Chapter VII – Contemplation
When a soul offers the gift of self, humility, silence: these not only surrender the soul to the direct action of God, but exercise an almost irresistible pressure on the divine liberty, forcing God as it were to intervene in the spiritual life of the soul through the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Father Marie-Eugene uses the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross to guide us in this mystical theology by giving us the solid principles and firm bases to understand the inner workings of the Holy Ghost in contemplation.
A. Contemplation in General
The intervention of God in the spiritual life will usually first occur in the direct relations of the soul with God in prayer. It will transform prayer into contemplation.
St. Thomas defines contemplation as “a simple gaze on truth”. The Carmelites add: “A simple gaze on truth, under the influence of love.” It is love that moves the mind to gaze upon truth; love simplifies that gaze and fixes it on its object. In supernatural contemplation, it is through love that the soul knows, and not by the clearness of the light. The fruit of contemplation is an increase of love.
Its First Forms
St. Teresa begins to speak of this in the Fourth Mansions of the Interior Castle. She states that genuine contemplation is an act of knowledge and simple gaze on truth under the influence of love.
This contemplation bears on sensible realities and is made through the senses which produces an aesthetic emotion. It is a lower form of contemplation. An example given by Father Marie Eugene is contemplation occurring at an oceanside. As the senses are filled with the awe of God’s majesty, the soul is enriched with impressions which may have a profound intellectual and moral influence on the soul’s development.
Intellectual contemplation comes after persevering work in which a solution may be given. Fr. Marie-Eugene uses the example of a philosopher and a scientist where principle and/or law shine out before them. They analyze it, fathom its meaning, marvel at it, love it for all the efforts it represents, for all the light they receive from it, and also for all the promise it has for the future. The philosopher and the scientist take delight in “their” discovery made by God’s grace. Their gaze is synthetic, affective, and simple.
Theological contemplation is a higher form of contemplation. Every Christian whose faith is animated with love can contemplate a dogma of revealed truth or a Gospel scene. Fr. Marie Eugene uses an example of meditating upon the Passion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Upon meditating on the minute by minute recreation of this scene in our minds with our hearts full of love and compassion; the soul may be given the grace to understand a supernatural truth that faith makes known. Theological contemplation is supernatural by its object.
B. Supernatural Contemplation
What it is
Supernatural or infused contemplation is the highest form of contemplation. The truth to which this contemplation attains is not the revealed truth of faith which theological contemplation seeks to penetrate, but the divine Truth itself which contains mystery – making it deeper. St. John of the Cross stresses that revealed dogma or dogmatic formulas adapted to the human intellect contain under its silvered surfaces the gold of divine Truth itself for those who believe.
Into this divine Truth – life, light, essence of God – faith, penetrates, as into its proper object, each time that it posits an act. Love is essential to it. Love is at the beginning of the movement of faith towards divine Truth. It is through love that God intervenes to hold faith to its divine object; and it is through the gifts of the Holy Ghost that those “capacities engendered in the soul by the love of charity,” that the divine intervention takes place. It is from the contact of love that contemplative knowledge proceeds. Love not only simplifies the gaze of the soul; it engenders knowledge. Love attains to contact with God; and in this contact it is enriched with the experience of God Himself!
Contemplation is the science of love, the “secret wisdom which is communicated and infused into the soul through love.” (Dark Night, p. 456) It proceeds from love, progresses by steps of love, and reaches its perfection in the perfection of union, realized by love.
Effects of Supernatural Contemplation
The effects of supernatural contemplation are very deep and extremely varied. They differ for each degree of union and each grace. Fr. Marie Eugene points out that it is indeed true that contemplation brings precious lights, but that these effects are not what St. John of the Cross was seeking. He was only seeking true union with God. He stresses that we must be detached from them or they will make our progress delayed. (I will add here outside of what is in this chapter that the new “Charismatic Renewal” with all of its gifts and experiences tend to go contrary to what is being taught here. To want to speak in tongues; to experience mystical gifts; is to seek delays in ones progress of true union with God. We are not in it for the gifts -- but the Giver.) St. John of the Cross has only one desire and asks for one thing of supernatural contemplation; that it may lead him to perfect union, to transforming union by a co-naturality of love. Supernatural contemplation penetrates even to divine Truth, has contact with God Himself, the uncreated Light, the all-consuming Fire, the limitless Ocean, the Sun with burning rays. It keeps the soul united with Him, and submits it to the enriching and transforming action of the Infinite. In supernatural contemplation the soul, like a mirror exposed to the rays of the sun, is all aglow with the light of the divine Sun that shines upon souls; like a sponge immersed in the ocean, it is permeated with pure waters from the Fountain of living water; like the log thrown into a fire, it too is transformed into fire by the all-consuming Fire which is God.
