Ecstatic & Mystic Introduction to St. Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle

Ecstatic & Mystic 1--by Fr Joseph Tham, LC
Introduction to St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle

This first talk introduces the history and background of the life of St Theresa of Avila. Her story takes us to the 1500 during the period of counter-Reformation. She entered the convent with the Carmelites but felt the call to great holiness and prayer life and began a series of reform that becomes the Discalced Carmelites. She met St. John of the Cross during this period and progressed in her interior life. At the same time, she suffered persecution, exile, and inquisition during this period of her foundation. She was later canonized and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, the first woman to receive that title. Among her writings, we will focus on the Interior Castle which is the most complete exposition of her understanding of the interior union with God. She uses the image of a crystalline castle which one can enter and explore to describe this relationship. As one ventures deeper into the castle, she discovers different challenges and surprises in the spiritual life. The castle is divided into seven mansions or moradas which corresponds roughly to the stages of purgative, illuminative and unitive way. A brief description of the spiritual organism is given to understand the relationship between the faculties of the soul, the cardinal and theological virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This first talk begins with a description of the first morada which one enters after a conversion experience. The first stages of prayer are vocal prayers, with purification of the senses and the spirit.

In this second talk, we continue to explore the first three moradas or mansions of the Interior Castle of St. Theresa of Avila. She describes the process of purifications that is necessary for the beginners of prayer, with the need to actively purify the senses (sound, sight, touch, and taste) and the spiritual faculties (intellect, memory and the will). Theresa gives many spiritual gems and advices for the beginners of prayer and uses many examples and images from the Bible to illustrate the advances and pitfalls of the spiritual life. The prayer methods also progress normally from vocal to mental to contemplative prayer. The language of the Interior Castle is compared to the terminology of St. John of the Cross, the Ignatian spiritual exercises, and the three classical ways of spiritual theology. At the end of the third morada, when there is sufficient purification of both the senses and the spirit, the soul is ready for a deeper union to enter the illuminative phase, or the second conversion, where prayer becomes more passive, and relationship with God becomes more intimate but dry

In this third and final talk, we will explore with St. Theresa the wonders of the fourth morada, where prayer becomes quiet. This is a very difficult stage of prayer life, where many people do not willingly enter because of the cross. At the same time, prayer become less structured, less protagonist, but allowing God to take the initiative. Here, the senses are unified, as are the spiritual faculties of the memory, intellect and will. Paradoxically, there will be great dryness or even Dark Night experiences, as God prepares to soul to greater intimacy. If one is courageous and overcome the challenges of this stage, one is prepared to enter into the mystical life of the last three moradas. St. Theresa makes it clear that mysticism is not to be identified with having extraordinary phenomena of visions, miracles or levitation, etc. even though St. Theresa experienced a great deal of these phenomena. To describe the last three morada of spiritual marriage and union, the words and examples of different saints are given, so as to give a taste of what this consists.