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4th mansions: consolations versus delights

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini. (Wikipedia) Sensible consolations are not the same thing as infused contemplation with its heavenly delights.


Now we begin to look at contemplative prayer as Teresa of Avila sees it. The fourth mansions are the transition from prayer that is produced by the soul to prayer that God gives the soul. In this post, I want to look at what Teresa says about consolations versus delights. This is from the first chapter of the fourth mansions.

Consolations are produced naturally by the soul. We can’t say that God has no part in them, for everything that brings us closer to him is in some way his gift. But they are completely different from delights, which he gives without our doing anything to receive.

It’s so important not to mistake consolations for infused delights!

How can we tell the difference? I am going to use an analogy here, and I don’t want you to get side-tracked by it. In 1 Corinthians 14, St. Paul writes about speaking in tongues in this way (my paraphrase): the speaker may be praising God in a tongue of men or angels, but if I can’t understand him, it’s gibberish to me. That doesn’t make his prayer gibberish in itself, but until I learn the language he is using, or someone interprets it for me, I get nothing out of it.

Now, this is just an analogy I want to use. Don’t get hung up on speaking in tongues right now–that’s not my point. My point is that infused contemplation is like speaking in tongues in this aspect: until a person has experienced it, he won’t understand it. It is beyond concepts and words. But if he has experienced it, he will understand.

So, how can we know if we are experiencing infused delights of contemplation, or merely consolations? We can study what consolations are. We can say what infused contemplation is not.

Infused contemplation is not:

Peaceful feelings. Peaceful feelings can be produced in many ways. We can feel peaceful looking at a sunset, practicing Buddhist meditation or Centering Prayer, gazing at a baby’s face, or enjoying a glass of wine. We don’t need a special gift of God for this. These feelings are not infused. They are natural. Sometimes when we pray, we might feel really at peace, and this can help us desire God more and inspire us to follow him more closely. Well and good. That doesn’t mean we are experiencing contemplation.

Strong desires for God. Now, I have to be careful here, because there is a dark, dry yearning for God that is infused. But on a purely natural level, we can desire God just as we can desire anything else. I’m going to make this personal. Due to my temperament, I sometimes in prayer experience what Hannah said, “My heart leaps up with joy to the Lord.” I feel like my desire for God is so strong that my heart is going to leap right out of my chest and I can hardly stand it. I used to think this was a contemplative desire. Now I realize this is a purely natural desire. I felt something similar when I was dating my husband-to-be.

Tears and other emotions. Other people might cry during prayer, feeling that their tears come from nowhere and they cannot stop them. But Teresa says that these tears are not contemplation either. They are the response of our passions to a desire for God. Again, they might inspire us to strive to follow him more closely, but they don’t necessarily have a lasting effect on us. We could cry in a similar manner over completely worldly things–or good things that fall short of God.

Locutions, revelations, etc. We shouldn’t confuse the contemplative life with supernatural phenomena like private revelations. The Devil can counterfeit revelations, but he can’t produce the effects of contemplation. We can also easily deceive ourselves, thinking our own pious reflections are revelations from God.

Fr. Thomas Dubay writes:

When a newcomer to the life of prayer begins to receive sense pleasure in it, he ought not to allow himself to be carried away. It comes and it goes, and in any event it is neither perfection nor sanctity. Second, all should realize that, at any time, progress in pursuing God does not consist in enjoying Him more but in doing His will more completely.” (Fire Within, 234).

Doing his will more completely. That is the first true sign of contemplation, We’ll end here for this time, and next time look at the signs that we are truly experiencing infused contemplation more fully.

Connie Rossini

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Lay people and the third mansions

Did Teresa of Avila write for lay people or just nuns? What does she say in the third mansions? (Photo by Ruben Ojeda of a statue by Gregorio Fernández, Wikimedia Commons)


My most recent post at was about the one path to holiness. everyone, I wrote, is called to deepen their relationship with God through prayer. Everyone becomes holy by prayer and virtue. As always when this subject comes up, some want to argue that Teresa of Avila’s teaching on the mansions was not meant for lay people.

