THE FIRST REVIVAL
During the last decades of the 19th century mystical studies began to revive,
perhaps under the impetus of the Thomist renaissance that was renewing theology and
philosophy. In 1885, for example, André-Marie Meynard wrote his Traité de la vie
intérieur, and during the following year the Carmelite Berthold-Ignace de Sainte Anne
published his version of Tomás de Jesús De contemplatione acquisita. The
Carmelite Order was restored in Spain in 1868 and the Revista San Juan de la Cruz was
founded in 1890, and another Carmelite review, El Monte Carmelo, was created in
1900. And with this revival the unresolved issue of acquired contemplation came back to
Augustín François Poulain
One of the leaders of this revival was Augustín François Poulain (1836-1919) who had
joined the Jesuits and taught mathematics for many years. But he had a deep practical
interest in mysticism which first showed itself in articles on John of the Cross which
were collected in a booklet and published in 1893. In 1901 he wrote in the Preface of his
just published Grâces doraison: "In thirty years I have come to know 33
persons who seem to have real supernatural graces, and nine who have false visions."
(1) It saw many editions in French and was translated into English, German, Italian and
Spanish. It was a wide-ranging description of the various states in the life of prayer
fortified by many quotations from the saints and spiritual writers. There were those who
thought that such a book was imprudent, but it was credited with popularizing mysticism
and helping to spark a revival of mystical studies. "He opened, or rather reopened, a
road almost closed to the great majority since the 17th century." (2)
But Poulains book also raised many questions about the nature of mystical
experience: Who was called to contemplation? How did mystical experience relate to the
rest of the spiritual life? What was the role of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? And so
forth. But what interests us about this revival is the issue of acquired contemplation.
Poulain had championed the idea of acquired contemplation in his study of John of the
Cross, and was to do so again here, and he had revived it under the heading of the
prayer of simplicity.
The dark night of sense is a kind of prayer of simplicity as far as its outer
appearances go. It is a state of either sweet or bitter aridity, and a simple gaze
directed towards God. But there is a hidden element, as well. "God begins to exercise
upon the soul the action that characterizes the prayer of quiet, but He does this in too
slight a degree for us to be conscious of it." (3) We are faced with "an "incomplete"
or "sub-mystic union." (4) But Poulain is not content with this rather
good reading of John of the Cross. He believes that there is another prayer of simplicity
that is equivalent to acquired contemplation. It is a simplification of affective prayer
in which intuition largely replaces reason, and "affections and resolutions show
little variety." (5) This description would be unremarkable and unobjectionable if
what Poulain had in mind was to describe those culminating moments when normal discursive
activity ends in intuition and a loving gaze at God. But he goes on to describe a kind of
prayer of simplicity that approaches the mystic state which he calls the prayer of loving
attention to God. (6) This is the often recommended exercise of the presence of God, but
one which is "confused and with few or no reasonings." (7) The soul is not idle,
but works, he tells us, "only more simply, more gently
" (8) But we are
left with the impression that discourse and reason have somehow yielded to intuition, and
the normal working of the faculties to something else: "There are many moments when
the faculties are employed as in ordinary meditation, and where they work, therefore, in
the usual way." (9) But often, the soul feels distaste for meditation. "This, as
we shall shortly see, is an unequivocal sign that the prayer of simple regard is the
result of a divine action." Nor should we "make any efforts to introduce
ourselves into the prayer of simplicity." (10) We should not say to ourselves "I
will try systematically to suppress all distinctive acts
and I will compel
myself to be content with the simple attention to God with a gaze of
love." If we did this prayer solely by our own efforts, it would be "of no
advantage to us." (11)
In one form or another the prayer of simplicity as Poulain describes it is drawing to
itself the qualities that he had given to the special prayer of simplicity that appeared
in the dark night of sense. He asserts that John of the Cross teaches us that the signs he
has given us concerning the transition from meditation to contemplation can be applied to
another less elevated situation, that is, "to the whole of that time in which Our
Lord communicates the simple, general, and loving attention." (12) He bolsters this
argument by quoting John of the Cross from The Living Flame of Love where he says,
"He (God) is now secretly and quietly infusing wisdom into the soul, together with
the loving knowledge of Himself, independently of these divers acts, without their
being multiplied or elicited." (13) By now it is clear that what starts
off as a sort of simplified affective prayer has become an acquired contemplation which is
clothing itself with the characteristics of infused contemplation.
