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

CHAPTER VI. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the principle of all good actions in us.à

§§ 1, 2. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the principle of all good actions in us.

§§ 3, 4, 5, 6. It doth not work of itself, unless excited by actual grace and our endeavours.

§ 7. By the using and employment of this gift, there is raised in us a supernatural light of discretion, as prudence is increased by the practice of virtue.

§ 8. How the exercise of love causes illumination.

§§ 9, 10. Supernatural light is, 1. actual; 2. permanent.

§ 11, The effects of supernatural discretion.

§§ 12, 13, 14, 15. Contemplative and active livers, both guided by a supernatural light, but differently.

§ 16. How imperfect souls may do their ordinary daily actions in light.

1. The third point before proposed for our consideration in this matter of internal inspiration, is the manner how God communicates His light and grace to our understanding and wills for our instruction and directions, in the mystic ways of contemplation.

2. Now for a clearer explication of this point we are to consider that that fundamental grace, which in Scripture is called donum Spiritus Sancti (the gift of the Holy Ghost), and which is conferred on all in baptism, and being afterward by actual sins smothered or extinguished, is renewed by penance, prayer, &c., and cherished or increased by the worthy use of the holy Eucharist and other virtuous practices of a Christian life: this grace, I say (whatever it be physically in its own nature, if it were examined scholastically, which is not my intent), is a certain divine principle or faculty, partaking somewhat of the nature of a permanent habit, infused into the spirit of man, by which he is enabled, whensoever the free will concurreth actually, both for knowing, believing, and practising to do the will of God in all things. For the virtue thereof extends itself through all the faculties of the soul, curing the distempers, wants, and deordinations that sin had caused in them.

3. This new divine faculty therefore (which seems to be expressed by the prophet David, when he saith, signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine, that is, the light of thy countenance, O Lord, is like a seal stamped on our souls) doth not, neither is it sufficient of itself alone actually to produce any saving effects: as we see that a musician or a poet, though never so skilful, do not therefore ever actually sing or write verses until some certain occasions or circumstances do actually determine them thereto, as gain or requests of others, or praise, or a mind to please themselves, &c. For the actual employment and exercise of such grace there is, moreover, necessary an actual aid from God, who by a special divine providence doth often administer occasions, hints, and enablements, exciting the will to waken this grace in the soul, which otherwise would lie vacant and unuseful.

4. And proofs of this daily experience shows us, both in ourselves and others, how a sermon or any other word reasonably spoken, or any object occurring with due circumstances, doth incite us to lift up our souls to God by prayer, to perform some acts of charity, to mortify some inordinate affection, &c., yea, sometimes from a desperate sinful state, to convert our souls to God. And this doing we (as St. Paul exhorts Timothy, anazopurein) raise and blow into a flame the grace which before lay in our hearts like coals of fire smothered in the ashes. And if this be frequently done, that Grace which at the first imparting was but weak, and needed strong endeavours to excite it, becomes the more active and more easy to be excited; so that upon any the least occasion offered it is ready to bestir itself and disperse its odours and virtue, till at last it gets so perfect a dominion in perfect souls that it quite subdues the contrary principle of corrupt nature; and is scarce ever idle, but the least hint being given, it turns the soul presently to God, and keeps it almost continually fixed on Him: insomuch as those things which formerly had no effect at all upon them, now presently and even violently inflame them.

5. Yea, in some supereminently perfect souls this gift of God's Holy Spirit comes to be so vigorous that it subdues even reason itself, and leads it captive after itself, pushing the soul to heroical actions without any precedent act of reason or the least deliberation, though in the act the soul, by consenting, merits. Thus we read of the ancient martyrs, how they by an impetuous impulse of the divine spirit, rushed before the persecuting judges to confess the name of Christ. Yea, and St. Apollonia cast herself into the fire: the love of Christ burning in their hearts and constraining them, as St. Paul says. From the like efficacy of the Divine Spirit proceeded that spiritual gift of prayer by which the holy primitive Christians in their public meetings conceived and poured forth prayers without any concurrence thereto of their own invention, God's spirit itself (in St. Paul's expression) praying in them. And in this sense principally it is that, I suppose, the schools do understand the gifts of the spirit, although most certain it is that all holy actions, internal or external, are effects of the same Spirit, though in a less degree.

6. This fundamental grace, therefore, is that talent or stock that has God's image on it, and not Cæsar's, which God bestows upon every one in baptism, &c., to trade withal, which till the will coöperates with the actual aid of God is, as it were, wrapped in a napkin and hid under ground, but, being well managed, multiplies into many talents. This is that very small but divine seed of which the Evangelist speaks, which, being cast in our hearts, by labour and cultivation produces many and precious fruits: this is that (Fermentum) leaven, which, being enclosed in the three faculties of our souls, as in three measures of meal, doth disperse its virtue throughout the whole mass.

