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

CHAPTER V. The second condition requisite in affective prayer, to wità

§ 1. The second condition requisite in affective prayer, to wit, fervour or devotion.

§§ 2, 3, 4. The, seat of this devotion is not necessarily the sensitive part of the soul.

§§ 5, 6. Of a twofold sensible devotion.

§ 7. It is neither to be neglected nor too much prized.

§§ 8, 9. Certain exterior effects of sensible devotion: from which great inconveniences may ensue.

§ 10. Sensible devotion no sure sign of true grace. A fearful example thereof.

§§ 11, 12, 13. What use imperfect souls are to make of it.

§ 14. Fears are to be repressed.

§ 15. Perfect souls in small danger by it.

§ 16. Of the prayer of aridity, quite contrary to sensible, yet not to true devotion.

§§ 17, 18, 19. The excellent benefits that may come from the prayer of aridity.

§ 20. The causes of aridities.

§§ 21, 22. Vocal prayer and meditation not so much subject thereto.

§§ 23, 24. More good comes from prayer of aridity courageously pursued than from prayer of sensible devotion.

§ 25. The superior soul and its good disposition does not depend on the temper of sensitive nature.

§§ 26, 27. Means to beget courage in the prayer of aridity.

§ 28. How a soul is to behave herself in the most violent distresses in prayer.

§ 29. The prayer exercised by imperfect souls during aridities is not properly in spirit.

1. As, 1. Prayer, for the quantity or extension of it, is to be incessant, at least the virtue of it is to be an ingredient in all other works, whether they be study, labour, conversation, &c. (the which may be without any prejudice at all to the work, yea, to the great improvement and super-naturalising of it so far that where prayer is wanting the most specious works are of no value at all), so in the next place; 2. As to the quality or intention of it, it ought to be (instantissima, saith our holy Father in Prolog.) with all possible fervour and earnestness; for prayer being the most immediate and most perfect act of charity to God, ought, like charity itself, to proceed (ex toto corde, ex tota anima; et ex totis viribus) from the whole heart, the whole soul, and the whole strength. Therefore as he offends against the precept of charity that employs either his spirit, sensitive soul, or corporal strength on anything but God, or which has respect to God, His love or glory; so, if in our prayer we do willingly suffer our thoughts to wander upon anything but God, or if we harbour any desire in sensitive nature that would hinder the free tendence of our spirit to God in prayer, or if we employ our corporal strength about any other matter but such as may and ought to be intended for God in our prayer, we do so far neglect to correspond to this duty of fervour and instance which ought to be in prayer.

2. Notwithstanding this is not so to be understood, as if we were obliged either to employ our corporal forces or members, or to force our sensible affections to concur in our prayers to God, or as if God did require that this fervour should always be in sensitive nature, for that is not always in our power; yea, on the contrary, the sensual part moves often against our wills, being insensible, averse, and impatient of accompanying our spiritual actuations, which commonly do mortify and contradict the desires of nature.2. And, moreover, when sensible fervour and devotion doth insinuate itself in our recollections (especially in imperfect souls) it does rather endanger to depress the operations of the spirit than advance them, and does, perhaps, more nourish self-love than contribute to the increase of divine love.

3. It is sufficient, therefore, if this fervour be in our superior will alone, though sensitive nature seem to partake nothing of it. So that our prayers may then be said to be instant and fervourous when the will, out of a worthy and high esteem of this most necessary and most excellent duty, resolutely and with perseverance pursues them, notwithstanding any contradiction in nature or discouragements from without, for that must needs be a great fervour of spirit that contradicts the contrary malignant fervour of nature, and undervalues all sensible ease and contentment compared with the spiritual good that is caused by prayer.

