Mysticism is a big interest of mine, and I admire mystics who have attempted to write about their experiences, particularly Teresa of Avila. I regret that I don’t know who translated this edition of Teresa’s most mystical work. It wasn’t mentioned in this ‘Christian Classics Treasury’ e-book, from which I also read ‘The cloud of unknowing’ and John of the Cross’ ‘Dark night of the soul.’ If you know, please write me.
The aforementioned castle is a metaphor of sorts for whatever it is in our mind that is perceived in certain precious moments. Maybe Teresa considered it a literal place, but she also concedes that the mansions which encompass the castle are more than the seven that she describes, indicating their existence to be akin to dreams, the quantities of which are not definite.
Teresa distinguishes between each mansion in terms of the quality of pleasure and pain involved, as well as the implicit knowledge she derives from each. As a non-mystic, at least not on the same neurotic level as this saint, I am easily confused by the distinctions. This should not matter; what is important is the states of mind that could be gleaned from Teresa’s experiences. It is clear that her upbringing played a large part in the particular manifestations she hallucinated, but her absolute certainty of the truth of such beings also renders her accounts more vivid and powerful.
“Where there is true humility, even if God never grants the soul favours, He will give it peace and resignation to His will, with which it may be more content than others are with favours.”
– Location 3200-3202, Amazon Kindle edition
Whatever it was that Teresa experienced, her descriptions, she clarified, were meant figuratively:
“[A]s this heavenly water begins to flow from this source of which I am speaking — that is, from our very depths — it proceeds to spread within us and cause an interior dilation and produce ineffable blessings, so that the soul itself cannot understand all that it receives there. The fragrance it experiences, we might say, is as if in those interior depths there were a brazier on which were cast sweet perfumes; the light cannot be seen, nor the place where it dwells, but the fragrant smoke and the heat penetrate the entire soul, and very often, as I have said, the effects extend even to the body. Observe — and understand me here — that no heat is felt, nor is any fragrance perceived: it is a more delicate thing than that; I only put it in that way so that you may understand it. People who have not experienced it must realize that it does in very truth happen; its occurrence is capable of being perceived, and the soul becomes aware of it more clearly than these words of mine can express it. For it is not a thing that we can fancy, nor, however hard we strive, can we acquire it, and from that very fact it is clear that it is a thing made, not of human metal, but of the purest gold of Divine wisdom. In this state the faculties are not, I think, in union, but they become absorbed and are amazed as they consider what is happening to them.”
– Location 3451-3460
Her explanations serve to help us understand that ascetics are actually quite filled with joy, however subtle, that makes the foregoing of ‘worldly’ pleasures not just easy, but a relief. Everyone has experienced the tirelessness and lack of hunger while in a state of excitement and anticipation over some novel thing. Spiritual experiences such as Teresa’s are even more sustainable, though they may be borne of, or lead to, illness.
“The better he gets to know the greatness of God, the better he comes to realize the misery of his own condition; having now tasted the consolations of God, he sees that earthly things are mere refuse; so, little by little, he withdraws from them and in this way becomes more and more his own master.”
– Location 3573-3575
“… see God and shall ourselves be as completely hidden in His greatness as is this little worm in its cocoon.”
– Location 3750
Her ‘cocoon’ metaphor really resonates with me, even as the ecstasies she experienced are clearly of an extreme kind my constitution is not sensitive enough for. The ‘cocoon’ is what I call that occasional experience while meditating, where awareness is no less, but I nonetheless feel apart from, or at peace with, my thoughts and desires. Its arrival is not summoned, but the mind suddenly ‘clicks’ and I know I’m there. The sensual enjoyment of the cocoon is only a secondary motivation to attain it.
“Let the tears come when God is pleased to send them: we ourselves should make no efforts to induce them. They will leave this dry ground of ours well watered and will be of great help in producing fruit; but the less notice we take of them, the more they will do, because they are the water which comes from Heaven. When we ourselves draw water, we tire ourselves by digging for it, and the water we get is not the same; often we dig till we wear ourselves out without having discovered so much as a pool of water, still less a wellspring.”
– Location 4569-4572
Teresa’s insights were not merely aesthetic but also moral:
“[T]here are always a few little worms which do not reveal themselves until, like the worm which gnawed through Jonas’s ivy, they have gnawed through our virtues. Such are self-love, self-esteem, censoriousness (even if only in small things) concerning our neighbours, lack of charity towards them, and failure to love them as we love ourselves.”
– Location 3858-3860
For more notes on books I’ve read, visit https://paulspurpose.com/tag/notes/.
Buy ‘Top 7 Catholic classics,’ which contains this edition of ‘The interior castle,’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.