ABOUT The Interior Castle or The Mansions
In 1577, Teresa of Ávila, a Carmelite nun in Ávila, Spain, was asked by her superiors to write a spiritual guide for her Carmelite sisters. The result, The Interior Castle (or The Mansions), is now among the most widely read and studied Christian mystical texts.
But it is challenging reading - it is not uncommon to find more than forty words in a sentence and single paragraphs that fill two pages. This paraphrased version stays true to the text, but the straightforward structure and contemporary word choices make it easier to understand. A sample text below illustrates how this modern update improves understanding of Teresa’s teachings.
Identifying the soul as a castle, Teresa outlines seven “Mansions” within the castle, illustrating the beauty and capacity of our soul. The descriptions of the first three Mansions are brief and explain how our soul benefits from spiritual effort and the help of God’s grace. But Teresa focuses on helping us understand the remaining Mansions, where the inward journey deepens. Her instruction helps us understand suffering and how to discern communication from God.
Teresa’s insights come from her mystical journey and that of others, grounded in her understanding of Scripture. Her instructions, like her life, find balance in humility, contemplation, and passionate, active servanthood. A prolific writer, Teresa also was a reformer who founded numerous convents throughout Spain. She must have understood the risk of producing a book exploring mystical topics in the shadow of the Reformation and the Spanish Inquisition. Four centuries later, Teresa was recognized as one of the few women “doctors” of the Catholic Church – a title given to Catholic saints who made significant contributions to theology or doctrine.
Before you begin the book, read a summary of what The Interior Castle is about to help you better understand some of the abstract ideas.
MODERN UPDATE of The Interior Castle
Learn why a modern update improves understanding of The Interior Castle while maintaining Teresa's meaning and understand the difference between other versions of The Interior Castle.
This sample text demonstrates the difference between an original translations and the modern update:
Translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook 1921
Our Lord asks but two things of us: love, for Him and for our neighbour: these are what we must strive to obtain. If we practise both these virtues perfectly we shall be doing His will and so shall be united to Him. But, as I said, we are very far from obeying and serving our great Master perfectly in these two matters: may His Majesty give us the grace to merit union with Him; it is in our power to gain it if we will. I think the most certain sign that we keep these two commandments is that we have a genuine love for others. We cannot know whether we love God although there may be strong reasons for thinking so, but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbour or no. Be sure that in proportion as you advance in fraternal charity, you are increasing in your love of God, for His Majesty bears so tender an affection for us that I cannot doubt He will repay our love for others by augmenting, in a thousand different ways, that which we bear for Him. We should watch most carefully over ourselves in this matter, for if we are faultless on this point we have done all. I believe human nature is so evil that we could not feel a perfect charity for our neighbour unless it were rooted in the love of God.
In this most important matter, sisters, we should be most vigilant in little things, taking no notice of the great works we plan during prayer which we imagine that we would perform for other people, even perhaps for the sake of saving a single soul. If our actions afterwards belie these grand schemes, there is no reason to imagine that we should do anything of the sort. I say the same of humility and the other virtues. The devil’s wiles are many; he would turn hell upside down a thousand times to make us think ourselves better than we are. He has good reason for it, for such fancies are most injurious; sham virtues springing from this root are always accompanied by a vainglory never found in those of divine origin, which are free from pride.
Our Lord asked only two things from us: to love Him and to love our neighbor. This is what we should be working toward. If we are obedient to both these commands, then we are united with His will. But as I have said, we are very far from obeying and serving our Master perfectly in these two areas. May His Majesty give us the grace to reach this union, as it is within our power if we wish.
Love your Neighbor
I think the most important indication that we are keeping these two commandments is if we have a genuine love for others. It is hard for us to know how well we love God, even if we think we have strong evidence. But there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbor.
Certainly, as you increase your love for others, you increase your love for God. His Majesty loves us so much that I am sure He will repay our love for others by increasing our love for Him in a thousand different ways.
It is important for us to walk with careful attention to how we are loving our neighbor, for if we practice this perfectly, we have done everything. But because our nature is bad, we can never have perfect love for our neighbor if that love does not have its roots in the love of God.
Since this is so important, sisters, let us get to know every detail about ourselves better and better. Do not pay attention to the great works we plan during prayer that imagine wonders we perform for others or souls we save. These plans will never happen if we do not act, so why are you so certain you will do them?
The devil is cunning. He will run a thousand times around hell if by doing so he can make us believe we have humility or virtue. These delusions are very harmful. When we have imaginary virtue accompanied by vanity, they come from the devil. Plans that God gives are free from self-importance and pride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M.B. Anderson is an avid reader of classic texts. In her professional career she simplifies complex technical topics to help businesses develop strategy. She decided to update Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle in the course of her own desire to delve deep into the wisdom of this remarkable teacher.