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

CHAPTER II. Why an external guide is necessary in the beginning.à

§§ 1, 2. Why an external guide is necessary in the beginning.

§§ 3, 4, 5, 6. The conditions of such a guide; of which the principal is experience in the same ways beyond learning, &c.

§§ 7, 8. Active spirits cannot be fit guides for contemplative.

§§ 9, 10. Actual illumination oft necessary to external directors.

§§ 11, 12, 13. The office of a director may not be voluntarily assumed or sought.

§§ 14, 15. Lay persons may be spiritual guides to religious; yea, women.

§ 16. That is no prejudice to the spirit of an order.

§ 17. Conditions necessary in directors.

§§ 18, 19. Directors must teach their disciples to seek light from God.

§ 20. Sincerity and obedience necessary in the disciple.

§ 21. The gift of discerning spirits necessary in a director.

§ 22. His instructions must be general.

§§ 23, 24. Frequent consultations harmful.

§ 25. Two general remedies against difficulties: viz.1. Riddance.2. Patience.

§§ 26, 27. The director must not with unnecessary questions raise doubts.

§ 28. Great danger from unnecessary conversation of directors with women.

§ 29. More particular advices referred to other following places.

1. A soul that comes out of the world to a religious contemplative life, or that living yet in the world is abstracted from the world and aspires to a state of perfection, at the first ordinarily will stand in need of an external instructor and guide for most matters that concern her in that way. The reason is because that such souls, although being supposed to be in the state of grace, have sufficient internal light to direct them in the ordinary duties of a Christian life, for the avoiding of sin and performing the necessary acts of virtues requisite; yet, as to the proper practices of internal ways, and to the ordering of common actions to the advancing of themselves towards contemplation, they are indeed penitus animales, governed by sense and the obscure deceitful light of natural reason, scarce knowing what an internal inspiration (with regard to such matters) is, and however very much disabled are they to discern or correspond to such an inspiration. And for this reason their natural light and general knowledge that they have of their own insufficiency to be their own directors in a new unknown state, will tell them that they must have recourse to other guides skilled in those things of which themselves have no experience. Yet even this seeking and submitting themselves unto external directors is not to be esteemed merely an act of nature, or guided only by a natural light; but of such inspirations and supernatural light which attends the actions of all good Christians, by which they are taught and moved to distrust themselves, and not knowing as yet how to dispose themselves for the receiving supernatural lights from God (much less to merit them), grace directs them to use the mediation of others, and to hear and obey God, speaking and ordaining by them.

2. But the necessity of an external instructor is generally only at the beginning of a contemplative course. For after that souls, by the means of general directions given and a competent pursuit of internal exercises, have been once put and conveniently settled in a right way how to seek for more light from God alone, they must not afterwards, out of levity, curiosity, or a foolish proneness to discover their interior, nor without a just necessity, continue to seek instructions from without; nothing will excuse it but the want of internal light in some special doubtful cases, and then also, they having an internal inspiration and motion to seek it from others; in which case it is indeed their divine internal Master that they obey, who speak unto them by the external director appointed unto them by God. The devout reader may further see what the fore-mentioned excellent author of Scala Perfectionis says to this purpose in the 2d part and 91st chapter, as likewise the author of the book called the Cloud of Unknowing,chap.49 and 54.

3. Now to the end to enable the soul to make a good choice (I mean such a soul as hath freedom to make her own choice), I will set down the qualities necessary to be found in a good director, by which title I do not mean simply a Confessarius, that is only to hear faults confessed, to give absolution, and there an end; for the ordinary qualities of learning and prudence are sufficient thereto. But by a spiritual director I intend one that, besides this, is to instruct the disciple in all the peculiar duties of an internal life; that is, to judge of her propension to contemplative ways, and that can at least teach her how she may fit herself with a degree of prayer proper for her; that knows all the degrees of internal prayer, and can determine how long she is to remain in such a degree, and when to change it for a higher; that can judge what employments, &c., are helpful or hindering to her progress in internal ways; but especially that can teach her how to dispose herself to hearken to and follow God's internal teaching, and to stand in no more need of consulting her external director, &c. Such are the proper offices of a guide, to enable him whereto there are generally by spiritual writers required three principal qualities: 1. a good natural judgment; 2. learning; 3. experience.

