the early mansions but also with those who have advanced into the mansions “nearer the center”, where the King is. To be in close touch with these latter is a great help, for they tend to bring others to higher things along with themselves.
  2. “Embrace the Cross” along with the suffering Lord – a generous, willed welcome to hardships and dryness in prayer.
  3. Daily fidelity to the divine will – “All that the beginner in prayer has to do … is to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God” ( ).
  4. Persistence – When one falls, there is no reason to lose heart but rather to continue making serious efforts toward progressing. People in the second mansions surely do fall, and if they repent and persevere in their efforts, God will bring good even out of the failures.
  5. Fidelity to prayer – We cannot enter heaven without first entering our own souls, getting to know ourselves better, reflecting on the divine goodness and our need for mercy: “The door by which we can enter this castle is prayer.” There is no other, for Jesus is Himself the door.

Quotes:

“Let her remember that she goes out to fight with all the devils, and that there are no better arms than those of the cross” (22).

“It is very strange indeed, that though we are full of a thousand impediments and contradictions, and have such (weak) virtues as can scarcely move, being but just born, and God grant they have begun to be born; still we are not ashamed to desire delights in prayer, and to complain of aridities. Never allow this to happen to you, my sisters; embrace the cross, which your Spouse carried on his shoulders, and remember that this should be your motto, viz., “That she who can suffer most for the love of Him, will be the happiest.” Let everything else be secondary to this; if our Lord shall grant you this favour, give Him many thanks for it” (22-23).

“The principal object of one who begins to make use of prayer (do not forget this, for it is important), should be to endeavour and resolve, and dispose oneself, with all possible diligence, to conform his will to that of God: be assured, as I shall afterwards mention, that herein consists all that high perfection which we should attain in our spiritual progress… for in doing God’s will consists all our good” (23).

“The gate for entering this castle is prayer” (25).

3rd Mansion

People: These people “are extremely desirous of not offending His Majesty; who keep themselves from venial sin, are lovers of penance and of their hours of recollection and prayer; who spend their time well, and are exercised in works of charity towards their neighbour; who are very regular in their actions and the government of their house” (28-29). Nevertheless, human nature still remains an oppressive burden on the spirit and the person finds few spiritual joys.

Advice:

  1. An active focus on the indwelling presence: As in the first two mansions, St. Teresa says that this is the best way to prepare (not produce) the prayer of quiet: “The disposition which will prepare us for this, is to listen attentively to whatever our Lord shall speak to us interiorly” (#4, pg. 56).
  2. Humility: For St. Teresa, humility is essential to advance in the way of perfection. She recommends to “draw humility from aridities, and not restlessness; for this the devil aims at” (31).
  3. Persevere: St. Teresa tells us to “persevere in this nakedness and abandonment of all things” (31), since “God only wants a resolute will” (31).
  4. Don’t worry about dryness in prayer: Never seek spiritual joys in prayer. This is not a sign of perfection.

Quotes:

“The journey I speak of is our advancing with great humility, and herein (if you understand me) I consider lies the loss of all losses to those who do not go forward. We should, therefore, imagine that we ourselves have travelled but a little way; and so we should really believe, but that our sisters have made haste, and have advanced far; and we ought not only to desire but endeavour to be the most base and wicked of all creatures” (36).

perfection does not consist in having sweetnesses, but in this; in loving most (and so the reward will be in proportion), and in striving who will labour the best in justice and in truth” (37).

NB: “Whereas the first 3 mansions (which takes up 30% of the text) speaks relatively little about discursive meditation, the last 4 mansions (which takes up 70% of the text) speaks almost entirely about prayer in its infused developments. These simple facts are significant for our grasping the saint’s mind about increasingly intimate communion with the indwelling Trinity.” (Dubay, Fire Within, 86).

4th Mansion

NB: The 4th Mansion corresponds to St. Teresa’s 2nd way of obtaining water, that is, cranking a water wheel and having the water run through an aqueduct, which involves less exertion and produces more water. 

People: Having tasted divine delight and grown incomparably more in all the virtues than in the previous degrees of prayer, these persons experience great detachment and interior freedom, they lose cravings for all earthly things, and desire more severe penances out of love for God.

