The Trinity and the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle: Part II

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14.23

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14.26

In the previous post, Teresa explained that in the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle:

  1. God amplifies our understanding of his activity in our life.
  2. All three persons of the Trinity speak to the soul.
  3. Experiencing the presence of the Trinity is constant instead of intermittent.

Teresa goes on to say: Oh, God help me! How different is hearing and believing these words from understanding their truth in this way! Each day this soul becomes more amazed, for these Persons never seem to leave it any more, but it clearly beholds, in the way that was mentioned, that they are within it. In the extreme interior, in some place very deep within itself, the nature of which it doesn’t know how to explain, because of a lack of learning, it perceives this divine company.

Teresa teaches us we can experience the constant presence of the Trinity within our soul. We can also hear all three Persons of the Trinity speak to us. But, Teresa reminds us our “lack of learning” makes it challenging to understand mystical prayer experiences like this. Through Teresa’s writing we can gain this “learning” and ability to articulate these experiences. First of all her writing helps us understand the mystical prayer experiences we may have already had. Those who’ve been in faith communities that ignore or dismiss mystical prayer experiences or see them as the work of the devil typically don’t have the language and understanding to fully appreciate the work of the Trinity within the soul. Secondly, through reading the Interior Castle, we better understand the presence of the Trinity, the unity God desires to have with our soul, and what mystical prayer experiences may look like in the future as we progress in our spiritual journey.

 

References
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version. NRSV  Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

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The Trinity and the Interior Castle

Teresa of Avila: Seventh Mansions: Chapter One

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14.21)

Here all three Persons (of the Trinity) communicate themselves to it, speak to it, and explain those words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.” (Teresa of Avila)

We’re in the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle. Teresa explains the difference between the Unitive Prayer of the Fifth Mansions and the Unitive Prayer of the Seventh Mansions. (Unitive = Union with Christ)

Background
The Interior Castle is about Prayer. Prayer can be separated into two categories:

  1. Ascetic Prayer: In ascetic prayer we initiate interaction with God through vocal prayer and meditation. The first three Mansions of the Interior Castle cover this material.
  2. Mystical Prayer: God drives the activity in mystical prayer. Teresa writes about this in Mansions four through seven.

We can separate mystical prayer into two categories:

  • Illuminative Prayer: Through illuminative prayer God enlightens our will and understanding. Teresa explains this in the Fourth Mansions. This section includes several posts on the Prayer of Quiet.
  • Unitive Prayer: In Mansions five through seven Teresa writes about unitive prayer. Unitive prayer leads us to an intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the book and is the focal point of the Interior Castle.

Amplified Understanding
Teresa explains that in the Fifth Mansions the soul doesn’t fully understand the “raptures” or mystical prayer experiences it has. But by the time the soul reaches the Seventh Mansions “our good God now desires to remove the scales from the soul’s eyes and let it see and understand, although in a strange way, something of the favor he grants it.”

The Trinity Reveals Itself to the Soul
We discover in the Seven Mansions that unity with God includes all three Persons of the Trinity being revealed to the soul. Notice Teresa’s carefully worded phrasing that the three Persons of the Trinity are “distinct” yet “one God alone”. “When the soul is brought into that dwelling place, the Most Blessed Trinity, all three Persons, through an intellectual vision, is revealed to it through a certain representation of the truth. First there comes an enkindling in the spirit in the manner of a cloud of magnificent splendor; and these Persons are distinct, and through an admirable knowledge the soul understands as a most profound truth that all three Persons are one substance and one power and one knowledge and one God alone.”

All Three Persons of the Trinity Speak to the Soul
“Here all three Persons communicate themselves to it, speak to it, and explain those words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.”

Teresa is referencing Jesus’ words in John 14.23: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” See Indwelling.

The Ongoing Presence of the Trinity
“Each day this soul becomes more amazed, for these Persons never seem to leave it any more, but it clearly beholds, in the way that was mentioned, that they are within it. In the extreme interior, in some place very deep within itself, the nature of which it doesn’t know how to explain, because of a lack of learning, it perceives this divine company.”

