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

CHAPTER VI. Of the mortification of sensual love to meats, &c.à

§ 1. Of the mortification of sensual love to meats, &c., by temperance in refection.

§§ 2, 3. This is a lasting continual temptation even to the most perfect, and therefore to be especially regarded.

§ 4. Defects in refection which are to be avoided.

§ 5. Of disaffection to sensual pleasures to be aspired to.

§ 6. Feasting to be avoided.

§ 7, 8, 9. Inconveniences inseparably attending refection. Yet are we not therefore to abridge ourselves of a necessary measure of sustenance.

§§ 10, 11. Advices touching care to be had in refection.

§ 12. The body to be esteemed an enemy.

§ 13. In what case, and how, we may seek more delicate meats, &c.

§ 14. Certain benefits to the soul by refection.

§ 15. The subtlety of temptations in refection.

§ 16. Perfect souls have an aversion from necessary pleasures and refections.

§§ 17, 18. A sublime kind of mortification exercised by certain holy persons.

§ 19. Of attention to reading at refections.

§ 20. Of Physic.

§§ 21, 22, 23, 24, 25. Advices touching sleep.

1. The love of God is a sufficient and most efficacious universal remedy against all other inordinate affections; and therefore I should have contented myself with that one general mortification of the passion of sensual love, were it not that the matter of corporal refection and pleasure felt in meats and drinks has something in it very considerable in a spiritual life, and therefore requires particular advices about it: 1. Because it is a temptation which unavoidably accompanies us through our whole life, forasmuch as the occasion of it, to wit, food, is absolutely necessary.2. There is scarce any temptation more subtle, for it doth so cloak itself under the title of necessity that even the most perfect souls which have abandoned all other occasions, yet being imprisoned in bodies that need daily refection, are continually exposed to this, and oft surprised and in some measure overcome by it, not being able to distinguish excess from necessity. Hence St. Augustine in his Confessions (lib.10, c.13) most elegantly yet passionately complains of it, describing the subtleness and importunateness of this temptation, which passage being commonly known and obvious it is not necessary to set down in this place.

2. The natural appetite desires food merely for the sustaining of nature. The sensual merely for pleasure, not considering benefit either to soul or body, nor regarding the seasonableness of the time nor any other due circumstance; but the rational appetite or will directed by grace, though it cannot hinder sensuality from taking pleasure in food, &c., yet desires and receives it out of a necessary care of supporting the body for the good of the soul according to the will and pleasure of God, and this in such order, measure, &c., as reason judgeth fit, and not as sensuality would have it. So that if the rational part give way to the inordinate desires of sensuality so far there is a fault committed, the which is not to be imputed to sensuality, but to the superior soul, whose office it is to restrain and bridle sense.

3. This temptation, as it is the last that is perfectly overcome, so it is the first that is to be combated against. For there is no virtue had (saith Cassian) till a soul come to have some degree of mastery over herself in the point of gluttony. And the main mischief of the temptation is prevented, when we are come to cast off the habitual affection to eating and drinking, especially to feasting, the which brings many inconveniences to an internal liver, as: 1. loss of time; 2. peril of intemperance and other misbehaviour; 3. hurtful distractions; 4. indisposition to prayer; 5. intemperance likewise in another use of the tongue, to wit, talking, &c.

4. Imperfect souls, therefore, must make it their care in refections to avoid these special defects, to wit, eating or drinking: 1. too much; 2. with too great earnestness; 3. too hastily, preventing the due times; 4. delicately; 5. with precedent studiousness to provide pleasing meats, &c. In respect of the two first qualities or defects, such souls may happen to offend who yet in a good measure have attained to a spiritual disesteem and neglect of those things that please sensuality; for they on occasions may be tempted to eat with some excess and ardour. But rarely do such offend in the following qualities.

5. Now the marks by which a soul may discern whether she have in her a disaffection to sensual pleasures are: 1. if her chief delight and esteem be in exercises of the spirit, and that she diligently pursues them; 2. if she seeks not after nor willingly admits extraordinary feastings; 3. if being alone she does not entertain herself with the thought of such things, nor talks of them with gust; 4. if when she is forced to take refections she takes them as of necessity and duty; 5. if she could be content, so that God's will were such, to be deprived of all things that might please taste, &c.