Poulains work was not to go unchallenged. In 1893 the Capuchin Ludovic de Besse,
in his Éclairissements sur les oeuvres de Saint Jean de la Croix which had
been written in 1860 and had circulated in manuscript claimed that the prayer of
simple regard that Poulain was calling acquired contemplation was, in fact, a mystic
state. And in 1896, Auguste Saudreau in his Les Degrees de la vie spirituelle
asserted that the prayer of simple regard was an aspect of the prayer of quiet. Émile
Lamballe in his 1912 Mystical Contemplation devoted an appendix to showing that for
him loving attention is contemplation itself. (14) Thus started the second debate over
acquired contemplation that was going to last through the first half of the 20th
J.V. Bainvel, who in 1922 thought it necessary to add an introduction to the 10th
French edition of Poulains Graces of Interior Prayer that stretched over 100
pages, left us a schema that can help us begin to decipher the various currents in this
renewed debate over acquired contemplation. He finds three schools in the loose sense of
the term in the field of mystical studies in general. The first had formed around Poulain
and included Dom Vital Lehoedy and Adolph Tanquerey, and believed in a distinction between
acquired and infused contemplation. The second school of Saudreau included Ludovic de
Besse and Père Lamballe, and rejected that distinction. (15) And there was a third
Dominican school led by Juan Arintero and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. It is worth looking
at the views of Saudreau in more detail to get used to the new language that is now going
to be used to deal with the old and vexing problem of acquired contemplation.
Auguste Saudreau (1859-1946) who was a diocesan priest, spent many years as the
chaplain of the Sisters of the Bon Pasteur in Angers. In 1896 he published his Les
degrés de la vie spirituelle. For Saudreau the great masters of the mystical life
know only mystical contemplation. They include John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and
Francis de Sales. The loving attention that John of the Cross talks about "out of
which certain authors have tried to make a non-mystic contemplation, is absolutely the
same as quietude or mystical contemplation." (16) While it is true that meditation
leads to a certain kind of contemplation, this is a state that lasts only momentarily. If
acquired contemplation did not come from the great saints like John of the Cross, where
did it come from? Saudreau, following Arintero, finds the first mention of it in Antonio
Alvarados book, and he thinks that Tomás de Jesús was the first Carmelite to speak
of these two kinds of contemplation. But he feels that it is not useful to bring into the
discussion Tomás work on acquired contemplation that first appeared in 1886 since
it could not have influenced the early emergence of the term acquired contemplation. (17)
Saudreau believed that a doctrine similar to his own can be found in the work of Pierre
de Clorivière in his Manuel sur la prière et loraison ready for publication
in 1778, but delayed to the early years of the 19th century. Among modern
authors he feels a special kinship with E. Lamballe who died in March of 1914, Ludovic de
Besse, who died in 1910, and Père Jean de la Croix, who died in 1919. He applauds Dom
Vital Lehoedys criticism of those who created parallel paths of acquired and infused
contemplation, but he is unhappy with the use that he has made of the words acquired
contemplation even though he saw it as the "second phase of affective prayer" in
which God is secretly pouring into the soul His light and warmth. (18)
Juan Arintero, OP
Juan Gonzalez-Arintero (1860-1928) is credited with leading the revival of mystical
studies in Spain. He carried on a correspondence with August Saudreau and Reginald
Garrigou-Lagrange. In the wake of the Teresan Congress of 1923 that had promoted acquired
contemplation he published a series of articles in La Ciencia Tomista vehemently
opposing the whole idea which were collected in 1925 in his La Veredera mystica
tradicional. He soon regretted its polemical tone, but died before he could publish a
revised edition. This second edition did not appear until 1980 under the direction of
Arturo Alonso Lobo.
