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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 September 2002
"Interior Castle" is St. Theresa of Avila's classical guide to spiritual perfection. Although written to her Sixteenth Century sisters in the Carmelite order, it is readily understandable by contemporary readers.
The premise behind the book is that the road to spiritual perfection consists of passage through seven mansions. The last mansion is the Interior Castle in which God dwells. In each succeeding mansion the soul reaches a higher level of sanctity and the attachment to the world decreases as the soul comes closer to God.
Although some portions of the book describe experiences beyond the expectations of modern readers, this work still provides us all with an insight into a way to draw closer to God. While this book does not provide us with the only route to Heaven, I recommend it to all who are searching for guidance in their spiritual journey
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HALL OF FAMEon 11 April 2005
Teresa of Avila is one of the more remarkable figures in the history of Christianity. Living in a perilous time, when the Roman Catholic church was suspicious of anything that might develop into Protestant heresies and schisms, she walked a fine line between obedience to the political structure and obedience to God. It is often the case that mystics and spiritual giants are at odds with church structures of the day (this is rather ecumenical, reaching across Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant lines).
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.
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on 10 April 2015
I have been reading this book slowly. Having regarded spirituality as a form of pietist escapism and regarding the contemporary trend towards spirituality with great suspicion, I have read very little in this area beyond 'The Cloud of Unknowing' which I read too quickly and gained nothing from and some stuff by Thomas a Kempis when I was a teenager and which appealed to me greatly at the time. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see how perceptive Teresa was on many things and I have to conclude that, far from being escapist, there is probably much in 'spiritual writing' that brings us more closely in touch with those parts of our inner selves which we ignore and repress and avoid by overmuch business. Too much 'being' and not enough 'doing' is wrong but so is the other way round.

In the first mansion, Teresa testifies to incarnation and to the importance of 'ordinary people'. That God condescends to dwell in our innermost being affirms our importance because he loves us. We should not look down on those who are not overtly religious - he has different gifts for us all because we ore individuals with differing needs and abilities. I had thought that spiritual types tended to regard themselves as special and I now learn that they do so, but that is because all people are special, in different ways. There is much in the charismatic movement that can go off when the twice-born despise the others and this is a good corrective.

I like Teresa's recogition that prayer changes at different times of life and according to our daily rhythm. Thus I need to be more reflective in term-time as an oasis of stillness amidst busy-ness but also to extend the time spent on it at weekends and in the holidays so as to enlarge my 'space' and make it more accessible when there is less time.

I like Teresa's belief that God's grace seeks us but we can block reception of it by sin - not little acts so much as a way of being. Far from moralising, it seems to me that Teresa is saying something about what it means to become fully human. There s a time when 'becoming human' was a cliche I didn't really understand but I think it is beginning to make sense now. That part of our stunting of our spiritual growth is to be tied to cares in this world still strikes me as escapist but inasmuch as over-busy-ness distorts our humanity (the protestant work ethic for example) I see that she has an important message for this century. A routine spiritual life impresses others but we are often justifying ourselves by religiosity. She says that God will take care of the religious types.

True - I could attend a thousand daily masses with very little feeling, could exalt the importance of routine, and yet be pulled up short by one phrase in the liturgy that challenges my seeking for security in ritualised religiosity.

Making a virtue out of a well-ordered, calculated lifestyle is something I am prone to do. It seems silly to make mistakes and to forget appointments on purpose but I need to free myself from that part of routine which is obssessive rather than enabling. Before reading Teresa, I never would have thought of routine living as a matter for self-examination. The danger in tinkering with the routine once aware of its dangers is that, in Teresa's imagery in the third mansion, we dig a small hole and see light but then the routine returns in a reordered way and the earth collapses in on us again.

By the fourth mansion I begin to flounder because it is getting beyond me. I recognise much about myself and other people in the previous pages but talk of the dark night of the soul becomes 'advanced'. Aridity, deadness in prayer I understated - coupled with doctrinal doubt, with wondering whether God exists anyway, it was not surprising that I used to go for months through barren rituals which, but for anglo-catholic talk of objective prayer I would have given up years ago, but to mistake this for a dark night experience is, of course, wrong, though much of Teresa' counsel for this situation applies in aridity - to keep on with prayer in a disciplined way and ask God for what he is to give and yet -Act worry if feelings and consolations are lacking - he knows best. The seed can grow so secretly inside us that even we do not become aware of it. The testis in what those who live with us can see. Too true - those in convents are bound to know this more than anyone else. On spiritual cloud nines in my youth I was an arrogant so and so; what love and patience those I looked down on had towards me: The seed growing secretly in us is the way in which the kingdom comes. Whatever grand schemes we have to change the world, if the desire is not rooted in the hearts and wills of ordinary men and women, our schemes will collapse as did the Tower of Babel. I rebel against this motion, afraid that it is a cop-out from Christian involvement in politics. The spirituality trend of this decade is fortunately arriving hand in hand with liberation theology becoming more well-known and narrative theology. Maybe the Spirit is correcting imbalances but not by an imbalance on the opposite side but by different movements of thought hitting a complacent, sick Western church.

