He describes in his sermon "On the Different Stages in the Spiritual Life" that the purification, illuminative and unitive stages and put them into corresponding stages of personal growth. He notes that although God does not change, as His Essence is immutable, that each one of us changes in our relationship to Him
The three stages are spiritual childhood, disciple and bride.
Before those, one is what Bernard calls a "hireling", like the Prodigal Son who hire himself to others, under the eyes of the Head of the Household. One is still a slave at this point, and as one converts and changes, one's character changes as well, perceiving God in different ways. The slave is the pre-conversion stage.
One is a slave to sin and to one's own will. Bernard states that a person begins by being subject to one's own will, but rapidly falls into the slavery of sin. One becomes a stranger in a strange land.
This, notes Bernard, is the state of the soul before Baptism-a truth denied by many people today. One becomes a slave to the prince of darkness, states Bernard, either in the state of pre-baptism, or by choice, which is voluntary sin, and then even against one's will, wherein the person is still bound by habits of sin.
He refers to the last type as the lukewarm Christians in the world, which have peaceful even happy lives but are not living up to the great call of holiness to which we are all called.
They are not seeking the things above. Fear of the Lord changes this and with conversion comes the first real stage of perfection, that of spiritual childhood. One must do do penance and as he was speaking to his novices, Bernard stated that one "blots out sins of the past" and "guards against future faults."
Purification only begins after conversion. The child is disciplined by his father, just as God disciplines His children. and this purification is formation. Bernard says that this is the stage noted in 1 Peter 2:2, when one is a little one in Christ, drinking milk and being formed. This is the age of discipline and training. A child needs consolation as well, which disappears in adulthood.
(Formation of children leads to holiness of teens and adults, by the way.)
The second stage of perfection is the stage wherein one is a disciple, calling God "Master" and "Lord". The disciples were at this stage for most of the Gospel, except for John. Christ says in John 13:13. "You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am."
The illuminative stage happens at this point. One begins to have infused knowledge of the Scriptures and understand the teachings of the Church. This is the stage of the grown-up, weaned son who works with the Father. Bernard refers to Ephesians 4:13 and Luke 2:49. Christ Himself at twelve or so knew he had to be about His Father's business and so does the person in the illuminative stage.
Prayer and work go together and the reward is that of a son, states Bernard, quoting Psalm 126, which reminds me that St. David, King, experiences these stages.
One must have a desire to go on to the last two stages, as it is so easy to stay in the childhood stage.
Most people get caught up in the excellent and good works of this stage and do not move on to the last and most precious stage, which I shall continue in the next post.