After Padre Arinteros articles began to appear, the Discalced Carmelites quickly
responded. Juan Vicente de Jesús María wrote a Carta abierta al Rdo. Padre Arintero,
OP, sobre la contemplación adquirida, couching his outrage in flowery terms which ran
on for 75 pages and ended with the evocation of his Carmelite brother of centuries ago in
regard to the work of Arbiol "Incidit in foviam quam fecit." He begins by
focusing on Arinteros translation of the phrase from Tomás de Jesús De
contemplatione acquisita: "Nullum esse contemplationem, quae supernaturale et
divino modo contingen posit, quae non itiam posit nostra industria comparare."
Arintero renders this as: "There is no manner of supernatural contemplation that
cannot also be acquired," while Padre Vicente insists it should read: "There is
no contemplation that can be had in a divine and supernatural way that cannot also be
arrived at by our own industry." And he goes on to try to illustrate the difference
between meditation, acquired contemplation, and infused contemplation. Lets imagine,
he supposes, that we are in a dark room with the sun shining outside, and that there are
three ways to illuminate the objects within: a candle (meditation), a skylight which is
beyond our reach through which the sun streams in and falls upon the objects (infused
contemplation), and a window which we can open (acquired contemplation). (19) We need not
follow Padre Vicente on to this terrain except to note that his foray was quickly met by
an equally flowery and vehement response on the part of Ignacio Menéndez-Reigada, a
disciple of Arintero, in a broadside that he called La Contemplación adquirida y la
These kind of debates were to go on for years. In 1928, for example, not long after St.
John was declared a doctor of the Church, the Carmelites held a congress in Madrid in his
honor. In the first of its private sessions it solemnly proclaimed over some objection
that it was acquired contemplation that John was writing about in the Ascent and
that the three signs of the Ascent indicated the time for the soul to place itself
in this contemplation. (20)
In 1942 the Discalced Carmelite, Doroteo de la Sagrada Familia, wrote a Guía
espiritual de la contemplación adquirida según la doctrina del místico doctor de la
iglesia, San Juan de la Cruz y sus discípulos, which he intended to be a practical
guide to acquired contemplation, and to that end he arranged his work in a series of
questions and answers. He cites the 1928 Congress on mysticism held in Madrid to the
effect that "this active or acquired contemplation is, according to St. John of the
Cross, most advantageous for the soul since with it it truly leaves the life of sense and
places itself in the true life of the spirit, uniting itself to God in perfect union, and
is the final term of progress and prayer for the larger part of those who exercise
themselves in the life of the spirit since not all, nor even half of them God raises to
infused contemplation. Why? He alone knows." (21) Chapters 11 through 13 of Book II
of the Ascent demonstrate that St. John is the master of acquired contemplation. He
had a special gift to take contemplative souls quickly from discursive prayer and put them
in contemplation. (22) Indeed, it is John of the Cross who instructed St. Teresa in this
form of prayer. (23) Acquired contemplation comes in two forms: that of pure faith taught
by John of the Cross, and that of simple and loving recollection found in St. Teresa. Pure
faith is brought about by the emptying of images and particular kinds of knowledge. What
remains is a general, confused and universal knowledge of God. (24) Once discourse ceases
St. John teaches souls to remain in this attentive and loving quietude "without
working actively, but not being idle; because according to St. John of the Cross not
working is not the same as being idle." (25) John of the Cross talks of acquired,
loving knowledge in The Ascent but infused loving knowledge in The Dark Night.
