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

CHAPTER IV. A strong resolution necessary in the beginning.à

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4. A strong resolution necessary in the beginning.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Considering first the length and tediousness of the way to perfection in mortification,

§§ 10, 11. And also many degrees of prayer to be passed,

§ 12. Therefore it is seldom attained, and not till a declining age,

§ 13. Except by God's extraordinary favour to a few.

§ 14. Yet old and young ought to enter into the way.

§ 15. A motive to resolution are the difficulties in the way

§§ 16 &c. And those both from without and within.

1. The end of a contemplative life, therefore, being so supereminently noble and divine that beatified souls do prosecute the same, and no other, in heaven, with this only difference, that the same beatifying object which is now obscurely seen by faith and imperfectly embraced by love shall hereafter be seen clearly and perfectly enjoyed, the primary and most general duty required in souls which by God's vocation do walk in the ways of the spirit, is to admire, love, and long after this union, and to fix an immovable resolution through God's grace and assistance to attempt and persevere in the prosecution of so glorious a design, in despite of all opposition, through light and darkness, through consolations and desolations, &c., as esteeming it to be cheaply purchased, though with the loss of all comforts that nature can find or expect in creatures.

2. The fixing of such a courageous resolution is of so main importance and necessity that if it should happen to fail or yield to any, though the fiercest temptations, that may occur and are to be expected, so as not to be reassumed, the whole design will be ruined; and therefore devout souls are oftentimes to renew such a resolution, and especially when any difficulty presents itself; and for that purpose they will oft be put in mind thereof in these following instructions.

3. It is not to be esteemed loftiness, presumption, or pride to tend to so sublime an end; but it is a good and laudable ambition, and most acceptable to God; yea, the root of it is true, solid humility joined with the love of God; for it proceeds from a vile esteem and some degrees of a holy hatred of ourselves, from whom we desire to fly; and a just esteem, obedience, and love of God, to whom only we desire to adhere and be inseparably united.

4. Happy, therefore, is the soul that finds in herself an habitual thirst and longing after this union, if she will seek to assuage it by continual approaches to this Fountain of living waters, labouring thereto with daily external and internal workings. The very tendence to this union, in which our whole essential happiness consists, has in it some degrees of happiness, and is an imperfect union, disposing to a perfect one; for by such internal tendence and aspiring we get by little and little out of nature into God. And that without such an interior tendence and desire no exterior sufferances or observances will imprint any true virtue in the soul, or bring her nearer to God, we see in the example of Suso, who for the first five years of a religious profession found no satisfaction in soul at all, notwithstanding all his care and exactness in exterior regular observances and mortifications: he perceived plainly that still he wanted something, but what that was he could not tell, till God was pleased to discover it to him, and put him in the way to attain to his desire, which was in spirit to tend continually to this union, without which all his austerities and observances served little or nothing, as proceeding principally from self-love, self-judgment, and the satisfying of nature even by crossing it.

Let nothing, therefore, deter a well-minded soul from persevering with fervour in this firm resolution. No, not the sight of her daily defects, imperfections, or sins, or remorses for them; but rather let her increase in courage even from her falls, and from the experience of her own impotency let her be incited to run more earnestly and adhere more firmly unto God, by whom she will be enabled to do all things and conquer all resistances.

5. Now to the end that all sincerity may be used in the delivery of these instructions, and that all vain compliance and flattery may be avoided, the devout soul is to be informed that the way to perfection is, 1. both a very long, tedious way; and, 2. withal there are to be expected in it many grievous, painful, and bitter temptations and crosses to corrupt nature; as being a way that wholly and universally contradicts and destroys all the vain eases, contentments, interests, and designs of nature, teaching a soul to die unto self-love, self-judgment, and all propriety, and to raise herself out of nature, seeking to live in a region exalted above nature: to wit, the region of the spirit; into which being once come, she will find nothing but light and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. The which difficulties considered, instead of being discouraged, she will, if she be truly touched with God's Spirit, rather increase her fervour and courage to pursue a design so noble and divine, for which alone she was created; especially, 3. considering the infinite danger of a negligent, tepid, and spiritually slothful life, and likewise the security and benefit of being but truly in the way to perfection, though she should never attain to it in this life.

