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

CHAPTER VII. Of special duties of religious persons.à

§ 1. Of special duties of religious persons.

§ 2. A religious person ought to desire to be always under obedience.

§§ 3.4. Qualities necessary in a religious superior.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. That active spirits are very improper to govern such as are contemplative. The grounds of the difference.

§ 10. A fearful example in Bernardinus Ochinus, showing how dangerous the neglect of internal prayer is in a religious superior.

1. Having thus largely set down the proper and only end of a religious profession, to wit, purity and simplicity of soul, to be obtained by recollected contemplative prayer alone, I will further add some more special duties belonging to religious persons, according to their several relations and qualities, as superiors or other subordinate officers, subjects, &c. For as for the proper virtues of a religious state, as obedience, poverty, humility, &c., the handling of them is referred to the following treatise.

2. Now with what mind a devout soul ought to embrace a religious profession is signified to us in that notable passage in our holy father's Rule, where he saith, In coenobio degens desiderat sibi abbatem præesse, that is, Whosoever lives in a religious community is desirous that an abbot should be set over him. From whence we ought that infer that the intention of a religious person ought ever to be to live in subjection to the will of another, and in such a mind to continue all his life. And, therefore, those that readily accept, and much more those that ambitiously seek, government and prelature may reasonably be judged to be led by a spirit directly opposite to the spirit of religion. And surely he that shall seriously consider of what difficulty and of what extreme danger the office of a superior is, what terrible threatenings our holy Father so often denounces from God against a negligent, partial, and unfaithful discharge of such an office, will think it far fitter to be the object of his fear and aversion than of his desire. Therefore that superior that does not find himself more willing to give up his place than to retain it, ought to suspect that he is scarce in a good state.

3. Now to the end that both subjects may be informed what qualities they are to regard in the electing of superiors, and also superiors be put in mind what is expected from them in the discharge of such an office duly imposed on them, I will, from St. Bernard, set down three necessary conditions or endowments by which superiors are to direct their subjects, the which are: 1. verbum; 2. exemplum; and 3. oratio; that is, exhortation, good example, and prayer; adding, moreover, Major autem horum est oratio. Nam etsi vocis virtus sit et operis; et operi tamen et voci gratiam efficaciamque promeretur oratio; that is, Of those three necessary qualities the greatest and most necessary is prayer; for although there be much virtue in exhortation and example, yet prayer is that which procures efficacy and success to both the other.

4. From which testimony and authority, yea, even from the light of natural reason, we may firmly conclude that the spirit of prayer is so absolutely necessary to a religious superior, that without it he cannot exercise his charge profitably either to himself or to his subjects; and consequently that to a superior in an order whose spirit is contemplation, it is necessary that he have attained to a good established habit of contemplative prayer. For (as hath been said in the foregoing discourse concerning spiritual guides) how can such a superior, without knowledge gained by experience, inculcate the so necessary duties of recollection and prayer? Nay, rather will he not be more likely to discountenance those exercises in which he is not skilled, and from which perhaps he has an aversion?

5. Therefore that too ordinarily maintained position of some, that active spirits are more fit for superiorities and external employments than contemplative, which are to be left to the solitude and sequestration to which their spirits incline them, is indeed most unreasonable and groundless.

6. On the contrary, no doubt there is but that the decay of religion hath principally proceeded from this preposterous disorder, viz. that in most religious communities active spirits have got the advantage to possess themselves of prelatures and spiritual pastorships over the contemplative, though the state of religion was instituted only for contemplation. And this has happened even since contemplative prayer has been restored by persons extraordinarily raised by God, as Rusbrochius, Thaulerus, St. Teresa, &c., so that religious communities have been ordered even in the point of spirituality by spirits of a quite different and contrary temper to that for which they were intended.

7. Indeed, it is not to be wondered at that active spirits should so prevail, considering that those who are truly of a contemplative disposition and design, knowing well the difficulty and danger of superiority, how full of extroversion, distraction, and solicitude it is, and what occasions and temptations there are in it to raise, nourish, and satisfy sensual affections, pride, &c., to the peril of extinguishing the spirit of prayer (except in souls far advanced in prayer and mortification), such, I say, are therefore justly afraid of, and do use all lawful means to avoid, the care and government of others. Whereas active spirits that live in religion, not being capable of such prayer as will raise them much out of nature, have not the like apprehensions of such employments; but, on the contrary, being led by natural desires of preëminence and love of liberty, and believing that those who are true internal livers will not submit themselves to all the ways and policies used for the increasing the temporal good of their communities, do not fear to offer themselves, yea, and ambitiously to seek dominion over others, falsely in the mean time persuading themselves that their only motive is charity and a desire to promote the glory of God and the advancement, both temporal and spiritual, of their convents or congregations. But what the effect is experience shows.