There is no need to analyze all this. The departure it makes from John of the Cross
doctrine is clear enough.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP
Many of the articles of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964) on contemplation had
appeared in the Vie Spirituelle and were collected and published in 1923 as Perfection
chrétienne et Contemplation selon St. Thomas dAquin et St. Jean de la Croix. For
him acquired contemplation is the same as simplified affective prayer, (26) and it is
equivalent to St. Teresas active recollection. If it is called contemplation, it
then departs from the customary terminology in which contemplation means infused
contemplation. John of the Cross is speaking of infused contemplation in the Dark Night,
and the "contemplation he describes in his earlier work, The Ascent of Mount
Carmel, is not specifically different." (27) "To acquired contemplation,
which the quietists continually recommended to everybody, they applied what the saints say
about infused contemplation
As Fr. Dudon, S.J., has justly observed, Molinos
believed that St. John of the Cross, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, spoke only of
acquired contemplation." (28)
In 1922 Dom Cuthbert Butler published his Western Mysticism which dealt with the
teachings of Augustine, Gregory and Bernard on the contemplative life, and he profited
from the questions and criticisms that the appearance of the book raised to add a long
section of afterthoughts to the second edition of 1926. These afterthoughts centered on
the renewal of mysticism and the question of acquired contemplation. First he sets the
scene: "During the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the idea had come to be
accepted as well established, that, apart from special and unusual calls, the normal
mental prayer for all was systematic discursive meditation according to fixed method: this
was taken to be the lifelong exercise of mental prayer for those embarked on a spiritual
life priests, religious, nuns, devout layfolk. Contemplation was looked on as
something extraordinary, almost identified with visions, revelations, raptures, even
stigmatization and levitation, and other such psycho-physical phenomena. Thus
contemplation and mystical theology had come to be regarded as wonderful, even miraculous;
to be admired from a safe distance, and left alone as dangerous and full of pitfalls. Such
was the common view, such the common practice, almost taken for granted at the end of the
nineteenth century." )29)
Butler goes on to trace the revival of mystical studies we have just been looking at
through the work of Poulain, Saudreau, etc., and he insists on the importance of
Farges The Mystical Phenomena and the work of Bishop Hedley who wrote an
article, as we have seen, on prayer and contemplation in 1876 on the occasion of the
reissuing of Augustine Bakers Sancta Sophia. But when we get to his
evaluation of John of the Cross we find that he is a partisan of the doctrine of acquired
contemplation. St. Teresa, he feels, recommends that we should not try to silence the
faculties, but this "is entirely counter to St. Johns attitude," for the
whole of The Ascent is given over to an active emptying. (30) Her contemplation is
conscious and perceptible, while his is not. And while he recognizes that St. John calls
his loving attention infused contemplation, he still finds it close to Bakers
aspirations, and something which by practice "can come to be secured more or less at
will." (31) The prayer of loving attention, or as it is called, the prayer of faith
or simplicity or simple regard is "according to St. John of the Cross, infused
contemplation; and it ought to be, and is, ordinarily within the reach of men of good
" (32) We are back at the paradoxes we have seen before, and there is no
need to explore Butlers views further.
E. Allison Peers
Among the English speaking scholars of Carmelite mysticism a special place should be
given to E. Allison Peers who translated Silverio de Santa Teresas editions of St.
Teresa and St. John and wrote his own extensive three volume Studies of the Spanish
Mystics. Peers, a professor of languages at the University of Liverpool, spent many of
his vacations in the libraries of Spain making meticulous bibliographical notes on the
often rare volumes of 16th and 17th century spirituality that they
contained. He had also thought to do another volume for his studies of the Spanish
mystics, but his death in 1952 prevented him. Among his papers in the archives of the
University of Liverpool are to be found many bibliographical notes but hardly anything
relating to this proposed volume. Peers exhibits no real aversion to the idea of acquired
contemplation despite his criticisms of Juan Falconi.
Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine
Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine (1893-1953) sums up these years of often impassioned
arguments: "The fact is that, after some years of wrangling, the struggle died down,
leaving both parties, however, in their respective positions. Neither could claim the
victory, but both were tired of repeating the same arguments. And the combat finished for
want of combatants!" (33) Père Gabriel, himself, was always of a more irenic
disposition and believed that a true reconciliation of views was possible. His own work
provides us with a summary, if not of the Carmelite position, at least of a well
thought-out Carmelite viewpoint towards the end of this renewed debate over acquired
contemplation. After long historical researches, he believed that what the Carmelite
School calls acquired contemplation is what John of the Cross describes in Book II of The
Ascent and Book I of The Dark Night. "Such was the practically unanimous
interpretation of the Saints doctrine during the whole of the first century of the
School." (34) It contains both an active and a passive element. The passive is the
beginning of divine infusion and the working of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, while the
active is a simplified activity of the soul which is "loving attention to the
presence of God, with a gaze of faith
" (35) But the infused element is hidden
and usually remains unperceived. When aridity makes us unable to meditate, we may well be
being invited to exercise ourselves in looking lovingly at God. Indeed, it is this loving
infusion hidden from the soul that facilitates this loving gaze. Besides infused
contemplation that makes the soul conscious of the divine activity within it, there is a
much lower yet real contemplation "wherein a hidden divine inflowing comes to help
the formation of a habit of looking lovingly at God
This contemplation is much more common, but because it is hidden, it often remains
unrecognized, yet is "offered to practically all those who are willing to fit
themselves for it, as they should." (37) All this is derived from the teaching of
John of the Cross. "It is simply obvious the prayer described by him the second book
of The Ascent and called contemplation cannot be identified with the prayer of
quiet." It is a contemplation "in which God does not make Himself felt."
