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

CHAPTER V. Mortifications divided into: 1à

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Mortifications divided into: 1. Necessary, and 2. Voluntary. And what each of these is.

§§ 6, 7, 8, 9. Extraordinary or supernumerary mortifications are not to be assumed without great advice. They are seldom allowed in the rule of St. Benedict.

§§ 10, 11. The advice of some, that we should always in everything be crossing our natural inclinations, dangerous.

§§ 12, 13. The inconveniences of extraordinary mortifications unadvisedly assumed.

§§ 14, 15. What extraordinary ones are least dangerous.

§ 16. Signs by which to discern when such are proper and beneficial.

§ 17. Generally speaking there is little need that extraordinary mortifications should be assumed.

1. Having spoken in general of mortification, come we now to the division and kinds of it; and the most general division of mortification is into those which are: 1. necessary; 2. voluntary. This is a division of which we shall have great use through this whole treatise, and therefore it deserves to be explained more distinctly and accurately.

2. First, therefore, within the notion of necessary mortifications are comprehended: 1. not only such crosses and afflictions to nature as we cannot, though we would, avoid, whether they be external or internal, as sickness, want, disgraces, loss of friends, temptations, desolations, &c. (the which, indeed, are the most proper and beneficial mortifications of all other, as being sent or suffered to come upon us by the most wise and good providence of God for our good); 2. but those also that we do or suffer by virtue of our assumed state of life, either by occasion of any law or human constitution, or by obedience and subjection to our superiors, conversation with our equals, inferiors, &c.; 3. those also that we undertake by the direction of our confessarius or spiritual guide (to whom, notwithstanding, our obedience is but voluntary, being to last only as long as we think good); 4. those works that true discretion requires of us, and which to leave undone, or to do contrary, would be against prudence; 5. likewise, whatsoever it befalls us to suffer from any creature whatsoever, not excepting the devil himself, yea, though it were by our own fault that such things happened to us, or were brought upon us; 6. lastly, those things that we accept willingly of, by virtue of an interior divine impulse, with the approbation of our spiritual father.

3. Secondly, on the other side, voluntary mortifications are such as on our own heads, and without the advice and judgment of those that are acquainted with our interior, we voluntarily assume or impose on ourselves, either because we have seen or read of others that have done the like, and thereupon, without further due consideration of our own state or abilities, we will hope they will advance us as much in the way of perfection: such are the voluntary corporal fasts beyond what the Church or regular observance do require, wearing of haircloth, chains, &c., obstinate silence during the times that the orders of the community do appoint conversations, &c. To these may be added an assuming of the task of saying so many vocal prayers, rosaries, &c.

4. This distinction being premised, the devout reader is to take notice that whatsoever hitherto hath or shall be spoken of the use, end, and benefits of mortification is to be understood and applied only to mortifications of necessity, and not to such as are voluntary; and, moreover, that all these instructions and directions are intended only for such souls (whether religious or others) as are entered (or desirous to enter) into an internal course, tending to contemplation.

5. As touching, therefore, the former sort of necessary mortifications, according to the whole latitude before expressed, a devout soul is to be exhorted (as being her duty and obligation) with all courage and fervour to accept and cheerfully undergo them, considering that, besides the forementioned inestimable benefits attending them, they are of great security, free from all peril of error, indiscretion, or pride.

6. But as for voluntary mortifications (those I mean which are properly such) we have nothing to do with them, yea, moreover, I should never persuade a spiritual disciple to assume any considerable mortifications besides such as attend his present state of life, till he can assure himself that he has a good call to them; that is, till after that having spent a considerable time in internal prayer, he have received light to judge of their fitness for him, and grace or spiritual strength to undertake and pursue them cheerfully, and withal has the approbation of his superior or spiritual director. Yea, though he had a body as strong as Samson, and withal a very good inclination to internal ways, I should hardly be the first proposer, mover, and inciter of him to extraordinary mortifications, unless some special occasion required them for a remedy against any special temptations then assaulting him; in which case they are not indeed to be esteemed extraordinary and voluntary (although supernumerary), but, considering the present state, ordinary and necessary. Yea, and if such an one should ask my counsel about the use of such mortifications, and upon examination I should find it to be doubtful whether it was upon a Divine inspiration that he was moved to desire them, I should take the surer course, that is, to dissuade him from the undertaking of them.

7. It is true we find in reading the lives of saints that most of them have practised them, and many even from their infancy. But this shows that spirits fit for extraordinary mortifications are rarely to be found, being only such as God Himself leads after an extraordinary manner, to make them examples of the power of His grace, to the edification of many, using them for His instruments in great works. As for us, we are not to suppose that God esteems us fit, or intends us for such extraordinary matters. Therefore it may suffice us to undergo such mortifications as God Himself has provided for us, believing Him to know what is best for us and most proportionable.

8. In all our holy Rule there is no provision or order made for such extraordinary or supernumerary mortifications, but only (in the 49th chapter) about diet and in the time of Lent, &c. And then it is forbidden to undertake such without the approbation of the superior, the neglect of which approbation is imputed to rashness. For our holy Father, as he knew the inestimable benefit of mortifications which come from God, and therefore he is exact in requiring conformity to the austerities commanded in the Rule; so, on the other side, was he not ignorant of the great inconveniences that probably attend the undertaking such extraordinary ones by imperfect souls, which are commonly induced thereto merely out of a fancy, humour, or sudden passion; for such are seldom attended with any blessing from God, who neither is obliged nor ordinarily will bestow His grace and spiritual strength for the undergoing of any mortifications but such as are sent by Him, or evidently ordained by His inspiration; and experience witnesses this, because we seldom see souls to persevere in those which they assume by their own free election, and while they perform them it is with little or no purity of intention; hereupon it is that our holy Father expressly declares that the Divine inspiration and grace is to be acknowledged the root of all religious voluntary austerities, by those words of his (chapter 40), Quibus donat Deus tolerantiam abstinentiæ; that is, To whom God hath given the courage or strength to suffer extraordinary abstinence, adding withal, that such voluntary abstinences must be offered to God (cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus) with joy of the Holy Ghost.