Summary

In the Seventh Mansions:

  1. God amplifies our understanding of his activity in our life.
  2. All three persons of the Trinity speak to the soul and explain the “words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.”
  3. Experiencing the presence of the Trinity is constant instead of intermittent.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

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The Answer is Obvious

Let us take special care, Sisters, to beg this mercy of him and not be careless, for it is a most generous alms to pray for those who are in mortal sin. Suppose we were to see a Christian with his hands fastened behind his back by a strong chain, bound to a post, and dying of hunger, not because of lack of food, for there are very choice dishes beside him, but because he cannot take hold of the food and eat, and even has great loathing for it; and suppose he sees that he is about to breathe his last and die, not just an earthly death but an eternal one. Wouldn’t it be a terrible cruelty to stand looking at him and not feed him? Well, then, what if through your prayer the chains could be loosed? The answer is obvious. For the love of God I ask you always to remember in your prayers souls in mortal sin. (Teresa of Avila)

Evil was defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While evil was defeated, God has not removed the free will of human beings and other spiritual agents (i.e. angels and demons). This means people can fall into sin or become victims of evil. This comes through direct attack by evil or collateral damage from evil. But because evil has been defeated, our prayers, behavior, and faith can counter the forces of evil. Of course, there are other variables at play in the battle of good and evil beside our prayers.

Teresa wants us to be attentive to those who fall victim to sin or evil. She uses a metaphor to describe their plight. Suppose someone “with his hands fastened behind his back by a strong chain, bound to a post, and dying of hunger, not because of lack of food, for there are very choice dishes beside him, but because he cannot take hold of the food and eat, and even has great loathing for it; and suppose he sees that he is about to breathe his last and die, not just an earthly death but an eternal one. Wouldn’t it be a terrible cruelty to stand looking at him and not feed him?” Of course it would be cruel not to feed him — our hands are free and his bound. When others are bound by evil or sin we are still free to pray. And we should pray for the other person without censorious judgment. After all, we don’t understand why or how they ended up in this condition — even though it may seem obvious. The only thing “obvious” according to Teresa is we should pray for them.

We should be cautious not to turn our opportunity to destroy or contain evil through prayer into self-condemnation for not praying enough. We’re not the problem. And the other person is not the problem. The problem is with evil. We are, however, part of the solution. And our prayer of faith adds considerable value in the fight against evil. This is true whether we pray once for a situation or person or we pray consistently. However, the belief that we’re in control and have to pray obsessively is a lack of faith and ultimately gives evil another foothold.

So when we see someone trapped by sin or evil, what should we do? Teresa says, “The answer is obvious.” Pray.  This doesn’t exclude practical help and advice, but we need to begin with God and that begins with prayer.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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Indwelling

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (Jesus – John 14.2-3)

“It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.” (Teresa of Avila)

Heaven
A common interpretation of John 14.2-3 is God has a mansion in heaven. In this mansion there are many dwelling places or rooms. Jesus tells us he is going to prepare a place for us in heaven. He will then come back someday and take us to be where he is (heaven). This will most likely occur after we die (or sooner if he returns before we die).

Many find assurance from these Bible verses that they or their loved ones go to heaven when they die. While the “heaven” interpretation of John 14 may be comforting, I think it’s better to understand this passage as the activity of the Trinity and the “dwelling places” as our souls.

  1. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”:  The dwelling places are our souls. 
  2. “And if I go and prepare a place for you”: Jesus preparing our souls to commune with him.  
  3. “I will come again and will take you to myself”: Jesus drawing us into relationship with him through indwelling work of the Holy Spirit.
  4. “So that where I am, there you may be also.”: Union with Christ or what Teresa called spiritual betrothal and marriage.

