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

CHAPTER I. All the duties of a contemplative life reduced to two headsà

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. All the duties of a contemplative life reduced to two heads, viz.1. Mortification; 2. Prayer. And the grounds of that division.

§ 6. The necessity of each of these.

§ 7. How they do advance each the other.

§§ 8, 9, 10. Of the two, Prayer is the more noble.

1. Having so largely treated of the nature and end of a contemplative life in general, as likewise of the only Divine Master from whom it is to be learned, and the school of solitude in which He gives His directions, order requires that we now treat of the special instructions touching the means or instruments conducing to the obtaining of the supernatural end aspired to by us. Concerning which our discourse will not need to be so diffused, considering the large scope that we have allowed to ourselves in the first general treatise, in which mention also was made of much of that which is to follow.

2. Several mystical authors, each one abounding in his own sense, and raising a frame of spirituality as suited best to his own imagination and design, have made several partitions of the duties of a spiritual life, and it is not a matter much considerable which of them should be preferred. But to the end the best ease and help may be afforded to the devout reader's memory, the division of them shall be the shortest that may be, yet sufficiently and clearly enough comprehending all necessary duties, namely, under these two heads of -- 1. Mortification; 2. Prayer.

3. Now to the end that the grounds of the fitness of this division may be better understood, we are to remember that the glorious end of a contemplative life, to wit, union in spirit with God by love, is entirely supernatural and divine, so that it is impossible for man by any natural ability and strength, although he were free from sins, to attain unto it; and much more is this impossible to him in his present state, since he is naturally most averse from it, being wholly possessed and filled with nothing but self-love, propriety, and pride, absolutely inconsistent with such an union. Therefore, the foundation of all our spiritual duties must be a true knowledge -- 1. of ourselves, our own nothing, our unprofitableness, vileness, and misery, which is to be the object of our aversion and hatred; and 2. of the all-sufficiency, universal being, infinite perfections, and incomprehensible beauty and goodness of God, who is to be the only object of our contemplation and love; and, consequently, upon this knowledge all our endeavours towards this end (being directed by a Divine light and assisted by Divine grace) must be employed, first, in removing those impediments; and next, consequently, in approaching directly to God, an immediate union with whom is aspired to, as the only end of our creation and perfection of our intellective nature. We must renounce and fly from ourselves, that we may draw near unto God; we must destroy self-love in our souls, that so the Divine love may be raised and increased in them. Now, it is by Mortification that self-love and all other our natural deordinations, which hinder a divine union, are removed; and it is by Prayer that we directly tend to a divine union. By the former we exercise all duties and practise all virtues which regard ourselves (for virtues are so far only to be esteemed worthy of that name, inasmuch, and as far as they are mortificatory to our inordinate passions and affections, as humility of pride, patience of anger, temperance of sensual desires, &c.), and prayer (in the notion in which it is here understood) includes all our duties directly pertaining to God, as comprehending all manner of internal actuations and operations of the soul towards God, by the understanding, contemplating, and admiring Him; by the will and affections adoring, obeying, loving, and adhering to Him; and, in a word, the whole soul resigning and submitting itself, and the body also, with all things belonging to each of them, to be disposed according to His divine will, both for time and eternity.

4. This division deserves the rather to be approved, because Hesychius, an ancient illuminated monk, in his treatise De Puritate Cordis, hath conformably reduced all spiritual duties to: 1. temperance; 2. and prayer. By temperance understanding the very same that is here meant by mortification; for, as he expresses his meaning, this temperance is a general abstaining from all things that would any way disorder the affections, or obscure the light of the soul. He calls it likewise Custodiam Cordis, a guard or watch set over the heart, forcing it to repel all vain and unprofitable thoughts, which, if they be too freely admitted, do hinder from observing the snares and suggestions of the devil or of our corrupt nature, and do withal disturb the tranquillity of the soul.

5. In those two duties, therefore, of mortification and prayer, all good is comprehended; for by the exercise of mortification those two general most deadly enemies of our souls, self-love and pride, are combated and subdued, to wit, by the means of those two fundamental Christian virtues of divine charity and humility. And prayer, exercised in virtue of these two, will, both by way of impetration obtain, and also with a direct efficiency ingraft, a new divine principle and nature in us, which is the Divine Spirit; which will become a new life unto us, and the very soul of our souls, by degrees raising us higher and higher out of our corrupt nature, till at last we be made one with God, by an union as perfect, constant, and immediate as in this frail life an intellective soul is capable of.

6. And both these duties of mortification and prayer are so absolutely necessary that they must neither of them ever cease, but continually increase in perfection and virtue to the end of our lives. For though self-love and pride may by mortification be subdued, yet as long as we are imprisoned in mortal bodies of flesh and blood, they will never be totally rooted out of us, but that even the most perfect souls will find in themselves matter enough for further mortification. And again, our union with God by prayer can never either be so constant but that it will be interrupted, so as that the soul will fall from her height back some degrees into nature again; nor is there any degree of it so perfect, pure, and spiritual, but that it may, and by exercise will, become yet more and more pure without all limits.

7. The diligent exercise of each of these doth much advance the practice of the other. For as mortification is a good disposition to prayer, yea, so necessary that a sensual immortified soul cannot raise herself up so much as to look to God with any cordial desire to please Him, or to love and be resigned to Him, much less to be perfectly united to Him; so, likewise, by prayer the soul obtains light to discover whatsoever inordinate affections in her are to be mortified, and also strength of spiritual grace actually and effectually to subdue them.

8. Hence it may easily appear that of these two prayer is much the more valuable and noble exercise.1. Because in prayer of contemplation consists the essential happiness both of this life and that which is to come; so that mortification regards prayer as the means disposing to an end; for, therefore, a devout soul is obliged to mortify her inordinate affections, to the end she may thereby be disposed to a union with God.2. Because mortifications are never duly and profitably undergone but only in virtue of prayer. Whereas, possible it may be, that prayer alone may be considerably advanced without any other notable mortifications, in case that God hath provided none for the soul.3. Because prayer is withal in itself the most excellent and effectual mortification; for in and by it the most secret risings of inordinate passions are contradicted, yea, the mind and superior will are wholly abstracted and elevated above nature, so that for the time all passions are quieted, and all creatures, especially ourselves, transcended, forgotten, and in a sort annihilated.

9. Notwithstanding, in case that God, as He seldom fails, do provide for us occasions of mortification out of prayer, if we be negligent in making good use of them to the promoting of ourselves in spirit, we shall decrease both in grace and prayer; as, on the contrary, by a good use of them we shall both certainly and speedily be advanced in the ways of the Spirit. So that neither of them alone is to be relied on. Mortification without prayer will be but superficial, or, it is to be feared, hypocritical; and prayer, with a neglect of mortification, will be heartless, distracted, and of small virtue.

10. The subject, therefore, of this and the following treatise being a recommendation of these two most necessary and most excellent instruments of contemplation, reason requires that of the two mortification should, in the first place, be treated of, inasmuch as it is not only the less perfect, but because, also, the proper use of it is to dispose and make even and plain the way to the other, by levelling the mountains of pride, raising the valleys of sloth, and smoothing the roughness and inequalities of our passions, but especially by removing out of the way that general impediment, which is propriety of our natural carnal wills.

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