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St. Teresa of Avila
Interior Castle

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Let us now turn to our castle with its many mansions. 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,32 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.33 How necessary that is (and be sure you understand me here) even to those whom the Lord keeps in the same mansion in which He Himself is! However high a state the soul may have attained, self-knowledge is incumbent upon it, and this it will never be able to neglect even should it so desire. Humility must always be doing its work like a bee making its honey in the hive: without humility all will be lost. Still, we should remember that the bee is constantly flying about from flower to flower, and in the same way, believe me, the soul must sometimes emerge from self-knowledge and soar aloft in meditation upon the greatness and the majesty of its God. Doing this will help it to realize its own baseness better than thinking of its own nature, and it will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first rooms -- that is, the rooms of self-knowledge. For although, as I say, it is through the abundant mercy of God that the soul studies to know itself, yet one can have too much of a good thing, as the saying goes,34 and believe me, we shall reach much greater heights of virtue by thinking upon the virtue of God than if we stay in our own little plot of ground and tie ourselves down to it completely.




32 The palmito is a shrub, common in the south and east of Spain, with thick layers of leaves enclosing a succulent edible kernel.


33 [The autograph has, after the word "room", "Oh, but if it is (Uh, que si es) in (the room of) self-knowledge!" Previous editors have altered this difficult Spanish phrase to aunque sea, "not even if it is." St. Teresa's meaning however, seems to me quite clearly the opposite of this, though it is impossible to translate her exclamation literally.]


34 [Lit.: "excess is as bad as defect."]





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