PART 3 - The Illuminative Way of Proficients
Ch 31 :
Questions Relative to Infused Contemplation
The principal question we are going to examine bears on the intimate nature of infused contemplation. There is agreement in saying that contemplation in general, such as may exist in a philosopher, for example, in Plato and Aristotle, is a simple, intellectual view of the truth, superior to reasoning, as St. Thomas explains.2
An example of this contemplation is the knowledge that at the summit of changing beings there exists being itself, absolutely simple and immutable, principle and end of all things; it is wisdom itself, goodness, and love. All the proofs for the existence of God converge toward this culminating point, and reason by its powers alone, with the natural help of God, can rise to this philosophical contemplation.
But when it is a question of Christian contemplation based on divine revelation received through faith, what do the great spiritual writers understand by the word "contemplation," especially when they distinguish it from "meditation"? Does Christian meditation also bear on the truths of faith and what flows from them? How does contemplation differ from it?
The great spiritual writers, who are authoritative in the matter agree in saying with St. John of the Cross: "Contemplation is the science of love, which is an infused loving knowledge of God," 3 a knowledge that is not always absorbing, that is sometimes accompanied by distractions, and that may exist with the aridity of the passive purifications, or nights of the senses and spirit.
We have shown elsewhere (4) that St. Teresa,(5) St. Francis de Sales (6), and St. Jane de Chantal (7) agree perfectly on this point with St. John of the Cross when they indicate the differences between discursive and affective meditation which becomes increasingly simple and contemplation properly so called. They also agree in stating, in opposition to the quietists, that one must not leave meditation before receiving this infused and loving knowledge of God, for in so doing there would result "more harm than good," as St. Teresa points out.(8)
Since such is indeed the meaning of the word "contemplation" in the writings of the great spiritual authors, what must be understood by "acquired contemplation," spoken of by a number of authors, specially since the seventeenth century? Is acquired contemplation, with the union with God which results from it, the summit of the normal development of the interior life, or is it in reality only a disposition to receive the grace of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, which would consequently be in the normal way of sanctity and clearly distinguished from essentially extraordinary graces like revelations, visions, the stigmata, and so on? In substance this is the chief problem confronting us on this subject. To solve it, we must examine more closely the definitions that are generally admitted.
Contemplation in general, we have said, is a simple, intellectual view of the truth, above reasoning and accompanied by admiration.
Acquired contemplation is generally defined by those who admit its existence at the end of meditation as a simple and loving knowledge of God and of His works, which is the fruit of our personal activity aided by grace. It is commonly agreed that the theologian possesses the contemplation called "acquired" at the end of his research in the synthetic view which he reaches. This is also the case with the preacher who sees his whole sermon in one central thought, and in the faithful who listen attentively to this sermon, admire its unity and, as a result, taste the great truth of faith which they see in its radiation.
In these cases there is a certain contemplation that proceeds from faith united to charity and from a more or less latent influence of the gifts of understanding, wisdom, and knowledge. But this admiring knowledge would not exist if, for lack of a higher inspiration, the human activity of the preacher had not carefully arranged the ideas in such a way as to bring out their harmony. A poorly prepared sermon would, in fact, produce the contrary result.
In the believer who himself meditates on a great truth of faith, does the knowledge, which has often since the seventeenth century been called "acquired contemplation," differ from simplified affective meditation? In agreement with the testimony of the great spiritual writers quoted at the beginning of this chapter, especially of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, and St. Francis de Sales, we do not think so. It seems certain that, if their teaching is accepted, what has often been described under the name of acquired contemplation is only a variety of affective prayer, in which the soul that has not yet received the grace of loving infused knowledge, may, nevertheless, dwell for brief moments with a simple, admiring gaze on the merciful goodness of God, the interventions of Providence, the infinite value of our Savior's merits. Subsequently the soul returns to considerations and affections.
What has been called "acquired contemplation" thus corresponds to the acquired prayer of recollection, described by St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection,(9) a prayer that is entirely different from the "supernatural and passive recollection" of which she speaks in chapter three of the fourth mansion, where infused contemplation begins. St. John of the Cross speaks in like manner in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, where he deals with the passage from meditation to the state where "God now communicates Himself to the soul, thus passive, as the light of the sun to him whose eyes are open." (10)
In contradistinction to acquired prayer, infused contemplation is generally defined as a simple and loving knowledge of God and His works, which is the fruit, not of human activity aided by grace, but of a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost. For example, in a poorly organized, lifeless sermon, which produces scarcely anything but weariness in most of the listeners, the preacher may, however, quote a saying of our Lord which profoundly seizes a soul, captivates it, and absorbs it. In this case there is in that soul a manifest act of infused contemplation, because it is not in human power to produce this act at will like an ordinary act of faith. Here it is a question of a particular, penetrating, and often even sweet act of faith in which an experienced director quickly perceives an influence of the gifts of understanding and wisdom.
