Definition of Contemplation: What it is not and what it is

So, what is contemplation? Here’s a definition I provided in my book Navigating the Interior Life that is in keeping with Catholic tradition:

Contemplation is an infused supernatural gift, that originates completely outside of our will or ability in God, by which a person becomes freely absorbed in God producing a real awareness, desire, and love for Him. This often gentle, delightful, or even intense encounter can yield special insights into things of the spirit and results in a deeper and tangible desire to love God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed. It is important to note that infused contemplation is a state that can be prepared for, but cannot in any way be produced by the will of a person through methods or ascetical practices.

Read more: rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/03/20/is-it-ok-to-have-a-spiritual-director-that-is-not-as-advanced-as-i-am-in-prayer#ixzz2VoL0ebzg

Contemplation is NOT:

a method of prayer.
something we generate on our own or through a sit, breathe and repeat a sacred word formula.
oneness or fusion with a cosmic force or principal or the universe.
a good feeling during prayer.
the same as or synonymous with meditation.
something that we can in any way originate, intensify, or prolong by anything that we do.
an exercise in self-contemplation, stillness, silence of the mind, or self-emptying.
a new or alternate realm of consciousness.
a turning inwards on ourselves.
an annihilation of self resulting in total union with God wherein the self no long exists as a distinct creature.
a looking within to discover authentic wisdom, creativity, and power.
a detachment in any way from the person and incarnational reality of Christ.

Read more: rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/03/20/is-it-ok-to-have-a-spiritual-director-that-is-not-as-advanced-as-i-am-in-prayer#ixzz2VoLhhm3T

If you are speaking only about “infused” contemplation, then your description is nicely worded.

You did not mention the prayer of “acquired” contemplation that is not infused by God, but which a person may achieve as they advance in prayer. Some call it the prayer of simplicity, since the vocal prayer formulas are simplified, taking the form of a loving ejaculation (sometimes without words at all). We see this type of contemplation described in “Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. The person lives contemplatively in God’s presence throughout his daily activity. This is the most common form experienced by many devoted persons.

There have been many threads discussing Contemplation on CAF.

The most recent one covered much about it.
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=791157

It can be noted that there is acquired contemplation…and infused contemplation.

And to confuse things (unintentionally) there are various authors and various schools who use term “contemplation” differently.…in their writings (over the centuries)

(and I am meaning here even only those who writers and schools that do not depart from faithfulness to the Church or who are not Christians to begin with -the term gets used in various ways among them as well).

Though a basic outline that I use to explain things is that it can be said that there is acquired contemplation --which can be on a philosophical level (read Josef Pieper on “natural contempation”) or on the theological level …and there can be even the ordinary kind like that of a mother “contemplating” her sleeping child or our contemplating nature. These are a true contemplation.

And there can be "acquired contemplation" in the sense of a kind of contemplation in prayer where things become more of a intuitive gaze (to look and love) etc (such as prayer of simplicity). (within which too God might begin to give infused contemplation as well)

And then there is* “infused contemplation”* – which is given (infused) directly by God (such as prayer of quiet --to use a term from St. Teresa of Jesus).

So I guess that makes you Dan Burke?? :slight_smile:

In the future, when you copy/paste from another site, please say so at the beginning of the post, or use the quote tool, otherwise, it looks as thought you wrote it.

May Christ’s peace be with you.

I did not know what you were referring to at first. After clicking the website link from OP, I realize OP’s entire post was copied from Dan Burke’s blog, and I find out Dan Burke is the executive director of National Catholic Register newpaper.

The way OP posted was misleading.Thanks Viola Incognita, for clarifying.

I posted the link so you would discover the source. I wasn’t trying to take credit or anything…:nope:

Absolutist statements like this are problematic. While I understand the message that’s trying to be conveyed … and even agree with in part … many of the listed statements can be validly presented from the contrary point of view.