4. But because it is scarce to be hoped for in all places and for all souls to find a director absolutely perfect and qualified with all manner of fitting conditions, therefore the said writers do dispute what quality is the most necessary to make a director capable of a sufficient discharge of his office. Now forasmuch as concerns the first condition, to wit, a good natural judgment, though by all it be acknowledged to be insufficient alone, yet is it so absolutely necessary that without it no considerable experience can be attained; and learning, if it be joined with an extravagant capricious spirit, will prove rather pernicious than advantageous; therefore, the question remains between learning and experience, whether of the two is the most necessary?

5. But truly this scarce deserves to be a question. For though for the assoiling of ordinary doubts and cases of conscience, as about fasting, saying the divine office, confession, restitution, &c., learning be the principal condition to be looked after in one that is to be a guide for such purposes, notwithstanding, since the office of the spiritual director that now we seek after is to be exercised in such internal matters of the spirit as hath been said, to wit, contemplative prayer, attending to divine inspirations, &c., it is the resolute judgment of Gerson, Avila, St. Teresa, B. John de Cruce, Seraphinus Firmanus, &c., that no trust is to be given to learning without experience, but much to experience though without learning. And to this purpose it is observable that for the most part the instruments that God hath been pleased, both in ancient and modern times, to employ in the instructing and guiding of souls to the perfection of contemplative prayer, have been persons of small learning but great experience, such as were St. Anthony, St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Teresa, &c.

6. No learning, therefore, that may be got by study and reading, though of all the contemplative books that now are extant, will alone serve to enable any one to be a competent director for internal livers. But there is necessary experience and practice in the same prayer, and other internal exercises that are to be taught; for never so many years spent in discursive prayer will little avail to qualify any one to be a proper and profitable director for souls tending to contemplation, as all enclosed religious men and women are obliged.

7. Yea, it is much more safe for a well-meaning soul, the which, in solitude and abstraction, aspires to contemplation, to make use of that, though obscure, internal light which God has given her for the applying of such instructions as books which treat of effective prayer proper for her will afford her; or else to trust to the guidance of a virtuous humble-minded director, who, though he have but a very small proportion either of experience or learning, yet, out of humility, will not assume unto himself authority to judge of things above his reach, but will encourage the soul either to seek out one more intelligent, or to follow the directions of her own spirit illuminated by grace, than to confide in any directors, though never so learned, that would confine her all her lifetime to a form of discursive prayer, much busying the imagination, but not affording a scope free enough for the affections and holy desires, in which principally consists the good of prayer; and by consequence that will be apt to make her suspect all tracts and invitations wherewith God shall draw her to a more sublime, quiet, pure prayer in spirit, to the which, if she do not correspond, she will remain continually in multiplicity, distraction, and unquietness. The more learned that such improper directors are, the more incompetent are they for such an employment about souls whose profession is the aspiring to the prayer of contemplation; because, if either they be ignorant of such prayer, or unwilling to acknowledge any prayer more perfect than that which themselves practise and teach others, their learning will make them both more able and forward to keep souls under a certain captivity, chained with methods and forms, the which, though very profitable, even to these souls in the beginning, yet afterward become very painful and even insupportable to them living in solitude and a quiet abstraction of life.

8. Truly it is not without some scruple and unwillingness that the present subject obliges me to deliver instructions, the which, perhaps, will to some appear displeasing and unwelcome. But the charitable reader is entreated to believe that here is not the least intention to reflect with censure upon any, or to inconciliate any directors to their disciples; our design being only to show what kind of prayer and practices we judge proper for internal livers; and this being so, we hope that, without offence to any, we may say that the most fit directors are such as are versed in the ways that they teach, as likewise that we may suggest to those that are of a contemplative profession that they would, in the exercise of prayer, abate, as much as may be, the busy work of the imagination, and enlarge that of affection. This is all we intend, both here and in whatsoever other passages of this book occasion is given to renew the like advices.

9. I may truly say that neither natural judgment, learning, nor experience all together are absolutely sufficient to qualify a person for the employment of guiding souls in all cases in the internal ways of the spirit, but very oft an actual supernatural illumination will moreover be requisite and necessary; though true it is that experienced persons have great advantages beyond what wit or learning can afford. And such, for matters beyond their experience, no doubt, will often remit souls to God and their own observation; the which is a quality and office not to be expected from persons that bring no better endowments with them to the managing of contemplative souls, but only subtlety of wit and learning, or experience in a quite different and much inferior exercise of prayer (such experience being, as I said, rather a disadvantage), for such will resolve all cases; and though the directions they give must needs be improper, yet they will be very absolute in requiring obedience. Whereas, a person experienced in the same internal ways, being humble withal (for else, saith Avila, he also will probably be faulty too), though he be not in all cases able to give a resolute judgment, yet, finding his own deficiency, he will make a doubt of the matter, and thereupon, out of humility, will not scorn but rather be desirous to consult and take advice from others more able to resolve.