But, although such an act is not in our power, we can dispose ourselves by humility, prayer, and recollection, to receive the divine inspiration which produces it, and we can also follow this inspiration with docility. According to St. Thomas, a special operating grace leads us to act above discursive deliberation, whereas cooperating grace inclines us to act at the end of this deliberation.(11)
Thus the act of infused love is free and meritorious because of the docility to the Holy Ghost which it contains, although it is not properly speaking deliberate, in the sense that it is not the fruit of a reasoned deliberation but of a superior inspiration.
This essentially infused contemplation and the infused love that accompanies it begin with what St. Teresa calls the prayer of passive recollection,(12) and what St. John of the Cross calls the passive night of the senses; in other words, at the beginning of the mystical life, properly so called. Whence it follows that essentially mystical contemplation is that which, in the eyes of an experienced director and in the sense we have just indicated, is manifestly passive. If this infused contemplation lasts and becomes frequent, one has the mystical state.
We believe, therefore, that we may draw the same conclusion in regard to so-called acquired contemplation as we did in a previous work: (13) If by acquired contemplation we mean a prayer distinct from simplified affective prayer, in which the intellect is totally absorbed by its object and in which we place ourselves by the suppression of all rational activity, we thereby not only create a degree of prayer unknown to St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, but we likewise oppose their explicit teaching. In fact, St. Teresa repeatedly opposes the total suppression of discourse and the movement of thought as long as one has not received infused contemplation.(14)
Therefore the majority of theologians who, like those of Carmel, while wishing to remain faithful to the teaching of St. John of the Cross and of St. Teresa, have spoken of acquired contemplation, understand by it what St. Teresa calls "the acquired prayer of recollection" (15) in which our intellectual activity is simplified, but not suppressed. These theologians call this prayer contemplation because the act of simple intellectual intuition is frequent in it, and discursive meditation, on the other hand, is reduced. Consequently the substance of the difficulty disappears, and the question becomes one of terminology.(16)
Moreover, the Carmelite theologians who have admitted the existence of acquired contemplation have rightly refused to consider it the normal term of spiritual progress on earth. They hold that in generous souls truly docile to the Holy Ghost, it is a proximate disposition to receive infused contemplation normally.(17)
Different opinions have arisen about the time when infused contemplation begins. Attentive reading of the third chapter of St. Teresa's fourth mansion, however, seems to indicate clearly that contemplation begins with the prayer of "supernatural recollection," which we cannot obtain for ourselves by our own activity, aided by grace. According to the terminology employed by St. John of 'the Cross, contemplation begins with the passive night of the senses.(18)
The terminology may thus be fixed by the meaning which the great spiritual writers have given to the unqualified term "contemplation"; when they juxtapose it to meditation, they are speaking of infused contemplation which begins in the aridity of the night of the senses.(19) For this reason St. John of the Cross, as we said at the beginning of this chapter, defined contemplation as "an infused loving knowledge of God." (20)
According to the masters whom we have just quoted, contemplation properly so called, or infused, is therefore a loving knowledge of God which comes from a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost to make us advance continually in the love of God. Not only does it proceed from the infused virtues, in particular from faith united to charity, but it is an infused act of knowledge accompanied by infused love, which we could not make by ourselves with the help of common actual grace. In certain souls it is love which dominates; in others, light.
This special inspiration of the Holy Ghost is, therefore, the principle of infused contemplation. We receive this inspiration with docility through the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially through those of understanding and wisdom, which are, as a result, in the just soul like sails which enable a vessel to receive as it should the impulsion of a favorable breeze.(21)
St. John of the Cross himself links infused contemplation to the gifts of the Holy Ghost when he writes in The Dark Night: "This dark contemplation is called secret, because it is, as I have said before, the mystical theology which theologians call secret wisdom, and which, according to St. Thomas, is infused into the soul more especially by love. This happens in a secret, hidden way in which the natural operations of the understanding and the other faculties have no share. And, therefore, because the faculties of the soul cannot compass it, it being the Holy Ghost who infuses it into the soul, in a way it knoweth not, as the Bride saith in the Canticle, we call it secret." (22) Under this higher inspiration, living faith thus becomes increasingly penetrating and sweet.
Therefore, between infused contemplation and meditation, even when simplified, there is a difference not only of degree, but of nature. Meditation, in fact, is in our power; it proceeds from our personal activity aided by common actual grace and, if there is in it a latent influence of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, this influence is not what constitutes it. Analogically, when the work of the rowers is facilitated by a favorable breeze, it is not the breeze which is the principle of the toil.
