There is a Catholic author who compared St Paul's vision of the third heaven to the third or final stage or way of perfection. I can remember reading it some years ago, but cannot recall it now.

This concept is not easy for me to understand. Many authors have written about the Ways of Perfection, But I am looking for the one who used St Paul's vision of 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 as a comparison to the unitive state of prayer.

Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

In Catholic thought the three stages (ways,state) of interior life or prayer are the purgative stage, the illuminative stage and the unitive stage.

This link I hope, can get the idea of where I am coming from: On the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Stages of Spiritual Life, as seen in a Cartoon.

2 Answers 2


Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., in his Three Ages of the Interior Life (part III, ch. XIII, B. "The Union of Humility and Christian Dignity"):

In his commentary on this chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Thomas speaks admirably of the union of humility and magnanimity in St. Paul. He writes as follows: “As charity is the root of the virtues, pride is the beginning of every sin.(25) It is the inordinate desire of our own excellence: we desire it then without subordinating it to God. Thus we turn away from Him, which is the beginning of every sin; for this reason God resists the proud.(26) As there is in good people the good of which they may become proud, God sometimes permits some infirmity in His elect, some defect, and occasionally a mortal sin, which prevents them from becoming proud, which truly humiliates them, and makes them recognize that they cannot hold out or persevere by their own strength. The apostle St. Paul in particular might have grown proud of many things: he was a vessel of election to carry the faith to the Gentiles; (27) he had been ravished to the third heaven and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter; (28 [Cf. II Cor. 12:4.]) he had suffered greatly for Christ, several times he had been cast into prison, and scourged; he was a virgin (having obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful); (29) he had labored more than all, as he says; (30) and in particular he had a lofty knowledge of divine things which may be the source of pride. For this reason the Lord gave him a remedy for pride. That the excellence of the revelations made to him might not make him proud, he received a sting in the flesh, a humiliating infirmity which crucified his body in order to heal his soul… . As he says, an angel of Satan came and buffeted him. How the sinner should tremble if the great Apostle, the instrument of election, is not sure of himself! Three times he ardently begged the Lord to deliver him from this sting; three times, that is, often and urgently. He then heard these words: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ it will preserve thee from sin. Divine power is shown in weakness, which is an occasion for the exercise of the virtues of humility, patience, and abnegation. The man who knows his weakness is more attentive to resisting it and, because he struggles, he grows in strength. ‘Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities,’ says St. Paul, since I am thus more humble, and I must fight that the power of Christ may dwell in me and bear all its fruits of grace.” (31)


Perhaps you are thinking of "The Interior Castle" by St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Catholic Church? On page 77 of the document at this link, the introduction to the 3rd Chapter, she specifically cites 2 Cor. xii. 2-4.

This sounds to me close to your question, though this is not the final stage of perfection in that book.

  • This is not the source that I thought I was thinking of because I have never read The Interior Castle. Notwithstanding this source will do fine.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 13:20

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