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Holy Wisdom Or Directions For The Prayer Of Contemplation by Ven. F. Augustine Baker

PREFACE TO THE PRESENT EDITION.

IF it is a duty to apply to holy books the practice which the Following of Christ bids us observe towards holy persons, not to dispute concerning the merits of the saints, as to who is more holy than another, or greater in the kingdom of heaven,' it will not be right to give the preference to the work which we are now offering in a new form to the public, over the many, spiritual books which have helped on souls in the way of perfection. But it will not be right either to give to other books a preference over this. Certainly Sancta Sophia has been of great service in instructing beginners, in guiding proficients, and in securing those that have arrived at some degree of perfection, in the way along which Almighty God has called and led souls that have been highly privileged; and the Holy Spirit, who breatheth where He will, has through the words of the Venerable Father Baker whispered to these souls, and has drawn them on to a closer and closer union with Himself. Ever since the time that I first became acquainted with the writings of Father Augustine Baker, either in the epitome of them in which Father Serenus Cressy has so successfully presented them in his compilation, to which he gave the appropriate name which this book bears, Sancta Sophia, Holy Wisdom, or in their extended and full form, as they exist in various portions in some of our convents, I felt the desire to enter upon the task, which by God's blessing I have at last completed, of republishing with necessary annotations this golden treasury. Why should it be kept in the dark when, by being set up aloft, it could shed such light around?

Difficulties, which time has at last removed, have constantly been in my way. Duties of an imperative nature have ever attended me, and in the midst of them -- though I have never lost sight of the task I had imposed upon myself -- it has not been in my power to do more than a little at a time; and therefore the time has been long in proportion to the importance of the labour. In addition to reprinting the work, I felt that I ought to do two things, -- to verify the quotations from the Fathers and spiritual writers, which are interspersed throughout the various treatises; and secondly to call attention to certain passages where explanation or even correction was demanded. The first of these tasks I have been compelled in great measure to abandon; the second, which is of greater importance, I have not neglected. But I must say a word upon both.

The task of verifying quotations from the authors referred to in the writings of Father Baker has been, as is the case with regard to all similar works, an exceedingly difficult and a hopeless labour. I have spent hours upon hours and with very little success. I remember many years ago reading in a note in some edition of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, that the Scripture quotations of that holy Saint and great Master of the spiritual life are not always strictly correct; because it was evident the Saint quoted from memory, without referring on each occasion to the sacred text. Father Baker, in his reading of the Fathers and of spiritual writers, seems to have noted down at the time passages and words that struck him as bearing upon the subject on which he happened to be then engaged. And Father Cressy, in condensing the good Father's writings, cited the name, but without any reference to the special treatise; and thus in almost all instances no help is given towards a classical verification of the authority, upon which a truth or principle is confirmed by the writer. To verify passages, therefore, to which no reference whatever is given, is a very laborious task. But in cases in which it is important that the special reference should be pointed out, I have done my best with whatever assistance I have been able to command; and I trust that no question has been left unnoticed in which the authority has been really of importance. To verify every quotation would imply an expenditure of time which I have not, and never can expect to have, at my disposal. This difficulty I have especially felt in the case of the writings of Thaulerus, whose works, as far as I know them, are in very closely-printed volumes, with limited and imperfect indexes. However, I feel that this is not a matter of practical value, as the good persons into whose hands this edition of Sancta Sophia will fall, and who will make the most use of it, will probably have no opportunity or desire of referring to the original, even if every chapter and verse were carefully recorded.

