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

CHAPTER VIII. Of mortification of fear and scrupulosity, which is the most disquieting passion.à

§§ 1, 2. Of mortification of fear and scrupulosity, which is the most disquieting passion.

§§ 3, 4. What scrupulosity is.

§§ 5, 6. Advices here given only belong to such as truly desire to lead internal lives. And why?

§ 7. Scrupulosity, though a pernicious passion, yet is only incident to the tenderest consciences.

§§ 8, 9. Souls at the beginning of a spiritual course are usually very tender and scrupulous. And why? Therefore it is necessary (and easy) to prevent scrupulosity in the beginning.

§ 10. The order according to which the following advices are disposed.

1. The next passion to be mortified is fear; to which we will add grief, not as if they were not quite different passions, but because ordinarily the grief which is in well-minded souls that lead internal lives, proceeds from fear and scrupulosity, and not from such causes as procure griefs in secular minds, as loss of goods, friends, &c., or the feeling of pains, &c.

2. Now fear seems to be, of all other passions, the most disquieting; for though grief regarding the same object really adds this excess to fear, that it supposes the evil to be present, which to fear is only future; and a present ill, as such, is more afflicting than an evil only expected. Yet fear respecting the evil in the imagination, and as yet unknown, apprehends it according as the imagination will represent it, which ordinarily is far greater than in reality it is, yea, as in a sort infinite. And, moreover, such an apprehension sets the understanding on work, either to contrive means to avoid it, or if that be difficult, to invent new motives of unquietness and anxiety, which is far greater in evils in which we are uncertain how great they may be, and how soon they may befall us.

3. The special kind of fear, the mortification of which we are now to treat of, is such an one as is incident more particularly to tender devout souls (especially women) that pursue the exercises of a contemplative life, the which is usually called scrupulosity, which is a mixed kind of passion, the most contrary to that peace of mind necessary in a spiritual course of any other, as being envenomed with whatsoever causes anxiety and inward torments almost in all other passions. It regards sin and hell the most abhorred and most terrible objects of all others; and it is composed of all the bitternesses that are found in fear, despair, ineffectual desires, uncertainty of judgment, jealousy, &c.; and penetrating to the very mind and spirit, obscuring and troubling the understanding (our only director), and torturing the will, by plucking it violently contrary ways almost at the same time, it causes the most pestilent disorders that a well-meaning soul is capable of, insomuch as if it be obstinately cherished, it sometimes ends in direct frenzy, or, which is worse, a desperate forsaking of all duties of virtue and piety. And where it is in a less degree, yet it causes images so distracting, so deeply penetrating, and so closely sticking to the mind, and by consequence is so destructive to prayer with recollectedness, that it deserves all care and prudence to be used for the preventing or expelling it.

4. For which purpose I will here, according to the best light that God has given me, afford such tender souls as are upon this rack of scrupulosity the best advices I can; and such as if they will have the courage to practise accordingly, I do not doubt, but through God's help, they will be preserved from the dangerous consequences of such a passion. I shall insist with more than an ordinary copiousness upon this subject, because this so dangerous a passion is but too ordinary among souls of the best dispositions.

5. But in the first place I must make this protestation, that these following instructions (in which a great yet necessary condescendency is allowed in many cases) do belong unto, and application of them only to be made by such tender fearful souls as desire and intend sincerely to follow internal prayer and other duties of a spiritual life, with as much courage and diligence as their frailty will permit. Such do indeed too often stand in need, and are worthy of all assistance and indulgence that reason and a good conscience can possibly allow, as being persons that will probably turn all to the glory of God and good of their souls, and not to the ease or contentment of sensual nature (which they account their greatest enemy), and much less to unlawful liberty.

6. I do protest, therefore, against all extroverted livers, or any of different tempers and exercises that shall presume to apply or assume unto themselves any indulgences, &c., here not belonging to them; for they will but mislead themselves, and reap harm by so doing. It seldom falls out that such persons have a fear of a sin committed, or of the mortal heinousness of it, but that it is very likely that it is such an one, and has been committed; and therefore, for no difficulty of nature, nor for the avoiding of trouble of mind, ought they to expect any dispensations from due examinations of their conscience, express confessions, &c. Whereas a thousand to one the forementioned tender souls do take those for mortal sins which are mere temptations, yea, perhaps pure mistakes; and therefore to oblige them to such strict examinations or confessions would only nourish their most distracting anguishes of mind and furnish them with new matters of scrupulosity.

7. Now to encourage such tender well-minded souls to make use of these or any other the like advices proper for them, I desire them to take notice that that very disposition, to wit, a tender fearfulness of offending God, which renders them obnoxious to this so pernicious a passion, is such an one as, if they can avoid this inconvenience, will be the most advantageous of all others to enable them to make a speedy progress in internal ways, and to attain to purity of heart, the immediate disposition to contemplation above all other. So that this is the only snare that the devil has to hinder them, namely, by taking advantage from such tenderness to fill their minds full of multiplicity and unquiet apprehensions; with the which snare if they suffer themselves to be entangled, they will find that scrupulosity will be far from being effectual to cure any of their imperfections; yea, it will make contemplative prayer impossible to be attained, and God grant that those be the worst and most dangerous effects of it!

8. Such tenderness of conscience that is natural to many, frequently happens to be much increased immediately after the entering into an internal course of life; and therefore, then, especial care ought to be used for the preventing of the fearful apprehensions which are the usual consequences of it. And the ground of such increase of tenderness at that time is not so much a conscience of former sins, as too severe a judgment of their present imperfections, which seem to be multiplied, by reason of the continual opposition that corrupt nature gives to their present exercises, as likewise because by the practice of such exercises they have a new light to discover a world of defects formerly invisible to them, Hence they become fearful of their present condition, and knowing as yet no other remedy but confession, they torment themselves with anxious preparations thereto; and their fears yet not ceasing by having received absolution, and besides, the same opposition of sensuality against internal prayer continuing, they begin to suspect their former confessions, which therefore they renew; so that all their thoughts almost are taken up with these suspicions of themselves, unsatisfactions in their confessions, &c. And by giving way to such anxious customary confessions, to which also perhaps they are encouraged by their indiscreet guides, they endanger themselves to contract an incurable disease of most pernicious scrupulosity and servile fear, from which terrible anguishes, dejectedness, and heartlessness in all spiritual duties do follow, with danger of rendering the state of religion, or at least of an internal life begun, a condition less fruitful, yea, more dangerous than a common extroverted life in the world would have been.

9. Devout souls, therefore, are earnestly wished to make timely provision against these inconveniences, and courageously to resist scrupulosity in the beginning, according to the advices here following; and above all things to use their best endeavours and prudence (as far as it belongs to them), as likewise their prayers to God, that they fall not into the hands of directors that will feed this humour (to them in such a state most pernicious) of frequent iterated confessions, either particular or general. If such care be had in the beginning, there is no disease more easily curable; whereas by progress it gathers such strength, disordering the imagination, disquieting the passions, and corrupting even the judgment also, that it is scarce possible to find a remedy.

10. Now to the end that the following advices may be more clear and distinct we will sort them according to tha several grounds from which usually scrupulosity doth proceed; the which are: 1. either internal temptations by suspected sinful thoughts and imaginations; 2. or certain defects, or supposed defects, incurred about external obligations, as saying the office, fasting, &c. In both which cases there is a strong suspicion of sin incurred, and an uncertainty of what heinousness that sin is, from whence follow unquiet examinations, scrupulous confessions often repeated, &c. First, therefore, we will treat of fear and scrupulosity arising from inward temptations by ill imaginations or thoughts, and afterward of the other.

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