7. Now, to the end I may approach more close to the present matter, we may further consider, that as by the exercise of moral philosophical virtues there is generated and daily increased by perseverance in the same exercise, that most noble universal virtue of moral prudence which no study or speculative learning, how great soever, could have produced, the which prudence, as the philosopher says, is the skill most properly conversant about particular acts (not general notions or definitions of things), and enlightens the soul to judge and determine in what circumstances and with what concurring qualities an action of virtue ought and may with the best advantage and perfection be exercised: so that by the help of this virtue of prudence, when it is arrived to an excelling degree, a virtuous person will never omit a due occason to practise a virtue, nor will he ever do it unseasonably and indiscreetly (for then it would not be virtue); and when he exercises it he will not be deficient in anything requisite to give a lustre thereto. The very same in a due proportion is seen in the exercise of divine virtue or charity; for by a constant practice thereof, not only charity itself is exalted, multiplied, and increased, but there is likewise kindled in the soul by tho Spirit of God a light of spiritual prudence far more clear and more certain to conduct us in the divine ways than moral prudence is in the ways of moral honesty; which divine light has this great advantage above prudence, that whereas moral wisdom can only teach the exercise of virtue in those occasions (which do not every day happen) in which such virtues ought to be exercised, neglecting to give any rules to lesser indifferent actions, this divine light, which teaches us to love nothing at all but God, accounts no actions at all in particular indifferent, but teaches us to direct all to the service and love of God, and can discern how one may concur thereto more than another, and accordingly choose the best.

8. Now the reason why, by the exercise of charity alone (and not by any study or speculative considerations), this divine light can be kindled, is because the blindness and darkness which is naturally in our understandings comes principally from the perverse deordination which self-love causes in our wills; by means of which we will not suffer the understanding to see what it does see; for even when by the light of faith we are in general instructed in the offices and rules of virtue and piety, yet, in many particulars, self-love adhering to that side which we ought to refuse, will either forbid and hinder the understanding from considering what is evil or defectuous in it, or if there be any the least ground of doubt, it will cast such fair glosses on it, and so seduce the understanding to find out motives and pretences for the preferring thereof that, in fine, the light itself which is in the understanding will mislead us. But when by perfect divine charity all these distortions of the will are rectified, and that all the subtle insinuations, false pretexts, close interests, and designs of self-love are discovered and banished, then the mind beholds all things with a clear light, and, proposing God as the end of all actions whatsoever, it sees where God is to be found in them, and may best be served and obeyed by them; then the will is so far from clouding or casting mists before the eyes of the understanding, that if there were any before, it alone dispels them; for it is only the now-sanctified fervent will that draws the soul in all its faculties from all other inferior seducing objects, and carries them in its own stream and swift course towards God: it will not suffer the soul to choose anything but what is good, yea, the best of all, because God would have that to be chosen alone. According, therefore, to the measure of charity, so is our measure of divine light. If charity be but warm and imperfect, our light in particulars is obscure, and can show us only such things as are necessarily to be practised under the penalty of being separated from God, the object of charity; but if charity be inflamed, how great is the light which that heavenly fire casts! not a step we set forward but we see the way perfectly before us, and can avoid all the uneven, rough, miry, or crooked steps in it, and so run apace without stumbling, delaying, or declining, so approaching daily nearer and nearer to the end of our heavenly race.

9. Moreover, this divine light is either an habitual, permanent light, or actual and transitory. The permanent light is the virtue of spiritual discretion, without which the actions that to the world give the greatest lustre are of little or no profit. Such as are great voluntary austerities, performing of solemn offices, almsgiving, &c., all which, unless they come from the principle of true charity, and are designed for the increasing and deeper rooting thereof in the spirit, are so far from being of any worth that they do rather prejudice and diminish that virtue. Both these conditions are requisite to make an action perfect and acceptable to God; it must both proceed from Him and also be directed to Him: He must not only be the end, but the principle also. It is not therefore sufficient for a soul (especially if she seriously tend to perfection in contemplation) that the action which she does now is in itself good and directed to a good end, unless her divine light inform her that in the present circumstances it is God's will that she should perform that determinate action rather than another, perhaps in itself and in other circumstances, better than it: for, as Thaulerus says, God will reward no actions but His own, that is, such as He gave order and commission for.

