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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII. How a soul is to behave herself to obtain light in doubtful cases of moment.à

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

CHAPTER VII. How a soul is to behave herself to obtain light in doubtful cases of moment.à

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. How a soul is to behave herself to obtain light in doubtful cases of moment.

§ 8. She must not pretend to extraordinary matters.

§ 9. God signifies His will two ways: first by clearing the understanding.

§§ 10, 11. Why and how prayer disposes thereto.

§§ 12, 13. The second way is by a blind reasonless moving of the will.

§§ 14, 15. The same confirmed out of St. Thomas and Aristotle.

§ 16. A confidenoce that these operations are of God.

§ 17. In what faculties the said operations are wrought.

§§ 18, 19. What a soul, not perceiving either of these operations in her, is to do.

§§ 20, 21, 22. Constancy in a resolution once made requisite; but yet in some cases it may be altered.

§§ 23, 24. Purposes not to be made in the very time of prayer, except of resignation.

§ 25. A soul must not be troubled if the issue be not as she expects.

§ 26. Evident certainty not to be expected.

§ 27. In known cases the declaration of God's will is not to be expected.

1. But now, because, as I said, those that are imperfect have but a dim light, insufficient to direct them in many occurrent actions, and those that have attained to an habitual supernatural light of discretion do find that there are many cases to which their light doth not extend, yea, in the most perfect it will fail them in some, therefore, in such a case of uncertainty, wherein a well-minded soul has a considerable doubt about some matter of moment, either in the course of her prayer or in any other thing that concerns an internal life, and that she cannot find an experienced person to whom she can confidently propose her difficulty, or perhaps has not an interior invitation to seek for resolution from any one, -- I will endeavour, by the best light that God has given me, to instruct such a soul how she is to behave herself in such circumstances that she may obtain from God an actual illumination or direction; and then I will declare in what manner such light is ordinarily conferred upon internal livers.

2. The matter of the doubt is supposed to be of some weight; for as for ordinary inconsiderable difficulties, she may, in the name of God, despatch them the best she can with her natural judgment, doing with a good intention that which it shall dictate to be the best, troubling herself no further about them; because it would be more prejudice to a soul to lose time and disquiet herself with a curious and solicitous examination of every small difficulty, than if by determining quickly she should chance to choose that which in itself were the less perfect (it being supposed that sin lies on neither side of the doubt).

3. Again, some cases there are of such a nature that they are to be resolved only by an external director or superior, so that a soul ought not, and will in vain expect a resolution from God, who sends her to His substitutes. Such are the cases which concern external observances, as fasting, saying the divine office, interpreting the Rule, laws, or constitutions, &c. The office of the internal Master is chiefly about internal matters, or the not doing of external which are not of obligation.

4. In such doubtful cases of moment, especially if they concern something to be done, or omitted, or suffered in the future, a devout soul is to avoid all sudden and unadvised resolutions; and this especially when she is in any kind of passion, whether it be fear, anger, grief, or else of tenderness, compassion, and kindness, &c.; and chiefly when herself has an interest of nature, or when persons are concerned to whom she bears a sensible affection, or from whom she has an aversion. In such cases it is good to defer the resolution as long as well may be, to the end that she may have the more space to consider of it with her natural reason, and to free herself from passion, and so with resignation to consult God in her recollections, thereby to obtain light from Him to discern His holy will. And another reason and motive to defer the matter may be, because it may happen that, before a determinate resolution be needful, some new circumstance may spring and intervene that will perhaps alter the state of the difficulty.

5. In case the soul in her nature be inclined more to the one side of the doubt than the other, she must enforce herself, especially in prayer, to an indifference and resignation in the matter; rather forethinking (and accordingly preparing herself) that God will declare His will for the contrary to that to which her nature is more inclined.

6. In seeking to know the divine will by prayer, let not the person make the subject and business of his recollection to be the framing a direct prayer about the matter; neither let him in his prayer entertain any discoursing, debating thoughts in his imagination or understanding about it, as if he had an intention to account that to be God's will which by such discourse seemed most probable.1. Because, by such proceedings, our prayers, which should be pure and internal in spirit, will be turned into a distracting meditation upon all external affair, and so the mind comes to be filled with sensible images, and passions perhaps will be raised.2. Because by so doing we incur the danger of being seduced, by mistaking our own imagination or perhaps natural inclination for the divine light and motion, whereas such divine light is most effectually and securely, yea, and seldom otherwise, obtained than when the imagination is quiet and the soul in a profound recollection in spirit.3. Because such discoursing in time of prayer is anything else but prayer, being little more than human consideration and examination of the matter, the which, if at all, ought to be despatched before prayer.

