SermonIndex Audio Sermons
SermonIndex - Promoting Revival to this Generation
Give To SermonIndex : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. A religious person is not perfect by his profession.à

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

CHAPTER V. A religious person is not perfect by his profession.à

§§ 1, 2, 3. A religious person is not perfect by his profession.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7. Whether, and how far, ignorance of the true end of religion will excuse.

§§ 8, 9. The danger of those that knowing, will not pursue internal ways of recollection, which are the true end of a religious state; and much more of those that discountenance it.

§§ 10, 11, 12. Vain pretences of those that discountenance internal prayer, &c.

§ 13. A Description of an external and an internal monk out of Hesychius.

1. Our obligation, therefore, to tend to perfect internal purity and simplicity being so great and so indispensable, what account, think we, will some religious persons be able to give to Almighty God for their miserable deficiency in this so essential a condition?

2. Religion is by all acknowledged for a state of perfection, not that by the mere taking a religious profession or habit a person is thereby more perfect than he was before, but because by renouncing those distractive impediments which are in the world he puts himself into a condition in which he not only may far more easily aspire to the perfection of divine love, but moreover, by assuming such a state, he obliges himself to employ all those advantages which he finds in religion, as means to approach nearer to this perfection daily, more than if he had continued in the world he either could or was obliged. Which if he do not, he will be so far from enjoying any privilege in God's sight by the perfection of his state, as that he will be accountable to God so much the more for his ingratitude and negligence in making use of such advantages and talents given him.

3. St. Paulinus excellently illustrates this truth by this similitude. He compares the world to a dry, scorched, and barren wilderness, and celestial happiness to a most delicious paradise, divided from this desert by a deep and tempestuous river, which must necessarily be passed by swimming. The securest way to pass over this river is by quitting one's clothes; but few there are that have the courage to expose themselves to the injuries of the weather for a while, and therefore adventure over clothes and all; and of them, God knows, a world miscarry by the way. Some few others (such are religious persons), seeing this danger, take a good resolution to divest themselves of their clothes, and to make themselves lighter and nimbler by casting away all impediments, how dear soever to flesh and blood. But yet, this being done, it remains that they should labour, naked as they are, with swimming, to pass the river. But this they neglect to do, or take so little pains or strive so negligently against the waves and stream, that all they do comes to nothing, they are in as much danger and as far from paradise as they were before. And whereas they glorify themselves because they are naked; that will rather aggravate their folly and make their negligence far more culpable, in that, having so great an advantage, they would not take a little pains to do that for which they cast off their clothes.

4. Now the impediments either much delaying or quite hindering many souls that live in religion, and are naturally apt enough for the exercises of a contemplative life, from complying with this most necessary obligation, are partly in the understanding and partly in the will. Concerning this latter, which is self-love, a settled affection to creatures, negligence, &c., much hath already been said and more will hereafter be added. But concerning the other impediment seated in the understanding, which is ignorance of the true way leading to that perfection which is the proper end of a religious contemplative life, I will here take into consideration whether and how far such ignorance may excuse a religious person that does not aspire to that perfection to which his state obliges him.

5. For the clearing of this doubt we may observe that there may in this case be a twofold ignorance.1. An ignorance in gross that there is any such obligation.2. On supposition that a soul is informed that she hath such an obligation, an ignorance of the means and ways proper and necessary for the acquiring of this perfection, which in the present case are Mortification and (principally) internal Prayer.

6. First, therefore, for the former sort of ignorance, it is so gross and even wilful that there can scarce be imagined any excuse or qualification for it. For what other thought can a soul have, quitting the world and all the pleasures and commodities therein, to embrace poverty, obedience, solitude, &c., but thereby to consecrate herself entirely to God, shown by the solemn circumstances of her admission and profession, the questions proposed to her, and her answers, her habit, tonsure, representation of a death and burial, solemn benedictions of her habit, and prayers of the community, &c. All that are witnesses and spectators of such an action do no otherwise understand it; and indeed, except it were so, what difference is there between a secular and religious state?

7. But in the next place, touching the second sort of ignorance, to wit, of the ways most proper and efficacious to bring a religious soul to perfection. It is to be feared that such an ignorance will be but a small excuse, and that but to very few. For since both faith and experience teach us with what great defects, what inordinate affections, &c. we enter into religion, with an intention there to abate and mortify them; and since even natural reason and daily experience likewise show us that perfection of the soul cannot consist in external observances, which do not penetrate into the interior; yea, without prayer and purity of intention (to be had only by prayer), they do rather nourish self-love and self-esteem; since, thirdly, the same experience convinces us that such vocal prayers as we use and join to our other observances do not produce in us a sufficient purification of soul; no, nor that any other painful methods of meditation (unknown to the ancient contemplatives) do afford us sufficient light and grace for such a purpose, because they pierce not deep enough into the spirit; what reasonable soul but will hence conclude that there must needs be some other efficacious means for the acquiring of the end which we propose to ourselves? And since God will infallibly give light and grace to all those that have recourse unto Him in spirit and truth, it must necessarily follow that the only culpable ground of such ignorance must needs be a neglect of such prayer, and the root of such neglect a sensual tepid disposition of the will, hating to raise itself to God. And let any one judge whether an ignorance so grounded can excuse us; especially considering that our holy Father requires the practice of such prayer in all our smallest undertakings, and teaches us that his Rule is only a preparation to perfection; he refers us further to the examples of the ancient hermits, whose manner of prayer if we would imitate, we should make some approaches at least to that perfection -- to the almost inconceivable sublimity and purity whereof they attained.

