"I BEGAN TO THINK OF THE SOUL
AS IF IT WERE A CASTLE
MADE OF A SINGLE DIAMOND..."
INTERIOR CASTLE is one of the most celebrated books on mystical theology in existence. It is the most sublime and mature of Teresa of Avila's works, and expresses the full flowering of her deep experience in guiding souls toward spiritual perfection. In addition to its profound mystical content, it is also a treasury of unforgettable maxims on such ascetic subjects as self-knowledge, humility, detachment, and suffering. But above all, this account of a soul's progress in virtue and grace is the record of a life -- of the interior life of Teresa of Avila, whose courageous soul, luminous mind, and endearingly human temperament hold so deep an attraction for the modern mind.
In its central image and style, INTERIOR CASTLE, like so many works of genius, is extremely simple. Teresa envisioned the soul as "a castle made of a single diamond . . . in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." She describes the various rooms of this castle -- the degrees of purgation and continual strife -- through which the soul in its quest for perfection must pass before reaching the innermost chamber, the place of complete transfiguration and communion with God.
Teresa was an incredibly gifted teacher whose devotion to the sublimest task -- the guidance of others toward spiritual perfection -- has resulted in the widespread fame of her writings. There is no life more real than the interior life, and few persons have had such an extraordinarily rich experience of that reality as has Teresa. In INTERIOR CASTLE, she exhorts and inspires her readers to participate in the search for this ultimate spiritual reality, the source of her own profound joy.
PROBABLY no other books by a Spanish author have received such wide popular acclaim as the Life and Interior Castle of St. Teresa of Avila. It is remarkable that a woman who lived in the sixteenth century, who spent most of her life in an enclosed convent, who never had any formal schooling and never aspired to any public fame, should have won such an extraordinary reputation, both among scholars and among the people.
There can be little doubt that her popularity has been due, in large measure, to Divine Grace, which first inspired her at an early age to put aside every aim but the quest for God and then enabled her to attain a degree of fervor in her love for Him which sustained her and impelled her to perform prodigious works in His name. She established new foundations for her order, carried on the spiritual direction of souls given into her care, wrote brilliant treatises for the edification of her fellow nuns, and reached the very summit of personal sanctity through a life of prayer, humility, and charity. Before everythingelse, it is the intense fervor of her spirituality which speaks to readers everywhere, just as it is the determination and courage of her soul which inspires those who want to be more courageous and determined than they are. But, next to this, it is the purely human quality of her writings that makes so wide an appeal. Her writing is characterized by a liveliness of thought, rich imagination, spontaneity of expression, and a structural "sweet disorder" that many readers find attractive and illuminating.
Whenit is remembered that she wrote at the command of her superiors -- that is, under obedience -- and that her writing was done in haste during brief periods, snatched, as it were, from the duties of the religious life, and that she herself thought her writings of so little importance that she never even reread what she had written, is it any wonder that the ordinary man and woman finds her efforts irresistibly attractive?
It is truly amazing, too, to ponder the depths of humility that prompted this remarkably gifted woman to answer those who commanded her to write: "For the love of God, let me work at my spinning wheel and go to choir and perform the duties of the religious life, like the other sisters. I am not meant to write: I have neither the health nor the wits for it."
It must be to those superiors, then, that generations of appreciative readers must render their thanks for the masterful books -- outstanding among them, the Interior Castle -- through which the teachings of St. Teresa survive to instruct, inspire, and delight.