Infused contemplation, on the contrary, is not in our power; it proceeds not from our activity aided by grace, but from the more or less manifest special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which is indispensable here. Therefore, in this case, the difference is not one of degree, but of nature, for the special inspiration is not only a stronger actual grace; it is not only moving but regulating; it contains a superior rule. Similarly, there is a specific difference between even the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost: the infused virtues are by themselves principles of acts which we can produce at will, whereas the gifts dispose us to receive with docility the impulsion of the Holy Ghost for acts whose superhuman mode, springing from a superior rule, specifically surpasses our activity aided by common grace. As St. Thomas shows,(23) there is in this case a specific difference, just as there is more than a difference of degree between the work of the oars that makes a boat advance and the impulsion of a favorable wind that makes rowing unnecessary.(24)
In the ascetical life, before the passive purification of the senses, in which infused contemplation begins, the gifts of the Holy Ghost still intervene only weakly, and often they are as if bound by some attachment to venial sin,(25) like sails which have not yet been spread. Later, in the mystical life, the intellectual gifts of understanding and wisdom, which are both speculative and practical,(26) appear in some under a clearly contemplative form and in others, as in St. Vincent de Paul, under a form more directed toward action.
Lastly, it should be noted that the act of infused contemplation proceeds from living faith as from its radical principle, and from the gift of wisdom or that of understanding as from its proximate principle actualized by the divine inspiration. It is an act of penetrating and sweet faith; the superior inspiration received through the gifts adds to this act of faith the precious modalities of penetration and sweetness, which increase with the touch of the Holy Ghost to the point of becoming a taste of eternal life. Here we find, therefore, in a subordinated manner the formal motive of infused faith (the authority of God revealing), that of charity (the divine goodness sovereignly lovable for its own sake), and that of the gifts mentioned (the illumination of the Holy Ghost, which is regulating and inspiring). Consequently this simple act of penetrating and sweet faith deserves to be called infused in order to distinguish it from the act of faith which we commonly make at will, without special inspiration, for example, in order to say the prayers that we recite daily.
What is meant by the direct acts of contemplation? They are acts which are in no way discursive, but which are made by a simple gaze, above reasoning. And indeed they are at times so peaceful that the soul does not, so to speak, perceive them; in that case they are the contrary of reflective or perceived acts. With this meaning, according to Cassian,(27) St. Anthony said: "There is no perfect prayer if the solitary perceives that he is praying." This is the learned ignorance of which the mystics often speak. The direct acts of true contemplation do not indicate a dangerous idleness, but, on the contrary, a most intimate knowledge of divine truth. And if, after such prayer, the soul is humble, peaceful, detached, and zealous for the practice of the virtues, this result is a sign that it has not lost its time in prayer. These direct acts of contemplation are free, although they are not the fruit of discursive deliberation.
We have pointed out that, to show the growing intensity of contemplation and union with God, St. Teresa insists on the progressive extension of the mystical state to the different faculties, which gradually are either suspended or captivated by God. First of all, the will alone is seized and held (in the prayer of quiet), then the intellect (in more or less complete simple union); next the imagination falls asleep, so to speak; lastly, in total or partial ecstasy, the exercise of the exterior senses is suspended because all the activity of the soul is drawn toward God. St. Teresa knows, however, that the suspension of the imagination and of the senses is only a concomitant and accidental phenomenon of infused contemplation,(28) since, she says, ecstasy generally ceases in the most perfect mystical state, the transforming union.(29) The mystical state, complete in regard to its extension, is not therefore necessarily the most intense or the most elevated. St. Teresa is well aware of this fact; but this extension, which is at first progressive, then restricted, is easy to determine and describe. It constitutes a sign which may be useful, on condition that it be joined to another more profound sign on which St. John of the Cross insists.
This more profound sign refers directly to the progress of contemplation in penetration and to the intimacy of divine union. It is found, first of all, in the passive purification of the senses, then in that of the spirit, both of which denote great progress in the intensity of the knowledge and love of God and of the other virtues. St. Teresa did not indeed neglect this second sign; she speaks of it in connection with the aridities that contemplatives undergo, especially of the great aridity that is found at the beginning of the sixth mansion, and that corresponds to the night of the spirit. She also speaks of it in connection with the different ways of watering a garden: (30) water drawn from the well by hand is the figure of meditation; the water-wheel, called a noria, is the symbol of the prayer of quiet; irrigation by canals, which fertilizes the garden, represents the sleep of the powers; finally, rain symbolizes the prayer of union. Thus progressively the flowers of the virtues bloom and form the fruits: "This is the time of resolutions, of heroic determinations, of the living energy of good desires, of the beginning of hatred of the world, and of the most clear perception of its vanity." (31)
Infused contemplation begins therefore, as St. John of the Cross says,(32) with the passive purification of the senses, which is a second conversion in arid quiet; it progresses then, accompanied by the consolations of the illuminative way. Contemplation becomes much more penetrating in the night of the spirit, in the midst of great spiritual aridity and of strong temptations against the theological virtues. In this period these virtues and humility are purified of all alloy and become truly heroic.(33) The soul is thus prepared for the transforming union which St. John of the Cross speaks of in The Living Flame of Love and St. Teresa in the seventh mansion. The transforming union is the culminating point of infused contemplation on earth and, in souls that reach the full perfection of Christian life, it is the normal prelude of eternal life.
