Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Eight
As Teresa begins to discuss Intellectual Visions she reminds us we may not experience visions or other forms of mystical prayer. We should not make mystical experiences a test of our goodness since mystical experiences from God only come by His grace and not as a result of our merit.
However, at times, God communicates in ways that include “appearances and visions”. When an intellectual vision is involved, “It will happen, while the soul is heedless of any thought about such a favor being granted to it, and though it never had a thought that it deserved this vision, that it will feel Jesus Christ, our Lord, beside it. Yet, it does not see him, either with the eyes of the body or with those of the soul. This is called an intellectual vision”.
Teresa notes someone she knew (herself) had an intellectual vision. While Teresa had prior experiences in hearing God, she had not experienced Him through an intellectual vision. She was “quite worried in the beginning because since she didn’t see anything she couldn’t understand the nature of this vision. However, she knew so certainly that it was Jesus Christ, our Lord, who showed himself to her in that way that she couldn’t doubt . . . the vision was there.” Even though Teresa “carried with her great effects to show that it was” an intellectual vision, “she nonetheless was afraid. She had never heard of an intellectual vision, nor had she thought there was such a kind. But she understood very clearly that it was this same Lord who often spoke to her in the way mentioned.”
The challenge Teresa faced is similar to the challenge some of us have faced. God spoke, but we had limited experience or guidance hearing his voice in that way. We may have thought it was our imagination. We may have suppressed the details of the vision because of what others may think. Or we may have learned to dismiss or marginalize these experiences altogether. Studying the Interior Castle can help us understand the authenticity and value of these visions. In some cases we can also reflect on past mystical experiences and still reap the benefits of those experiences.
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.