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

CHAPTER XIV. Of the mortification of our natural inclination to liberty or independencyà

§§ 1, 2. Of the mortification of our natural inclination to liberty or independency, by the virtue of Obedience.

§§ 3, 4. Obedience likewise regards God, either mediately or immediately. And that it is easier to obey God than man.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8. The obligation laid by our holy Rule on subjects to discover their internal defects to superiors is now much out of use. And how this is come to pass.

§ 9. Obedience earnestly pressed by St. Benedict.

§ 10. It ought to proceed from the soul.

§§ 11, 12. Of the doctrine of casuists limiting or dispensing with regular Obedience; and what use is to be made of it.

§§ 13, 14. Special advices thereabouts to scrupulous souls.

§ 15. Truly perfect obedience has no limits.

§§ 16, 17, 18. Several defects in obedience.

§§ 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. How a soul is to behave herself in obediences, in things prejudicial, and in such as are pleasing to nature.

§ 24. An example of perfect simplicity in obedience.

§ 25. Of obedience to brethren required in our Rule.

§ 26. Prayer a necessary means to beget obedience.

1. The second depravation of the will which is to be mortified is a natural love of liberty and independence, as also an ambition to dispose and rule others; and the proper virtue whereby this is mortified is (religious) Obedience, which is a branch of Humility, as the aforesaid depravation is of pride.

2. Obedience, therefore, as well as Humility, doth principally regard God, even when it is performed to man. And indeed unless our obedience to creatures do flow from our obedience due to God, it will never advance or perfectionate the soul, but rather nourish all depraved affections in it, as having its root in self-love, servile fear, yea oft in pride itself; whereas, if it be grounded on our duty to God, the soul thereby will become so humble, supple, and pliable, that it will not refuse to subject itself to the meanest creatures, it will cheerfully suffer all crosses, contradictions, and pressures, both external and internal.

3. Obedience is performed either: 1. immediately to God alone; 2. or immediately to man, but for God's sake. We will in this place only treat of this latter; for as for the other, it comprehends all the duties of piety and devotion, whether external or internal, and therefore needs not be spoken of particularly.

4. To submit one's self to man for God's sake, or out of love to God, is much harder than to do it immediately to God (and consequently it is in that regard more meritorious, and will most efficaciously and speedily bring a soul to perfection). The reasons of the greater difficulty in our obedience to men are: 1. Because we acknowledge our superior to be God's substitute, yet we are not always convinced that his particular commands proceed from him as such, but rather from passion, natural interests, aversion, &c., so that we cannot see his commands to be so reasonable (as God's are acknowledged to be), nor that obedience to them will produce so much good to the soul.2. Because we know our superior cannot see nor judge the heart, but may err and be mistaken, so that it is not easy to submit the mind to one that has no right over it, nor power to see his commands perfectly executed.

5. For this reason it is that our holy Father, knowing the wonderful virtue and efficacy of obedience proceeding from the heart, requires in his holy Rule that subjects should in a sort communicate to their superiors that proper attribute of God, who calls Himself a seer and searcher of the heart; with humility and simplicity discovering unto them all their considerable imperfections in thoughts; and this he does not only out of an eye to the benefit that may come by the sacrament of penance, for this was to be done though the superior were no priest (as anciently oft they were not), but the ends of this obligation were: 1. For the more perfect humiliation of the subject, and a mortification of that natural aversion that we have from the discovering and submitting to the censures of others our secret defects.2. To the end that the superior might be enabled to govern his subjects for their spiritual advancement.

6. We may reasonably impute to the disuse of this obligation the great decay of religious discipline and perfection in the world; because now, generally speaking, superiors know no more of their subjects but what they chance to observe in their outward behaviour, for as for internal matters (which are the principal), they all pass between each religious person and a private chosen confessarius.

7. But withal the disuse of the said obligation we are to impute: 1. Partly to the tepidity of subjects and their want of care to be governed by a way absolutely the best for themselves, however very heavy to corrupt nature.2. But principally to the incapacity and insufficiency of superiors, in regard of which such a change of the said custom was esteemed even necessary.

