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

CHAPTER VI. Of certain sorts of mortification which are more general.à

§ 1. Of certain sorts of mortification which are more general.

§§ 2, 3, 4. The first is abstraction of life. Wherein it consists, &c.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. The second is solitude. Several kinds of solitude. The benefits of it, and the means to procure it. The strictness of St. Benedict's Rule in requiring it. Perfect solitude is only for such as are perfect.

1. After this general distinction of mortifications, before we come to the special kinds regarding the several passions or affections of the soul to be mortified (for indeed the only subject of mortification are our affections, and not any other faculties but only in order to our affections), I will briefly set down more universal and unlimited mortifications, that is, such as regard not any one single passion, but many; yea, either the whole person, or some member that is the instrument of many passions, as the tongue. Such indefinite mortifications are these: 1. abstraction of life; 2. solitude; 3. silence; 4. peace, or tranquillity of mind.

2. First, therefore, for abstraction; the duty thereof consists in this, that we abstain: 1. from intermeddling with things not pertaining to us; and 2. for such things as belong to us to do, that we do them with a reservedness of our affections, not pouring them out upon them (being due only to God Himself). Yet this does not hinder us from doing our duty with a sufficient attention and care.3. That we not only relinquish all unnecessary conversations and correspondences, complimental visits, &c., but likewise all engagement of affections in particular friendships. This last is necessary in religious communities, because from such friendships proceed partialities, factions, murmurings, and most dangerous distractions and multiplicity; for the avoiding whereof it is very requisite that the allowed conversations should be performed in common, for from the singling out of persons by two or three in a meeting, will flow personal engagements, designs, divided from the rest of the community, discourses tending to the prejudice of others, &c.

3. The true ground of the necessity of abstraction is this, because the Divine union in spirit (which is the end of an internal liver) cannot be attained without an exclusion of all other inferior strange images and affections; therefore, by the means of abstraction, the soul is obliged to bring herself to as much unity, vacancy, and simplicity as may be. For this end a religious soul leaves the world, and if she practise not abstraction in religion, she does as good as return to that which by profession she has renounced. To this purpose is that sentence of the Wise man: Sapientia in tempore vacuitatis, et qui minoratur actu, sapientiam percipiet; that is, Wisdom is found in a state of vacancy, and he that diminishes external employments shall attain unto her' (Ecclus. xxxviii.25).

4. I shall in the next treatise speak more on this subject, especially giving advices how an internal liver may without prejudice to his recollections behave himself in distractive employments and offices imposed on him, and therefore I will say no more here.

5. The next general mortification is solitude, which differs from abstraction only in this, that solitude regards the exterior, as abstraction does the interior; abstraction being an internal solitude of the spirit, and solitude an external abstraction of the person. Abstraction may by fervent souls be practised in the midst of the noise and trouble of the world, preserving themselves from all engagement of their affections in businesses or to persons, and ever remaining free to attend unto God. And on the contrary, some souls, even in the most retired external solitude, do wholly plunge their minds and affections in thoughts and solicitudes about persons and businesses abroad, by continual endless writing and answering letters, giving advices, inquiring after news, &c.; by which means they do more embroil their minds, and are less capable of spiritual conversation with God than many that live in the world, by reason that their retired state keeping them in ignorance and uncertainty about the success of their advices and correspondences, they are in a continual solicitude about anything but their own souls.

6. So that if with external solitude there be not joined internal abstraction and prayer, it is rather a hindrance than an instrument of advancing spiritual perfection. Because such a soul is moreover always at leisure to attend to the object of her solicitudes, and so roots more fixedly all internal deordinations of faction, anger, pride, self-love, &c. Hence we see that factions grow sometimes to a great violence in many retired communities, because of the vacancy there to attend to them, the objects of their passions likewise being, in a manner, continually present before their eyes.

7. There is another, which may be called a philosophical solitude, made use of by religious persons, not with a design the more freely to seek God, but to attend to their studies and the enriching their minds with much knowledge. Indeed, study and reading used with discretion, and if the matters about which study is employed be not such as are apt to puff up the mind with pride, or a forwardness to dispute and maintain topical opinions, &c., may be no inconvenient diversion for a contemplative spirit, especially since that manual labours have been disused; but otherwise an inward affection to curiosity of knowledge is perhaps (coeteris paribus) more prejudicial to contemplation, and produces effects more hurtful to the soul, because more deeply rooted in the spirit itself than some sensual affections.

