Rorate Caeli

What is Acquired Contemplation?

by Thomas of Jesus OCD

The word contemplation means, in the strict sense of the word, an act of simple intellectual sight, which when the object contemplated is beautiful and lovable, is associated with admiration and love. Contemplative prayer is distinguished from discursive prayer and affective prayer and can be defined as a simple and affectionate glance at God or at divine things; or more briefly, simplex, intuitus veritatis, as St. Thomas says.

Acquired contemplation can be defined thus: an affectionate knowledge of God and of His works, and it is the fruit of our efforts. It has as its principal object the Divine Majesty, and for its secondary object, all created things, since they derive from God, Who is the source of all, and they are like a mirror which reflects the divine perfections to our eyes. Therefore, all that which contemplation considers in creatures regards the knowledge, glory and honour of the Most High, Who, in the creation of the universe, has shown so much harmony, magnificence, abundance and variety, precisely in order to cause to shine forth, honour, praise and love His goodness, wisdom and power.

It is said that Christian contemplation is an affectionate knowledge, because it has its cause and effect in the will. It is love, in fact, that enables us to contemplate the Essence of God, His goodness and His other attributes. On the other hand, love is the fruit of contemplation; we love God in proportion to our knowledge of Him. Such is the teaching of St. Thomas, based on that of St. Gregory; and the angelic Doctor ends by saying that the ultimate perfection of the contemplative life consists not only in seeing truth, but also in loving it.


According to the wise observation of Denis the Carthusian, contemplation is practiced in two ways. In the first place, and this is the ordinary way, with the help of the work of our reason; it is then rational or acquired contemplation, of which the love of God must be the compliment, the beauty and the form. It is necessary, then, that it be accompanied by acts of interior and exterior charity, such as: to rejoice in the goodness and other perfections of God; to unite ourselves to Him with fervour; to detest sin for love of God; to pray for the extirpation of the vices, since they act as obstacles to contemplation; and, on the contrary to pray to obtain contemplation; to consecrate to the Passion of Our Lord, an affectionate and compassionate remembrance. It is likewise an excellent work to apply oneself with purity of spirit to praise the Creator with hymns and psalms etc. This exercise puts the demons to flight and is an abundant source of graces and merits, as well as being an anticipation of the life of Heaven.

The second way of contemplating is supernatural and mystical: the Holy Ghost is its Author by the infusion which He makes in the soul through the touches, lights and movements He transmits. Here the human soul does not reason at all, but considers the truth as do the Angels, by intuition in a simple glance; because, when Wisdom, whose power is infinite, teaches the truth, one immediately perceives it and there is no need of reasoning.

The matter of acquired contemplation is the same as for infused contemplation, that is, it is principally God Himself, or that which is found in Him, and which we see to be, both according to reason or above reason, as well in a certain sense, when it is not according to reason. God is wise, good, powerful, just merciful etc: this is according to reason. God has created us for a supernatural end; He has infused grace into us and has made us His friends; He has given us His only Son to be our Redeemer: these are the truths which are over and above reason. Finally, there are the truths which seem to be outside of reason; for example, all those which refer to the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity. The soul finds its rest in the contemplation and sight of these divine things.

Apart from the Divinity, contemplation also has as its object the humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the most Holy Virgin Mary, the Angels, the Saints, we ourselves and, in general, all the truths of the Faith. All these things can be called celestial things, because their aim is to increase within us love for the things of Heaven.

The end of contemplation is union with God, because, as we have already said, contemplation derives from love and produces love; now it is characteristic of love to be united to the object which is loved. The union of infused contemplation is called a union of bliss, whilst that of acquired contemplation is called a union of sobriety.

[Venerable Thomas of Jesus, OCD - Tomás de Jesús, Tommaso di Gesù: Baeza, Spain, 1564 - Rome, 1627. Source: De Vita Contemplativa, The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, Italy. Tip and translation: Contributor Francesca Romana.]