7. Let not the soul, therefore, that is desirous by prayer to obtain light from God in a doubtful matter, for that end alter anything in the order and manner of her accustomed recollections, but let her pursue them as she was wont before; only it may be permitted her secretly and briefly to wish that God would teach her His will about the said difficulty.

8. But let her be sure to take great care she do not give way to any hope or desire that God should reconcile His will unto her by any extraordinary way, as by the ministry of angels, strange revelations, voices, &c.; for as nothing but pride can ordinarily nourish such foolish hopes or desires, so it is to be feared that if such desires should be granted, it would be to her prejudice, and would increase that pride from whence they flowed.

9. Now there are two ordinary ways by which God intimates His will to his servants that, with humble and resigned prayers, address themselves unto Him. The first is by clearing of the understanding, thereto adding a supernatural light, by which natural reason comes to see something that it saw not before, or at least did not esteem before so considerable; for by this new light of supernatural discretion such obscurities as did before hinder reason from discerning truth are removed. The which obscurities are generally caused by sensible images which have prepossessed themselves of the fancy, or by interests of nature which have engaged the affections; by both which reason is precipitated to hasten a judgment and election before she have considered maturely and without partiality all circumstances fit to be considered in an action; so that reason wanting this supernatural light kindled by charity determines itself to choose that part to which passion inclines.

10. Now since there are no means so efficacious to free the soul from both these impediments as pure spiritual prayer, in which the soul transcends all gross sensual images, and withal contradicts and renounces all motions and interests of nature, we may securely rely upon the light and dictamen which is suggested by our understanding so cleared, purified, and freed from all noise and distraction from the sensible faculties and appetite; and this being the best and safest light that man can have, we may and must acknowledge it to be supernatural, because it illuminates us in supernatural things, discovering the proportion between the present action and our supernatural end, and extinguishing the light of carnal reason, by which the things which are of God are either not seen at all, or esteemed foolishness. It is therefore to be accepted as the very light of God's Holy Spirit, a light that cannot be obtained by study, nor instilled into another by the most spiritual person in the world. Yea, moreover, it is a light that exceeds the efficacy of the ordinary light of faith which is permanently in us, by which we are only illuminated to perceive in a general manner supernatural objects, and the means leading to them; whereas, by this lamp newly kindled in our understandings by prayer and charity, we clearly discern in each particular actions and circumstances in what manner and how far they have relation and efficacy to dispose us to a perfect union by love with God.

11. If a soul before her recollections hath advised and considered of the difficulty, and that afterward upon her prayer she do find herself inclined to do what before she, consulting with her own reason or with any other counsellor, had judged to be the best, I should esteem it now to be a divine inspiration: not for the former debating's sake, but for the subsequent confirmation of it in virtue of recollection.

12. The second way by which God doth immediately signify His will to the intellective soul in virtue of prayer is by imprinting a blind, reasonless motion into the superior will, giving it a weight and propension to one side of the doubt rather than to the other, without representing actually and at the present to the understanding any special motive or reason sufficient to determine the will. This also, coming, in virtue of spiritual prayer, may confidently be esteemed the work of God, since no creature can immediately move the superior will.

13. Pertinently hereto we read that the holy Abbot Nisteron (who was a familiar friend of St. Anthony), being asked by one what kind of work he would advise him to exercise for the good and advancement of his soul? answered, God only knows what is good for thee to do, and therefore look what thou findest that thy soul, according to God, would have thee to do, that do thou.

14. Certainly, if ever God will show that He stands to His promise of granting the petitions of His children in all things which they ask according to His will, this promise is in no case so infallibly made good as when a sincere humble-minded soul, being urged merely out of spiritual necessity, doth with all resignation beg at His hands the light of his Holy Spirit for resolution of the difficulties that concern her purely in order to His service and honour, and for the perfecting her in His divine love. When can a soul be said to ask according to God's will, but when, withdrawing herself from all interests of nature and fixing her eyes and heart upon God only, she makes her requests known unto Him?

15. The doctrine here delivered, and particularly touching this reasonless and indeliberate moving of the will to good, is excellently and fully confirmed by St. Thomas (part 1, q.1 a.6), where to the third objection made against his position, that the doctrine of scholastic divinity is [Sapientia] wisdom, which objection was thus conceived: this doctrine is attained by study; but wisdom is had by infusion (and thereupon it is reckoned among the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost -- Isa. xi.): therefore this doctrine is not wisdom. Hereto he answers thus: |Since judging pertains to a wise man, according to a twofold manner of judging, wisdom is understood in a twofold sense. For one may judge: 1. Either by way of inclination: as he that hath the habit of virtue doth rightly judge of those things which are to be done according to virtue, inasmuch as he is inclined unto such things. Whereupon it is said in the tenth Book of Aristotle's Ethics, that a virtuous man is the measure and rule of human actions.2. By way of knowledge: as any one that is skilled in moral science can judge of the acts of virtue, although himself be void of virtue. The former way of judging of divine things pertains to wisdom, which is affirmed to be a gift of the Holy Ghost, according to that saying of St. Paul (1 Cor. ii.15): |The spiritual man judgeth all things;| as likewise St. Denys saith in his 2d chap. De Div. Nom.: Hierothus is instructed, not only learning, but also suffering divine things. But the latter way of judging pertains to this doctrine, inasmuch as it is gotten by study, although indeed the principles thereof come from divine revelation.' Thus far are the words of St. Thomas.

