When we read and meditate upon St Teresa’s books, we cannot fail to make a comparison between her and Christopher Columbus the explorer and Diego de Ribera the Cartographer (see Map and Bibliography at the bottom). Indeed, she is led by God to explore and discover new “territories” at deeper levels within the human being, and, in addition, it has been given to her to draw the new “map” of these discoveries as clearly delineated in her book The Interior Castle. During her times, on the one hand the inhabited world was discovering new territories and on the other hand, amazingly, St Teresa was receiving the grace to explore new dimensions in the human being! Let us not forget that St Teresa’s brother, Lorenzo, emigrated to America, settled in what is to-day the capital of Ecuador and married a daughter of one of the conquistadores of Peru. He came back to Spain a wealthy man and did a great deal of good with his money. Another of her brothers, Pedro, followed suit by sailing to Spanish America. It can be said, consequently, that she too through her writings seems to draw the map of a “new world”! In fact, after St Teresa of Avila, the Gospel is no longer the same! Admittedly she does not add anything new to it, but only imparts a deeper meaning to it. Significantly, however, Christians are called to follow a new and different set of requirements set out by Teresa: she presents. in fact, a journey with milestones along the way marking the different stages of growth in Spiritual Life.
|Icon ‘St Teresa the Seraphic’, Carmelite Nuns Harissa – Lebanon|
Today, when we say that everybody is called to become holy, the fact cannot be denied that God gave St Teresa the capacity to shed a very important light on the journey to holiness, by showing the various stages of growth. After her, holiness has a different aspect!
If we ponder on the life of the Christian, it is true and easily seen that the dimensions of the journey and the existence of clear and understandable stages of growth are not something that is obvious. If on one hand there is a common consensus today in the Catholic Church that ‘everybody is called to holiness’ and that ‘christian life presupposes a process of maturing,’ on the other hand very few have noticed and acknowledged the existence of a new “map”, or at the very least that this mapping is not really well integrated within the daily life of the Church. No one can deny that the goal of the “universal call for holiness” is far from having been achieved.
Note: It would be useful here to make the point that St Teresa is not at all the first to draw a map of the Stages of the Growth in Spiritual Life. She most definitely is not the only one. One has just to reopen the file from day one, from the New Testament time, in order to discover all the antecedents and see how this doctrine is well affirmed. It is true that her book The Interior Castle had a great influence on the Church and the world at large, but this ‘doctrine of the journey’ of transformation, and of its stages is clearly represented throughout the fourteen centuries that precede her. During the decades preceding Teresa it is true to say that Spain saw the birth of many authors who addressed this question with different images , for example: stages of human life, ascent of a ladder, of a mountain,…
Returning now to the subject in hand, it must be recognised that far from being merely content to preach the necessity for universal holiness – in itself a remarkable achievement – one has in addition to help the faithful, the monks, the nuns, religious, priest, all consecrated, the members of the new movements in the Church, to commit to the journey of growth. It is not an option to be satisfied with just having a spiritual life which has a few well-known consolations in it! It is most definitely not an option to think that in some mysterious and magical way the goal of holiness may somehow be achieved!
Moreover, how can we understand the goal of Spiritual Life, holiness, union with Christ, the fullness of charity, if we do not understand even the stages that lead up to it? This type of attitude is blatantly absurd! There must be a radical change of hearts and minds in this respect! Spiritual Theology is the science in charge of these questions and it seems to struggle today to give an account of the Spiritual Journey, of its real meaning, of its implications for the human being! By contrast, in her writings St Teresa talks about the very real changes that occur in the individual, at each stage! It seems curious that many don’t seem to grasp these practical insights. For a start the stages of spiritual growth, the different experiences during the Prayer of the Heart, cannot be separated! Everything is connected to the action of the Holy Spirit itself at each stage, and to the goal of its action in general, that is, there is a real connection between the specific growth necessary to a specific person at a certain specific stage.