(38) And so it has been called by the Carmelite School common, ordinary, active, or
The perspective of Père Gabriel and many writers like him is important to grasp. They
are spiritual directors interested in the proper guidance to give to people in the life of
prayer, and this perspective takes priority over an analysis of the intimate nature of
contemplation, itself. Père Gabriel gives us an interesting story that will make this
important point clear. There is a young cleric in the senior seminary and he has learned
to meditate, and because he is fervent, he is inclined to more affective kinds of prayer
than to methodical discourse. He experiences sensible consolation and his joy is in
conversing with God. "But one fine day, lo and behold, the whole scene is
changed!" (39) God seems to have withdrawn. Our young clerics former way of
praying does not work any more. He has fallen into aridity. If he has an uneducated
spiritual director who demands he return to meditation, he will be in serious trouble.
What he needs, according to Père Gabriel, is St. Johns teaching. He must exercise
himself in a general and loving attention to God, (40) that is, "in the practice of a
simple, loving attention to the presence of God." (41) There is an infusion of divine
light going on, but it remains hidden, and that is why St. John has given his three signs.
It is necessary to show our poor cleric that he is being acted upon from within.
"Moreover, even when, helped by St. Johns teaching, it (the soul) passes this
crisis of aridity and attains to a prayer of continuous, loving attention to the presence
of God, a prayer that is peaceful and sweet if not for the senses at least for the spirit,
not even then does it experience the divine action directly, and therefore, again, the
Saint gives us three signs whereby to distinguish it." (42)
There is a "sufficiently lengthy period" in which the divine action remains
hidden an "intermediate state" between affective prayer and infused
contemplation in which the soul "feels nothing" and must maintain itself in
loving attention. "But as this state is sometimes prolonged for years the soul, even
if used to lovingly attending to God, has at times the impression of being in a
void." (43) The soul has a very simple activity to do, which is to lovingly
look upon God with a gaze of faith. "It is not to make reflections; it is not to form
distinct concepts." (44) There is no question of doing nothing or suppressing all
intellectual activity. "Discursive activity, yes; yet on no account may it omit the
general attention to God." (45)
This loving attention would not be possible without the infusion of divine light. (46)
Those who profit from the hidden light, God is wont to bring to a fuller infusion. (47)
"Perhaps" one day the hidden infusion will "become so intense that the soul
will become fully aware of it." (48) If the soul could not maintain contact with God,
this would be a sign that God is not bestowing His infused light, and that it would have
to return to meditation. (49) Thus, John of the Cross has shown us that there is "a
form of contemplation more within our reach than the contemplation that is experimentally
infused." (50) The "whole teaching of the Teresan School upon acquired
contemplation is set forth as a commentary on the teaching of St. John. St. John is,
according to José del Espíritu Santo, the master of active contemplation." And
according to Père Gabriel, John of the Cross should be called the Doctor of Active
Contemplation, as well.
