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

CHAPTER III. Of internal prayer in general, and principally of internal affective prayer.à

§ 1. Of internal prayer in general, and principally of internal affective prayer.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5. The excellency and necessity of affective prayer, and that it was practised by the ancients; and not discoursive prayer or meditation.

§ 6. The great necessity of it in these days.

§§ 7, 8. The testimony of Cardinal Bellarmine to show that vocal prayer, &c., sufficeth not.

§§ 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Five admirable virtues of internal affective prayer.

§§ 16, 17. An exhortation to constancy and courage in pursuing the exercise of it.

1. Internal or Mental prayer (which is simply and merely such, and) which we made the second member in the division of Prayer in general (if indeed it be a distinct kind), and of which only we shall treat hereafter, is either, 1. imperfect and acquired; 2. or perfect, and that which is called properly infused prayer. The former is only a preparation and inferior disposition, by which the soul is fitted and made capable of the infusion of the other, to wit, the Prayer of Contemplation, which is the end of all our spiritual and religious exercises. I shall therefore, in order, treat of them both and of their several special degrees, beginning with the lowest, and thence ascending orderly till we come to the highest, which will bring a soul to the state of perfection.

2. But before I come to deliver the special instructions pertinent to the exercise of the several degrees of internal prayer, it will be very requisite, by way of preparation and encouragement, to set down the necessity and excellency of internal prayer in general; I mean especially of that which is Affective. For as for discoursive prayer or Meditation, the world is but even burdened with books, which with more than sufficient niceness prescribe rules and methods for the practice of it, and with too partial an affection magnify it, the authors of such books neglecting in the mean time, or perhaps scarce knowing what true internal affective prayer is, which, notwithstanding, is the only efficacious instrument that immediately brings souls to contemplation and perfect union in spirit with God.

3. Some there are that, because they do not find in the writings of the ancient Fathers and mystical Doctors such exact instructions touching the practice of internal prayer as are now common and abounding in the Church, do therefore undervalue and despise it as a mere human invention, not at all necessary, but rather, on the contrary, subject to great inconveniences, exposing souls to illusions, errors, &c. And therefore they, in opposition to it, do only recommend and exact vocal prayer, and a solemn protracted performance of it.

4. Notwithstanding, to any one that shall heedfully read the writings, not only of the ancient solitaries, but likewise of St. Augustine, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen and others, it will evidently appear that they both knew and practised most profound and recollected devotions internally, yea, and exhorted souls to a continual attendance to God and His divine presenoe in the spirit; sufficient proofs whereof shall occasionally hereafter be inserted.

5. True, indeed, it is that they have not delivered any exact methods for the practice of such prayer, which in those times were not at all necessary, or at least not at all needful to be communicated to the world. For to souls that lived (as anciently they did) entirely sequestered from all worldly business or conversation, in continual laborious and penitential exercises, having no images of creatures to distract their minds, and much less any inordinate affections to creatures to depress them from mounting to spiritual union with God, it was more than sufficient for such to know that their duty and the end of their solitude was to live in a continual conversation with God, suffering themselves to be conducted and managed by His Holy Spirit. To such, all other more nice or particular instructions would have proved but distractive and entangling; and therefore we see that our holy Father, though he ordained daily conventual short recollections for the exercise of (that which he calls) pure prayer, yet he neither interprets what be means by such prayer (for all his disciples understood that sufficiently), and much less does he deliver any instructions how to exercise it.

6. But in these days, in which religious persons and others that aspire to spiritual contemplation do either want the means to enjoy, or have not the courage and strength to support, such solitude and austerities, lest the spirit of contemplation should fail in the world, God raised up first in Germany masters of contemplative prayer, as Suso, Harphius, Eschius, Thaulerus, &c., in former times, and more lately in Spain, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, &c., who, no question, by the direction of God's Spirit (as the grace of miracles conferred on them may witness), have judged it necessary to supply the want of the foresaid advantages, by adding a certain obligation to the daily practice of internal recollected prayer, prescribing orders and times for the performance of it. They have likewise more exactly discovered the degrees and progress of prayer, and, in a word, most earnestly do they exhort souls to a diligent pursuance of it, professing that without it, it is impossible to comply with the essential design of a spiritual or religious life.

