Gazing on the Truth Part II

October 24, 2019

By Sister Thomas More Stepnowski, O.P., Ph.D.

“The contemplation of the divine truth” comprises the gaze of supernatural contemplation, which is “end of the whole human life” (ST II-II, 180, iv). With the addition of the word “divine,” a certain order and hierarchy emerges which brings man into relation with God. St. Thomas proposes that contemplation is a source of delight, a communion with the living God, an experience that is personal and relational.

“…contemplation is a source of delight, a communion with the living God, an experience that is personal and relational.”

Moreover, supernatural contemplation may be accessible to the ordinary person because the object contemplated is not reliant on a certain level of academic achievement or mastery of skills, rather the object that is contemplated “may be delightful on the part of its object, in so far as one contemplates that which one loves; even as bodily vision gives pleasure, not only because to see is pleasurable in itself, but because one sees a person whom one loves” (ST II-II, 180, vii). Supernatural contemplation integrates the intellectual and affective parts of man in an ordered love of creation and the Creator. Knowing God in a personal manner is achieved neither through human contemplation nor by natural knowledge, but it may be received by revelation (ST II-II, 180, v, ad 2). This search for divine truth, the divine essence, also consists “in the love of God, inasmuch as through loving God we are aflame to gaze on his beauty. And since everyone delights when he obtains what he loves, it follows that the contemplative life terminates in delight” (ST II-II, 180, i).

“…man…must be willing to receive the grace…”

To receive supernatural contemplation, man must be in a state of grace and be willing to receive the grace because “human knowledge is assisted by the revelation of grace. For the intellect’s natural light is strengthened by the infusion of gratuitous light” (ST I, 12, xi). As our desire to love God increases, so our capacity for supernatural contemplation increases. The end is God, whose love and delight surpasses human love: “It is more delightful than all other contemplation however perfect on account of the excellence of that which is contemplated” (ST II-II, 180, vii, ad 3). As can be testified by the lives and writings of the saints and other men and women who have received the gift of supernatural contemplation, their desire for God is never satiated but only grows more intense. The saints and those who intensely love God accept that even supernatural contemplation is imperfect “in comparison with the contemplation in heaven” because the “manner of contemplation is not the same here as in heaven” (ST II-II, 180, vii, ad 3; ST, II-II, 180, viii, ad 1).

The richness of study and contemplation is mirrored in the abundance of the wedding feast of Cana. Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere is manifested in the offering of ordinary water, Christ’s bestowal of graces upon the vessels, and the transformation of the water into wine, that is generously and lavishly shared with the wedding guests. May we “drink deeply” in our study in preparation for the “good wine” of contemplation, that our gazing and desire for the Truth will lead us to the marriage banquet of the Lamb.

This is Part 2 of 2. The article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Aquinas Magazine.

Sister Thomas More Stepnowski, O.P., Ph.D. is Provost and Vice President of Academics at Aquinas College. A contributor to The Catechetical Review, The Downside Review, The Cardinal Newman Society, and Church Life Journal, she has earned degrees from University of Dallas, Belmont University, Providence College, and Maryvale Institute.

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