Pascal P. Parente, S.T.D., PH. D., J.C.B.
Ch. 17: Ascetical and Mystical Topics
31. CONTEMPLATION. The highest degree of mental prayer. Ordinarily it corresponds to a higher degree of Christian perfection. It consists in a simple loving gaze or in a protracted wordless act of love of God. It is either acquired or infused. The acquired contemplation is first attained in the unitive way. It is a perfect habit of mental prayer which everybody can acquire with the help of the ordinary grace. Infused contemplation depends entirely on Divine Providence. We can do nothing to attain it, but our dispositions and preparations may be a reason for our Lord to grant it to us if it should please Him to do so. The acquired contemplation is active and ordinary; the infused is passive and extraordinary. The first is not connected with visions, locutions, revelations, etc.; the second is, at least ordinarily speaking. When God grants infused contemplation, He does so because He has chosen such a person for special communications, not merely for contemplation, which could be attained without divine intervention. Infused contemplation is of a charismatic nature, not so the acquired contemplation. When short flashes of infused contemplation are experienced at intervals during acquired contemplation, that contemplation is called mixed, and it often marks the transition from acquired to infused. The degrees of infused contemplation are measured by those of the mystical life itself, the first being the prayer of quiet, the highest that of the transforming union. Cherubic contemplation is the one in which the illumination of the mind prevails; seraphic on the contrary is that in which the inflammation of the affective faculties predominates.
97. PURGATIVE WAY. It is the way of beginners in the spiritual life. Their duty is to purge the soul from sin and sinful habits by the constant practice of mortification and mental prayer. Active purgative way is the ordinary ascetical way; passive purgations refer more often to the mystical ways.
70. ILLUMINATIVE WAY. This is the second stage of the way of perfection. It is the way of the advanced or pro ficient. It follows upon the purgative way. Its main task is the acquisition of solid virtues and the imitation of Christ. It is recognized by facility in overcoming temptations, by perfect control over passions and emotions, and the specific form of mental prayer, which from being discursive has become affective. Those who attribute infused contemplation to the illuminative way, seem to be confusing St. John of the Cross' classification of the contemplative life with that of the ordinary spiritual life. See Dark Night.
115. UNITIVE WAY. The third and highest stage of the way of perfection. It presupposes purgation and illumination of the soul. It is a simplification of mental prayer, which becomes contemplation. The habits of virtues give a free hand to the love of God and to the Holy Ghost, whose promptings are readily followed by the soul. This is the state of the perfect soul, but this perfection, too, has degrees.
20. ARIDITY. The word means dryness, and in spiritual life it stands for the absence of consolation especially in time of prayer. When a person experiences no sensible devotion, in the form of tenderness, illumination, ardent desires, etc., he is said to suffer aridiy. It has various degrees, and it usually corresponds in intensity to the degree of prayer and virtue of the individual. Aridity takes on the form of spiritual desolation in the higher forms of the contemplative life, and it is one of the major factors of the night of the spirit and of the senses. Beginners may become discouraged and abandon all efforts in spiritual life. They should be encouraged to persevere and be treated with great charity and sympathy. At the same time one should inquire into the cause of the aridity. It may be due to natural causes, as poor health, or to moral ones such as carelessness and sensual affections. God Himself sends aridity to those whom he is leading to a more perfect union with Himself, in order to purify the affections of the soul in seeking God for His own self and not for His consolations. It is advisable at such times for the soul to occupy itself in works of charity, in pious reading, and, as St. Teresa recommends, in innocent diversions, without sacrificing any of the spiritual exercises.