Although they are similar, contemplation is distinct from the practice of meditation.
St. Francis de Sales, in his book Treatise on the Love of God, dedicates a whole chapter to the primary difference between contemplation and meditation. He explains how, “contemplation is no other thing than a loving, simple and permanent attention of the spirit to divine things; which you may easily understand by comparing meditation with it.”
This simple definition of contemplation is then followed up by an illustration he uses, comparing it to the activity of bees.
Little bees are called nymphs or schadons until they make honey, and then they are called bees: so prayer is named Meditation until it has produced the honey of devotion, and then it is converted into Contemplation. For as the bees fly through their meadows, settling here and there and gathering honey, which having heaped together, they work in it for the pleasure they take in its sweetness, so we meditate to gather the love of God, but having gathered it we contemplate God, and are attentive to his goodness, by reason of the sweetness which love makes us find in it.
What St. Francis de Sales is trying to say is that while meditation is primarily focused on divine things, contemplation is that type of prayer that focuses on God himself, resting in his love.
Or to simplify his analogy, meditation is the bee in the field, resting on various flowers, while contemplation is the bee in the hive, quietly consuming the honey that is there.
This “honey” is divine love and contemplation rests in that love. St. Francis de Sales further elaborates on this concept by writing, “love having excited in us contemplative attention, that attention breeds reciprocally a greater and more fervent love, which at last is crowned with perfection when it enjoys what it loves.”
He calls contemplation elsewhere a “loving attention.”
Both mediation and contemplation have their place in our prayer lives and complement each other. We can incorporate both, using them to draw closer and closer to the Author of prayer and Love itself.
If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.
Here are some numbers:
- 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
- Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
- Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
- We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)
As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.
Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!