Intellectual Visions

Teresa of Avila: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Ten: Intellectual Visions

We recently completed Teresa of Avila’s chapter on Imaginative Visions (Sixth Mansions: Chapter Nine). We now move to Chapter Ten. Teresa returns to the topic of Intellectual Visions that she discussed at length in Chapter Eight.

The Intellectual Vision

When we receive an Intellectual Vision we cannot describe it to others with the same detail as an Imaginative Vision. The Imaginative Vision has “imagery” making it easier to describe to others. But the Intellectual Vision has more to do with the overall impression left on the soul making it much more difficult to explain to others. Teresa says, “But when the visions are intellectual, the soul doesn’t know how to speak of them. For there must be some visions during these moments that are so sublime that it’s not fitting for those who live on this earth to have the further understanding necessary to explain them. However, when the soul is again in possession of its senses, it can say many things about these intellectual visions.” Teresa says Intellectual Visions, “even though they are unexplainable, they are well inscribed in the very interior part of the soul and are never forgotten.”

Biblical Examples of Intellectual Visions

  • Jacob’s Ladder: “By means of the ladder Jacob must have understood other secrets that he didn’t know how to explain, for by seeing just a ladder on which angels descended and ascended he would not have understood such great mysteries if there had not been deeper interior enlightenment.”
  • The Burning Bush: “Nor did Moses know how to describe all that he saw in the bush, but only what God wished him to describe. But if God had not shown secrets to his soul along with a certitude that made him recognize and believe that they were from God, Moses could not have entered into so many severe trials. But he must have understood such deep things among the thorns of that bush that the vision gave him the courage to do what he did for the people of Israel.”

As you can see from the examples of Jacob and Moses, Intellectual Visions provide “interior enlightenment” including an understanding of “secrets”, “deep things”, and “mysteries”. In the case of Jacob, while he saw the ladder, there were “other secrets that he didn’t know how to explain”. Moses saw the Burning Bush but also understood “deep things” giving him courage to carry out the vision despite so many “severe trials”.

Additional Reasons God Gives Intellectual Visions

Teresa also introduces other reasons God gives an Intellectual Vision.

  1. God may give us an Intellectual Vision when our soul is afflicted. This will comfort us and give us hope for the future.
  2. God may give us an Intellectual Vision “when a great trial is about to come”. This will keep us living by faith through great difficulty.
  3. God may give us an Intellectual Vision “so that His Majesty might take his delight in the soul and give delight to it.” This will ground us in his love. (I know a person, for example, filled with “self-rejection”. Through an Intellectual Vision, God helped him understand he was loved unconditionally and filled him with great joy.)

Two Cautions

  1. The first caution is to avoid a runaway imagination. Everything imagined is not a vision from God. We don’t have to invent spiritual experiences. A vision does not make us more spiritual than other people. Sometimes God doesn’t give us visions. Instead, he wants us to focus on ordinary life and daily spiritual disciplines.
  2. The second caution is not to dismiss or minimize an authentic vision. We need to “understand that such a thing is possible”. Constant anxiety from our own doubts or the fear of others cannot be helpful. Teresa warns the “devil gains much and is extremely pleased to see a soul afflicted and disquieted, for he knows that disturbance impedes it from being totally occupied in loving and praising God.”

The devil’s deception is one of the reasons God communicates through an Intellectual Vision. Teresa says, “His Majesty communicates himself in other ways [Intellectual Visions] that are more sublime and less dangerous because the devil, I believe, will be unable to counterfeit them.”

While we cannot define the Intellectual Vision to others in detail, we know if we’ve stood before the burning bush or seen angels ascending and descending. So instead of trying to explain the vision, we must incarnate that vision. The words will come as we need them.


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.

Jesus Follower, Blogger, Public Speaker.

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Posted in 6th Mansions - Chapter 10
4 comments on “Intellectual Visions
  1. Some visions certainly cannot be easily explained in words. It is as though they go beyond our vocal abilities! I find this post comforting on many levels. I wish you a blessed New Year, Dave.

  2. pskopp says:

    Thanks brother Dave!
    This post brings to mind Phil.3, esp. vs. 7-11. Makes me aware of my intellectual shortcomings on the one hand and on the other increases my desire to know Jesus Christ and the unparalleled power of His resurrection. Keep up the excellent work.

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