8. Surely this most excellent practice had never been brought into disuse, or would again be restored, if superiors (according as our holy Rule requires, and as in the primitive times they were) had continued, or generally now were: 1. Themselves practised in a spiritual course of prayer and contemplation, and would consider that their duty is to direct their subjects' souls in the same way.2. If they had the spirit of discretion and light to discern the several dispositions and capacities of their subjects' souls in order to their principal end.3. If in whatsoever impositions they lay on them beyond the observances of the Rule, they would regard whether thereby their subjects (considering their several tempers) are likely to be advanced or hindered in their spiritual course, and not esteem that it is a sufficient justification for them that the things in themselves are not ill, and their end therein is to mortify their subjects' wills and passions; for such mortifications there may be as will endanger to extinguish the light that is in their subjects' souls, by drawing them to multiplicity, &c., so that no other impositions or mortifications are excusable but such as right reason enlightened by grace would judge necessary, and such as God Himself would ordain for them.4. Especially if they would abstain from laying such encumbrances on their subjects as are lasting, and regard not only the exterior but interior also, distracting the memory, confounding the understanding, and breeding perplexity in their minds, or, in a word, that are prejudicial to internal prayer (for indeed impositions are to be accounted only so far to be encumbrances).5. Lastly, if they did require obedience from their subjects, not to show their own authority, but only to benefit their subjects' souls thereby (without which intention their office becomes merely secular, &c.). If, I say, superiors had remained thus qualified, there would never have been any sufficient occasion to dispense with such an order prescribed by our holy Father, touching the subjects' revealing to the superior their most secret imperfections, even in thoughts.

9. But however, matters standing as they now do, and obedience being divided, as it were, between a regular and a spiritual director, the subject is to perform to each the obedience which is due; yet with this difference, that he is to consider that the obligation of obedience to a spiritual director, voluntarily chosen by the subject and changeable at pleasure, is far less strict than to a superior, who has God's authority communicated to him, confirmed by the Church, ratified by a solemn vow, by virtue of which we have given up our wills wholly to the wills of our superiors. Insomuch as that our holy Father (in the 5th chap. of the Rule) requires a performance of this duty on no meaner motives than the hope of heaven, the fear of hell, and, which is the most perfect of all other, the love of God; for, with he, obedience without delay is proper to them who esteem nothing dearer to themselves than Christ.

10. Now since the only principal end why a religious person has engaged himself in a life of obedience is the good and advancement of his soul, and not any temporal convenience, as in secular governments, therefore, notwithstanding the common saying that our souls are exempted from human jurisdiction, and notwithstanding that in these days, as hath been said, superiors are not always the directors of their subjects' consciences, -- yet unless their commands be obeyed in purity of heart, as for God's sake, and with submission not only of the outward but inward man also, that is, both the will and judgment, such obedience is not at all meritorious nor conformable to the general design of a religious life and to their vows of profession. For if all Christians, as St. Paul teacheth, be obliged to obey secular superiors, and servants their masters, not for fear of wrath or punishment, but for conscience' sake, and in order to God, who hath invested them with authority, intending principally the good of their souls in all manner of exterior obligations, surely this doth much more strictly hold in religious obedience, which was ordained and hath been undertaken only for the benefit of the soul.

11. Therefore, whereas later doctors and casuists have found out exemptions in many cases abridging the authority of superiors, and disobliging subjects from obedience, a religious subject that seriously aspires to perfection according to his profession will be very wary how he makes use of the advantages and dispensations afforded him, considering that although by such disobedience he may perhaps escape the punishment of external laws, yet he will not esteem himself quit from his obligation to obey, unless the things unduly commanded be such as are inconsistent with his duty to God, and manifestly prejudicial to his soul.

12. Moreover, a truly humble internal liver will very rarely, and not without extreme necessity, make use of that just liberty of appealing from an immediate superior allowed by the laws of the Church; and this he will never do for the ease of nature, or the satisfying of any passion, but purely for the good of the soul. Indeed, I do scarce know any case in which an appeal may be fit to be used by such souls, except perhaps when they find that their immediate superior, either out of ignorance or a disaffection to spiritual prayer, shall abridge their subjects of time and means necessary for the exercise of it, either by overburdening them with distractive and solicitous employments, or as it were purposely; and this frequently and customarily imposing on them obediences at the times appointed and proper for prayer. Yet surely the case must needs be extraordinary if a soul cannot, by using her dexterity and prudence, recover each day two half-hours for recollection.

13. Notwithstanding, some good use may be made of the opinion of doctors, touching the limits and bounds prescribed to the authority of superiors, and the degrees of obligation to such authority, for the necessary ease of devout, tender, and scrupulous souls. Not that such are to be encouraged to dispense with themselves in the duties required thereby, but lest they, out of tenderness in suspecting oft a mortal sin to have been committed by disobedience where perhaps there was scarce any fault at all, should be disquieted, perplexed, and hindered from reaping any benefit by prayer or any other duties. And indeed little danger is there that souls so disposed should from any larger interpretations make advantage to the ease of nature or the satisfaction of an inordinate passion.