Lay people are too busy to be expected to pray much, the argument goes. So they must be content with offering their day to God and the like.

Now, I have no problem with lay people offering their day to God, making their work a prayer, praying as they work, et cetera. Of course we should do that. But I do have a problem with the notion that only monks, nuns, and priests are called to contemplation, or that only they need to spend much time dedicated to mental prayer.

So I was happy to read the second chapter on the third mansions in Interior Castle. In this chapter, although Teresa is writing primarily for her cloistered nuns, she uses lay people in her examples.

Do not be disturbed

Teresa’s main point in this section is that those who have reached the third mansions should not be easily disturbed by their sufferings, their sins, or the evil and trouble they see in the world. (This is basically, by the way, the message of Trusting God with St. Therese). Then she gives these examples:

  • A rich, childless man loses some money, but not enough to make him go broke. He is disturbed, saying he would have liked to give the money to the poor. Teresa says he would have done better to accept the loss as part of God’s permissive will for him.
  • Another person has enough, but continually strives for more. “[H]e need have no fear of ascending to the dwelling places closet to the King.”
  • A public opportunity to be humbled presents itself, and the person is disturbed instead of grateful for a chance to grow in virtue.

“[T]hese things don’t take place here,” Teresa says to her sisters. Then why does she mention them? She believes her sisters can learn from them. Can we as lay people not also learn from the nuns and their struggles?

The way to holiness for a nun and a homeschool mom are not so different. One has fewer worries and distractions and more time for prayer, and we would hope a more peaceful, God-focused atmosphere. But both need self-mastery, prayer, and the sacraments. Teresa writes:

And believe me, the whole affair doesn’t lie in whether or not we wear the religious habit but in striving to practice the virtues, in surrendering our will to God in everything, in bringing our life into accordance with what His Majesty ordains for it, and in desiring that His will not ours be done.

So then, the basics are the same for us all!

Humility, humility, and humility!

Teresa goes on to say, if we want to move forward from the third mansions, we must practice humility constantly. And we must be willing to do some “unreasonable” things for God out of love. Being too measured means advancing too slowly.

With humility present, this stage is a most excellent one. If humility is lacking, we will remain here our whole life–and with a thousand afflictions and miseries.”

So if you have advanced a bit in your spiritual life and seem to be stuck in the third mansions, or if you are living a well-regulated life of prayer and virtue but feel afflicted and miserable, the cure is humility! Accept whatever God brings you, without complaining or being disturbed. Accept the slowness of your progress (but don’t make false humility an excuse). Accept your sins and shortcomings. Accept the fact that life is imperfect, that the world rejects God, and that most people will think you’ve gone crazy if you actually begin following God with all–rather than most–of your heart.

Let God be in control. Trust him with the big things. Trust him with the little things. Hold back nothing that he asks of you. Give him your all with joy. Maybe this is the one thing you are lacking.

Connie Rossini

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Acquired recollection in the third mansions

Teresa of Avila by Gerard (Wikipedia). The final stage of ascetical prayer is acquired recollection.


The next stage of prayer that we have to talk about has been called by so many names that it is often hard to tell that various writers are talking about the same thing. Teresa of Avila calls it recollection. But she also calls the first stage of infused contemplation recollection. This adds to our confusion.

On my blog I will call this stage of prayer acquired recollection, as opposed to the infused recollection that is a pure gift of God. Other authors use the terms acquired contemplation, the prayer of simplicity, or the prayer of simple gaze.

In Interior Castle Teresa doesn’t speak much of prayer in the third mansions, except to say that souls at this stage “spend hours in recollection.” If we find prayer tedious, tend to avoid it, or cut it short, we are probably not firmly in the third mansions. People in the third mansions love to pray and would spend much of their day praying if they could. In fact, they begin to recollect themselves throughout the day as their duties allow them.

For more details on acquired recollection, we must turn to Way of Perfection. Teresa writes:

“But if we cultivate the habit, make the necessary effort and practice the exercises [of recollecting ourselves] for several days, the benefits will reveal themselves, and when we begin to pray we shall realize that the bees are coming to the hive and entering it to make the honey, and all without any effort of ours. For it is the Lord’s will that, in return for the time which their efforts have cost them, the soul and the will should be given this power over the senses. They will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and allow themselves to be recollected. Later they may come out again, but it is a great thing that they should ever have surrendered, for if they come out it is as captives and slaves and they do none of the harm that they might have done before.” (Peers translation, Ch. 28)

(Read more on recollecting ourselves here.)

Gazing silently at God

At first meditation is difficult. Then it becomes easier. Before long, we can just picture in our minds a scene from the Gospel and are moved to make acts of love. That is the affective prayer we spoke of last time.

Now, instead of being moved to speak to Jesus, we are moved to sit quietly in His presence. As Teresa says, this may last only a few seconds. Then we return to our image or reflection, until it occurs again. And if it doesn’t, we go back to affective prayer, or even discursive meditation if necessary. At times the recollection may last for several minutes. Or we may sit quietly for an hour, with just a glance now and then back at the image that first helped us recollect ourselves. Our prayer time flies by. It is sweet, and we try to make more time for prayer if our duties allow it, adding a second prayer time during the day or turning our gaze inward during our duties whenever we can.

Jesus is drawing us. We hear Him calling. We are eager to remove every barrier that keeps us from Him.

Pere Marie Eugene notes that there are two elements to acquired recollection: “the gaze fixed on its object, and the calm or silence that this produces.” He explains further about the soul:

“It will be aware of the object of its gaze, giving little attention to the peace it brings; or, it will give itself up to peaceful and sweet repose, giving to the object only the attention necessary to prolong the impression and renew it. ” (I Want to See God, ch. 9)

Don’t force the soul

When we begin to experience this, it’s imperative that we give ourselves up to it. We should never force ourselves to meditate or to speak! On the other hand, we should not try to unnaturally prolong acquired recollection. We should not force the soul one way or another, but let God lead us where He may. Teresa says in the fourth mansions:

“God gave us our faculties to work with, and everything will have its due reward; there is no reason, then, for trying to cast a spell over them — they must be allowed to perform their office until God gives them a better one.” (Ch. 3)

We may also find this phenomena occurring during vocal prayers. For example, while praying the Rosary, we may find ourselves drawn to a simpler meditation on each mystery, offering simple prayers in the heart at the same time our lips say the Hail Mary. We may picture just one image, using no reasoning at all. Then we are gradually led to this same stillness, and we set our beads aside to gaze at God.

In acquired recollection, the soul is still doing much of the work. But now and then something deeper, and more mysterious happens–the beginning of infused contemplation. We will save that discussion for the fourth mansions, after we talk about growth in virtue in the third mansions.

Connie Rossini

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Prayer in the third mansions

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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Prayer in the second mansions

An old woman practicing mental prayer.
An Old Woman Praying by Maes (Wikimedia Commons).


Reading Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila, we might find ourselves surprised. The Church has proclaimed Teresa a Doctor of Prayer, but the first part of her master work on the subject barely mentions prayer! If prayer is so vital to the spiritual life, why hasn’t she said more about it? How can we grow into the later stages if she doesn’t tell us what to do in the early ones?

The first thing we need to get clear is that for Teresa prayer and virtue grow together, no matter where we are in the seven mansions. Some people think that everyone can be contemplatives, regardless of their lifestyle. This is one of the basic problems with Centering Prayer, as we discussed a few months ago.

Real growth in virtue takes commitment to prayer

Others have the opposite problem. They think that if they are living a moral life, that’s all they need. Not committed to prayer, they think they are nonetheless spiritually advanced, so they see no reason to start praying more faithfully. This is a danger of the second mansions.

