Meditation considers in detail, and as it were piece by piece, the objects calculated to move us, but contemplation takes a very simple and collected view of the object which it loves, and the consideration thus brought to a point causes a more lively and strong movement. One may behold the beauty of a rich crown two ways; either by looking upon all its ornaments, and all the precious stones of which it is composed, one after the other; or again, having considered all the particular parts, by beholding all the work of it together in one single and simple view. The first kind resembles meditation, in which, for example, we consider the effects of God's mercy to excite us to his love; but the second is like to contemplation, in which we consider with one single steady regard of our mind, all the variety of the same effects as a single beauty, composed of all these pieces, making up a single splendid brilliant. In meditating, we as it were count the divine perfections which we find in a mystery, but in contemplating we sum up their total. The companions of the sacred spouse had asked her what manner of one was her well-beloved, and she makes answer in an admirable description of all the parts of his perfect beauty: My beloved is white and ruddy, his head is as the finest gold, his locks as branches of palm trees, black as a raven, his eyes as doves, his cheeks are as beds of aromatical spices, set by the perfumers, his lips are as lilies dropping choice myrrh, his hands are turned and as of gold full of hyacinths, his legs as pillars of marble. Thus she goes on, meditating this sovereign beauty in detail, till at length she concludes by way of contemplation, putting all the beauties into one: His throat is most sweet, and he is all lovely: such is my beloved, and he is my friend.
Meditation reminds of one who smells a pink, a rose, rosemary, thyme, jessamine, orange-flower, separately one after the other; but contemplation is like to one smelling the perfumed water distilled from all those flowers: for the latter in one smell receives all the scents together, which the other had smelt divided and separated; and there is no doubt that this one scent alone, arising from the mingling together of all these scents, is more sweet and precious by itself than the scents of which it is composed, smelt separately one after another. Hence it is that the heavenly lover so prizes the being seen by his well-beloved with one of her eyes, and that her hair is so well plaited that it seems to be but one hair; for what is this beholding the spouse with one eye only, except the beholding him with a single attentive view without multiplying looks? And what is it to have her hair thus plaited together, except the not scattering her thoughts in the multiplicity of considerations. Oh! how happy are they who, having run over the multitude of motives which they have to love God, reducing all their looks to one only look, and all their thoughts to one conclusion, stay their mind in the unity of contemplation; after the example of S. Augustine or S. Bruno, pronouncing secretly in their soul in a permanent admiration: |O Goodness! Goodness! Goodness, ever old and ever new!| or after the example of the great S. Francis, who, kneeling in prayer passed the whole night in these words: |O God, thou art my God and my All!| repeating the same continually, as the Blessed Brother Bernard of Quintaval relates who had heard it with his own ears.
Look at S. Bernard, Theotimus: he had meditated all the passion point by point; then of all the principal points put together he made a nosegay of loving grief, and putting it upon his breast to change his meditation into contemplation, he cried out: A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me.
But again look with still greater devotion at the Creator of the world, how in the creation he first meditated the goodness of his works severally, one by one, as he saw them produced. He saw, says the Scripture, that the light was good, that the heavens and the earth were good, and so the herbs and plants, the sun, moon and stars, the living beasts, and in fine all the rest of creatures as he created them one after another: till at length, all the universe being accomplished, the divine meditation is changed as it were into contemplation: for viewing all the goodness that was in his works with one only look -- He saw, says Moses, all the things that he had made, and they were very good. The different parts considered severally by manner of meditation were good, but beheld in one only regard all together in form of contemplation, they were found very good: as many little brooks running together make a river, which carries greater freights than the multitude of the same brooks separately could do.
After we have excited a great many different pious affections by the multitude of considerations of which meditation is composed, we in the end gather together the virtue of all these affections, from which, by the pouring together and mixture of their forces, springs a certain quintessence of affection, and of affection more active and powerful than all the affections whence it proceeds, because, though it be but one, yet it contains the virtue and property of all the others, and is called contemplative affection.
So it is an opinion amongst divines that the angels who are higher in glory have a knowledge of God and creatures much more simple than the inferior have, and that the species or ideas by which they see are more universal, so that what the less perfect angels see by various species and various regards, the more perfect see by fewer species and fewer acts of regard. And the great S. Augustine, followed by S. Thomas, says that in heaven we shall not have these vicissitudes, varieties, changes and returns of thoughts and cogitations, which come and go, from object to object and from one thing to another, but with one sole thought we shall be able to attend to the diversity of many things, and receive the knowledge of them. The further water runs from its source, the more does it divide itself, and waste its waters, unless it is kept in with a great care; and perfections separate and divide themselves according as they are more remote from God their source; but approaching near him they are united, until they are lost in the abyss of that sole sovereign perfection, which is the necessary unity and the better part, which Magdalen chose and which shall not be taken away from her.