Contemplation is not a method or prayerful act we can enter into on our own? It has been amply shown on this thread and others that the Church has a long tradition of contemplation in the acquired sense. One need look no further than the catechism to see this illustrated. Look to the expressions used: “The loving conversation between friends” … “I look at Him and He looks at me” … the “simple gaze.” Expressions like this strike to the heart of contemplation as something we can do, aided by grace. We can add to these catechism definitions many others: the way of Brother Lawrence, the way of The Cloud of Unknowing, the way of Osuna to name just a few.

Contemplation is not a feeling? Hard to square with St. Teresa’s descriptions of spiritual delight that flows from the infused prayer of quiet or even the consolations that are the fruit of one’s contemplation in the acquired sense.

Contemplation is not a matter of turning within oneself in order to find God? Turning within oneself is precisely what St. Teresa counsels. Something we should enter into as often as we can … time and time again, her exact words. If the indwelling Trinity were not a reality then expressions like “Interior Castle” would have no meaning. Truly the “kingdom of God is within.”

Contemplation is not a matter of stilling the mind? Again very hard to square to the writings of St. Teresa and St. John. Slowing down the natural wanderings of the mind is exactly what St. Teresa shows we must do to best prepare for infused graces. Critical to her teaching: the “slowing of the mind” and “redirecting our interior ramblings” back to God is the intersection where acquired contemplation can almost effortlessly pass to the infused as she so wonderfully shows in Way of Perfection chapters 28-31. Look also to St. John’s teaching on the active night of spirit in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, especially the purification of memory, for perhaps the best teaching on this.

Contemplation is not some other type or level of consciousness, awareness or state of being? From an infused sense, it’s very hard to NOT see contemplation from this point of view. Just what do we think St. Teresa is trying to tell us about the experience of prayer as it proceeds to passive recollection, the prayer of quiet, prayer of union and the various ecstatic states she describes? Just what do we think she means when she uses terms like absorption, suspension and spiritual sleep if it does not pertain, at least in part, to the “normal” understanding of awareness and consciousness? Why do we think theologians use the term “prayer states” to describe the progressive silencing of our faculties? From the initial turning inward of passive recollection … to the partial suspension of quiet … to the complete absorption of union … to the being drawn out of oneself in ecstasy?

I could go on and on but hopefully this is enough.

Dave

Hi Dave,
It’s so good to ponder your words once again.

Yes, these terms used by mystics are very hard for many to understand; yet mystical theology, speaking about spiritual matters using everyday language is probably their most difficult task to convey the underlying meaning. I am corresponding with someone on another website who is having the usual difficulty trying to grasp St. Teresa’s meaning.

For me, the flitting about in the 5th mansions of I.C., interspersing the stage of development with the state of prayer, was very puzzling. I can only thank the Holy Spirit who finally helped me understand her more clearly. (I suppose this was the fruit of His gift of Counsel). She borrowed a lot of metaphors from Osuna in her writings, straining to bring us light with analogies such as these. Ah, how difficult it is to convey some of these spiritual realites using our human words.

It can be noted that there is acquired contemplation…and infused contemplation.

And to confuse things (unintentionally) there are various authors and various schools who use term “contemplation” differently.…in their writings (over the centuries)

(and I am meaning here even only those who writers and schools that do not depart from faithfulness to the Church or who are not Christians to begin with -the term gets used in various ways among them as well).

Though a basic outline that I use to explain things is that it can be said that there is acquired contemplation --which can be on a philosophical level (read Josef Pieper on “natural contempation”) or on the theological level …and there can be even the ordinary kind like that of a mother “contemplating” her sleeping child or our contemplating nature. These are a true contemplation.

And there can be "acquired contemplation" in the sense of a kind of contemplation in prayer where things become more of a intuitive gaze (to look and love) etc (such as prayer of simplicity). (within which too God might begin to give infused contemplation as well)

And then there is* “infused contemplation”* – which is given (infused) directly by God (such as prayer of quiet --to use a term from St. Teresa of Jesus).