8. Now if ignorance will not be a sufficient excuse to any religious person for either not endeavouring after interior purity of soul by prayer in spirit, or endeavouring after a wrong improper manner and way, how much less excusable, nay, how deeply culpable, before God will those be who are sufficiently instructed in the only true internal ways leading to contemplation, and withal are furnished with all helps, leisure, and advantages for that purpose, and yet out of a settled slothfulness and fixed love to sensual objects have not the courage or will to walk in them, yea, perhaps having once comfortably walked in them, do most ungratefully and perfidiously forsake and turn out of them? Reaping no other benefit by their knowledge, but perhaps an ability to talk of them to the help of others, it may be, but to the increasing of their own pride and self-love; so that their knowledge of their obligation and end of their profession helps to lead them further from it.

9. But, above all, most miserable will their condition be who, living in contemplative orders and not having either sufficient knowledge or grace to practise themselves the exercises of true internal prayer and abstraction of life, shall deter others therefrom, and discountenance or perhaps persecute those whom God hath inspired to renew the only proper exercises of contemplation, the decay of which has been the decay of the true spirit of monastical religion.

10. True it is that to justify such undue proceedings and to gain an esteem to their own inferior exercises, partiality has suggested to them certain seeming reasons and pretences against the practice of contemplative prayer, as if it were dangerous, and did expose the exercisers of it to illusions, or as if it were prejudicial to regular observances and obedience; or that perhaps it may diminish the credit which some religious orders have gained in the world by their long solemn offices laboriously celebrated. But (as I shall in due place in the last treatise demonstrate) all these accusations made against contemplative prayer are most unjust and groundless. On the contrary, those that practise such prayers as they ought are most careful of conformity to religious duties, and especially the Divine Office appointed by the Church; and this is out of conscience and with great purity of intention.

11. Indeed, true internal livers are not very solicitous for gaining credit and esteem with the world, and much less would they make that an end of their religious observances. On the contrary, their cordial desire is to live unknown and excluded from the world, approving their souls to God only. Neither are they forward to usurp offices abroad not belonging to them, as of preaching, hearing confessions of seculars, &c., by which the most necessary solitude and recollectedness, which by their profession ought to be prized above all things, are interrupted and oft utterly destroyed. And the more confidently do they express a zeal for these essential things, as being assured that God will not be wanting to supply them sufficiently with all things necessary to their corporal sustenance, as long as they prefer the care of purifying their souls and complying with the obligations of their profession before such inferior things. St. Anthony was so careful of preserving this spirit of solitude and disengagement from all treating with the world, that he forbids his monks to enter into churches frequented by multitudes, and much less would he suffer them to invite and call seculars into their own churches. And St. Stephen, of Grammont, upon experience of what extreme prejudice the spirit of religion had received by neglecting a solitary abstracted life, forbids his disciples in his Rule to have public churches or to admit into their oratories the presence of seculars, or so much as to let them take holy water home with them, or to quit their desert to preach to others. He commands them to avoid confraternities, &c.; and to prevent complaints and fears, lest by so rigorous a sequestration from the world they should be in danger of penury, be most assuredly protests unto them that it is impossible that God should neglect to provide for them that for His sake quit all pretensions to the world.

12. But the true cause of bitterness shown by some against internal prayer (restored by several most illuminated and glorious saints in these latter times) may be feared to proceed partly from some kind of pride and an unwillingness to acknowledge any religious exercises to be more perfect than those practised so long by themselves, or to see that power which they had gained in the managing of the consciences of religious persons, &c., to be in danger of ceasing.

13. To conclude this point. Those that place perfection of a religious profession in anything but in the purity and simplicity of spirit, such may call themselves monks and contemplatives, being yet able to show no signs of such a profession but the habit, and a certain outward, formal, solemn, and severe comportment, under which may be hidden a secret most profound self-love and pride. And they may do well to meditate seriously on that memorable saying of Hesychius, a holy illuminated monk: He that hath renounced the world, saith he, that is, marriage, possessions, and the like, such an one indeed hath made the exterior man a monk, but not as yet the interior; but he that hath renounced his own thoughts and affections, such an one hath made truly the interior man a monk also; and verily any one that hath never so small desire thereunto may easily make the outward man a monk, but it is a task of no small labour to make the interior man so too. Now a sign of an interior monk, saith he, is the having attained to the dignity of pure spiritual prayer.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Revival to this Generation.
Privacy Policy