The Interior Castle:
Saint Teresa’s Diamond
The De Beers Jewelry marketing slogan of “Diamonds are Forever” might have been a perfect catchphrase for Saint Teresa’s “Diamond”, better known to us as the Interior Castle. However, this company was not yet around in 1577 when she was ordered to write another book.
“Forever” was a well-chosen word because of the properties and symbolism inherent in the diamond. In the story of her Life (Chapter XL, Paragraph 14), Teresa had likened God to a diamond.
Let us suppose the Godhead to be a most brilliant
diamond, much larger than the whole world,
or a mirror like that to which I compared the soul
in a former vision, only in a way so high that I
cannot possibly describe it;
and that all our actions are seen in that diamond,
which is of such dimensions as to include everything,
because nothing can be beyond it.
It was a fearful thing for me to see, in so short a time,
so many things together in that brilliant diamond,
and a most piteous thing too, whenever I think of it,
to see such foul things as my sins
present in the pure brilliancy of that light.
Since we are made in the image and likeness of God she revisits this comparison again in Chapter One of the First Mansions of the Interior Castle, commenting on the dignity and beauty of the soul,
…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 was not a young person when asked to carry out this obedience. Already in her sixties, she stated that she did not even know how to begin this task nor were any thoughts coming to her mind. It was in ardent prayer that the basis for the writing was received. Thus she considered the soul
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. (Interior Castle, Chapter 1, Paragraph 2)
In trying to explain the interior structure of the castle Teresa does not tell us exactly how many rooms she had in mind. Each mansion seems to consist of an endless or forever possibility since each soul is so unique and the spaciousness of its journey so vast. There is no logical placement of the rooms which leaves it wide open for Teresa’s spontaneity.
The word forever comes to the fore again in the quality of the diamond’s hardness, durability, and endurance and holds a special place and fascination for us, who are creatures who had a beginning but are destined to live forever. As we journey inward through the rooms of the diamond castle we will need the diamond’s endurance to persevere until we reach the center chamber where His Majesty dwells and find that rest of which St. Augustine speaks in his Confessions: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
Let us look at the three main stages …
in the production of a diamond gem and compare them to the grouping of the main rooms in the seven mansions…
Extraction from the mine: Recognizing and removing of the raw diamond…
Mines are places of darkness and messiness and a skilled miner must have a trained eye to recognize the mineral he is seeking. It is hard work and if it is to be successful the miner must be disciplined and persevering.
There is a treasure that lies within buried in the darkness and often messiness of the soul. To discover it one must be willing to enter the door of the castle through prayer and descend into the deeper regions. As we proceed further, fears, doubts, and discouragements can tempt us to turn back. This is the asceticism of discipline, applied to the diamond in the rough, where we either grow in faith and continue to move forward or return to our former reliance on our own reasoning. If we do not persevere the treasure will continue to lie buried and undiscovered.
Cutting of the diamond:
The artisan must determine the perfect proportions of a diamond before cutting in order to allow it to give off more sparkle. This is a delicate procedure that requires optimal skills as well as scientific knowledge and experience in order to produce a jewel of visually engaging beauty. Diamonds are highly valued and treasured in all cultures and countries. Of all the gems available, the diamond is still one of the most desired and cherished and the diamond engagement ring is the accepted standard to symbolize love and commitment.
Mansions 4 and 5:
This part of our journey takes us into the mystical realm where the cutting tool becomes grace in which the role of the Holy Spirit is more prominent than is our own striving. Human efforts alone cannot bring this about. In any cutting process, something is lost in order to enhance what remains. The inability to pray as one did formerly is now replaced by an infused understanding of God which has deepened our capacity to love Him.
Just as the diamond has special optical properties which reflect the brilliance of the light optimized by the cutting, so also in the 5th mansion the memory and the imagination are completely illuminated by the divine light.
Polishing of the diamond:
The term polish refers to the removal of any blemishes on the surface of the diamond, which might become scratched or nicked in the cutting process. Polishing improves the quality of the diamond giving it the luster that has made it so prized among gems.
Mansions 6 and 7:
Just as the diamond received its final touches so the soul also in these last two mansions, where the Holy Spirit penetrates more deeply, allows self-knowledge to become fully manifested. Self-knowledge brings with it humility which eventually allows the soul to be open enough to permit God full reign. The spiritual betrothal which takes place in mansion six engenders in the soul a greater confidence.
As the diamond reflects eternal love so His Majesty residing in the inner chamber of the seventh mansion is the Eternal Love drawing the soul into this inner sanctum of His abiding presence where it is transfigured and rests in God through the spiritual marriage. In this community of divine love is expressed also one’s love of neighbor.
Just as a diamond gives great delight to the one who receives it, Teresa, at the end of her work on the Mansions, speaks of the great delight that one has who has explored the inside of the diamond of the Interior Castle.
What is an earthly diamond compared to the Diamond of the Interior Life?
Previously posted on the blog of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission.
Art for this post on The Interior Castle: Saint Teresa’s Diamond: Modified detail of Patio interior del castillo de Manzanares el Real (Madrid) (Interior Patio of Manzaneres el Real Castle Madrid), photographed by Eleagnus~commonswiki, 9-February-2005, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.