With regard to the second matter of explaining or even correcting certain passages, I hope I have not been negligent. The necessity of such explanations or corrections arises mainly from the circumstances of the period in which Father Baker wrote, and in which his writings were collected, condensed, and printed. Father Baker wrote his treatises and gave his instructions to the religious under his guidance, a short time before the Church was called on to pronounce on the doctrines of Quietism. The same difficulty, therefore, exists in regard to certain expressions of his, as exists with regard to the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Before the time in which the Church in the Council of Nicaea found it necessary to enter more fully into the definition of the terms of Substance, Nature, and Person, as predicated of the Mysteries of the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation, expressions may have been sometimes used by perfectly orthodox theological writers, which were capable of a wrong interpretation. But when, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church defined with careful and logical precision what these sacred Mysteries implied in reference to the various terms used and required, with regard to unity of Substance and plurality of operations, a more exact terminology was strictly observed, in order that orthodoxy might be professed, and that through the sound word that cannot be blamed, he who is on the contrary part might be afraid, having no evil to say (Titus ii.8). If even St. Paul's own words, notwithstanding the inspiration under which he wrote, were wrested to destruction, no wonder that the words of faithful and wise theologians and martyrs were sometimes misinterpreted and wrenched into a defense of heresy. Father Baker, I have said, lived and wrote just before Quietism was condemned. For it was in the year 1687 that Pope Innocent XI. censured and pronounced sentence against the sixty-eight propositions of Molinos; and in 1699 Innocent XII. condemned the semi-Quietism of Madame Guyon and the illustrious Fénélon. Father Baker had already completed his labours, having gone to his reward in 1641, and Father Cressy in 1674.

Certainly some parts of Sancta Sophia would have been omitted or expressed otherwise, had these two holy Fathers lived to witness the controversy and its issue. Care has been taken to call attention to these points. I hesitated for a time whether I ought not altogether to omit such parts; but upon deliberation and after taking counsel, I thought it better not to interfere with the original, but to make the correction, or give a necessary explanation, in a note. An instance will be found in treat. iii. sect. iii. chap. vii. in reference to the prayer of silence of Don Antonio de Rojas, which has been condemned by the Church; though the censure was not affixed to it during Father Baker's lifetime. That Father Baker was no Quietist and had no sympathy with Quietism is especially evident from the prayer of Acts, which he so fully explains and so warmly recommends in the third section of the third treatise. And the collection of Acts at the end of the work is of itself an evidence how averse he was to the teaching of those, who, after Molinos, considered Contemplation to be a state of perfect inaction, in which the soul exercised none of its powers, and elicited no acts whatever, not even of hope, love, or desire; in other words that it was doing nothing at all, and therefore not praying nor adoring.

Although it may be safely said that there is no fear nowadays from Quietism in any general effect, for the active spirit of the time is so opposed to it, and even the prevalence and increase of vocations to active rather than contemplative orders in the Church render such a danger very unlikely, yet there may be a risk in individual cases of souls being misguided, unless they are on their guard, and receive caution from their directors against this possible evil. I trust that the danger signals which will be erected, where it seems necessary, will remove every objection which has been at any time felt, about allowing the free use in religious communities of this most useful and solid work on Mystical Theology.

A brief biography of the two good Fathers who have been respectively the author and compiler of the work will be appropriate. Some years ago, when I first undertook the task of preparing an edition of Sancta Sophia, I published a Life of Father Baker, and appended to it an essay on the Spiritual Life, mainly grounded on the venerable Father's teaching. As that work is accessible, though I believe it is not very easy to procure, I shall limit myself at present to but a few details.

David, known in religion by the name of Augustine, Baker was born in Abergavenny on the 9th of December 1575, of Protestant parents. He received his early education at Christ's Hospital in London, and at the age of fifteen went to the University of Oxford, and entered as a commoner at Broadgates' Hall, now known as Pembroke College. He remained at Oxford but two years, and then returned home to enter upon the study of the law under the instruction of an elder brother. This study he afterwards prosecuted with great attention in London, until upon his brother's death he once more returned to his native town. Here he worked under his father, who managed the estates of the Earl of Abergavenny. His religious education had not been attended to, and for a long time he seems to have led a thoughtless, though, from his own testimony, not a wicked life. But having been rescued by an extraordinary intervention of Providence from a most perilous position, in which his life was likely to be sacrificed, he entered into himself, and began to think seriously upon the affairs of his soul. He sought instruction at the hands of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Richard Floyd, was received into the Church, and abandoning the law he resolved to devote himself to the sacred ministry. He became acquainted with a Benedictine Father of the Cassinese Congregation, sought and obtained admission into the novitiate, and was clothed in the Abbey of St. Justina at Padua. He went through his year's probation; but being very much broken down in health he left Padua before taking his vows, and returned to England, where, having recovered his strength, he made his profession at the hands of some Italian Benedictine Fathers of the same Cassinese Congregation. He was then in the thirty-second year of his age.

