A Tour of the Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila: A Summary of the Interior Castle
Even those devoting much of their life to studying spiritual literature find the Interior Castle a complex book. Richard Foster, author of the classic spiritual formation book Celebration of Discipline, said, “For some reason, Teresa of Avila has always been difficult for me to read.” (Devotional Classics. Edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryant Smith. HarperOne.) The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a number of influential Christian books including The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines. Willard said, the The Interior Castle, “It is not a model of easy reading . . . and must be approached as if you are mining for treasure–which you are.” (The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.)
But it’s worth mining for the treasure. Others have recognized this as well. The Interior Castle is on several lists of “great books”. It’s included in Notre Dame’s Great Books Seminars. Eugene Peterson lists it as one the “basics” of spiritual reading in his book Take and Read. It’s also included in 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Edited by Julia L. Roller).
Teresa provides an immense amount spiritual insight in the Interior Castle. Studying this book will certainly be rewarded, but its also possible to get lost in the vastness of her ideas. To track her ideas, I keep an outline/summary of The Interior Castle. I’ve added hyperlinks to easily find various topics.
Summary of the Interior Castle
The Interior Castle is our soul. According to Teresa of Avila, our soul is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms. At the center of the Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. The soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “what do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”
We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and mediation. Our destination is the center of the castle where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”. This is the interior journey. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.”
- The Interior Castle: Teresa’s uses the Interior Castle metaphor to help us understand our souls. She describes our soul as a castle made of a single diamond in which there are many rooms. Christ dwells at the center of this castle.
- The Image of God: Being created in the image of God is our core identity. Teresa says, being “made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.” We hold this to be true while at the same time accepting the great distinction between creature and Creator.
- The Indwelling Trinity: The indwelling Trinity validates the beauty and dignity of our souls and the importance of the interior journey. At the center of the castle is where the most intimate exchanges take place between God and the soul.
- The Beauty and Dignity of our Souls: Teresa says, “I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity.”
- Self-Knowledge: Teresa says we should learn self-knowledge and humility. It is important to understand who we are and the capacity of our souls for God. Progress through the Interior Castle requires even the most spiritually mature to spend time in the rooms of self-knowledge and humility. She returns to these themes often and reminds us again near the end of the book: Humility is the foundation on which the whole building rests.
- Spiritual Favors: Spiritual favors shatter complacency and fuel spiritual growth. Properly applied, they lead to good works, humility, virtue, praise, love, and fortitude. With spiritual favors, the progress of our souls takes place with less effort. While spiritual favors are important and add substance to our spiritual lives, Teresa says, “perfection consists not in consolations (spiritual favors) but in the increase in love”. We do not earn these favors nor are they a measurement of our goodness.
- Prayer and Meditation: Prayer and meditation are the entry point to the Interior Castle. While we do not earn God’s favors, we can be attentive to him and his works. We can practice ascetic prayer and may experience mystical prayer. Ascetic prayer is action we initiate with God. Mystical Prayer is action God initiates with us.
- Reptiles: Reptiles are preoccupations or “worldly attachments” keeping us anchored in the courtyard and restricting us from exploring the castle.
- Sin: We are a Tree of Life. When planted in the “living waters of life” we thrive spiritually and bring renewal to a battered world. When we plant ourselves in or by the polluted waters of sin, we limit our spiritual progress and miss opportunities to give life to others.
- Spiritual Warfare: The devil excels at three strategies: (1) Getting us to believe lies – especially about ourselves (2) Distracting us from what is important and (3) Undermining love.
Additional Tools to Help Us Navigate the Interior Castle
- Listen to God: He speaks to us through conversations with others, sermons, books, trails, and prayer.
- Develop Spiritual Habits: Establish sustainable “spiritual habits” especially around prayer and meditation. Start Small, Repeat Daily.
- Rely on Your Faculties: Your reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding are reliable guides. Use them.
