An ecstasy is called a rapture inasmuch as God does thereby rapt us, and raise us up to himself, and a rapture is termed an ecstasy, because by it we go and remain out of, and above, ourselves, to be united to God. And although the attractions by which God draws us be admirably pleasing, sweet and delicious, yet on account of the force which the divine beauty and goodness have to draw unto them the attention and application of the spirit, it seems that it not only raises us but that it ravishes and bears us away. As, on the contrary, by reason of the most free consent and ardent motion, by which the ravished soul goes out after the divine attractions, she seems not only to mount and rise, but also to break out of herself and cast herself into the very divinity. Similarly the soul may be ravished out of itself by the infamous ecstasy of sensual pleasure, by which however it is not raised up, but is degraded below itself.
But, my dear Theotimus, as to sacred ecstasies, they are of three kinds; the one of them belongs to the understanding, another to the affection, and the third to action. The one is in splendour, the other in fervour, the third in works: the one is made by admiration, the other by devotion, and the third by operation. Admiration is caused in us by the meeting with a new truth, which we neither knew, nor yet expected to know; and if the new truth we meet with be accompanied by beauty and goodness, the admiration which proceeds from it is very delicious. So the Queen of Saba finding more true wisdom in Solomon than she had imagined, became filled with admiration. And the Jews, acknowledging in our Saviour more knowledge than they could ever have believed, were taken with a great admiration. When therefore it pleases the divine goodness to illuminate our heart with some special light, whereby it is raised to an extraordinary and sublime contemplation of heavenly mysteries, then, discovering more beauty in them than it could have imagined, it falls into admiration.
Now admiration of things that cause pleasure closely fixes and glues the spirit to the thing admired, as well by reason of the excellent beauty which it causes to be found therein, as by the novelty of this excellence, the understanding being unable to delight itself enough in seeing what it never saw before, and what is so agreeable to the view. Sometimes also besides this, God imparts to the soul a light not only clear but growing, like the daybreak; and then, as those who have found a gold-mine continually break more earth, ever to find more of the wished-for metal, so the understanding ever buries itself deeper and deeper in the consideration and admiration of its divine object: for even as admiration has produced philosophy, and the attentive study of natural things, so it has also caused contemplation and mystical theology; and as this admiration when it is strong, keeps us out of ourselves and above ourselves by a lively attention and application of our understanding to heavenly things, it carries us consequently into ecstasy.