SermonIndex Audio Sermons
SermonIndex - Promoting Revival to this Generation
Give To SermonIndex : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. That internal prayer was the practice of ancient hermitsà

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

CHAPTER VI. That internal prayer was the practice of ancient hermitsà

§ 1. That internal prayer was the practice of ancient hermits; what kind of prayer that was.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. How it came to pass that vocal prayer became to them internal, and brought many souls anciently to perfection. And why it will not now do so ordinarily.

§§ 7, 8, 9, 10. The great help that the ancients found by external labours to bring them to recollection.

§§ 11, 12, 13. How manual labour came to give place to studies; the which are defended.

§§ 14, 15. The late practice of internal prayer recompenses other defects.

1. That internal spiritual prayer was seriously and almost continually practised by the ancients is apparent both out of the Lives and Conferences of the Ancient Fathers. But indeed there are but few proofs extant that appointed times were set for the exercising it conventually, except in the fore-mentioned story of the monk tempted by the devil to retire himself from his brethren when they were in such prayer. I suppose, therefore, that superiors and directors of souls tending to contemplation were in these latter days obliged to enjoin daily recollections, by reason that the daily, private, and continual employments of religious persons are not so helpful and advantageous to the procuring of that most necessary simplicity and purity of soul as anciently they were; and, therefore, they were forced to make some supply for this defect by such conventual recollections, the which they instituted to be performed in public, because they perceived or feared that religious souls, if they were left to themselves, would out of tepidity neglect a duty so necessary and so efficacious.

2. Now to the end that, by comparing the manner of living observed anciently by religious persons with the modern in these days, it may appear what great advantages they enjoyed towards the attaining of perfection of prayer beyond us, we may consider: 1. their set devotions, what they were; and, 2. their daily employments during the remainder of the day.

3. As concerning the first, their appointed devotions, either in public or private, was only reciting the psalter, to which they sometimes enjoined a little reading of other parts of scripture. For as for the fore-mentioned conventual mental exercise of prayer, it was very short, being only such short aspirations as God's Spirit did suggest unto them in particular, as it were the flower of their public vocal prayers. Yea, and in private, when they did purposely apply themselves to prayer, they seldom varied from the manner of their public devotions; for then they also used the psalter.

4. Now how it came to pass that vocal prayers alone were in ancient times available to bring souls to perfect contemplation, which in these days it neither does nor, ordinarily speaking, can do, I shall declare more fully when I come hereafter to treat of prayer; and in this place I will content myself to point only at the reasons and grounds of difference, viz.1. one reason was their incomparably more abstraction of life, more rigorous solitude, and almost perpetual silence, of the practice of which in these days, it is believed, we are not capable; 2. a second was their fasts, abstinences, and other austerities beyond the strength of our infirm corporal complexions; 3. a third was their external employments out of the set times of prayer, the which did far better dispose souls to recollection, to attendance on the divine inspirations, &c., than those ordinarily practised in these days.

5. No wonder, then, if vocal prayer, exercised by such pure, resigned, humble, mortified, and undistracted souls, had the efficacy to produce in them an habitual state of recollected introversion, which doubtless in many of them was more profound, not only whilst they were busied in their vocal exercises, but also during their external business, than it is ordinarily with us in the height of our best recollections.

6. But a more large handling of this matter I refer to the last treatise, where we speak purposely of prayer. And for this present I will only take into consideration the third fore-named advantage of corporal labours, which to the ancients proved a help to contemplation far more efficacious than the general employments of religious in these days.

7. For the demonstrating whereof it is to be observed that anciently souls embracing a religious life were moved thereto merely out of the spirit of penance, without any regard at all to make use of their solitude for the getting of learning or for the disposing themselves to holy orders. Being likewise poor, unprovided of annual rents or foundations (the which they were so far from seeking or desiring that, in our holy Father's expression, chap.48, they did then only account themselves to be verè monachi, si de labore manuum suarum viverent -- true monks, whilst they lived by the labour of their hands), they were both by necessity and choice obliged to corporal labour.

8. But their principal care above all other things being to attend unto God, and to aspire unto perfect union in spirit with Him, they ordinarily made choice of such labours as were not distractive, and such as might be performed in solitude and silence, so that during the said labours they kept their minds continually fixed on God. Such labours were the making of baskets, or some other works of the like nature, that required no solicitude and very small exactness and attention. And as ecclesiastical histories inform us, such was the charity of bishops and other good persons their neighbours, that to ease them of all care about the disposing or selling of their work, as likewise to hinder them from having recourse to markets for the sale thereof, order was taken that such works should be taken out of their hands, and a competent price allowed them for them.

