Infinite Distance. Infinite Nearness.
Interior Castle: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Ten
In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17)
The Incomprehensible Beauty of the Soul
Let’s return briefly to the first paragraph of the Interior Castle. Teresa begins the book by explaining the “Interior Castle” is a metaphor for our soul.
“It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms just as in heaven there are many dwelling places. For in reflecting upon it carefully, Sisters, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says he finds his delight. So then, I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity. Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but he himself says that he created us in his own image and likeness. Well, if this is true, as it is, there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle. Since this castle is a creature and the difference, therefore, between it and God is the same as that between the Creator and his creature, His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in his own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.” [St Teresa of Avila (2010-11-29). Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D. The Interior Castle Study Edition (pp. 33-34). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.]
This first paragraph is loaded with insights:
- Our soul is the Interior Castle where the King dwells. Teresa asks: “What do you think that abode [The Soul] will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes his delight?”
- We’re “created in his own image and likeness”.
- Because we’re created in his image and he indwells us, our soul possesses:
- “Magnificent beauty”.
- A “marvelous capacity”.
- “Sublime dignity”.
- Our soul is a paradise in which God takes great delight.
Teresa says, “Well, if this is true, as it is, there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle.”
Infinite Nearness. Infinite Distance.
Because Christ indwells us and our soul is a paradise in which He takes great delight, we have infinite nearness to Him. But Teresa also says, “Since this castle is a creature and the difference, therefore, between it and God is the same as that between the Creator and his creature” — thus infinite distance.
A New Metaphor
In Chapter Ten of the Sixth Mansion Teresa provides a new metaphor in which God is the palace or the castle. She says, “Let’s suppose that God is like an immense and beautiful dwelling or palace and that this palace, as I say, is God himself.” Now we are back to infinite nearness. All creation is within Him. He lives in us and we live in him.
Pantheism or Panentheism
Kavanaugh and Rodriguez in their commentary on the Interior Castle say:
“We might here give a little attention to how she changes her metaphor and says that God is like a palace in which we all live. Everything we do and think takes place in him and we cannot ever escape from this palace. In recent centuries theology worked mainly with the model of theism. This construal infers God to be the highest member of the order of being. It insists on God’s difference and distance from the world while paying little attention to the divine nearness. Its opposite model is pantheism (all is God), which erases the difference between created and uncreated, thereby collapsing God and the world into each other. The model that allows for the most intelligible interpretation of this presence is panentheism, as it was revealed to Teresa. Unlike either of the other two patterns, panentheism envisions a relationship whereby everything abides in God, who in turn encompasses everything, being as we read in Ephesians ‘above all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4-6).” [St Teresa of Avila (2010-11-29). Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D The Interior Castle Study Edition (pp. 369-370). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.]
Understanding our nearness to God shapes how we view self and others. It has implications about love, forgiveness, intimacy with God, and how we nourish our souls (topics we’ll discuss in future posts).
For now, we embrace by faith that our soul is an Interior Castle in which the King resides; that we are created in His image; that our soul has great dignity and beauty; that we are a paradise in which God takes great delight; that God has embraced us – not rejected us, and, therefore, we can also discard self-rejection. Furthermore, we are God’s offspring and he is “above all and through all and in all” and “In him we live and move and have our being”.
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.