AskDefine | Define contemplative

Dictionary Definition

contemplative adj : persistently or morbidly thoughtful [syn: brooding, broody, meditative, musing, pensive, pondering, reflective, ruminative] n : a person devoted to the contemplative life [ant: active]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Pertaining to one who contemplates or is introspective and thoughtful.
    1873 ''Compared with the greatest poets, he may be said to be the poet of unpoetical natures, possessed of quiet and contemplative tastes. But unpoetical natures are precisely those which require poetic cultivation. This cultivation Wordsworth is much more fitted to give, than poets who are intrinsically far more poets than he. — John Stuart Mill, Autobiography'', Chapter 5.
  2. Pertaining especially to a contemplative Roman Catholic religious or one of the contemplative Roman Catholic religious orders.
    1870 ''Whether the nuns of yore, being of a submissive rather than a stiff-necked generation, habitually bent their contemplative heads to avoid collision with the beams in the low ceilings of the many chambers of their House [...] may be matters of interest to its haunting ghosts (if any), but constitute no item in Miss Twinkleton's half-yearly accounts. — Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood'', Chapter 3


  1. A cloistered Roman Catholic religious.
    ''The Dominican is the image of St. Dominic. As a canon of Osma, before he became an apostole, he was a contemplative. Here is how Jordan of Saxony describes these years at Osma: "Day and night he frequented the church, giving himself without interruption to prayer. Redeeming the time by contemplation, he scarcely left the walls of the monastery." — William A. Hinnebusch, O.P., Dominican Spirituality: Principles and Practice'' online here



  1. Feminine plural form of contemplativo

Extensive Definition

The word Contemplation comes from the Latin root templum (from Greek temnein: to cut or divide), and means to separate something from its environment, and to enclose it in a sector. Contemplation is the Latin translation of Greek 'theory' (theoria). In a religious sense it is a type of prayer or meditation.

Western Christianity

Within Western Christianity it is related to mysticism, and expressed in the works of mystical theologians St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, as well as the writings of Margery Kempe, Augustine Baker and Thomas Merton.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

In Eastern Christianity contemplation or theoria literially means to see God or to have the Vision of God. As a technic, theoria is expressed by the ascetic tradition of Hesychasm. Hesychasm is continues prayer that is to focus with absolute sincerity, and to repeat in prayer, as a means to focus exclusively on the Triune God. It is to reconcil the heart and the mind into one thing (see nous). Contemplation in Eastern Orthodoxy is expressed in degrees just like those covered in St John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent. The process of changing from the old man of sin into the new born child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called theosis. Each of these components are critical to the cultivation of theoria. One derives Spiritual Knowledge from theoria. One however can not derive theoria from spiritual knowledge. This is to say that once someone is in the presents of God then they can begin to properly understand and there "contemplate" God. This form of contemplation is to have and pass through and actual experience rather than a scientific understanding of theory. Where as one in science one uses theory to understand the natural world and it's operations, one does the reverse with God. In science contemplation means one derives a explanation and then tested the "theory". Within the realm of Eastern Christianity theory is faith and one at first cultivates the virtues as an expression of faith. Once the virtues are cultivated the highest virtue is humilily. Through humility one becomes Holy. God is humility and one becomes like God. This is the contemplation (living) of God. The Holy Wisdom of God is not knowledge but humility.

Other World Traditions

Many religions share the concept of contemplation. Naropa University, for example, offers a Master's degree program in contemplative education in the context of Buddhism.

Greek Philosophy

Contemplation was an important part of the philosophy of Plato; Plato thought that through contemplation the soul may ascend to knowledge of the Form of the Good or other divine Forms. Plotinus as a (neo)Platonic philosopher also expressed contemplation as the most critical of components for one to reach henosis. To Plotinus the highest contemplation was to experience the vision of God, the Monad or the One. Plotinus describes this experience in his works the Enneads. According to his student Porphyry, Plotinus stated that he had this experience of God four times. Plotinus wrote about his experience in Enneads 6.9.xx.

Contemplation and Meditation

The words contemplation and meditation sometimes have almost opposite meanings in Western and Eastern traditions. In the West, contemplation may refer to a content-free direction of the mind to God (Christianity) or to the Good (Platonism), whereas meditation may involve a specific, directed mental exercise, such as visualization of a religious scene or consideration of a scriptural passage. In the East, however, these two terms' definitions may be reversed.
Contemplation as a practice is finding greater resonance in the West both in business - for example in Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization - and in universities in fields as diverse as architecture, physics, and the liberal arts.
In Catholic Christianity, contemplation is given importance. The Catholic Church's "model theologian," St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation." One of his disciples, Josef Pieper commented: "For it is contemplation which preserves in the midst of human society the truth which is at one and the same time useless and the yardstick of every possible use; so it is also contemplation which keeps the true end in sight, gives meaning to every practical act of life."

Other usage

In a non-religious sense, contemplation can also mean:
  • an act of considering with attention;
  • the act of regarding steadily.


See also


  • The Vision of God by Vladimir Lossky, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-19-2)
  • The Spirituality of the Christian East: A systematic handbook by Tomas Spidlik, Cistercian Publications Inc Kalamazoo Michigan 1986 (ISBN 0-87907-879-0)
  • The Macarian Legacy: The Place of Macarius-Symeon in the Eastern Christian Tradition (Oxford Theological Monographs 2004) by Marcus Plested ()
  • Being With God by Aristotle Papanikolaou University of Notre Dame Press February 24, 2006
  • The Experience of God : Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 1 : Revelation and Knowledge of the Triune God) by Dumitru Staniloae Holy Cross Orthodox Press May 17, 2005
  • The Experience of God : Orthodox Dogmatic Theology Volume 2: (The World, Creation and Deification) by Dumitru Staniloae Holy Cross Orthodox Press June 16, 2005
contemplative in Danish: Kontemplation
contemplative in German: Kontemplation
contemplative in Spanish: Contemplación
contemplative in Estonian: Kontemplatsioon
contemplative in French: Contemplation
contemplative in Dutch: Contemplatie
contemplative in Russian: Созерцание
contemplative in Slovak: Kontemplácia
contemplative in Serbian: Созерцање
contemplative in Swedish: Kontemplation
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