4. This is that good quality which our Saviour, in the parable of him who at midnight went to his neighbour to borrow three loaves of bread for the entertainment of a friend that was then arrived, calls by a homely name, to wit, improbitatem, or, as it is in the original, impudence; which quality, notwithstanding, he requires in our prayers to God, and promises an infallible success thereto. Now that improbity or impudence implies an importunate earnestness, a resolution to take no denial nor to stand upon nice civilities, but rather than to return empty, to force out a grant even by wearying out the person to whom we address ourselves; so that it includes both a great fervour and an incessant perseverance in such fervour, which is in a high degree in those who spend their whole lives as it were in one continual prayer, yea, in one only petition, which is, to be united in will and affection to God only.

5. These, therefore, being two qualities requisite in prayer, 1. Earnestness or fervour, and 2. Perseverance (both which are likewise included in the term [instantissima] given to prayer by our holy Father), imperfect souls will be apt to suspect ofttimes that their prayers are inefficacious, as being deprived of these conditions.1. The former, when they do not perceive a tenderness and melting devotion in sensitive nature.2. And the latter they will fear is wanting whensoever they find themselves (though unwillingly) distracted. Therefore to the end to prevent mistakes, and that a right judgment may be made of these two, to wit, sensible devotion and distractions, I will treat of them both, showing what good or ill effects may proceed from the former, and what remedies may be applied to hinder any inconveniences from the latter.

6. There is a twofold sensible devotion.1. The first is that which we now speak of, which is found in good but imperfect souls, and it begins in sensitive nature, causing great tenderness there, and from thence it mounts up to the spirit, producing good and melting affections to God and especially (in discoursive prayer) to the humanity and sufferings of our Lord.2. Another sensible devotion there is of perfect souls, the which begins in the spirit, and abounding there, overflows, and by communication descends into inferior sensitive nature, causing like effects to the former. Now there is little need to give cautions or instructions concerning the use of this; because perfect souls walking in a clear light, and being established in a generous love of the superior will towards God, are not in danger to be transported with the pleasing effects which it is apt to produce in inferior nature, nor to fall into spiritual gluttony, by which their affections may be withdrawn from God and fixed on such mean gifts of His as these are. That, therefore, which I shall here speak concerning sensible devotion is to be applied unto that which is found in souls less perfect, for for such only all these instructions were meant.

7. Such souls then are to be informed that though sensible devotion be indeed at the first a good gift of God, intended by Him for their encouragement and advancement in His pure love, as it is therefore not to be neglected, so neither is it over highly to be prized. For as very good effects may flow from it, being well and discreetly used, so, on the contrary, without such discretion it may prove very pernicious, endangering to plunge them more deeply in self-love and corrupt nature (in which it is much immersed), and so it would produce an effect directly contrary to that for which prayer was ordained. A soul, therefore, is to separate that which is good and profitable in such devotion from that which is imperfect and dangerous, renouncing and mortifying this latter, and with discretion giving way and making her profit of the other.

8. The special signs and effects of such sensible devotion are ofttimes very conspicuous in the alteration caused by it in corporal nature, drawing tears from the eyes, producing heat and redness in the face, springing motions in the heart (like to the leaping of a fish in the waters, saith Harphius), and in some it causes so perceivable an opening and shutting in the heart, saith he, that it may be heard. And from such unusual motions and agitations about the heart, a windy vapour will now and then mount up to the head, causing a pricking pain there, which, if the head be not strong, may continue a good space; yea, if good care he not taken to interrupt such impetuosities of the spirits, the blood will first boil, and afterwards will grow thick and congealed, incapable of motion. And this once happening, the inward sweetnesses formerly felt will be turned into sadness, dejection, and stupidity; thence will follow complaints that the soul is forsaken of God, yea, she will be in danger desperately to renounce all further seeking of God; and the more that she shall endeavour to recover her former sensible affections, the farther will she be from it, and impatience for this will render her still more disposed, more darkened in the understanding, and more stupefied in her affections.

9. Now all these inconveniences proceed from self-love and a too gluttonous delectation in sensible sweetnesses, which, if they be accompanied with any extraordinary visits, there will follow (it is to be feared) yet far more dangerous effects in unprepared souls, the which will probably take occasion from thence to nourish pride in themselves and a contempt of others.