St Teresa does not merely describe feelings, epiphenomena! She describes a profound transformation that occurs in the human being, and describes, in addition, the landmarks with which to recognise it, and she ends with the advice to implement it in order to progress to the next stage. To indicate milestones on the journey of growth towards holiness, as she does, and to become able to recognise what is happening to a human being at all stages is of fundamental use: the individual should come to discover the appropriate food for his stage and as a consequence will grow. Ironically the importance of this fails to attract the attention of many!
|Icon by Carmelite Nuns Haifa Holy Land|
As it progresses through the stages then, our practice of the Prayer of the Heart, that is, what we have to do, remains roughly the same throughout our life here on earth. This entails our Prayer of Heart always having two things in tandem: 1- our personal input (Prayer of Recollection) and 2- God’s input (His reply: any form of supernatural prayer like Prayer of Quiet). Subsequent to this the effects of the Grace of God will permeate us more deeply than ever leading to our transformation by the Holy Spirit in Christ, thereby realising spiritual growth. This is why St Teresa mentions in her writings the many forms of God’s supernatural reply to our constant efforts to be recollected: Supernatural Recollection, Prayer of Quiet, Prayer of Union, Ecstasy, Rapture,…, Spiritual Engagement, Spiritual Marriage (Union with Christ). Each of these types of the supernatural action of God reveals God adapting himself to our individual needs.
|Representation of the Interior Castle|
Furthermore, each one of these types of prayer corresponds to a degree of transformation. We can see the description of this journey of growth in her book of the Interior Castle, where she describes spiritual growth using the image of a Castle where the centre of the Castle is the Lord’s Nuptial Room, symbol of the Union with Him. Then she reveals the first challenge is to enter the Castle by its door (the Practice of the Prayer of the Heart, humility and consideration), and to penetrate deeper, mansion after mansion, doing what we are supposed to do at each mansion in order to reach the centre of the Castle: Union with Christ-God. The Castle is nothing else than the human being himself, within whose centre Jesus dwells by the Baptism.
The Interior Castle is a masterpiece that presents the entire journey of growth, a masterpiece as we have seen that speaks to the entire Church, reminding us that when Jesus says ‘I am the Way’ He really means that there is a journey and that He is both the goal and the means to reach it.
|Castle in Spain|
Here is how the Interior Castle starts:
“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight. What, do you imagine, must that dwelling be in which a King so mighty, so wise, and so pure, containing in Himself all good, can delight to rest? Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of a soul; however keen our intellects may be, they are as unable to comprehend them as to comprehend God, for, as He has told us, He created us in His own image and likeness.” [see continuation…]
The Interior Castle
For a similar book written by St John of the Cross, presenting the stages of spiritual life please see: The Spiritual Canticle.
– The History of Cartography: Volume Three (Part 1) cartography in the european renaissance, Edited by David Woodward.
– Diego de Ribera’s Map 1529:
|Diego de Ribera Map 1529|
First scientific world map (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Ribeiro’s most important work is the 1527 Padrón Real. There are 6 copies attributed to Ribeiro, including at the Weimar Grand Ducal Library (1527 Mundus Novus) and at the Vatican Library, in Vatican City (1529 Propaganda Map or Carta Universal). The layout of the map (Mapamundi) is strongly influenced by the information obtained during the Magellan-Elcano trip around the world.
Diogo’s map delineates very precisely the coasts of Central and South America. It shows the whole east coast of the Americas but of the west coast only the area from Guatemala to Ecuador. However, neither Australia nor Antarctica appear, and the Indian subcontinent appears too small. The map shows, for the first time, the real extension of the Pacific Ocean. It also shows, for the first time, the North American coast as a continuous one (probably influenced by Estêvão Gomes’s exploration in 1524/25). It also shows the demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas. The absence of any large continent south of Asia is evidence that there had been no discovery of Australia at that date.