Teresa of Avila notes three types of visions. The “corporeal vision” is one in which we see something with our eyes. The “imaginative vision” is where we see something with the “eyes of our souls”. There is also the “intellectual vision”. With the “intellectual vision” we don’t actually “see” something — it has more to do with the presence and voice of God deep within our souls. Examples of intellectual visions include a profound understanding humanity of Christ, the presence of the Trinity, or the presence of an angel.
Teresa says, “So far down in the depths of the soul does this contact take place, so clearly do the words spoken by the Lord seem to be heard with the soul’s own faculty of hearing, and so secretly are they uttered, that the very way in which the soul understands them, together with the effects produced by the vision itself, convinces it and makes it certain that no part in the matter is being played by the devil.”
Teresa explains how to know if an intellectual vision is authentic:
- “The genuine locution [direct message/personal revelation] is so clear that, even if it consists of a long exhortation, the hearer notices the omission of a single syllable . . . but in locutions which are created fancifully by the imagination the voice will be less clear and the words less distinct, they will be like something heard in a half-dream.”
- The “voice comes unexpectedly” and “often it refers to things which one never thought would or could happen, so the imagination cannot possibly have invented them”.
- In “genuine locutions the soul seems to be hearing something, whereas in locutions invented by the imagination someone seems to be composing bit by bit what the soul wishes to hear.”
- In “a genuine locution one single word may contain a world of meaning such as the understanding alone could never put rapidly in language.”
- In a genuine locution “not only can words be heard, but, in a way which I shall never be able to explain, much more can be understood than the words themselves convey”.
But could we still be “imagining the whole thing” or be deceived by the devil? Teresa says, “When locutions come from the devil their source can be more quickly recognized, though his wiles are so numerous that he can readily counterfeit the spirit of light. He will do this, in my view, by pronouncing his words very clearly, so there will be no more doubt about their being understood than if they were being spoken by the spirit of truth. But he will not be able to counterfeit the effects described, or to leave in the soul this peace or light, but only restlessness and turmoil.”
We must not view Teresa’s guidelines about intellectual visions simply as a set of rules. This post, along with the previous posts on hearing God, provide a framework to discern the source of locutions. Are we are hearing from God, our imagination, or the devil? This material can also be helpful in a church context. How often have you seen people subvert leadership and healthy discussion by making pronouncements about God speaking to them — and everyone else should listen? There is no reason to be intimidated by their words: test the message and the messenger.