Several important observations arise from the facts we have just
1. The degrees of contemplation described by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa, show that contemplation does not always imply joy, that it begins ordinarily in the aridity of the sensibility, as it may subsist in great aridity of the spirit. Moreover, it is not necessarily accompanied by an absolute impossibility to discourse or to reason. Undoubtedly contemplation is superior to discourse, but precisely for this reason contemplation may inspire it from above, for example, in a preacher whose sermon would spring from the plenitude of the infused contemplation of the mysteries of Christ, like St. Peter's sermons on Pentecost and the pages which St. Augustine certainly wrote under a superior inspiration.
2. It follows also from what precedes that the mystical state gives at times the feeling of the presence of God (it is the quasi-experimental knowledge springing from the gift of wisdom); at others a great thirst for God, with intense suffering because of inability to enjoy Him and a lively feeling of moral and spiritual separation from Him (this is what happens especially in the night of the spirit, when the penetration of the gift of understanding makes itself felt more than the sweetness of the gift of wisdom).
In this last state there is, besides, an infused knowledge and an infused love, from which comes sharp suffering because God is not loved as He should be. This lively suffering and great thirst for God cannot, moreover, exist without a profound influence of His grace in us. Consequently there is a painful presence of God.
3. In addition, from what we have just said it is clear that infused contemplation does not require infused ideas like those of the angels,(34) but only an infused light: the special illumination of the gifts of understanding and wisdom, which is clearly distinguished from graces gratis datae like prophecy, the gift of the discerning of spirits, or that of tongues, graces bestowed especially for the benefit of one's neighbor.(35)
4. Lastly, the description of the degrees of infused contemplation given by St. John of the Cross shows that it is not an immediate perception of God as He is in Himself; such a perception is proper only to the beatific vision.(36) When there is a marked influence of the gift of wisdom, God is known without reasoning as present in us in His effects (medium in quo), especially in the filial affection for Himself which He inspires in us, and in the sweetness of love which He sometimes makes a soul that is closely united to Him experience. This is the teaching of St. Thomas in his commentary on verse sixteen of chapter eight of the Epistle to the Romans when he discusses the words, "The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God." (37) It is impossible to admit here an immediate intuition of sanctifying grace itself. (38)
5. Therefore the mystical life is characterized by the predominance (become both frequent and manifest for an experienced director) of the superhuman mode of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially of the gift of wisdom, which illumines the others. However, in the passive night of the senses the gift of knowledge predominates, showing the vanity of created things; in the night of the spirit the soul experiences chiefly the deep penetration of the gift of understanding, but without experiencing the sweetness of the gift of wisdom. This gift appears in its full development and its greatest influence in the transforming union. The mystical state in general must not be confounded with its consoling phases, or with its complete flowering; it often exists under the form of arid quiet, which St. Jane de Chantal experienced for so long a time.(39)
The call to contemplation may be understood in different ways. When the question is raised whether all interior souls are called to infused contemplation, the call in question is general and remote, distinct from the individual and proximate call. The latter call, moreover, may be only sufficient and followed by resistance or negligence, or it may be efficacious, and that in two ways: to lead souls actually either to the lower degrees or to the higher degrees of contemplation.(40) In this problem we are again confronted with the mystery of the efficacy of grace, which is understood in one way by Thomists and Augustinians, and in another by Molinists.
In response to the question whether all interior souls are called to contemplation in a general and remote manner, we believe that the reply must be in the affirmative according to the principles formulated by St. Thomas on the gifts of the Holy Ghost which are received by all the just, and by St. John of the Cross on the passive purifications necessary for full Christian perfection, toward which we should all tend.
Three principal reasons motivate this reply. They relate to the radical principle of the interior life, to its progress, and to its end.
I. The basic principle of the mystical life (characterized by infused contemplation) is the same as that of the common interior life: the grace of the virtues and the gifts. Now docility to the Holy Ghost, according to the superhuman mode of the gifts, should normally prevail with spiritual progress to remedy the always imperfect human mode of the virtues and of our personal activity aided by common grace. The mystical life, which is characterized by this docility and this superhuman mode of knowledge and of infused love, appears, therefore, normally first of all in the illuminative way, but especially in the unitive way. Consequently St. John of the Cross writes: "The soul began to set out on the way of the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God Himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any active efforts that itself may deliberately make." (41) This text, as we have already pointed out, is one of the most important.
2. In the progress of the interior life, the purification of the soul, according to St. John of the Cross, who is the faithful echo of tradition, is not complete except by the passive purifications. These purifications belong to the mystical order, in the sense that infused contemplation begins with the passive purification of the senses, in which the illuminations of the gift of knowledge predominate, and rises with the night of the spirit, in which the gift of understanding assumes the principal role. The Holy Ghost thus purifies humility and the theological virtues from all alloy; He brings into powerful relief their essentially supernatural and uncreated formal motive: the first revealing Truth, Mercy and helpful Omnipotence, divine Goodness, sovereignly lovable for its own sake.(42) These passive purifications of a mystical order are thus in the normal way of sanctity and dispense from purgatory those who undergo them generously; they are a purgatory before death in which the soul merits and makes progress, whereas in the other purgatory the soul no longer merits.
