The Mystic Ladder of Divine Love by St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross, with the help of Sts. Bernard and Aquinas, presents the development of spiritual growth – our journey of receiving infused contemplation (he calls it “the ladder of contemplative purgation”) – as a mystic ladder of divine love. To understand this, he first defines what contemplation is:

“Contemplation is the science of love which is an infused loving knowledge of God, and which enlightens the soul and at the same time kindles within it the fire of love till it shall ascend upwards step by step unto God its Creator; for it is love only that unites the soul and God” (433).

“For love is like fire, which ever ascends, hastening to be absorbed in the centre of its sphere” (440).

St. John proceeds to give 10 steps on the ladder, explaining the signs of effects of each, so that those who have entered into the dark nights may be able to discern where they are on the ladder.

1st step: Love causes the soul to languish with great profit for God’s glory. The soul no longer desires earthly things nor finds pleasure in them.

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, that you tell Him that I languish with love.’ (Song of Songs 5:8). 

2nd step: Love causes the soul to seek the Beloved in all things (thoughts, words, works, etc) without ceasing.

“I will rise; I will seek Him whom my soul loveth” (Song of Songs 3:1-2).

“Seek His face always” (Ps 104:4).

3rd step: Love causes the soul to work and gives it fervor so that it fails not, desiring to die a thousand deaths to make up for the scantiness of its service.

“Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, he shall delight exceedingly in His commandments” (Ps 111:1).

“They seemed but a few days because of the greatness of his love” (Gen 29:20).

4th step: Love causes in the soul the boldly follow after God in the spirit of suffering for His sake. The soul is now strong, seeks no gain for self, and its sole desire is to please God at any and every cost.

“Love makes all that is grievous and heavy to be light as nothing” (St. Augustine).

5th step: Love makes the soul desire and long for God impatiently.

“My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord” (Ps 83:2).

6th step: Love makes the soul run strongly and swiftly to God.

“They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:31)

As the hart panteth after the fountains of waters, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God” (Ps 41:1). 

7th step: Love makes the soul become vehement in its boldness and the soul begins to receive what it so lovingly prays for.

“Love… believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Cor 13:7). 

“Delight in the Lord, and He will give thee the requests of thy heart” (Ps 36:4).

8th step: Love causes the soul to seize Him and hold Him fast without letting Him go, even as the Bride says, after this manner:

‘I found Him Whom my heart and soul love; I held Him and I will not let Him go.’ (Song of Songs 3:4).

9th step: Love makes the soul burn with sweetness from the gift of the Spirit as God bestows upon the soul indescribable riches and blessings.

S. Gregory says of the Apostles, that they burned interiorly with love sweetly, when the Holy Ghost descended upon them

10th step: Love causes the soul to become wholly assimilated to God, by reason of the clear and immediate vision of God which it then possesses; when, having ascended in this life to the ninth step, it goes forth from the flesh.

Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God.’ (Matt 5:8).

We know,’ saith S. John, ‘that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is.’ (1 John 3:2). 

%d bloggers like this: