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

CHAPTER I. Of Prayer in generalà

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4. Of Prayer in general. What it is.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8. It is the most excellent and most necessary of all duties.

§§ 9, 10. The division of prayer into mental and vocal, improper.

1. The whole employment of an internal contemplative life having been by me comprehended under two duties, to wit, Mortification and Prayer, concerning (the former) mortification we have discoursed largely in the precedent treatise. We are now henceforward to treat of the other most noble and divine instrument of perfection, which is Prayer; by which and in which alone we attain to the reward of all our endeavours, the end of our creation and redemption -- to wit, union with God, in which alone consists our happiness and perfection.

2. By prayer, in this place, I do not understand petition or supplication, which, according to the doctrine of the schools, is exercised principally by the understanding, being a signification of what the person desires to receive from God. But prayer here especially meant is rather an offering and giving to God whatsoever He may justly require from us -- that is, all duty, love, obedience, &c.; and it is principally, yea, almost only exercised by the affective part of the soul.

3. Now prayer, in this general notion, may be defined to be an elevation of the mind to God, or more largely and expressly thus: prayer is an affectuous actuation of an intellective soul towards God, expressing, or at least implying, an entire dependence on Him as the Author and Fountain of all good, a will and readiness to give Him His due, which is no less than all love, obedience, adoration, glory, and worship, by humbling and annihilating of herself and all creatures in His presence; and lastly, a desire and intention to aspire to an union of spirit with Him.

4. This is the nature and these the necessary qualities which are all, at least virtually, involved in all prayer, whether it be made interiorly in the soul only, or withal expressed by words or outward signs.

5. Hence it appears that prayer is the most perfect and most divine action that a rational soul is capable of; yea, it is the only principal action for the exercising of which the soul was created, since in prayer alone the soul is united to God. And, by consequence, it is of all other actions and duties the most indispensably necessary.

6. For a further demonstration of which necessity we may consider: 1. That only in prayer we are joined to God, our last end, from whom when we are separated we are in ourselves, wherein our chief misery consists.2. That by prayer grace and all good is obtained, conserved, and recovered; for God being the Fountain of all good, no good can be had but by recourse to Him, which is only by prayer.3. That by prayer alone all exterior good things are sanctified, so as to become blessings to us.4. That prayer does exercise all virtues, in so much as whatsoever good action is performed, it is no further meritorious than as it proceeds from an internal motion of the soul, elevating and directing it to God (which internal motion is prayer); so that whatsoever is not prayer, or is not done in virtue of prayer, is little better than an action of mere nature.5. That there is no action with which sin is incompatible but prayer. We may, lying in our sins, give alms, fast, recite the Divine Office, communicate, obey our superiors, &c.; but it is impossible to exercise true prayer of the spirit and deliberately continue under the guilt of sin, because by prayer, a soul being converted and united to God, cannot at the same time be averted and separated from Him.6. That by prayer alone, approaching to God, we are placed above all miseries; whereas, without prayer, the least calamity would oppress us. Therefore prayer is the proper remedy against all kinds of afflictions, guilt, remorses, &c.

7. And hence it is that all the devil's quarrels and assaults are chiefly, if not only, against prayer; the which if he can extinguish, he has all that he aims at -- separating us from the fruition and adhesion to God, and therewith from all good. And hence likewise it is that the duty of prayer is enjoined after such a manner as no other duty is, for we are commanded to exercise it without intermission. Oportet semper orare et non deficere, -- We must needs pray continually and never give over.

8. In the precedent description of prayer in general, I said that it was an affectuous actuation of an intellectual soul, by which words is signified: 1. That it is not prayer which is performed by the lips only, without an inward attention and affection of the soul -- that is, that prayer which is not mental is not indeed properly prayer; 2. That whatsoever employment the mind or understanding exercises in prayer, by discoursing, inventing motives, &c., these are only preparations to prayer, and not prayer itself, which is only and immediately exercised by the will or affections adhering to God, which shall be showed hereafter.

9. Hence it follows that the ordinary division of prayer into vocal and mental is improper, because the parts of the division are coincident; for vocal prayer, as distinguished from (and much more as opposed to) mental, is indeed no prayer at all; and whatever it is, what esteem God makes of it, He shows by His prophet, saying: This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. In vain do they honour Me,' &c.

10. Yet both a good sense and a good use may be made of that division, being explicated after this manner, viz.: that though all true prayer may be mental, yet, 1. Some prayers are merely mental without any sound of words; yea, there may be such pure blind elevations of the will to God, that there are not so much as any express internal words or any explicable thoughts of the soul itself.2. Other prayers may be withal vocally expressed in outward words, the soul attending to the sense of the words pronounced, or, at least, intending to do so, and this is properly vocal prayer.

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