of Avila (1515- 1582)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
of Avila (1515- 1582)
By St Teresa of Avila
In which there are Two Chapters.
Treats of the beauty and dignity of our souls; makes a comparison by the help of which this may be understood; describes the benefit which comes from understanding it and being aware of the favours which we receive from God; and shows how the door of this castle is prayer.
While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me, since I could find nothing to say and had no idea how to begin to carry out the obligation laid upon me by obedience, a thought occurred to me which I will now set down, in order to have some foundation on which to build.
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. Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous man is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?
I can find nothing with which to compare the
great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. In
fact, however acute our intellects may be, they will
no more be able to attain to a comprehension of this
than to an understanding of God; for, as He Himself
says, He created us in His image and likeness.
Now if this is so -- and it is -- there is no point
in our fatiguing ourselves by attempting to
comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it
is His creature, and there is therefore as much
difference between it and God as between creature and
Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is
made in His image means that we can hardly form any
conception of the soul's great dignity and
Though that is great stupidity,
our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt
to discover what we are, and only know that we are
living in these bodies, and have a vague idea,
because we have heard it and because our Faith tells
us so, that we possess souls. As to what good
qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells
within them, or how precious they are -- those are
things which we seldom consider and so we trouble
little about carefully preserving the soul's beauty.
All our interest is centred in the rough setting of
the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle --
that is to say, in these bodies of ours.
If the Lord grants you these favours, it will be a great consolation to you to know that such things are possible; and, if you never receive any, you can still praise His great goodness. For, as it does us no harm to think of the things laid up for us in Heaven, and of the joys of the blessed, but rather makes us rejoice and strive to attain those joys ourselves, just so it will do us no harm to find that it is possible in this our exile for so great a God to commune with such malodorous worms, and to love Him for His great goodness and boundless mercy.
I am sure that anyone who finds it harmful to realize that it is possible for God to grant such favours during this our exile must be greatly lacking in humility and in love of his neighbour; for otherwise how could we help rejoicing that God should grant these favours to one of our brethren when this in no way hinders Him from granting them to ourselves, and that His Majesty should bestow an understanding of His greatness upon anyone soever? Sometimes He will do this only to manifest His power, as He said of the blind man to whom He gave his sight, when the Apostles asked Him if he were suffering for his own sins or for the sins of his parents.
He grants these favours, then,
not because those who receive them are holier than
those who do not, but in order that His greatness may
be made known, as we see in the case of Saint Paul
and the Magdalen, and in order that we may praise Him
in His creatures.
accustomed have they grown to living all the time
with the reptiles and other creatures to be found in
the outer court of the castle that they have almost
become like them; and although by nature they are so
richly endowed as to have the power of holding
converse with none other than God Himself, there is
nothing that can be done for them. Unless they strive
to realize their miserable condition and to remedy
it, they will be turned into pillars of salt for not
looking within themselves, just as Lot's wife was
because she looked back.
True, it is sometimes possible to pray
without paying heed to these things, but that is only
because they have been thought about previously; if a
man is in the habit of speaking to God's Majesty as
he would speak to his slave, and never wonders if he
is expressing himself properly, but merely utters the
words that come to his lips because he has learned
them by heart through constant repetition, I do not
call that prayer at all -- and God grant no Christian
may ever speak to Him so! At any rate, sisters, I
hope in God that none of you will, for we are
accustomed here to talk about interior matters, and
that is a good way of keeping oneself from falling
into such animal-like habits.
These are very much absorbed in worldly affairs; but their desires are good; sometimes, though infrequently, they commend themselves to Our Lord; and they think about the state of their souls, though not very carefully. Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also.
From time to time,
however, they shake their minds free of them and it
is a great thing that they should know themselves
well enough to realize that they are not going the
right way to reach the castle door. Eventually they
enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so
many reptiles get in with them that they are unable
to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any
peace within it. Still, they have done a good deal by
entering at all.