16. Yea, even Aristotle himself, though a heathen, could observe (lib. ii. Magn. Moral. c.7) that to that good which is honest (and virtuous) there is first required a certain reasonless impulse, and thereby the reason is enabled to discern and determine. But more pertinently and expressly in the following chapter he saith thus: Good fortune is without any precedent act of reason; for by nature he is indeed fortunate that, without the exercise of reason, is impelled to good or virtuous things and attains them. Now this is to be ascribed to nature; for such (an inclination) is naturally imprinted in our souls, by which we are impelled to such things as will render us happy without any exercise of reason: insomuch as if one should ask any person so disposed, Why doth it please thee to do so? he would answer, Truly I know not, but so it pleases me to do. The like happens to those that are divinely inspired and agitated, for such are impelled to the doing of some things without the exercise of reason. Lastly, the same philosopher, observing that sometimes there are suddenly injected into some souls certain good thoughts and desires, from which many following good actions do proceed; and hereupon inquiring from what principle such good thoughts may be judged to proceed, he resolves that the soul herself is not the cause of them, because they precede all exercise of reason; therefore the cause of them must be somewhat better than the soul, and that is only God.

17. The forementioned illustration is supposed to be not in the imagination, but purely in the understanding; as likewise the motion and inclination to be in the spiritual will, and not in the sensitive appetite, for otherwise they would not deserve so much to be relied on, because the workings of the imagination are so inconstant and irregular, and the sensible motions of the inferior appetite (being in corporal nature, producing a warmth about the heart and a stirring of spirits and humours) are so disorderly, that they are very justly suspicious and scarce to be trusted to. Therefore, although in a fervent exercise of much sensible devotion the sensual nature do after her manner carry herself well towards God, yet the superior soul, being not in a state of due tranquillity and stillness, is less capable of divine illustrations and influxes; and therefore the soul's inclinations, resolutions, and designs at such times are less to be regarded.

18. Now if it should happen that, after such trials by prayer made for the knowing of the divine will, the soul should yet perceive no sufficient light, nor any considerable inclination, propension, or preponderation towards one side more than another, in this case, according to Thaulerus's judgment, she may freely and confidently, as it were by lots, make choice indifferently of whether she thinks fit; and a choice so made, whenever it happens, she may and ought to believe to be according to God's will, since, having done her part to know His will, after all this is the result of her recollections, in which she has to her utmost power carried herself with resignation and indifference.

19. Notwithstanding, in making a choice in such circumstances, she may do well to use, or at least to advise upon these cautions: 1. Generally speaking, when two things seem in all respects to be equal, it were better, at least safer, to choose that side on which lies the greater mortification to nature.2. She may do well to make choice of not doing rather than doing, especially if the doing be likely to engage the soul in any distractions or solicitudes; for the election of not doing is more suitable to the perfection of a contemplative state and the spirit of our order and rule, that tends to God by abstraction, silence, solitude, &c.3. Let her choose that side which she thinks would be more agreeable and better approved by virtuous and devout friends.4. Let her follow the example of any one of whom she has a good opinion, in case the matter concerns others, as if the question be about giving a suffrage in the election of superiors, &c, 5. If the business concern herself and her own soul's good only, she is not always obliged to choose that which in itself is most perfect, but therein she is to consider her own present state and degree, and whether the choice will be likely to produce good or ill effects and inconveniences for the future as well as the present. For example, it is certainly in itself the most desirable perfection that a soul can aspire to, and to which she is also obliged to tend, to keep herself always in the divine presence, and in a constant state of recollectedness, or to renounce all manner of satisfactions to nature, &c. But if an imperfect soul should therefore attempt the exercise of internal prayer without interruption, or to practise so universal a mortification, she would overthrow corporal nature utterly, and in a short time, by indiscreet overdoing, come to an inability to do anything at all. To her, therefore, in such a state, that is to be esteemed most perfect which in itself is less perfect, to wit, a fervent but moderate exercise both of prayer and mortification, by which she will be enabled by little and little to get ground upon nature, and at last to do that which will be both in itself most perfect, and to her also.