3. The end of the interior life is the same as that of the mystical life: eternal life, or the beatific vision and the inamissible love resulting from it. But the mystical life disposes the soul more immediately to this last end and, in the perfect, is its prelude, as shown by the evangelical beatitudes, which are eminent acts of the virtues and the gifts. The mystical life, which is characterized by infused contemplation and infused love of the divine goodness, is thus seen to be in the normal way of sanctity.
The reasons we have adduced - the basic principle of the interior life, its progress by the necessary passive purifications, and the ultimate end to which it is ordained - all contribute to show, in short, that infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it are, in the perfect, the normal prelude of the life of heaven.
The principles formulated by St. Thomas on the gifts of the Holy Ghost, received by all the just, and the doctrine of St. John of the Cross on the passive purifications thus lead us to admit the general and remote call of all interior souls to infused contemplation.(43)
The reservations made here and there by St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Tauler, and other masters, refer to the individual and proximate call.(44) It is certain that all just souls are not called in an individual and proximate manner to infused contemplation.
The proof of this statement lies in the fact that the three principal signs of the proximate call are not in all the just, or even in all interior souls. St. John of the Cross points out these signs in The Dark Night: "( I) When we find no comfort in the things of God (known by way of the senses), and none also in created things. . . . (1) The second test and condition of this purgation are that the memory dwells ordinarily upon God with a painful anxiety and carefulness; the soul thinks it is not serving God, but going backwards. . . . (3) The third sign. . . is inability to meditate and make reflections, and to excite the imagination, as before, notwithstanding all the efforts we may make; for God begins now to communicate Himself no longer through the channel of sense, as formerly. . . but in pure spirit, . . . in the act of pure contemplation." (45)
Finally, the individual and proximate call may be sufficient but remain fruitless because of our negligence or, on the contrary, it is efficacious, and that in different ways: to lead us effectively either to the lower degrees of contemplation, or to the highest degrees. Consequently St. Teresa applies to this subject our Lord's words: "Many are called, but few chosen." (46)
Our discussion of the call to contemplation shows that all interior souls may legitimately desire infused contemplation, on condition that they remain humble and leave to the good pleasure of God the time when this grace shall be granted to them. Thus the farmer may legitimately desire and ask for rain that will render fruitful the earth he has sown, but he should also trust in Providence. If every prayer should be at once humble, trusting, and persevering, the same qualities should characterize that prayer by which we ask for the penetrating and sweet faith of which we have just spoken, that is, a more lively and profound knowledge of revealed mysteries, of the majesty of God, of His radiating goodness, His providence, an experiential knowledge of the redemptive Incarnation, of the Passion, of the humiliations of the Word made flesh, of the influence that He still exercises through the Eucharist, of the infinite value of the Mass, of the worth of a fervent Communion, of the value of time which leads us to eternity. Holy Scripture often repeats this prayer: for example, in the Book of Wisdom we read, as the Office for the feast of St. Teresa recalls: "Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me. And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. . . .
For all gold in comparison of her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out. Now all good things came to me together with her. . . . I knew not that she was the mother of them all. . . . For she is an infinite treasure to men, which they that use, become the friends of God." (47) This passage clearly expresses the desire for the lights of the gift of wisdom. Therefore we understand why the Carmelite theologians, Philip of the Blessed Trinity,(48) Anthony of the Holy Ghost, and the Dominican Vallgornera, in the passages where they speak of the desire for infused contemplation, say: "All ought to aspire to supernatural contemplation." Joseph of the Holy Ghost speaks in like terms: "We may all aspire to it, ardently desire it, and humbly ask it of God." (49)
Before any sign of an immediate call to contemplation, it is certainly advisable to point out to souls the grandeur of the spirit of faith, which inclines one to consider all things from God's point of view: the mysteries of religion, Christian worship, persons, whether pleasing to us or not, pleasurable or painful events. Only with the grace of contemplation is this lofty and supernatural consideration of all things perfect and lasting. Thus contemplation may be spoken of discreetly, without being named.
All souls can certainly be led to desire a sweet and penetrating faith in the great mysteries of salvation, and it is fitting that they ask for it. In the same way, before the signs of predestination appear in a soul, it is made to desire eternal life. Hence it may with propriety desire everything that is in the normal way of eternal life.
We must, however, distinguish clearly here between intention and realization. In the intention, the end that is glimpsed and desired comes first, then the means. In the realization, the inverse is true; the soul must rise from the most modest means to higher ones. Here rash haste should be avoided, for it would lead to neglect of the intermediate steps; to do so would compromise everything. It would be like wishing to construct the roof of a building before laying the foundations, or to fly before having wings.