One of the greatest difficulties for the spiritual director is to convince people
undergoing this experience that this way of praying is "very good." "They
seem unable to believe it." (51) After having been reassured, "they return again
with the same doubts." They can get on the directors nerves. (52) "And
yet, there is nothing else to say
" There is a gentle hidden infusion which does
not impose itself on the soul as it does in infused prayer, but "does nothing more
than help to maintain the state of simple attention in which the soul has placed itself by
its own action." (53) The soul is not aware of this infusion. "Only from the
fact that it is able to remain for a considerable time occupied in an exercise which by
means of its personal initiative alone could with difficulty be prolonged, does it
conclude it is really being assisted by God. If, instead, it perceives that it does not
remain in contact with God, this would be a sign that God is not bestowing His infused
light." (54) And then it would have to return to meditation.
In 1948 under Carmelite auspices, a group of specialists met in France at
Avon-Fontainebleau. Among the participants was Roland Dalbiez, a Thomist philosopher and
friend of Maritain, well versed in Freudian psychology. Dalbiez had gone to Bruno de
Jesus-Marie, one of the organizers of the conference, with a proposed paper on acquired
contemplation in José del Espíritu Santo, the substance of which we have already seen.
Père Bruno and others had urged him to add a psychological part to it. This second part
drew a positive response from Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine: "This last part of
the position of M. Dalbiez constitutes precisely the thesis that we have for a long time
defended in our book Acquired Contemplation, published in Italy in 1938, and whose
English translation published in 1946 is actually its third edition. We can only applaud
this aspect of M. Dalbiezs work." (55) He goes on to say that he is less happy
with the analysis of the work of José del Espíritu Santo, which is only to be expected
when faced with such a critical assault on the author who closes out the golden age of
Carmelite studies. The conferences sponsors were even less happy with Dalbiezs
espousal of the historical judgment of Arintero and Menéndez-Reigada: "It is the
notion of acquired contemplation which has created the psychological climate without which
the blossoming of quietism would have been impossible." (56)
Dalbiezs historical studies remain one of the most telling critiques of the very
notion of acquired contemplation. We have followed his remarks in regard not only to José
del Espíritu Santo, but Aphonsus Liguori and Scaramelli, as well. But what of his
psychological analysis applauded by Père Gabriel? Does it actually represent a solution
to the debate over acquired contemplation? The heart of Dalbiezs thesis runs like
this: "Metaphysically, there is only one contemplation, which is infused.
Psychologically, there are two, one in which the infused character is conscious for the
subject, and one in which the infused character is unconscious for the subject." (57)
We are faced with an "ontological unity and an empirical duality." (58) "It
is necessary, then, to carefully distinguish the intervention of the gifts of the Holy
Spirit and the consciousness of this intervention." (59) All contemplation is
ontologically passive, but it is not consciously passive. This is the distinction that is
hidden in the unfortunate words acquired contemplation, and it allows us to deal with a
contemplation whose passive character is unconscious.
This is a valuable milestone in the debate on acquired contemplation, and we will
return to it, especially in regard to the work of Jacques and Raissa Maritain, but it
certainly doesnt appear to be the same thing Père Gabriel was saying. Nor does it
answer certain critical questions. There is a world of difference between a
psychologically unconscious contemplation of the sort that St. John describes, and the
psychologically unconscious contemplation that Père Gabriel talks about, which in actual
fact may or may not be there. Thus, Dalbiezs empirical duality ought to be extended
to three distinct states: conscious infused contemplation, unconscious infused
contemplation, and the lack of infused contemplation. Further, St. John makes it
abundantly clear that infused contemplation does not come into the soul by way of the
natural faculties. One of the greatest difficulties, indeed, an intrinsic contradiction in
acquired contemplation, is that it is based on the use of the faculties. We are being told
to be active in order to be passive.
Dalbiezs study marks the end of the second stage of the debate over acquired
contemplation. The issue remained unresolved, but the often bitter controversies that we
have been seeing left a bad taste in the mouths of the next generation, who then turned
away from the question. After a while the whole issue began to be forgotten, and both
viewpoints continue to exist side by side.
While this is an advance on some of the more unilateral Carmelite positions earlier in
the century, it still suffers from serious difficulties. What Père Gabriel calls the
passive element, that is, the beginning of the divine infusion and the activation of the
gifts of the Holy Spirit, is simply another way of saying that infused contemplation has
begun. But the active element he describes is blown out of proportion. For John of the
Cross loving attention is simply the receptivity to the contemplative experience. For
Père Gabriel loving attention becomes a distinct exercise in which we look lovingly at
God. It is this exercise that is then described as a much lower level yet real form of
contemplation offered to almost anyone who will prepare him or herself.
