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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV. Of the third and principal way by which God teaches internal liversà

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

CHAPTER IV. Of the third and principal way by which God teaches internal liversà

§ 1. Of the third and principal way by which God teaches internal livers, viz. immediate divine inspirations; the order of particular considerations following touching them.

§ 2. First, of the necessity of them, and the ground of such necessity.

§§ 3, 4, 5, 6. The said necessity proved by the testimony of St. Benedict in his Rule, &c.; as also by his example.

§ 7. A further demonstration of the said necessity.

1. The third fore-mentioned, and of all other the most principal means by which God instructs and directs internal livers in the secret paths of His divine love, and upon which do depend the two former, are interior illuminations and inspirations of God's Holy Spirit, who is to be acknowledged the only supreme Master; concerning which inspirations it hath already been shown in general what they are, how distinguished from the lights and motions of common grace, and what are the objects about which principally they are exercised, &c. I will now treat more particularly of them in this following order, viz.: 1. there shall be further shown the necessity of them; 2. that souls are obliged to dispose themselves for the receiving of them, and how this is to be done, to wit, by removing the impediments; 3. how God communicates to the soul His light and grace for her instruction and direction; 4. that it is not hard to discern them, and very secure to rely upon them; 5. that by the use of them no prejudice at all comes to ecclesiastical or religious obedience.

2. Touching the first point, to wit, the necessity of them in an internal contemplative life, there is none that will deny or doubt, but that divine inspirations are necessary forasmuch as concerns the proper and essential actions of Christian virtues, which receive all their meritoriousness from the said inspirations. But some there are that will not allow the same necessity of expecting inspirations and calls for actions or omissions of themselves indifferent or of less moment. But surely, since it is generally agreed upon by divines following St. Augustine, St. Thomas, &c., that there are no actions done in particular circumstances which are simply to be esteemed indifferent, but since they must have some end, if the end be good they are to be esteemed good, and if evil they are evil (howsoever universally considered, they are in their own nature indifferent, because according to the intention and end wherewith they are done they may be good or evil): again, since there are no actions so inconsiderable but may, yea, ought to be performed out of the motive of divine love, and to the end to increase the said love in our souls, especially the ordinary actions and employments of a religious contemplative life; and lastly, since perfection in divine love cannot be attained by the simple exercise of charity in duties which are absolutely necessary, and without mortal sin cannot be omitted, the which duties do seldom occur, but it is moreover requisite for that end to multiply frequently and daily exercises of the said love in offices less necessary; yea, and to purify all our most ordinary actions from the stains of self-love which adhere unto them; hence, I say, appears the necessity of the influence of the Divine Spirit upon our actions which are not of such obligation, if we seriously tend to the perfection of divine love in our souls.

3. To this purpose it is worth the observing how seriously our holy Father St. Benedict enforces the necessity of hearkening to and obeying the inspirations of God's Holy Spirit, our only supreme Master, making this the foundation of all religious duties, in the prologue of his Rule, where he saith that we must (nunquam discedere ab ejus magisterio) never depart from the institution and direction of God; that we must have our eyes open (ad Deificum lumen) to the divine light. On which grounds he calls a monastery (scholam Dominici servitii) the school wherein God's service is taught, and (officinam artis spiritualis) the workhouse wherein the art of the Divine Spirit is taught and practised; namely, because all things, all observances, even those of the least moment in a religious life, do tend to withdraw us from all other teachers and all other skill, and to bring us to be (Deo docibiles) taught by God only. And therefore it is that our said holy patriarch lays this as the foundation of all religious practices, that they be done in virtue of prayer; his words are, Inprimis ut quidquid agendum inchoas bonum, a Deo perfici instantissima orations deposcas. As if he should say, in the first and principal place, thou art to consider this to be the end why I invite thee to an abstracted religious life, that thou mayest thereby be brought to this happy and secure state, as to be enabled to obtain of God, by most earnest and assiduous prayer, to give a blessing and perfection to every action that in a religious state thou shalt apply thyself to. Now if according to our holy Father's principal intention prayer ought to prepare and accompany every action which we perform in religion, then surely it will follow that they ought all of them to be performed with relation to God, as upon His bidding and for His love and glory.

4. Moreover, more particularly concerning divine inspirations, our holy Father makes mention of several ones in special, as in the point of internal prayer, though in common he ordains that it should be short (in the 20th chapter of his Rule), yet so as that he leaves it to the liberty of any one to prolong it (ex affectu inspirationis Divinæ gratiæ) by an invitation and enablement from a divine inspiration and grace. And again, concerning abstinence, as also the measure of allowance for meat and drink, he professeth that he had a scruple how to proportion it, considering the variety of men's tempers and necessities. But, however, though he was willing to allow what might be sufficient for the strongest, yet he leaves every one in particular to the direction of grace, saying in the 40th chap. (Unusquisque proprium habet donum ex Deo; alias sic, alius vero sic), that is, every one hath a peculiar gift of God; one hath this, and another that (Quibus autem donat Deus tolerantiam abstinentiæ, propriam se habituros mercedem sciant), that is, those unto whom God hath given the strength to endure a sparing abstinence, let them be assured that so doing God will give them a peculiar reward. Besides these, several other passages might be produced out of our holy Father's Rule to the same purpose.

