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

CHAPTER IV. Conditions required to affective prayer: of which the first isà

§§ 1, 2. Conditions required to affective prayer: of which the first is, that it ought to be continual, by our Lord's precept.

§ 3. The shameful neglect of this precept, both in practice and teaching in these times.

§ 4. Of the ancient heretic, called Euchites, that, misunderstanding this precept, neglected all other duties besides prayer.

§§ 5, 6, 7. In what sense the said precept obliges us to pray continually.

§ 8. All other virtues are to be measured by the degrees of prayer.

§ 9. How the neglect of actual prayer may be a mortal sin.

§ 10. Our religious profession and rule oblige us to aspire to uninterrupted prayer.

§§ 11, 12. Neither vocal prayer nor meditation can become uninterrupted; but only internal affective prayer.

§§ 13, 14, 15, 16. Whether the habit of continual prayer may be attained by prolonged vocal offices.

§§ 17, 18. That the sure means to attain to it is a constant practice of daily recollections.

§§ 19, 20. Who they are that shall he accounted by our Lord to have satisfied the obligation of this precept.

1. Having showed the necessity and excellency of Affective Prayer, I will now treat of certain qualities and conditions requisite thereto, of which I will at the present insist only on three, to wit: 1. The first, regarding the extension of it; 2. the second, the intension or fervour of it; 3. the third, the cause or principle from which it must proceed, to wit, the Divine Spirit.

2. As touching the first point, to wit, the extension of prayer, it is our Lord's command that we should never omit this duty of prayer (oportet semper orare et non deficere), we ought always to pray, and not to cease (or faint in it). And St. Paul exhorts indifferently all Christians (sine interinissione orate), pray without intermission. Now in this precept of our Lord there is an obligation so express, so universal, and so confirmed, and repeated both affirmatively and negatively, that all exception and derogation seems to be excluded, and that it binds both semper et ad semper. In all the Gospel we can scarce find a precept so fast-binding and so unquestionable.

3. This being evident, how can any one without grief and indignation read the strange dispensations and escapes invented and allowed by some late writers to defeat this so necessary a duty? Because, perhaps, no man can positively say that, hic et nunc, actual prayer is necessary and obliging under mortal sin, therefore they conclude that, except two or three moments of our life, it is not at all necessary to pray; that is, in the first moment that a child comes to the use of reason, and in the last moment when a soul is ready to expire; for then, indeed, some of them (not all) acknowledge that without mortal sin a soul cannot deliberately and wilfully neglect to lift up itself to God. As for the Divine Office, those to whom the reciting of it is of obligation, such (say they) are only bound under mortal sin to the external pronunciation of the words; as for the mentality of it, that is only a matter of counsel of perfection.

4. In the ancient times there was a certain sect of heretics that wandered as far wide the contrary way; who, upon a mistaken interpretation of this precept of our Saviour, neglected, yea, condemned all other things besides prayer, despising the sacraments, omitting the necessary duties of their vocation, refusing to do any external acts of charity, &c.; and from this frenzy they were called Euchitæ, that is, persons that did nothing but pray.

5. But the truth lies between these two extremes; for most manifest it is that we are obliged to aspire unto uninterrupted prayer, and yet most certain also it is that besides simple prayer there are many other duties required of us. The sense, therefore, and importance of our Lord's precept of praying continually without failing may be cleared by two passages of St. Paul. The first is this (1 Tim. iv.), Cibos creavit Deus ad percipiendum, &c.; that is, God hath created meats to be received with giving of thanks by His faithful servants, and those which have known the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected which is received with giving of thanks; for it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer. The second is (1 Cor. x.), Sive ergo manducatis sive, &c.; that is, therefore, whether you eat or drink, or what other thing soever you do, do all to the glory of God. From which text it appears, 1. That all creatures are in their use unsanctified unto us, that is, profane, unless they be used with prayer.2. That we are obliged not only in the use of creatures by eating and drinking, &c., but also in all our other actions whatsoever, to join prayer and a consecrating of them to God's glory, so that if we comply with these our obligations and duties, we must continually either be in actual prayer or busied in something done in virtue of prayer.

