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Summary of St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle

St. Teresa of Avila's interior

St. Teresa of Avila's interior

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila spent most of her life in a convent, was never formally schooled, and was repulsed at the idea of attaining public fame. Yet no other books by a Spanish author have received such widespread admiration as Life and Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila.

She “established new foundations for her order, carried on the spiritual direction of souls…wrote brilliant treatizes for the edification of her fellow nuns, and reached the very summit of personal sanctity through a life of prayer, humility, and charity” (Peers, 1).

What caused her to earn such an exceptional reputation?

The grace of God.

St. Teresa, in fact, was opposed to writing but did so out of obedience at the request of her superiors. She considered herself, and therefore her writings, to be of so little importance that she never reread what she had written in between writing sessions. Her audience was the sisters of the convent. She also wrote for those who might someday want to penetrate the outer or inner Mansions.

She wrote Interior Castle towards the end of her life, starting the book on June 2, 1577, and finishing it on November 29 of the same year. During this time, much was happening: the Reform, the transition of St. Joseph’s, Avila, from the jurisdiction of the ordinary to that of the order, and the incarnation, “when the nuns endeavoured vainly to elect St. Teresa as their Prioress” (17). Her experiences of persecution due to the inquisition also influenced her writings.

Although she was uneducated, the theology of her books was very accurate. Woven throughout her works were themes of the importance of self-knowledge, detachment, and suffering. Upon its completion, her book was reviewed by a Dominican theologian, P. Yanguas. He said this of her writing:

I would take up numerous phrases in the book saying that they did not sound well to me, and Fray Diego would reply, while she (St. Teresa) would tell us to expunge them. And we did expunge a few, not because there was any erroneous teaching in them, but because many would find them too advanced and too difficult to understand; for such as the zeal of my affection for her that I tried to make certain that there should be nothing in her writings which could cause anyone to stumble (16).

Interior Castle, like many of her other books, was written in a very simplistic way, yet her thoughts were profound and full of theological significance. She described the subject of her writing as such: “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” (10). She used the metaphor to explain the soul’s progress from the first mansions to the seventh and its transformation from a creature of sin to the Bride of Christ.

She then went on to describe how it was by prayer and meditation that the door to the first castle could be entered. A key virtue that was brought up, again and again, was humility. She also stressed the importance of self-knowledge. The journey began by “entering the room where humility is acquired rather than by flying off to the other rooms. For that is the way to progress” (11).

The souls that made it to the First Mansions were in a state of grace but were still intoxicated with the venomous creatures (symbolic of sin) that dwelt outside of the castle in the outer courtyards. In order for the souls to have made any progress, they would have to stay in the First Mansion, The Mansion of Humility, for a long time.

The Second Mansions were where the soul would seek every opportunity for growth by listening to sermons, partaking in enriching conversations, and so on. These were the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer. In these rooms, the soul would not be free from the attack of the venomous creatures, but its powers of resistance were strengthened.

The Third Mansions were those of Exemplary Life. Those in these mansions realized the dangers of trusting in one’s own strength. These souls had attained a high standard of discipline and were charitable towards others. Limitations in this stage were that one lacked vision and the ability to fully experience the force of love; also, it had not yet come to the point of total submission, and its progress was slow. It had to endure a spirit of aridity and was given only occasional glimpses of the Mansions beyond.

It was in the Fourth Mansions that the supernatural and natural met. No longer did the soul depend upon its own efforts. The soul would be totally dependent on God. This was the Mansion of the Prayer of the Quiet. Love came not from an aqueduct but flowed from the true source of living water. It had broken all bonds which had previously hindered it and would not shrink from trials. It had no attachments to things of the world and could pass between the ordinary life to one of deep prayer and back again.

The Fifth Mansions were described as the Prayer of Union—it marked a new magnitude of contemplation. The soul would prepare for the gift of God’s presence. Psychological conditions were also associated with this state, in which the “faculties of the soul are asleep…it is short in duration, but while it lasts, the soul is completely possessed by God” (12).

In the Sixth Mansions, Bride and Groom were able to see each other for a long period of time. As the soul would receive increasing favors, it would also receive more afflictions, such as “bodily sickness, misrepresentation, backbiting and persecution; undeserved praise…and depression…which is comparable only with the tortures of hell” (13).

The soul would reach Spiritual Marriage in the Seventh Mansion. Transformation was made complete, and no higher state could be reached. It was in this Mansion that the King dwelt—“it may be called another Heaven: the two lighted candles join and become one; the falling rain becomes merged in the river” (13).