10. To abate the too high esteem that unwary souls may have of this sensible fervour and devotion, it may be observed that it is not always a sign of a good disposition or holiness in the soul, for we read of several impious persons that have enjoyed it; so history makes mention of a certain wicked tyrant called William Prince of Juliers, how at his devotions, in the midnight of our Lord's Nativity, he twice or thrice felt so great an internal sweetness in divine visitations, that he professed afterward that he would be content to purchase with the loss of half his dominions such another consolation. Yet after his death it was revealed to a certain holy person that he was in hell, condemned to torments equal to those that that wicked persecuting Emperor Maxentius suffered.

11. The root of such sensible sweetnesses is oftentimes a mere natural temper of body; yea, by God's permission, the devil also will be forward enough to raise and increase it in unmortified self-willed souls, knowing that they will make ill use of it, either to the augmenting of their pride, or to a presumptuous undertaking of mortifications above their strength, by which in a short time their spirits will be so exhausted and their forces enfeebled, that they will become unable any more to correspond with divine grace, even in duties necessarily belonging to their profession; and when this happens, then all sweetness of devotion ceases, and in place thereof succeed anguishes, scrupulosities, pusillanimity, and perhaps even desperation. Therefore well-minded souls are to take special care of preventing these effects of sensible devotion which, without great vigilance, they are in danger to incur. And thereupon Harphius advises earnestly such to moderate with discretion the violent impulses of their internal desires to God; for (saith he) if they shall always to the utmost extent of their ability pursue them, they will find themselves in a short time quite exhausted and disabled to perform even easier and more necessary obligations.

12. The true use and benefit, therefore, that imperfect souls ought to make of sensible devotion (when God sends it) is this, that without resting much on it, or forcing themselves to continue it, they should make it an instrument to fortify and establish the solid true love and esteem of God in the superior soul, and to confirm an unshaken resolution in themselves never to desist from seeking Him by the internal ways of the spirit, even in times of desertion and aridity.

13. And if they will make this use of it, then from what cause soever it proceeds -- yea, though the devil himself helping or changing the body should have caused it -- no harm can come unto them thereby; for a soul is most secure while she neglects and disesteems the effects of sensible devotion as far as they are pleasing to sensitive nature, and transcending it, shall endeavour to exercise herself towards God quietly yet resolutely in the superior will; and by the like practice may a soul obtain the like security in all extraordinary doubtful cases of visions, ecstasies, &c.

14. More particularly forasmuch as concerns tears (which are usual effects of sensible devotion), a soul must be wary that she give not free scope unto them, whatever the object or cause be, whether it be compassion to our Lord's sufferings or contrition for her own sins, &c. In all cases it is best to suppress them rather than to give them a free liberty to flow, for otherwise, besides the harm that may outwardly happen to the body by impairing the health or weakening the head, they will keep her still below in sensitive nature and immortification, with little or no advancement towards the true love of God. On the contrary, they do hinder the elevation of the spirit by obscuring the mind, that it cannot discover her secret defects, nor what would best keep her in her way. Let her therefore exercise these acts in the superior soul and will, from whence all merit comes, and by which they are performed with quietness and stillness, yet withal more efficaciously than in sensitive nature.

15. The case is otherwise in perfect souls, when God by an extraordinary grace bestows on them the gift of tears (as to St. Arsenius, who is said to have flowed almost continually with them), for in this case they do begin from the spirit, whose operations inferior nature doth not at all hinder, but rather promote in them. And such tears flow (tanquam pluvia in vellus) like a shower of rain into a fleece of wool, without the least disturbance and bitterness in inferior nature; which is a grace very rarely, if at all, granted to imperfect souls, and therefore those upon whom it is bestowed may, and no doubt will, without any danger comply with it, since it can flow from no other cause but God only, and the effect of it will not be to depress the spirit, but rather to draw sensitive nature upward into the spirit, causing it likewise to concur in the exercise of divine love; so as that the soul may say with David, Cor meum et caro mea exultaverunt in Deum vivum, sensitive nature not only joining with the spirit in serving and loving of God, but likewise finding its contentment therein, without the least prejudice to the spirit; and the way to attain to this solid and secure sensible fervour is by a discreet undervaluing and repressing of that which is originally and merely sensible.

