Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Nine
Imaginative Visions: Discernment for Spiritual Guides
When a spiritual guide hears about a vision, she may be concerned about the source of the vision. Did it come from God? Did it come from the devil? Did it come from the person’s imagination? Of course, the spiritual guide cannot see the vision and in some cases the recipient of the vision has difficulty explaining it to others.
Teresa says, “Since the confessors cannot witness this vision – nor, perhaps, can it be explained by the one to whom God grants this favor – they fear, and rightly so. Thus it’s necessary to proceed with caution, wait for the time when these apparitions will bear fruit, and move along little by little looking for the humility they leave in the soul and the fortitude in virtue. If the vision is from the devil, he will soon show a sign, and will be caught in a thousand lies. If the confessor has experience and has undergone these experiences, he needs little time for discernment; immediately in the account given he will see whether the vision is from God or the imagination or the devil, especially if His Majesty has given him the gift of discernment of spirits. If he has this latter as well as learning, even though he may have no experience, he will recognize the true vision very well.”
Teresa suggests several things to help spiritual guides with discernment about visions.
- Look for truth. “If the vision is from the devil, he will soon show a sign, and will be caught in a thousand lies.”
- Practice patience. When a person has an Imaginative Vision, look for spiritual fruit in their lives along with humility and virtue. This may take time to develop. Teresa says, “These apparitions will bear fruit, and move along little by little looking for the humility they leave in the soul and the fortitude in virtue.
- Draw upon experience. If the spiritual guide experienced an Imaginative Vision herself, this will assist her in determining the authenticity of other visions.
- Combine spiritual gifts with learning. If the spiritual guide has “the gift of discernment of spirits”, sorting a true vision from a false vision will come easily. The spiritual guide is even more skilled as she combines “discernment of spirits” with reading and study.
Discernment for those Receiving a Vision
To ensure your Imaginative Vision is from God, Teresa gives the following advice. Always proceed “openly and truthfully” with your spiritual guide. “If you do not give such an account, I am not sure you are proceeding well, nor that it is God who is teaching you.” Hiding things or inventing things is a sure sign the vision comes from our own imagination or the devil. God “is very fond of our speaking as truthfully and clearly to the one who stands in his place”. Regarding the Imaginative Vision, God wants our spiritual guide to “understand all our thoughts and even more our deeds, however small they be.” Teresa says, “If you do this, you don’t have to go about disturbed or worried.” Consulting a spiritual guide is like to going to a lawyer or a dentist. They need to know the truth about what happened or our “symptoms” in order to help us. If we find they are unlearned, incompetent, or have their own agendas we should consult someone else.
What if the Vision is not from God?
Teresa provides a comforting thought. “Even if the vision is not from God, it will do you no harm if you have humility and a good conscience. His Majesty knows how to draw good from evil, and the road along which the devil wanted to make you go astray will be to your great gain.” When we operate “openly and truthfully” combined with “humility and a good conscience”, God will draw good from evil and the devil’s attempt at deception will be our gain.
We don’t have to convince others about the authenticity of our visions. We don’t even have to convince ourselves. We don’t have to sensationalize. We don’t need to pretend. We don’t need to embellish our stories. We don’t even need to have a vision. And if we have a vision, our spiritual responsibility is to simply proceed “openly and truthfully” while maintaining “humility and a good conscience”. Then, even in the worst-case scenario (the devil attempting to deceive and destroy us through a false vision), God will “draw good from evil” and ultimately make it a source of our blessing.
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.