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

CHAPTER III. The contemplative state more perfect.à

§ 1. The contemplative state more perfect.

§ 2. And also more easy and secure.

§ 3. Of which yet the most simple and ignorant are capable.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. The end of a contemplative life supereminently excellent above that of the active, and the union with God more Divine.

§ 11. Of passive unions therein, yet more supernatural.

1. Of these two states, the contemplative is by all acknowledged to be the more sublime and perfect, inasmuch as the operations and exercises of it are more spiritual, more abstracted from the body and its sensual faculties, and consequently more angelical and divine. It is represented to us by our Lord in the person of Mary, who is therefore said to have chosen the best part, which shall never be taken from her, being the beginning and imperfect practice of that which shall be our eternal employment and beatitude in heaven. As on the other side the active life is typified by the other sister Martha, who turmoiled herself with many exterior businesses and solicitudes, which though they were in themselves good and laudable, yet Mary's vacancy and inward attention to our Lord is much preferred.

2. And as the contemplative state is of the two the more perfect, so also is it far more easy, more simple, and more secure from all errors and illusions which may be occasioned by an indiscreet use of prayer. And the reason or ground of such security is evident, because a contemplative soul tending to God and working almost only with the heart and blind affections of the will pouring themselves upon God apprehended only in the obscure notion of faith, not inquiring what He is, but believing Him to be that incomprehensible Being which He is, and which can only be comprehended by Himself, rejecting and striving to forget all images and representations of Him, or anything else; yea, transcending all operations of the imagination, and all subtlety and curiosity of reasoning; and lastly, seeking an union with God only by the most pure and most intime affections of the spirit: what possibility of illusion or error can there be to such a soul? For if the devil should suggest an image (which is his only means and way to seduce a soul to error and a sinful curiosity of knowledge), she is taught and exercised to reject all manner of images, and to hold the internal senses almost wholly vacant during her spiritual actuations. Or, if by stirring up unclean or other unlawful affections in sensitive nature, he seek to assault her, what more secure remedy is there than with the whole bent and affections of the soul to adhere and be united to God, neglecting and scarce marking whatsoever disorders may unwillingly happen in inferior nature, above which she is exalted into a region of light and peace?

3. Now, for a further proof of the excellency and security of contemplative prayer beyond active, experience demonstrates that all the most sublime exercises of contemplation may as purely and perfectly be performed by persons the most ignorant and unlearned (so they be sufficiently instructed in the fundamental doctrines of Catholic faith) as by the learnedst doctors, inasmuch as not any abilities in the brain are requisite thereto, but only a strong courageous affection of the heart. Hence it is that we see that simple unlearned women are more frequently graced by Almighty God with the gift of high contemplation than men, and especially such men as are much given to sublime speculations. A reason whereof may be (besides that God reveals Himself more willingly to humble and simple minds) because by means of that tenderness and compassionateness which abounds naturally in women, they are disposed to a greater fervour in charity, and their affections being once fixed on their only proper object, which is God, they do more vigorously and firmly adhere thereunto, and by consequence arrive both more easily and quickly to the perfection of contemplation, which consists (as shall hereafter be shown) in the fervour and constancy of the will united to God, and scarce at all in the operations of the understanding.

Now this present treatise being intended only for encouraging and instructing of persons that aspire to perfection in a contemplative life, and more especially for the discovering of the several degrees of prayer proper for that state, reason requires that, since in all doctrines which tend to practice the end is principally to be regarded as being that which, if it can be approved worthy the taking pains for, will give life and courage in the use of the means conducing thereto, we should treat more precisely of the proper end of a contemplative life, the which indeed is of so supreme an excellence and divine profection above anything that can be designed or sought after in any other doctrine or profession, that those who have eyes to see it and palates capable of a spiritual tasting of it, will think no difficulties, no tediousnesses, no bitternesses or labours too great a price to purchase it.

4. It was said before that the general end of man's creation, and which ought to be aspired unto by all Christians, and much more those whose more special profession is to tend to perfection, whether in an active or a contemplative state, is a perfect and constant union in spirit to God by love, which is uninterrupted perfect prayer. But the same end is differently sought and attained by active and by contemplative spirits; for in an active life the union is not so immediate, stable, sublime, and intime of the supreme portion of the spirit with God, as it is in a contemplative state. But as the exercises of the active livers are much in the imaginative and discursive faculties of the soul, so is likewise their union. The effects indeed of it are more perceptible, and therefore more apt to cause admiration in others; but withal, being much in sense, it is not so clear nor so peaceful, and by consequence not so stable nor immediate as is that of contemplatives. The charity of actives is strong and vigorous, and the outward effects of it dazzling the eyes of the beholders, and thereby causing great edification; they are withal frequently multiplied, for strong love is a passion that takes pleasure in labours. Whereas the deeds of contemplative souls (except when God by an extraordinary inspiration calls them to exterior employments) are but few, and in appearance but small, and little regarded or esteemed by others. Yet those mean actions of theirs in God's esteem may be preferred incomparably before the others, as being in a far more perfect degree supernatural and divine, as proceeding from an immediate and most certain impulse of God's Holy Spirit, whose conduct, light, and virtue such souls do far more clearly perceive, and more faithfully and constantly follow, even in their daily and ordinary practices, than active livers do or can in their actions of highest importance. Lastly, the charity of contemplatives, though it be less stirring and busy, yet is far more profoundly rooted in the centre of the spirit, causing an union much more spiritual and divine.

