Transformation in Christ


What is contemplation? Has anyone read the book “Transformation in Christ” by Dietrich von Hildebrand? I am in the middle of it now, and I find his writing to be very abstract and kind of obscure. I’m trying to make sense of it and right now I am particularly interested in his chapter on Recollection and Contemplation. I wonder if there are any similarities between his ideas and the writing of St. John of the Cross in his “Dark Night of the Soul.”

Or for anyone who has not read “Transformation in Christ” specifically, do you know what the definition of contemplation is in general?

Here are some of the headings in that chapter of his book:

Contemplation is superior to action
Contemplation brings us into contact with ultimate reality
Religious contemplation presupposes a personal God
Religious contemplation is possible only after we renounce sin
Contemplation is the proper form of our spiritual life
All deep activities are nourished by contemplation
To achieve recollection, we must daily spend time in inner prayer
We must remain always conscious of God
We must cultivate silence and inner stillness
Recollection nourishes simplicity
Recollection and contemplation are goals for us to attain

From what I have tried to read, it sounds like being comtemplative is a Christian necessity and a voluntary effort indispensible for happiness. I want to be in touch with reality and as spiritually alive as possible. And (frankly being quite miserable and distracted in life right now) I would like to know how to cooperate with God’s grace in order to practice contemplation. As Christ said to Martha that Mary had chosen the better part and she shall not be deprived of it…


Prayer is not a goal, it is a means to a goal, the goal being communion with God. Prayer is not the Giver of gifts but a gift of the Giver.

God alone can give us the means to Himself, just as God alone can reveal to us Himself.


Jeannete, I’ve read Transformation in Christ and have it in my personal library; it’s excellent and well worth the effort to read it. :thumbsup:

Briefly, contemplation is an experiential knowledge of God wherein one is drawn into deeper loving intimacy with Him; this bears of degrees of such intimacy as the soul grows in the virtues. The virtues are an objective sign of spiritual growth: no virtue - no growth. Contemplation, though is a gift which God gives as He sees fit.

When we pray, don’t we usually experience it as a soliloquy? IOW, we talk to God and in faith believe He is listening to the deepest longings of our hearts, but most often there is no experienced response from Him. In contemplative prayer, though, He introduces Himself to the soul in such a way that prayer truly becomes and experiential dialogue, not with so many words, with with a co-mingling, so to speak of heart ot Heart.

St. John of the Cross, in his Dark Night of the Soul, describe the degrees of purification of the senses and of the spirit the soul necessarily undergoes as God draws it closer to Himself.

From what I have tried to read, it sounds like being comtemplative is a Christian necessity and a voluntary effort indispensible for happiness. I want to be in touch with reality and as spiritually alive as possible

Contemplation is definitely the “road” by which God desires to bring us to Him. Both St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross make important note of that; but they also know that few are those who set their foot upon this path, and fewer yet those who persevere. They are also clear that this is the way of suffering, joined in union with Our Crucified Lord, so the happiness is at a great cost but well worth all that He asks of us.

Another book you might find helpful is Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Fire Within. It’s an excellent presentation on the spiritual life as presented in Scripture and by Sts. Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, great Discalced Carmelite Doctors of the Church.

Stay the course! :slight_smile:


The following story is the best description of contemplation that I have read.

Every day a man walked into church and sat in the back. He continued to do this day after day until the priest finally asked him what he was doing.
“I look at Christ (on the cross) and Christ looks at me.”


. . . which is where St. Teresa’s discussion of prayer states (recollection, quiet, union) can be so helpful to understand just what is going on in the soul at such times. Internally, there is a progressive quieting of the heart and mind that is the work of His hand. Should He desire, there comes a point in this “looking” in which we aren’t thinking on the reasons why we love Him, imagining Him in some sort of interior meditation or recalling to mind any particular feeling toward Him. Or to put it in her terms: our intellect, will and memory are slowly “absorbed” or “suspended” so that He can speak in the depths of our soul in a place beyond the words, forms, images or thoughts of our mind.


So at such times we just love . . . without thinking or feeling why. Another way of putting it; we are just be-ing.

Hope that helps some . . .


We have entered the “cloud of unknowing.”


Thanks everyone for your help. :slight_smile: I hope you don’t mind if I use this thread again for further questions I have about his book. It’s like I need a teacher to get the real meaning out of it…



I like this book very much too. I found a very good resource on EWTN, in the form of a series of interviews von Hildebrand’s widow Alice did on the her husband’s life. I think there are about ten hours of interviews, but some of them focus specifically on the book Transformation in Christ. I found it very helpful to hear her break down some of her husband’s more difficult thought into more manageble language. She explains some of his more obscure terms like “superactuality” as well as putting some of his thought into context. I’m glad to hear other people like von Hildebrand too. His writing is a bit tough but very rewarding.


very interesting!! :slight_smile: thanks for sharing.