5. Now in this last passage there is a document that well deserves to be considered. Every one, saith he, in St. Paul's words, hath his proper peculiar gift in the matter of refection. All good Christians have the gift to avoid therein a mortally sinful excess, but religious internal livers have moreover (or may have) a special gift to avoid even venial defects, and the perfect to advance themselves thereby towards perfection. Yet from thence we cannot conclude that God has obliged himself to discover unto every one, although seeking it by prayer, the exactly true state and complexion of his body. Whence it follows that if he, being mistaken in that which he is not bound to know, should demand more or less sustenance than is absolutely necessary, it is no sin, upon supposition that such desire did not proceed from a sensual affection to meat nor a faulty neglect of health, but from the best light that reason could afford him to judge of his own necessity, and from an intention to benefit his soul by a moderate refreshing of nature. And it is God's will that we should follow reason in all external things in which God doth not usually otherwise illuminate his servants. Though natural reason, therefore, may fail and be mistaken, yet the person does not offend, but rather follows God by following the light of his reason, this being all the light in such cases afforded him. So for example, if a hermit, being infirm, and having none to consult with, should doubt whether it were unlawful for him to break a commanded fast, and having by prayer desired God's direction, should remain persuaded that it was, and thereby should prejudice his health by fasting, this would be no sin at all in him, yea, on the contrary it would be meritorious. For he would fail indeed in that for which he had no light, neither was light necessary to him, to wit, the exact knowledge of what had been requisite for corporal health; but he would merit in that for which he had light, to wit, the advancement of his soul. And ordinarily speaking, the inspirations that God affords to the more perfect in such cases are rather to abstain even from the more expedient commodities, yea, ofttimes to some prejudice of health, for the greater good of the soul; because, too anxious a solicitude for health is unbecoming an internal liver. Yea, a robustious health uninterrupted is not convenient for such a one. But leaving this digression:

6. Our holy Father teaches, as himself had been taught (for what other teacher had he from his infancy till the moment of his expiration but the Divine Spirit, by whose light and impulse alone he was directed into and in his solitude, and afterward enabled to direct all succeeding ages in a coenobitical life?) to have recourse to the same teacher. The like may be said of all the ancient hermits and anchorites who could have no other instructor but God, and had no other employment during their rigorous solitude and silence, but to attend to their internal teacher, and put in execution His inspirations in all their actions both internal and external. To this purpose, saith a holy hermit in Cassian, that as it was by God's inspiration that we begin, when we enter into religion, so likewise (magisterio et illuminatione Dei ad perfectionem pervenimus) by the discipline, instruction, and illumination of God we attain to perfection. Another says that a soul can do no good at all unless she be (quotidiana Domini illuminatione illustrata) enlightened by a daily illumination from God. These are expressions that our holy Father himself uses, and it seems borrowed them from the same authors. And for this reason it is that in his Rule he contents himself with ordaining prescriptions for the exterior only, because he knew that the interior could only be directed by God. But withal, his ordinations are such as we may see his intention and only design was by them to dispose souls to be capable of observing and following the inspirations and inward instructions of God's Holy Spirit, without which all exterior observances would never bring us to perfection; such were very rigorous solitude and abstraction from all intercourse either with the business or news of the world, almost continual silence but when we speak to God, &c. And withal, in several places of his Rule he signifies by the way that the reformation of the spirit ought to be the principal aim of a religious soul. So that in the conclusion of the Rule, having regard to the external observances expressly commanded therein (as a preparation to the perfection to be learnt out of the lives and conferences of the fathers), he professeth with great humility, but with great truth also, that his intention thereby was that those which observed it be enabled to declare in some sort (honestatem morum, aut initium conversationis eos habere) that they had attained to a laudable exterior carriage and the beginning of a holy religious conversation. But, saith he, whosoever shall tend to perfection, Sunt doctrinæ Sanctorum Patrum; as if he had said he must, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers, attend unto the divine Master by exercising, according to his instructions, that pure sublime prayer, &c., which they practised and discovered. And suitable hereto St. Francis likewise in his Rule advises his disciples thus: Attendant fratres, quod super omnia desiderare debent habere spiritum Domini, et sanctam ejus operationem, that is, the religious brethren must attentively mark that, above all other things, they ought to desire to have the Spirit of our Lord and his Holy operation in their souls.

7. To conclude: either it must be granted that perfection may be attained merely by avoiding mortal sins, and doing such actions of virtue as are absolutely necessary to all Christians (which to say were manifestly foolish and false), and likewise that actions more indifferent and not so universally obliging (such as are certain more profitable manners of prayer, external religious observances, refection, conversation with our brethren, &c.) cannot be rendered capable of a holy intention and of advancing us in the divine love (which is against experience); and moreover, that without internal grace actually operating (which is nothing else but divine illuminations and impulses) these ordinary inferior actions may be exalted to produce that effect which the greatest necessary virtues could not produce, which to say were impiety; or it must be granted that the teaching of God's Holy Spirit is the only principal necessary cause by whose virtue we are informed and enabled to improve and make use of these actions for the attaining of so sublime an end as perfection in contemplation is, and without which it is impossible to be attained. And indeed, so impossible to be brought under external rules, and so secret and undiscoverable are the internal dispositions of souls and their operations, that they cannot be clearly perceived nor consequently ordered, but by Him to whom alone (our figmentum) our hearts and all the secret inclinations and motions of them are naked and transparent.

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