Context
Below are a number of verses from the surrounding context of John 14.2-3 about the activity of the Trinity, God revealing himself, and the indwelling of our souls. I added bold type for emphasis.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14.16-17)

On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14.20-21)

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14.23)

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  (John 16.7)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16.13)

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17.3)

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17.20-24)

The Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila alludes to John 14.2-3 to support her metaphor of the Interior Castle. She says our soul is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms. At the center of the Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides.  We enter the Interior Castle (our souls) though prayer and meditation. Our destination is the center of the castle where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”. This is the interior journey. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.”

Teresa also says, “When our Lord is pleased to have pity on this soul that he has already taken spiritually as his betrothed . . . he brings it, before the spiritual marriage is consummated, into his dwelling place, which is this seventh. For just as in heaven, so in the soul His Majesty must have a room where he dwells alone. Let us call it another heaven.”  

Indwelling
Jesus indwells us and prepares a place (our souls) for us to unite with him. As we make this interior journey he reveals himself to us and we deepen our relationship with Jesus. We then manifest this interior relationship outwardly though kingdom living.

(See comment section below for additional thoughts on heaven.)

References
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version. NRSV  Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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Blessings

Thus you will understand how important it is for you not to impede your Spouse’s celebration of this spiritual marriage with your souls, since this marriage brings so many blessings, as you will see.  (Teresa of Avila)

As we enter the Seventh Mansions, Teresa dives deeper into the subject of Spiritual Marriage. She tells us spiritual marriage brings many blessings, but we must not “impede” these blessings.

The topic of “impeding” blessings seems simple on the surface, but quickly becomes a complex discussion. Do blessings come through good behavior? Can we reduce or impede our blessings if we behave poorly? Will we suffer even if we behave well? Do blessings (or lack of blessings) occur apart from our behavior altogether?

We’ll briefly explore the role of behavior related to blessings and intimacy with God. We begin by dividing this topic into two approaches to the spiritual life:

  • The Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life.
  • The Grace-Centered approach to the spiritual life.

The Earning-Centered Approach
Those adopting an Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life believe God rewards and punishes us based on behavior. They have rigid standards about the way they and others should behave in order to earn God’s blessings and avoid punishments.  They say they believe in grace, but they practice an “earning-centered” approach that includes:

  • Seeing themselves as an isolated entity with an extreme cause and effect view of their own “godly” behavior: “I behave therefore I am or will be blessed.” This limits their ability to see the collateral damage and the long-range consequences of their own decisions or the decisions of others.
  • Seeking to obtain their blessings by attempting to control personal relationships or exert excessive control in the church, at work, or in politics.
  • Tending not to cultivate healthy relational skills like setting boundaries and appropriate self-care. They assume their “godly” behavior will transcend the inappropriate behavior of others and their lack of wise choices.

When these individuals fail to meet their own behavioral code, you would think it would produce humility and love — the central behaviors of Christianity. Instead, it produces a strange mixture of shame, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, dogmatism, and censorious judgment.

The Grace-Centered Approach

The Grace-Centered approach falls into two categories:

  1. License: Behavior disconnected from blessing. Those who hold this view tend to accept, excuse, defend, or minimize the damaging behavior of others (unless that behavior affects them). They’re judgmental of others who don’t hold similar views. They’re defensive when challenged. The long-term consequences of this kind of “grace” are idealism, rejection of responsibility, and spiritual impotence.
  2. Responsibility: God consistently blesses us, but we can “impede” God’s blessings through lack of faith and lack of love. In this view, God’s commandments help define how to love others, act in faith, and receive discernment. If a commandment is not loving, faith-producing, and revelatory we’ve misunderstood the commandment. This kind of grace believes in effort and responsibility, but not in earning and rigidity.

The central problem with the Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life is lack of faith. It focuses on earning rewards and guarantees by following a proscribed set of rules. It’s a contract. If I obey the rules, I’ll be blessed. The rules are the rules regardless of the damage they do.

The Grace-Centered approach to the spiritual life understands the commandments and the example of Christ as ways to have intimacy with God, love others, and hear the Holy Spirit.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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