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THAT CONTEMPLATION IS MADE WITHOUT LABOUR, WHICH IS THE THIRD DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IT AND MEDITATION.
Now the simple view of contemplation is performed in one of these three ways. Sometimes we regard only some one of God's perfections, as for example his infinite goodness, not thinking of his other attributes or virtues; like a bridegroom, who simply stays his eye upon the beautiful complexion of his bride, and by this means truly sees all her countenance, forasmuch as her colour is spread over almost all the parts of it, and who yet at the same time would not be attending to the features, expression, and other points of beauty: for, in like manner, sometimes the mind, considering the sovereign goodness of the divinity, although withal it sees in it justice, wisdom, power, yet is only attentive to its goodness, to which the simple view of its contemplation is addressed. Sometimes also we attentively behold in God several of his infinite perfections, yet with a simple view and without distinction, as he who with one glance, passing his eyes from the head to the feet of his richly dressed spouse, would attentively have seen all in general, and nothing in particular, not well discerning what neck-jewels, or gown, she wore, nor what countenance she bore, nor what expression she had, nor what her eyes were saying, but only that all was fair and agreeable: for so in contemplation we often cast one single regard of simple contemplation over several divine greatnesses and perfections together, and we could not describe anything in particular, but only say that all is perfectly good and lovely. And finally we at other times consider neither many nor only one of the divine perfections, but only some divine action or work, to which we are attentive; as for example to the act of mercy by which God pardons sins, or the act of creation, or the resurrection of Lazarus, or the conversion of S. Paul: as a bridegroom who might not regard the eyes, but only the sweetness of the looks which his spouse casts upon him, nor take notice of her mouth, but only of the sweetness of the words uttered by it. And here, Theotimus, the soul makes a certain outburst of love, not only upon the actions she considers, but upon him from whom they proceed: Thou art good; and in thy goodness teach me thy justifications.284284Ps. cxviii. 68. His throat (that is, the word which comes from it) is most sweet, and he is all lovely.285285Cant. v. 16. Ah! How sweet are thy words to my palate, more than honey to my mouth;286286Ps. cxviii. 103. or with S. Thomas: My Lord and my God; and with S. Magdalen: "Rabboni, Ah! my master!"
But take which of these three ways you will, contemplation has still this excellency that it is made with delight, for it supposes that we have found God and his holy love, that we enjoy it and delight in it, saying: I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go.287287Cant. iii. 4. In which it differs from meditation, which almost always is performed with difficulty, labour and reasoning; our mind passing in it from consideration to consideration, searching in many places either the well-beloved of her love, or the love of her well-beloved. Jacob labours in meditation to obtain Rachel, but in contemplation he rejoices with her, forgetting all his labour. The divine lover like a shepherd, and indeed he is one, prepared a sumptuous banquet according to the country fashion for his sacred spouse, which he so described that mystically it represented all the mysteries of man's redemption. I am come into my garden, said he, O my sister, my spouse, I have gathered my myrrh, with aromatical spices; I have eaten the honey-comb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk; eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved!288288Cant. v. 1. Theotimus, Ah! when was it, I pray you, that our Saviour came into his garden, if not when he came into his mother's purest, humblest and sweetest womb, replenished with all the flourishing plants of holy virtues? And what is meant by our Saviour's gathering his myrrh with his perfumes, except that he joined suffering to suffering until death, even the death of the cross, heaping by that means merit upon merit and treasures upon treasures, to enrich his spiritual children? And how did he eat his honey-comb with his honey, but when he lived a new life, reuniting his soul, more sweet than honey, to his pierced and wounded body, with more holes than a honeycomb? And when ascending into heaven he took possession of all the surroundings and dependencies of his divine glory, what other thing did he if not mix the exhilarating wine of the essential glory of his soul, with the delightful milk of the perfect felicity of his body, in a more excellent manner than hitherto he had done?
Now in all these divine mysteries, which contain all others, there is food provided for dear friends to eat and drink well, and for dearest friends to be inebriated. Some eat and drink, but they eat more than they drink and so are not inebriated: the others eat and drink, but drink more than they eat, and those are they who are inebriated. Now to eat is to meditate, for in meditating a man doth chew, turning his spiritual meat hither and thither between the teeth of consideration, to bruise, break and digest it, which is not done without some labour. To drink is to contemplate, which we do without labour or difficulty, yea with pleasure and tranquillity. But to be inebriated is to contemplate so frequently and so ardently as to be quite out of self to be wholly in God. O holy and sacred inebriation, which, contrarily to corporal inebriation, does not alienate us from the spiritual sense, but from the corporal senses; does not dull or besot us, but angelicizes and in a sort deifies us; putting us out of ourselves, not to abase us and rank us with beasts, as terrestrial drunkenness does, but to raise us above ourselves and range us with angels, so that we may live more in God than in ourselves, being attentive to and occupied in seeing his beauty and being united to his goodness by love!
Now whereas to attain unto contemplation we stand ordinarily in need of hearing the word of God, of having spiritual discourse and conference with others, like the ancient anchorites, of reading, praying, meditating, singing canticles, conceiving good thoughts,—for this reason, holy contemplation being the end and aim of all these exercises, they are all reduced to it, and those who practise them are called contemplatives, as also the occupation itself is called a contemplative life. This is on account of the action of our understanding, by which we regard the truth of the divine beauty and goodness with an amorous attention, that is, with a love which makes us attentive, or, with an attention which proceeds from love, and augments the love which we have for the infinite sweetness of our Lord.
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