St. Teresa of Avila
In 16th Century in Spain, we have three of the most extraordinary people who ever lived:
St Ignatius of Loyola (b 23 Oct 1491 – d 31 Jul 1556),
St Teresa of Avila (b 28 Mar 1515 – d 4 Oct 1582), and
St John of the Cross (b 24 Jun 1542 – d 14 Dec 1591).
Teresa founded the reform of the Carmelite order and wrote several classics of spiritual literature. The Interior Castle was written in 1577, in about 60 days spread over several months. She was also under threats from the Inquisition who were holding some of her writings. To cap it all, the sisters in her community were excommunicated for electing her superior and refusing to back down.
The Interior Castle is one of the great masterpieces of spiritual literature of any tradition.
The opening lines of are produced here:
1. Today while beseeching our Lord to speak for me because I wasn’t able to think of anything to say nor did I know how to begin to carry out this obedience, there came to my mind what I shall now speak about, that which will provide us with a basis to begin with. It is that we consider our souls to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.
For in reflecting upon it carefully, Sisters, we realise that the souls of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His delight. So then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes His delight? I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvellous capacity.
Indeed, in our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but He Himself says that He created us in His own image and likeness.
Well if this is true, as it is, there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle. Since this castle is a creature and the difference, therefore, between it and God is the same as that between the Creator and His creature, His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in His own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.
2. It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don’t understand ourselves or know who we are. Wouldn’t it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who he was didn’t know, and didn’t know his father or mother or from what country he came?
Well now, if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies. Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls. But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value. Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty.
All our attention is taken up with the plainness of the diamond’s setting or the outer wall of the castle; that is, with these bodies of ours.
Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle in Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Vol 2