Contemplation and Service

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

Teresa of Avila divides The Interior Castle into “Seven Mansions” with subdivisions totaling 27 chapters. (For a detailed summary – see A Tour of the Interior Castle.) We’re currently studying the Seventh Mansions. We’re also in the final chapter of the Interior Castle. The heading Teresa provides at the beginning of this chapter says, “Concludes by explaining what she thinks our Lord’s purpose is in granting such great favors to the soul and how it is necessary that Martha and Mary join together.”*  As Teresa develops this chapter, she explains the spiritual life is best understood by seeing Mary and Martha as metaphors for an integrated spirituality: Contemplation and service.

The Interior Castle explores mystical prayer and spiritual ecstasy. These can be powerful additions to our spiritual life, however, central to Teresa’s theology is not spiritual ecstasy or great accomplishments, but the supremacy of love and humility expressed in daily action. Near the end of the book Teresa writes, “In sum, Sisters, what I conclude with is that we shouldn’t build castles in the air. The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.” 

Whenever we reduce our spiritual life to competition marked by “superior experiences” (private or public) or “successful ministry” tallied in church growth and great accomplishments, we lose sight of love and humility as the central character trait of the Christian and the primary evangelistic tool of the Christian faith.


Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriquez explain the chapter headings in The Interior Castle were written by Teresa herself and then lost. However, someone had the wisdom to realize they were working with a first-rate theologian and made a copy of those headings. It’s a good reminder how fortunate we are to have ancient manuscripts preserved for our benefit.

When Teresa had finished writing her work and was reading it over, she divided it into chapters and summed up in chapter headings what was contained in each one. This reading was done quickly, just to get the idea of where a good place to break a chapter would be. She wrote the chapter headings on separate paper, which was quickly lost. Fortunately, before this happened, one of Teresa’s great admirers, Padre Gracián, had made a copy of these chapter headings, which have thus reached us. 


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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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 4

A Tour of the Interior Castle*

A Tour of the Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila: A Summary of the Interior Castle

Even those devoting much of their life to studying spiritual literature find the Interior Castle a complex book. Richard Foster, author of the classic spiritual formation book Celebration of Discipline, said, “For some reason, Teresa of Avila has always been difficult for me to read.” (Devotional Classics. Edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryant Smith. HarperOne.) The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a number of influential Christian books including The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines. Willard said, the The Interior Castle, “It is not a model of easy reading . . . and must be approached as if you are mining for treasure–which you are.” (The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.)

But it’s worth mining for the treasure. Others have recognized this as well. The Interior Castle is on several lists of “great books”. It’s included in Notre Dame’s Great Books Seminars. Eugene Peterson lists it as one the “basics” of spiritual reading in his book Take and Read. It’s also included in 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Edited by Julia L. Roller).

Teresa provides an immense amount spiritual insight in the Interior Castle. Studying this book will certainly be rewarded, but its  also possible to get lost in the vastness of her ideas. To track her ideas, I keep an outline/summary of The Interior Castle. I’ve added hyperlinks to easily find various topics.

Summary of the Interior Castle

The Interior Castle is our soul. According to Teresa of Avila, 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. The soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “what do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”  

We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and mediation. 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.” 

The Foundation

  • The Interior Castle: Teresa’s uses the Interior Castle metaphor to help us understand our souls. She describes our soul as a castle made of a single diamond in which there are many rooms. Christ dwells at the center of this castle.
  • The Image of God: Being created in the image of God is our core identity. Teresa says, being “made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.” We hold this to be true while at the same time accepting the great distinction between creature and Creator.
  • The Indwelling Trinity: The indwelling Trinity validates the beauty and dignity of our souls and the importance of the interior journey. At the center of the castle is where the most intimate exchanges take place between God and the soul.
  • The Beauty and Dignity of our SoulsTeresa says, “I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity.”

The Basics

  • Self-Knowledge: Teresa says we should learn self-knowledge and humility. It is important to understand who we are and the capacity of our souls for God. Progress through the Interior Castle requires even the most spiritually mature to spend time in the rooms of self-knowledge and humility. She returns to these themes often and reminds us again near the end of the book: Humility is the foundation on which the whole building rests.
  • Spiritual Favors: Spiritual favors shatter complacency and fuel spiritual growth. Properly applied, they lead to good works, humility, virtue, praise, love, and fortitude. With spiritual favors, the progress of our souls takes place with less effort. While spiritual favors are important and add substance to our spiritual lives, Teresa says, “perfection consists not in consolations (spiritual favors) but in the increase in love”. We do not earn these favors nor are they a measurement of our goodness.
  • Prayer and Meditation: Prayer and meditation are the entry point to the Interior Castle. While we do not earn God’s favors, we can be attentive to him and his works. We can practice ascetic prayer and may experience mystical prayer. Ascetic prayer is action we initiate with God. Mystical Prayer is action God initiates with us.
  • Reptiles: Reptiles are preoccupations or “worldly attachments” keeping us anchored in the courtyard and restricting us from exploring the castle.
  • Sin: We are a Tree of Life. When planted in the “living waters of life” we thrive spiritually and bring renewal to a battered world. When we plant ourselves in or by the polluted waters of sin, we limit our spiritual progress and miss opportunities to give life to others.
  • Spiritual Warfare: The devil excels at three strategies: (1) Getting us to believe lies – especially about ourselves (2) Distracting us from what is important and (3) Undermining love.