Prayer: “Infused contemplation is a divinely given, general, nonconceptual, loving awareness of God. There are no images, no concepts, no ideas, no visions. Sometimes this awareness of God takes the form of a loving attention, sometimes of a dry desire, sometimes of a strong thirsting. None of these experiences is the result of reading or reasoning—they are given, received. The infusion is serene, purifying. It can be delicate and brief, or in advanced stages burning, powerful, absorbing, prolonged. Always it is transformative of the person, usually imperceptibly and gradually but on occasion obviously and suddenly” (Dubay, Fire Within, 86).

2 kinds of infused prayer:

  1. Initial “recollection” – an infused and gentle awareness given by God and not produced by human effort. This kind of prayer, being serenely drawn to be occupied with God, occurs before the prayer of quiet.
  2. Prayer of quiet – a state of prayer “which is a quiet, deep and peaceful happiness in the will”, and yet one does not understand what it is (Way 207). Distractions are possible (memory and intellect are not yet absorbed in God).

Advice:

  1. Receptivity: Since we can receive only what God chooses to give and when and how He chooses to give it, St. Teresa gives the image of a baby nursing at its mother’s breast to show that we do not need to make efforts to understand what is happening during infused contemplation:”The most we should do is occasionally, and quite simply, to utter a single word, like a person giving a little puff to a candle, when he sees it has almost gone out, so as to make it burn again” (91-92).
  2. Never try to force the mind to be empty: Remember that we are receiving light and love from God. Leave aside discursive reasoning only when you notice the gift of infused quiet.
  3. Avoid excessive vocal prayers: This advice is for times devoted to mental prayer, not obligatory vocal prayers like Liturgy of the Hours for priests and religious.
  4. Do not pay attention to distractions: Her remedy is simple: pay no attention to it, for one may well “laugh at it and treat it as the silly thing it is, and remain in her state of quiet.”
  5. Keep up prayer life: Essential for continued growth, like a baby totally dependent upon his mother’s milk.
  6. Further detachment from everything: Selfish clingings must be lessened for prayer to grow.
  7. Seek greater solitude: St. Teresa sees solitude as giving the Lord the opportunity to do His work in us as well as our being readied for communion with Him. Keep in mind though that this does not mean neglecting work or community.

Quotes:

“In order to arrive at these mansions, it may seem necessary to have lived a long time in the former ones; but though, generally speaking, one must have dwelt in the last we were speaking about, yet there is no certain rule, as you have often heard; for our Lord bestows His favours when, and how, and to whom He pleases, being His goods, without any injury to any one” (41-42).

“This point, however, I wish you to notice, viz., in order to make great advance in this way, and to be able to ascend to the mansions we desire, we must remember that the business does not consist in thinking, but in loving much; do therefore whatever may excite you most to love. Perhaps we do not know what love is; and I do not wonder at it, for it consists not in having greater delights, but greater resolutions and desires of pleasing God in everything, and in endeavouring, as much as possible, not to offend Him, and in beseeching Him that He would promote the honour and glory of His Son, and extend the bounds of the Catholic Church. These are signs of love” (44-45).

“And as we cannot prevent the heavenly bodies from going on in their rapid course, so neither can we stop the wanderings of the imagination. But we immediately send all the faculties of the soul after it, and consider ourselves quite lost, and that we have mis-spent the time during which we were in God’s presence; and perhaps in the mean time the soul is wholly united with Him in the inmost mansions, while the imagination is roaming round the suburbs of the castle, and is engaged with a thousand wild and poisonous beasts, and thus acquiring merit by this painful conflict. We should not therefore trouble ourselves, nor give up our prayer, for it is the devil’s object to induce us to do this” (45-46).

“It is not therefore good to trouble ourselves on account of distracting imaginations, nor indeed to heed them at all; for if they are caused by the devil, by our acting thus he will desist. But if they come (as they do) from the misery entailed on us by Adam’s side, together with many other evils which come from the same source; let us, however, bear them patiently for the love of God” (47).

“After we have done what those in the preceding mansions do, let us practise humility. Humility is that virtue by which our Lord suffers Himself to be overcome, and to grant us whatever we desire of Him. The first mark by which you may discover whether you possess this virtue is, to think yourselves unworthy of these favours and delights from our Lord; nay, that you do not deserve to have them at all during your life” (52-53).