I grew up in a family where we prayed together daily and went to charismatic prayer meetings. My parents prayed daily. But I didn’t really form a habit of mental prayer.

On the other hand, I always strove to live a good life and thought myself pretty successful. So why did I really need to pray more? In young adulthood I did pray several times a week–much more than the once a month or so of the person in the first mansions. But I was unable to commit to daily prayer.

I had to be convinced of the necessity of prayer before I’d make the effort. If this is where you find yourself, please read Why should you pray?

All that the beginner in prayer has to do — and you must not forget this, for it is very important — is to labor and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God. As I shall say later, you may be quite sure that this comprises the very greatest perfection which can be attained on the spiritual road.” (Interior Castle, Second Mansions)

This is one reason why Teresa does not talk about methods of prayer in these stages. She does not want us to think that methods are the ends. To recap, the beginner who wants to advance in prayer must do two things:

  • be determined to persevere, come what may
  • strive to do God’s will as much as possible

But this leaves us in a quandary. How can we persevere in prayer when we barely know how to pray? Does she mean we should just resolutely say the Rosary?

Meditating on Sacred Scripture

Here we must make a distinction. Although God can take someone who only prays vocal prayer and make him a contemplative, we shouldn’t stick to vocal prayers out of laziness or ignorance. There is a better way to pray for those who want to advance quickly, and most of us can practice it. Teresa writes about it in her earlier works: Christian meditation.

As I’ve pointed out many times, Christian meditation is almost completely different from eastern (Hindu/Buddhist) forms of meditation. Since they have different ends, they also use different means.

Why do the saints and most Catholic teachers on prayer prefer meditation to other forms of prayer?

Mediation on Sacred Scripture makes us intimate with Christ’s character. We want to know Him and love Him so that we can serve Him. Sacred Scripture informs our minds. It moves our hearts. When we learn about Jesus, we want to follow Him more closely!

Meditation is not Bible study. We don’t just want to learn facts, study the historical meaning of the text, or look at maps and commentaries. We want to encounter Jesus Christ. Elsewhere Teresa says:

The soul’s profit, then, consists not in thinking much, but in loving much.” (Teresa of Avila, Book of Foundations v.)

A simple method

There are many ways to meditate on Sacred Scripture, but they are not that different from one another. Here is “a simple method” proposed by Fr. Peter Thomas Rorhback in Conversation with Christ:

  1. Prepare by focusing your mind and heart on Christ, setting aside distractions.
  2. Select material to meditate on, preferably a short passage from the Gospels.
  3. Consider the who, what, and why of the passage, and what does it mean to me?
  4. Converse with Jesus about your reading.
  5. Conclude with thanksgiving and resolutions.

Here is an alternate (and more detailed) method of Christian meditation from an earlier post. Notice how similar they are.

How long should you pray? Beginners at mental prayer should aim for fifteen minutes daily. Anything less is giving God too little of your time. Try to gradually extend the time to thirty minutes.

And don’t worry! When you reach the third mansions, you will want to pray more than you have time for. It will be the most precious part of your day.

Connie Rossini

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Teresa of Avila’s second mansions

Last Crusader by Lessing
Last Crusader by Lessing (Wikimedia Commons). I pray we all move beyond the battlefield of the second mansions before we are this age!


I hope you are ready to begin studying St. Teresa of Avila’s second mansions. I’m excited about this. My guess, based on experience, is that most of my readers are in this stage or the next. Some of you might be in first mansions, perhaps crossing at times into the second.

Now you may think you are way beyond the second mansions, because you have been following God for a long time. You might have read Interior Castle before and thought you found yourself in a much more advanced place. The first time I read the book, I thought I might be in fifth mansions. I only wish! I was firmly in the Purgative Way. My mistake was due to:

  1. Not understanding what Teresa was talking about.
  2. Not understanding myself.
  3. Not understanding the heights God calls us to.

