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Interior Castle (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – December 17, 2007
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Teresa lived at time shortly after the explusion of the Jews from Spain (which occurred in 1492). Her own family was a converso family; hence, there were different dimensions to the wariness of the powers in the culture toward her activities. Being a woman at the time didn't help matters, either, as she defied the stereotypes in several ways, by seeking education and leadership opportunities, all the while being part of the discalced Carmelites, who strive to cultivate humility and poverty.
Teresa's life was not an easy one; she suffered physical ailments and political difficulties. However, she was also a sought-after advisor, spiritual leader, and fairly prolific author. Her various writings made her famous in her own day, but the towering achievement that has lasted over time is without doubt 'Interior Castle'. This text shows a spiritual journey on the inside, developing different walks through aspects of spiritual life and prayer developed in seven stages, or mansions.
The life of prayer is the castle, with seven stages of development. The first three stages are pieces that humankind can practice with their own efforts; the final four stages are those which are given from God, and God alone - no human effort can reach these places. The first mansion looks to the striving toward perfection of the human soul. The second looks to different pieces that give spiritual edification; sermons, readings, prayer practices, conversation, etc. The third mansion sets forth discipline and penance, striving toward good works while reaching for self-surrender. These are not easy stages, but are within the realm of human possibility.
The fourth mansion begins the mystical journey in earnest at the behest of God. Here Teresa uses a metaphor of water and a fountain to explain the soul, and explores graces as spiritual consolations. Here is the Prayer of Quiet. The fifth mansion continues the theme of water, looking toward a Prayer of Union, which leads naturally to the sixth mansion, where the soul is prepared for a marriage of sorts, as intimacy with God increases in the soul. The seventh and final, most interior mansion, which is heaven itself; metaphors here used include two candles joining as one, and the falling rain merging to become one with the river.
These mansions are based on visions; Teresa was compelled to write them down at the order of her ecclesiastical superiors, for she herself thought to keep them to herself. Her writing was done very late in her life, but even so, she took care to be humble and as non-threatening as possible; modern readers might be a bit taken aback by the self-deprecation of Teresa, and the general stance she seems to take towards women. This may have been an attempt to make an authoritative text written by a woman more acceptable to the male-dominated hierarchy of the time. However, not all of Teresa's humility should be dismissed or argued away in this manner. She is reputed to have said, 'There are more than enough books on prayer already,' in response to being told to write her visions. This might have been true (then and now), but few reach the power that Teresa's 'Interior Castle' achieve.