So I finished the chapter on Humility… I was right there with him when he said that humility is really recognizing the truth about ourselves, particularly in relation to God. But then he went ahead and said that Christian humility, based on the example of Christ, means always going a step below your station, and seeking to be last. :eek: He said that it made a person beautiful. And I guess I can accept that, :thumbsup: though I wonder where healthy or legitimate ambition comes in, or seeking the greater glory of God for your life.

Now I am in the middle of the chapter on Confidence in God–something I am in sore need of. Hildebrand is very thorough and well-balanced in his treatment of things, and this chapter is no exception. He builds the foundation of this segment by saying that we must first trust in the omnipotence and omniscience of God and believe that He truly loves us. These things I have basically always believed in, although sometimes I fail to put them all together to form a stronger faith. He also says, “We must have confidence in the whole message of love in the Gospels.” This also might just be taken for granted for a Christian… but really, it’s getting a little challenging there! :blush: But then he gets to the real kicker and explains how we cannot base our trust in God on the relative goodness or badness or anything we experience as coming from God in our lives. Our trust in God must be unconditional and primary no matter what happens. Okay… I don’t know about you, but I am a little uncomfortable with throwing all of my experiences out the window as a validation of “who God is” and just relying on the Gospel. It is Scripture, Tradition, and Experience that we base our faith on. Afterall, I got to the point of believing in the Gospel by thinking about it a little and using my mind and reflecting. I used some rationality–in addition to the supernatural gift of faith. When it comes right down to it, I don’t believe in God just because things are said about Him in the Bible. I believe because the Bible happens to make sense to me, although I also believe it to be divinely inspired. I believe because it seems like there should be a Purpose for everything including humans and life on Earth. I believe that if there is even the concept of an all-perfect and an all-loving Being, that it stands to reason that there really is One. And I believe because I experience Christ present in the Eucharist. But when life gets frustrating or unbearable and God is answering your prayers in His own time, it’s hard to hold on just because you believe in “the Book.” Even the other things that lead you to believe in God can be shaken, and you may find yourself looking for some evidence, some rationality, some inspiration to believe in God at all. This chapter and my life experience has lead me to want to start over and look again for a foundation for my faith and to wonder what things for certain can I expect from God. Unconditional faith and suffering and suffering are a lot to ask when you’ve never seen Heaven before.

What is your reason for believing in God in the first place in order then to trust Him?


My reason for believing in God is because He IS.

Jeanette, I believe what Dr. Von Hildebrand is saying - following the wisdom of previous writers on the spiritual life, e.g., St. John of the Cross - is that our trust in God shouldn’t be based on what He has (or hasn’t) done for us, but because of Who He Is in Himself. IOW, since He is God, He is worthy of all our trust and love. Our view of what He has done for us is limited since we can’t see how much more He has done for us than we have experienced; likewise, our view of what He hasn’t done for us is limited because we do not know His reasons for not doing/allowing such-and-such to occur in our lives. Therefore, trusting Him for Himself (not because of what He has done for us) is the surest means of placing ourselves in His hands.

Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t live in constant gratitude for those things He has done for us/given to us (and even gratitude for what He hasn’t given us!), but that should not be our first reason for loving Him and trusting Him.


Thanks for your response, FCEGM.

I’ve finished the chapter on Confidence in God. But I’ve been hesitating before I move on. This part is foundational. And I’m a little bit stuck on it. Actually, I think trusting in God has been a major issue for me for some years and I know it is holding me back spiritually and in many other areas of my life. I read all of his words, but I am still wondering in what capacity can we trust God? He says we can trust that God is merciful. Okay, I can accept that part. He also says that our trust should be something that looks at trials and events all in light of our eternal destiny. Everything that happens to us can be transformed into something that can lead to our salvation. Okay. But then Von Hildebrand says that “We must be confident that God will provide for our needs.” He qualifies this by saying that we must do our part of the work, too. All the same, it is true that we sometimes fail and that God has some purpose for withholding the assistance we need to accomplish something or to live. People can become abandoned and lonely and not have their social needs met. People die of starvation. People die because of lack of access to some medication they need. Where does our trust in God come in then? Are we to limit our expectations of God to His willingness to take care of only our spiritual needs? Is that right? And what if by some instance God chooses not to tend even to our spiritual needs and He allows us to run in circles in spiritual darkness due to some fault of our own or even remain Hellbound? I know that God promises eternal life in return to love of Himself and one another. But what about the road to eternal life? What is God’s part? What kind of Father can we trust Him to be for us? Does anyone have any ideas or some kind of general definition of what exactly we can trust God to be or do?


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