10. Hereupon it is that St. Teresa (as it is recorded in her life) much complains of the hurt that such resolute and insufficient teachers did to her and will do to others. And Thaulerus (worthily styled the illuminate doctor) professeth of himself in a certain sermon that unless he were specially illuminated by God for the solution of a doubt proposed to him, he would remit the party to God himself, to be instructed in prayer what to do. And let not such a one doubt, saith he, but that God will be his faithful counsellor. Moreover, he finds great fault with those arrogant persons that reprehend souls for suffering themselves to be guided by the instincts and internal lights and motions proceeding from God's Spirit, and for their calling such by the titles of new spirits, or pretenders to extraordinary illuminations; whereas, saith he, those that take all their instructions from persons and books will with very small success pursue the ways of the spirit.

11. It is a miserable thing to see how this employment of directing souls (which above all other is most difficult, and exceedeth even the ability of an angel yet), out of an ambitious humour, is invaded by persons wholly unfitted for it, and that without any vocation from God voluntarily undertake it; so that no marvel it is if so little good come from such intruders. Not one of a thousand, saith Avila, is capable of so sublime a task. Nay, saith the holy Bishop of Geneva, not one of ten thousand. And most certain it is that those who so freely offer themselves to so divine an employment, do thereby show themselves to want the most necessary qualifications, to wit, humility and a true knowledge of its difficulty, and therefore their directions are most to be suspected.

12. Hereupon Thaulerus saith, that a soul intending perfection ought to seek out an experienced servant of God, though it cost her a journey of many German miles. But, saith he, if such a friend cannot be found, then will a simple Confessarius serve, though never so ignorant; for even by such men doth the Holy Ghost speak by reason of their office; so that they may securely be submitted to and obeyed, even in things which they do not well understand.

13. If a soul that is fearful and scrupulous be to choose a director, she ought to avoid one of the like temper, for passion which blinds the seeker will also blind the director, and so the blind will lead the blind.

14. It is not necessary that the persons consulted with about difficulties concerning internal prayer should be learned, or in holy orders (except doubts concerning matters of faith or cases of conscience intervene), for though lay persons and women be not allowed by the Church to preach publicly, yet are they not forbidden to give private instructions in matters of that nature to any that shall have recourse to them. And of the good success of such instructors we have divers examples, as in the layman that converted Thaulerus, a learned doctor and a religious man, and likewise in St. Catharine of Siena, St. Teresa, &c. And in a well-governed monastery of women, where a good course of internal prayer, approved by superiors and learned divines, is once well settled, it is very expedient that instructions concerning it should rather come from superiors within; because otherwise, by reason of the frequent change of directors, perhaps of contrary spirits, and many of them little practised in such prayer, souls will be governed uncertainly, and be in danger to be put out of their way.

15. Though it seem evidently more reasonable and more proportionable to the spirits of persons professing a religious state to be conducted by others of the same profession (cæteris paribus) than by such as are strangers thereto, yet scarce any directors can be found more improper for such (supposing that they tend to contemplation) than are religious guides of active spirits, that know no further of prayer than meditation, and that show more zeal for an exact observance of ceremonies, or a multiplying of external voluntary austerities (the which of themselves, and unless they be guided by God's Spirit, have no special influence on the spirit, but only serve either for an outward show of rigour, or for keeping souls from misspending the time), than for the more essential internal duties of prayer, solitude of spirit, interior mortification, &c. Much more profitable to such souls would be a director, though not of any religious profession, that would impose on souls only such austerities as are essentially necessary to an internal life; such as are perfect abstraction, silence, solitude, convenient abstinence, &c. And for other matters not much necessary nor much effectual, leaving them in a due moderate liberty of spirit, especially such as will not impose on them any forms of mental prayer, however liked or practised by themselves, but for such matters rather leaving them to the conduct of God's Holy Spirit, and that will not torture them with painful, iterated customary confessions, &c.