9. By this means it came to pass that their external labours, being exercised in order to the advancement of their spirits, proved a wonderful help thereto, disposing them to prayer and almost continual conversation with God. And indeed it was God Himself who, by the ministry of an angel, taught St. Anthony this art and most secure method of aspiring to contemplation, when, being unable to keep his mind continually bent in actual prayer, he grew weary of solitude, and in a near disposition to quit it; at which time an angel appearing to him busily employed in making baskets of the rinds of palms, signified to him that it was God's will that he should after the same manner intermit his devotions, so spending the time that he could not employ in prayer.

10. Such were the external daily employments of the ancient contemplatives, and so great virtue did they find in them for the advancement of their spirit. By which means so many of them attained to so sublime a degree of contemplation; yea, and generally most of them arrived to very great simplicity of spirit and almost continual recollectedness.

11. But when afterwards by the most plentifully flowing charity of devout Christians there was not only taken from religious all necessity of sustaining themselves by corporal labours, but they were moreover richly furnished, and enabled to supply the wants of many others, we may well judge that it would become a hard matter to persuade a continuance of much manual labour, purely and only for the greater good of the spirit, when otherwise it was both needless and afflicting to the body. Hence it came to pass that since necessarily some employment besides prayer must be found out for the entertaining of those solitary livers, learning as the most noble of all other, was made choice of, yet so that for many ages corporal labours were not wholly excluded.

12. Yet this was not the sole, nor I suppose the principal, grounds of so great and almost universal a change as afterward followed in the manners and fashion of a coenobitical life. But we may reasonably impute the said exchange of labours for studies in a principal manner to the good providence of God over His Church, that stood in such extreme need of another sort of labourers in God's vineyard; and consequently to the charity of religious men themselves, who, during that most horrible ignorance and depravation reigning over all the world almost besides, thought themselves obliged to repay the wonderful charity of good Christians, by extending a greater charity, in communicating to them spiritual and heavenly things for their temporal. Hence came a necessity of engaging themselves in the cure of souls and government of the Church, the which indeed, for several ages, was in a sort wholly sustained by them; yea, moreover, by their zeal, labours, and wisdom the light of divine truth was spread abroad among heathens also, and many provinces and kingdoms adjoined to the Church. These things considered, no wonder is there if the introducing of reading and studies in the place of manual labours was unavoidably necessary.

13. But perhaps some there may be not so well affected or pleased with the present reputation or commodities enjoyed by religious persons that, assenting to what hath been here said, will notwithstanding infer that, since learning is now become so much dilated in the world by the zeal and charity of ancient monastical religious, there is no longer any the like necessity of their interesting themselves in ecclesiastical affairs, and therefore that they ought to return to their old corporal employments and labours.

14. Hereto it may be replied that even still there is much need of them, considering the far greater frequentation of sacraments in these days above the ancient times. But moreover, if in these times, wherein learning and knowledge is so exposed to all sorts of men, religious persons should quit studies, returning to their ancient employment of manual labours (from which, as hath been said, God Himself did doubtless withdraw them), besides that their ignorance would render them the universal objects of contempt through the whole Church, it would likewise expose them, as for their states, as a prey to all that either envied or coveted the scarce subsistence left them; and as to their souls, they would be obnoxious to be turned hither and thither by the variety of directors that would undertake to guide them; and by these means all men would be deterred from adjoining themselves unto them for continuing a succession.

15. Now though, as hath been said, such a change hath been after this manner made in the external employments of religious persons, yet still the same essential indispensable obligation of aspiring to contemplation remains; for the attaining to which, although studies joined with prayer seem in some regards to be less advantageous than anciently such labours as the Egyptian monks, &c. undertook were, yet it hath pleased God in goodness to His servants in a good measure to recompense that disadvantage by raising up several holy persons to teach more accurately than formerly the knowledge and practice of pure internal contemplative prayer. For since it cannot be denied that to persons far more distracted by studies than anciently they were by labours, (which did not hinder a moderate quiet attention to God) vocal prayer, though never so much prolonged, has not ordinarily speaking sufficient force to recollect the mind habitually, or to suppress and cure the many inordinate affections of corrupt nature: hence it is that the use of appointed daily recollections hath seemed to be of absolute necessity, without which the spirit of contemplation would be quite lost. So that to such prayer we may most principally impute the great lights and helps for contemplation afforded by some later saints in religious orders, and in the world also, to the great benefit of God's Church; that sole exercise in a good measure making amends for all other defects in which we seem to come short of the ancients.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Revival to this Generation.
Privacy Policy