CHAPTER VIII The same sequence is seen in the 'rapture' of St. Paul to the third heaven. Do you suppose that St. Paul had not undergone the same gradual process when, as he has told us, he was 'caught up' to the third heaven? But why was he 'caught up' instead of being 'led up'? The reason surely was that if so great an Apostle says that he was 'caught up' to a place whither no teaching nor leading could bring him, I, who am certainly a lesser man than Paul, may not venture to think that I can reach the third heaven by any strength or effort of my own; so may I neither trust to strength nor shrink from exertion. For a man who is taught or led is obliged, from the fact that he follows his teacher or leader, to use some effort. He at all events does enough in assisting his removal to the place or condition at which he aims to enable him to say, Not I but the grace of God with me. (1) But the man who is carried away, not by his own action, but by that of others, and without even knowing his destination, cannot take the credit or any part of it to himself, since he accomplishes nothing either alone or with assistance. The Apostle might possibly have been directed or assisted to the first or to the middle heaven to reach the third one he had to be caught up. 1. 1 Cor. xv. 10. For the Son is said to have come down for the purpose of helping men to rise to the first, and the Holy Spirit to have been sent to lead them to the second heaven. But the Father, though He always co-operates with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is never said to have come down from heaven, or to have been sent to the earth. It is true that the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, (1) and that heaven and earth are full of thy glory, (2) and much to the same effect. And of the Son I read, when the fulness of the time came, God sent his Son, (3) and the Son Himself says of Himself, The Spirit of the Lord hath sent me. (4) And through the same Prophet He says, Now the Lord hath sent me and his Spirit. (5) And of the Holy Spirit I read, The Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Lord will send in my name, (6) and, when I have been taken up, I will send him unto you -- (7) with undoubted reference to the Holy Spirit. 1. Ps. xxxiii. (Vulg. xxxii) 5.
2. Suggestive of, but not quoted from Is. vi. 3.
3. Gal. iv. 4.
4. The reference must be to Is. Ixi. 1, 'The spirit of the Lord God . . . sent me '.
5. Is. xlviii. 16.
6. John xiv. 26.
7. This is a curious alteration of John xvi. 7, where both Latin versions have si abiero 'if I depart' thus correctly rendering the Greek. St. Bernard's gloss makes it more clear than does the correct reading that the reference is to the Ascension, but assumere 'to take up' does not occur in St. John. But though there is no region in which the Father does not exist, I find no mention of His own Person anywhere but in heaven, as in the Gospel, my fatherwho is in heaven, (1) and in the prayer, Our Father who art in heaven. (2) From this I unhesitatingly conclude that as the Father did not come down, the Apostle could not go up to the third heaven in order to see Him, though he recalls that he was 'caught up' thither. Moreover, No man hath ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven. (3) And lest you should suppose that the reference here is to the first or second heaven, David tells you, His going out is from the end of heaven. (4) And to this He was not suddenly caught up, or secretly conveyed, but, as is stated, in their sight (5) (that is in that of the Apostles) he was raised up. It was not with Him, as with Elias who had one witness, or with Paul who could have none, to attest his statement, and who could hardly do so himself, for he admits I know not, God knoweth. (6) But as the Almighty, He descended and ascended as He pleased, and chose at His discretion, the place, the time, the day and the hour, as well as the onlookers whom He thought worthy to be the witnesses of so great a spectacle, and while they looked on he was raised up. 1. Matt. xvi. 17. 2. Matt. vi. 9.
3. John iii. 13.
4. Ps. xix. 6 (xviii. 7, Vulg.).
5. Acts i. 9.
6. 2 Cor. xii. 2. Elias and Paul were caught up; Enoch was translated; our Saviour is said to have been taken up, that is to have gone up by Himself, without help from anyone. He depended neither on conveyance by a chariot, or assistance by an angel, but on His own power. (1) A cloud received him out of their sight. (2) And what was the purpose of this cloud? Was it to help Him in weakness, to stimulate Him in slackness, or to sustain Him when in danger of falling? Such ideas are inconceivable. That cloud received Him out of the bodily sight of His disciples who, though they had known Him as Christ in the flesh, did not as yet know Him to be more than man. So those whom the Son calls through humility to the first heaven, the Spirit brings together by love in the second, and the Father raises by direct vision to the third. In the first they are humbled by the truth and say, In thy truth thou hast humbled me. (3) In the second they rejoice together with truth and sing, Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity -- (4) as also it is written concerning love. It rejoiceth with the truth (5) In the third heaven they are carried up to the recesses of truth and say, My secret to myself, my secret to myself. (6) 1 The reference may be to the traditional assumption of the Blessed Virgin, with which St. Bernard deals in some of his sermons, or to the general belief that angels carry the souls of the departed into the presence of God.