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

CHAPTER VII. The third kind of general mortification is silence; the which is strictly enjoined in Stà

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. The third kind of general mortification is silence; the which is strictly enjoined in St. Benedict's Rule. But in these days cannot so rigorously be observed; and why? The conditions of it.

§§ 12, 13, 14, 15. Of recreations now permitted.

§§ 16, 17, 18. Conditions to be observed in conferences.

§§ 19, 20. Of melancholic dispositions; and how they are to be treated.

1. The third general kind of mortification is silence, which is one of the most profitable mortifications in a spiritual life, preventing a world of inconceivably pernicious damages which the spirit of devotion and recollection receives by the superfluity and intemperance of the tongue: the ordinary subject of unnecessary conversations being murmurings, detraction, at least vain and distractive disputes, professions of friendships, news, &c. Upon the guard of the tongue (saith the Wise man) depends life and death; and whosoever accounts himself religious and refrains not his tongue, that man's religion is vain, saith St. James; of such infinite importance is the well-ordering of so small a member -- and this even in the world, much more therefore in religion.

2. Hereupon our holy Father deals with his disciples as God did with a certain devout and holy monk, to whom He left no power at all to use his tongue but only for prayer in the community, being absolutely dumb on all other occasions and times. For in our holy Rule there seems no permission allowed to particular religious for any voluntary or recreative discourses at any times; no, not to superiors themselves. And for spiritual discourses by way of teaching, those were only allowed to the abbots, or to certain seniors and officers by the abbot's express appointment or leave. And when there happened a necessity that an answer should be given by any of the private religious, they were to deliver it as briefly as was possible -- if yea or nay would serve the turn, they must add no more. And it seems answering only was permitted -- not asking of questions, except when necessary business required.

3. But in these latter days superiors have conceived themselves obliged to remit much of this rigorous silence, not only permitting, but even appointing set times for recreative conversations and entertainments; therein complying with the indispositions and general infirmity either of our complexions or minds.

4. Now whether it were true real necessity or no that hath caused such dispensations, I will not inquire. But this is certain, that no ancienter than St. Bernard's days, the rigorous silence of the Rule was most exactly observed; yea, even in these our days, and that in communities of women, there is little wanting of the like rigour. And if religious persons had truly good wills to seek God, they would find many things not very difficult, which in their present dispositions seem impossible, both in the point of silence and also of diet, &c.

5. However, this is certain, that much and willing speaking is the effect of tepidity, self-love, and pride. For commonly it flows from an opinion that we can speak well, and consequently out of a desire of gaining estimation from others, by showing our wits and abilities. But such intentions and designs as these the disciple of true humility and spirituality will abhor.

6. It is very requisite for an internal liver, therefore, at least to observe that moderate and qualified silence required in his community, not transgressing either in the appointed places, or at the determinate times in which speaking is forbidden.

7. A young religious person must not without necessity be the first mover or proposer of a discourse, nor ordinarily speak till he be asked, unless it be to propose a question or doubt in a matter of concernment. Yea, this advice may likewise concern the more ancient, unless we do conceive that they are disobliged from humility and necessary abstraction. Indeed, more perfect souls can, when an occasion of necessary discourse is administered, speak more with incurring fewer and less defects than the imperfect.

8. When prudence and charity require of us to speak, we must be very careful not to make the imperfections of others any part of the matter of our discourse, and especially not the imperfections of those from whom in our natures we seem to have an aversion. And principally we must take heed of speaking or doing anything to breed a dislike between any. Therefore, all secret informings and accusations are most carefully to be avoided, as the ruin of Christian charity in communities.

9. And this concerns superiors as well as others, who ought to be very far from favouring this perniciously officious and uncharitable humour of accusing or informing in any of their religious. Much less ought they to esteem that their authority can extend to the prejudice of brotherly charity, so far as to excuse, or however to oblige, any one to be an accuser or informer against his brethren. A pretence of doing good to their subjects' souls will be alleged by such superiors as are of a curious, inquisitive disposition, and are continually searching into the behaviour of their religious; but little good reformation will ever be wrought by such a humour of jealous curiosity. On the contrary, the effects of it are the breeding of discontents generally in all, and the greatest mischief to the souls of private uncharitable informers.

10. It is more secure for one that is apt to offend in his tongue to be in company with many than of one or two whom he affects. Therefore, particular intimacy and private correspondences between religious is much to be avoided, both for the peace of communities and the good of each private religious person.

11. No words are to be spoken nor action done merely upon the motive of edifying others. And indeed, where recreative conversations are allowed, the most commodious subjects of discourse are purely indifferent things, and such as are neither apt to move passions nor to leave distracting images in the hearers' minds.