For some years, before being promoted to the priesthood, he was employed by his superiors in various employments, in which his legal and historical knowledge was of great service. He devoted himself very earnestly also to prayer and the exercises of the spiritual life; and although he made such progress by his earnestness and perseverance -- sometimes for six hours at a time in prayer -- as to have been rewarded by ecstasies, yet in his case the course even of such love did not run over-smoothly, and from time to time he seemed to fall back again from his advancement. All this was the working of the Divine Spirit, both to ground him more perfectly in humility, and to give him an experience which he was to use afterwards in the guidance of others. After an interval of twelve years he went over to Rheims, where he was ordained priest in the year 1619, in his forty-fifth year; and in the following year he was appointed chaplain to the family of Mr. Philip Fursden, in Devonshire. Here, in a life of great retirement, he pursued with steady constancy the spiritual exercises, and by recommending to all inquirers into the Catholic faith the duty of prayer, in order to obtain light and strength, he succeeded in gaining many converts to the Church.

At this time the venerable Father's life was so thoroughly one of prayer, that he used sometimes to devote as many as eleven hours in the day to this holy practice. His health, however, was extremely delicate, and as he was threatened with consumption, he was ordered by his superiors to move to London, where it was hoped that occupation of a somewhat more active nature might be of advantage to him. He laboured, conjointly with Father Clement Reyner, in compiling the well known Apostolatus Benedictinorum, and began at that same period to write some of his spiritual treatises. He had to travel about to various parts of England and the Continent to consult documents, and at the same time that this change of occupation benefited his bodily health, it did not in the least interfere with his spiritual progress. He had now so perfectly grounded himself in the ascetical life, that no distractive employments could withdraw him from his habits of recollection. His life was hidden with Christ in God, and was what he himself so aptly calls such a life, a life of introversion.'

In Christmas of the year 1623, Father Rudesind Barlow, President-General of the English Benedictine Congregation, founded a community of Benedictine nuns at Cambray, and in the following summer Father Baker was ordered to go and assist in training the young community in the ways of the spiritual life. Here he was in his true element; and the solid progress made by his disciples was a proof of his skill and success as a guide in these high paths. The two most noted amongst these holy souls were Dames Catherine Gascoigne and Gertrude More. The former of these was the most faithful and constant follower of Father Baker's instructions, and became herself so skilled in the practice of the duties of the Religious Life, that she was employed for some time by the Archbishop of Cambray in forming a convent in his diocese after the model of her own. She held the office of Abbess of Cambray from the fifth year of her profession, almost uninterruptedly till her death in 1676, two years after her jubilee in Religion. Her letter to Father Cressy prefixed to Sancta Sophia, and his answer prefixed to the third treatise, show what interest she, took and what part she bore in the drawing up of the instructions contained in this work. The other holy nun, Dame Gertrude More, a direct descendant of the martyred Lord Chancellor, was of a character more difficult to bring into that subjection to a spiritual guide, which seemed so natural to Dame Catherine Gascoigne. At first she refused the direction of Father Baker, and pursued a spiritual course of her own. But being one day vividly struck by a passage which he read to her from an ascetical work upon the exceptional guidance of souls in a state of aridity, she placed herself completely under his direction, and quickly advanced so far as to arrive at a very close union with God. Many of the Acts and Affections at the end of Sancta Sophia were found among her writings, gathered, it would appear, from Father Baker's suggestions. Her little work, called An Idiot's Devotions by herself, but by Father Baker more properly called Confessiones Amantis, expresses the spirit by which she was animated. She died young, it is said in the odour of sanctity, in the twenty-seventh year of her age in the year 1633.

