An Elucidated Etymology of 'Contemplation'

  • Title: Contemplations, An Elucidated Etymology of 'Contemplation'.
  • Author: Arvindus.
  • Publisher: Arvindus.
  • Copyright: Arvindus, 2011, all rights reserved.
  • Index: 201107281.
  • Edition: html, first edition.


The English word 'contemplation' has found its way into the English language through the Latin word 'contemplātiō' (or 'contemplātiōnis'). This word can be traced back further to the Latin 'contemplāre,1 'contemplārī,2 contemplātus3 or 'contemplō', from which 'contemplātiō' is derived.4 Now 'contemplō' is a compound word consisting basically of the prefix 'con' and the word 'templum'.5 The prefix 'con' expresses a collocation or simultaneity, a joint action, a connection or partnership, an enclosure or a containing, an intensity of action and / or a completeness.6 The word 'templum' was used to denote the defined area of sky or land within which an augur would perform his auspices.7 Such an augur was a Roman priest who during an augury would interpret the messages from the gods through observance of occurrences within the predefined space or templum.8 And with the augur also defining such places for sacred buildings to be built 'templum' came in use to refer to temple buildings as well.9 This Latin word 'templum' is itself rooted in the Greek 'temenos' or 'temno',10 which carried similar meanings.11


In the foregoing etymological considerations have been gathered many elements that are still present and thus still reverberate in the English word 'contemplation'. A further elucidation of their presence may make the meanings of 'contemplation' more explicit.


We shall start with the explicated meanings of 'templum'. This word was used to denote the defined area of sky or land within which the augur would perform his auspices, with the augur being a Roman priest who through observance of occurrences within the predefined space interpreted messages from the gods. Now the augur in contemplation is normally of course no Roman priest. It is the one undertaking the contemplation, the contemplator, that fulfills the role of augur in contemplation. And in this sense may 'contemplation' indeed be understood as some kind of augury. Fulfilling the role of augur does the contemplator, like the augur, predefine a certain space for the contemplation, for the augury, to take place. For the contemplator this however isn't an area of sky or land. The contemplator's templum is the sacred space within himself. As the augur takes place within his predefined templum, so does the contemplator retreat to his inner sanctuary. It is the contemplators temple of the heart that corresponds to the augurs templum. And there does the contemplator interpret the messages of the gods by observance of the elements and occurrences within that sacred space. For the interpretation of godly messages would the augur often take specific elements for observation into the templum, such as for instance chickens.12 These he would attentively observe, but he would pay equally much attention to spontaneous appearing elements, such as for instance birds, within the templum. And similarly does the contemplator bring elements deliberately into his inner temple. This may be a subject of his interest or a simple seed thought. This subject he will then attentively observe (staying open to pay attention also to spontaneous appearing elements). Now the augur would attentively observe to read the messages of the Roman gods. These gods were living in a realm beyond the earthly one,13 but they would communicate with humans (Romans) through the elements in the templum. And the augur, observing these elements, would then interpret their messages. A contemplator in contrast to an augur does not attentively observe external elements to interpret messages from external gods. However retreating within his inner temple he does also interpret messages from a realm that is beyond the earthly one of which he is normally aware. Contemplating his chosen subject he may interpret the way the subject moves as messages sent from beyond. This beyond however is not the beyond of the earthly periphery but is the beyond of the earthly centre, which is located within his deepest self, within the sanctum of his inner temple. There does divinity, be it thought of as inner gods or thought of in other ways, speak to him through the movement of the subject of his contemplation.


From the above thoughts can be proceeded to the meanings of 'con', which are considered to reverberate as well in 'contemplation'. 'Con' is a prefix of 'templum' in 'contemplō'. As such does it say something about this templum, and as such do the meanings of 'con' have something to say about the meanings which were brought to the fore in the above explications. The first meaning to mention here may be 'joint action'. The prefix 'con' denotes a joint action. Now what is joined in action in a contemplation is first of all the dispersed attention. Normally attention is fragmented in many external occurrences and in meaningless thoughts. In contemplation all these diverse attentions are gathered and joined in the action of contemplating that one predefined subject. This subject is brought into the enclosure and container of the contemplator's inner temple. This temple is closed for all outer elements that may draw attention, and the only element which the temple is allowed to contain is the subject of the contemplator's contemplation. But 'joined action' may also refer to the shared participation in contemplation of the contemplator and the indwelling given of his inner temple (let us here infer to this indwelling given with 'inner gods', staying thus in analogy somewhat close to the augury). Contemplation is a joint action of man and his inner gods. The contemplator presents certain elements, a subject of contemplation, in his inner temple to his inner gods, and the latter in turn move these elements in such a way that the contemplator may be able to interpret the initiated movements. It is in this joint action of man and inner gods that 'con' in 'contemplation' can also be understood in its meaning of 'connection or partnership'. In contemplation do man and inner gods connect with each other and partner in the joint act of contemplating. It is at this point of connection that man and inner gods collocate and touch each other simultaneously. It need not be elucidated that such a happening where man meets his inner gods is a very intense one. More than intense even is it exactly this happening that makes the contemplation, but also the contemplator, complete. An augury cannot be complete without a touch of the Roman gods. And this goes for the augur himself as well. For if no touch of the gods is there, then no sign is to be read, and then the augur could not be said to be truly an augur. Similarly can a contemplator not be said to be truly a contemplator if his inner gods do not touch upon the subject of his contemplation. The touch of the inner gods completes the contemplation as well as the contemplator. If no such a touch occurs, then at their best can such an actor and his activity be called a pseudo-contemplator and his pseudo-contemplation. For in contemplation the godly touch must be there.

May thus all of our contemplations receive the touch of our inner gods.

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