- Perseverance: We drive the devil away when we resolve not to be defeated.
- Increase Velocity: Teresa says we must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” and spending our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.
- Avoid Distractions: We cannot live virtuous lives and still cling to wealth or reputation. Distractions will keep us from surrendering all to follow Jesus.
- Find a Spiritual Director: When I talk about spiritual directors, I’m talking about wise guides with a holistic approach to life and spirituality.
The Interior Castle is about Prayer. Prayer can be separated into two categories:
- Ascetic Prayer: In ascetic prayer we initiate interaction with God through vocal prayer and meditation. This is also called “purgative prayer” because of the cleansing effect on our lives. The first three Mansions of the Interior Castle cover this material.
- Mystical Prayer: God drives the activity in mystical prayer. Teresa writes about this in Mansions four through seven.
We can then separate mystical prayer into two categories:
- Illuminative Prayer: Through illuminative prayer God enlightens our will and understanding. Teresa explains this in the Fourth Mansions. This section includes several posts on the Prayer of Quiet.
- Unitive Prayer: In Mansions five through seven Teresa writes about unitive prayer. Unitive prayer leads us to a deep and intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the Interior Castle and is the focal point of the book.
Unitive Prayer: When we explore Mansions Five, Six, and Seven the marriage metaphor becomes essential for our understanding of the Interior Castle. This metaphor is common in the Bible and other spiritual writings. The marriage metaphor helps us better understand the potential intimacy we can have with God. Teresa reminds us that this metaphor has limitations and is completely spiritual: “The spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage.”
Teresa explains Unitive Prayer using the marriage customs of her day. This includes:
- Brief Meetings: A brief time in which we see our future Spouse. (Fifth Mansion)
- Betrothal Period: The promise to marry and learning to love Christ. (Sixth Mansion)
- Marriage: Union with Christ. (Seventh Mansion)
The Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle
In the Sixth Mansions, we come to a critical juncture in our Christian life. The potential for deep spiritual union with Christ is within reach. But the devil wants to prevent this union. He wars against us. And this time he makes the poison seem so harmless. Some of us have gotten close to the Sixth Mansions and been tricked. Additionally the Sixth Mansions comes with Intellectual Visions, Imaginative Visions, Ecstasy, and Suffering.
- In Chapter One we learn about interior trials. I recommended reading The Great Light of the Dark Night.
- In Chapter Two we begin to learn about how “Our Lord awakens the soul” and “fills it with fervent desire” for Him. I recommend The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
- Chapter Three is on Hearing God. This is one of the most important chapters of the Interior Castle. Here is a link to the folder with all the blog posts of the chapter three: https://teresaofavilaturns500.wordpress.com/category/6th-mansions-chapter-3/.
- Chapter Four is on the Raptures of the Soul.
- Chapter Five: Teresa talks about a different kind of rapture of the soul called the “Flight of the Spirit”.
- Chapter Six: Teresa continues her discussion on the Flight of the Spirit. She also talks about the Prayer of Jubilation.
- Chapter Seven: Teresa discusses sorrow for our sins and the importance of the humanity of Christ. I recommend Sorrow for our Sin: Part Two and Meditate: On What?.
- Chapter Eight is about Intellectual Visions. I recommend Intellectual Visions: Part One.
- Chapter Nine: Imaginative Visions.
- Chapter Ten: Intellectual Visions, God’s Presence, and Truth.
- Chapter Eleven: Spiritual Ecstasy and Suffering.
The Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle
In the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle we find our Union with Christ through Spiritual Marriage.
- Chapter One focuses on the Indwelling Trinity. I encourage you to read Indwelling and The Room.
- Chapter Two centers on being One Spirit with Christ. I suggest reading The River.
- Chapter Three focuses on the “outcomes” or the Effects of Spiritual Marriage. While there are trials and suffering — there is no “dryness” or “interior disturbances”. I recommend: How to Conquer the World.