Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 24 July |
Saint of the Day: St. Sharbel Makhluf
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

St. Francis de Sales: The primary difference between contemplation and meditation

PRAYING,PRAYER,YOUNG MAN

Jeffrey Bruno

Philip Kosloski - published on 05/09/19

Although they are similar, contemplation is distinct from the practice of meditation.

Among the many different methods of Christian prayer, meditation and contemplation have remained a central part of Christian spirituality throughout the centuries. Of course there is no one method for praying, as prayer is most fundamentally a gift of God. But contemplation and meditation are recognized as methods that can be tools for growth in prayer. Nevertheless, they can often be confused with each other because of their close similarity.

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.”


PRAYING

Read more:
The difference between meditation and ordinary thoughts, according to St. Francis de Sales

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 convertedinto Contemplation. For as the bees fly through their meadows, settling here and there and gatheringhoney, 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 areattentive 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.


PRAY,BOOK

Read more:
7 Christian meditation aids for beginners

Tags:
PrayerSpiritual Life
Support Aleteia!

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 seven languages: English, French, 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!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
nightbirde
Cerith Gardiner
8 Powerful quotes from Nightbirde that will fill you with hope
2
HEADACHE
Kathleen N. Hattrup
2 Bible verses when you’re weary down to the soul
3
FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA
John Burger
Alumni sue after this Catholic saint’s name was removed fro...
4
ŁACINA
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
5
WEB2-Benjamin_West_-_Joshua_passing_the_River_Jordan_with_the_Ark_of_the_Covenant_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Daniel Esparza
Who are the cherubim in the Bible?
6
LEONINE PRAYERS
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
5 Questions (and answers) about Pope Francis’ changes to La...
7
MACHAERUS
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.