14. Such souls, therefore, may know: 1. That the authority of superiors is not illimited, but confined to certain conditions, as that it must be juxta regulam, neither besides nor above the Rule, and that their command must be ad edifacationem, and not ad destructionem, &c.2. That disobedience to their commands which are according to the Rule is not a mortal offence, unless the matters commanded be in themselves of more than ordinary importance, and that a command be expressly given, and with signification that their intention is that it should so oblige, and that the subject has not ground to judge that if the superior were present he would not have urged such an obedience so strictly.3. That in matters of lesser moment a disobedience mortally sinful is not committed, unless it be done with manifest contempt, that is, as St. Bernard (lib. de Precept. et Dispens.) interprets it, When the subject will neither obey nor submit to correction for disobedience.' So that all faults that are committed by one that really has a mean or contemptuous opinion of his superior, and which without such a precedent unfit opinion would not have been committed, are not to be called in this sense sins out of contempt, unless the subject renounce correction -- a fault that such tender souls are incapable of committing, &c.

15. Perfect obedience, saith the same St. Bernard, knows no ends or limits: it extends itself to all lawful things pertaining either to body or soul, and to all actions, both external and internal (as far as these last are voluntarily submitted to him), insomuch as that our holy Father, to cut off all pretences of disobedience, does not except even things impossible; so that if such things as not only in the faint-hearted opinion of the subject are esteemed such, but really are impossible, should be seriously and considerately imposed by a discreet superior (for trial), the subject is obliged to do his endeavour toward the effecting of them, so they be lawful and not destructive to the subject's life. Yea, we find examples of saints that upon commands of superiors have cast themselves into rivers, or leaped down precipices, or taken coals of fire into their hands, &c. But we are to suppose that, in these cases, there was a special divine instinct both in the superior commanding and the subjects obeying, as the events showed, the said subjects having never miscarried, but been miraculously delivered from any harm by what they so did in obedience; and therefore the like examples cannot be drawn into a rule.

16. The several defects in point of obedience (the avoiding of which defects constitutes several degrees of true religious obedience) are reckoned by Turrecremata to be these which follow, viz.: 1. To do some, but not all things enjoined.2. If all, yet imperfectly and incompletely.3. Or not in the manner requisite.4. Or not upon the first simple bidding, but expecting a second command, or perhaps one in form and in virtue of obedience.5. Or to do it with reluctance and unwillingness.6. Or after discussing the reasonableness and lawfulness of the command.7. To go slowly and lazily about it.8. To do it rashly and without fit preparation.9. For want of a resolute purpose beforehand to obey absolutely and universally, to be in a readiness to contradict when commands come upon the sudden, rather than to hasten to obey.10. Then to obey indeed, yet not without repining, or at least a show of it in the countenance.11. Or, however, with sadness and dejectedness.12. To obey in greater matters, but not so readily in small.13. To obey in the substance of the thing commanded, but not according to the intention of the superior or law.14. The command being unpleasing, to suspect or judge ill of the superior's intention.15. To make pretended excuses of insufficiency.16. To be of so troublesome and froward an humour as to discourage the superior from imposing any commands.17. Out of an opinion of one's own judgment or sufficiency, to slight the superior's way of government.18. To seek to draw the superior to one's own way and opinions, and so in effect to become as superior.19. When one does the thing commanded, to do it with a willing fraudulent insufficiency.20. Not to do it with all cheerfulness and readiness.21. Lastly, not to obey with a perfect intention for God's glory and love.

17. Now lest a beginner should be discouraged, seeing so many conditions requisite to perfect obedience, and so many defects to be avoided, he must consider that God does not expect at the first from him an obedience in all points perfect. It is well that he do the command without sin, that is, not making the principal motive to be outward sensual respects, and without behaving himself with a deliberate defectuousness, murmuring, &c. By practice in obeying according to one's power, a soul will by little and little wear out the defects, as it is in the learning of any art or trade. An obedience, though imperfect, so it be not sinful, meriteth somewhat; and besides, it disposeth the person to amend it the next time, by taking notice of the defect and being willing to be admonished.

18. It is no marvel, neither is it a fault, that the body being wearied and exhausted with many obediences, there should thereupon be found in inferior nature a reluctance. But the mind or will should never be weary or backward, but remain ever invincible, forcing inferior nature to comply to the utmost of her power, but yet according to discretion.