6. Now, as we said in the first Treatise, that although all are not obliged necessarily to attain unto the perfection proportionable to each one's state, yet all are necessarily bound to aspire thereunto; because no man can love God with a sincere love, and such an one as may be accounted worthy of Him who is our only God and beatitude, that shall fix any limits to his love, or that shall not aspire continually to a further and higher degree of his love; so here, likewise, we are to conceive that this precept of praying continually so indefinitely expressed, so earnestly pressed, so universally applied, both by our Lord and His apostle to all Christians, doth infer an indefinite and universal obligation, so as that although none but the perfect do really fulfil it, yet all, even the most imperfect, cannot without danger dispense with or neglect the endeavouring and aspiring to the fulfilling of it. Every one must exercise as much prayer as shall be necessary to sanctify his vocation, and make the works and duties of his life acceptable to God and helpful to the procuring of his eternal felicity.

7. And the ground of this obligation is both very firm and manifest, which is this, that even reason dictates that all the things we do we ought to do them in order to our last end, which is God; that is, with a sanctified intention (for whatsoever is not done with a right intention in order to God is of no worth at all, being only a work of corrupt nature). Now, since there are only two things which do sanctify all things and actions, to wit, the word of God and prayer: the word of God generally, that is the certain and revealed will of God, that the thing is in itself lawful to be used or done, and prayer in particular, proceeding from faith or assurance that the thing is lawful, and thereupon acknowledging it to be God's gift, desiring His blessing on it, and referring it to His glory, &c.: hence it evidently follows that since without prayer all things are unsanctified or profane, not at all conducing to our last end, but rather prejudicial to it, therefore all are bound to endeavour to sanctify all their actions and works by prayer.

8. Hence we may infer that the degrees of grace and sanctity in any man are to be measured according to the virtue that prayer has upon his actions, for the more and more frequently that his ordinary actions are performed in virtue of prayer, the more perfect and holy such an one is, and the more approaching to his chief end; and he whose actions do not, for the most part, flow from the virtue of prayer is not yet right disposed towards his last end.

9. Now, though perhaps scarce any man can say that, hic et nunc, actual prayer is necessarily obliging under mortal sin, yet withal, most certain it is that that man has reason to doubt that he is in a mortally sinful state that does not use so much prayer as thereby to sanctify and render meritorious the generality of his more serious actions, or (which is all one) he is in a state mortally sinful that for the most part lives wilfully and habitually in a neglect of grace, which can no way be obtained without prayer. Therefore it is observable that the disciples of our Lord never asked any instructions but how to pray, for that skill being once had, all other good things are consequently had; and when all other actions are performed by grace obtained by prayer, and for the end proposed in prayer, then a person may be said to lie in continual prayer, and much more if they be accompanied with an actual elevation of the spirit to God.

10. This is the perfection of prayer to which our holy Rule obliges us to aspire, namely, besides the set exercises either of vocal or internal prayer, to preserve our souls in an uninterrupted attention to God and tendance in spirit to Him, so as that whatsoever actions we do, they should be accompanied (instantissima oratione) with a most fervent and perseverant prayer. And that this perfection of continual prayer in a supreme degree has been really attained to by the ancient contemplatives, and accounted by them an essential duty of their vocation, is evident out of what we read in several places in Cassian: Hic finis totius perfectionis est, &c. (saith a holy hermit there.) This is the end of all perfection, to have the soul become so extenuated and purified from all carnal desires, as that it may continually be in an actual ascent to spiritual things, until all its conversation and employment and every motion of the heart become one continual prayer. We mentioned, likewise, before a hermit, whose spirit was so continually fixed on God that he could not, though he endeavoured, to depress it for so small a time as till he might fetch from the other end of his cell some small thing that his neighbour desired of him. The like continual attention to God Gregory Lopez acknowledgeth to have been in himself by long practice of recollection, so that though he would, he could not but think on Him, the which attention and union no work, conversation, or study could interrupt. Another hermit, likewise in Cassian (in 19 conf.), called John, saith of himself, how he forgot whether be had taken his daily sustenance, so continual was his prayer, by which their senses became so stupefied that they saw not what was before their eyes. To this purpose it is reported in the Lives of the Fathers that when a certain religious man, in a journey, met with a little troop of religious women, and seeing them, purposely turned out of the way to avoid them, the abbess said to him, If thou hadst been a perfect monk, indeed, though thou hadst seen us, thou wouldst not have known that we were women.'

