Read an Excerpt
Teresa of Avila
Selections from The Interior Castle
Discusses the beauty and dignity of our souls.
Draws a comparison in order to explain, and speaks
of the benefit that comes from understanding this truth
and knowing about the favors we receive
from God and how the door to this castle is
Today while beseeching our Lord to speak for me because I wasn't able to think of anything to say nor did I know how to begin to carry out this obedience, there came to my mind what I shall now speak about, that which will provide us with a basis to begin with. It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places [John 14:2]. For in reflecting upon it carefully, sisters, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says he finds his delight. So then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes his delight? [Prov. 8:31]. I don't find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity. Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but he himself says that he created us in his own image and likeness [Gen. 1:2627].
Well, if this is true, as it is, there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle. Since this castle is a creature and the difference, therefore, between it and God is the same as that between the Creator and his creature, His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in his own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.
It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don't understand ourselves or know who we are. Wouldn't it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone, when asked who he was, didn't know, and didn't know his father or mother or from what country he came? Well, now, if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies. Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls. But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value. Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty. All our attention is taken up with the plainness of the diamond's setting or the outer wall of the castle, that is, with these bodies of ours.
Well, let us consider that this castle has, as I said, many dwelling places: some up above, others down below, others to the sides; and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place.
It's necessary that you keep this comparison in mind. Perhaps God will be pleased to let me use it to explain something to you about the favors he is happy to grant souls and the differences between these favors. I shall explain them according to what I have understood as possible. For it is impossible that anyone understand them all, since there are many; how much more so for someone as wretched as I. It will be a great consolation when the Lord grants them to you if you know that they are possible; and for anyone to whom he doesn't, it will be a great consolation to praise his wonderful goodness. Just as it doesn't do us any harm to reflect on the things there are in heaven and what the blessed enjoy -- but, rather, we rejoice and strive to attain what they enjoy -- it doesn't do us any harm to see that it is possible in this exile for so great a God to commune with such foul-smelling worms; and, on seeing this, come to love a goodness so perfect and a mercy so immeasurable. I hold as certain that anyone who might be harmed by knowing that God can grant this favor in this exile would be very much lacking in humility and love of neighbor. Otherwise, how could we fail to be happy that God grants these favors to our brother? His doing so is no impediment toward his granting them to us, and His Majesty can reveal his grandeurs to whomever he wants. Sometimes he does so merely to show forth his glory, as he said of the blind man whose sight he restored when his apostles asked him if the blindness resulted from the man's sins or those of his parents [John 9:23]. Hence, he doesn't grant them because the sanctity of the recipients is greater than that of those who don't receive them, but so that his glory may be known, as we see in St. Paul and the Magdalene, and that we might praise him for his work in creatures.
One could say that these favors seem to be impossible and that it is good not to scandalize the weak. Less is lost when the weak do not believe in them than when the favors fail to benefit those to whom God grants them; and these latter will be delighted and awakened through these favors to a greater love of him who grants so many gifts and whose power and majesty are so great. Moreover, I know I am speaking to those for whom this danger does not exist, for they know and believe that God grants even greater signs of his love. I know that whoever does not believe in these favors will have no experience of them ...Teresa of Avila
Selections from The Interior Castle. Copyright © by Stephanie HarperCollins Spiritual Classics. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.