16. And whereas it will be perhaps objected that probably such directors, being strangers as to the special distinctive spirit of such an order or community, may endanger in their disciples a loss of the said spirit, I must profess that I understand not what is meant by that so-much-talked-of spirit of an order; nor how several orders, though never so much distinguished by habits or certain external practices, if their profession be to tend to contemplation, can have any more than one spirit, which directs them to make their principal design to be the seeking of God in His internal ways of divine love, and to that only end besides conformable prayer to practise such observances and mortifications as will best promote this design. And surely this good spirit of religion and contemplation, a good director, of what profession soever, will very studiously endeavour to advance, yea, and moreover will no doubt oblige his disciples to be very regular and zealous in the observance of all good ordinances of the community, and principally of the rule according to their profession made; instructing them withal how they may use such things for the advancing of their spirit and the service of God, although in the mean time, perhaps, he be not cunning in all the particular observances that belong to them, and little or nothing at all to him.

17. All souls that live in contemplative orders are not naturally fitted for contemplative ways, nor the seeking of God in spirit. Those, therefore, that have not, and indeed are not capable of much light in their interior, and so are not so fit to be guided by divine inspirations, do the more need to have certain rules from without, at least for the exterior. And for such it is God's will and direction that they should more depend on external guides.

18. He that takes upon hire the office of a spiritual director, saith Thaulerus, ought for some reasonable space of time to converse with his disciples, especially at the beginning; for a few transitory conferences will not suffice to give him light concerning their propensions and dispositions, that he may fit them with a degree of prayer proper for them, both for the present and future. And his principal care must be to set them in such a way as that they may not need to have much recourse unto him afterward, the which is done by giving them general directions about their prayer, and especially how thereby to dispose themselves to receive light from God, Whose inspirations ought for the future to be their principal rule, especially for the interior. And for the practising in particular according to the general directions given, the disciples must use their own judgment, and for a help they may also make use of such instructions as they may find in books, so far as they shall be proper for their spirit. But in cases when neither their own judgment nor books will help them, if the difficulty be of greater moment, they may again have recourse unto their director.

19. And in this sort are writers that speak much of the necessity of an external director to be understood. For if such necessity were to last always, good souls should be obliged to spend their whole lives in conferring with directors, from whence would follow continual solicitudes, scrupulosities, and dangerous distractions, &c., most contrary to an internal spiritual life, which ought to be a state of much repose, cessation, introversion, and a continual attendance unto what God speaks within unto the soul; who, if souls will humbly and faithfully depend on Him, will clear and resolve difficulties, which external masters will never be able to penetrate into. But it is too general a humour in directors nowadays to make themselves seem necessary unto their disciples, whom they endeavour to keep in a continual dependence, to the great prejudice of their progress in spirit, besides many other inconveniences not needful to be mentioned particularly.

20. A soul that has recourse to an instructor provided by God for her, or that, using her best advice, she hath made choice of, must deal freely, plainly, and candidly with him, concealing nothing necessary to be known by him; and his directions she must follow in all things, assuring herself that if she do so in the simplicity of her heart, and as in obedience to God himself, God will enlighten him so that she shall not be misled.

21. The gift of discerning spirits is so necessary to a spiritual guide, that except thereby he be able to fit a soul with a sort and degree of prayer suitable to her natural disposition, not tying all souls to begin according to any general methods (for none such can be prescribed but will be prejudicial to some), and unless he teach how she may become illuminated without him, by God alone, by the means of prayer and abstraction of life (wherewith the mists of images and passions being dispelled, a light will spring forth in the soul far more clear and certain than any that can come from human instructions), not all the instructions of men and angels, joined with all mortifications imaginable, will be able to bring a soul to contemplation. For seldom or never doth God work contrary to our natural complexions; and till souls come to exercises in spirit and prayer, infused by God alone, they are far from contemplation.

22. Now at the first it is very hard for any director to know exactly the secret inclinations of imperfect souls; which are so infinitely various; and therefore, for the most part, their instructions about prayer and attendance to divine inspirations must be general, the which the disciples themselves must make a particular use of by observing their own abilities and inclinations, and by marking what more particular forms of prayer, &c., suit best with them and do them most good. And this if they be not able in a reasonable manner to do, or if they have not the courage to abide in a way in which they are put, it will be in vain for them to proceed in those secret internal ways.

23. If the way wherein a soul is put, and hath made a reasonable progress, be indeed proper for her, there will be little need of frequent recourse unto her director. Neither ought he to examine her about her internal exercises, of which he may judge well enough by her external comportment; for it is impossible for a soul to be in a wrong way interiorly, but of itself it will break out exteriorly, especially to the eyes of those who themselves are in a right way, as the spiritual director is supposed to be. And there is scarce any more certain sign that a soul is not interiorly in a good way, than is her being forward to trouble her director with a multiplicity of questions and doubts, and her readiness to discover her interior to others, whom she has heard or does believe to be skilful in spirituality.