6. First, therefore, to demonstrate that the way to perfection must needs be long and tedious, even to souls well-disposed thereto both by nature and education (for to others it is a way unpassable without extreme difficulty), this will easily be acknowledged by any well-minded soul that by her own experience will consider how obstinate, inflexible, and of how gluey and tenacious a nature corrupt self-love is in her; how long a time must pass before she can subdue any one habitual ill inclination and affection in herself. What fallings and risings again there are in our passions and corrupt desires, insomuch as when they seem to be quite mortified and almost forgotten, they will again raise themselves and combat us with as great or perhaps greater violence than before. Now till the poisonous root of self-love be withered, so as that we do not knowingly and deliberately suffer it to spring forth and bear fruit (for utterly killed it never will be in this life); till we have lost at least all affection to all our corrupt desires, even the most venial, which are almost infinite, perfect charity will never reign in our souls, and consequently perfect union in spirit with God cannot be expected; for charity lives and grows according to the measure that self-love is abated, and no further.

7. Souls that first enter into the internal ways of the spirit, or that have made no great progress in them, are guided by a very dim light, being able to discover and discern only a few grosser defects and inordinations; but by persevering in the exercises of mortification and prayer, this light will be increased, and then they will proportionably every day more and more discover a thousand secret and formerly invisible impurities in their intentions, self-seekings, hypocrisies, and close designs of nature, pursuing her own corrupt designs in the very best actions, cherishing nature one way when she mortifies it another, and favouring pride even when she exercises humility. Now a clear light to discover all these almost infinite depravations not only in our sensitive nature, but also in the superior soul (which are far more secret, manifold, and dangerous), and a courage with success to combat and overcome them, must be the effect of a long-continued practice of prayer and mortification.

8. The want of a due knowledge or consideration hereof is the cause that some good souls, after they have made some progress in internal ways, becomes disheartened, and in danger to stop or quite leave them; for though at the first, being (as usually they are) prevented by God with a tender sensible devotion (which our Holy Father calls fervorem novitium), they do with much zeal and, as it seems to them., with good effect begin the exercises of mortification and prayer; yet afterward, such sensible fervour and tenderness ceasing (as it seldom fails to do) by that new light which they have gotten, they discern a world of defects, formerly undiscovered, which they erroneously think were not in them before; whereupon, fearing that instead of making progress, they are in a worse state than when they began, they will be apt to suspect that they are in a wrong way. This proceeds from a preconceived mistake, that because in times of light and devotion the soul finds herself carried with much fervour to God, and perceives but small contradictions and rebellions in inferior nature, therefore she is very forward in the way to perfection. Whereas it is far otherwise; for nature is not so easily conquered as she imagines, neither is the way to perfection so easy and short. Many changes she must expect; many risings and fallings; sometimes light, and sometimes darkness; sometimes calmness of passions, and presently after, it may be, fiercer combats than before; and these successions of changes repeated, God knows how oft, before the end approacheth.

9. Yea, it will likely happen to such souls, that even the formerly well-known grosser defects in them will seem to increase, and to grow more hard to be quelled after they have been competently advanced in internal ways; and the reason is, because, having set themselves to combat corrupt nature in all her perverse, crooked, and impure desires, and being sequestered from the vanities of the world, they find themselves in continual wrestlings and agonies, and want those pleasing diversions, conversations, and recreations, with which, whilst they lived a secular, negligent life, they could interrupt or put off their melancholic thoughts and unquietness. But if they would take courage and, instead of seeking ease from nature (further than discretion allows), have recourse for remedy by prayer to God, they would find that such violent temptations are an assured sign that they are in a secure and happy way, and that when God sees it is best for them, they shall come off from such combats with victory and comfort.

10. Now, as from the consideration of the tediousness of a perfect universal mortification of the corrupt affections of nature, it does appear that hasty perfection is not ordinarily to be expected, and where there are appearances of extraordinary lights and supernatural visits in souls not thoroughly mortified, it is to be feared that there hath been some secret exorbitancy in the proceedings of such souls, some deeply rooted pride, &c., which hath exposed them to the devil's illusions, so that their state is very dangerous, the like will appear if we cast our eyes upon the nature and degrees of internal prayer, in the perfection of which the end of a contemplative life, which is perfect union in spirit with God, doth consist.

