This summary is helpful to read before you begin the book.
When Saint Teresa of Ávila was asked by her superiors to write a spiritual guide for her sisters, she records that she didn’t know how to begin. She explains in the first chapter that she received a vision of the soul as a brilliant castle, and from this, she set her work. This quick summary of The Interior Castle will help you understand Teresa’s main ideas as she explains the “mansions” contained within the castle of our soul.
When you are selecting which translation of The Interior Castle to read, remember this was written in 1577 and contains difficult vocabulary and lengthy sentences and paragraphs. You may need a study guide in hand to fully understand the text, even though readers indicate recent translations are more straightforward. Our modern update is true to the text but simplified structure, word choices, and section breaks make it much easier to read and understand.
The Journey of the Soul
The Interior Castle is about our soul’s journey of transformation – if we choose to undertake it. The journey begins by responding to our inner promptings and the voice of God. In life, we can hope to ultimately dwell in the mansion where we are fully surrendered and at peace in the loving presence of God. Teresa says we can experience this peace even while we are on Earth.
As a great teacher does, Teresa uses illustrations to help us understand her meaning. She describes the journey’s beginning as a place where our soul is harassed and bitten by the creatures of our preoccupation with material possessions and reputation. The final mansion recalls the imagery of the Song of Solomon, where we, as the bride, are cherished and feel the peace and protection of perfect love.
The Soul as a Castle with many Mansions
Teresa uses the image of mansions within a castle to illustrate this journey. The castle represents our soul, and Teresa calls it beautiful and spacious. Our soul was created in the image of our beautiful God. Within the “castle” of our soul are many rooms and “mansions,” with the center and deepest mansion being the closest to God. Each mansion represents different ways we relate to God.
Teresa describes seven mansions in detail. She explains the spiritual experiences and prayers we may have in each mansion. Teresa says we will move between the various mansions throughout our lives, although there are some mansions that only God can invite us into. Teresa helps us understand how our surrender and humility are central to our soul’s progress. Humility comes from a proper understanding of all we receive from God.
Mansions One through Three
The description of the first few mansions is brief. Teresa explains how the soul benefits from our spiritual efforts in these mansions, including prayer, reading the Bible, and learning from spiritual people.
Teresa believes the soul has to overcome the most challenging part of the journey to get this far, but many go no further. Some souls may believe there is no further to go, and they can become comfortable in the third mansion. Teresa encourages believers to realize they are not on solid ground and may be susceptible to temptation in these mansions. She urges us to follow Jesus' call to "come follow me", and travel onward.
Mansions Four and Five
As the soul enters deeper mansions, it experiences God in mystical ways that are less attributable to our efforts, and more a result of God's initiative. Given this, Teresa spends time helping us discern when those experiences are indeed encounters with God and not our imagination or the devil.
In mansions four and five, Teresa uses the beautiful imagery of a stream of water and a silkworm’s cocoon to explain the nature of our nourishment, surrender, and rebirth. The soul is now “engaged” to the Lord. A shared commitment exists, but it has not yet been consummated by the trials ahead.
Mansions Six and Seven
Mansion six is described by Teresa in the most detail. The blessing of “spiritual marriage” in these final mansions comes at some cost. Teresa explains the suffering our soul may endure on earth and God’s spiritual favors that bring comfort, encouragement, and maturity so that we may become fearless. Mansion six describes many types of spiritual experiences in great detail so that we can identify and learn from them.
Teresa describes the final two mansions as connected – the door between them is wide open. Despite the challenges of the sixth mansion, the seventh mansion – peace in the felt presence of Christ – is always available. Teresa explains that the spiritual marriage of the final mansions produces the children of good works. Good works are not a required for God’s love, but they are the natural outflow of our love toward God.
Consider reviewing a summary of each mansion before or after you read each one. The summary will aid in your understanding and identify key questions Teresa is asking you to consider as she guides you deeper into your Interior Castle.