Indeed, Theotimus, there have been many in our age who believed, and others with them, that they were very frequently ravished by God in ecstasy, and yet in the end it was discovered that all were but diabolical illusions and operations. A certain priest in S. Augustine's time put himself into ecstasies whenever he pleased, singing or getting sung certain mournful and melancholy airs, and this only to content the curiosity of those who desired to view this spectacle. But what is most wonderful is, that his ecstasy went so far that he did not feel fire which was applied to him, till after he was come to himself; and yet if any one spoke somewhat loudly, and with a clear voice, he heard them as if from afar, and he had no respiration. The philosophers themselves acknowledged certain species of natural ecstasies, caused by a vehement application of the spirit to the consideration of high things: wherefore we must not think it strange if the devil, to play the ape, to beguile souls, to scandalize the weak, and to transform himself into an angel of light, cause raptures in certain souls who are not solidly instructed in solid piety.
To the end, then, that one might discern divine ecstasies from human and diabolical, God's servants have left many teachings: but for my part, it will suffice for my purpose to propose to you two marks of the good and holy ecstasy. The one is, that sacred ecstasy never so much takes and affects the understanding as it does the will, which it moves, warms and fills with a powerful affection towards God. So that, if the ecstasy be more beautiful than good, more bright than warm, more speculative than affective, it is very doubtful, and deserving of suspicion. I do not say that one may not have raptures, yea prophetical visions, without charity: for, as I know well one may have charity without being ravished, or prophesying, so one may also be ravished and may prophesy without having charity: but I affirm that he who in his rapture has more light in the understanding to admire God, than heat in the will to love him, is to stand upon his guard; for it is to be feared that this ecstasy may be false, and may rather puff up the spirit than edify it, putting him indeed as Saul, Balaam, and Caiphas, amongst the prophets, yet still leaving him amongst the reprobate.
The second mark of true ecstasy consists in the third species of ecstasy which we mentioned above, an ecstasy all holy, all worthy of love, the crown of the two others, -- the ecstasy of act and life. The entire observance of God's commandments is not within the bounds of human strength, yet is it within the stretch of the instinct of the human spirit, as being most conformable to natural light and reason: so that living according to God's commandments, we are not therefore outside our natural inclination. Yet besides God's commandments, there are certain heavenly inspirations to the effecting of which it is not only requisite that God should raise us above our own strength, but also that he should draw us above our natural instincts and inclinations, because although these inspirations are not opposite to human reason, yet they exceed it, surpass it, and are placed above it, so that then we live not only a civil, honest, and Christian life, but a supernatural, spiritual, devout and ecstatic life, that is, a life which is in every way beyond and above our natural condition.
Not to steal, not to lie, not to commit impurity, to pray to God, not to swear in vain, to love and honour one's father, not to kill, -- is to live according to man's natural reason: but to forsake all our goods, to love poverty, to call her and to consider her a most delightful mistress, to repute reproaches, contempts, abjections, persecutions, martyrdoms, as felicities and beatitudes, to contain oneself within the terms of a most absolute chastity, and in fine to live, amidst the world and in this mortal life, contrary to all the opinions and maxims of the world, and against the current of the river of this life, by habitual resignations, renunciations, and abnegatioris of ourselves; -- this is not to live in ourselves, but out of and above ourselves; and because no one is able to go out of himself in this manner above himself unless the eternal Father draw him, hence it is that this kind of life is a perpetual rapture, and a continual ecstasy of action and operation.
You are dead, said the great Apostle to the Colossians, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Death's effect is that the soul no longer lives in its body nor in the limits thereof. What then do these words of the Apostle mean, Theotimus: you are dead? it is as though he said: you no longer live in yourselves nor in the limits of your natural condition; your soul does not now live according to herself but above herself. The true nature of the phoenix lies in this, that by the help of the sunbeams, she annihilates her own life, to have a life more desirable and vigorous, hiding, as it were, her life under ashes. Silkworms change their being, and from worms become butterflies; bees are born worms, then become nymphs crawling on their feet, and at last they become flying bees. We do the same, Theotimus, if we are spiritual: for we forsake our natural life to live a more eminent life above ourselves, hiding all this new life in God with Jesus Christ, who alone sees, knows and bestows it. Our new life is heavenly love, which quickens and animates our soul, and this love is wholly hidden in God and divine things with Jesus Christ: for since (as the sacred Gospel text says), after our Saviour had shown himself for a little to his disciples as he rose up to heaven, thither above, he was at length environed with a cloud which took him and hid him from their view, -- therefore Jesus Christ is hidden in heaven in God. Now Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of our soul: therefore our life is hidden in God with Jesus Christ; and when Jesus Christ, who is our love, and consequently our spiritual life, shall appear, in the day of Judgment, we also shall appear with him in glory; that is, Jesus Christ our love will glorify us, communicating to us his felicity and splendour.