7. I will content myself in this place to express the grounds and sum of the exhortations of those and other illuminated persons (the glorious instruments of God for the reviving of decayed spirituality in the world) by producing a passage of Cardinal Bellarmine's, which may be applied to this purpose, taken out of one of his sermons (in fer.2. Rogat.), which is this, Ego illud mihi videor verissime posse affirmare, &c. -- that is, This I believe I may most truly and confidently affirm' (saith he) that without a diligent pursuit of internal prayer none will ever become truly spiritual, nor attain to any degree of perfection. We see many which oftentimes in the year do approach to the Sacrament of Penance, and, as far as human frailty and infirmity will permit, do with sufficient diligence endeavour to purge away all the stains and uncleanness of sin; and yet they make no progress, but are still the very same that they were, and having been at confession, if a week after they come to the same tribunal again, they bring neither fewer nor lesser faults than such as were formerly confessed. Yea, without offending against truth, I may add somewhat more strange than all this, to wit, that we see sometimes religious persons and not a few priests which by their vocation and habits profess sanctity, and, moreover, do assiduously read divine Scriptures and books of piety; they do often (if not daily) celebrate the most holy Sacrifice; they nave neither wives nor children, but are free from all cares and solicitudes which may distract them from a continual attendance to divine things; and yet, after all this, they are so void of all devotion and the Spirit of God, so cold of Divine love, and so earnest in the love of secular vanities, so replenished with impatience, envy, and all inordinate desires, that they seem not one jot to differ from secular persons wholly engaged in the world. Now the only cause of these disorders is that they do not seriously enter into their own hearts by exercises of introversion, but only esteem and regard the exterior,' &c. Thus far are the words and too just complaint of the learned and pious Cardinal.

8. This, with very great reason, may be further extended, even to those religious who by their profession ought to aspire to contemplation, and being mistaken in the true way thereto, erroneously believing that by an exact performance of outward observances and the solemn saying of the Office, adjoining the exercises of such internal discursive prayer, do yet find but little fruit as to any interior reformation or simplification of their souls, by reason that they rest in such active exercises (which in a short time, to solitary livers, lose all their virtue), and do not from them proceed to the truly enlightening exercises of internal affective prayer (which is a prayer of the heart or will, by good affections quietly and calmly produced, and not with the understanding), a prayer made without those distracting methods or that busying of the imagination and wearying of the soul by laborious, discourses, which are only inferior and imperfect preparations to true prayer.

9. Now to a consideration of the necessity of internal affective prayer we will add certain virtues, benefits, and preëminences thereof, compared with all other sorts of prayer, either vocal or discoursively mental, the which virtues are indeed admirable and inestimable, deserving to be purchased with all the cares and endeavours of our whole lives.

10. The first excellency of internal affective prayer above all other is, that only by such prayer our union in spirit with God (in which our eternal happiness consists) is perfectly obtained. For therein the will with all the powers and affections of the soul are applied and fixed to the loving, adoring, and glorifying this only beatifying Object, whereas in vocal prayer there is a continual variety and succession of images of creatures suggested, the which do distract the souls of the imperfect from such an application. And meditation, in which discourse is employed, is, so far, little more than a philosophical contemplation of God, delaying this fixing of the heart and affections on God, which are only acceptable to Him.

11. The second virtue is this, that by this prayer of the will, the soul entering far more profoundly into God, the fountain of lights, partakes of the beams of His divine light far more plentifully, by which she both discovers God's perfections more clearly and also sees the way wherein she is to walk more perfectly than by any other prayer; and the reason is because, when the soul endeavours to apply all her affections entirely on God, then only it is that, being profoundly introverted, a world of impurities of intention and inordinate affections lurking in her do discover themselves, and the obscure mists of them are dispelled, the soul then finding by a real perception and feeling how prejudicial they are to her present union in will with God; whereas, when the understanding alone, or principally, is busied, in the consideration of God or of the soul herself, the imagination (which is very active and subtle) will not represent to the soul either God or herself so liquidly and sincerely; but being blinded and seduced by natural self-love, will invent a hundred excuses and pretexts to deceive the soul, and to make her believe that many things are intended and done purely for God, which proceeded principally, if not totally, from the root of concupiscence and self-love.

12. A third admirable perfection of internal affective prayer is this, that not only divine light, but also grace and spiritual strength to put in practice all things to which supernatural light directs, is obtained principally by this internal prayer of the heart, and this by a double causality and virtue, to wit: 1. By way of impetration, grounded on the rich and precious promises made by God to prayer above all other good actions.2. By a direct and proper efficiency; for since all the virtue and merit of our external actions does depend upon and flow from the internal disposition and operations of the soul exercising charity and purity of intention in them, and conquering the resistance of nature, and since all internal exercises of all virtues whatsoever are truly and in propriety of speech direct prayer of the spirit, hence it follows that as all habits are gotten by frequency and constancy of exercise, therefore, by the persevering in the exercise of internal prayer, the soul is enabled with facility to practise perfectly all virtues.

