Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing
God alone suffices.
Teresa of Avila
El Castillo Interior“, The Interior Castle, was written in 1577.
Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, in the province of Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan de Toledo, was a marrano (Jewish convert to Christianity) and was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa’s mother, Beatriz, was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the city, having spotted the two outside the city walls.
Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain on November 2, 1535. She found herself increasingly in disharmony with the spiritual malaise prevailing at the Incarnation. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister -designed to protect and strengthen the spirit and practice of prayer- became so lax that it actually lost its very purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, vitiated the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vain conversations. These violations of the solitude absolutely essential to progress in genuine contemplative prayer grieved Teresa to the extent that she longed to do something. She went on to found many new convents and several monasteries,but in 1576 a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the “definitors” of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned her to voluntary retirement to one of her institutions. She obeyed and chose St. Joseph’s at Toledo. Her friends and subordinates were subjected to greater trials. Finally, after several years her pleadings by letter with King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the processes before the inquisition against her, Gracian, and others were dropped, which allowed the reform to continue. Saint Teresa, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the power of holy water. She was questioned about her visions and some suggested that they were diabolical rather than divine. But her confessor, the Jesuit Saint Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. On St. Peter’s Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ presented himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterrupted for more than two years.
Her book, The Interior Castle is one of the most celebrated books of Christian mysticism ever written. Teresa begins with the vision of the soul as a castle made of a single diamond, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. By the time she wrote this, the manuscript of her autobiography had already been confiscated by the Church authorities but despite this, her spiritual director Jerome Gratian asked her to write another work specifically for her sisters, rather than simply expanding her autobiography and risking having it confiscated yet again. She was very aware of the watchful eye of the Spanish Inquisition, and was constantly interrupted whilst writing it. She had to be very careful of what she wrote and had to calm suspicions of the church by self-deprecating confessions of her own ignorance, avowals of humble submission to her confessors, affirmations of loyalty to the Church and the occasional denigrating remarks about the inferiority of women. She knew what it took for a visionary woman to survive in these times, just as Julian of Norwich before her. She also knows that her work will eventually reach a far wider audience, but as Julian does, she is very careful. Teresa directs herself specifically to the nuns of her Carmelite reform. Teresa specifically states that God offers human beings the gift of wishing to make his abode deep within the human soul, and that he wishes to enter into an intimate relationship with us.
It is one of my favourite books, Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich are my two core favourite mystics of these times, separated by 200 years but united in their mysticism and abilities to get their work out despite the very real dangers that surrounded them.