12. Upon this occasion I conceive it necessary to add some advices touching religious recreations; the which are not to be concluded fit to be prohibited because we said that the duty of mortification extends itself universally to the whole soul, and that it is to be continued to the end of one's life. On the contrary, not only reason, but the examples of the most perfect among the ancient saints, famous for contemplation, show that it is profitable, yea, at due times necessary. To this purpose seems the story of St. John the Evangelist, the first doctor and example of contemplation, whose custom was to recreate himself with a tame dove; for which, being censured by a hunter that passed by as for an action that was beneath his gravity, and not beseeming one that professed a continual conversation with God, he defended himself to the conviction of the reprover by showing that as a bow, if it be always bent, would lose its force, so the mind likewise would become utterly incapable of Divine thoughts if no relaxation were allowed to it, considering the infirmity of the body, that cannot always supply fit spirits to actions, especially to such as are so contrary to its inclinations.

13. True it is that in our holy Rule there are extant no orders about conventual recreations, which argues that none were practised in those days. Yea, our holy Father takes a particular care how every hour of the day should be employed in common. Notwithstanding after refection he enjoined the religious to retire each one into his cell, permitting them a convenient time to refresh themselves alone, either with sleep, as the custom was in that warm climate, or otherwise as they found themselves disposed, if they had no inclination to sleep, for no certain employment is then appointed.

14. But because in these latter days our complexions are not supposed able to support so great solitude and attention to the spirit as hath been said, therefore hath superiors allowed and ordained daily certain times for recreative conferences, almost obliging each particular religious person to be present at them and besides, at certain seasons monthly, or as the custom is, they have afforded an addition to the diet.

15. Neither doth this prejudice the duty of continual mortification, which is not to be interpreted in extreme rigour, because then nature, even in the ablest complexions, would be destroyed. And besides, recreations are appointed that mortification may be better and more fervently exercised afterward. Add hereunto that, even in recreation itself, mortification may and ought in some reasonable degree to be discreetly exercised, so as that the mind is not to pour itself forth upon that which is pleasant to nature, but to keep a moderate watchfulness over itself, and to refer the contentment found therein to the good of the spirit.

16. To speak a little, therefore, particularly touching such conferences: decency is in gross to be observed, but it will be difficult to prescribe any set order or manner for the talk, as not to speak unasked, not to exceed such a limitation of words, &c. (to omit many particular cautions which at other times are to be observed). Here some more freedom must be allowed, so it go not too far.

17. Among women there can scarce be any recreation if the tongue be too much stinted. Neither is it to be expected that their talk should be of spiritual matters, both because such talk is far from being recreative, as likewise because none but expert persons ought to discourse of such subjects. Indeed, to make such the subject of ordinary discourse even between the most able experienced persons, either men or women, is not convenient at all, except some special occasion makes it expedient. For it usually proceeds from pride, or a willingness to interest one's self in the guiding of the consciences of others, and may produce inconvenient effects in both.

18. The matter and conditions of recreative discourse, therefore, may be: 1. That the matter do not particularly refer to the interior of any of the parties; but if it regard a religious state, that it be about less considerable external matters, as ceremonies, customs, &c.; 2. that it may be something that may be apt to cause cheerfulness, though not laughter (which our holy Father would have banished from his communities). Now discourses about such matters are not to be reputed idle words; 3. it were better to talk of the occurrences of former times than of the present, because our holy Father forbids the inquiring or telling of news in the world, for fear lest the hearers, being interested, may become distracted with solicitudes; 4. it must not therefore be of anything that probably will leave in the minds any hurtful images; 5. the hearer is not to suffer the subject of the discourses to enter so deep into his mind as that it should raise any passions there; 6. it must by no means be of anything by which any one present or absent may be prejudiced or contristated, nor indeed afterwards distracted, &c.

19. As touching those that are naturally of melancholic dispositions, they ought to be exceedingly watchful over themselves that they give not way to so pestilent a humour. Nature will incline them to avoid all recreations and diversions, and being very subtle, it will suggest pretences to justify a froward loneliness, and a humour not able to support innocent conversation, as if this were done out of a love to a religious solitude and recollection. But in all likelihood such a perverse solitude is employed in troublesome disquieting imaginations and reveries, far more distracting than any conversations. Therefore they, or rather their superiors, ought to take a special care that such a dangerous humour be not nourished by discontented retirements, at the times when others are conversing together, and that at all other times they should be busied in such kind of employments as should not be apt to nourish solicitude. Such dispositions, if prudently managed, may prove proper for contemplation, because their thoughts being not easily dissipated, they are disposed for recollection. Whereas, on the contrary, the same dispositions, being neglected and suffered to follow the bent of their natures, they will be in danger to fall into terrible extravagances.

20. St. Teresa in her Foundations hath a particular discourse containing excellent advices how melancholic spirits are to be managed, saying that they ought not to be dispensed from mortifications or employments from which they are averse, notwithstanding this frowardness of their humour. Yet withal, that the superior in his carriage towards them ought to make it appear that all that he imposes so on them proceeds from pure charity, and not any crossness or aversion, &c.

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