6. In case that necessary civility shall oblige a spiritual person to be present at a feast, he may do well to be watchful over himself at the beginning. And this he may the more easily do because then others being more eager to their meat will less mark him. And to entertain the time, which is ordinarily long, let him choose such meats as are the lightest and of the easiest digestion; for so doing he may both seem to avoid singularity in abstaining more than others, and yet in effect eat far less. In a word, let him go thither with a mind and affection to abstinence, and retain such affection.

7. This one unavoidable misery there is in eating and drinking, how temperately soever, that a soul, for such a time and for some space afterwards, is forced to descend from that height of spirit that she had attained to by virtue of her precedent recollection. So that if before she had a sight and experimental perception that God was all, and herself nothing, she will afterwards have no other sight of this but her ordinary sight of faith, by reason that her spirits are more active, and her internal senses filled with images and vapours.

8. Yet a soul is not to abridge herself of a necessary quantity in refection, for her prayers' sake, or other internal exercises, for that would for a long time after do more harm to the spirit by too much enfeebling the body. Neither is she to judge that she has offended by excess, because she finds a heaviness, and perhaps some indigestion, for some space after refection; for this may proceed from that debility of complexion which ordinarily attends a spiritual life, since, as St. Hildegarde saith, the love of God doth not usually dwell in robust bodies.

9. It is not our petty failings through frailty or ignorance, and much less our supposed failings (judged so by our scrupulosity), that can cause God to be averted from us, or that will hinder our union with Him. For, for such defects we shall be atoned with God in our next recollections, or, it may be, sooner. But those are indeed prejudicial defects which proceed from a settled affection to sensual objects.

10. To correct the vice of eagerness in eating, Abbot Isacius advised his monks that when they stretched forth their hands for the receiving of their meat or drink, they should do it with a certain mental unwillingness.

11. Let every one content himself with what God by superiors provides for him, accounting that, how mean or coarse soever, to be the very best for him, and not that which cannot be procured without solicitude and impatience. Neither ought any to justify or excuse his impatience, out of an opinion of obligation that every one has to take care of the body for the service of the spirit; for the spirit is far more endamaged by such impatience and solicitude than anything they can desire for the body can do it good.

12. We have small reason to love the body, for it is that which one way or other is the cause of almost all the sins which the soul commits. To cherish, therefore, and satisfy its inordinate desires, is to make provision for sin, as if our natural corruption did not sufficiently incline us thereto.

13. The infirmity of our body may sometimes require not only healthy but also well-tasting meats, not for the satisfying of our sensuality, but the upholding of our strength, as St. Augustine saith. In which case meats of good relish, even as such, may be sought for, yea, ought to be so, and this for the recreating and comforting of nature; and such corporal consolation may also have a good effect upon the spirit. But where no such necessity is, to seek for such meats is against the rules of religious temperance. And even during such necessity, to seek them either with solicitude or so as may be prejudicial to the community is contrary to religious poverty and resignation.

14. As many defects and hindrances to spiritual progress do flow by occasions of refection, so, on the contrary, to well-minded souls it may be the occasion of some advantages for their progress in spirit. For: 1. It obliges a soul to watch and pray that she be not overcome by the temptation.2. It may give occasion for the exercise of patience in case of the want of things contentful to nature, as likewise of temperance in the use of them.3. The experience of our frequent excesses beyond true necessity may afford great matter for the exercise of humility.4. By the means of refection there are given to souls certain pausings and diversions from spiritual workings, necessary to enable them (making good use thereof) to work afterwards more vigorously and intensely.

15. Vix perfectus discernit, &c., saith St. Gregory. A perfect soul doth scarce discern the secret temptations and subtle subreption of sensuality, urging souls to take more than necessity or obedience requires; and the only light necessary for such discerning comes from internal prayer. And, moreover, till the soul by prayer be raised above sensuality, she cannot have strength enough to resist all the inordinate desires thereof which she doth discern. And when souls are arrived to perfect prayer of contemplation they oppose such desires rather by neglecting and forgetting the body than by direct combats against the appetites of it. And only from the decay and ignorance of such prayer hath it proceeded, that spiritual directors have been forced to multiply such and so many nice observances about diet and other duties of our Rule; all which, notwithstanding, without prayer have but small effect to produce solid virtues in the soul.