8. True it is that it cannot be avoided but that many unfit spirits will oft be admitted into religious orders, very different from the dispositions requisite (though it belongs to superiors to provide as well as may be against such an abuse): but such being admitted, of active dispositions, the best were to employ them in active exercises and external matters, as in the offices of procuration, dispense, building, and the like; but as for prelacies, the charge of instructing novices, or other offices pertaining to the directing of souls, it is to the destruction of the spirit of contemplation to employ active dispositions in such. For how can they, without light or experience, direct souls in ways unknown to themselves, yea, which through ignorance or mistake they perhaps disapprove?

9. Besides, upon exact consideration it will be found that, in the point of government, contemplative spirits that have made a good progress in internal prayer have great advantages above the active. For such being careful themselves to use all due abstraction will less molest themselves and others with impertinent businesses; not prying too narrowly into all passages, as if they sought occasion of showing their authority and ability in making unnecessary reprehensions, to the disquieting of communities; but for peace sake they will sometimes even silere a bonis, passing over many things which do seem a little amiss, wherein they show great prudence and also cause much profit to subjects.2. Such being diligent about their own recollections, do, out of a love for patience, silence, and peace, forbear the doing or imposing of a multitude of unnecessary tasks upon others.3. By means of prayer they obtain light to order all things to the benefit of their subjects' souls; and in case they have erred or been defective in anything, they discover and amend it in their next recollection.4. In the manner and fashion of their whole comportment a certain divine grace shines forth, which is of great efficacy to win their subjects' hearts to obedience and divine love.5. Yea, if by corporal infirmity they be disabled to attend to many external observances, yet a view of the patience, quietness, and resignation shown by them is more edifying to souls under their care than all the most exact external regularities and severities of active spirits.6. Yea, even in regard of temporal benefit to communities, contemplative spirits are more advantageous than active. Because they, not putting any confidence in their own industry, prudence, and activity, but only in the divine providence (which is never wanting to those that for temporal regards will not do anything unseemly or misbecoming their abstracted state), do enjoy the effects and blessings of God far more plentifully, whilst they prefer His love and service before any human distracting solicitudes for outward things. Memorable examples of great blessings attending such a confidence in God we find abundantly in the life of our holy Father and of the ancient monks, and more lately in the life of Suso, St. John of the Cross, &c. Now the want of such confidence in active spirits proceeds merely from defect in divine love, and that from the want of internal prayer. And hence proceed hurtful and unseemly compliances with the world, a regard rather to wealth than good wills to serve God in the souls that enter into religion, &c.

10. A fearful example of the mischief following the neglect of internal prayer in a superior, we find in Bernardine Ochinus, a superior in a most strict order, who was a famous zealous preacher, and, as might be judged by outward appearance, of more than ordinary sanctity; yet withal, to comply with those outward employments, a great neglecter of internal conventual recollections. And when he was sometimes charitably admonished of such his tepidity, his ordinary answer was: Do you not know that he who is always in a good action is always in prayer? Which saying of his had been true, if such good actions had been performed in virtue of prayer, and by grace obtained thereby, for then they had been virtually prayers; whereas actions, though in themselves never so good, if they want that purity of intention which is only to be had by pure prayer, are in God's esteem of little or no value, -- the principal motives of them being no other than such as corrupt nature is likely to suggest. Ochinus, therefore, continuing in the same neglect, was by one of his brethren prophetically warned that he must expect some terrible issue thereof, in these words: Cave ne te ordo evomat, that is, Take heed that our order be not hereafter constrained to vomit thee out of it. The which unhappily fell out; for notwithstanding all his other specious qualities and endowments, he, first forsaking God, was afterwards forsaken by Him, and became a wretched Antitrinitarian apostate. And it is very probable that the greatest part of the apostates of these times (such I mean as have formerly lived in religious orders) do owe their apostasy and perdition to no other cause so much as to such neglect and apostasy first from prayer; the which holy exercise if they had continued, they would never have been weary of their habit first and afterward of their faith.

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