Souls should also be continually reminded of the ordinary conditions of true union with God: habitual recollection, complete renunciation, purity of heart, true humility, perseverance in prayer despite prolonged aridity, great fraternal charity. If to these conditions is joined love of the liturgy and of sacred doctrine, the soul truly prepares itself for the proximate call to the divine intimacy.
When the proximate call becomes manifest, souls should read the description given by St. John of the Cross (50) of the three signs of this call, or some other spiritual work offering the same doctrine. Such reading will keep them from being discouraged by the troubles and aridity of the night of the senses. Once the graces of contemplation have become frequent, the reading of the same works should be continued. This is especially true of those works that put the soul on guard against the desire for essentially extraordinary graces, that is, visions, revelations, and the stigmata.
As soon as these souls are less faithful, they should be told of the defects of proficients, of the love of the cross, of the necessity of a more profound purification of the spirit, which is the indispensable condition for close union with God and for the full perfection of Christian life.
Many contemporary theologians - Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, Jesuits, and others - admit this doctrine in substance, as shown by an inquiry which appeared in La Vie spirituelle. (51) We agree with Father Marechal, S.J., when he says: "Contemplative activity should, even in its higher degrees. . . , mark a relatively rare but normal development of the common life of grace. . . . [This doctrine] echoes the most authentic tradition and now meets with scarcely any opposition." (52)
We see why Alvarez de Paz, S.J., wrote: "We should blame ourselves if we never taste the ineffable sweetness of contemplation." (53) And it is well known that St. Francis de Sales concludes: "Holy contemplation is the end and the goal toward which all spiritual exercises tend." (54)
To avoid the imprudences, the rash haste of those who might use this teaching as an authorization to neglect the intermediate steps, one should often recall, as we have just said, the conditions ordinarily required to receive the grace of the contemplation of the mysteries of faith: purity and humility of heart, simplicity of spirit, habitual recollection, and complete renunciation.
This traditional doctrine is briefly summed up in the lines we have
already quoted from The Imitation: "There are found so few
contemplative persons, because there are few that know how to withdraw
themselves entirely from perishable creatures." (55) Contemplation is
"the hidden manna" (56) given by God to generous souls as the normal
prelude of the beatific vision. (57)
1. Cf. supra, chaps. 22, 27, 28, 29.
2. Summa, IIa IIae, q.180, a. 3, 6.
3. The Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. 18, par. 5.
4. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 221-35.
5. The Interior Castle, fourth mansion, chap. 3: Description of the prayer of passive recollection in which infused contemplation begins, and which precedes that of quiet in which the will is captivated by God, in spite of involuntary distractions.
6. Treatise on the Love of God, chaps. 3-7: Differences between meditation and contemplation, which is more simple, more loving, which is truly the fruit of love, "the end and the goal toward which all spiritual exercises tend (ibid., chap. 6).
7. Oeuvres completes (Paris, 1876), II, 268, opuscule on L'Oraison de quietude, and Reponses de sainte Chantal (2nd ed.; Paris, 1665), p. 508.
8. The Interior Castle, fourth mansion, chap. 3.
9. Chap. 28.
10. Bk. II, chap. 15.
11. Summa, Ia IIae, q.111, a.2: On operating and cooperating grace. Cf. Vol. I, pp. 90-93.
12. The Interior Castle, fourth mansion, chap. 3.
13. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 215 ff.
14. Life, chap. 12;
The Interior Castle, fourth mansion, chap. 3. St.
15. The Way of Perfection, chap. 28.
16. Cf. Father Gabriel of St. Magdalen, C.D., "Note sur la contemplation acquise d'apres les theologiens du Carmel depuis Ie XVIIe siecle," La Vie Spirituelle, September, 1923, supplement; reproduced in Perfection chretienne et contemplation, II, 745-69.
17. This is the teaching of Thomas of Jesus, De contemplatione, Bk. I, chaps. 7 f; Bk. II, chap. 5; of Philip of the Blessed Trinity, Summa theol. myst. (ed. 1874), II, 299; III, 43; of Anthony of the Holy Ghost, Directorium mysticum (ed. 1733), tr. III, d.III, sect. IV; tr. IV, d.I, sect. VI; of Joseph of the Holy Ghost, Cursus theol. mystico-scol., disp. XI, q. 2, nos. 18, 23; and of the Dominican Vallgornera, Theol. myst. S. Thomae, q.3, d. 3, a.3.
18. Cf. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 14; cf. also chap. 8.
19. At the end of his study on Molinos, Le Quietisme espagnol, Michel de Molinos (1921, p. 260), Father Dudon, S.J., concludes as follows: "There is no contemplation worthy of this name except passive contemplation." On the contrary, Molinos admitted a contemplation acquired by the suppression of our activity; it became somnolence.