16. A soul perfectly spiritualised, if she might have her wish, would willingly be freed, not only from all pleasures taken in refections (considering the daily temptations to excess), but even from the necessity of them, being forced to cry out with David (De necessitatibus meis erue me, Domine), O Lord, free me from these my corporal necessities;' for were it not for them she might always, like an angel, be in continual contemplation, and enjoy a never-failing internal light, the which is obscured by the fumes raised even by the most temperate refections, by which also passions are in some degree quickened. Such souls may indeed properly be said to have a disaffection to refection. And the best way besides and out of prayer to beget such disaffection, and to prevent the harms that may come from any corporal necessities, will be, not only to practise the mortifying of sensual contentment in going to the refectory, but, upon serious consideration of the temptations there to be found, to go with a kind of unwillingness and fear.

17. A most noble kind of mortification in refection is that mentioned by Harphius of a certain holy brother of the order of St. Francis, called Rogerius, who, by means of elevating the powers of his soul, and suspending them in God during refection, lost all perception of taste in eating; and when he found himself unable so to elevate his soul, he would for so long forbear to eat of anything that might afford any gust. But this practice belongs only to the perfect; it may prove prejudicial and dangerous to the ordinary sort of less perfect souls, or any that have not an especial and certain inspiration to imitate it.

18. The like may be said of the manner of mortification practised by some of the ancient hermits, who used to mix a few dops of oil (esteemed by them a great delicacy) with their vinegar, to the end thereby to provoke the appetite to desire more, the which they denied to it. Or of another who, having received a bunch of grapes, ravenously devoured them, partly to make the gustful pleasure so much the shorter, and partly (as he said) to cozen the devil, to whom he desired to appear a glutton.

19. A soul that practises internal prayer may content herself with a moderate attention to what is read during refection. And the like may be said of that part of the office which in some communities is said immediately after dinner. Because too earnest an attention and recollectedness at such such times would prejudice the head and stomach. A soul, therefore, may esteem this to be as a time of desolation, as indeed there is some resemblance.

20. Concerning the use of physic, and cautions to be used about it, some instructions shall be given in the last treatise, where we come to speak how a soul is to behave herself in regard of her prayer during sickness.

21. Lastly, the matter of sleep is not unworthy the care of a spiritual person. For certain it is that a full repast doth not so much plunge a soul in sensuality, nor so indispose her for spiritual exercises, as a long and profound sleep; from whence even a perfect soul will not be able to raise herself into exercises of the spirit without much difficulty and long striving.

22. And on these grounds, doubtless, it was that the midnight office was appointed, to the end to interrupt sleep; yea, anciently the three nocturns were therefore divided, namely, to prevent the immersing of souls in sensual nature.

23. For imperfect souls, it may be very prejudicial for them to be deprived of a convenient measure of sleep, yet it is very fitting it should be interrupted. It is likewise good for them to go to bed with an affection and desire to be early up, for such an affection will cause their sleep to be mixed with a little solicitude, which will dispose them both to wake sooner and to rise with less unwillingness.

24. In case that one being in bed cannot sleep, it is very dangerous to continue in a state of mere negligence and idleness, because then not only vain but very hurtful and pernicious thoughts will be apt to pass into the mind. For a prevention or remedy against which, I should by no means advise one to betake himself to any seriously-recollected thoughts or exercises of devotion, for that would quite hinder sleep for the future and spoil the next day's recollections. (The like I say of the time immediately going before bed-time.) But in case they be simply vain thoughts that then wander unsettled in his mind, let him not willingly pursue them, but rather neglect them. Whereas, if they be sinful imaginations, let him, as well as he can, divert quietly his mind from them, and now and then without much force lift up his mind unto God, or use some familiar prayers, or say the beads without much forced attention; yet more attention is required against sinful than vain thoughts.

25. As for perfect souls, their prayer in such a case will less hinder sleep, by reason it is both so pure and so facile that it is become almost as natural as breathing, and performed without any agitation of the spirits, or revolving of images in the internal senses.

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