McNabb asserted, against the modern tendency to dismiss petition as scarcely worthy of the name of prayer, that prayer without petition is almost blasphemous. 32
Words connected with 'contemplation' have had, if anything, an even more bizarre history than the word 'prayer', and in St. Thomas' time they had already become seriously ambiguous. As Thomas noted in his commentary on the Sentences, '"Contemplation" is sometimes taken in a strict sense, to mean the act of the intellect thinking about the things of God ... but in another sense it is taken more generally to mean any act in which people separate themselves from worldly affairs to attend to God alone." But whereas Thomas worked hard to unscramble the notion of prayer, he seems to have been much less interested in disentangling 'contemplation', so that his treatise in the Summa is not entirely coherent and we do not find a succession of discussions of 'contemplation' to parallel the dossier on prayer.
On the contemplative life I have selected three texts:
(1) The prologue to the commentary on Boethius' De Ebdomadibus, dating from about 1257-8 in all probability. I have used the text edited by M. Calcaterra in volume II of the Marietti Opuscula Theologica, Turin 1954, p. 391.
(2) The prologue to the lectures on St. John, dating from 1268 or 1269. Thanks to the kindness of Fr L. Reid OP, I have been able to use the text prepared for the forthcoming Leonine edition.
(3) The whole treatise on the active and contemplative lives in Summa Theologiae II. II questions 179-182, for which I have used volume XLVI of the Blackfriars Summa and volume X of the Leonine edition.
The words 'contemplation' and 'contemplative', as has been mentioned, were already, by St. Thomas' time, somewhat vague. They could have a straightforwardly intellectual sense: human beings have a 'contemplative' faculty in as much as they are endowed with reason and understanding; 2contemplatio, in such a context, simply means 'study'. 3 This is at least one reason why the Dominican provincial of Paris, Peter of Rheims, can identify the students as being the 'contemplatives' within the Dominican com