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

CHAPTER III. Naturally we love ourselves only.à

§ 1. Naturally we love ourselves only.

§ 2. Even the best and most composed tempers are deeply guilty of self-love.

§ 3. The benefit of such good dispositions.

§ 4. Self-love and propriety must universally be avoided.

§§ 5, 6. A state of afflictions and crosses alone is secure.

§ 7. What use is to be made of prosperity.

§ 8, 9. The great benefits of mortification.

§ 10. A great courage is necessary to the due practice of mortification.

§§ 11, 12, 13, 14. The advice of some writers to raise passions, to the end afterwards to repress them, is dangerous.

1. Naturally we love and seek nothing but ourselves in all things, whatsoever we love and seek. We are our own last end, referring all things, even supernatural -- yea, God Himself -- to our own interest and commodity. We seek things pleasing only to our senses, outward or inward, as if the felicity of our souls and persons consisted in sensual pleasures, opinion of honour, profit, or curiosity of knowledge, &c. Therefore there can be no merit in nature, or actions proceeding from nature.

2. Yea, they who naturally have much interior composedness and stillness of passions, and seem not much to be troubled with rebellion in sensuality, and that moreover have in them a kind of natural devotion, yet even these, whatsoever they appear outwardly in show, are full of self-love, which is the principle of all their actions. If they love quietness, it is because nature takes a contentment in it; and their self-love is more abstruse and more deeply seated in the root of the spirit itself; and therefore ofttimes is hard to be cured because not so easily discovered. Neither indeed is there any hope of remedy, till by prayer they get a light to discover the said secret self-love, and grace by mortification to subdue it.

3. It is true such good natural dispositions may be beneficial to souls in two respects especially: 1. in that by means thereof they fall into fewer sins than more passionate impetuous natures do, and consequently do not put so many impediments to grace. But yet it is to be feared, unless they practise prayer and mortification, they will increase in spiritual pride; for certain it is that nature not restrained will, one way or other, grow more and more inordinate.2. A second benefit is, that such dispositions are better fitted for internal prayer, yea, to the perfectest kind of it, which is prayer of aspirations; so that they may with less labour get out of nature, elevating themselves to God.

4. An absolute necessity, therefore, there is for all souls to mortify nature, and especially to rectify this general depravedness of propriety, by which we are to ourselves our last end, the which is done by the infusion of divine charity, by which ourselves are directed to God as our last end; and a necessary disposition thereto is the mortification of self-love. And thus far all Christians are obliged to mortify themselves, namely to cure the mortally sinful disorders of their souls. A necessity likewise there is (upon supposition of aspiring to perfection) to mortify all deliberate affections to any the least venial defects and deordinations of our souls. This duty of mortification requires of us that, deliberately and customarily, we neither admit into our minds internally vain thoughts, nor outwardly speak or exercise acts of vain love, vain hope, vain fear, or vain sorrow; and all is vain that is not referred to God, or is not done for Him.

5. Mortification tends to subject the body to the spirit, and the spirit to God. And this it does by crossing the inclinations of sense, which are quite contrary to those of the Divine Spirit, which ought to be our chief and only principle; for by such crossing and afflicting of the body, self-love and self-will (the poison of our spirits) are abated, and in time in a sort destroyed; and instead of them, there enter into the soul the Divine love and Divine will, and take possession thereof; and therein consist our perfection and happiness.

6. For this reason the soul is in a far more secure state when crosses and afflictions do exceed worldly contentment and sensual ease; for wonderful seldom it happens that a soul makes any progress in a spiritual course by means of outward prosperity. Some perfect souls may perhaps keep the station in which they are, notwithstanding an easeful, contented, and abounding condition in the world; but it is almost miraculous if they thereby advance themselves in spirit, -- so naturally and almost necessarily doth ease of nature nourish self-love, pride, security, a spiritual sloth, and a distaste of spiritual things.

7. Indeed, the only possible way for a soul to make prosperity an occasion of improvement in her, is by a voluntary crossing and diminishing of it; that is, by taking advantage even from thence to mortify nature: as, for example, in case of riches and honours, by carrying ourselves both exteriorly and interiorly to God and man with more humility and modesty, as if we were not at all in such plenty and eminency; also by suppressing vain joy and complacency in such things, by acknowledging that we are not lords and proprietaries, but only stewards and dispensers of such things, from whom a severe account shall be required for the talents intrusted to us for others' sakes, not our own. So that it is most true that all the security, solidity, and fulness of our souls' good consists in a right use of those things which are contrary and afflicting to our nature.

