Statue The Spirit of Contemplation by Albert Toft.

The word contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplatio. Its root is also that of the Latin word templum, a piece of ground consecrated for the taking of auspices, or a building for worship, derived either from Proto-Indo-European base *tem- "to cut", and so a "place reserved or cut out" or from the Proto-Indo-European base *temp- "to stretch", and thus referring to a cleared space in front of an altar.[1] The Latin word contemplatio was used to translate the Greek word θεωρία (theoria). In a religious sense, contemplation is usually a type of prayer or meditation.


Greek philosophy

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.[2] 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.[3] Plotinus wrote about his experience in Enneads 6.9.xx....


Christian meditation

In Eastern Christianity contemplation (theoria) literally means to see God or to have the Vision of God.[4] The state of beholding God, or union with God, is known as theoria. The process of theosis which leads to that state of union with God known as theoria is practiced in the ascetic tradition of Hesychasm. Hesychasm is to reconcile the heart and the mind into one thing (see nous).[5]

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.

This is to say that once someone is in the presence of God, deified with him, 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 rational or reasoned understanding of theory (see Gnosis). Whereas with rational thought one uses logic to understand, one does the opposite with God (see also Apophatic theology).

Within Western Christianity contemplation is often related to mysticism as expressed in the works of mystical theologians such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross as well as the writings of Margery Kempe, Augustine Baker and Thomas Merton.[6]


In Islamic tradition, it is said that Muhammad, like the other famous peoples of the Bible such as Abraham and Moses, would go into the desert, climb a mountain known as Mount Hira, and seclude himself from the world. While on the mountain, he'd contemplate life and its meaning.

Contemplation and meditation

Nature contemplation

In Christianity, contemplation refers to a content-free mind directed towards the awareness of God as a living reality. This corresponds, in some ways, to what in Eastern religion is called samadhi.[7][8]

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[9] – 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."[10]

See also


  1. ^ Online Etymological Dictionary
  2. ^ Plato: Critical Assessments, Nicholas D. Smith, Routledge, 1998. ISBN 0-415-12605-3
  3. ^ See the Life of Plotinus
  4. ^ The vision of the uncreated light, which offers knowledge of God to man, is sensory and supra-sensory. The bodily eyes are reshaped, so they see the uncreated light, "this mysterious light, inaccessible, immaterial, uncreated, deifying, eternal", this "radiance of the Divine Nature, this glory of the divinity, this beauty of the heavenly kingdom" (3,1,22;CWS p.80). Palamas asks: "Do you see that light is inaccessible to senses which are not transformed by the Spirit?" (2,3,22). St. Maximus, whose teaching is cited by St. Gregory, says that the Apostles saw the uncreated Light "by a transformation of the activity of their senses, produced in them by the Spirit" (2.3.22). Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN 978-960-7070-27-2
  5. ^ Stillness of the body is a limiting of the body. "The beginning of hesychia is godly rest" (3). The intermediate stage is that of "illuminating power and vision; and the end is ecstasy or rapture of the nous towards God" (4). St. John of the Ladder, referring to outward, bodily stillness, writes: "The lover of stillness keeps his mouth shut" (5). But it is not only those called neptic Fathers who mention and describe the holy atmosphere of hesychia, it is also those known as "social". Actually in the Orthodox tradition there is no direct opposition between theoria and praxis, nor between the neptic and social Fathers. The neptics are eminently social and those in community are unimaginably neptic. Orthodox Psychotherapy Section on Stillness and Prayer
  6. ^ "Contemplation", Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. Retrieved March 19, 2008.
  7. ^ [1], samannaphala sutta Digha-Nikaya-2
  8. ^ [2], Patanjali, Yoga Sutras
  9. ^ The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge, Currency, 2006. ISBN 0-385-51725-4
  10. ^ "Says Pope a Universal Voice for the World", Carrie Gross, February 1, 2008,

Further reading

  • 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 (ISBN 0-19-926779-0)
  • Being With God by Aristotle Papanikolaou University of Notre Dame Press February 24, 2006 ISBN 0-268-03830-9
  • 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 ISBN 0-917651-70-7
  • The Experience of God : Orthodox Dogmatic Theology Volume 2: (The World, Creation and Deification) by Dumitru Staniloae Holy Cross Orthodox Press June 16, 2005 ISBN 1-885652-41-0

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • CONTEMPLATION — CONTEMPLATI Pour la plupart des philosophes grecs, et essentiellement pour le courant de pensée qui relie le pythagorisme, Platon et le néoplatonisme, la contemplation (théôria , de Théa: déesse, et oraô : voir) désigne une attitude de… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Contemplation — • The idea of contemplation is connected with that of mystical theology Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. contemplation     Contemplation      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • contemplation — CONTEMPLATION. s. f. Action par laquelle on contemple, soit des yeux du corps, soit de ceux de l esprit. Profonde, grande, perpétuelle, dévote contemplation. Il est toujours en contemplation. La contemplation des choses divines. S adonner à la… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • Contemplation EP — EP by Mike Garson Released July 2006 Genre Jazz Label MG A …   Wikipedia

  • contemplation — Contemplation. s. f. Action par laquelle on contemple de la pensée. Profonde, grande, perpetuelle, devote, profonde contemplation. il est tousjours en contemplation. la contemplation des choses divines. s addonner à la contemplation. Il signifie… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Contemplation — Con tem*pla tion, n. [F. contemplation, L. contemplatio.] 1. The act of the mind in considering with attention; continued attention of the mind to a particular subject; meditation; musing; study. [1913 Webster] In contemplation of created things …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • contemplation — I noun absorption, aim, attention, brooding, calculation, cerebration, cogitation, concentration, consideration, contemplatio, deliberateness, deliberation, design, determination, engrossment, envisagement, envisionment, examination, excogitation …   Law dictionary

  • contemplation — c.1200, religious musing, from O.Fr. contemplation or directly from L. contemplationem (nom. contemplatio) act of looking at, from contemplat , pp. stem of contemplari to gaze attentively, observe, originally to mark out a space for observation… …   Etymology dictionary

  • contemplation — [n1] deep thought; planning ambition, cogitation, consideration, deliberation, design, intention, meditation, musing, plan, pondering, purpose, reflection, reverie, rumination, study; concept 410 Ant. disdain, disregard, neglect, rejection,… …   New thesaurus

  • Contemplation — Contemplation, Beschauung, die mystische Betrachtungsweise des Ueberirdischen, entgegengesetzt der natürlichen Betrachtung des Göttlichen; daher contemplativ im Allgemeinen eine Richtung bezeichnet, die vorzugsweise auf das Innere, auf… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Contemplation — Contemplation, Beschauung, näher das von den Schranken der Endlichkeit mehr oder minder befreite Schauen Gottes und der göttlichen Wahrheiten; contemplatives, beschauliches Leben ist nach Görres »ein Schauen und Erkennen unter Vermittlung eines… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

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