20. A soul having, after the manner aforesaid, made a resolution and election, it is the advice of Michael Constantiensis, a devout prior of the Carthusians, that she should persevere in it, yea, though afterwards something by some others should be suggested to her contrary to such a resolution; although also that which is so suggested should seem to be more profitable and of greater perfection. Just after the same manner that a soul, having once advisedly submitted herself to the direction of a spiritual guide, is not to hearken to nor accept from any other any reason contrary to his directions, nor any discouragements from obeying him. And surely, saith he, a much greater obligation hath a soul to follow the interior counsel of God sought by a resigned, persevering prayer, to which our Lord has given an express promise, saying, Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, believe that ye shall receive it, and it shall happen unto you. And such was the practice of B. Angela de Foligno, &c.

21. To this purpose it is very observable, in the life of the same B. Angela, that God commanded her to set down in writing this passage (which is the only one for which she received such a command), to wit, that He would take away His light and grace from those who, being brought immediately to their internal master, would be so ungrateful as to forsake Him, and betake themselves to an external one; yea, and that moreover such should have a curse from Him, namely, if they did persist in receding from the divine conduct, constantly preferring human directions before God's.

22. Yet this advice of being constant to a resolution so made is to give place.1. In case a superior should command anything contrary thereto; for a superior must be obeyed, even against such an interior counsel; because a soul is not only counselled, but also commanded to obey her superiors. So that whensoever a superior does deliberately disapprove a counsel so received, a devout soul is to believe that now it is God's will that His former counsel should cease from being any further obliging.2. In case that any other different circumstances shall occur, which may perhaps alter the state of the difficulty; notwithstanding such a change is not to be made upon this last ground, without new recurring to God for light. Yea, though the reasons for a change be never so clear, yet it is best it should be made in virtue of prayer, to the end it may be done with greater purity of intention.

23. Now in all cases of such like nature, the purpose and resolution is seldom to be made in the very time of our recollections; both because (as hath been said) the thinking on such matters is not the proper subject of prayer, but is very distractive; and likewise because the internal illustrations and motions of God's Spirit are better perceived after prayer, when the soul, having been recollected, doth reflect on them.

24. But it is otherwise in matters of resignation, or when we pray for patience and tranquillity of mind in crosses and difficulties. For in such cases we are to make our good purposes in our prayers themselves, and oft are to renew them afterwards; because such purposes do of themselves presently appear to be clear and obligatory, and besides, they are proper matter for prayer.

25. After that a soul hath made a resolution in the cases, and after the manner aforesaid, and likewise hath put the same in practice, let the issue be what it will, whether profitable or harmful to nature, yet must she never esteem the election to have been amiss; nor must she hearken to any suggestions of nature, the which, finding in such practices something contrary to her inclinations, will be apt by subtle insinuations to move the soul to repent and to undo what she hath done. Such an erroneous judgment, procured by corrupt nature, is to be despised and deposed; for well may we happen to err in the manner of executing such counsel given us by God, and thereby, or by some other means, inconveniences or harms may sometimes befall us; but the election in itself, made in the manner aforesaid, was good, and it would be an act of immortification to blame it, or to be sorry for it. God for our good doth often turn our best deeds to our greatest mortification, and thereby we reap a double benefit.

26. In such doubtful cases as have here been spoken of, a soul must not expect an apparent evident certitude, as spiritual writers say; for God, to keep the soul in humility, does not use to give an absolute assurance of the matter itself simply considered, but only a certainty of being directed and drawn more to one side of the difficulty than to the other; the which side, in the judgment of the said authors, is to be chosen and followed as the divine will. So that any advantage or preponderation, though never so little, towards one side more than another, maketh certitude enough of God's will as for standing to it. If there be no perceptible difference or leaning either way, the soul is either to take advice from some other, or to supply it with her natural impartial reason, or even, as it were, by lots to choose which she thinks good. And what she doth after this manner, she may equivalently be said to do as by the direction and impulse of the Divine Spirit; because it is God's will and appointment that, when Himself does not direct us immediately by His Spirit, we should make use of other inferior external ways the best we can for our direction: in all things always intending His glory and increase in His love only.

27. It would be a vain, presumptuous, and dangerous tempting of God to go and pray to the end to know His will in things commanded by known laws and by lawful superiors, for they are appointed by Him as the most assured interpreters of His will; and to expect any more is to pretend to extraordinary illuminations and calls, which are neither to be desired nor trusted to, because there will be great danger of illusion by the devil's counterfeiting a good angel; and he that is so presumptuous in his practice, deserves that God permit such illusions.

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