24. The images and internal distractions raised by impertinent consultations about the interior are, of all other, most pernicious; for distractions from without are but superficial, whereas those being hatched and bred within the soul from some secret ill qualities, as fear, scrupulosity, curiosity, &c., they are more profound and destructive to true recollection.

25. The general remedies against almost all difficulties are these two: 1. riddance; 2. patience. The former consists in affording to the soul some ease and latitude, as far as a good conscience will permit, in such things as are apt to perplex well-minded tender souls, as confession, saying of the office, obligation to the ordinances of the Church, and some kind of temptations; in all which things such souls are to be taught to neglect and transcend scrupulous nicety, and they are likewise to be prudently freed from the practice of customs not obligatory. And this remedy is proper against scrupulosity, disentangling the soul from many snares which otherwise would prove a great hindrance to her. The other remedy of patience and abiding is reasonable in case of aridities, desolations, and other such discouragements in an internal life; in which cases the devout soul is to be exhorted to behave herself as well as she can, and to be quietly resigned for what with all her industry she cannot help. Above all things, she is to be heartened to pursue courageously her appointed recollections in despite of all such oppositions raised by the devil or corrupt nature, and permitted by God for her good. The which if she do she will either disperse these temptations, or obtain a divine light to perceive that the way both most proper and most secure, by which God purposes to lead her to perfection, is the way of aridities and obscurities, as B. John de Cruce teaches in his treatise called Mount Carmel. And when she once perceives this, then they will not only be supportable, but even acceptable to her. However, if a soul did know, or could be persuaded how much better it were for her to suffer a little bitterness arising from such difficulties or perplexities, than to hasten for a remedy by seeking help from others, or by turning herself to unnecessary solaces in creatures, and also with what confidence she might expect satisfaction from her internal master, if she would seriously, by prayer, seek Him, she would save both herself and her director much trouble and inconvenience.

26. The instructor must use great wariness that he do not raise doubts and scruples in his scholars' minds by moving needless and indiscreet questions, or by impertinent discourses concerning spiritual matters, for thereby he may come to raise such doubts as himself shall not be able to resolve, and to put them so far out of their way as perhaps they will never be able to find it again. Therefore, in ordinary conversations, it is more fit that the subject of discourse should be some external and indifferent matters, wherein the parties are not much concerned, than such as regard the interior. Experience shows how much inconvenience doth come to souls by the conversations of such as are great pretenders to skill in spirituality, and therefore, out of vanity or a mistaken charity, are apt, when there is no need, to be offering instructions about spiritual matters.

27. Some souls do see their way before them far better than others, and therefore do move fewer questions. The instructor therefore is to behave himself towards them all according to the quality and need of each spirit, always remembering that his office is not to teach his own way, nor indeed any determinate way of prayer, &c., but to instruct his disciples how they may themselves find out the way proper for them, by observing themselves what doeth good and what causeth harm to their spirits; in a word, that he is only God's usher, and must lead souls in God's way and not his own.

28. Of all other spiritual persons, it concerns women especially to be very sparing in consultations, and, when necessity requires, to be brief in delivering their difficulties, for otherwise many inconveniences will follow; as: 1. loss of time both to the disciple and instructor; 2. distractions far more hurtful than if they were busied about the most encumbering employments of the community; 3. danger of multiplying new perplexities, by fearing that they have not given a full and a right account of themselves, &c. Besides, one difficulty will be apt to beget a new one, so that instead of seeking peace by disburdening of the conscience, by their indiscretions they may come both to trouble the peace of their instructors and to plunge themselves in incurable perplexities and obscurities of mind; 4. great cause there is to fear that there may, upon such occasion of unnecessary consultations, ensue dangerous familiarities and friendships with such as may prove very unfit counsellors. Thereupon St. Francis Xavier saith, that seldom was there so much good to be expected from the frequent treaties between persons of different sexes as there was peril in them to both.

29. This may suffice concerning the qualities and office of an external director. As for more special duties belonging to him in more particular cases, as scrupulosities, mortifications, &c., it shall be treated when we come to speak of such particular subjects; as likewise of the obligation of superiors about the promoting the spiritual good of their subjects' souls (although they be not consulted with in the nature of spiritual guides), somewhat shall be said in the following discourse concerning the state of a religious profession.

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