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

CHAPTER II. Commonly those only are said to aspire to perfection that consecrate themselves to God.à

§ 1. Commonly those only are said to aspire to perfection that consecrate themselves to God.

§ 2. A natural devotion and propension to seek God, of which the degrees are infinitely various.

§§ 3, 4, 5. Yet all ranged under two states -- Active and Contemplative.

§§ 6, 7. Generally most souls are of a mixed temper between both; hence comes the difficulty of the guiding of souls.

§ 8. At the first entrance into internal ways all souls seem to be of an Active temper.

1. Notwithstanding although all Christians are obliged to aspire to perfection, and to lead spiritual lives, sanctifying all their actions and employments by prayer, yet the effectual practice of this obligation is so very rare that in ordinary speech those only are said to aspire unto perfection who have been so highly favoured by God, as to have been called by Him from all solicitous engagement in worldly affairs, so as to make the only business and employment of their lives to be the serving, adoring, loving, meditating, and praying unto God, the attending to and following His divine inspirations, &c., in a state of competent abstraction and solitude; and this most ordinarily and perfectly in a religious profession, or if in the world, yet in a course of life divided and separated from the world.

2. There seems indeed to remain even naturally in all souls a certain propension to seek God (though not at all for Himself, but merely for the satisfaction of nature, and self-ends), which is a kind of natural devotion, and is to be found even in heretics, yea, Jews and heathens; and this more or less according to their several dispositions and corporal complexions, the variety of which is wonderful and almost incredible. Now when divine grace adjoins itself to such good propensions, it promotes and increases them, rectifying what is amiss in them, especially by purifying the intention and making them to seek God only for God himself, and no unworthy inferior ends of nature; but it doth not at all alter the complexion itself, but conducts souls in spiritual ways suitably to their several dispositions by an almost infinite variety of paths and fashions, yet all tending to the same general end, which is the union of our spirits with God by perfect love.

3. Notwithstanding all these varieties of dispositions and ways (of which we shall treat more fully when we come to speak of internal prayer) may commodiously enough be reduced in gross to two ranks, to wit, Active and Contemplative spirits: both which aspire to a perfection of union in spirit with God by perfect love; and for that purpose in gross practice make use of the same means necessary to that end, to wit, mortification and prayer. But yet the manner both of their union and prayer, and consequently of their mortification also is very different; and the root of such difference is the forementioned variety of propensions and natural dispositions to internal ways.

4. For, first, the propension which is in some souls to devotion is of such a nature that it inclines them much to busy their imagination and to frame in their minds motives to the divine love by internal discourse, so as that without such reasoning and use of images they can seldom with any efficacy raise or fix their affections on God. Such dispositions are not patient of much solitude or recollection more than shall be necessary to enable them to produce and maintain a right intention in outward doings and works of charity, to the which they are powerfully inclined; and the mortifications most willingly practised by them are usually external, and oftentimes voluntarily assumed, the which make a great show and procure very great esteem from others. And proportionably hereto the divine love and union produced by such means is very vigorous, but less pure and spiritual, apt to express itself by much sensible devotion and tenderness. The state therefore and perfection of these souls is called the state and perfection of an Active life.

5. Again, others are naturally of a propension to seek God in the obscurity of faith, with a more profound introversion of spirit, and with less activity and motion in sensitive nature, and without the use of grosser images, yet with far greater simplicity, purity, and efficacy. And consequently such souls are not of themselves much inclined to external works (except when God calls them thereto by secret inspirations, or engages them therein by command of superiors), but they seek rather to purify themselves and inflame their hearts in the love of God by internal, quiet, and pure actuations in spirit, by a total abstraction from creatures, by solitude, both external and especially internal, so disposing themselves to receive the influxes and inspirations of God, whose guidance chiefly they endeavour to follow in all things. And the mortifications practised by them, though less remarkable, yet are far more efficacious, being profound and penetrating even to the most secret deordinations of the spirit. By a constant pursuance of such exercises, their spirits becoming naked and empty of all strange affections, images, and distractions, the Divine Spirit only lives and operates in them, affording them light to perceive and strength to subdue self-love in its most secret and, to all others, imperceptible insinuations; and by consequence they attain unto an union with God far more strict and immediate than the former, by a love much more masculine, pure, and divine. And the state and perfection of these happy souls is called the state and perfection of a Contemplative life.

6. Now, though all internal dispositions of souls (by which mankind is more diversified than by outward features) may conveniently enough be ranged under these two states, yet we are not to conceive that each soul is by its temper entirely and absolutely either contemplative or active; for, on the contrary, the most part are of a disposition mixed between both, and partaking somewhat, more or less, of each. But they receive the denomination from that whereto the propension is more strong.

7. And from hence comes that great difficulty that there is in the conducting and managing of souls in these internal ways; for each several disposition must be put in a way suitable to the spirit of the party, otherwise small progress can be expected. Now, that wherein the diversity of spirits is principally discerned is their prayer. If therefore an active spirit should be obliged to that internal solitude, to that quiet affective prayer of the heart alone which is proper to contemplative souls; or if a contemplative spirit should be too long detained or fettered with the rules and busy methods of discursive meditation (which is a prayer chiefly of the head or imagination); or, lastly, if a spirit of a mixed disposition should be strictly confined to either of these sorts of prayer and not allowed to practise them interchangeably according as she finds profitable to her present temper of mind, &c., they would entangle themselves with insuperable difficulties, scrupulosities, and unsatisfaction, and be so far from any considerable advancement, that they would be in danger of giving over all thought of seeking God internally.

8. Notwithstanding, although the propensions of some souls to internal operations of the spirit, and consequently to contemplation, were never so strong, yet at their first entrance into a spiritual course they will, ordinarily speaking, seem to be of an active, extroverted temper, and consequently will not be capable of a long-continued rigorous solitude, nor of operations purely spiritual. They will therefore be forced to begin with exercises of the imagination and discursive prayer. And the reason is, because by their former secular, negligent, and extroverted life, their mind is so filled and painted all over with the images of creatures, and their hearts so disordered and divided with inordinate affections and passions, that the will alone, with its actuations, purposes, and resolutions, has not power to expel the said images and to assuage the said passions; so that there is a necessity by meditation and consideration, of introducing good images to expel the vain and bad ones, and of inventing motives to quiet passions by diverting them upon God. But this being once done by the exercises proper to an active life (which to such souls will not need to last long), they thenceforwards are to betake themselves, and always to continue in such internal exercises as are suitable to their natural propensions, to wit, the quiet, solitary, spiritual exercises of a contemplative life.

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