During the nine years that the venerable Father remained at Cambray, he drew up many of his ascetical treatises at the earnest request of the community, who were anxious to perpetuate instructions which had been of such immense value to themselves. Many of them are lost, but several are preserved, and may be found in manuscript in the libraries of Downside, Ampleforth, Stanbrook, and St. Benedict's Priory at Colwich. They are best known, however, through the form in which Father Cressy drew them up in the work which is now presented once more to the public. Father Baker remained nine years at Cambray, and then was removed to the Monastery of St. Gregory at Douai, and became a conventual. There he continued his wonted exercises, and devoted himself also to his writings. After about five years' sojourn he was again sent on the mission into England, being then in the sixty-third year of his age, in the year of our Lord 1638. At that time a summons to the English Mission was a summons to go forth to martyrdom; and notwithstanding his love for conventual life, and his deep sense of the responsibility attending the career of a missioner, he at once set about preparing for his departure. He started -- after a painful farewell -- from his convent; and, on arriving in England, divided his labours between London and Bedfordshire. He was sought after by the pursuivants who were at that time particularly active in bringing Catholic priests to judgment and to execution; and was obliged, old and feeble as he was, to fly, according to our Divine Lord's advice, from place to place, in order to avoid the persecution. But nothing interfered with his devotedness to prayer.

The struggle between sickness and persecution, as to which was to conquer in his regard, went on for three years, and at last it was to end in 1641 in favour of sickness. The year 1641 was a fatal one for priests, but a rich one for martyrs. In that year Bishop Challoner enumerates eighteen priests who were condemned to death, and were either savagely executed or harassed to death in prison. Among them were two of Father Baker's confrères, Fathers Ambrose Barlow and Bartholomew Roe. He himself was on the point of being seized, when he was struck by a contagious fever, which scared away his pursuers. Though he did not actually die upon the scaffold, to which he was on the very point of being led, he may well be considered as a martyr. In concealment, and under the solicitous and affectionate care of a good Catholic matron -- Mrs. Watson, mother of one of the nuns of Cambray -- in constant prayer and acts of resignation, he resigned his soul unto the hands of his Creator on the 9th of August 1641, in the sixty-sixth year of his age and the thirty-seventh of his religious profession. Defunctus adhuc loquitur. Though dead, he continued to live, and has continued living ever since, in his spiritual writings; and it is to be hoped that his voice will be made to sound again, and be heard by a more numerous circle of hearers, through the means of the work which is now again going forth into the world.

It was in the year 1657, sixteen years after this holy Father's death, that his friend and disciple, Father Serenus Cressy, published the useful compilation of his writings, under the name of Sancta Sophia. This Father, called in baptism Hugh Paulin, and in religion Serenus, was born at Wakefield, in Yorkshire, in the year 1605, the eventful year of Fawkes's Gunpowder Plot, and the same year in which Father Baker was clothed in the Abbey of St. Justina in Padua. He went to the University of Oxford at the early age of fourteen, and in the year 1626, at the age of twenty-one, became Fellow of Merton. He received orders in the Church of England, and was appointed chaplain to Lord Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford of noted memory. A little later he was chaplain to Lord Falkland; then he became Canon of Windsor, and afterwards Dean of Leighlin, in Ireland. He travelled as tutor to a young English nobleman, and in the year 1646 became a convert, and was received into the Church in Rome, where he happened to be at the time. Next year, being in Paris, he published his Exomologesis, or Motives of his Conversion, which he dedicated to the Carthusian Fathers of Nieuport in Flanders, whom he at one time thought of joining. However, owing to their very secluded mode of life, he was directed to turn towards an Order in which his literary capacity might be of greater service, and he joined the Benedictine Community of St. Gregory's at Douai, where he took his vows in April 1649. He remained as a conventual for some eight years, having, however, spent about one year of that time in Paris, with an affiliation community from Cambray. This house in Paris, placed under the protection of our Lady of Good Hope, is now existing in its worthy successors at St. Benedict's Priory, Colwich, near Stafford. He was afterwards sent out on the mission into the South Province in England; and upon the marriage of Charles II. with the Infanta of Portugal in 1662, he became one of her chaplains, and resided for four years at Somerset House. Here, besides discharging zealously and edifyingly the duties of the sacred ministry, he devoted much time to writing several learned books on controversial subjects. During this time he was also engaged upon his great work, the Church History of Britanny, which he published at Rouen in 1668.

