Prayer in the third mansions

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 4
Il Penseroso by Thomas Cole. Simplified mental prayer is typical of the third mansions.


We’re going to start discussing the third mansions from St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle with the most exciting part–prayer. In the third mansions, prayer begins simplifying, as the soul prepares herself to receive infused contemplation.

Now, when I say prayer begins simplifying in the third mansions, that doesn’t mean that a stark line lies between one mansion and another. We don’t one day say, “I’m going to take one step forward and leave second mansions behind forever, entering the third.” More likely, we peer through the doorway, thinking, “Those rooms look interesting.” Then we look over our shoulder and say, “But I’m comfortable here.” We might go through the door, make a small circle, and go back out. We might lean against the door frame, with one foot on each side.

My point is that our prayer might start simplifying long before we leave second mansions completely behind. But when it is habitually simpler–and accompanied by growth in virtue–we can assume we have moved on to a new stage.

Affective prayer

There are really two types of simplified prayer in the Purgative Way. The first is usually called affective prayer, and the second has many names, including acquired recollection and the prayer of simplicity.

Jordan Aumann, O.P. writes in Spiritual Theology

“Affective prayer may be defined as a type of prayer in which the operations of the will predominate over discursus of the intellect. There is no specific difference between affective prayer and meditation, as there is between meditation and contemplation; it is merely a simplified meditation in which love predominates. For this reason the transition to affective prayer is usually gradual and more or less easy, although this will vary with individuals.” (Ch. 12)

Let me try to put that in simpler language. Discursive prayer is another name for meditation, which points out again how different the Christian concept of meditation is from eastern-influenced meditation. Discursive describes applying our reasoning powers to prayer. It is related to the word discourse. So, as we discussed in the second mansions, in Christian meditation we take a text, usually Sacred Scripture, and we think about it. Aumann writes, “As soon as we cease to reason, we cease to meditate.”

Meditation is not an end in itself. It is not meant to be an intellectual exercise. It is meant to lead us to affective prayer. Affective prayer is the prayer of the heart (will), while meditation is the prayer of the mind (intellect). Again Aumann says, “The most important element in meditation is the act of love aroused in the will on the presentation of some supernatural truth by the intellect.”

Carmelite forms of meditation tend to focus less on reasoning than the prayer of St. Ignatius does. Teresa of Avila writes,

“For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.” (Fourth Mansions, Ch. 2)

That is why in the Carmelite-recommended meditation methods the conversation with Christ is the climax and should be the longest part of our prayer time.

When a person has practiced meditation for some time (although this can also happen with beginners) he tends to move quickly from the mind to the will. Instead of spending a long time reasoning, he is drawn toward speaking to Christ. This is exactly as it should be.

We should not try to force ourselves into affective prayer, but neither should we turn away from it when it comes.

Aumann gives many more pieces of practical advice, which I will paraphrase here:

  • we need material to feed the mind before the will is moved (a book, a picture, an image in the mind)
  • we shouldn’t run from one movement of the will to another
  • we should gently return to meditation when the affections have run their course
  • we shouldn’t confuse affective prayer with infused contemplation
  • we shouldn’t get lazy with meditation
  • we should keep our focus on God, not the sweetness of our prayer

I think that is sufficient for one post. I’ll write about acquired contemplation next week.

Connie Rossini

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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4 Responses

  1. Nancy

    Wonderful. I love the image of making a small circle in the next room – and of leaning against the door frame with a foot on each side.

    • Connie Rossini

      It sort of falls into your way of speaking about the spiritual life, doesn’t it? Good to see you here, Nancy. We don’t get to talk nearly as often any more. I pray God is blessing you and your loved ones.

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