11. For a soul must, 1. ordinarily speaking, pass through the way of external and imaginary exercises of prayer, in the which she must tarry, God knows how long; yea, without a discreet diligence and constancy in them, she may perhaps end her days therein.2. Then when her affections do so abound, and are sufficiently ripe, so as that discourse is not needful or becomes of little efficacy, she is to betake herself to the exercise of the will, in the which a very long time must ordinarily be spent before she can chase away distracting grosser images, and before the heart be so replenished with the Divine Spirit that, without any election or deliberation, it will of itself almost continually break forth into aspirations and pure elevations of the superior will.3. Being arrived to this happy state, only God knows for how long a time she is to continue therein, there being almost infinite degrees of aspirations, each one exceeding the former in purity, before she be ripe for the divine inaction.4. And having gotten that, a very long time is like to be spent, very oft in most woeful obscurities and desolations, before she arrive, 5. to the state of perfection. Now all these degrees of prayer are to be attended with proportionable degrees of mortification; so that no wonder is it if so very few, even of those whose profession it is to aspire thereunto, do find or attain unto this end, partly out of ignorance and error, whilst they place perfection in an exact performance of outward observances and austerities, the which (though being well used they may be certainly very proper helps to perfection, and are accordingly to be duly esteemed, yet), if they be undertaken for any end of nature, and not for the purifying of the interior and disposing it for more perfect prayer, are of no value at all, but rather proceed from and nourish self-love, pride, &c., and partly out of want of courage and diligence to pursue constantly the way that they know leads thereto.

12. Upon these grounds mystic authors do teach that, though it be a very great advantage to a soul to tread in these internal ways from her youth, before she be darkened and made sick with vicious habits, the combating against which will cause great difficulty, pain, and tediousness to her, yet she will hardly arrive unto the aforesaid active union and experimental perception of God's presence in her till almost a declining age; by reason that though her natural ill inclinations may be mortified in a reasonable perfection before that time, yet till such age there will remain too much vigour in corporal nature, and an unstableness in the inward senses, which will hinder that quietness and composedness of mind necessary to such an union. Whereas some persons of a well-disposed temper and virtuous education have in a few years arrived thereunto, though they did not begin an internal course till their ripe age, but yet supplying that delay by an heroical resolution and vigorous pursuit of the practices proper thereunto; but as for those that have been viciously bred, there will be necessary a wonderful measure of grace and very extraordinary mortifications before such souls can be fitted thereunto.

13. Now what hath been said concerning the length of the way, and the multiplicity of conditions requisite to the attaining to the end of it, is to be understood with relation to the ordinary course of God's providence. But God, who is the free Master and Disposer of His own graces, may bestow them upon whom and when He pleases, either miraculously increasing His grace in some souls, or conferring His supernatural favours before the time that they are ripe for them, as He did to St. Catharine of Siena (and some others), who, in their younger years, have been favoured with a passive union. Mystic authors, likewise, except from the ordinary course, the case where God upon the death of well-willed and well-disposed souls happening before perfection attained, supplieth after some extraordinary manner what was wanting, and effects that in a moment which would otherwise have required a long space of time; and this, say they, God frequently doth in regard of the serious and fervent wills that He seeth in such souls, which were resolved to prosecute the way of His love for all their lives, though they should have lasted never so long.

14. But be the way to perfection never so long, the design itself is so noble and the end so divine, that a soul cannot begin to aspire unto it too soon, nor take too much pains to procure it. Yea, the very desire and serious pursuance of so heavenly a design brings so great blessings to the soul, and puts her in so secure a way of salvation, though she should never perfectly attain unto it in this life, that there is none so old nor so overgrown with ill habits but ought to attempt, and with perseverance pursue it, being assured that at least after death he shall for his good desire and endeavours be rewarded with the crown due to contemplatives. For it is enough for a soul to be in the way, and to correspond to such enablements as she hath received; and then in what degree of spirit soever she dies, she dies according to the will and ordination of God, to whom she must be resigned, and consequently she will be very happy; whereas if, out of despair of attaining to perfection, she should rest and do as it were nothing, contenting herself with outward ceremonious observances, she will be accounted before God as having been wanting to perform that whereto her profession obliged her. Though the truth is, the soul being a pure spirit, consisting of mere activity, cannot cease doing and desiring something; so that if her desires and operations be not directed to the right end, they will go a wrong way; and if a soul do not continually strive to get out of nature, she will plunge herself deeper and deeper into it.

