Monday, February 19, 2007

G-L on St. Thomas and supernatural contemplation


St. Thomas shows in the Summa (12) that contemplation is an act of the intellect superior to reasoning, a simple view of the truth; (13) and, when it is a question not of philosophical contemplation, but of that contemplation which the saints speak of, it springs from love, not only from the love of the knowledge habitual to philosophers, but from the love of God, from charity. (14) It proceeds consequently from living faith enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially by those of understanding and wisdom, which render faith penetrating and sweet.(15) Supernatural contemplation thus conceived supposes the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which His gifts dispose us to receive with promptness and docility,(16) as the wide-spread sails on a boat receive the impulsion of a favorable wind; then the boat advances more easily than by the labor of the rowers, a symbol of discursive meditation united to the practice of the virtues. From this point of view, contemplation, because of the special inspiration which it supposes, deserves to be called, not acquired but infused, although at the beginning it may quite frequently be prepared for by reading, affective meditation, and the prayer of petition.(17) The soul thus actively prepares itself to receive the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which will at times be strong enough so that discursive meditation will no longer be necessary, as when a favorable wind is strong enough to make the boat advance, the work of the rowers may cease.

This special inspiration of the Holy Ghost given to make us taste the mysteries of faith, uses the connaturality or sympathy with divine things that is rooted in charity.(18) This special inspiration gives rise in us to an act of infused love and of living, penetrating, and sweet faith, which shows us how revealed mysteries, although still obscure, wonderfully correspond to our deepest and loftiest aspirations. These acts of love and of penetrating and sweet faith are said to be infused, not only because they proceed from infused virtues, in this case from the theological virtues, but because they suppose a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and because we cannot move ourselves to them with the help of common actual grace. In this case God moves us, not by inclining us to deliberate, but to acts above all discursive deliberation.(19) For example, on reading the Gospel of the day at Mass, some expression that we have read many times is illuminated and captivates us, such as the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: "If thou didst know the gift of God!" (20) In like manner a preacher vividly experiences this illumination we are speaking of when at first he feels deeply his powerlessness to preach the Passion in a fitting manner on Good Friday, and then receives the animating breath which vivifies his thought, his will and his feelings, that he may do good to souls.

At times contemplation rises toward God by a straight movement from a sensible fact, for example, from a parable such as that of the prodigal son, to the wonderful vision of the divine mercy.(21) At other times contemplation rises by an oblique movement, for example, from the mysteries of salvation, from those of the childhood of our Savior and of His passion, to the living and profound thought of eternal life.

Lastly, there is occasionally contemplation, called circular, of the infinite goodness of God which radiates on all things, on all the mysteries of salvation. This prayer is a very simple, most loving gaze, which reminds one of the circular flight of the eagle high up in the air, hovering as it gazes at the sun and its radiation over the horizon.(22)

These principles thus formulated by St. Thomas illumine the traditional teaching on contemplative prayer which we found expressed in the works of St. Francis de Sales. This same teaching appears also in a concrete and experiential form in the writings of St. Teresa.

Compare with Fr. Giertych.

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