Meditation VS. Contemplation

I’ve been trying to understand the distinction between Meditation and Contemplation. What is the difference between the two? Would like to read your thoughts on this.


The simplest way to describe the distinction between meditation and contemplation is to say that meditation is thinking and praying about something you have read, such as a biblical passage or writing of a saint, or experienced, such as an answer to prayer or the state of your soul. Mary did this often, as we see in the Gospels. Contemplation, OTOH, is to clear one’s mind of everything and just let God communicate with your heart and soul. Both are equally good for us to practice for meditation feeds our faith while contemplation feeds our hearts and souls. I hope that helps! :slight_smile:

The terms are often used interchangeably.

There is a whole literature on what is known as “infused contemplation” – the direct experience of God, communicated to the soul.

Della has used the word “contemplation” the way proponents of Centering Prayer use it.

In short: pick your poison. The definitions are not locked in concrete, and a thoughtful writer on the subject will lay out his meaning for you before launching into the subject.

In the words of St. John of the Cross…

Contemplation is God working in the soul. God seeks to bring you out of the “low” kind of love to a higher one of Him, to free you from the ‘low’ exercises of sense and meditation and lead you to a kind of spiritual exercise where you commune with God more abundantly and are freed more completely from imperfection.

Meditation comes before contemplation. It is you doing all the work, meditating on the scriptures. God then will decide to bring you out of that where you will no longer be able to meditate. You will feel that nothing is happening at all, still you long to be with Him. When in actuality, God is working in you, in your darkness until He is ready to bring you into light which is the highest form of contemplation.

Contemplate: 1. To look at attentively and thoughtfully. 2. To consider carefully and at length; meditate on or ponder.

Meditate: 1. To reflect on; contemplate.

In general, they mean the same thing. Different spiritual traditions or lineages might give different particular meanings to each word, though.

Personally, I see meditation as more “goal-oriented”, and contemplation more “God-oriented”. :smiley:

Seek in READING,
And you will find in MEDITATION;
Knock in PRAYER,
And it will be opened to you in CONTEMPLATION.

Guigo II, The Ladder of Four Rungs, as quoted in St. John of the Cross’s Sayings of Light and Love.

You answer has pretty much been given. Secularly, they can be used interchangeably. In reference to Christian prayer, the two have more specific meanings that are very different:

meditative: You do the work. You are “thinking”. You are actively following or discussing a topic in your mind.

contemplative: You don’t do anything. God does the work. Its synonymous with just experiencing your spouse as you lay being held by them, without necessary thought about how much you love them, or happy you are. Contemplative prayer can not be done on one’s own. God has to choose to work it in them.

As opposed to what a previous poster said, centering prayer is a form of meditative prayer, not contemplative prayer. It involves a willful clearing of the mind, and conscious absense-of-thought, as opposed to just waiting and letting God do what He wants.


Meditative prayer is a form of prayer in which you focus on some aspect of Christ or God or the life of Christ. The rosary is a form of this when you use the mysteries and think of them. This comes before contemplation.

Contemplative prayer is when you get rid of all thoughts and allow God to work in your soul. This is a more apophatic approach to God. This is a deeper form of prayer.

The mystics make this distinction. The author of the cloud of unknowing, which was written in English, makes this distinction.

Like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. :smiley: These are two doctors of the church. They are both Carmelites. To read more about these two and their writings on contemplation and meditation you can go to this Carmelite site

[quote=Jenlyn]Like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. :smiley: These are two doctors of the church. They are both Carmelites. To read more about these two and their writings on contemplation and meditation you can go to this Carmelite site

There are a lot of similarities between John of The Cross’ writings and The Cloud of Unknowing.

[quote=jimmy]There are a lot of similarities between John of The Cross’ writings and The Cloud of Unknowing.

I was mearly naming some mystics so Alison had other places to go to look. I’m not sure how much she wants to get into her topic but there are many good sources out there one being the book you mentioned and some other being the saints I mentioned.

Peace. :slight_smile:

I agree Jenlyn there are many good posts here! Thank you all for your timely responses. Thank you also for the reading material. I am seeing the distinction between the two types of prayer. Thank you!


“Contemplation” can be a confusing term. Sometimes it is used to mean the same thing, more or less, as meditation. However, in the Catholic spiritual tradition, there is such a thing as supernatural contemplation, or what is sometimes called infused contemplation. This is the kind of prayer in which God communicates to the soul Himself without intermediary. Since it isn’t the result of a person’s own efforts, it may begin suddenly, just as one person might speak to another without preliminaries. However, God calls the person to this kind of prayer and the person cannot raise himself to it on his own. This is the sort of thing more fully explained by standard Catholic manuals of spiritual theology.

Here is a site on contemplation:

Hi Allison,

Meditation and contemplation have nothing to do about blanking our minds, as contemporary definitions would suggest. It has everything to do with opening our hearts in receptiveness and surrender to the sway of God, and letting Him give Himself to us according to our capacity to receive Him.

Maybe the best way to make the distinction between meditiation and contemplation is to review the four phase practice of Lectio Divina, “Divine Reading”: Lectio, Meditatio, Oration, Contemplatio.

The first stage is Reading (Lectio). We read the scriptures for example, not to study, but with a receptivness to any verse that God may inspire us with. When we encounter such a verse, we pause and reflect on the verse (Meditatio), what is God saying to me? What does it mean to me? We then naturally pray (Oratio) over the verse and insight. It is natural after we have exhausted our “reflection” and “vocal prayer”, God may grant us a moment of peace and completion…we then simply sit quietly after our holy activity to rest in the Lord (Contemplatio).

Meditation, then, is what what we do, such as reflection, etc. that can result in quiet receptivity to the Lord, which is contemplation. When such contemplation is the fruit of our effort under the normal baptismal graces, it’s a lower form of contemplation known as “acquired” contemplation. The highest forms of contemplation are a pure gift of God, and is called “infused” contemplation.

I hope this helps. God bless!

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