20. The Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. 18.
21 Summa, Ia IIae, q.68, a. I.
22. Bk. II, chap. 17.
23. Summa, Ia IIae, q.68, a. I.
24. Father de Guibert, S.J., in his Theologia spiritualis ascetica et mystica (1937, p. 344), says on the subject of the specific distinction between infused contemplation and the acquired prayers: "Quae speciei diversitas a non paucis prorsus negatur, ut v.g. a P. Garrigou-Lagrange." We, on the contrary, have always admitted with St. Thomas and his disciples a specific difference between the infused virtues and the gifts, and consequently between the act of the virtues which proceeds ex industria propria (even with the latent help of the gifts) and the characteristic act of the gifts, which proceeds from a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
25. Cf. Louis Lallemant, S.J., La Doctrine spirituelle, 4th Principle, chap. 3, a.3.
26. Summa, IIa IIae, q.8, a.3; q.45, a. 3.
27. Coll., IX, 31.
28. The Interior Castle, fifth mansion, chap. I: The saint speaks here of certain unusual particularities which are found in this fifth mansion and which are the portion of the small number of souls that are in it. Likewise, cf. fifth mansion, chap. 3, apropos of "the short cut." Cf. supra, the preceding chapter for notes relative to simple union.
29. The Interior Castle, seventh mansion, chap. 3.
30. Life, chaps. 11, 14, 15, 16, 18.
31. Life, chap. 19, fourth water.
32. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 14.
33. Ibid., Bk. II, chaps. 12-21.
34. We showed this at length in Perfection chretienne et contemplation, 11, appen., pp. -.
35. Summa, Ia IIae, q. 111, a.5.
36. Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 264-71. See also St. Teresa, Life, chap. 17.
37. See also Summa, IIa IIae, q.97, a.2 ad 2um.
38. In his Theologia spiritualis (p. 353), Father de Guibert maintains that infused contemplation implies essentially a direct and immediate intuition of the supernatural gifts which unite us to God. We do not think so. Either, in fact, this intuition is immediate, or it is mediate by the effects of grace in us.
If there is immediate intuition of the supernatural gifts of grace and of the infused virtues, it is an extraordinary favor, as when Blessed Angela of Foligno saw her soul, or as when certain contemplatives are placed in a state similar to that of the separated soul, which knows itself immediately. And then this extraordinary favor, which seems to require an infused idea, is not necessary to infused contemplation, properly so called, for infused contemplation endures in the passive night of the spirit, in which the soul has by no means this immediate intuition of grace in itself, since it feels separated from God and suffers greatly as a result. If there is only mediate intuition through the effects of grace in us, then this does not exceed the act of the gift of wisdom as the Thomists have always understood it, as we have just said.
Finally, St. John of the Cross, in defining contemplation as "an infused, loving knowledge of God" (The Dark Night, Bk. II, chap. 18), does not speak of immediate intuition of the supernatural gifts of grace and of the infused virtues, an intuition which, moreover, would give us absolute certitude of the state of grace even before reaching the transforming union.
39. It is understandable, however, that, in order to define the mystical state, some authors have considered chiefly what it is in its full development, with the experiential and often sweet knowledge of the presence of God in us, Anyone would fall into the opposite extreme if he talked about an active mystical life in which the gifts af action would no longer be directed by the intellectual gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel. What must be said is that in certain mystics the intellectual gifts appear chiefly under a practical form, directed toward action, as in St. Vincent de Paul, whereas in others these same intellectual gifts are manifested under a clearly contemplative form, as in St. John of the Cross.
40. We treated this question at length in Christian Perfection and Contemplation, pp. 337-95.
41. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 14.
42. This point of doctrine does not permit us to accept what Father de Guibert says in his recent Theologia spiritualis: "Possunt animae ad quemlibet sanctitatis gradum ascendere, quin hac via (contemplationis infusae) habituali modo incedant." We believe that this proposition does not preserve the teaching of the great spiritual writers, notably of St. John of the Cross, on the subject of the passive purifications, properly so called, necessary to reach a high perfection. These passive purifications are, in fact, a characterized mystical state, especially that of the spirit, which corresponds to the beginning of St. Teresa's sixth mansion. Without these passive purifications and the infused contemplation which they imply, one could not reach the perfection of the transforming union. Such is manifestly the teaching of St. John of the Cross; to doubt it, one would have had to forget the most categorical affirmations which recur continually in his works.
43. In Christian Perfection and Contemplation (pp. 369-71), we quoted several texts from St. John of the Cross relative to this teaching: The Dark Night, Bk. I, chaps. I, 14; Bk. II, chap. I; The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 13; Bk. III, chap. I; The Living Flame, st. III, v. 3. Cf. also St. Teresa: The Way of Perfection, chaps. 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 29, 33; The Interior Castle, fifth mansion, chap. I.
We need only recall here that St. John of the Cross says in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (Bk. II, chap. 15): "The soul, when it shall have purified and emptied itself from all these intelligible forms and images, will then dwell in this pure and simple light, transformed thereto in the state of perfection. This light is ever ready to be communicated to the soul, but does not flow in, because of the forms and veils of the creature which enfold and embarrass the soul" But in The Dark Night (Bk. I, chap. I), he adds: "Souls begin to enter the dark night. . . the state of contemplatives, that, having passed through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect." Finally, full perfection is found only in the transforming union, in which "the soul is no longer molested, either by the devil, or the flesh, or the world, or the desires, seeing that here is fulfilled what is written in the Canticle: 'Winter is now past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land'" (A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul, Part III, st. 12).