The key in order to understand this kind of contemplation is to realize that God does
not make Himself felt. The young cleric has to exercise himself in loving and general
attention towards God, but now these words do not describe infused contemplation itself,
or the proximate responsive receptivity to this infusion, but a separate exercise in
response to aridity and the inability to meditate. St. Johns three signs are no
longer a description of the beginning of infused contemplation itself, but a way to decide
whether something is going on within ourselves that is not experienced so that loving
attention can be taken up as an active attitude of the faculties. And the ability to take
up this attitude is used as a proof that the infusion is taking place. Acquired
contemplation then becomes the guarantee of infused contemplation, for if we did not have
this hidden infusion, Père Gabriel reasons, we would not be able to maintain ourselves in
this attitude of loving attention.
All this keeps the words of John of the Cross, but changes their meaning. The
transition from the beginning of infused contemplation to its fuller experience, which
John is describing, becomes something else, that is, a long period in which we are called
to practice acquired contemplation. We are being told to be attentive to an experience
that may or may not be present. Little wonder that people would return with the same
doubts over and over again and get on the directors nerves, and little wonder, as
well, that they would end up feeling like they were in a void.
The reason why John of the Cross infused contemplation has been interpreted over
and over again in terms of acquired contemplation does not really lie with his texts,
themselves, but rather in the concrete situations of his interpreters. They are, for the
most part, experiencing something different than what he experienced.
By the early 1950s the energy that had animated the debate about the nature of and call
to contemplation and the existence of an acquired contemplation had ebbed away. A long
article on contemplation in the Dictionnaire de spiritualité by eminent writers
summed up the state of the question.
Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine led off with the views of the Carmelite School,
sending his readers to his earlier article in the Dictionnaire on the Carmelites.
We have just seen his views about John of the Cross and contemplation, and we have seen
historically, as well, how he believed that Tomás de Jesús knew John of the Cross
through the Tratado breve. Further, he felt there were two currents in the
Carmelite interpretation of acquired contemplation, one which owed its origin to Tomás de
Jesús, and the other to Quiroga, and he attempted to follow them both until they finally
Next, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange gave the Dominican position. The great mystics and
saints like Teresa and John, Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal knew only an
infused contemplation. Acquired contemplation is really a simplified affective meditation
(60) in which someone might momentarily pause caught up in a simple view of the things of
God before resuming their considerations and acts of affection. It would be like St.
Teresas prayer of active recollection, and to go beyond this in our way of
conceiving acquired contemplation would be to go against the formal teaching of both St.
John and St. Teresa.
Ephrem Longpré, charged with the task of presenting the Franciscan School, comes to a
similar conclusion by examining the teachings of St. Bonaventure. Bonaventure only knows
an infused contemplation, (61) and an acquired contemplation would contradict his view of
the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (62) Longpré is not happy, either, with Roland
Dalbiezs attempt to resolve the issue by talking of an ontological unity and an
empirical duality. (63)
Among the Jesuits Joseph de Guibert, long-time professor of spirituality at the
Gregorian University in Rome, defended the idea of an acquired contemplation, while at the
same time he looks with favor on Jacques Maritains remarks on the different ways the
gifts of the Holy Spirit operate in people called to the active and to the contemplative
ways of life an issue which we will look at in detail later. (64)
Among the Benedictines Cuthbert Butler champions acquired contemplation as the normal
end of the spiritual life. (65) John of the Cross loving attention is the lowest
degree of infused contemplation, yet accessible to all Christians who seriously pray. (66)
G.J. Waffelaert admits of an acquired contemplation that depends on the gifts of the
Holy Spirit exercised in a human mode, and also distinguishes infused contemplation from
extraordinary contemplation. The first belongs to the virtues and the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, while the second belongs to the charisms. Others call this latter kind of
contemplation supereminent contemplation and connect it to the light of prophecy. This
makes us wonder if the good bishop of Bruges has been reading Tomás de Jesús. (67)
Pierre Pourrat, noted for his history of spirituality, answers the question
"whether an acquired or active contemplation exists" by saying
"assuredly," and he goes on to demonstrate its existence both before and after
John of the Cross.
