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

CHAPTER VII. Internal affective prayer of contemplation hath always been entertained at first with jealousy and rigour.à

§ 1. Internal affective prayer (of contemplation) hath always been entertained at first with jealousy and rigour.

§§ 2, 3, 4. An illustrious example in the person of the late R. Father Baltazar Alvarez, of the Society of Jesus.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. An account required and given by him to his general, touching his prayer of contemplation. The order and manner of God's guidance of him thereto and therein: and the excellency of that prayer declared.

§§ 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29. The substance of a discourse written by him in answer to seven objections made against internal prayer of contemplation.

§ 30. The success of this tempest.

1. It is so far from being a just prejudice against this most excellent of God's gifts (internal prayer of the will), that it is rather a proof of the more than ordinary eminency of it, that it has always found some, even among the learned, and ofttimes among such as have been the most strict and severe about religious observances, that have and do oppose it. God forbid that this should always be imputed either to malice, envy, &c., but rather to want of experience in the mysterious ways by which the Spirit of God ofttimes conducts His special servants. It is well known what calumnies and persecutions Suso, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, &c. found when God enlightened them and moved them to communicate to the world this heavenly light, all which they accepted as a certain proof that it came from God, that it was beneficial to souls, and therefore odious to the Devil; for so have all such things been ever at the first entertained.

2. But among all the late masters of pure spiritual contemplative prayer, there is none deserves more our esteem, nor is more proper to be produced in this place, than the late R. F. Baltazar Alvarez, of the Society of Jesus, well known unto and most highly esteemed by St. Teresa (who was much assisted and comforted by him during her troubles and difficulties). The special benefit that may be reaped from his story is, that by occasion of his trial and examination about his prayer all the suspicions and allegations against it are well cleared, and the whole substance of this treatise worthily confirmed and asserted.

3. This venerable person, after he had with great diligence spent about fifteen years in meditation and the spiritual exercises (peculiar to his order), and yet received but little profit to his spirit by them, being, on the contrary, tormented with extreme doubtfulness and unsatisfaction, was at last guided powerfully, by God's Holy Spirit, to quit meditation and to betake himself to a serious practice of prayer immediately in the will, by corresponding to which divine motion he presently received abundance of light, and a perfect remedy against all his anguishes and perplexities.

4. But his internal troubles ceasing, outward difficulties began; for others of his brethren and companions perceiving that he walked in ways unknown to them, earnestly required an examination of this new spirit, insomuch as that out of Spain these complaints came to the ears of their then General, the most R. F. Everardus Mercurian, resident at Rome; by order from whom his study was sealed up and afterwards searched by learned fathers thereto appointed, and all his papers examined, which, affording no matter of just accusation at all, but, on the contrary, of great edification, a second command comes from the General to him to give a full account of the order and manner of his prayer.

5. This command obliged him to make a free and ingenuous apology for himself, the which, because it is most pertinent and conformable to the spirit of these instructions, and besides is not common in many men's hands, I will here set down the substance of as it is related with most commendable candour and ingenuity by F. Ludovicus de Puente, of the same society, his scholar, who wrote his life.

6. Now, in his said Apology, he freely and humbly declares That near sixteen years he had laboured like one that tills the ground without reaping any fruit, that his heart was much strained with grief, observing that he wanted the talents for which he saw others esteemed, and particularly that he was much troubled that he had not space enough allowed him for prayer. But this temptation he overcame, resolving to employ no more time in prayer than holy obedience permitted, and rejecting that foolish ambition of excelling therein, or of pretending to divine favour, which others better deserving enjoyed. Notwithstanding, he still found his defects to multiply, and rather to disquiet than humble him; yea, they made him in an incapacity to comply with the internal counsels and invitations of God; moreover, that by reason of this unquietness the defects of others also under his government did much increase his distemper, so that he judged it a point of right government to make his subjects perform all things (like himself) with a melancholy dejectedness of mind.

7. That at the end of fourteen years he found himself in a practice of prayer, by which he placed himself in God's presence as a beggar, saying little, but only expecting an alms; but by reason that he could not keep his mind fixed on God, but did overmuch reflect upon himself, his troubles, dejection, and utter despair of approaching to perfection increased, since God had showed him no marks of His favour, which it seems he expected, but (as he confesses) very foolishly, since his coming to God with such an expectation was a greater fault than his former deserting Him; yea, hereby he was brought to that extreme confusion, that for mere shame he durst not for a good space in prayer say anything to God at all, but only that He would punish, forgive, and assist him.

8. But when sixteen years were passed he found his heart on the sudden unexpectedly quite changed and dilated, all his disquietness vanished, and his soul, freed from all created things, being filled with an astonishing joy, like that of those which say, |Lord, when we see Thee, we have seen all good, and are entirely satiated.| Here he found himself in a congregation of persons destined to beatitude, the way whereto seemed plain and easy; now he received a spiritual discretion to sever between the precious and the vile; new notions and intelligence of verities were given him, which fed his soul with joy and peace; yet such illuminations, at the first, were somewhat rare, but at the time of the writing of this Apology they were become much more frequent.

9. