"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, Part 3

I'm finally getting back to posting on The Interior Castle.  Here were my observations for the fourth and fifth mansions from the Goodreads Catholic Thought book club discussions on St. Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle.

You can read Part 1, here.  
You can read Part 2, here.

You can also read The Interior Castle on line, here.

Fourth Mansion

As couple of people have mentioned already, the fourth mansion starts a different mode in the journey for Theresa.  One of the things I look for when I read is a structure to the work.  The first three mansions as I see it comprise a unit, what I labeled in my book as the human effort mode.  Each mansion in the first three requires an ongoing and increasingly greater effort on the part of the individual to progress.  Each mansion then is an incremental gradation toward spiritual fulfillment.  Once we get to the fourth mansion all human effort has been maximized and further progress requires divine grace.  Progress from here can only be as a result of God’s increasing his grace to the individual.  From mansions four onward I called this unit the supernatural assisted mode, though one might possibly split off the seventh mansion into its own unit.  I need to think a little more on that last point.  Early in the first chapter she says:

“It seems that, in order to reach these Mansions, one must have lived for a long time in the others; as a rule one must have been in those which we have just described, but there is no infallible rule about it, as you must often have heard, for the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and, as the gifts are His own, this is doing no injustice to anyone.”

So in order to get to the fourth mansion, you would have needed to labor through the first three for quite a while.  And at some point it seems God wills you into the fourth. 

“It seems to me that the feelings which come to us from Divine things are as purely natural as these, except that their source is nobler, although these worldly joys are in no way bad. To put it briefly, worldly joys have their source in our own nature and end in God, whereas spiritual consolations have their source in God, but we experience them in a natural way and enjoy them as much as we enjoy those I have already mentioned, and indeed much more. Oh, Jesus! How I wish I could make myself clear about this! For I think I can see a very marked difference between these two things and yet I am not clever enough to make my meaning plain: may the Lord explain it for me!”

She then tells us about when she first reached the fourth mansion:

“My own experience of this state -- I mean of these favours and this sweetness in meditation -- was that, if I began to weep over the Passion, I could not stop until I had a splitting headache; and the same thing happened when I wept for my sins. This was a great grace granted me by Our Lord, and I will not for the moment examine each of these favours and decide which is the better of the two; I wish, however, that I could explain the difference between them. In the state I am now describing, the tears and longings sometimes arise partly from our nature and from the state of preparedness we are in; but nevertheless, as I have said, they eventually lead one to God. And this is an experience to be greatly prized, provided the soul be humble, and can understand that it does not make it any the more virtuous; for it is impossible to be sure that these feelings are effects of love, and, even so, they are a gift of God.”

I can’t say I understand it.  The headache—and later in the chapter she describes the noises in her head as a “brimming river”—and the weeping over the Passion signals a new state.  One reaches it through ”preparedness,” of which I assume are the labors of the first three mansions and through God’s gift.

Now if anyone thinks I’m off here, please correct me.  I don’t want to sound like I’m confident in my reading.  I’m not.

As Kerstin mentioned above, there is a lot of water and river metaphor in this mansion.  In chapter two of the fourth mansion she refers to two fountains, each filling a basin. 

“To understand it better, let us suppose that we are looking at two fountains, the basins of which can be filled with water. There are certain spiritual things which I can find no way of explaining more aptly than by this element of water; for, as I am very ignorant, and my wits give me no help, and I am so fond of this element, I have observed it more attentively than anything else. In all the things that have been created by so great and wise a God there must be many secrets by which we can profit, and those who understand them do profit by them, although I believe that in every little thing created by God there is more than we realize, even in so small a thing as a tiny ant.

These two large basins can be filled with water in different ways: the water in the one comes from a long distance, by means of numerous conduits and through human skill; but the other has been constructed at the very source of the water and fills without making any noise. If the flow of water is abundant, as in the case we are speaking of, a great stream still runs from it after it has been filled; no skill is necessary here, and no conduits have to be made, for the water is flowing all the time. The difference between this and the carrying of the water by means of conduits is, I think, as follows. The latter corresponds to the spiritual sweetness which, as I say, is produced by meditation. It reaches us by way of the thoughts; we meditate upon created things and fatigue the understanding; and when at last, by means of our own efforts, it comes, the satisfaction which it brings to the soul fills the basin, but in doing so makes a noise, as I have said.

To the other fountain the water comes direct from its source, which is God, and, when it is His Majesty's will and He is pleased to grant us some supernatural favour, its coming is accompanied by the greatest peace and quietness and sweetness within ourselves -- I cannot say where it arises or how. And that content and delight are not felt, as earthly delights are felt, in the heart -- I mean not at the outset, for later the basin becomes completely filled, and then this water begins to overflow all the Mansions and faculties, until it reaches the body. It is for that reason that I said it has its source in God and ends in ourselves -- for it is certain, and anyone will know this who has experienced it, that the whole of the outer man enjoys this consolation and sweetness.”