11. Now it is impossible for a soul to continue without interruption in vocal prayer, there being so many necessary occasions hourly occurring to employ the tongue other ways, besides that, it would utterly exhaust the spirits. And as for meditation, the exercise thereof is so painful that it would destroy the head to force the imagination continually to invent and discourse internally on divine or spiritual objects.

12. Therefore by no other manner of prayer but the internal exercise of the will in holy desires, &c., can this precept of our Lord be perfectly accomplished. For the soul is naturally in a continual exercise of some one desire or other, the which are not at all painful to her, being her natural employment, so that if by practice we can so rectify our desires as to place them upon their only true and proper object, which is God, it will necessarily follow that the soul should be in continual prayer. Si semper desideras, semper oras, saith St. Augustine; if thou dost continually desire (God) thou dost continually pray. Such desires, by custom, will become easy and as it were natural to the soul, and consequently, without any force used on the imagination or understanding, they may be continued without interruption, for they will flow as freely as breath from the lungs; and where such desires do abound, flowing from a holy inward temper of soul, there no employment will be undertaken that shall cross or prejudice such desires; on the contrary, they will give a tincture to all actions, directing them to the object of those desires, and thereby adding to the fervency of them.

13. Now a question may be made, whether in contemplative orders, where likewise there is used much abstraction, solitude, and other austerities, souls may attain to this uninterrupted prayer by the way of meditation, or else of long-continued vocal prayers alone, without appointed recollections of internal affective prayer constantly exercised?

14. Hereto it may be answered, first, that as for meditation, it is an exercise so disproportionable to the nature of such a state (except as a preparation for awhile in the beginning), that it is not possible to be the constant and continued exercise of such persons; for, as shall be shown, the imagination and understanding, by much exercise thereof in an undistracted life, will become so barren, and it will produce so small or no effects in good affections in the will, that it will be disgustful and insupportable, so that all use of meditation must be for a long space passed and relinquished before the soul will be brought to this good state of having a continual flux of holy desires.

15. But in the second place, touching long-continued vocal prayers and offices, without any set exercises of internal recollection, no doubt it is but by them such religious persons may be brought to this habit of continual prayer; so that, 1. They hold their minds to as much attention as reasonably they can.2. So that out of choir they keep their minds from distractive affections or solicitudes either about studies or any other employments, voluntary or imposed.3. So they be watchful over themselves not to give scope to thoughts which may be harmful to them. (Thus the ancient hermits arrived to this perfection.) 4. A fourth condition may be that such persons content themselves with the public office, &c., not overburden themselves with a surcharge of voluntary vocal prayers; for Turrecremata saith well (on the Decr. d.92.), that the voice and other external doings are in prayer to be used only so far as by them to raise internal devotion, so that if by the excess of them it should be hindered or the mind distracted, they ought to be abstained from. And St. Augustine (no doubt from experience as well as judgment) saith, Quantum proficis ad videndam sapientiam, tantò minus est vox necessaria; that is, the greater progress thou makest in contemplative wisdom, so much less necessary will vocal praying be. Such persons, therefore, if in their solitude they do not appoint to themselves any set recollections, yet ought they to keep their minds in a state of as much recollectedness as may be, by interrupted good desires, at least begetting in their minds an affection to prayer and an appetite to the succeeding office.

