Contemplation and Service

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

Teresa of Avila divides The Interior Castle into “Seven Mansions” with subdivisions totaling 27 chapters. (For a detailed summary – see A Tour of the Interior Castle.) We’re currently studying the Seventh Mansions. We’re also in the final chapter of the Interior Castle. The heading Teresa provides at the beginning of this chapter says, “Concludes by explaining what she thinks our Lord’s purpose is in granting such great favors to the soul and how it is necessary that Martha and Mary join together.”*  As Teresa develops this chapter, she explains the spiritual life is best understood by seeing Mary and Martha as metaphors for an integrated spirituality: Contemplation and service.

The Interior Castle explores mystical prayer and spiritual ecstasy. These can be powerful additions to our spiritual life, however, central to Teresa’s theology is not spiritual ecstasy or great accomplishments, but the supremacy of love and humility expressed in daily action. Near the end of the book Teresa writes, “In sum, Sisters, what I conclude with is that we shouldn’t build castles in the air. The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.” 

Love and humility are also the primary evangelistic tools of the Christian faith. Whenever we reduce our spiritual life to competition marked by “superior experiences” (private or public) or “successful ministry” tallied in church growth and great accomplishments, we will lose sight of love as our central responsibility and humility as the central character trait of the Christian.


Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriquez explain the chapter headings in The Interior Castle were written by Teresa herself and then lost. However, someone had the wisdom to realize they were working with a first-rate theologian and made a copy of those headings. It’s a good reminder how fortunate we are to have ancient manuscripts preserved for our benefit.

When Teresa had finished writing her work and was reading it over, she divided it into chapters and summed up in chapter headings what was contained in each one. This reading was done quickly, just to get the idea of where a good place to break a chapter would be. She wrote the chapter headings on separate paper, which was quickly lost. Fortunately, before this happened, one of Teresa’s great admirers, Padre Gracián, had made a copy of these chapter headings, which have thus reached us. 


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 7th Mansions - Chapter 4
2 comments on “Contemplation and Service
  1. Christy B says:

    Blessings, Dave, for you and family. Your writing here helps us see there is hope and more to life than seen at first glance ❤

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