I like Teresa's imagery of the people in the grounds of the castle but hearing the call of the one within - reapplied as a metaphor of the worker priest, indeed of all those lay people who seek to discern God in the secular world but need to retreat to the citadel of the church - albeit finding it less of a retreat and more of a journey into themselves where they encounter more 'worms', all this seems very true.

The image of the silk worm emerging into a butterfly and its taking nourishment from a leaf while seemingly dead - in the 5th mansion - however much the biology is inept, also makes sense. The routine (which I hitherto identified as potentially harmful) has its uses as a discipline, as a means to an end rather than the end itself. The image also goes some way to allay the fears of what we might become - we were scared of being born and leaving the womb's security and we are surely afraid of where the Spirit might lead us next and of the ultimate growth which is death itself. Whether we have sufficiently died to ourselves to have developed the wings is a better way of looking at judgement than is the heaven and hell thing.

The stuff on visions seems to me to be esoteric but I have read enough material from the Religious Experience Research Unit to convine me that visions are far more commonplace in human experience than many of us realise.

So, there is much that is good here and much that I am not mature enough to understand.
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on 10 April 2015
I have been reading this book slowly. Having regarded spirituality as a form of pietist escapism and regarding the contemporary trend towards spirituality with great suspicion, I have read very little in this area beyond 'The Cloud of Unknowing' which I read too quickly and gained nothing from and some stuff by Thomas a Kempis when I was a teenager and which appealed to me greatly at the time. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see how perceptive Teresa was on many things and I have to conclude that, far from being escapist, there is probably much in 'spiritual writing' that brings us more closely in touch with those parts of our inner selves which we ignore and repress and avoid by overmuch business. Too much 'being' and not enough 'doing' is wrong but so is the other way round.

In the first mansion, Teresa testifies to incarnation and to the importance of 'ordinary people'. That God condescends to dwell in our innermost being affirms our importance because he loves us. We should not look down on those who are not overtly religious - he has different gifts for us all because we ore individuals with differing needs and abilities. I had thought that spiritual types tended to regard themselves as special and I now learn that they do so, but that is because all people are special, in different ways. There is much in the charismatic movement that can go off when the twice-born despise the others and this is a good corrective.

I like Teresa's recogition that prayer changes at different times of life and according to our daily rhythm. Thus I need to be more reflective in term-time as an oasis of stillness amidst busy-ness but also to extend the time spent on it at weekends and in the holidays so as to enlarge my 'space' and make it more accessible when there is less time.

I like Teresa's belief that God's grace seeks us but we can block reception of it by sin - not little acts so much as a way of being. Far from moralising, it seems to me that Teresa is saying something about what it means to become fully human. There s a time when 'becoming human' was a cliche I didn't really understand but I think it is beginning to make sense now. That part of our stunting of our spiritual growth is to be tied to cares in this world still strikes me as escapist but inasmuch as over-busy-ness distorts our humanity (the protestant work ethic for example) I see that she has an important message for this century. A routine spiritual life impresses others but we are often justifying ourselves by religiosity. She says that God will take care of the religious types.

True - I could attend a thousand daily masses with very little feeling, could exalt the importance of routine, and yet be pulled up short by one phrase in the liturgy that challenges my seeking for security in ritualised religiosity.

Making a virtue out of a well-ordered, calculated lifestyle is something I am prone to do. It seems silly to make mistakes and to forget appointments on purpose but I need to free myself from that part of routine which is obssessive rather than enabling. Before reading Teresa, I never would have thought of routine living as a matter for self-examination. The danger in tinkering with the routine once aware of its dangers is that, in Teresa's imagery in the third mansion, we dig a small hole and see light but then the routine returns in a reordered way and the earth collapses in on us again.

