Since these stanzas will serve as the basis for all I shall say, I want to cite them here in full that the reader may see in them a summary of the doctrine to be expounded, ( which remains unfinished.Saint John of the Cross’ spiritual confrere, Saint Teresa of Avila, in contrast, invokes the image of an interior castle. The image of an interior dwelling-place has antecedents, for example, the inner cell of the heart of Saint Catherine of Siena.And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled. “This is a ladder for monks,” Guigo II says, “by means of which they are raised up from earth to heaven.It has only a few separate rungs, yet its length is immense and incredible: for its lower part stands on the earth while its higher part pierces the clouds and touches the secrets of heaven.” One of the most influential schemes describing progress in the spiritual life originates in Pseudo-Dionysius, late fifth century, whose true identity is lost to history.He assumes the threefold division of souls into beginners, proficients, and the perfect—a scheme which originates in the Carthusian Hugh of Balma—and uses the framework of scholastic theology throughout, bringing together important threads in Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism to accomplish a synthesis notable in the history of mystical theology.Saint John of the Cross begins They describe the way that leads to the summit of the mount—that high state of perfection we here call union of a soul with God.The image of a ladder is also a central motif in the Hence, brethren, if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which angels appeared to him descending and ascending.By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
In this work Saint John divides progress in the spiritual life into 30 steps, organized into three major groupings.
Another image of progress in the spiritual life is that of the mountain. Because God is transcendent, ruling over all creation, the soul must ascend, literally and metaphorically, to encounter God.
In the Bible, Mount Hebron, Mount Sinai, and Mount Tabor are all important symbols.
Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s is also based on the threefold way.
He uses the threefold way as a framework to synthesize theological principles of the spiritual life according to the rich Roman Catholic tradition.