We might be tempted to think that there is no history to the Catholic understanding of contemplation. We might be inclined to imagine that everything has been explicitly known from the beginning. But that isn’t the case at all. Every doctrinal and theological matter has to be ironed out, the details teased out of the original deposit of Pentecost and brought into the light to be analysed, sifted, and tried in the fire. Every question has to be scrutinized and examined. Every answer has to be probed and tested against the experience of the Church, in her hierarchy and in all her members. What is implicit in the timeless gift of faith must be made explicit in time. For example, it was less than 100 years ago that Father Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain were fighting for the universal call to holiness being applied also to laypeople and for the truth that contemplation, in some manner or another, forms part of the normal path of growth holiness (love). That battle was won. The documents of the Second Vatican Council elucidate the universal call to holiness, and at the close of the Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI reiterated the primacy of contemplation and presented the Council’s Message to Intellectuals to Maritain himself.
So progress happens (in the sense that what is truly and really contained in the original deposit given by Christ and the Apostles must become more explicit with time).
We’re not locked in a static understanding of Christian life, holiness, love, and contemplation.
Another area in which there has been significant and visible progress (not by destroying or mutating the original deposit of faith, but by teasing it out as humanity goes through time with Christ and the Spirit) is the indwelling of the Trinity in the souls of the just. Around the time of the Council, Charles Journet pointed out a deficiency in catechesis on this point:
Our catechism speaks of sanctifying grace, but scarcely at all of the fact of indwelling [of the Three Persons in the soul in a state of grace], which is of greater value, being the source of which grace is the effect.
So the effect (sanctification and justification) used to be mentioned in detail, but the Source, which is a Living Source and indeed Life itself and Three Persons, was more or less forgotten. Of course, the thought was defined very clearly in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical letter Mystici Corporis, for example:
The Divine Persons are said to indwell inasmuch as they are present to beings endowed with intelligence in a way that lies beyond human comprehension, and in a unique and very intimate manner which transcends all created nature, these creatures enter into relationship with Them through knowledge and love.
So the thought was known, but it didn’t appear in the catechism from which one first learned one’s faith.
This has changed.
Since 1992, Catechism of the Catholic Church #260 cites a prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, in which the indwelling of the Three Divine Persons is referenced and, indeed, focused on:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
Elizabeth’s prayer is an explicit call to dwell with the Trinity dwelling within.
So here we have implicit content of Christian faith becoming explicit with time. It is just an example. But it should alert us to the fact that we are on a journey, and the making explicit of the faith is something that, even though they may appear less active, contemplative souls are involved in, too.