St. Teresa speaks in like terms to her daughters at the beginning of the fifth mansion, chap. I: "All we who wear the holy habit of the Carmelites are called to prayer and contemplation. This was the object of our Order, to this lineage we belong. . . . How little do most of us care to prepare our souls that our Lord may reveal this jewel to us . . . to gain which we should neglect no means, either small or great!" In The Way of Perfection (chap. 19), speaking of infused contemplation and of the living waters of prayer, St. Teresa enunciates this general principle, which she later develops in chapters 20, 21, 23, 25, 29,33: "Remember, our Lord invited 'any man': He is truth itself. . . . If all had not been included, He would not have addressed everybody, nor would He have said: 'I will give you to drink.' . . . But as He said unconditionally: 'If any man thirst let him come to Me,' I feel sure that, unless they stop half-way, none will fail to drink of this living water."
44. St. Teresa says in The Way of Perfection (chap. 10): "The last chapter (on the general call) seems to contradict what I said, when in order to console those who were not contemplatives I told them that God had made many ways of reaching Him, just as He has made 'many mansions.' I repeat that His Majesty, being God, knows our weakness and has provided for us." And, in fact, she maintains the principle of the general call, which she again explains: "His mercy is so great that He hinders no one from drinking of the fountain of life. . . . Indeed, He calls us loudly and publicly to do so ('Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink,' John 7: 37). Then take my advice; do not loiter on the road, but struggle manfully until you perish in the attempt."
The restrictions made earlier (chap. 17) by St. Teresa did not, therefore, concern the remote general call, but the individual proximate call, which is generally heard only by very generous souls.
St. Catherine of Siena speaks in exactly the same terms in chapter 53 of her Dialogue, apropos of the same text of St. John: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink." The same teaching is found in Blessed Henry Suso's Book of Eternal Wisdom, chap. 21.
With this same meaning we must understand the reservations made at times by St. John of the Cross, for example, when he says in The Dark Night (Bk. I, chap. 9): "God does not raise to perfect contemplation everyone that is tried in the way of the spirit, and He alone knoweth why." The saint explains his thought on the subject at greater length in The Living Flame (St. 2, v. 5), where he says: "It is because many souls refuse to bear ever so little dryness and mortification, instead of acting with full patience. Then God does not continue to purify them profoundly." In other words: "Many are called, but few chosen." His reservations bear not only on the general and remote call, but on the individual and proximate call, which many do not prepare themselves to hear.
45. Bk. I, chap. 9.
46. The Interior Castle, fifth mansion, chap. I. St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 9.
47. Wisd. 7:7-14.
48. Summa theol. myst. (ed. 1874), II, 299; III, 43. Anthony of the Holy Ghost and Vallgornera later speak in exactly the same terms. Philip of the Blessed Trinity has been greatly copied, but he himself found this teachIng in the Carmelite, John of Jesus Mary, whose works he extensively utilized, and in Alvarez de Paz, S.J., De inquisitione pacis, ed. 1617, Bk. I, Part 3, chap. 27. Alvarez de Paz was also very much utilized by several authors who did not even mention his name.
49. Cursus theol. myst. scol., Vol. II, II Praed., disp. XI, q.2, nos. 18, 23.
50. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 9.
51. Notably the issue for May, 1931, suppl., pp. -, containing the conclusion of this inquiry.
52. Nouvelle Revue Theol., February, 1929, p. 182, quoted by Canon A. Saudreau in the article: "Pour fixer la terminologie mystique et pour obtenir une entente," La Vie spirituelle, June, 1929, suppL, p. .
53. De inquisitione pacis (ed. 1617), Bk. I, Part III, chap. 27.
54. Treatise on the Love of God, Bk. VI, chap. 6.
55. Bk. III, chap. 31.
56. Apoc. 2: 17.
57. Occasionally the title "acquired contemplation" has been applied
what is initial infused contemplation, because in it consideration has
been given chiefly to the work of the spirit (symbolized by that of
the noria), which prepares the soul to receive the special inspiration
of the Holy Ghost. But it is fitting to denominate an act or a state
by considering in it, not what is material as a preliminary
disposition, but what is formal and new. Then the very nature of the
act to be defined is expressed. Therefore it is better in this case
to speak of initial infused contemplation, which begins with the
passive night of the senses. This is the way that St. John of the
Cross speaks when, after describing this purification, he says (The
Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 14): "The soul began to set out on the way of
the spirit, the way of proficients, which is also called the
illuminative way, or the way of infused contemplation, wherein God
Himself teaches and refreshes the soul without meditation or any
active efforts that itself may deliberately make."