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Life in Teresa’s fourth mansions

File:Jean-Baptiste Jules Trayer - Woman Praying in Church - Walters 371366.jpg
Woman Praying in Church by Jean-Baptiste Jules Trayer (Wikimedia Commons).

How should a person behave when he enters the fourth mansions? How should he act throughout the day? How should he pray?

First, let’s look at our behavior during prayer. As I have said (some might say ad nausuem) contemplative prayer is a gift from God. It does not come from the soul’s willing it or applying any technique.

Spiritual growth through the seven (groups of) mansions is gradual. Contemplative prayer begins subtly. It usually grows slowly deeper. Infused recollection blends into the prayer of quiet, which blends into the union of the fifth mansions.

A soul in the fourth mansions will probably not experience contemplation every time she prays–at least not at first. What should she do? She should not try to produce contemplation, since that’s impossible. Instead, she should go back to meditating on Sacred Scripture, affective prayer, or acquired recollection.

On the other hand, if God gives the soul contemplation, she should not try to force herself to meditate. She will find it impossible anyway.

In Way of Perfection, Teresa tells us how to behave during contemplative prayer:

The most we should do is occasionally, and quite simply, to utter a single word, like a person giving a little puff to a candle, when he sees it has almost gone out, so as to make it burn again.” (Ch. 31)

Remember, she is not saying that the repeated word produces the prayer. This is her recommendation for someone already given this prayer by God.

Growth in virtue

How does the soul advance in the fourth mansions? Teresa cites the following effects of this prayer:

  • no more fear of Hell or of the ill effects of penances
  • desire for suffering and patience in it
  • withdrawing from all worldly delights
  • growth in all the virtues

As Fr. Thomas Dubay notes in Fire Within, these effects, like the prayer itself, are infused (see p. 89). For example, in the third mansions you might meditate on the need for humility, make resolutions, and strive throughout the day to practice it, making some progress. In the fourth mansions, you may find you have taken a huge leap forward in humility even though you haven’t been thinking about it for some time.

If you do not experience a mysterious growth in virtue and detachment, that is a sign your prayer is probably not infused. Whatever other signs you think you have to convince you that you are in the fourth mansions, if you don’t desire God more and find it suddenly easier and more satisfying to do his will in even little things, you are probably not as advanced as you think you are.

Of course, like the prayer itself, this infused virtue comes gradually. If you experience contemplative prayer once or twice, you will probably notice a difference in your attitude and in your ability to do God’s will. But you must respond to any grace God gives you. You must work even harder to love God and your neighbor so that you can continue to grow.

If you are not sure whether your prayer is infused, try to consult a good spiritual director or knowledgeable priest.

Don’t expect raptures yet

Since one reader asked me last time if the prayer of quiet was the same as ecstasy or rapture, I’ll briefly address this too.

Teresa says that some people who are psychologically impressionable and who may be physically weakened by penance, will swoon when they experience the prayer of quiet. They think they are experiencing rapture, which belongs to the late fifth and sixth mansions. What is really happening is that they are giving way to their own weakness. The remedy she says, is less time spent in prayer and less penance. They should try to serve God in an active life instead.

In the fourth mansions, the will experiences contemplation. The intellect gradually begins to take part in it. But the imagination and memory, as well as the body, are still in command of themselves (as much as they ever were). They will begin to feel the effects of contemplation as the soul experiences the prayer of union.

Connie Rossini

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The prayer of quiet

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Madonna in Prayer by Sassoferrato. In the prayer of quiet, the will is a captive to God.


The prayer of quiet is the second type of contemplative prayer God gives in St. Teresa’s fourth mansions. Here is Teresa’s description of the prayer of quiet from Way of Perfection:

This is a supernatural state, and, however hard we try, we cannot reach it ourselves… In this state the faculties are all stilled. The soul, in a way which has nothing to do with the outward senses, realizes that it is now very close to its God, and that, if it were but a little closer, it would become one with Him through union.

The faculties that Teresa refers to are the powers of the soul, namely, the powers of thought, will, and memory. Teresa states that the will is occupied during the prayer of quiet, captivated by God, and enjoying a love communion with him.

Sometimes thought and imagination try to participate in and aid contemplative prayer. Often they just get in the way. They are restless, and they can be restless even while the will is completely at peace.

As the prayer of quiet grows deeper over time, the intellect will begin to “sleep,” being captivated along with the will.

In later stages of contemplation, the imagination and memory will share in the quiet of contemplation, but in these early stages they seldom do.

Here is her description from the fourth mansions:

The soul is so satisfied with God that as long as the recollection lasts the quiet and calm are not lost since the will is united with God even though the two faculties are distracted; in fact little by little the will brings the intellect and memory back to recollection. Even though the will may not be totally absorbed, it is so well occupied without knowing how, that no matter what efforts the other two faculties make they cannot take away its contentment and joy.

This prayer is effortless. It is the work of God, not the soul. The soul has done its work by persevering in mental prayer in the past and striving to do God’s will out of love throughout the day. I want to emphasis again that no  technique or method can create this prayer. You cannot become a contemplative by trying to force your mind, memory, or will to be quiet.

You are powerless to produce the prayer of quiet. You can only prepare for it.

Connie Rossini


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Infused recollection, the first stage of contemplation


Rembrandt - Sankt Jakobus der Ältere.jpg
St. James the Greater Praying by Rembrandt (Wikimedia Commons). Infused recollection comes without the soul doing anything immediate to produce it.


After a few weeks’ break, we return to the Interior Castle today to study what St. Teresa of Avila says about the prayer of infused recollection.