15. The second motive to induce a soul to arm herself with a great courage and strong resolution in her tendence to perfection is because, as the wise man says, He that sets himself to serve our Lord (especially in so high and divine an employment as contemplation) must prepare his soul for temptations greater and more unusual than formerly he had experience of; the which temptations will come from all coasts, both from without and within.

16. For an internal life, being not only a life hidden from the world, but likewise directly contrary to the ways of carnal reason, yea, even different from common notion of virtue and piety which ordinary Christians, yea, too many even in religion have also, who approve only of actions and ways which outwardly make a fair show, as solemn performance of divine offices, external formal regularities, mortifications, &c; hence it is that very sharp persecutions have almost always attended those whom God hath called to revive the true spirit of religion (too generally decayed, and in many religious communities utterly unknown), by teaching souls not to neglect, but on the contrary to be very careful in an exact performance and just esteem of such duties; but yet to place perfection in exercises of the spirit, and to esteem all other observances no further than as they serve to advance and increase perfection in spirit; since most certain it is, that if in and for themselves alone and without any interior direction for the purifying of the soul they be esteemed (and performed) as parts of real perfection, and not chiefly as helps of internal devotion and purity, they will rather become hindrances to contemplation, nourishing pride, contempt of others, &c., and be the ruin of true charity. Examples of such persecutions are obvious in stories, witness the sufferings of Thaulerus, Suso, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, &c.

17. Again, in the world, the lives of those that God hath called to the exercises of an internal life, being so different from and unlike to others, though ordinary, well-meaning Christians, by reason that they abstract themselves from secular businesses (except such as necessarily belong to their vocation), likewise from worldly conventions, correspondence, and vainly complying friendships; hence it is that the sight of them is unacceptable to their neighbors and acquaintance, as if they did silently condemn their liberties. For this reason, they are apt to raise and disperse evil reports of them, calling them illuminates, pretenders to extraordinary visits and lights, persons that walk in mirabilibus super se, &c.; or at least to deride them as silly, seduced, melancholy spirits, that follow unusual and dangerous ways.

18. All these, and many others the like persecutions, calumnies, and contempts, a well-disposed soul that purely seeks God must expect and be armed against. And knowing that they do not come by chance, but by the most wise, holy, and merciful providence of God for her good, to exercise her courage in the beginning, and to give her an opportunity to testify her true esteem and love to God and spiritual things, let her hence not be affrighted, but rather pursue internal ways more vigorously, as knowing that there cannot be a better proof of the excellency of them than that they are displeasing to carnal or at least ignorant men unexperienced in such divine ways. Let her not with passion judge or condone those that are contrary to her, for many of them may have a good intention and zeal therein, though a zeal not directed by knowledge. If, therefore, she will attend God, following His divine inspirations, &c., she will see that God will give her light and courage, and much inward security in her way.

19. But her greatest and more frequent persecutions will be from her own corrupt nature and vicious habits rooted in the soul, the which will assault her many times with temptations and inward bitternesses and agonies, sharper and stranger than she did expect, or could perhaps imagine. And no wonder, for her design and continual endeavours both in mortification and prayer being to raise herself out of, and above nature, to contradict nature in all its vain pleasures and interests, she can expect no other, but that nature will continually struggle against the spirit; especially being enflamed by the devil, who will not fail to employ all his arts, all his malice and fury, to disturb a design so utterly destructive to his infernal kingdom established in the souls of carnal men. The well-minded soul, therefore, must make a general strong resolution to bear all with as much quietness as may be, to distrust herself entirely, to rely only upon God, and to seek unto Him by prayer, and all will assuredly be well. She will find that the yoke of Christ, which at the first was burdensome, will, being borne with constancy, become easy and delightful; yea, though she should never be able to subdue the resistance of evil inclinations in her, yet as long as there remains in her a sincere endeavor after it, no such ill inclinations will hinder her happiness.

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