16. Now it will not be impertinent on this occasion to take notice of another sort of temper in prayer of quite a contrary nature, in which the inferior soul seems to have no part at all in the actuations of the spirit towards God -- yea, is not only inactive but very repugnant unto them, finding a great deal of uneasiness and pain in them, so that the whole prayer seems to be made by the spirit, the heart or sensitive appetite in the mean time finding much bitterness in it, and the imagination in a sort refusing to suggest necessary images thereto, any further than as the superior soul, by virtue of the dominion it hath over it, doth even by mere force constrain it.

17. There are scarce any souls that give themselves to internal prayer but some time or other do find themselves in great indisposition thereto, having great obscurities in the mind and great insensibility in the affections. So that if imperfect souls be not well instructed and prepared, they will be in danger, in case that such contradictions in inferior nature continue long, to be dejected, yea, and perhaps deterred from pursuing prayer, for they will be apt to think that their recollections are to no purpose at all, since, forasmuch as seems to them, whatsoever they think or actuate towards God is mere loss of time and of no worth at all, and therefore that it would be more profitable for them to employ their time some other way.

18. Yea, some souls there are conducted by Almighty God by no other way, but only by such prayer of aridity, finding no sensible contentment in any recollections, but, on the contrary, continual pain and contradiction, and yet, by a privy grace and courage imprinted deeply in the spirit, cease not for all that, but resolutely break through all difficulties and continue, the best they can, their internal exercises to the great advancement of their spirit.

19. It will indeed be very hard and morally impossible for any souls but such as have naturally a good propension to introversion to continue constant to their recollections when aridities, obscurities, and desolations continue a long time. For it is this propension alone, assisted by divine grace, that holds them to their recollections, and that enables them to bear themselves up in all their difficulties and temptations.

20. The causes of this aridity and indisposition to prayer, ordinarily speaking (for sometimes God, for the trial of His servants, may, and oft doth, send or permit such temptations to fall on them), are principally a certain particular natural complexion of some, and especially of those who by their corporal temper are most fitted for the exercise of sensible affections; for of all others such are most obnoxious to these aridities and obscurities, because the Humours and spirits of the body, together with the change of weather, &c., have a far greater influence upon these sensible affections than upon the mere operations either of the understanding or will, which do not so much depend upon the body. And therefore, whensoever the said corporal disposition comes by any accident to be altered, such affectionate souls are apt to fall into these internal distresses, and being in such an afflicting disconsolate condition, they are not able to help themselves by any discourse to which ordinarily they are indisposed. From this ground it is that devout women, who naturally do more abound with sensible affections than men, are more subject to be afflicted and persecuted with these aridities.

21. Such discouragements do least appear in Vocal prayer, which befits all kinds of spirits and all sorts of tempers, whether they discourse internally or not, and whether they can produce internal acts of the will upon conceived images or not; for all these at all times, and howsoever they are corporally disposed, may make their profit, more or less, of vocal prayers.

22. The prayer of Meditation likewise, in those for whom it is proper, is not usually much assaulted with such aridities, except it be sometimes towards the end of such prayer, when souls would endeavour to draw good affections from a precedent motive considered by the understanding; for then the heart may sometimes prove barren or averse from such affections. But, however, they that practise meditation may find some remedy by surceasing the producing of affections, and may either betake themselves to exercise mere acts of the will, which are not so affective, or retire themselves to their internal discourse.

23. The pain and anguish that good souls suffer from these aridities is very grievous, being a kind of continual martyrdom; and therefore the merit of constancy in prayer, notwithstanding such discouragements in nature, is the greater, and souls to whom God shall give such constancy will find their exercises both much more secure (however disgustful they be), yea, and much more profitable than if they had flowed with sensible affections. For all manner of good is gotten by prayer of aridity courageously prosecuted; all virtues are exercised in it: it is both prayer and most efficacious mortification too.