13. To this may be added that such prayer is universal mortification, and a mortification the most profound, intime, and perfect that a soul can possibly perform, entirely destructive to sensual satisfaction. For therein the will forces inferior nature and all the powers of the soul to avert themselves from all other objects pleasing to them, and to concur to her internal actuations towards God; and this oftentimes in the midst of distractions by vain images, during a torpid dulness of the heart, yea, a violent contradiction of sensuality, when there is, according to any sensible perception, a total disgust in the soul to such an exercise, yea, when the spirit itself is in obscurity, and cannot by any reflexed act reap any consolation from such an exercise. Such an exilium cordis, such a desertion and internal desolation is a mortification to the purpose; yet, as of extreme bitterness, so of unexpressible efficacy to the purifying and universal perfecting of the soul and spirit. Therefore St. Chrysostome (Tract. de Oratione) had good reason to say: It is impossible; again I say it is utterly impossible that a soul which with a due care and assiduity prays unto God should ever sin.

14. A fourth excellence of internal affective prayer is that it is the only action that cannot possibly want purity of intention. Souls may, from an impulse of nature and its satisfaction, exactly observe fasts, perform obediences, keep the choir, approach to sacraments, yea, exercise themselves in curious speculations during meditations, or in the exercise of sensible devotion they may comply with self-love, &c. (and, indeed, they have no farther any purity of intention in any of these duties than as they do proceed from internal affective prayer, that is, the will fixed by charity on God). Whereas if any oblique intention should endeavour to insinuate itself into internal prayer or the will it would presently be observed, and unless it were contradicted and expelled there could be no progress in such prayer. So that it is not possible to find an exercise either more secure or more profitable, since it is by the virtue of it alone that all other exercises have any concurrence towards the perfecting of the soul.

15. Lastly, affective prayer of the will is that alone which makes all other sorts of prayer to deserve the name of prayer; for were that excluded, meditation is but an useless speculation and curiosity of the understanding, and vocal prayer but an empty sound of words; for God only desires our hearts or affections, without which our tongues or brains are of no esteem at all. Yea, there is not so much as any profitable attention in any prayer further than the heart concurs. For if the attention be only of the mind, that will not constitute prayer, for then study or disputation about divine things might be called prayer. Hence, saith an ancient holy hermit, Nunquam verè orat quisquis etiam flexis genibus evagatione cordis etiam qualicumque distrahitur; that is, that man does never truly pray who, though he be upon his knees, is distracted with any wandering or in attention of his heart. And likewise the learned Soto, to the same purpose, conclusively affirms, Orationi mentali deesse non potest attentio, cum ipsa attentio, &c.; that is, attention cannot possibly be wanting to mental prayer (of the heart) since the attention itself is the very prayer. And therefore it is a contradiction to say that one prays mentally and is not attentive, as is of itself manifest; for as soon as ever the mind begins to wander it ceases to pray. Therefore vocal prayer is only that prayer which may want attention, namely, when the thoughts diverting themselves to other objects, the tongue, without the concurrence of the mind, gives an uncertain sound. And we may add that the attention of the mind, which cannot be separated from discoursive prayer, is little valuable except it be accompanied with, or performed in order to the causing an attention (as we may call it) of the heart or affections.

16. These inestimable benefits (to which more may be added, as shall be shown), which flow from internal prayer of the will, being considered, a well-minded soul will think no pains too much that may avail to purchase so invaluable a jewel. And religious superiors will esteem that nothing does so essentially belong to their duty as to instruct and further their subjects in the practice of it: according to the counsel of St. Bernard, Docendus est incipiens spiritualiter orare, et a corporibus vel corporum imaginibus cum Deum cogitat quantum potest recedere; that is, whosoever begins a religious course of life must be taught spiritual prayer, and in elevating his mind to God to transcend all bodies and bodily images. And with just reason did the holy Grecian Abbot Nilus (a disciple of St. John Chrysostome) say, Beata mens quæ dum orat, &c. Happy is the soul that when she prays empties herself entirely of all images and forms; happy is the soul that prays fervently and without distraction: such a soul increases continually in the desire and love of God; happy is the soul that, when she prays, does altogether quit the use and exercise of all her senses; happy is the soul that during the time of prayer loses the possession and interest in all manner of things (but God)!

17. And, indeed, a soul must expect to pass through a world of difficulties before she attain to such a purity in prayer, for as the same author saith, Universum bellum quod inter nos et dæmones conflatur, non est de alia re quam de oratione; that is, all the war and controversy that is between us and the Devil is about no other thing but prayer, as being most necessary to us, and most destructive to all his designs. And hereupon a certain holy Father, being asked what duty in a religious life was the most difficult, answered, to pray well. The reason is because prayer can never be perfectly exercised till the soul be cleansed from all manner of impurities, yea, not only from the affections, but all images also of creatures.

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