Additional Tools to Help Us Navigate the Interior Castle

  • Listen to God: He speaks to us through conversations with others, sermons, books, trails, and prayer.
  • Develop Spiritual Habits: Establish sustainable “spiritual habits” especially around prayer and meditation. Start Small, Repeat Daily.
  • Rely on Your Faculties Your reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding are reliable guides. Use them.
  • Perseverance: We drive the devil away when we resolve not to be defeated.
  • Increase Velocity: Teresa says we must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” and spending our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.
  • Avoid Distractions: We cannot live virtuous lives and still cling to wealth or reputation. Distractions will keep us from surrendering all to follow Jesus.
  • Find a Spiritual Director: When I talk about spiritual directors, I’m talking about wise guides with a holistic approach to life and spirituality.
The Interior Journey 

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. This is also called “purgative prayer” because of the cleansing effect on our lives. 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 then 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 a deep and intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the Interior Castle and is the focal point of the book.

Unitive Prayer: When we explore Mansions Five, Six, and Seven the marriage metaphor becomes essential for our understanding of the Interior Castle. This metaphor is common in the Bible and other spiritual writings. The marriage metaphor helps us better understand the potential intimacy we can have with God. Teresa reminds us that this metaphor has limitations and is completely spiritual: “The spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage.” 

Teresa explains Unitive Prayer using the marriage customs of her day. This includes:

  1. Brief Meetings: A brief time in which we see our future Spouse. (Fifth Mansion)
  2. Betrothal Period: The promise to marry and learning to love Christ. (Sixth Mansion)
  3. Marriage: Union with Christ. (Seventh Mansion)

The Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Sixth Mansions, we come to a critical juncture in our Christian life. The potential for deep spiritual union with Christ is within reach. But the devil wants to prevent this union. He wars against us. And this time he makes the poison seem so harmless. Some of us have gotten close to the Sixth Mansions and been tricked. Additionally the Sixth Mansions comes with Intellectual Visions, Imaginative Visions, Ecstasy, and Suffering.

The Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle we find our Union with Christ through Spiritual Marriage.

  • Chapter One focuses on the Indwelling Trinity. I encourage you to read Indwelling and The Room.
  • Chapter Two centers on being One Spirit with Christ. I suggest reading The River.
  • Chapter Three focuses on the “outcomes” or the Effects of Spiritual Marriage. While there are trials and suffering — there is no “dryness” or “interior disturbances”. I recommend: How to Conquer the World
 Thanks for reading Teresa of Avila Turns 500.
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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Posted in Summaries

The Now!

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Three

When we reach the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle, God reduces or eliminates spiritual raptures and ecstasy. Teresa says, “I am amazed as well to see that when the soul arrives here all raptures are taken away. Only once in a while are they experienced and then without those transports and that flight of the spirit. They happen very rarely and almost never in public as they very often did before.” 

Those who equate spiritual growth with ecstasy attempt to reproduce something from their spiritual past. But as C.S. Lewis says, “And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.” Past ecstasy and raptures only can provide revelation and reference points to be applied to a “different self” in a new context. The previous context no longer exists. Our previous “self” no longer exists. The community we once loved no longer exists. It’s gone! We must enter the “Eternal Now”.

The Now! It’s “Here an abundance of water is given to this deer that was wounded. Here one delights in God’s tabernacle. Here the dove Noah sent out to see if the storm was over finds the olive branch as a sign of firm ground discovered amid the floods and tempests of this world.” Your discipleship, your friendship with God, your intimate relationship with him can only be a present event. The “Now” is the only forward movement to the future. Trying to recapture past emotions or a previous context damages our spiritual health. Nostalgia and regret separate us from God and invite spiritual warfare. Teresa warns, “the first war could return if we were to withdraw from God” who lives in the present.

Isn’t this what the author of Hebrews hints at: Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

When we live in the now, we embrace humility and God’s mercy instead of self-righteousness and judgment. Teresa says, “their sins [the dehumanizing of others] become more serious to them”. And “in everything concerning themselves they trust in his mercy” instead of absorbing self-condemnation and the censorious judgment of others.  In the Now, we simplify our lives: “for they fear that just as a ship too heavily laden sinks to the bottom they will go down too.” In the Now, we gain peace even though we suffer and experience setbacks: “I tell you, Sisters, that the cross is not wanting but it doesn’t disquiet or make them lose peace. For the storms, like a wave, pass quickly. And the fair weather returns, because the presence of the Lord they experience makes them soon forget everything. May he be ever blessed and praised by all his creatures, amen.”

That past is gone. The future does not exist. So what will you do — Now?


