The word Contemplation
comes from the Latin root templum (from Greek temnein: to cut or divide), and means to separate something from its environment, and to enclose it in a sector. Contemplation is the Latin translation of Greek 'theory
). In a religious sense it is a type of prayer
Contemplation was an important part of the philosophy of Plato; Plato thought that through contemplation the soul may ascend to knowledge of the Form of the Good or other divine Forms. Plotinus as a (neo)Platonic philosopher also expressed contemplation as the most critical of components for one to reach henosis.
To Plotinus the highest contemplation was to experience the vision of God, the Monad or the One. Plotinus describes this experience in his works the Enneads. According to his student Porphyry, Plotinus stated that he had this experience of God four times. Plotinus wrote about his experience in Enneads 6.9.xx.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
In Eastern Christianity
contemplation or theoria
literally means to see God or to have the Vision of God. As a technique, theoria is expressed by the ascetic
tradition of Hesychasm
. Hesychasm is continuous prayer that is to focus with absolute sincerity, and to repeat in prayer, as a means to focus exclusively on the Triune God. It is to reconcile the heart and the mind into one thing (see nous
). Contemplation in Eastern Orthodoxy is expressed in degrees as those covered in St John Climacus
' Ladder of Divine Ascent
. The process of changing from the old man of sin into the new born child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called theosis
. Each of these components are critical to the cultivation of theoria. One derives Spiritual Knowledge from theoria. One however can not derive theoria from spiritual knowledge
. This is to say that once someone is in the presence of God then they can begin to properly understand and there "contemplate" God. This form of contemplation is to have and pass through an actual experience rather than a scientific understanding of theory. Whereas in science one uses theory to understand the natural world and its operations, one does the reverse with God. In science contemplation means one derives a explanation and then tests the "theory" (see gnosiology
). Within the realm of Eastern Christianity theory is faith and one at first cultivates the virtues as an expression of faith. Once the virtues are cultivated the highest virtue is humility. Through humility one becomes Holy. God is humility and one becomes like God. This is the contemplation (living) of God. The Holy Wisdom
of God is not knowledge but humility.
Within Western Christianity
it is related to mysticism
, and expressed in the works of mystical theologians
St. Teresa of Avila
, and St. John of the Cross
, as well as the writings of Margery Kempe
, Augustine Baker
and Thomas Merton
Other world traditions
Many religions share the concept of contemplation. Naropa University
, for example, offers a Master's degree program in contemplative education in the context of Buddhism
Contemplation and meditation
The words contemplation and meditation sometimes have almost opposite meanings in Western and Eastern traditions. In the West, contemplation may refer to a content-free direction of the mind to God (Christianity) or to the Good (Platonism), whereas meditation may involve a specific, directed mental exercise, such as visualization of a religious scene or consideration of a scriptural passage. In the East, however, these two terms' definitions may be reversed.
Contemplation as a practice is finding greater resonance in the West both in business - for example in Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization - and in universities in fields as diverse as architecture, physics, and the liberal arts.
In Catholic Christianity, contemplation is given importance. The Catholic Church's "model theologian," St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation." One of his disciples, Josef Pieper commented: "For it is contemplation which preserves in the midst of human society the truth which is at one and the same time useless and the yardstick of every possible use; so it is also contemplation which keeps the true end in sight, gives meaning to every practical act of life.
In a non-religious sense, contemplation
can also mean:
- an act of considering with attention;
- the act of regarding steadily.
- The Vision of God by Vladimir Lossky, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-19-2)
- The Spirituality of the Christian East: A systematic handbook by Tomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications Inc Kalamazoo Michigan 1986 (ISBN 0-87907-879-0)
- The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford Theological Monographs 2004) by Marcus Plested ()
- Being With God by Aristotle Papanikolaou University of Notre Dame Press February 24, 2006
- The Experience of God : Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 1 : Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God) by Dumitru Staniloae Holy Cross Orthodox Press May 17, 2005
- The Experience of God : Orthodox Dogmatic Theology Volume 2: (The World, Creation and Deification) by Dumitru Staniloae Holy Cross Orthodox Press June 16, 2005