At last, we have arrived at the seventh mansions of the Interior Castle! Well, in our blog posts anyway. In case you were wondering, I have not arrived there yet in my own soul. Since it is impossible to understand many of the things Teresa writes about here without having experienced them, I’m going to sum up her four chapters briefly.
The seventh mansions are the mansions of the spiritual marriage. But even here, there is growth in the soul. And the union, although it becomes the closest union possible while on earth, still falls short of the Beatific Vision of Heaven.
The same is true of knowledge. Teresa says that the soul sees and understands things in the seventh mansion that it could not before. She sees that spirit and soul, for example, are slightly different things. But she does not fully understand the distinction. Full knowledge waits for Heaven, where, as St. Paul tells us:
Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The soul in the seventh mansions has an intellectual vision of the Holy Trinity. She does not see the Trinity with her imagination, but she knows with certainty and really experiences God as three in one. She also experiences a vision of Christ. Teresa mentions both an intellectual vision and an imaginary vision. I do not know whether she is referring to two separate visions or speaking about different ways in which different soul experience this vision. For Teresa, she saw the risen and glorified Lord after receiving Communion.
The spiritual marriage takes place in the innermost room of the soul, the dwelling place of God Himself. It is like Heaven in the midst of the soul. All throughout the soul’s daily occupation, she continues to experience this union, although it is not always of the same intensity. She is aware of it at times as we can be aware of the presence of other people in a dark room. They were there when the lights were on. When the lights go out, we know they are present still, even though we can’t see them.
Teresa also says it is as if the soul is both Mary and Martha at the same time. Some part of the soul is always in a peaceful union, and the rest of the soul, which works and suffers, is in a sense envious of this inner calm.
Dryness in prayer is almost completely gone. However, sometimes the Lord seems to leave for up to a day at a time. This happens rarely, to remind the soul that union is completely outside her power.
In the earlier mansions, the soul has desired death so as to be united with Christ. Now she desires to live, because only by living can she suffer so as to do good for other souls. She would be willing to stay on earth forever if it would help someone else to love the Lord. Yet this separation from Him is itself the greatest suffering she can offer for others’ sakes.
The soul easily loves her enemies. She careful avoids sin and imperfections—although she may still commit now and then what are objectively venial sins. She does this inadvertently.
And then there is the union itself. Teresa can only describe this profound union by pointing to the words of Christ:
that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us (Jn 17:21).
She also uses the analogy of light coming in from two different windows and meeting and becoming one. You cannot separate out any longer which light came from which window. The two are one. Or it is like a stream that flows into a great river. It is no longer separate from the river. Or rain that falls into a lake that becomes one with the lake.
In all these analogies it’s important to recognize she is not saying that the soul and God are the same thing. But “the two become one.” Separation through sin is still possible, and the soul is more careful than ever, more fearful (with a filial fear) than ever of falling.
These then are some of the many ways in which St. Teresa describes life in the seventh mansions, the height of the spiritual life on earth. I pray that all of us may attain to such a union!
If you wish to revisit some of the mansions, fellow blogger Elizabeth Reardon is starting a series on Interior Castle and asked if I would link to her post.
Also, you may want to look at my commentary on Centering Prayer versus St. Teresa’s teaching, that was posted at the National Catholic Register over the weekend.
That concludes Interior Castle for us. Next week I hope to write about the canonizations of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.