8. In general, mortification includes the exercise of all virtues; for in every act of virtue we mortify some inordinate passion and inclination of nature or other; so that to attain to perfect mortification is to be possessed of all virtues.

9. The benefit and blessings that come to our souls by exercising of mortification are many and most precious; as, 1. There is thereby avoided that sin which otherwise would have been committed.2. It causes a degree of purity to the soul.3. It procures greater grace and spiritual strength.4. One act of mortification enableth to another; as, on the contrary, by yielding any time to our corrupt nature, we are enfeebled and less able to resist another time.5. It diminisheth our suffering in purgatory, because so much of suffering is past, and a little pain for the present will countervail and prevent sharp and long pains for the future.6. It procures internal light by dispelling and calming the unruliness of passions.7. It produces great peace to the soul, the which is disturbed only by unquiet passions.8. It helpeth the soul much in her advancement in spiritual prayer and contemplation -- the end of all our religious and spiritual exercises.9. It is of great edification to our brethren and neighbours.10. It increaseth all these ways our future happiness and glory.

10. The duty of mortification being so absolutely necessary and so infinitely beneficial, and moreover so largely extended as that it reaches to all manner of natural inclinations, insomuch as nothing does an imperfect soul any good, further than it is cross and mortifying to some inordination in her natural inclinations, it follows from hence that a soul that intends to walk in these ways of contemplation had need have a great courage, since her design must be to combat her own self in all manner of things to which she naturally bears an affection. For the maintaining of this courage, therefore, it will behove her both to use much prayer, and oft to think seriously on the blessings accompanying and following the due practice of it; remembering withal that custom will make that tolerable and even pleasant which at first seemed insupportable.

11. More particularly, forasmuch as concerns those that are beginners in an internal course, they are to consider that in such a state their souls are so full of impurities and defects, that scarce in any actions of theirs at all they do intend God purely, no not even in those that they perform with most advice and preparation, and with the greatest calmness of spirit; much less in actions, though substantially good, in which their passions are engaged. Therefore it is best for them during such state of imperfection in all times and occasions, as much as lies in them, wholly to suppress all passions, not suffering them to rise and swell in them, though with an intention by them the better and more fervently to perform their duties and obligation. The reason is because such imperfect souls, being not as yet masters of their passions, cannot prevent them from causing a disorder even in the superior rational faculties also; so that though reason can raise them at pleasure, yet it cannot so calm them again, nor hinder them from pursuing those objects out of motives of corrupt nature, against which they were employed at first upon superior and spiritual motives.

12. I do the more earnestly recommend the practice according to this advice, because I find that some good spiritual authors do counsel a quite contrary proceeding, as a remedy and means to subdue passions. For they would have souls willingly and purposely to raise them in sensitive nature, and when they are come to a certain height, then by the strength of reason and motives of religion to quiet and pacify them again. As for example in case of an injury received, they advise that we should call to mind all the circumstances and aggravations that are apt to kindle indignation and resentment; and as soon as the passion is inflamed, then to suppress it by considerations of the example of our Lord, and His precept of charity to enemies, of the dangerous effects of revenge, and the blessed rewards of patience, &c. The like they say concerning a sensual desire to any object, they would have it represented with all its allurements and charms, so as to move a strong inclination in sensitive nature, and this being done, presently to suppress such inclinations by strong resolutions and by contrary practices. Only they forbid this practice in the passion of sensual impurity, which must not be revived upon any pretence whatsoever.

13. To perfect souls this advice may be proper, who have an established dominion over their passions; but as to the imperfect, if they should conform themselves to it, two great inconveniences could scarce be prevented, viz.: 1. that they would be in danger either to be unwilling or unable to restore peace unto their minds once much disquieted; 2. by an advised and earnest representation of such objects as do raise passions in their minds, they do thereby fix more firmly in the memory the images of them, and by that means do dispose the said images to return at other times against their wills, when perhaps the reasons and motives to repress them will either not be ready, or the soul in no disposition to make use of them; or if she should be willing it is to be doubted that then such motives will not prove efficacious. Therefore imperfect souls may do best to deal with all passions as they ought with those of impurity, namely, to get the mastery over them by flying from them, and, if they can, forgetting them.

14. Yet this advice of preventing all passions and disturbances in sensitive nature may sometimes cease, when just reason and the necessary care of the good of others shall require that some things be done with eagerness, as it may happen in the case of superiors correcting their subjects, &c.; for then it may be convenient to give some discreet way to passion, without which their reproofs would perhaps have but little effect. Yet even then also care is to be had that they do not thereby prejudice their own internal quiet of mind, and much less endanger to diminish true charity.

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