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

CHAPTER I. That the proper school of contemplation is solitude.à

§§ 1, 2. That the proper school of contemplation is solitude.

§ 3. Which may be enjoyed in the world.

§§ 4, 5, 6. Contemplation is by God denied to no states. Yea, in some regards women are rather better disposed thereto than men. And why?

§§ 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. The condition of ecclesiastics in the world is of great perfection. What dispositions are required to the undertaking and executing of that sublime charge.

1. Having hitherto treated of the nature and end of an internal contemplative life in general, as likewise of the general quality and disposition requisite to all those who by a divine vocation do undertake that sublime course of life; and, in consequence thereto, having demonstrated that the only sufficient master and guide in such a life is God and His divine inspirations, by whom alone both disciples and also masters and guides must be directed, it remains, in the third place, that I should show what and where the school is, wherein ordinarily this Divine Master instructs His disciples in this so heavenly divine doctrine and science.

2. Now, by the unanimous acknowledgment of all mystic writers, the only proper school of contemplation is solitude; that is, a condition of life both externally freed from the distracting incumbrances, tempting flatteries, and disquieting solicitudes of the world; and likewise, wherein the mind internally is in a good measure, at least in serious desire, freed also from inordinate affection to all worldly and carnal objects, that so the soul may be at leisure to attend unto God, who deserves all our thoughts and affections, and to practise such duties of mortification and prayer as dispose her for an immediate perfect union with Him.

3. Now though this so necessary solitude be found both more perfectly and more permanently in a well-ordered religious state, which affords likewise many other advantages (scarce to be found elsewhere), for the better practising the exercises disposing to contemplation, yet is it not so confined to that state but that, in the world also, and in a secular course of life, God hath oft raised and guided many souls in these perfect ways, affording them even there as much solitude and as much internal freedom of spirit as He saw was necessary to bring them to a high degree of perfection.

4. And indeed it is an illustrious proof of the abundant, most communicative, overflowing riches of the divine goodness to all His servants whatsoever that in truth of heart seek Him, that this state of contemplation (being the supremest and most divine that an intellectual soul is capable of either in this life or in heaven also) should neither be enclosed only in caverns, rocks, or deserts, nor fixed to solitary religious communities, nor appropriated to the subtlety of wit, profoundness of judgment, gifts of learning or study, &c.; but that the poorest, simplest soul living in the world, and following the common life of good Christians there, if she will faithfully correspond to the internal light and tracts afforded her by God's Spirit, may as securely, yea, and sometimes more speedily, arrive to the top of the mountain of vision than the most learned doctors, the most profoundly wise men, yea, the most abstracted confined hermits.

5. Yea, both history and fresher experience do assure us that in these latter times God hath as freely (and perhaps more commonly) communicated the divine lights and graces proper to a contemplative life to simple women, endowed with lesser and more contemptible gifts of judgment, but yet enriched with stronger wills and more fervent affections to Him than the ablest men. And the reason hereof we may judge to be, partly because God thereby should, as is most due, reap all the glory of His most free graces, which if they did usually attend our natural endowments would be challenged as due to our own abilities and endeavours; and partly also, because as substantial holiness, so the perfection of it, which is contemplation, consists far more principally in the operation of the will than of the understanding (as shall be demonstrated in due place). And since women do far more abound, and are far more constant and fixed in affections and other operations of the will than men (though inferior in those of the understanding), no marvel if God doth oft find them fitter subjects for His graces than men.

6. And for this reason it is (besides that women are less encumbered with solicitous businesses abroad, their secular employments being chiefly domestical within their own walls) that they do far more frequently repair to the churches, more assiduously perform their devotions both there and at home, and reap the blessings of the sacraments more plentifully (upon which grounds the Church calls them the devout sex); insomuch as a very spiritual and experienced author did not doubt to pronounce that (according to his best judgment, which was grounded on more than only outward appearances) for one man near ten women went to heaven. Notwithstanding true it is that the contemplations of men are more noble, sublime, and more exalted in spirit; that is, less partaking of sensible effects, as raptures, ecstasies, or imaginative representations, as likewise melting tendernesses of affection, than those of women.