Father Cressy was greatly esteemed by his religious brethren, and held among them several offices of trust and responsibility, and was for many years a member of the General Chapter. His last missionary appointment was to the chaplaincy of Richard Caryl, Esq., of East Grinstead, in Sussex, where he died the death of the just on the 10th of August 1674, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. It was towards the end of the time of his residence as a conventual at Douai, that he drew up these instructions from the writings of Father Baker, which in a dedicatory letter to Father Laurence Reyner, President-General of the English Benedictine Congregation, he declares to have drawn up and published in obedience to his command. Not obedience only, however, he adds, but gratitude urged him on in his work of love; for to these instructions he, in that same letter, attributes the hastening of his conversion to the faith, and his call to join the Benedictine Order. May God in His infinite mercy grant that these same words of wisdom and piety may bring grace and inspire resolution into many a hesitating soul, and tend to enlighten those that are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death! Any one who has had the opportunity of reading any of the Treatises of Father Baker in their original form, will be able to testify to the industry required for compiling them, as Father Cressy has done, and for the fidelity with which the more than forty different Treatises have here been preserved and interpreted.

It remains to make two or three observations in connexion with the teaching conveyed in the treasury of wisdom here laid open. Let me most earnestly recommend the reading of Father Cressy's Preface to the Reader, herein prefixed to the first Treatise. Possible objections are here anticipated and answered. Also I must invite very particular attention to the case of the holy Jesuit, Father Balthasar Alvarez, recorded in the 7th Chapter of Section 1, Treatise III., where we find a full and striking and most telling apology for the method of prayer, so strongly recommended by Father Baker. One great reason why so many break down in their attempts at arriving at perfection in the spiritual life is, because they are tied down too stiffly to the formal method of Discursive Prayer, and are not allowed free enough scope for the exercise of Acts and Affections. It is quite proper that upon the first entrance into the spiritual life, the soul should be well exercised in the use of the powers of the soul, and that the Understanding especially should be called into play. But to insist upon working the Understanding, even when the Will is ready at once to work, is not unlike insisting on the spelling of every word, or the parsing of every sentence, each time that we read a book or a newspaper. All our proficiency and skill would avail us nothing, if we were to be thus tied down; and the reading of books would indeed be anything but instructive and entertaining. Father Balthasar Alvarez, in the chapter just referred to, will be found to say: All internal discoursing with the understanding was to cease, whensoever God enabled souls to actuate purely by the will. And that to do otherwise would be as if one should be always preparing somewhat to eat, and yet afterwards refuse to taste that which is prepared. By this divine Prayer of the Will, the Holy Spirit of Wisdom with all the excellencies of it described in the Book of Wisdom (chap. viii.) is obtained, and with it perfect liberty.'

Undoubtedly, as we have said, on the first entrance into the spiritual life it is important to attend to the instructions given upon Discursive Prayer, or ordinary Meditation. But it is not to be understood that this method is to be rigidly adhered to throughout. When Almighty God calls the soul to the Prayer of Acts, and afterwards of Aspirations, the soul ought to be allowed liberty to obey and follow the call. It is quite true that we should not attempt to run, until we have become steady enough upon our feet to stand or walk. But it is equally true that if we content ourselves with only standing or walking, when there is occasion for greater speed and activity, we shall be outstripped by others, who have learnt that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty: who have heard the summons to work in the words: Why stand you here all the day idle? and have obeyed the command of the energetic St. Paul: So run that you may receive. For a great truth which Father Baker always keeps before us is, that we are not simply to satisfy ourselves that we devote a certain period each day to our mental prayer, but that we must aim at progress in Prayer, and that by becoming more practised and more perfect in that holy exercise, we may make corresponding progress in holiness of life, and ascending from virtue to virtue, may at last by closer union be allowed to see the God of gods in Sion.