By the fourth mansion I begin to flounder because it is getting beyond me. I recognise much about myself and other people in the previous pages but talk of the dark night of the soul becomes 'advanced'. Aridity, deadness in prayer I understated - coupled with doctrinal doubt, with wondering whether God exists anyway, it was not surprising that I used to go for months through barren rituals which, but for anglo-catholic talk of objective prayer I would have given up years ago, but to mistake this for a dark night experience is, of course, wrong, though much of Teresa' counsel for this situation applies in aridity - to keep on with prayer in a disciplined way and ask God for what he is to give and yet -Act worry if feelings and consolations are lacking - he knows best. The seed can grow so secretly inside us that even we do not become aware of it. The testis in what those who live with us can see. Too true - those in convents are bound to know this more than anyone else. On spiritual cloud nines in my youth I was an arrogant so and so; what love and patience those I looked down on had towards me: The seed growing secretly in us is the way in which the kingdom comes. Whatever grand schemes we have to change the world, if the desire is not rooted in the hearts and wills of ordinary men and women, our schemes will collapse as did the Tower of Babel. I rebel against this motion, afraid that it is a cop-out from Christian involvement in politics. The spirituality trend of this decade is fortunately arriving hand in hand with liberation theology becoming more well-known and narrative theology. Maybe the Spirit is correcting imbalances but not by an imbalance on the opposite side but by different movements of thought hitting a complacent, sick Western church.

I like Teresa's imagery of the people in the grounds of the castle but hearing the call of the one within - reapplied as a metaphor of the worker priest, indeed of all those lay people who seek to discern God in the secular world but need to retreat to the citadel of the church - albeit finding it less of a retreat and more of a journey into themselves where they encounter more 'worms', all this seems very true.

The image of the silk worm emerging into a butterfly and its taking nourishment from a leaf while seemingly dead - in the 5th mansion - however much the biology is inept, also makes sense. The routine (which I hitherto identified as potentially harmful) has its uses as a discipline, as a means to an end rather than the end itself. The image also goes some way to allay the fears of what we might become - we were scared of being born and leaving the womb's security and we are surely afraid of where the Spirit might lead us next and of the ultimate growth which is death itself. Whether we have sufficiently died to ourselves to have developed the wings is a better way of looking at judgement than is the heaven and hell thing.

The stuff on visions seems to me to be esoteric but I have read enough material from the Religious Experience Research Unit to convine me that visions are far more commonplace in human experience than many of us realise.

So, there is much that is good here and much that I am not mature enough to understand.
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on 21 December 2012
St Teresa was a great lover of God and shows that inner silence is one of the ways to God. Again like St John of the Cross it might be for those interested in Carmelite spirituality because if you were not religious you might not understand that true happiness lies with God within the silence of your soul and St Teresa shows the different degrees the soul has to reach to get to that state. I like it because I feel St Teresa is helping me on my journey to God.
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HALL OF FAMEon 6 January 2006
Teresa of Avila is one of the more remarkable figures in the history of Christianity. Living in a perilous time, when the Roman Catholic church was suspicious of anything that might develop into Protestant heresies and schisms, she walked a fine line between obedience to the political structure and obedience to God. It is often the case that mystics and spiritual giants are at odds with church structures of the day (this is rather ecumenical, reaching across Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant lines).
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.
This is an interesting translation by Starr, from which to explore the depths of Teresa's visions.
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on 16 October 2003
In my humble opinion the best book on mysticism and the most readable ever written. Teresa herself said that God can give the soul three great mystical gifts. the gift of prayer itself, the gift to understand it and the gift to explain it to others. God gave her these gifts superlatively . She is down to earth, humerous and (this can be said for very few mystics) eminently easy to understand). You will read this again and again.
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on 1 December 1998
Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Avila, is one of the saint's writings that is filled with spiritual insight, charm, and breathtaking closeness to God. Her castle is the God within, and there are outward mansions that must be penetrated to get to this inner treasure. Each mansion is a deepening of one's knowledge of God, and a step further away from one's capture by externality and the world. She describes these inward steps, and leads one onward to union with God (or God carries one onward - at first it is our efforts, than it is God's). Beautiful and illuminating.
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on 10 April 2015
I have been reading this book slowly. Having regarded spirituality as a form of pietist escapism and regarding the contemporary trend towards spirituality with great suspicion, I have read very little in this area beyond 'The Cloud of Unknowing' which I read too quickly and gained nothing from and some stuff by Thomas a Kempis when I was a teenager and which appealed to me greatly at the time. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see how perceptive Teresa was on many things and I have to conclude that, far from being escapist, there is probably much in 'spiritual writing' that brings us more closely in touch with those parts of our inner selves which we ignore and repress and avoid by overmuch business. Too much 'being' and not enough 'doing' is wrong but so is the other way round.

In the first mansion, Teresa testifies to incarnation and to the importance of 'ordinary people'. That God condescends to dwell in our innermost being affirms our importance because he loves us. We should not look down on those who are not overtly religious - he has different gifts for us all because we ore individuals with differing needs and abilities. I had thought that spiritual types tended to regard themselves as special and I now learn that they do so, but that is because all people are special, in different ways. There is much in the charismatic movement that can go off when the twice-born despise the others and this is a good corrective.

I like Teresa's recogition that prayer changes at different times of life and according to our daily rhythm. Thus I need to be more reflective in term-time as an oasis of stillness amidst busy-ness but also to extend the time spent on it at weekends and in the holidays so as to enlarge my 'space' and make it more accessible when there is less time.

I like Teresa's belief that God's grace seeks us but we can block reception of it by sin - not little acts so much as a way of being. Far from moralising, it seems to me that Teresa is saying something about what it means to become fully human. There s a time when 'becoming human' was a cliche I didn't really understand but I think it is beginning to make sense now. That part of our stunting of our spiritual growth is to be tied to cares in this world still strikes me as escapist but inasmuch as over-busy-ness distorts our humanity (the protestant work ethic for example) I see that she has an important message for this century. A routine spiritual life impresses others but we are often justifying ourselves by religiosity. She says that God will take care of the religious types.

True - I could attend a thousand daily masses with very little feeling, could exalt the importance of routine, and yet be pulled up short by one phrase in the liturgy that challenges my seeking for security in ritualised religiosity.

Making a virtue out of a well-ordered, calculated lifestyle is something I am prone to do. It seems silly to make mistakes and to forget appointments on purpose but I need to free myself from that part of routine which is obssessive rather than enabling. Before reading Teresa, I never would have thought of routine living as a matter for self-examination. The danger in tinkering with the routine once aware of its dangers is that, in Teresa's imagery in the third mansion, we dig a small hole and see light but then the routine returns in a reordered way and the earth collapses in on us again.

By the fourth mansion I begin to flounder because it is getting beyond me. I recognise much about myself and other people in the previous pages but talk of the dark night of the soul becomes 'advanced'. Aridity, deadness in prayer I understated - coupled with doctrinal doubt, with wondering whether God exists anyway, it was not surprising that I used to go for months through barren rituals which, but for anglo-catholic talk of objective prayer I would have given up years ago, but to mistake this for a dark night experience is, of course, wrong, though much of Teresa' counsel for this situation applies in aridity - to keep on with prayer in a disciplined way and ask God for what he is to give and yet -Act worry if feelings and consolations are lacking - he knows best. The seed can grow so secretly inside us that even we do not become aware of it. The testis in what those who live with us can see. Too true - those in convents are bound to know this more than anyone else. On spiritual cloud nines in my youth I was an arrogant so and so; what love and patience those I looked down on had towards me: The seed growing secretly in us is the way in which the kingdom comes. Whatever grand schemes we have to change the world, if the desire is not rooted in the hearts and wills of ordinary men and women, our schemes will collapse as did the Tower of Babel. I rebel against this motion, afraid that it is a cop-out from Christian involvement in politics. The spirituality trend of this decade is fortunately arriving hand in hand with liberation theology becoming more well-known and narrative theology. Maybe the Spirit is correcting imbalances but not by an imbalance on the opposite side but by different movements of thought hitting a complacent, sick Western church.

I like Teresa's imagery of the people in the grounds of the castle but hearing the call of the one within - reapplied as a metaphor of the worker priest, indeed of all those lay people who seek to discern God in the secular world but need to retreat to the citadel of the church - albeit finding it less of a retreat and more of a journey into themselves where they encounter more 'worms', all this seems very true.

The image of the silk worm emerging into a butterfly and its taking nourishment from a leaf while seemingly dead - in the 5th mansion - however much the biology is inept, also makes sense. The routine (which I hitherto identified as potentially harmful) has its uses as a discipline, as a means to an end rather than the end itself. The image also goes some way to allay the fears of what we might become - we were scared of being born and leaving the womb's security and we are surely afraid of where the Spirit might lead us next and of the ultimate growth which is death itself. Whether we have sufficiently died to ourselves to have developed the wings is a better way of looking at judgement than is the heaven and hell thing.

The stuff on visions seems to me to be esoteric but I have read enough material from the Religious Experience Research Unit to convine me that visions are far more commonplace in human experience than many of us realise.

So, there is much that is good here and much that I am not mature enough to understand.
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on 25 April 2013
I was recommended to read this book of which, I must admit, I had never heard. It is an engaging work delving into the deeper meanings of faith. Not necessarily an easy read, but stay with it. It is rewarding.
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