“Because the most pleasing and substantial service we can do for God is, to have only His honour and glory in view, and to forget ourselves, our own benefit, delight, and pleasure” (57-58).

5th Mansion

NB: The 5th Mansion corresponds to St. Teresa’s 3rd way of obtaining water, that is, having the water run into the garden by an effluence of a river or stream (entails far less effort).

People: These people are completely forgetful of self, excessively desire solitude, painfully desire to die a thousand deaths and undergo severe penance for His glory to make Him known, are disgusted at earthly things. Their experiences of full union with God, although they are unaware of the gift, are indelible and cannot be forgotten.

Prayer: These people are introduced into the spiritual betrothal, a spiritual marriage of full union, where all of one’s inner faculties (the will, imagination, memory, intellect) are in union with the indwelling Trinity: “The faculties are almost totally united with God but not so absorbed as not to function … [they] have only the ability to be occupied completely with God” (). These people experience an incomparably greater level of delight, “a glorious foolishness, a heavenly madness” (). This full union with God occurs for up to 30 minutes and is very intense – one is certain of the divine presence (74).

Advice:

  1. Dispose yourself: “though in this work which our Lord himself does we can do nothing, yet by our disposing ourselves we may contribute much to induce His Majesty to bestow this favour upon us” (71). We dispose ourselves by “casting aside all self-love and our own will, andlet us not adhere to any earthly thing; let us perform works of penance, prayer, mortification, obedience, and all the rest as you value” (73).
  2. Persevere: “We should always remember, that she must endeavour to advance in the service of our Lord, and in the knowledge of herself” (79)… “we can have no other security than “obedience,” and a resolution not to transgress the law of God” (80).
  3. Love your neighbour: You will never arrive at full union unless you have “perfect love of your neighbour” (85).
  4. Avoid all occasions of sin: “I beseech you, for His sake, do not become careless, but avoid all occasions (of sin)” (87). The devil “little and little he begins to darken the understanding, and cool the will, and breed self-love in her, till by one thing or another he withdraws her from God’s will, and unites her to his own” (89).

Quotes:

“Few of us dispose ourselves that so our Lord may discover this jewel to us… He will have all for Himself, and in proportion to what you know you have given, He bestows greater or less favours upon you” (65).

“this soul having entirely resigned herself into His hands, the greatness of His love has so captivated her, that she neither knows nor desires anything except that God would dispose of Her as He pleases. As far as I understand, God will never confer this favour on any soul except” (77).

“O what a great delight is it to suffer in doing the will of God” (78).

“O, what a desirable union is this! Happy the soul which has obtained it! she will live with comfort in this life, and none of the evils of this life will trouble her, unless it be from some fear of losing God, or of seeing Him offended. Neither sickness, nor poverty, nor the death of any one can disturb her, except it be the death of one which God’s Church might miss. Such a soul sees clearly that our Lord knows better what to do, than she knows what she desires” (80).

“What do you think, daughters, is His will? That we endeavour to be entirely perfect, so as to become one with Him and the Father, as His Majesty prayed” (81).

“Here there are only two duties which our Lord requires of us, viz. the love of God, and the love of our neighbour; these are the objects we must labour for; by observing these laws perfectly, we do His will, and consequently we shall be united with Him” (82).

“In my opinion, the surest sign for discovering whether we observe these two duties, is the love of our neighbour; since we cannot know whether we love God, though we may have strong proofs of it; but they can be more easily discovered respecting the love of our neighbour. And be assured, that the further you advance in that love, the more will you advance in the love of God likewise; for the affection which His Majesty has for us is so great, that as a return for the love we show our neighbour, He will make that love go on increasing which we have for Himself: of this I have no doubt” (82).

“Great are the wiles of the devil; for he will turn hell upside down a thousand times, in order to make us imagine we possess a virtue which in reality we do not” (83).

6th Mansion

NB: The 6th Mansion corresponds to St. Teresa’s 4th way of obtaining water, that is, by a gentle but abundant rainfall in which the soul does not have to work at all (the best way).