19. In case a superior command a subject things not only heavy and grievous to nature, but even such as are apparently contrary to health and corporal strength, as a rigorous conformity to regular abstinence, fastings, watchings, &c., the subject must neither refuse the command nor show any unwillingness to obey; but having, after good consideration and experience, found himself unable and infirm, he may lawfully declare unto the superior such his infirmity, so he do it (as the Rule expresses it, patienter et opportune) with patience, and taking an opportune time for it, not suddenly, querulously, and in a passion. But in case the superior do persist, the subject must obey, submitting both body, will, and judgment, and so committing the issue to God; and then the success, whatever it be, cannot but be good.

20. If the thing commanded be grateful to nature, honourable, pleasing, &c., it is not good nor secure to be over-forward in obeying; it were better, so it might be done without offence, to seek to avoid it, wishing that others might rather be employed, or, however, to undertake it as obedience only, and, as it were, against our wills. But if the matter be harsh to nature, we are to do it with all possible readiness and cheerfulness, being desirous that others should be exempted from it.

21. It is not very hard internally to resolve universally to forsake one's own will, submitting it to another. But really and actually to perform this at all times, whensoever obediences are imposed, and that frequently; and when the things are of difficulty and contradiction to nature (and it may be), imposed by a superior against whom the subject hath some disaffection in nature, or of whom he hath a mean opinion, and when the subject himself is in an ill-humour of obeying, or when the obediences, though performed never so cheerfully and exactly, yet are usually ill-accepted, censured, &c., -- this requires a great courage and perfect self-denial, and much more to persevere in such obedience to the end of one's life with meekness and patient subjection.

22. And a yet greater degree of perfection is it (to which notwithstanding internal livers ought to aspire) for a religious person that is hardly and injuriously treated by his superior to be content and desirous that he should continue to use him so or worse, so it might be without offence to God, and so that no harm might come to the superior's soul thereby.

23. There are no commands, though never so impertinent or distracting, that can prejudice perfect souls that are come to an established state of recollection, and habitually enjoy the Divine presence. But great harm and danger may come thereby to the imperfect, the which, notwithstanding, by patience, quietness, and meekness in obeying, may come to make their profit even from them also, so that, though they lose one way by a hindrance to their recollection, they may repair that loss by rooting these virtues more firmly in their souls. However, the superior must expect to have a severe account required of him for indiscreet and harmful impositions laid upon his subjects.

24. A memorable example of obedience, joined with a mortification very sensible to humble souls (to wit, a mortification caused by an obligation to accept undue and unproportionable honour), we read of in the story of the great St. Basil, who, having obtained at his own request from a neighbour bishop a priest to attend him, recommended as an humble and obedient person, St. Basil, for a trial of these virtues, required of him to prepare some water for the washing of his feet. The good priest with a modest cheerfulness obeyed, and having quickly brought the water, St. Basil, sitting down, commanded him to wash his feet, who readily and diligently performed that command. That being done, the saint commands the priest to sit down, that so he in exchange might also wash his feet. The humble and virtuously simple man, without any excuses or contestations, quietly and calmly, as it became one perfect in obedience, suffers his feet to be washed by him, who was then the most eminent and most reverend prelate in the Eastern Church. Upon this proof, St. Basil was satisfied that he had found an attendant fit for the employments to which he destined him, and, with many thanks to the neighbour bishop, took the priest with him for his inseparable companion.

25. There is mentioned in our holy Rule another sort of obedience, of great efficacy to bring souls to perfection, to wit, an obedience not out of obligation and duty to superiors, but only from respect to brethren (specially ancients) in religion, and this out of charity, and in conformity to St. Paul's advice (which is very general) that we should in honour prefer every one before ourselves. This kind of obedience, as receiving proper commands from such, is now out of practice. And whether this disuse has proceeded from want of simplicity and humility in the younger sort, or from imperfection and want of discretion and gravity in the more ancient, or perhaps from jealousy and love of being absolute in superiors, it is hard to say; but surely it is a great loss. There were likewise obligations imposed upon all juniors, after any the least offence taken by the ancients, to make present satisfaction by prostrations, the which were to continue till that pardon and a benediction were given. Indeed, in those times, in which so much abstraction of life and so seldom mutual conversations were used, offences were so rare that it would be no hard matter for such simple humble souls as most religious persons then were to comply with these obligations. So that the only way to restore them is to restore that most profitable abstraction, solitude, and silence again.

26. It is vain for any one to seek the attaining to the perfection of obedience (which, besides the outward work, requires a submission of the spirit itself to God alone, in the superior, and a renouncing of one's own judgment upon the dictates of the most ignorant or indiscreet superior) but by the serious and constant practice of internal prayer, which alone purifies the soul and makes all other things but God invisible to her. So that, without such prayer, all other exterior practices of an officious humiliation will be of little or no virtue or efficacy thereto.

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