And one can add that there was in the first part of 20th century good debate between the differing schools at that time…

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this Dave. I was worried that I was imagining things after reading that list of what contemplation is NOT as I had experienced some of those things. Your presentation was completely accurate and put my mind at ease. Thank you. :slight_smile:

CCC:

scborromeo.org/ccc/p4s1c3a1.htm#III

(a very Theological document from CDF)

[vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html(very](http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19891015_meditazione-cristiana_en.html(very) Theological document from CDF)

:thumbsup:

Well, the Thread was taken from " Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

Read more: rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/03/20/is-it-ok-to-have-a-spiritual-director-that-is-not-as-advanced-as-i-am-in-prayer#ixzz2VvUxLS97

Maybe you should speak with Dan about your disagreements with his statement or clarify with him what he means. EWTN seems to respect him and edify him.

My, what glowing accolades! I can appreciate that this gentleman is well-intended, and has an appreciation for interior prayer. However, that does not make him an expert on the subject. I see that you have posted the link twice, but I agree with DBT that it is very deficient in understanding Carmelite spirituality.

DBT is a Carmelite and is very advanced in the ways of contemplative prayer – and, I would say, a reliable expert in understanding this subject. His posts over several years are very profound and would serve you well to do a search and read them, rather than Dan Burke, who is obviously not a Carmelite.

So, I spoke with my priest on the issue of “feelings, absorption, ecstasies, prayer of quiet, etc.” He said that those things are not contemplation but the symptoms of contemplation in a person who has not yet become accustomed to the constant presence of God and that St. Teresa herself considered them a “weakness” of the human condition.

Also, on the matter of “quieting the mind or any other effort,” on our part, to create a “readiness” for contemplation, is not in itself contemplation.

CCC 2715 Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.11

For those who have experienced and continue to engage in acquired contemplation, we know how and what it is. Entering into the inner chamber of our souls, gazing on, and lingering with the Beloved who dwells there, needless to say, is contemplation.

For those who do not know such acquired contemplation, they may think only infused absorption, suspension and ecstasy count. Their thinking and writing may be purely based on theory that is lack of any first hand experience. They may insist that contemplation is an infused supernatural gift only and makes the meaning of contemplation incorrectly narrowed.

Prayer of quiet is a form of infused contemplation (so while I understand what he was getting at there --I would not quite put it that way).

Also note that yes it is correct in a sense that “Also, on the matter of … “any other effort”… on our part, to create a “readiness” for contemplation, is not in itself contemplation”

If one takes “contemplation” as “infused contemplation”.

But other forms of contemplation are not “infused”

As I noted though:

It can be noted that there is acquired contemplation…and infused contemplation.

And to confuse things (unintentionally) there are various authors and various schools who use term “contemplation” differently.…in their writings (over the centuries)

(and I am meaning here even only those who writers and schools that do not depart from faithfulness to the Church or who are not Christians to begin with -the term gets used in various ways among them as well).

Though a basic outline that I use to explain things is that it can be said that there is acquired contemplation --which can be on a philosophical level (read Josef Pieper on “natural contempation”) or on the theological level …and there can be even the ordinary kind like that of a mother “contemplating” her sleeping child or our contemplating nature. These are a true contemplation.

And there can be "acquired contemplation" in the sense of a kind of contemplation in prayer where things become more of a intuitive gaze (to look and love) etc (such as prayer of simplicity). (within which too God might begin to give infused contemplation as well). This is contemplation.

And then there is* “infused contemplation”* – which is given (infused) directly by God (such as prayer of quiet --to use a term from St. Teresa of Jesus).

Absorption can be a waste of time, and not at all contemplation. St. Teresa cautioned her prioresses to be on the watch for this and not to permit it in her sisters.

However, the latter two you mentioned “ecstasies and prayer of quiet” are very definitely gifts of infused contemplation. Your priest is not correct with regard to this, unless you just misunderstood him.

As for spiritual feelings, if these cause the soul to love God more deeply and pour forth its heart in prayer to Him, how can they be bad? True, they are not contemplation, but feelings in the spiritual life are not a bad thing, but are part of our total nature as human beings with body, soul and emotions. Jesus wept, remember? He celebrated at a wedding, he agonized in the garden, he angered in the temple at the money-changers. Yes, emotions/feelings are part of who we are, and to stoicly bury them or set them aside is foolish. I’m thinking of the horrible effect on young boys who were taught that it is sissy to cry.

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