It is Auguste Saudreau whom we saw playing a critical role in the reopening of this
controversy at the beginning of this century who is fittingly given the last word in this
marshalling of the schools. While he admits that affective prayer can end in moments of
repose, which might be called acquired contemplation, he is unhappy with the efforts of
Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine to find an acquired contemplation in John of the Cross.
He would call it infused contemplation.
But Saudreau is not to have the last word after all, which is perhaps fitting in this
interminable controversy. The author of the general conclusion tells us that a more
objective knowledge of John of the Cross will lead to increased support for the notion of
acquired contemplation, and he rallies to the position of Père Gabriel. (68)
Clearly, this grand review had not led to any sort of consensus, and the curtain began
to descend a second time on the drama of acquired contemplation. This time the decline of
interest was not due to any condemnation of mystical heresies, like the crisis of
Quietism, but to a deadlocked discussion that had seen too many emotionally laden
polemics, and which had run out of creative energy, as well as to the death of the great
protagonists, as well. Saudreau died in 1946, and Père Gabriel in 1953. Vast sea changes
had begun, as well, in the world of theology, that were eventually to manifest themselves
in the Second Vatican Council. The debate over acquired contemplation began to be looked
at as a distasteful legacy of an outmoded theological world. This whole second world of
acquired contemplation that had attracted so much attention during the first half of the
20th century began to recede into the mists of time much more quickly than the
passage of a few years could account for. When the new attempts to renew the contemplative
life began to surface after the Second Vatican Council, they were to show very little
knowledge or interest in what had transpired not that many years before.
- Augustín Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, p. xxxv.
- Ibid., p. lxvii.
- Ibid., p. 207.
- Ibid., p. 208.
- Ibid., p. 8
- Ibid., p. 13.
- Ibid., pp. 13-14.
- Ibid., p. 24.
- Ibid., p. 27.
- Ibid., p. 33.
- Ibid., p. 34, note
- Ibid., p. 48.
- Émile Lamballe, Mystical Theology, p. 118.
- Augustín Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, p. lxviii.
- Auguste Saudreau, The Mystical State, p. 113.
- Ibid., p. 119, note 2.
- Ibid., p. 193.
- Juan Vicente de Jesús María, Carta abierta..., p. 13.
- Crisógono de Jesús, La Escuela Mística, p. 329.
- Doroteo de la Sagrada Familia, Guía espiritual..., p. 11.
- Ibid., p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 14.
- Ibid., p. 18.
- Ibid., p. 24.
- Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, p. 225.
- Ibid., p. 231.
- Ibid., pp. 234-235.
- Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism, p. 10.
- Ibid., p. 19.
- Ibid., p. 26.
- Ibid., p. 55.
- Gabriel de Sainte Marie-Magdeleine, St. John of the Cross, p. 106.
- Ibid., p. 92.
- Ibid., pp. 92-93.
- Ibid., p. 94.
- Ibid., p. 112.
- Ibid., p. 116.
- Ibid., p. 119.
- Ibid., p.120.
- Ibid., p. 121.
- Ibid., pp. 121-122.
- Ibid., p. 142.
- Ibid., p.144.
- Ibid., p. 153.
- Ibid., p. 175.
- Ibid., p. 158.
- Ibid., pp. 166-167.
- Ibid., p. 176.
- Ibid., p. 160.
- Ibid., p. 166.
- Roland Dalbiez, "La Controverse..." p. 77.
- Ibid., p. 78.
- Ibid., p. 132.
- Ibid., p. 133.
- Ibid., p. 134.
- "Contemplation," DS, 2069.
- Ibid., 2091.
- Ibid., 2094.
- Ibid., 2095.
- Ibid., 2117.
- Ibid., 2130.
- Ibid., 2131.
- Ibid., 2139.
- Ibid., 2178.