There are two types of infused (meaning God-given) contemplation souls experience in the fourth mansions. The first is what Teresa calls “supernatural recollection.” The second is the prayer of quiet. We’ll focus on recollection today and look at the prayer of quiet next time.

You’ll recall that in the third mansions, souls who have practiced mental prayer for a long time find their prayer simplifying to a quiet gaze upon God. We call this acquired recollection. Souls who practice it faithfully, while becoming ever more careful in doing God’s will out of love, prepare themselves for infused recollection.

Is it acquired or infused?

The beginnings of infused recollection are so subtle, that spiritual writers say souls often do not recognize it. It is very brief at the beginning and may intermingle with acquired recollection. When the contemplation becomes more obvious and lasting, it has become the prayer of quiet.

How is infused recollection different from acquired recollection?

The key difference is that in the third mansions, we recollect ourselves. Although our prayer is very simple, the recollection is produced as the result of a brief thought about God. This thought moves the heart, which then gazes silently for a time on God.

Acquired recollection can occur when a person sings a hymn at Mass, prays the Rosary, glimpses an icon, reads a passage of Scripture, or makes the Sign of the Cross. The mind turns to God, however briefly, and recollection results.

In the fourth mansions, a person may be doing the dishes, for example, and not thinking about God at all. Suddenly, without knowing how, he is recollected. He can’t make the recollection last by being silent, thinking about God, or making acts of love. The recollection comes and goes by God’s will alone. The soul cannot produce it. The soul cannot prolong it.

But otherwise, the experience of this recollection may be so similar to acquired recollection that the soul does not know it has just experienced something supernatural.

How can we tell the difference?

If it’s so subtle, how can we know if we are experiencing it?

First, if you have reached this stage without a spiritual director, do your best to find one. A knowledgeable and experienced director can help you discern whether your prayer is supernatural. But you can also tell true contemplation by its fruit.

Meditation and its more simplified forms, including acquired recollection, move the soul to love God. As the soul loves God more, she draws away from everything else in order to be with him. She is more careful than ever about sin and attachments. She begins making loving sacrifices. She longs for God.

Infused recollection produces similar results, but without the soul’s effort. She feels the call to prayer, virtue, and detachment even more strongly than before. She longs for more of God. Everything other than God begins to fade in importance. Suddenly, her priorities have changed. She sees the vanity of all things.

If the soul is experiencing this, she must yield to it. She must pray more, if she can, live more carefully, love more fervently, and try to recollect herself throughout the day. In fact, she must continue as she was doing in the third mansions, but with even more care. Being lax will prevent her from moving on to the prayer of quiet.

And, God willing, we will discuss that amazing prayer next time.

Connie Rossini

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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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The third mansions and preparing for Lent

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Hoffman. Don’t go away sad! Let your desires for God produce fruit through detachment, and you will reach the innermost mansions.


Are you ready to begin the season of Lent? What does Lent have to do with St. Teresa of Avila’s teaching about the third mansions in the interior castle?

Teresa offers us many images to aid our understanding of the interior life. First, she asks us to imagine the soul as a castle, with God the Divine King dwelling in the central room. Then she speaks of the first mansions as filled with reptiles. The second mansions are a battlefield. What of the third?

The person in the third mansions, she says, is like the rich young man of the Gospel. He has great desires. He wants to inherit eternal life. He even goes so far as to keep the commandments.

But, as we know, that wasn’t the end of the story.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’
When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” (Mt 19:21-22)

This serves as a warning to all of us.

We need more than great desires

Great desires, Teresa says, are necessary for advancing in the spiritual life.

And in my opinion, there is no reason why entrance even into the final dwelling place should be denied these souls [in the third mansions], nor will the Lord deny them this entrance if they desire it; for such a desire is an excellent way to prepare oneself so that every favor may be granted.” (Third Mansions, Ch. 1)

But great desires are not enough. If we really love Jesus–that is, if we really desire union with him–we will put our love into action. And so Teresa clarifies what she has said above with these words:

There is no doubt that if a person perseveres in this nakedness and detachment from all worldly things he will reach his goal.”

Did you catch that? Nakedness and detachment. The perfect reflection for Lent!

The nuns entering Carmel took off their worldly garments, symbolizing leaving their old life behind. They gave up everything. This “nakedness” can’t be relegated to the past, Teresa insists. It must be a way of life.

The rich young man had great desires, but he didn’t want to leave his comforts behind in order to pursue them.

What is holding you back?

When people subscribe to my blog, I ask them what is holding them back from living fully for God. Are you one of those who wrote back an answer? What did you say? If you didn’t answer in writing, do you know what the answer would be?

What is holding you back from God? What is keeping you from growing in intimacy with Christ?

Could it be:

  • Selfishness with your time?
  • Desire for material possessions?
  • Wasting time with digital media?
  • Lack of generosity with prayer?
  • Confidence in yourself?
  • Gossiping?
  • Complaining?
  • Worrying and fretting?

If Jesus were to challenge you, “If you wish to be perfect…,” how would he finish the sentence?

Now you know what to focus on for Lent.

Special Sale on Trusting God with St. Therese

If you are struggling with fear, doubt, or frustration over your failures, Lent may be the time for you to read Trusting God with St. Therese. I am running a special sale. Today (Tuesday) only, the ebook is $2.99. It’s $3.99 tomorrow (Ash Wednesday), and back to its regular price of $4.99 Thursday. You can buy a copy here.

If you have a study group that would like to share my book over Lent, I give one paperback free with the purchase of every five. Shipping is included, and I will sign all the books. Please note: this deal is available year round. Also, it applies to U.S. purchases only. if you live outside the U.S. and would like to buy in bulk, please email me at crossini4774 at comcast dot net and I will discuss a discount with you.

God bless your Lent!

Connie Rossini