Fr. Marie Eugene points out that the signs of supernatural contemplation are found in St. John of the Cross’s books: Ascent of Mount Carmel and in the Book of the Nights. Also, St. Teresa mentions them in her Fourth Mansions of the Interior Castle. He breaks them down as follows:
Utility of Signs
Supernatural contemplation imposes new duties on the soul which are 1) being docile and 2) being silent in submitting its actions to God’s. To return to former ways of prayer and step backwards would be detrimental to the soul’s progress. It may bring about disquietude and/or discouragement. To abandon too soon would be foolish. We need to turn to St. John and St. Teresa for guidance at this stage.
Explanation of the signs
In the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John gives the signs which the spiritual person will find in himself and whereby he may know at what season it behooves him to leave meditation and reasoning. In the Dark Night, he gives the signs by which it will be known that the spiritual person is walking along the way of this night and purgation of sense. These sign are almost identical characterizing moreover from the viewpoint of the senses, the same moment of the spiritual life. He makes it explicit that the failure of the soul to find pleasure in anything whatsoever created is a sign that the aridity does not come from recently committed sins and imperfections; for in that case the soul would feel some desire to taste other things than those of God. It is the nature of lukewarmness NOT to care greatly or to have any inward solicitude for the things of God. The soul must take pleasure in being alone to rule out a natural problem such as melancholy. St. Teresa of Jesus states in the fourth mansions that it is the quality of the spiritual delight and the way in which it comes to the soul that makes one certain of supernatural contemplation.
She states: “Apparently as this heavenly water begins to flow from this source of which I am speaking – that is, from the very depths it proceeds to spread within us and cause an interior dilation and produce ineffable blessings, so that the soul itself cannot understand all that it receives there… It is not a thing that we can fancy, nor, however hard we strive, can we acquire it, and from that very fact it is clear that it is a thing made, not of human metal, but of the purest gold of Divine wisdom.” (IV Mansions, Ch 2)
In conclusion, the first two negative signs, inability and aridity, given by St. John point to the disorder of the senses and intellectual faculties in the presence of the supernatural which transcends them, and the activity of divine Wisdom, for which they are not fitted. The third sign, positive, is drawn from the very experience of love in the regions of the soul which have become capable of receiving it.
In spite of the clearness of the signs, it is difficult to be sure that there is infused contemplation in individual cases.
C. Complexity of Individual Cases
St. John of the Cross states in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, “Here it must be made clear that this general knowledge whereof we are speaking is at times so subtle and delicate, particularly when it is most pure and simple and perfect, most spiritual and most interior that, although the soul be occupied therein, it can neither realize it nor perceive it.”
Souls are very diverse and have varying degrees of grace. Personal and particular are individual responses to God’s action in them and the expressions of their interior states. Nothing is so varied as the graces of the saints, the ways by which God leads them and their experiences of the supernatural. The signs of the divine intervention described by St. John and St. Teresa are certain and constant; but we will have to know how to discover them under forms and in spiritual climates that differ widely. It is difficult to assert that under certain manifestations that seem quite unhealthy and partially are so, that there exists a contemplative action of God? Yet the progress of the soul is at stake. If God is truly intervening, prudent submission to His action can alone assure both the spiritual progress of that soul and the purification of the pathological tendency. We can see that these needs can only be served by an experienced spiritual director in order to make them take cognizance of the action of God in their souls and to point the way surely at this important crossroads of the spiritual life.
Father Marie Eugene points out at the end of this chapter that there is much suffering and anguish on this road to contemplation but that like Christ we must suffer before entering into glory. He quotes St. Teresa: “If God gives a soul such pledges, it is a sign that He has great things in store for it.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 31 p. 133)
May Our Blessed Mother guide us – our true model and teacher!
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene