Consolations in the Fourth Mansion

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This essay is the fourth in the series on stage two of monastic purification.

The fourth mansions described in Teresa of Avila’s book “The Interior Castle” are a place of relative consolation and beauty. Here are the beginnings of the supernatural work of God to cleanse and purify a person from things that are beyond the power of the will and the mind to change.

Compared to the earlier work of the will, described by Teresa in the first 3 sets of mansions, the fourth mansions are warm and rich, a place of sweetness and comfort. In visual terms the fourth mansions, being closer to the throne of God found in the center of the Castle, are touched more by the warmth radiating from the throne.

Her first task in this chapter is to explain how a person who has given up worldly pleasure to seek God can feel any pleasure or consolation. Her answer is that this consolation comes from within and not from without. This is not the joy found in favorable circumstances, blessings of fortune, advancement, career, accomplishment or any other “external” source.

Because the warmth, comfort, consolation and sweetness of these interior consolations are different than normal comfort and joy they are difficult to describe. A person has to experience them to understand them. They are even deeper than the satisfaction found in the exercise of obedience and the consequent victory over sin that is experienced as consolation in the first stages of purification. In Protestant terms these would be a similar to a ‘certain faith’, a knowing deep down, a peace that passes understanding or an assurance of an ‘acceptance in the Beloved’. The person feels love and peace and enjoys a taste of heaven. These experiences are tangible but subtle and obscure. They are known to be true, but they are a non-particular form of knowledge; generally felt first as a barely perceptible diffuse presence of warmth and comfort.

In attempting to describe these experiences Teresa uses an analogy based on water: “What I call consolations from God, and have elsewhere have termed the Prayer of  Quiet, is something of a very different kind, as those of you will know who by the mercy of God have experienced it. To understand it better, let us suppose that we are looking at two fountains, the basins of which can be filled with water…in different ways: the water in one comes from a long distance, by means of numerous conduits and through human skill; but the other has been constructed at the very source of the water and fills without making any noise. If the flow of  water is abundant, as in the case we are speaking of, a great stream still runs from it after it has been filled; no skill is necessary here, and no conduits have to be  made, for the water is flowing all the time. The difference between this and the carrying of the water is by means of conduits is, I think, as follows. The latter corresponds to the spiritual sweetness which has been produced by meditation. It reaches us by way of the thoughts; we meditate upon created things and fatigue the understanding; and when at last by means of our effort, it comes, the satisfaction which it brings to the soul fills the basin, but in doing so makes a noise, as I have said.

To the other fountain the water comes direct from it source, which is God, and, when it is His Majesty’s will and He is pleased to grant us some supernatural favor, it coming is accompanied by the greatest peace and quietness and sweetness within ourselves—I cannot say where it arises or how. And that content and delight are not felt, as earthly delights are felt, in the heart—I mean not at the outset, for later this basin becomes completely filled, and then this water begins to overflow all the Mansions and faculties, until it reaches the body. It is for that reason that I have said it has its source in God and ends in ourselves—for it is certain, and anyone will know this who has experienced it, that the whole of the outer man enjoys this consolation and sweetness.

I was thinking just now, as I wrote this, that a verse (Psalms 119:32) I have already quoted, “I will run the way of your commandments, when thou shall enlarge my heart” speaks of the heart’s being enlarged. I do not think that this happiness that I am now talking about has its source in the heart at all. It arises in a much more interior part, like something of which the springs are very deep; I think this must be the center of the soul, as I have since realized and will explain later. I certainly find secret things in ourselves which often amaze me—and how many more there must be! O my Lord and my God! How wondrous is Thy greatness!  And we creatures go about like silly little shepherd boys, thinking we are learning to know something of Thee when the very most we can know amounts to nothing at all, for even in ourselves there are deep secrets which we cannot fathom. When I say “amounts to nothing at all” I mean because Thou art so surpassingly great, not because the signs of greatness that we see in Thy works are not very wonderful, even considering how very little we can learn to know of them.

          Returning to this verse, what it says about the enlargement of the heart may, I think, be of some help to us. For apparently, as this heavenly water begins from this source of which I am speaking—that is, from our very depths—it proceeds to spread within us and cause an interior dilation and produce ineffable blessings, so that the soul itself cannot understand all that it receives there. The fragrance it experiences, we might say, is as if in those interior depths there were a brazier on which we cast sweet perfumes; the light cannot be seen, nor the place where it dwells, but the fragrant smoke and the heat penetrate the entire soul, and very often, as I have said, the effects extend even to the body. Observe—and understand me here—that no heat is felt, nor is any fragrance perceived: it is a more delicate thing than that; I only put it in that way so that you may understand it. People who have not experienced it must realize that it does in very truth happen; its occurrence is capable of being perceived, and the soul becomes aware of it more clearly than these words of mine can express. For it is not a thing we can fancy, nor, however hard we strive, can we acquire it, and from that very fact it is clear that it is a thing made, not of human metal, but of the purest gold of Divine wisdom. In this state the faculties are not, I think, in union, but they become absorbed and are amazed as they consider what is happening to them.

We will look next at two levels of consciousness in the fourth mansion.