10. This being a most certain truth, what a world of actions, in themselves of no ill aspect, are there done by imperfect, extroverted souls, which, having no other fountain, principle, or light from which they are at first derived but the light of human reason, they will find at God's hands no acceptance at all; such souls lose all benefit by all their doings but those which are of absolute necessity, and by many of those likewise. Nay, how many are there which, being driven to some actions by a violent unlawful passion for or against some person, yet, because before the action is ended they can cozen themselves with proposing some good end, do therefore think themselves excused? Whereas such a proposing of a good end to an action beginning only from corrupt nature rather aggravates the fault by adding hypocrisy to it; the which themselves might easily discover if they would at the same time consider that such objects and persons had been changed. How small a proportion of this spiritual light have such souls!

11. This permanent light of supernatural discretion informs the soul generally in all things efficacious to her advancement towards contemplation. It teaches her in religious observances culpably to neglect none, and to perform them with a pure intention for her spiritual good: in mortifications, to support the necessary ones willingly and profitably, and assume only such voluntary ones as God directs her to, therein considering the infirmity of the body as well as the fervour of the will, lest by overburdening nature unnecessarily, she be rendered unable to bear even those which are of obligation: in prayer it teaches the soul what degree is proper for her, and how long she is to continue in it without change till God invite her to a higher, and then readily to accept of His invitation. Likewise, what proportion of time is requisite to be spent in prayer, so as to make a discreet and sufficient progress therein. It teaches her to suspect sensible devotion, and not to glut herself with the honey of it, nor to follow it too fast to designs of seeming perfection and extraordinary tasks, which, when such devotion ends, would be burdensome and harmful: in a word, it teaches the soul that due moderation in all things which makes them laudable and meritorious.

12. Now whereas I have called this a permanent and habitual light, it is to be observed that, as it is habitual only, it does not direct; because, unless it be in action, it is as it were veiled over until God, by some occasion administered, do move the soul to reflect and consult Him, and hereupon the light is unveiled and shines forth, giving direction in the present action and necessity. So that it is God, or the gift of his Holy Spirit (very predominant in such souls) that is their actual director.

13. There is none that hath a good will and seeks God in sincerity of heart but is capable of such a guidance by the light communicated to souls by the Holy Spirit; so that the duty of attending to and obeying it has place not only in a contemplative, but also in the exercises of a devout active life; for doubtless such likewise have a supernatural light answerable to their state, by which they are enabled to perform their actions with much purity of intention.

14. Notwithstanding, in respect of the degrees of purity of intention, the doings of contemplative souls do much excel those of active livers, by reason of the deeper entry that they make into their interior in their more profound, pure, and imageless recollections, by which they discover the depth of their most secret intentions, and accordingly purify them from whatsoever is amiss in them. Besides, they, according to their state, dealing in fewer exterior, distractive employments, do both keep themselves in a better disposition to attend to the voice of their internal teacher, and also contract fewer blemishes; and those that they do contract, they do more easily discern and rectify; lastly, being exercised for the most part in internal operations, their continual task is to cleanse the very fountain, which is the spirit itself, the seat of divine light and grace.

15. In a contemplative life, likewise, according to the degrees of proficiency, so is the attendance unto, and the performance of, the divine inspirations; for to perfect souls the divine voice and light is in a manner a continual guide, and they have a continual correspondence with it, even in their most ordinary smallest actions. Whereas the imperfect receive it seldom (forasmuch as concerns the purifying and supernaturalising their ordinary actions), except in their recollections, yea, perhaps only when they are in the height of their exercise. And the like may be said of devout souls in an active life. And they do at other times put in execution the directions received in prayer by virtue of the light remaining in their minds. But as for other actions, for which they have received no light at all in prayer, those they perform with the help of their natural reason, or at best by the general habitual light of grace only, by virtue of which they avoid grosser sinful defects; but yet their actions are stained with great impurity of intention, and a mixture of natural and sensual interests. The reason is, because imagination and passion being yet very predominant in them, do push them hastily to perform their actions without sufficient reflection and consulting their internal teacher; and if they do endeavour to adjoin a good intention, it comes late after the action is either begun or resolved upon for other motives; so that the divine love is but an accessory and attendant, not the prime mover or principle of the action.

16. The best means, therefore, that imperfect souls have to cleanse their ordinary actions from the impurity of natural interests, is in a general manner to forethink daily of their employments of obligation, and to foreordain the future employments of the day (I mean such as are left to their own voluntary choice and judgment, and that are likely to take up any considerable part of their time and thoughts, as certain determinate studies, &c.), and thereupon, at their morning recollections begging the assistance of the Divine Spirit, let them make good purposes to perform them out of the motive of divine love and for God's glory; and let them take heed not to change the order resolved indiscreetly; yet withal, on the other side, let them avoid the entangling themselves with any such resolutions, so as that the transgressing of them should cause disturbance or remorse in them. Thus doing, and sometimes during the day quietly reflecting upon the promise made in the morning recollection, the divine light will grow more and more familiar to them, extinguishing by degrees the false light by which they were formerly for the most part misled.

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