In the same manner as Father Rothaan, S.J., in his most practical and excellent instruction on the Method of Meditation,' gives an example how to meditate on an eternal truth, and works out the meditation, in order that it may serve as a model on which to work out others, so will I submit an example, how the Prayer of Acts may be exercised, according to the instructions given in Sancta Sophia. We will take the truth suggested by Father Rothaan: What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul! We must divide our Prayer into the ordinary divisions observed in meditation: 1. the Beginning; 2. the Body; 3. the Conclusion. In the BEGINNING we must, as usual, make our act of recollection of the Presence of God, pray for light, and by an act of sorrow remove sin, which obscures the soul, and then quiet the imagination, by picturing our Divine Lord standing before us, and addressing directly to us those words, which are His own.

Then passing on to the BODY of the Prayer, instead of arguing with myself, I address my words in the form of Acts to Almighty God, or to our Divine Lord; observing, usually, a method in the Acts, beginning with the lower ones grounded on Faith, and progressing towards the higher ones of Confidence and Love. Thus may I pray. Faith. O my God, I believe these words, and I accept in my soul the great truth they express. Thou hast made my soul eternal, and therefore I fully see its immense value. The world may try to convince and persuade me through its false principles to follow it, and forget Thee; but to whom shall I go but to Thee who hast the words of eternal life? &c. Sorrow. O my Divine Jesus, how sorry am I that I have not hitherto felt this truth and acted up to it! Every time I have sinned I have denied this truth by my own willful act and deed. Never let me sin again, &c. Humility. But who am I, that I should pretend to make such a promise? I am weak by nature, and have weakened myself still more by sin. I am Thy child: do Thou save me. Lord, save me, or I perish, and I shall never gain the end for which alone Thou hast made me, &c. Supplication. Give me grace, O my most powerful and generous God, that I may ever live up to what I now feel; and if this day any temptation come upon me, do Thou cry out in my ears, and make me hear Thy words: What doth it profit, &c. Hope. Now I feel that I have more courage, because Thou hast promised to assist me in my struggle. I rely on Thy power and Thy fidelity; and though I have a great work to do in striving to save my soul, Thou canst and wilt help me, and then we shall succeed, &c. Confidence. Nay, O my God, I have more than hope: Certus sum. I am sure that Thou canst conquer all my enemies, and that Thou, in saving my soul, wilt save what is already Thine. Tuus sum ego, salvum me fac, &c. Love and Desire. Since I belong to Thee, O God, I value Thee far beyond all the world, and all that the world can give me. I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Thee, Thou God of my heart and my portion for ever. Woe that my sojourning is prolonged! Draw me to Thee, and help me to run in the way of Thy commandments, &c. Thus, the soul speaks to God, and is continually actuated towards Him. The lower Acts of Faith, Sorrow, &c., will at first be more numerous, and will suggest themselves more readily than the higher ones of Confidence, Love, Resignation, and such like; but after a time these latter ones will prevail. At the end a devout, colloquy or address is made to God, and His blessing is humbly and fervently besought in behalf of all that the soul has been inspired to promise and resolve. A slow and patient perusal of the Exercises appended to this volume will facilitate the making of these Acts. And as the higher Acts become more easy and familiar, the soul will advance further in its union with God, and Prayer will become more affective. I may be allowed to refer the reader to what is said in the short Treatise upon the Spiritual Life, which I have appended to the Life of Father Baker, pp.141, &c.

I feel that it is not necessary for me to say anything more by way of Preface. But, submitting everything to the judgment of the Holy See, I now commend the work which I have prepared, to the blessing of God; and beg that He, from whom comes down every good and perfect gift, will bestow, in behalf of those who make a good use of these holy instructions, a fresh harvest of the fruit which was gathered in such abundance when Sancta Sophia first made its appearance, and guided so many souls to Perfection.

J. NORBERT SWEENEY, O.S.B.

St. John's Priory, Bath,
Ash Wednesday, A.D.1876.

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