Now let me see if I get this straight, and [lease correct me if you think I’m wrong.  The first fountain, the one where the water comes from aqueducts, that is

Before we ended the fourth mansion I wanted to touch on the last chapter.  Chapter three of the fourth mansion is also important and perhaps we should identify a couple of points.  Here’s the point about seeking God inside oneself:

“I do not think I have ever explained this before as clearly as here. When we are seeking God within ourselves (where He is found more effectively and more profitably than in the creatures, to quote Saint Augustine, who, after having sought Him in many places, found Him within) it is a great help if God grants us this favour. Do not suppose that the understanding can attain to Him, merely by trying to think of Him as within the soul, or the imagination, by picturing Him as there. This is a good habit and an excellent kind of meditation, for it is founded upon a truth -- namely, that God is within us. But it is not the kind of prayer that I have in mind, for anyone (with the help of the Lord, you understand) can practise it for himself. What I am describing is quite different. These people are sometimes in the castle before they have begun to think about God at all. I cannot say where they entered it or how they heard their Shepherd's call: it was certainly not with their ears, for outwardly such a call is not audible. They become markedly conscious that they are gradually retiring within themselves; anyone who experiences this will discover what I mean: I cannot explain it better. I think I have read that they are like a hedgehog or a tortoise withdrawing into itself; and whoever wrote that must have understood it well. These creatures, however, enter within themselves whenever they like; whereas with us it is not a question of our will -- it happens only when God is pleased to grant us this favour. For my own part, I believe that, when His Majesty grants it, He does so to people who are already leaving the things of the world. I do not mean that people who are married must actually leave the world -- they can do so only in desire: His call to them is a special one and aims at making them intent upon interior things. I believe, however, that if we wish to give His Majesty free course, He will grant more than this to those whom He is beginning to call still higher.”

Again she makes it very clear that you can’t get to the God inside you on your own; it has to be granted.  Further she distinguishes between the Prayer of Quiet, which the prayer directly from the source, and the Prayer of Recollection, which is the one that one that comes through aquaducts.

“As I understand it, the soul whom the Lord has been pleased to lead into this Mansion will do best to act as I have said. Let it try, without forcing itself or causing any turmoil, to put a stop to all discursive reasoning, yet not to suspend the understanding, nor to cease from all thought, though it is well for it to remember that it is in God's presence and Who this God is. If feeling this should lead it into a state of absorption, well and good; but it should not try to understand what this state is, because that is a gift bestowed upon the will. The will, then, should be left to enjoy it, and should not labour except for uttering a few loving words, for although in such a case one may not be striving to cease from thought, such cessation often comes, though for a very short time.

I have explained elsewhere the reason why this occurs in this kind of prayer (I am referring to the kind which I began to explain in this Mansion). With it I have included this Prayer of Recollection which ought to have been described first, for it comes far below the consolations of God already mentioned, and is indeed the first step towards attaining them. For in the Prayer of Recollection it is unnecessary to abandon meditation and the activities of the understanding. When, instead of coming through conduits, the water springs directly from its source, the understanding checks its activity, or rather the activity is checked for it when it finds it cannot understand what it desires, and thus it roams about all over the place, like a demented creature, and can settle down to nothing. The will is fixed so firmly upon its God that this disturbed condition of the understanding causes it great distress; but it must not take any notice of this, for if it does so it will lose a great part of what it is enjoying; it must forget about it, and abandon itself into the arms of love, and His Majesty will teach it what to do next; almost its whole work is to realize its unworthiness to receive such great good and to occupy itself in thanksgiving.”

I grant you it is very confusing.  Unfortunately St. Theresa jumps around and refers back to previous works and assumes we know them.  So if I have correctly unwound her logic here, the water, which signifies consolations I think, from the prayer of recollection fills together from that of the Prayer of Quiet, all of which over flows the basin and infuses the soul.  If I have this wrong, someone please correct me.

Fifth Mansion

There are a few sections in the Fifth Mansion that are of note.  In the second paragraph of the first chapter, she says:

“So I must say here that, though all of us who wear this sacred habit of Carmel are called to prayer and contemplation -- because that was the first principle of our Order and because we are descendent upon the line of those holy Fathers of ours from Mount Carmel who sought this treasure, this precious pearl of which we speak, in such great solitude and with such contempt for the world -- few of us prepare ourselves for the Lord to reveal it to us. As far as externals are concerned, we are on the right road to attaining the essential virtues; but we shall need to do a very great deal before we can attain to this higher state and we must on no account be careless. So let us pause here, my sisters, and beg the Lord that, since to some extent it is possible for us to enjoy Heaven upon earth, He will grant us His help so that it will not be our fault if we miss anything may He also show us the road and give strength to our souls so that we may dig until we find this hidden treasure, since it is quite true that we have it within ourselves. This I should like to explain if the Lord is pleased to give me the knowledge.”

