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Translated and edited.
Allison Peers. From the Critical Edition of. Silverio de Stanta Teresa, C. Letters -- Letters of St.
Unless otherwise stated, the numbering of the Letters follows Vols. Letters St.
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Benedict Zimmerman, O. Silverio de Santa Teresa, C. Jaime Pons, Barcelona, Allison Peers, London, , 3 vols. Towards the end of her life, probably near the end of the year , St. Teresa was travelling with three of her nuns from Medina del Campo, across the bleak Castilian plateau, on her way to St.
Accidentally or, as it would be more accurate to say, providentially she fell in with an old friend, a Hieronymite, Fray Diego de Yepes. When the little party of nuns, half frozen but still cheerful, reached the inn, there was mutual delight at the encounter; and Fray Diego not only gave up his room to them but appointed himself their personal servant for the period of their stay.
They spent, so he tells us, "a very great part of the night" in conversation about their Divine Master. On the next day it was snowing so hard that no one could leave. So Fray Diego said Mass for the four nuns and gave them Communion, after which they spent the day "as recollectedly as if they had been in their own convent". In the evening, however, St. Teresa had a long conversation with her former confessor, who later was to become her biographer, and in the course of this she recounted to him the story of how she came to write the Interior Castle. Just at that time she was commanded to write a treatise on prayer, about which she knew a great deal from experience.
On the eve of the festival of the Most Holy Trinity she was thinking what subject she should choose for this treatise, when God, Who disposes all things in due form and order, granted this desire of hers, and gave her a subject. He showed her a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and beautifying them all.
The nearer one got to the centre, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures. Although the King of Glory did not leave the mansions, the crystal globe was plunged into darkness, became as black as coal and emitted an insufferable odour, and the venomous creatures outside the palace boundaries were permitted to enter the castle.
It was about this vision that she told me on that day, and she spoke so freely both of this and of other things that she realized herself that she had done so and on the next morning remarked to me: 'How I forgot myself last night! I cannot think how it happened. These desires and this love of mine made me lose all sense of proportion. Please God they may have done me some good! Some days before she was granted this marvellous vision, St.
Teresa had had a very intimate conversation on spiritual matters with P. What happened with regard to the Book of the Mansions is this.
Once, when I was her superior, I was talking to her about spiritual matters at Toledo, and she said to me: "Oh, how well that point is put in the book of my life, which is at the Inquisition! Although she did as she was instructed, however, P. There are more than enough books written on prayer already.
For the love of God, let me get on with my spinning and go to choir and do my religious duties like the other sisters. I am not meant for writing; I have neither the health nor the wits for it. Such was the origin of the Interior Castle, one of the most celebrated books on mystical theology in existence.
It is the most carefully planned and arranged of all that St. Teresa wrote. The mystical figure of the Mansions gives it a certain unity which some of her other books lack. The lines of the fortress of the soul are clearly traced and the distribution of its several parts is admirable in proportion and harmony. Where the book sometimes fails to maintain its precision of method, and falls into that "sweet disorder" which in St. Teresa's other works makes such an appeal to us, is in the secondary themes which it treats -- in the furnishing of the Mansions, as we might say, rather than in their construction.
A scholastic writer, or, for that matter, anyone with a scientific mind, would have carried the logical arrangement of the general plan into every chapter. Such a procedure, however, would have left no outlet for St. Teresa's natural spontaneity: it is difficult, indeed, to say how far experiential mysticism can ever lend itself to inflexible scientific rule without endangering its own spirit. Since God is free to establish an ineffable communion with the questing soul, the soul must be free to set down its experiences as they occur to it.
In its language and style, the Interior Castle is more correct, and yet at the same time more natural and flexible, than the Way of perfection. Its conception, like that of so many works of genius, is extremely simple. After a brief preface, the author comes at once to her subject:. I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.
These mansions are not "arranged in a row one behind another" but variously -- "some above, others below, others at each side; and in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion, where the most secret things pass between God and the soul. The figure is used to describe the whole course of the mystical life -- the soul's progress from the First Mansions to the Seventh and its transformation from an imperfect and sinful creature into the Bride of the Spiritual Marriage.
The door by which it first enters the castle is prayer and meditation. Once inside, "it must be allowed to roam through these mansions" and "not be compelled to remain for a long time in one single room". But it must also cultivate self-knowledge and "begin by entering the room where humility is acquired rather than by flying off to the other rooms.
For that is the way to progress". How St. Teresa applies the figure of the castle to the life of prayer which is also the life of virtue -- with her these two things go together may best be shown by describing each of the seven stages in turn. This chapter begins with a meditation on the excellence and dignity of the human soul, made as it is in the image and likeness of God: the author laments that more pains are not taken to perfect it.
The souls in the First Mansions are in a state of grace, but are still very much in love with the venomous creatures outside the castle -- that as, with occasions of sin -- and need a long and searching discipline before they can make any progress. So they stay for a long time in the Mansions of Humility, in which, since the heat and light from within reach them only in a faint and diffused form, all is cold and dim. But all the time the soul is anxious to penetrate farther into the castle, so it seeks every opportunity of advancement -- sermons, edifying conversations, good company and so on.
It is doing its utmost to put its desires into practice: these are the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer.
The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila : Kieran Kavanaugh :
It is not yet completely secure from the attacks of the poisonous reptiles which infest the courtyard of the castle, but its powers of resistance are increasing. There is more warmth and light here than in the First Mansions. The description of these Mansions of Exemplary Life begins with stern exhortations on the dangers of trusting to one's own strength and to the virtues one has already acquired, which must still of necessity be very weak.
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