24. And indeed the only general effectual remedy against any inconveniences that may be caused by such aridities is this generosity of resolution not to seek contentment in nature by internal exercises, nor to quit them for any dulness, coldness, or aversion whatsoever. Let but souls do the best they can or know, and they will find that their spiritual progress in the true, solid, and only meritorious love of God will not at all be hindered, but rather advanced by such froward indispositions of corrupt nature.

25. And such courage and effectual resolution may well enough consist with these discouragements; for the spirit, whose operations do not much depend on the corporal disposition, may in the midst of all sensible aridities and obscurities perform its functions with great efficacy. The intellectual faculty is at all times capable of illumination, and the will of receiving grace and strength from God, and the light and grace which we receive at such times are far more pure and divine than when corporal affections do abound, for then they are communicated purely to the spirit; and consequently the operations performed in virtue of such light and grace are more noble and meritorious, because it is apparent that nature neither does nor can mingle her own interests in them, so that they may confidently he adjudged to be supernatural and divine. The essential profit of a soul consists in the light and love of the spirit; such light and love therefore, which are got with so much difficulty and in such a struggling of nature, is far more pure, generous, and withal more solidly rooted in the soul, than that which is got by the exercise of sensible affections; because all the while there is a continual combat against self-love, and all the most secret, subtle, and deeply-hidden snares of it; so that all virtues becoming thus rooted in the depth of the spirit, and having been produced by the means and in the midst of the sharpest temptations there is less fear that they will be extinguished by other following trials.

26. Now at the first, to the end to attain unto this most necessary courageousness of mind, such souls may do well to help themselves during their aridities with the best motives and most efficacious affections that they can furnish themselves withal, either out of their own invention or by collection out of books, as likewise frequently to urge and even force themselves to the love of God by such ejaculatory prayers and desires as these: O my God, when shall I love Thee as Thou deservest? When shall I love as I am loved by Thee? O, that I were freed from myself, that I may only love Thee! Excita potentiam Tuam et veni; veni, Domine, et noli tardare. Exurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici, ejus, &c.

27. Such affections as these let a devout soul exercise in her recollections likewise the best she can (in case she cannot see how other ways to do better), although without any gust or sensible contentment, and God will not fail to accept and plentifully reward her good will, and thereby promote her in such manner as He best knows. She may be sure that since He has given her the generous courage to serve Him without present wages, He will at least in the next life multiply rewards upon her infinitely above her expectation, and she ought to account it a proof of His especial love and esteem of her that He has selected her to be a martyr of love, and a soldier to whose courage He commits the most difficult and hazardous employments.

28. In case that internal distresses in prayer be so violent, that the soul, to her seeming, can only keep herself in an outward posture of prayer; all that she thinks or does appearing to her so utterly void of all spirit of devotion, love, and reverence to God that she may rather suspect it to be injurious to Him; let her be patient and abstain from disquieting her mind with murmuring complaints, and by all means let her be sure not to betake herself to consolation in creatures or recreative diversions in times appointed for recollection, and then all will be very well. God will require no more of her than she is well able to do, and He knows that it is not in her power always to subdue nature, yet she may and must always withdraw her consent from its sinful suggestions, and doing so, there will be no danger; therefore for what she cannot do let her be humbled and resigned, and such humble resignation will prove a very efficacious prayer.

29. Now it is not to be supposed that internal prayer exercised by imperfect souls during aridities, through the advantage of a natural propension, is a truly pure and spiritual prayer; because as yet their exercise is indeed in sense, yet it is in the nobler and supreme part of sensuality tending much toward the spirit, whereby they in that case do enjoy an internal light more clear and pure than whilst they exercise with flowing affections, insomuch as their operations are then abstracted from grosser sensuality, and the more strong that their propension to introversion is, the more easily and quickly do they raise themselves to that clear superior region of light; and the reason is because such a propension and aptitude to internal ways draws the persons endowed with it more and more deeply towards the spirit, in the perfect operations whereof consists the consummation of an internal life.

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