So since God graces those to enter beyond the fourth mansion, it still will require a lot of work to go beyond, and there is still the danger that one might regress.  The soul in the fifth mansion goes beyond the dream-like state of the fourth:

“Do not think it is a state, like the last, in which we dream; I say "dream", because the soul seems to be, as it were, drowsy, so that it neither seems asleep nor feels awake. Here we are all asleep, and fast asleep, to the things of the world, and to ourselves (in fact, for the short time that the condition lasts, the soul is without consciousness and has no power to think, even though it may desire to do so). There is no need now for it to devise any method of suspending the thought. Even in loving, if it is able to love, it cannot understand how or what it is that it loves, nor what it would desire; in fact, it has completely died to the world so that it may live more fully in God. This is a delectable death, a snatching of the soul from all the activities which it can perform while it is in the body; a death full of delight, for, in order to come closer to God, the soul appears to have withdrawn so far from the body that I do not know if it has still life enough to be able to breathe. I have just been thinking about this and I believe it has not; or at least, if it still breathes, it does so without realizing it. The mind would like to occupy itself wholly in understanding something of what it feels, and, as it has not the strength to do this, it becomes so dumbfounded that, even if any consciousness remains to it, neither hands nor feet can move; as we commonly say of a person who has fallen into a swoon, it might be taken for dead. Oh, the secrets of God!  I should never weary of trying to describe them to you, if I thought I could do so successfully.”

And then at the end of the chapter she makes one of her most important points of all:

“I recall that, as you have heard, the Bride in the Songs says: "The King brought me" (or "put me", I think the words are) "into the cellar of wine." It does not say that she went. It also says that she was wandering about in all directions seeking her Beloved. This, as I understand it, is the cellar where the Lord is pleased to put us, when He wills and as He wills. But we cannot enter by any efforts of our own; His Majesty must put us right into the centre of our soul, and must enter there Himself; and, in order that He may the better show us His wonders, it is His pleasure that our will, which has entirely surrendered itself to Him, should have no part in this. Nor does He desire the door of the faculties and senses, which are all asleep, to be opened to Him; He will come into the centre of the soul without using a door, as He did when He came in to His disciples, and said Pax vobis, and when He left the sepulchre without removing the stone. Later on you will see how it is His Majesty's will that the soul should have fruition of Him in its very centre, but you will be able to realize that in the last Mansion much better than here.”

So Christ in this state puts one in the center of the soul, and, even more importantly, one finds Christ there.  Christ has entered the center of our soul, and we are there with Him.

Matthew mentioned the silkworm metaphor that's in the fifth mansion.  There is one more thing that should be highlighted here.  In the fourth chapter St. Theresa explains how the Prayer of Union will lead to the spiritual marriage:

"I want to explain to you still further what I think this Prayer of Union is; and I will make a comparison as well as my wit will allow. Afterwards we will say more about this little butterfly, which never rests -- though it is always fruitful in doing good to itself and to other souls -- because it has not yet found true repose. You will often have heard that God betrothes Himself to souls spiritually. Blessed be His mercy, which is pleased so to humble itself! I am only making a rough comparison, but I can find no other which will better explain what I am trying to say than the Sacrament of Matrimony. The two things work differently, for in this matter which we are treating there is nothing that is not spiritual: corporeal union is quite another thing and the spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage. It is all a union of love with love, and its operations are entirely pure, and so delicate and gentle that there is no way of describing them; but the Lord can make the soul very deeply conscious of them."

Marriage with God is not original with St. Theresa.  I know St. Catherine of Siena had a spiritual marriage with Christ, and somehow I seem to think I recall other saints claiming similar, though I'm not a hundred percent certain.  It seems to be an extension of allegory of God's love in the Song of Songs, the allegory being the physical love described represents spiritual love.  With St. Catherine it was an actual marriage, with an invisible wedding ring.  Do you think with St. Theresa it's just metaphor?  I can't quite tell.  She continues in the next paragraph to say the betrothal will occur later (I think it will be the seventh mansion)

"It seems to me that this union has not yet reached the point of spiritual betrothal, but is rather like what happens in our earthly life when two people are about to be betrothed. There is a discussion as to whether or no they are suited to each other and are both in love; and then they meet again so that they may learn to appreciate each other better. So it is here. The contract is already drawn up and the soul has been clearly given to understand the happiness of her lot and is determined to do all the will of her Spouse in every way in which she sees that she can give Him pleasure. His Majesty, Who will know quite well if this is the case, is pleased with the soul, so He grants her this mercy, desiring that she shall get to know Him better, and that, as we may say, they shall meet together, and He shall unite her with Himself.  We can compare this kind of union to a short meeting of that nature because it is over in the very shortest time. All giving and taking have now come to an end and in a secret way the soul sees Who this Spouse is that she is to take. By means of the senses and faculties she could not understand in a thousand years what she understands in this way in the briefest space of time."

I find it strange that she says "there is a discussion to see if they are suited for each other."  Who would tell God, I'm not suited for you?  LOL.  Very interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment