Contemplation: A Knowledge Infused by the Holy Spirit


To rediscover the profound and authentic meaning of the word « contemplation, » often diluted and trivialized, it is necessary to turn to the writings of the great spiritual traditions, rich in millennia-old knowledge. In particular, the reflections of Saint Thomas Aquinas, at the end of the 13th century, shed light on the nature and fruits of this unique spiritual experience.

Citing Richard of Saint Victor, Saint Thomas Aquinas defines contemplation as « the penetrating and free gaze of the mind on the things it looks at, » thus distinguishing it from meditation, which is « the gaze of the mind in search of truth. » Contemplation is not merely intellectual reflection, but a knowledge infused by the Holy Spirit, a direct and intimate experience of God. This is what makes it unique and precious, placing it above all other forms of knowledge of God.

This contemplative union with God brings about an intimacy so deep that it allows the soul to be called « friend of God » and to penetrate « the secrets of God. » Saint Dominic, as the texts emphasize, himself experienced this interior contemplation, reserved for the friends of God.

The Role of the Holy Spirit: Light and Love

The Holy Spirit plays a central role in contemplation. It is the immediate cause of this infused knowledge, acting directly on the soul, which becomes, in a way, « possessed by God. » Without this divine intervention, it would be impossible to access an affective and experiential knowledge of God.

The action of the Holy Spirit manifests itself in two ways:

  • A light is infused into the intellect, illuminating the mind and enabling it to understand divine mysteries.
  • A love is infused by grace operating in the will, inflaming the heart and drawing the soul to God.

It is first the love of God that is perceived, and then through this love that God is known as loved and present. Love thus becomes a means of knowledge, for it is in love that the intellect experiences God. It is important to note that this experience is not an act of the will, but an act of the intellect, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

Revelation of God’s Secrets and Bold Preaching

In addition to the gifts it bestows, contemplation, according to Saint Thomas, allows one to know affectively the secrets of Jesus’ heart. Drawing on the words of Christ: « I have called you my friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father » (Jn 15:15), Saint Thomas emphasizes that « friends form only one heart and one soul » and that « God makes us participate in his wisdom by revealing his secrets to us. »

The more man aspires to grasp the secrets of divine Wisdom, writes Saint Thomas, the more he must draw near to Jesus, for his secrets are revealed to those who are united to God by love.

This is why it is impossible for one who receives this gift to keep it to himself. The saint welcomes from this contemplation the « bold power of ardent preaching. »

Contemplating to Preach

Saint Dominic, in his contemplation, attains a particular intimacy with Christ present in the Scriptures. It is from this wellspring that he draws the richness and depth of his preaching. As Gregory the Great said: « In contemplation they draw what they later pour out in preaching, not only by means of doctrine, but even by means of contemplation one has much to preach about. »

Contemplation, as described by Saint Thomas Aquinas and illustrated by the life of Saint Dominic, is a spiritual experience of inestimable richness. It allows the soul to enter into intimate union with God, to know his secrets, and to draw from him the strength and light to preach him to the world. Far from being a simple pious practice, contemplation is a source of life, transformation, and mission for the Christian.