Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

De septem septenis — Meditatio

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WE continue our series of posts on Book 6 of De septem septenis (On the Seven Sevens), which discusses seven forms of contemplation: meditatio, soliloquium, circumspectio, ascensio, revelatio, emissio and inspiratio.  Below is a translation of the section on meditatio.

In this short section the anonymous author has two main aims.  The first is to establish a connection between reading, meditation and contemplation: meditation follows reading (usually Scripture), and is followed by contemplation.  Second, it presents three classes of things meditated on, as suggested by reading:  morals (the beauties of morality and perils of immorality), God’s ‘commandments,’ and divine works.  Whether these are to be understood in a literal or psychological sense is not clear.  A literal view might be that God’s commandments are his laws by which creation is organized and governed in a good, just and harmonious whole, and divine works are God’s works.  A more psychological interpetation would be that God’s commandments are inspirations, guidances and promptings which lead the soul, and divine works are things we do under such guidance.

SECT. VI. Sexta septena de septem generibus contemplationis.

SECT. 6. The sixth of the seven kinds of contemplation.

1] Sexta septena de septem generibus contemplationis sequitur, in quibus anima requiescens iucundius immoratur. Septem sunt contemplationis genera, meditatio, soliloquium, circumspectio, ascensio, revelatio, emissio, inspiratio. Meditatio est in consilio frequens cogitatio, quae causam et originem, modum et utilitatem uniuscuiusque rei prudenter investigat.

1] The sixth seventh of the seven kinds of contemplation follows, in which the resting soul dwells more pleasantly. There are seven kinds of contemplation: meditation, soliloquy, circumspection, ascent, revelation, emission, and inspiration.

2] Meditatio principium sumit a lectionis scrutatione; nullis stringitur regulis vel praeceptis lectionis; delectatur enim quodam aperto spatio decurrere, ubi liberam affigat rationem veritatis contemplandae, et nunc has nunc illas rerum causas perstringere, nunc autem profunda quaeque penetrare, nihil anceps, nihil obscurum relinquere. Principium ergo doctrinae in lectione, consummatio in lectionis scrutatione, contemplatio in scrutationis meditatione.

2] Meditation takes its beginning from scrutinous reading; [lectionis scrutatione] it is bound by no rules or precepts of reading; for it delights in running about in a kind of open space, where it is left free to contemplate the truth — now to grasp these things and now those causes of things, and now to penetrate deep things, leaving nothing uncertain, nothing obscure. Therefore, the beginning of teaching is in reading: reading is consummated by study, study and meditation in contemplation.

3] Trimodum vero meditationis est genus, unum constat in speculatione morum, aliud in scrutatione mandatorum, tertium in investigatione divinorum operum, et ita fit contemplationis exordium. Cum enim animus a Scripturarum meditatione in orationem, ab oratione in lectionem digreditur, miseriam praesentium, poenam damnatorum et praemia iustorum vere contemplatur.

3] But three are meditation’s kinds. One consists in the observation of morals, another in the scrutiny of commandments, the third in the investigation of divine works.* Thus is the beginning of contemplation. For when the mind turns from meditation on the Scriptures to prayer, digressing from reading to prayer, he contemplates truly the misery of the present, the punishment of the damned, and the rewards of the just.

* De contemplatione et ejus speciebus, on which Book 6 of De septem is based, inserts this here: “But morals consist in vices and virtues; the divine command commanding one thing, forbidding another, permitting another; the work of God is that which creates power, and that which is moderated by wisdom, and that which cooperates with grace. How much all these things are worthy of admiration, each one knows so much the more the more attentively he is accustomed to meditate on the wonders of God.”

4] Deinde praemiorum amore tractus et poenarum timore tactus, descendit ad suorum memoriam delictorum. Qui dum culpam propriam cognoscit, alienae ignoscit, et ideo post memoriam delictorum descendit ad compassionem proximorum. In meditatione Scripturarum saepius laboramus, timentes ne praemium iustorum amittamus; in memoria delictorum gemimus, ne cum damnatis simus, in compassione proximorum, ut bonum opus diligamus.

4] Then, drawn by the love of rewards and touched by the fear of punishments, he proceeds [descendit] to the remembrance of his own offenses. He who, while he knows his own fault, forgives that of others, and therefore, after the remembrance of his offences, proceeds to the compassion of his neighbours. So we labor often in the meditation of the Scriptures, fearing lest we should lose the reward of the righteous; we groan in remembrance of our transgressions, lest we be with the condemned, in compassion for our neighbors, that we may love good work.

5] Sic igitur cum tota mentis tranquillitate meditando oramus vel legimus, in contemplatione quiescimus.

5] Thus, when we pray or read while meditating with complete a tranquil mind, we rest in contemplation.


Baron, Roger (ed.). De contemplatione et ejus speciebus (La Contemplation et Ses Espèces). Desclée, 1955.

Giles, J. A. (ed.). De septem septenis. In: Joannis Saresberiensis postea episcopi camotensis opera omnia, vol. V: Opuscula.  Oxford, 1848; 209−238. Reprinted in Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 199, cols. 945−965. Paris, 1855. [Latin text] [Latin text]

Hauréau, Barthélemy (ed.). Hugues de Saint-Victor. Paris, 1859; De contemplatione et ejus speciebus, pp. 96−102, 177−210.

Németh, Csaba. Fabricating philosophical authority in the Twelfth Century: The Liber Egerimion and the De septem septenis. Authorities in the Middle Ages. De Gruyter, 2013; 69−87.


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