9. Great caution, therefore, is to be used in the reading and making use of instructions and examples found, especially concerning this point, in spiritual books; because otherwise a soul will be in danger to plunge herself into great inconveniences and difficulties; for whilst she does imitate such extraordinary practices, it is to be feared, being yet imperfect, she will entertain a proud conceit of herself, and not receiving grace to persevere, she will be apt to draw from thence matter of scrupulosity and dejection, so far as perhaps to become disheartened from further tendence in the ways of the spirit. Yea, such a soul will be liable to contract thereby an obscurity in her understanding (especially if she be unlearned), by which she will become disabled to distinguish necessary mortifications from voluntary.

10. It is a very hard, and to many souls would prove a dangerous, advice, which some spiritual authors give, viz. that a spiritual disciple should in everything that is of itself indifferent (in case that several objects be offered to choice) take that which is most contrary to his natural inclination; as if many several dishes were set before us, to eat only that which we least like, &c., and thus to live in a continual contradiction and crossing of nature.

11. Surely no souls but such as are in a good measure perfect are capable of making good use of such advices, for only such can with facility, discretion, and profit, practise them; as for the less perfect, if they practise them with any willingness, it is to be feared that the true ground is because thereby they do covertly comply with nature some other way, nourishing self-esteem, contempt of others not so courageous, nor affording so great edification, &c.

12. It were folly and inexcusable pride for souls not diligently and faithfully pursuing internal prayer, and not yet perfectly practising patience and resignation in crosses and necessary mortifications sent by God, or attending their present condition of life, to attempt the undertaking of those which belong not to them, but are merely devised by themselves; for, wanting a Divine light, how can they perceive or judge them to be proper for them? And if they be unable to encounter difficulties which are ordinary and necessary, why should they think themselves prepared for extraordinary ones? So that there is nothing which makes these to be supportable, but only that they proceed from self-judgment and self-will, and by consequence are more pleasing than distasteful to nature.

13. The inconveniences attending the indiscreet passionate use of such mortifications are much greater in an internal life tending to contemplation than in an active, because liberty of spirit is much more necessary in the former than in this latter, which liberty is extremely prejudiced by such unnecessary obligations and fetters laid by a soul upon herself.

14. And for this reason the supernumerary mortifications which may prove more useful, and which are least prejudicial to this liberty, are those that least work upon the mind; as corporal labours, not of obligation, are more beneficial than the overmultiplying of voluntary vocal prayers, the practice whereof will probably prejudice the true exercise, not only of internal recollections, but also of such vocal prayers as are of obligation. And of all others, the most beneficial are those that regard not-doing, as more silence, more solitude, &c., than a person by regular ordinances is obliged to. Such mortifications as these, if the person use discretion and abstain from imposing on himself an obliging necessity, may sometimes be profitably undertaken by more imperfect souls.

15. I do not, therefore, wholly exclude even imperfect souls from the use of extraordinary mortifications, for such may be God's will that they may undertake them; and upon that supposition most certain it is that they will much hasten their advancement to perfection; as he that runs, if he be able to hold on, will sooner come to his journey's end than he that contents himself with an ordinary travelling pace. But if indiscreetly he will force himself to run beyond his breath and strength, that advantage which he got for a little while will not countervail the loss he sustains afterward.

16. Now the signs and marks by which a soul may inform herself whether the extraordinary mortifications assumed by her do proceed from a safe and good principle, that is, from a Divine motive, and not an impulse of nature and passion, may be these. She may esteem them to come from God: 1. if she bear herself well in the ordinary mortifications of necessity, supporting cheerfully and courageously both the usual austerities of her religious state and also all accidental crosses; 2. in case it be with the advice and approbation of her spiritual director, that is skilful in discerning spirits; 3. if the soul in the continuance of it find a cheerfulness and resoluteness -- for if there follow any discontentedness or melancholy, that is a very ill sign; 4. if the occasion of undertaking it was a quiet, constant, internal invitation, and not some sudden humour of passion, remorse, or some fit of sensible devotion, or an ambition to imitate others, &c., especially if the matter of the mortification have any peril in it to corporal health, &c., for then the impulse to undertake it had need be very certain and strong; 5. if by perseverance in it the virtue of humility be increased; 6. lastly, if it dispose the soul to better recollection and to a greater constancy and fervour in prayer.

17. But to conclude this point: there are very few that need complain of want of mortifications, or that are put to a necessity of seeking them. All observances whatsoever, even the least that are practised in religion, or in the submission to a spiritual director, and much more all contradictions, humiliations, and penances, are profitable mortifications. Yea, even the acts of authority practised by superiors, if they be done (not out of nature, or a love of commanding, but) in obedience to the Rule, and with a foresight that God will expect an account concerning them, are such also. And if all these be too little, a faithful pursuance of internal prayer, together with abstraction of life, will sufficiently abate nature, and will, no doubt (generally speaking), be effectual to bring souls to perfection, if they live out their due time; and if not, yet death, finding them in the right way, will bring them to their desired end. And, lastly, such is the care and tenderness of God towards souls that truly and cordially consecrate themselves to Him, that if these mortifications be not sufficient, He will by a special providence procure others, and such as shall be most proper. Yea, a very sublime mystic author confidently protesteth, that rather than such a soul shall receive prejudice by the want of them, God will by a miracle immediately provide them, or by a supernatural light and forcible impulse direct and move her to find them.

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