People: These people continue to deepen living the Gospel and experience numerous advanced forms of prayer union with God. All consciousness and speech become centred on God. They have no attachments to anything created and no pleasure in any worldly things. In fact, life on earth becomes burdensome. They have a fixed and constant desire to do extreme penances out of love and die a thousand deaths so that one soul may praise God a little more (132).

Prayer: In the 6th mansions, a number of different advanced experiences of God occur. Since we are not yet in the transforming union, periods of dryness and emptiness can still occur. These types of prayer “are a great help towards acquiring virtues in a high degree” (161) but should never be sought for their own sake. Humble souls focus only on doing God’s will and when they receive these favours in prayer, they focus on “how to make a good use of them” (161).

  1. Ecstasy/Rapture: One loses – either gradually or suddenly – sense perception of the outer world due to an intense experience of deep union with God: “in true raptures, I believe that God wholly ravishes the soul with Himself” (120). These raptures can occur often, even continually, since they are readily triggered by anything holy. In raptures, the soul “wishes she had a thousand lives, in order to give them all to God, and that all things on earth were tongues, in order that they might praise Him in her stead” (122). It is useless to try to resist these raptures and impossible to conceal them.
  2. Transport/Flight of the spirit: “The spirit seems to be hurried away with a violent speed” (124)… “the soul really seems to go out of the body” (126)… an “imaginary vision” in which “great secrets are revealed to her” (128). There are three main benefits: knowledge of God, knowledge of self, contempt for all earthly things.
  3. Levitation: God can take the body along with the soul sometimes.
  4. Impulse: A sudden and unexpected knowledge, “a certain intellectual vision” (111), that one is separated from God, bringing unconsolable grief. The soul “dies with the longing to die” that it might be immersed in the Trinity through a facial vision.
  5. Wounding: The soul feels as though an arrow has been thrust into its heart, causing a wondrously delightful and fiery spiritual pain.
  6. Spiritual betrothal: God and the other experience some intense union and some separation in one’s conscious experience.

Advice:

  1. Courage: “I tell you, to be espoused to the King of Heaven requires more (courage) than you imagine; for our nature is too mean and timorous for so sublime a thing” (115). We must “endeavour with all their strength never to displease this Lord” (125).
  2. Desire only God’s will: “The surest is to desire only the will of God” (160). Never desire any of the types of prayer mentioned above. Only desire to do God’s will: “there are many holy persons who never knew what it was to receive one of these favours; and others receive them, and yet are no saints… “and thus a humble soul does not think how she may procure them frequently, but how to make a good use of them” (161).

Quotes:

“The soul is now resolved to choose no other Spouse, but the Spouse pays no regard to her vehement desires of accomplishing the nuptials, because He wishes her to long after them more earnestly, and that such a favour—which exceeds all goods—should cost her something” (92).

“But I would always choose the road of suffering, because I wish to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, even if there were no other advantage, but there are always many advantages” (96).

“O my sisters! what we abandon for Him is nothing, and what we do is nothing, or what we can do for such a God, who is thus willing to communicate Himself to a worm” (120).

“Seeing ourselves, then, to be so imperfect, let us be more fervent in beseeching Him to draw good out of our miseries, that so we may please His Majesty in everything” (121).

“though it be true they are favours which God bestows on whom He pleases, yet, did we love His Majesty as He loves us, He would give them to every one” (121).

“how much our Lord is pleased with our knowing ourselves, and with our continually endeavouring to consider again and again our poverty and misery, and how we have nothing except what we have received” (126).

“I was once considering the reason why our Lord loved humility so much, when, without much consideration, I suddenly remembered, that God was essentially the Supreme Truth, and humility is walking in the truth; for it is a very great truth, that of ourselves we have no good, but misery and nothingness; and he who does not understand this, walks in falsehood; but he who understands it the best, is the most pleasing to the Supreme Truth, because he walks in it.* May God grant us the favour, sisters, never to be without this knowledge of ourselves. Amen” (164-5).