8. The solitude, therefore, here recommended, and which is proper to a religious life, consists in a serious affection to our cell, at all times when conventual duties do not require the contrary; and there admitting no conversation but God's, or no employment but for God. Keep thy cell, saith an ancient holy Father, and thy cell will teach thee all things. A soul that by using at first a little violence shall bring herself to a love of this solitude, and that shall therefore love it because there she may more freely and intimately converse with God, it is incredible what progress she will make in internal ways; whereas, from a neglect of such solitude, nothing proceeds but tepidity, sensual designs, &c.

9. Now to the end that solitude may in the beginning become less tedious and afterwards delightful, religious persons not only may, but ought to, preserve a convenient and discreet liberty of spirit about their employments and entertainments of their minds in private, prudently using a variety in them, changing any one, when it becomes over-burdensome, into another more grateful; sometimes reading, sometimes writing, other times working, often praying; yea, if they shall find it convenient, sometimes remaining for a short space in a kind of cessation from all, both external and internal working, yet ever being at least in a virtual attention and tendence to God, referring all to Him and His glory. For so they can truly say with the Psalmist (Fortitudinem meam ad te custodiam), I will reserve my principal strength to be employed for Thee, O my God;' all other employments (not of obligation) are both for the manner and measure to be ordered as shall be most commodious for the spirit, that it may come with cheerfulness and an appetite to the appointed recollections. Suitable hereto is the counsel given by an ancient holy hermit to one of his brethren, demanding to what he should apply himself in times out of prayer; he answered, Whatsoever thy mind according to God shall bid thee do, that do thou.' And indeed, after a reasonable time well spent in solitude, by the help of internal prayer, a soul will receive a Divine light, by which she will clearly see what shall be most convenient and proper for her at all times to do.

10. Notwithstanding, this caution is to be used, that if in any employment a soul does find herself carried to it with too much eagerness and affection, she is to qualify such eagerness by forbearing and a while interrupting her present exercise, with a resignation of her will to be quite debarred from it, if such be God's will for her good, and actually referring it to God.

11. It is very remarkable the great and studious care that our holy Father in his Rule takes to recommend solitude, and to show the necessity of it, as likewise to imprint deeply in the minds of his disciples not only a great aversion but even a fear and horror of the world. All things must be provided and executed within doors (ut non sit necessitas evagandi), that no necessity may force the religious to be gadding abroad. And in case there should be an unavoidable necessity thereto, prayers are appointed to be made for those that are to go abroad, and the like when they return home; whither, when they come, they are strictly forbidden to tell any news of their journey. All this, as if by only stepping out of their inclosure they were exposed to immediate peril, and that it were not possible to have been in the world without contracting such stains, as that for the washing them away, public prayers of the community were needful. Such was the care expressed by our holy patriarch, who by his own experience had learned the wonderful benefit and extreme necessity of solitude for the attaining to contemplation, according to that of the prophet, by whose mouth God says (Osee ii.14), Ducam eam in solitudinem, et loquar ad cor illius; that is, I will lead the devout soul into a solitary place, and there I will speak words of kindness and intimacy to her spirit.' And to the same purpose another prophet saith (Lament. iii.28), Sedebit solitarius et tacebit quia levavit se super se: The solitary person will sit still and hold his peace, because he hath raised up his spirit above himself' (and all creatures).

12. Indeed, whatsoever spiritual employment a soul hath, and whensoever she desires to have any conversation with God, solitude is the state most proper for it, whether it be to bewail her sins, to exercise penance, to meditate on the Holy Scriptures, to prepare herself for any employment, but especially to exercise spiritual prayer freely. Thither most of the ancient saints, yea, many holy bishops, oft retired themselves; because they knew that in solitude God's dwelling was especially fixed; and after a free, immediate, and inexpressible communion with Him there, they returned more enabled and enlightened to discharge the solicitous duties of their callings.

13. But absolute solitude (such as was that of ancient hermits) was never permitted to souls till after a sufficient time spent in the exercise of a coenobitical life (except to a very few miraculously called thereto out of the world, as St. Anthony, St. Hilarion, our holy Father St. Benedict, &c.); because a wonderful firmness of mind, confidence in God, purity of soul, &c., are requisite to him that without the comfort and assistance of any shall oppose himself single to the devil's assaults, which in such a solitude are more furious; and likewise an unusual measure of spiritual light is needful to such a soul, to enable her to be her own director and disposer in all things.

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