Today I’d like to start digging a little deeper into Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Specifically, let’s talk about the seven mansions and how each of them is different.
While Teresa divides her book into sections talking about seven different stages of the spiritual life, we should note that she speaks about “first dwelling places,” et cetera, not “the first mansion.” What does this mean? Each stage has several rooms. Not everyone follows exactly the same path to union with God.
You must not imagine these mansions as arranged in a row, one behind another, but fix your attention on the centre, the room or palace occupied by the King. Think of a palmito, which has many outer rinds surrounding the savoury part within, all of which must be taken away before the centre can be eaten. Just so around this central room are many more, as there also are above it. In speaking of the soul we must always think of it as spacious, ample and lofty; and this can be done without the least exaggeration, for the soul’s capacity is much greater than we can realize, and this Sun, Which is in the palace, reaches every part of it. It is very important that no soul which practises prayer, whether little or much, should be subjected to undue constraint or limitation. Since God has given it such dignity, it must be allowed to roam through these mansions — through those above, those below and those on either side. It must not be compelled to remain for a long time in one single room — not, at least, unless it is in the room of self-knowledge.” (Chapter 2, no. 8)
Identifying your present level
I’m a person who never fits into one category on personality and temperament tests. Until last year when my husband brought home material from work on the DISC temperaments system, these tests always frustrated me. They never seemed to ask the right questions, or ask them in the right way, to get at my true temperament.
I find something similar happens when I try to find myself in Interior Castle. Some of the characteristics of one level fit me, but others do not. I find my soul spread out, as it were, among three different groups of mansions. I believe this is a common experience.
While the seven mansions provide an apt vehicle for explaining the development of contemplative prayer, we ought not to imagine them as pigeon holes and the developments as discrete jumps from one stage to another. Living things grow gradually, and communion with God being the supreme of all living things, likewise matures imperceptibly… ‘There is no closed door,’ says St. Teresa, ‘to separate the one from the other’…” (Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within, 80)
Fr. Dubay follows Teresa in saying that this is especially true in the final mansions, the pinnacle of the spiritual life.
A chart to help you
I searched through all my Discalced Carmelite formation material to find a chart I could give you. I found I started filling one out long ago but (typically) never finished it. So thanks, readers, for being the catalyst to help me finish this project!
In each of the dwelling places, we should look at several aspects of the life of the soul:
- prayer development
- soul’s traits
In addition, it’s always wise to leave a column for miscellaneous notes. Here is the chart for downloading. I have left the “other” column blank for you to complete as we read about each stage in more detail.
Downloadable Chart of the 7 Mansions
22 thoughts on “Where are you in Teresa’s seven mansions?”
My Lay Carmelite Community is reading the Interior Castle for our ongoing formation. We are now on the 4th mansion. I will share your chart with my community. It’s wonderful! Thank you.
You’re welcome, Ruth Ann. I hope you will share your insights as we go into each of these mansions in more detail in the coming weeks. God bless!
This is an awesome reference Connie! Thank you for sharing. (PS…will write you soon)
So glad to be of service, Theresa. I’m always looking for a quick reference for this and no one seems to make one.
Thank you SO much for sharing this!
You’re welcome, Amy. I searched for a chart online and couldn’t find any. So I had to finish the job I started years ago.
The chart is very helpful, Connie. Thank you. I so often get confused by St. Teresa’s mansions. I may not know where I am but I DO know where I am not…lol. That narrows it down a lot. This chart is an excellent resource!
Yes, I know I’m not in 7th mansions either, LOL. That’s the obvious part. I do think it gets easier to see where you are at as you advance, even if it’s only advancing by a baby step. We’ll try to dig into this deeper as we go.
Connie, I read the Interior Castle last year for fun. Such a wonderful book! I am so excited to dig in a little deeper with you here. I always feel like I have a lot to learn. The chart is wonderful! I’m such a visual learner, and I really appreciated the simple way the information is laid out. I wish I could sit beside you and dig through all those old files. What great stuff you must have in there! : ) Right now I am leading a prayer group that is based on St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. But from the beginning I have felt so connected with St. Teresa of Avila. Do you know if there is a prayer series for lay people that focuses on St. Teresa of Avilla’s teaching? Thanks for writing here. I find it so valuable!
I don’t know of a prayer series, but the best resources I know of for Carmelite spirituality are Thomas Dubay’s Fire Within and Pere Marie Eugene’s two books, I Want to See God and I am a Daughter of the Church. You’re giving me ideas for future books!
I am reading the “Interior Castle” and thought it would be great to make a summary chart of the stages, but you saved me the job – thank you very much 🙂
You’re welcome, Graeme! No reason we should each have to do this for ourselves.
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I am a “chart” person so was/am intrigued with your chart. May I used it in talks I give?
Michael Crosby, OFMCap
Sure, Michael, thanks for asking. Please include this on any handouts: Copyright 2015 Connie Rossini. All rights reserved. contemplativehomeschool.com
Hi Connie, Thanks for sharing this. I saw the chart and it has two pages. So the temptations, advice and others come after soul’s traits?
Yes, the Temptation and Advice columns come after the other ones, in mansion order. Then you can add your own notes!
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I’m so grateful for your chart that outlines these stages – may I use it in talks/teaching?
Sure, Jan. Thanks for asking. Could you just put this notice on it: “Copyright Connie Rossini, contemplativehomeschool.com. Used with permission.”
Can you explain or point me to a visual that explains the rooms in the 7 mansions? Or perhaps your divisions of Prayer, virtue, soul traits, etc are these ‘rooms’. I am having trouble finding explanation on the rooms in the mansions. Thank you.
Hi, Celah. Sorry to have missed this comment. Are you looking for something like a map of the castle? I am unaware of such a resource. I hope you find my chart (linked in this post) of some help.