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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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3

Trying Too Hard

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Three

The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built. (I Kings 6.7)

Our soul is the Interior Castle. Teresa explains it is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms.  At the center of this Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. Our soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “What do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”  We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and meditation. 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.” 

Our destination is the center of the Interior Castle (Seventh Mansions) where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”.  We begin the journey to the center of the castle by responding to God’s grace with our effort (ascetic prayer). But in the latter stages of the journey, the work is initiated by God (mystical prayer). In mystical prayer we “surrender” to his work. This “surrender” in our relationship with God also becomes mutual as he surrenders himself to us as well: “It is by humility that the Lord allows himself to be conquered so that He will do all we ask of Him”.

“Surrender” to God comes with peace and contentment. Teresa says, “There are almost never any experiences of dryness or interior disturbance of the kind that were present at times in all the other dwelling places, but the soul is almost always in quiet.” This peace cannot be counterfeited by the devil: “There is no fear that this sublime favor can be counterfeited by the devil, but the soul is wholly sure that the favor comes from God”. And we’re protected from the devil’s deception in the Seventh Mansions: “His Majesty reveals himself to the soul and brings it to himself in that place where, in my opinion, the devil will not dare enter, nor will the Lord allow him to enter.”

This peace with God and protection from the devil incentivizes us not waste time in our spiritual journey. The sooner we move to the center of the Castle, the more peace and protection we have because “the devil does not dare enter” this part of the Castle. Teresa says, We must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” or wasting our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.

Near the center of the Castle, spiritual development has a “surrendering” quality to it verses active accomplishment. An analogy of surrender is found in yoga. We surrender to the yoga pose rather than pressing for a result. The more we strain, the less we accomplish. Straining too much can become counter-productive with risk of injury. Teresa says, “Nor does the Lord in all the favors he grants the soul here, as I have said, receive any assistance from the soul itself, except what it has already done in surrendering itself totally to God.”

And surrender produces astounding results and quietness of soul. Teresa uses a metaphor from the building of Solomon’s Temple*:  “Every way in which the Lord helps the soul here, and all he teaches it, takes place with such quiet and so noiselessly that, seemingly to me, the work resembles the building of Solomon’s temple where no sound was heard. So in this temple of God, in this, his dwelling place, he alone and the soul rejoice together in the deepest silence. There is no reason for the intellect to stir or seek anything, for the Lord who created it wishes to give it repose here and that through a small crevice it might observe what is taking place. . . . In my opinion, the faculties are not lost here; they do not work, but remain as though in amazement.” 

Quietness of soul is not inertia. It’s releasing the idea that we only accomplish things through our own planning and activity. We recognize surrender and non-action can take us beyond our own limits. We become part of something bigger than ourselves – God’s creative work. And our faculties will look with amazement.

I encourage you to quit trying so hard spiritually and begin surrendering and responding to the work already being done by God.


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.

*Rodriguez and Kavanaugh note I Kings 6.7

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3

Touches of Love

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Three

Certainly, if there were no other gain in this way of prayer except to understand the particular care God has in communicating with us and beseeching us to remain with him . . . it seems to me that all the trials endured for the sake of enjoying these touches of his love, so gentle and penetrating, would be well worthwhile. (Teresa of Avila)

Negligence in any relationship, including our relationship with God, will cause us to drift away. Negligence comes in two forms: An absence of attention and an absence of response. To further our spiritual development we must cultivate attentiveness and take decisive action.


God is passionate about us. He loves us and likes us. He asks us to “remain” with him even through trials. When we do, he communicates to us with gentle “touches of love” marked by care, kindness, and penetration into our spirit. Teresa says, “When this impulse comes to you [these touches of love and the concurrent personal revelation], remember that it comes from this interior dwelling place where God is in our soul . . . . For certainly that note or letter is his, written with intense love and in such a way that he wants you alone to understand it and what he asks of you in it.”

We note three things about personal revelation:

  1. The Location of the Revelation: God’s revelation “comes from this interior dwelling place where God is in our soul”. The indwelling Trinity communicates directly to us and within us.
  2. God’s Passion for Us: This “note or letter” from God is “written with intense love”. This reflects the value he places on our relationship with him and his communication to us.
  3. Comprehension and Response: It’s for us “alone to understand” what he is asking us to do. Learning and advice from others have their place, but ultimately God’s guidance is not “out there” (advice) it’s “in here” (our hearts).

Decisive Action

In some cases, this personal revelation happens “publicly”. Teresa references the Apostle Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. Sometimes this revelation comes in through trials in a public context: A job loss, a family crisis, illness, or betrayal.  And, almost always, this revelation comes when we have too much to do to attend to the revelation. Yet this revelation still calls for immediate and decisive action. (Luke 9.57-62)

The ultimate response to revelation is articulated in the words of the Apostle Paul: “Lord, what will you have me do?” From there, “he will teach you there what will be pleasing to him and the acceptable time.” The acceptable time does not suggest procrastination. But the acceptable time is strategic. Once we discern the direction and timing is set, we strip away the “unessentials” from our life and drive forward with “resolute will” powered by the “intense love’ that produced the revelation.


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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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3