5. St. Bernard, perfectly experienced in the internal ways of a contemplative life, writing to certain religious Fathers of the Carthusian Order, professing the same, excellently expresses this union in these words: Aliorum est Deo servire; vestrum adhærere. Aliorum est Deo credere, scire, amare, revereri; vestrum est sapere, intelligere, cognoscere, frui; that is, It is the duty of others (that live active lives either in the world or religion) to serve God; but it is yours to adhere inseparably unto Him. It belongs to others to believe, to know, to love, to adore God; but to you to taste, to understand, to be familiarly acquainted with, and to enjoy Him.

6. Constantly to this expression of St. Bernard, mystic writers do teach that the proper end of a contemplative life is the attaining unto an habitual and almost uninterrupted perfect union with God in the supreme point of the spirit; and such an union as gives the soul a fruitive possession of Him, and a real experimental perception of His divine presence in the depth and centre of the spirit, which is fully possessed and filled with Him alone; not only all deliberate affections to creatures being excluded, but in a manner all images of them also, at least so far as they may be distractive to the soul.

7. The effects of this blessed, perceptible presence of God in perfect souls are unspeakable and divine; for He is in them both as a principle of all their actions internal and external, being the life of their life and spirit of their spirits; and also as the end of them, directing both the actions and persons to Himself only. He is all in all things unto them: a light to direct securely all their steps, and to order all their workings, even those also which seem the most indifferent, the which by the guidance of God's Holy Spirit do cause a farther advancement of them to a yet more immediate union. He is a shield to protect them in all temptations and dangers, an internal force and vigour within them, to make them do and suffer all things whatsoever His pleasure is they should do or suffer. They not only believe and know, but even feel and taste Him to be the universal, infinite Good. By means of a continual conversation with Him they are reduced to a blessed state of a perfect denudation of spirit, to an absolute, internal solitude, a transcendancy and forgetfulness of all created things, and especially of themselves, to an heavenly-mindedness and fixed attention to God only, and this even in the midst of employments to others never so distractive; and finally, to a gustful knowledge of all His infinite perfections, and a strict application of their spirits by love above knowledge, joined with a fruition and repose in Him with the whole extent of their wills; so that they become after an inexpressible manner partakers of the divine nature; yea, one spirit, one will, one love with Him, being in a sort deified, and enjoying as much of heaven here as mortality is capable of.

8. To this purpose saith the same St. Bernard: Amor Dei, vel amor Deus, Spiritus Sanctus amori hominis se infundens, afficit eum sibi, et amans semetipsum de homine Deus, secum unum efficit et spiritum ejus, et amorem ejus; that is, The love of God, or love which is God, to wit, the Holy Ghost pouring himself into the love of man (inclineth and) applieth man by love unto Himself; and thus God, loving Himself by man, maketh both his spirit and love one with Himself.

9. A most blessed state this is certainly, being the portion chosen by Mary, which our Lord Himself calls optimam partem, the very best of all divine graces which God can bestow in this life; and wherewith He enriched in a singular manner those His two most highly favoured and most tenderly loved friends, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Mary Magdalen; but in a yet more supereminent degree His own most heavenly Virgin-Mother.

10. Happy, therefore, are those souls upon which God bestows a desire and ambition so glorious as seriously and effectually to tend, aspire, and endeavour the compassing a design so heavenly: qualifying them not only with good natural propensions to those internal ways of love leading to this end, but also calling them to a state of life abstracted from the world, the vanities and solicitudes of it; and with all supernatural light to direct them in the secret paths of this love; and lastly, strong resolutions, and perseverance with courage to break through all discouragements, difficulties, persecutions, aridities, and whatsoever oppositions shall be made against them either from concupiscence within, or the world without, or the devil joining with both against a design of all others most hurtful to him and most destructive to his pretensions.

11. And for a yet further and greater encouragement unto them to embrace and prosecute so glorious a design, they may take notice that, besides this (hitherto described) happy union of a contemplative soul with God by perfect charity, in the which the soul herself actively concurs, not only as to the fruition, but also in the disposing herself immediately thereto, there are other unions entirely supernatural, not at all procured, or so much as intended by the soul herself, but graciously and freely conferred by God upon some souls, in the which He, after a wonderful and inconceivable manner, affords them interior illuminations and touches, yet far more efficacious and divine: in all which the soul is a mere patient, and only suffers God to work His divine pleasure in her, being neither able to further nor hinder it; the which unions, though they last but even as it were a moment of time, yet do more illuminate and purify the soul than many years spent in active exercises of spiritual prayer or mortification could do.

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