The Stages of Contemplation

Vision of St. Bernard

Let us take our stand on secure ground, leaning with all our strength on Christ, the most solid rock.

From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot
(Sermo 5 de diversis,4-5: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 6, 1 [1970] 103-104

Let us take our stand on secure ground, leaning with all our strength on Christ, the most solid rock, according to the words: He set my feet on a rock and guided my steps [Psalm 40:3]. Thus firmly established, let us begin to contemplate, to see what he is saying to us and what reply we ought to make to his charges.

The first stage of contemplation
is constantly to consider what God wants...

The first stage of contemplation, my dear brothers, is constantly to consider what God wants, what is pleasing to him, and what is acceptable in his eyes. We all offend in many things; our strength cannot match the rectitude of God’s will, being neither one with it nor wholly in accord with it; let us then humble ourselves under the powerful hand of the most high God and be concerned to show ourselves unworthy before his merciful gaze, saying: Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved [Jeremiah 17:14]. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you [Psalm 41:5].

Our life is in his will.

Once the eye of the soul has been purified by such considerations, we no longer abide within our own spirit in a sense of sorrow, but abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself. For our life is in his will. Thus we are convinced that what is according to his will is in every way more advantageous and fitting for us. And so, concerned as we are to preserve the life of our soul, we should be equally concerned, insofar as we can, not to deviate from his will.

Let us reflect how sweet is the Lord
and how good he is in himself.

Thus having made some progress in our spiritual exercise under the guidance of the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, let us reflect how sweet is the Lord and how good he is in himself; in the words of the prophet let us pray to see God’s will; no longer shall we frequent our own hearts but his temple. At the same time we shall say: My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

The whole of the spiritual life consists of these two elements. When we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with a salutary sadness. And when we think of the Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love.

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About the author

Catherine is a member of Our Lady of Mercy Lay Carmelite Community. “An apostle must pay with himself for those he wants to win [for Christ].” Divine Intimacy, 326,2

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About the author

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) was a French abbot, and a major leader in the revitalization of Benedictine monasticism through the nascent Order of Cistercians.