7. Now though the true and immediate motive of the writing of these spiritual instructions was the directing of certain devout religious souls in the way of contemplation, to the aspiring whereto their profession did oblige them -- and for this reason most of the said instructions are intended to be most proper for such -- yet being a debtor to all well-minded souls whatsoever that desire to tread in the said internal ways, I will here briefly show how they also may make use of my writings for the same end, from thence selecting such special directions as may also as well belong to them, and passing over those that are more peculiarly proper to souls in a religious state.

8. In the world, therefore, there are two sorts of persons that do, or may, aspire unto contemplation or perfection in prayer, to wit: 1. Ecclesiastics; 2. Lay persons.

9. First, as for ecclesiastics (I mean especially priests, to which all other inferior orders do tend), they not only may, but ought seriously to aspire thereunto, yea, perhaps more than simple religious; for their most sublime, and by all ancient saints deemed so formidable an office (by which they are empowered and obliged, with immaculate sacrifices and fervent prayers, to be daily intercessors with God for the whole Church), presupposeth them to have already attained to a good recollectedness in prayer. And if, moreover, they have a charge of souls, they will need a far greater stability therein, that their various employments may be performed purely for and in God, and not break their union with Him. Moreover, by their profession their obligations come near to the vows of religious persons, for: 1. They owe an obedience to superiors, though not in every ordinary action.2. They profess the same chastity.3. They ought to have little more propriety in their goods, for whatsoever is beyond their moderate necessity and obligation of hospitable charity, they can little more dispose of without wrong to the poor, &c, than religious.4. Though their employments require from them more conversation with others than the state of religious does, yet they are as well obliged to disengage their affections from all love or solicitude about riches, &c., as the others are, and in like manner to free themselves from all distractive employments not belonging necessarily to their calling.

l0. And upon these grounds it was, that in the ancient and best times of the Church, scarce any durst presume to undertake so high and perfect a calling as the charge of souls is, till after many years first spent in a kind of religious abstraction of life, solitude, silence, great mortification, and assiduous prayer, &c. Witness St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory Nyssen, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. John Damascene, &c. And yet after they had done all this, it is a wonder with what unwillingness and fear they suffered themselves to be forced to accept of such a charge; what excuses, prayers, flights into the deserts to avoid it! And when they were compelled by God or men thereto, they were far from thinking themselves disobliged from a continuation of their contemplative exercises of abstraction, mortification, and prayer, &c. But, on the contrary, they stole time even from their necessary refections and sleep to employ in their recollections, as knowing that nothing they could do would be acceptable to God further than it proceeded in virtue of grace obtained by prayer.

11. But the best proof and example of the obligations of an ecclesiastical person is our blessed Saviour Himself, who, though by virtue of the hypostatical union He was replenished with all manner of graces without measure, and therefore had no need at all, as for Himself, to pray for more, yet to show an example most necessary to us, He took not on Him the employment of converting others till He had spent the former thirty years of His life in solitude, silence, and all the most holy internal exercises at home, where He lived unobserved and unknown unto the world. And during all the time of His most laborious execution of His prophetical office, besides much prayer exercised openly before others, the gospel expressly says that His custom was at night to retire Himself with His disciples to prayer; yea, and whensoever any great work was to be done, as before the mission of the disciples and apostles, that He spent whole nights alone in prayer. Add hereunto that He utterly refused to meddle in secular affairs or controversies, He frequented the deserts, &c.

12. So that an ecclesiastical person, both for his own sake and out of a tender love for his flock, ought to think himself more obliged than before to the practice of all internal contemplative exercises, and above all others, of pure spiritual prayer, which alone will sanctify and make successful both to himself and others all other actions belonging to his profession. And hence it is that St. Florentius, an ancient holy bishop, first of Utrecht and afterwards of Münster, when he was reprehended by some for spending so much time in prayer, as if thereby he was hindered from a more perfect discharge of his episcopal function, returned them an answer very becoming a perfect illuminated bishop, saying, Quid? Vobis insanire videor, si cum multas oves habeam, multum orem? that is, What, do you account me mad, because, having so many sheep under my charge, I bestow so much time in prayer?' implying that it was only by prayer that he could hope for enablement to perform his episcopal duty, and for a blessing after the performance of it.

13. Such is the duty and such the obligations of ecclesiastical persons. But if there be any conscious to themselves of neglect in this matter, and desirous to repair past omissions by future diligence, they may, if they think good, make use of these simple instructions, which generally in the substance are proper enough for them, if they will only separate certain circumstances and respects in them which are peculiar to religious.

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