What is so special about the Interior Castle?
Q: Dear Sister Carmen, would you share why St. Teresa wrote the “Interior Castle” and why spiritual directors refer to it so often? What makes it so special?
A: Dear Friend, your question is very timely as the memorial of St. Teresa is celebrated this Saturday. St. Teresa of Jesus (also known as St. Teresa of Avila) was led by the Holy Spirit into a very special friendship with God. Because she cooperated so completely with God’s grace, this friendship grew and St. Teresa entered very deeply into contemplative prayer. Her spiritual director became aware, obviously, of what was taking place within her soul and asked her to write about it. She did write and gave her writings the title, The Interior Castle. A spiritual classic, The Interior Castle, is often used by spiritual directors today because it is describes things that are, well, indescribable. How so? St. Teresa describes with analogies.
Here is the story of how The Interior Castle came to be written. She wrote it in 1557 when she was 62 years old. It was finished in a sixth-month time period, but since she was interrupted in her writing for three months, St. Teresa wrote this masterpiece in only three months.
After St. Teresa was commanded to write about her personal prayer, she commented,
“While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me, since I had nothing to say and no idea how to begin to carry out the obligation (to write) laid upon me by obedience, a thought occurred to me which I will now set down, to have some foundation on which to build. I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal, in which there are many room, just as in heaven there are many mansions.” – I Mansions, i; Peers, II, 201)
This discreet statement of St. Teresa, however, was not the entire story.
Father Diego de Yepes, afterwards Bishop of Tarazona, a former friend and confessor of St. Teresa, recorded his personal recollections of his own conversations with St. Teresa. She told him that God Himself, in a vision, gave her the idea of the human soul as an interior castle:
“This holy Mother desired to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, a thing greatly to be coveted both for the sake of seeing and of possessing it. While this desire lasted, she was commanded to write a treatise on prayer, of which she had much personal experience.
On the eve of the Blessed Trinity, while considering what subject to choose for this treatise, God, Who disposes everything in due season, fulfilled her wish and furnished a suitable subject. He showed her a most beautiful globe of crystal, in the shape of a castle, with seven rooms, the seventh, situated in the center, being occupied by the King of glory, resplendent with the most exquisite brilliancy, which shone through and adorned the remaining rooms. The nearer these lay to the centre, the more did they partake of that wondrous light. It did not, however, penetrate beyond the crystal, for everything round about was a mass of darkness and impurity, full of toads and vipers and other venomous animals.
She was still admiring this beauty which, by the grace of God dwells in the soul, when the light suddenly disappeared, and the crystal, wherein the King of glory was still residing, became opaque and as dark as coal, emitting an intolerable odor; the venomous animals, formerly held in check outside, obtained admittance into the castle. The holy Mother wished that everyone should behold this vision, for she thought that no one having seen the beauty and splendor of grace, which is forfeited by sin and replaced by such repulsive misery, would ever dare to offend God. Fray Diego de Yepes
Now, to more fully answer your question, in The Interior Castle St. Teresa relives each stage of her own prayer journey. She speaks often in the third person, but she is speaking of herself. In the book, she delves into and explains the delicate workings of grace within the soul, including the virtues and vices of each room as well as the temptations of each.
I would dare say that every person can discover himself or herself in one of these seven mansions. Why? Because St. Teresa describes, narrates, penetrates, using images, analogies, even precise terms at times from the state of total darkness of a soul entrenched sin to the state of what she calls the mystical marriage, which is to say, the deepest possible union with God while on earth.
So, there you have it. St. Teresa, who has gone ahead of us on the prayer journey, made a roadmap for us, one that shows roads that most people don’t even know are there –roads lead us exactly where we want to go – straight to God Himself. That roadmap is her book.
Did I tell you about the moat?
Yes, the moat. Because we will have to get out of it, and clean ourselves up before we can even think about entering the Castle.
Until next time,
Sister Carmen Laudis OCD
Next Post: “Those Pesky Reptiles”
In Him – Sister Carmen Laudis
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