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

CHAPTER III. Of a religious state.à

§ 1. Of a religious state.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5. How we are to understand and interpret, the great commendations and privileges given to a religious state by St. Bernard, &c.

§§ 6, 7. A religious state is secure and happy, but yet to those only that are careful to reform and purify their interior.

1. Hereafter the instructions following are most especially to be directed to souls living in a religious profession (I intend especially such an one as is, according to the rule of St. Benedict, St. Bruno, &c.,) the most proper school of contemplation. A state of life certainly the most happy, quiet, and secure (if rightly undertaken and accordingly pursued), of any in God's Church. Concerning which my purpose is in this place to treat, not in its whole latitude (for a great volume would scarce suffice for such a discourse), but only with relation to the end designed in it, to wit, contemplation, intending seriously to press the obligation that religious persons have to aspire thereto, and the great advantages afforded therein for that purpose.

2. But as St. Augustine worthily finds fault with those that do too indiscreetly and excessively commend to secular persons living in the world, either a monastical or a clerical profession; yea, and to heretics or infidels, even the Church itself; taking notice only of the perfections of those who in each of these are the most perfect, and forgetting or purposely omitting to forewarn men that they are not to be scandalised if they meet with some also who have no part in those commendations and felicities; by which it comes to pass that, finding what they did not expect, they fall back, not only to a disesteem, but also to a hatred of that which was so excessively and unwarily commended to them: upon the same grounds I think myself obliged to forewarn my readers that they do not too inconsiderately read and attend to all that they find written in commendations of a religious state, lest being too much taken with what they read, imagining the outward habit and interior virtues inseparable companions, and thereupon, having undertaken such a profession, and there missing in some what they in all expected, they be in danger either of living discontented lives, or perhaps even of finding themselves in a worse estate for their souls (because improper for them and unproportionable to their forces), than if they had continued in the world.

3. Moreover, devout souls when they read modern spiritual authors treating of a religious state, dilating much upon the great blessings attending it, and with choice passages out of the ancient holy Fathers, pleasing histories, and elegant characters describing: 1. the nobleness and excellency of that life, wherein honours, pleasure, empire, and whatsoever the world can tempt mankind withal, are trampled under foot; 2. the great security that it affords unto souls, which thereby are exempted from the devil's snares, living continually in the presence, favour, and familiarity with God; 3. the inexpressible sweetness and consolations enjoyed by His conversation, &c.; -- in reading such passages, I say, just and reasonable it is that well-meaning souls should thereby be encouraged to aspire to such eminent blessings truly attributed to the same state, if God by His divine providence shall give them a free way thereto. But yet they are withal to know that such privileges do not belong to the exterior profession of the said state; for the more noble and excellent it is when the obligations thereof are duly corresponded with, the more do they abase themselves that live negligently and unworthily in it. And though it be a great step to a happy security to be secluded from the world's temptations, yet unless in religion we fly from ourselves also, we will find but danger enough. And lastly, true it is that the consolations that attend an assiduous conversation with God in prayer are most desirable and admirable; but they are withal purely spiritual, and not to be expected till souls have lost the taste of sensual pleasures and ease.

4. Hereupon it is observable how prudently, and withal how ingenuously, our holy patriarch St. Benedict deals with souls newly coming to a religious conversion. He commands that his Rule be several times read to them, that so they may be sufficiently informed what God and superiors expect from them through the whole following course of their lives. In the which Rule, though the prologue does with winning promises invite the readers to a participation of the inestimable blessings of a religious life, yet (in the 58th chapter, where is set down the discipline and order to be observed in the admission and profession of new-comers) he ordains that such shall not without great difficulty be admitted; yea, that they shall be treated rudely, with contempt and opprobrious usage; all manner of unpleasant, harsh, and rough things must be inculcated to them, &c. And all this is done to the end to try whether they bring with them that courageous resolution and patience, by which alone the incomparable blessings of a religious state are to be purchased.

5. In the same sense, and with the same conditions, we are to understand the nine privileges that St. Bernard affirms are to be found in a religious state. For surely it was far from his meaning to apply the said privileges to any but industrious souls, whose principal care is to purify themselves interiorly, and not at all to tepid persons that neglect to correspond to their profession. For who but the industrious and vigilant: 1. do live more purely than men do in the world; 2. or fall more seldom; 3. or rise more speedily; 4. or walk more warily; 5. or rest more securely; 6. or are visited by God more frequently; 7. or die more confidently; 8. or pass their purgatory more speedily; 9. or are rewarded in heaven more abundantly? On the contrary, it is justly to be feared, yea, too certain it is, that habitually tepid and negligent souls in religion are in a far worse state, more immortified, more cold in devotion, more estranged from God every day than others, considering that, in the midst of the greatest advantages and helps to fervour and purity, they will continue their negligence; and therefore they must expect, for their obstinate ingratitude and for their offending against so great light, that they shall be more severely punished by Almighty God than others the like that live in the world.

6. How ridiculous, therefore, would it be for any to boast and say, God be thanked, I have been so many years a professed religious person, in an Order that hath produced so many thousand saints; that hath had so many popes; that received so many emperors, kings, queens, and princes; that hath so flourished with riches, learning, piety, &c. As if those good successes to some were sufficient security to all, so that they should need no more than only to be of such an Order.

7. For the undeceiving, therefore, of such as are strangers to a religious profession, and for the admonishing and encouraging of those that have already embraced it to comply with the obligations of it, that so they may enjoy all the incomparable privileges and perfections then indeed belonging to it -- I will employ the following discourse, principally demonstrating that the principal thing to be intended in a religious profession is the incessant purifying of the interior, which is an attempt the most glorious, but withal the most difficult and most destructive to sensual ease and contentment of all other. This ought to be the motive of those that enter into it, and the principal, yea, almost the sole, employment of those that live in it. Whereto I will add a few instructions more especially belonging to superiors, officers, private religious, and novices respectively.

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