Growth in Christ takes both knowledge and will. One of my favorite Old Testament verses is Hosea 4:6, “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” We know so much about technology, the natural world, and the lives of celebrities, and so little about ourselves and our purpose in life! We have already talked about the need for self-knowledge, which Teresa emphasizes in first mansions, chapter 2. But we’ll look at that a little deeper here.

Our lack of understanding is not entirely our fault. When was the last time you heard a sermon or homily about Teresa’s mansions? When was the last time your parish held a retreat on becoming saints? When was the last time you heard a speaker about humility?

Since we are living in a thoroughly secular world, we can think we are saints when we just try to follow the ten commandments. But being a “basically good” person is not the same as holiness.

More and more I am coming to see how the first three mansions are only the beginning of the spiritual life. They are necessary steps. They generally take a long time for people to get through. Yet this period of the Christian life, called the Purgative Way, is only a preparation for a closer union with God. The battle against sin is only the first part of the journey. It’s spiritual childhood–and not in the sense that St. Therese speaks of.

Now, that’s not to disparage the second mansions or to discourage you! If you are in the second mansions, you have made real progress. Your spiritual life has changed greatly. You have had a conversion. Here are some characteristics of souls in second mansions.

The second mansions are a battlefield

The first mansions, as you recall, are filled with reptiles. In the second mansions, we have another analogy: the battlefield. Souls in the second mansions have one foot in God’s kingdom–but the other still in the world. The spirit battles against the flesh. St. Paul speaks of the person in second mansions in this way:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:15-25)

Many times I have heard people quote this passage to say, “See, even St. Paul still did what he did not want to do!” Don’t for a minute believe that he is describing the state of his own soul at the time he wrote his letter! He is speaking about the state of a soul under the rule of the law, and this is very similar to the state of a soul in the second mansions. Second mansions are very much about practicing good works, learning how to be good. But there is so much more to the Christian life!

The good news, as Paul indicates, is that this state of affairs doesn’t have to last. God can rescue us from it, and He will if we persevere.

Less danger, more effort

St. Teresa writes that souls in the second mansions encounter less danger than those in the first, but require more effort to stay where they are and to progress farther. They do not as easily fall prey to mortal sin and have begun to work on conquering venial sin. Yet they don’t routinely avoid the near occasion of sin. They still commit premeditated, deliberate venial sin.

For example, they may have learned to avoid pornography, but they still use vulgar language without thinking twice about it. Or they try not to hate their neighbors, but have no qualms about gossiping. They would try to avoid committing perjury, but they don’t mind lying now and then and might even say their lies were “necessary.”

More is required of the soul. He must become firmer in his resolutions. He must be determined never to go back to where he was before. Sometimes these souls are too laid back and fall back into mortal sin or give up prayer.

These souls hear God’s call

Unlike those in the first mansions, who rarely thought about or addressed God, souls in the second mansions hear God’s voice all around them. That doesn’t mean they see visions or have locutions. St. Teresa writes:

His appeals come through the conversations of good people, or from sermons, or through the reading of good books; and there are many other ways, of which you have heard, in which God calls us. Or they come through sicknesses and trials, or by means of truths which God teaches us at times when we are engaged in prayer.”

These souls begin to know what God requires of them. They know He is calling them on to deeper union. But they also hear the call of the world and of the Devil, tempting them to turn back. They are caught between the eternal joys of the soul and the temporal pleasures of the body.

Desire for consolations

Souls in the second mansions are suffering, because they know they should be living totally for God and they are not. Sin brings real sorrow–if not right away, then after some reflection. They hate the struggle they have to endure.

They may have experienced a euphoria when they gave their lives to Christ more fully. But soon that euphoria is gone. They can’t understand why. They think that more consolations would help them to advance more quickly. Teresa cautions them to let God be God and decided for Himself when to give consolations. The Lord wants them to learn perseverance in virtue.

Souls in second mansion have begun to practice prayer more regularly. We’ll save the discussion of prayer for next time.

Connie Rossini