1. The sixth step makes the soul run swiftly toward God and experience many
touches in him. And it runs without fainting by reason of its hope. The love
that has invigorated it makes it fly swiftly. The prophet Isaiah also speaks of
this step: The saints who hope in God shall renew their strength. They shall
take wings like the eagle and shall fly and not faint [Is. 40:31], as is
characteristic of the fifth step. The following verse of the psalm also pertains
to this step: As the hart desires the waters, so does my soul desire you, my God
[Ps. 42:1], for the hart when thirsty races toward the waters.
The reason for
the swiftness of love on this step is that the soul's charity is now highly
increased and almost completely purified, as is also stated in the psalm: Sine iniquitate cucurri (Without iniquity have I run) [Ps. 59:4]; and in another
psalm: I have run the way of your commandments, when you enlarged my heart [Ps.
119:32]. The soul is soon brought from the sixth to the seventh step.
2. The seventh step of the ladder gives it an ardent boldness. At this stage
love neither profits by the judgment to wait nor makes use of the counsel to
retreat, neither can it be curbed through shame. For the favor God now gives it
imparts an ardent daring. Hence the Apostle says: Charity believes all things,
hopes all things, and endures all things [1 Cor. 13:7]. Moses spoke from this
step when he besought God to forgive the people or else strike his name out of
the book of life [Ex. 32:32]. These souls obtain from God what, with pleasure,
they ask of him. David accordingly declares: Delight in God, and he will grant
you the petitions of your heart [Ps. 37:4]. On this step the bride became bold
and exclaimed: Osculetur me osculo oris sui [Sg. 1:1].1 It is illicit for the
soul to become daring on this step if it does not perceive the divine favor of
the king's scepter held out toward it [Est. 5:2; 8:4], for it might then fall
down the step it has already climbed. On these steps it must always conserve
humility. From the free hand and boldness God gives on this seventh step, that
one may be daring in his presence with an ardent love, follows the eighth step.
Here the soul captures the Beloved and is united with him as follows.
3. The eighth step of love impels the soul to lay hold of the Beloved without
letting him go, as the bride proclaims: I found him whom my heart and soul
loves, I held him and did not let him go [Sg. 3:4]. Although the soul satisfies
its desire on this step of union, it does not do so continually. Some manage to
get to it, but soon turn back and leave it. If one were to remain on this step,
a certain glory would be possessed in this life, and so the soul rests on it for
only short periods of time. Because the prophet Daniel was a man of desires, God
ordered him to stay on this step: Daniel, remain on your step, because you are a
man of desires [Dn. 10:11]. After this step comes the ninth, which is that of
4. The ninth step of love causes the soul to burn gently. It is the step of the
perfect who burn gently in God. The Holy Spirit produces this gentle and
delightful ardor by reason of the perfect soul's union with God. St. Gregory
accordingly says of the Apostles that when the Holy Spirit came upon them
visibly, they burned interiorly and gently with love.2
We cannot speak of the
goods and riches of God a person enjoys on this step because even were we to
write many books about them the greater part would remain unsaid. For this
reason and also because we will say something about them later, I will mention
no more here than that this step of the ladder of love is succeeded by the tenth
and final step, which is no longer of this life.
5. The tenth and last step of this secret ladder of love assimilates the soul to
God completely because of the clear vision of God that a person possesses at
once on reaching it. After arriving at the ninth step in this life, the soul
departs from the body. Since these souls - few that there be - are already
extremely purged through love, they do not enter purgatory. St. Matthew says:
Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt, etc. [Mt. 5:8].3 As we mentioned,
this vision is the cause of the soul's complete likeness to God. St. John says:
We know that we shall be like him [1 Jn. 3:2], not because the soul will have as
much capacity as God - this is impossible - but because all it is will become
like God. Thus it will be called, and shall be, God through participation.
6. Such is the secret ladder of which the soul here speaks, although on these
higher steps it is not very secret to the soul, for love reveals a great deal
through the remarkable effects it produces. But on this last step of clear
vision at the top of the ladder, where God rests, as we said,4 nothing is any
longer hid from the soul, and this because of its total assimilation.
Accordingly our Savior exclaimed: On that day you will not ask me anything, etc.
[Jn. 16:23]. Nevertheless, until that day, however high the soul may ascend,
something will still be hidden in proportion to one's lack of total assimilation
to the divine essence.
Thus, by means of this mystical theology and secret love,
the soul departs from itself and all things and ascends to God. For love is like
a fire that always rises upward as though longing to be engulfed in its center.