It is truly a gift to have a writing such as Interior Castle. It gives us a glimpse into the life of an “ordinary” woman during a time of hardship and resistance, providing hope and encouragement to the saints, past, present, and future, of the exciting possibility of living a life of prayerful contemplation and intimacy with Christ.

We can see that though centuries separate us from those such as St. Teresa of Avila, we are united by the commonality of Christ. Values such as self-knowledge and humility, and desires like seeking intimacy with Christ, are timeless.

If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart, or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good, just as a man selling an antidote will drink poison before he takes it in order to prove its power.

— St. Teresa of Avila

Works Cited

St. Teresa of Avila; Peers, E Allison. Translator and editor. Interior Castle. Garden City, New York: 1961.


mareena on November 13, 2019:

helpful and simple in language

Rob Hailwood on March 10, 2019:

Clear , helpful and encouraging.

Elena C. Anzia on January 31, 2019:

Great knowledge for someone seeking to advance in holiness!

Linda Reeves Randolph on March 15, 2018:

Great summary, I’m just now diving in as part of Secular Carmelites. This helps a lot, thx!

jeemer on October 14, 2013:

I know a certain nun, who refers to St.Teresa of Avilla as "Big T" and St.Therese of Lisuiex, as "little t". This religious nun, along with St.John of the Cross, saved Spain from the protestant reformation in the 1500's. Doctor of the Church, and sheer genius, I honor you on your feast day !

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on February 22, 2013:

@GoldenThreadPress: Thank you so much for the comment and the vote! St. Teresa was an inspiration to me during a very formative time in my life. There is much to learn from the mystics! :-)

GoldenThreadPress on February 22, 2013:

Seek-n-Find: Loved this Hub, especially for the truth and honesty which it was written. St. Therese affected many people's lives and as a Doctor of the Church exemplified and lived out the truths of her faith. She was and still is an inspiration to many. One Carmelite nun who followed closely was St. Terese of the Andes. Her biography explains a similar journey of love, pain, passion and triumph in light of many difficulties. I'm so glad you chose this lovely saint to showcase, so that others might know of her. Super job and voted up, interesting, beautiful and awesome! Best Regards--Deb

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on February 21, 2013:

Hey thanks! I'm very curious to take a look. I didn't get a link on my Facebook page, though--just looked. You can post it here if you want? Or try Facebook again? Jenna Wilharm Ditsch.

Thank you!

John Connor from Altamonte Springs on February 21, 2013:

There is a link to the Carmelite's scapular (the brown scapular) and my experience that I wrote about in my hub, titled, There & Back: Part 2...

A week before my comatose experience I brought my wife's brown scapular to my friend Don Elderdice who was about to undergo brain surgery at FL. Hospital South. A week later I ended up in the room directly beside his; we were both comatose... I sent the link to my story to you through FaceBook. It is on your FaceBook page...

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on February 21, 2013:

@connorj: Thank you for the comment! Yes--much to learn indeed!!!

John Connor from Altamonte Springs on February 21, 2013:

Yes another Carmelite's work indeed... There is much to discern from our Carmelites... Great hub on a great Saint...

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on April 07, 2012:

It's on my list to check out. I'll be teaching a section related to contemplative living soon so this is perfect timing for a new resource!

JosephumCarissimi from Wisconsin, U.S.A on April 07, 2012:

The Cloud was written in the 14th century by an unknown English author. It is something of a basic course in contemplative living. I recommend it highly! And thanks for the follow! May we ever be spared from "the opposite"!

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on April 07, 2012:

@ JosephumCarissimi: I am not familiar with the Cloud of Unknowing but it sounds interesting--tell me more! Thanks for your comment, by the way. :-)

JosephumCarissimi from Wisconsin, U.S.A on April 07, 2012:

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things” including, I suppose, efforts to live it. Great post! I loved Interior Castle--gonna have to read it again. Tell me, are you familiar with The Cloud of Unknowing?

Georgiann on December 21, 2011:

I haven't, but I am looking for a new book to start, so that will top my list!

Jenna Ditsch (author) from Illinois on December 21, 2011:

@ Georgiann: Thank you! I really was quite amazed by her books and her life. Quite interesting--have you read Interior Castle? I recommend it if you haven't! :-)

Georgiann on December 21, 2011:

Very well written interpretation and interesting glimpse into an extraordinary woman's life and works. Fabulous job!