7th Mansion

People: Our Lord brings people into the 7th mansion by an intellectual vision of the Blessed Trinity. These people have gone from spiritual espousals (6th mansion) into spiritual marriage (7th mansion) and have reached the relative perfection of the Christian life: complete self-forgetfulness, extreme desire to do God’s will and seek His glory, great desire for redemptive suffering, no aridities or inner trials, consider sleep and food as nothing, persecution brings joy. In fact, since she delights so much in doing penance, “her true penance is when God takes away her health and strength, so that she is unable to do any penance” (182).

Prayer: In the soul’s deepest centre, an instantaneous, transformative, and permanent union with the Trinity occurs, just as water falling into a pond cannot afterwards be separated or divided (180). In the 7th mansion, the soul begins to see and understand the favours God has bestowed upon the soul – an intellectual vision of union occurs. In this life of pilgrimage, permanent absorptions are not possible. Nevertheless, a person is able to attend to the indwelling Trinity while carrying on daily activities – perfect dual activity = both Martha (active) and Mary (contemplative).

Advice:

  1. Do not place any limits on what God can do in our souls: “You may suppose, sisters, that as so much has already been said regarding this spiritual way, nothing more can be added. It would be a great mistake to think so; for as God’s greatness has no limits, so neither have His works” (172).
  2. Prepare yourself and remove all obstacles:

Quotes:

The more we are made aware that He communicates himself to creatures, the more shall we praise His greatness, and endeavour to have a high esteem of that soul in which our Lord takes such pleasure and delight; and such a soul each one of us has” (172).

“That which God here communicates to the soul in an instant is so great a secret, and so sublime a grace, and what she feels is such an excessive delight, that I know nothing to compare it to, except that our Lord is pleased at that moment to manifest to her the glory which is in heaven; and this He does in a more sublime way than by any vision or spiritual delight” (179).

When our Lord was once praying for His Apostles, He requested that they might be “one with the Father and with Him,” as Christ our Lord was in the Father and the Father in Him. I know not what love can be greater than this: and here let us all not fail to enter into this union, since His Majesty has said, “I pray not for them only, but for all those who shall believe in me.” He likewise said, “I am in them.” How true, O my God! are these words, and how well does the soul in this prayer understand them! And we should all understand them, were it not through our own fault, since the words of Jesus Christ, our King and Lord, cannot fail. But as we do not prepare ourselves properly, and do not remove everything from us which might obstruct this light, hence we do not behold ourselves in this glass in which we look, and wherein our image is engraven (182).

“The difference between this mansion and the rest is, that there are scarcely ever any aridities, or interior disturbances, like what used to be at other times in all the rest; but the soul is almost always in quiet, and she is never afraid that this sublime gift would be counterfeited by the devil; and, therefore, she is confident it comes from God” (188).

“O my sisters! how forgetful must that soul be of her own comfort, what little account must she make of honour, and how far is she from desiring to be esteemed in anything, in whom our Lord resides in so particular a manner! If she be entirely taken up with Him (as it is proper she should), she must be wholly forgetful of herself; and all her thoughts and study will be how to please this Lord, and by what means she may be able to express the love she has for Him” (193).

“Remember, that this is much more important than I can express: fix your eyes on your crucified Lord, and everything will seem easy to you” (194).

“the foundation of all this building is humility; and if this be not very sincere, our Lord will not allow the building to rise high, lest it should fall entirely to the ground: this would not be for our good. Hence, sisters, in order that your humility may be well grounded, let each one of you endeavour to be inferior to all the rest, and to become their slave, seeking how to please and to serve them; because what you do in such cases is more for your benefit than for theirs. By laying down such strong stones, the castle can never fall. I repeat, it is necessary, for this purpose, that the foundation should not consist of prayer and contemplation only; for unless you acquire virtues by the exercise of them, you will always be behind: God grant it may be merely a fault of not increasing; for you know well, that, in the spiritual life, he who does not increase, must decrease. I consider it impossible for love to stand still” (195).

“I will conclude with this advice: do not erect towers without a foundation, because our Lord does not pay so much regard to the greatness of the works, as to the love whereby they are performed” (199).

Comments

  1. Thanks for the summary. I wish I had it the first time I read Interior Castle. I’ll take what you’ve written and have to read it again.

  2. Sally Allman says:

    Are you familiar with the book, “Abba, Father” by Bonaventure Perquin? I am interested in your opinion. I like your blog very much and appreciate your work.

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