St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
|TREATISE ON THE LOVE OF GOD|
By St Francis de Sales
Book VI. Of The Exercises Of Holy Love In Prayer.
Ch 5. The Second Difference Between Meditation And Contemplation.
Meditation considers in detail, and as it were piece by piece, the objects calculated to move us, but contemplation takes a very simple and collected view of the object which it loves, and the consideration thus brought to a point causes a more lively and strong movement.
One may behold the beauty of a rich crown two ways; either by looking upon all its ornaments, and all the precious stones of which it is composed, one after the other; or again, having considered all the particular parts, by beholding all the work of it together in one single and simple view.
The first kind resembles meditation, in which, for example, we consider the effects of God's mercy to excite us to his love; but the second is like to contemplation, in which we consider with one single steady regard of our mind, all the variety of the same effects as a single beauty, composed of all these pieces, making up a single splendid brilliant.
In meditating, we as it were count the divine
perfections which we find in a mystery, but in
contemplating we sum up their total. The companions
of the sacred spouse had asked her what manner of one
was her wellbeloved, and she makes answer in an
admirable description of all the parts of his perfect
beauty: My beloved is white and ruddy, his head is as
the finest gold, his locks as branches of palm trees,
black as a raven, his eyes as doves, his cheeks are
as beds of aromatical spices, set by the perfumers,
his lips are as lilies dropping choice myrrh, his
hands are turned and as of gold full of hyacinths,
his legs as pillars of marble. Thus she goes on,
meditating this sovereign beauty in detail, till at
length she concludes by way of contemplation, putting
all the beauties into one: His throat is most sweet,
and he is all lovely: such is my beloved, and he is
Hence it is that the heavenly lover so prizes the being seen by his well-beloved with one of her eyes, and that her hair is so well plaited that it seems to be but one hair; for what is this beholding the spouse with one eye only, except the beholding him with a single attentive view without multiplying looks?
And what is it to have her hair thus plaited
together, except the not scattering her thoughts in
the multiplicity of considerations. Oh! how happy are
they who, having run over the multitude of motives
which they have to love God, reducing all their looks
to one only look, and all their thoughts to one
conclusion, stay their mind in the unity of
contemplation; after the example of S. Augustine or
S. Bruno, pronouncing secretly in their soul in a
permanent admiration: "O Goodness! Goodness!
Goodness, ever old and ever new!" or after the
example of the great S. Francis, who, kneeling in
prayer passed the whole night in these words: "O God,
thou art my God and my All!" repeating the same
continually, as the Blessed Brother Bernard of
Quintaval relates who had heard it with his own ears.
But again look with still greater devotion at the Creator of the world, how in the creation he first meditated the goodness of his works severally, one by one, as he saw them produced. He saw, says the Scripture, that the light was good, that the heavens and the earth were good, and so the herbs and plants, the sun, moon and stars, the living beasts, and in fine all the rest of creatures as he created them one after another: till at length, all the universe being accomplished, the divine meditation is changed as it were into contemplation: for viewing all the goodness that was in his works with one only look -- He saw, says Moses, all the things that he had made, and they were very good.(3)
The different parts considered severally by manner of meditation were good, but beheld in one only regard all together in form of contemplation, they were found very good: as many little brooks running together make a river, which carries greater freights than the multitude of the same brooks separately could do.
After we have excited a great many different pious
affections by the multitude of considerations of
which meditation is composed, we in the end gather
together the virtue of all these affections, from
which, by the pouring together and mixture of their
forces, springs a certain quintessence of affection,
and of affection more active and powerful than all
the affections whence it proceeds, because, though it
be but one, yet it contains the virtue and property
of all the others, and is called contemplative
The further water runs from its source, the more
does it divide itself, and waste its waters, unless
it is kept in with a great care; and perfections
separate and divide themselves according as they are
more remote from God their source; but approaching
near him they are united, until they are lost in the
abyss of that sole sovereign perfection, which is the
necessary unity and the better part, which Magdalen
chose and which shall not be taken away from her.