16. Notwithstanding, certain it is that vocal prayers though never so much prolonged and in never so great solitude, yet will never produce this effect where the true spirit of contemplative prayer is not known, and such ignorance hath been even in orders of the greatest abstraction and austerity; thus we see that Germanus and Cassianus, though practised many years in a strict cenobitical life, yet were astonished when they heard the holy hermits discourse of pure spiritual prayer, free from images, &c.

17. It remains, therefore, that, ordinarily speaking, the only efficacious and immediate disposition to the habit of uninterrupted prayer is a constant exercise of internal prayer of the will, by which the soul being daily forced to a serious attendance and tendance to God in spirit, by little and little becomes more and better affected to a frequent conversation with Him, and in time loses all relish or taste of pleasures in creatures.

18. This, I say, will be the effect of such constant and fervent exercise of recollections; for as for those which are commonly called ejaculatory prayers, that is, good affections now and then, by fits, and with frequent interruptions exercised, though they are very good and profitable, and withal very fit to be used in the midst of reading especially, or any other external employments, yet they alone will, though joined to the ordinary use of the Divine Office, be insufficient to produce such a habit of soul. And the reason is because being so short and with such interruption exercised, the virtue of them is presently spent, and will have little or no effect upon subsequent actions; but as for the ejaculatory prayers mentioned and worthily commended by the holy hermits in Cassian, the nature of them is quite different from those forementioned, for they are indeed not different from infused aspirations, being the effects flowing from the habit of continual prayer already acquired, and not imperfect preparations thereto.

19. To conclude, none can account themselves to have satisfied (in that perfection that they ought) the obligation imposed upon them by this necessary precept of our Lord (Oportet semper orare et non deficere); but, 1. Such as do actually exercise as much prayer as may consist with their abilities, and as is necessary to produce contemplation (if such be their state of life), and, moreover, such actual prayer as is suitable thereto, yet not indiscreetly straining themselves beyond their power to perform it perfectly at first, lest it happen unto them, according to the saying of the prophet (Jerem. xxviii.), Quia plus fecit quam potuit, ideireo periit; that is, because he did more than he was able, therefore he perished.2. Such as when discretion or other necessary employments do withdraw them from actual prayer, yet do preserve in their minds a love and desire of it, and a firm resolution courageously to break through all discouragements and hindrances to it.3. Such as do endeavour to do all their actions in virtue of prayer, that is, with the same holy and pure intention, as God gave them in their precedent prayers.4. Such as do abstain from all voluntary employments as do indispose their minds for prayer, keeping their souls in such a disposition as to be able presently to correspond to an interior divine invitation to prayer, if God shall send it, and to be in a capacity of receiving and perceiving such invitations. Now this is done by keeping a continual guard over our passions that they break not forth so as to indispose us even for present recollection, and much less for the appointed recollection which is to follow.5. Such as do practise mortification in a measure suitable to their state, thereby rooting out those inordinate affections which cause distraction in prayer and are hindrances to a state of recollectedness. For as that fundamental precept of loving God obliges a soul at least never to do anything contrary thereto, so does that of prayer oblige that we should always be in a disposition and readiness to it.

20. Therefore let souls consider in what an insecure and dangerous state they remain that content themselves with a few heartless distracted vocal prayers, since not any temptation can be resisted without an actual exercise of prayer, and that the best prayer that the soul can make. Besides, it is not with prayer as with other arts or habits; a student by cessation from study doth not presently lose nor so much as diminish the knowledge that he had before, but a soul that is not in actual prayer, or at least in an immediate disposition and an habitual desire of prayer, sinks presently into nature and loses much of that strength that she had formerly. There are not always occasions to exercise particular virtues, as temperance, patience, chastity, &c.; because temptations do not always assault us; but we may always pray, and always we have need so to do, for a soul, except she be in prayer, or that the virtue of prayer be alive in her, is in a state of distraction and disunion from God, and, consequently, exposed to all manner of enemies, being withal deprived of the only means to resist them, so that the dangers and miseries of an unrecollected life are inexplicable.

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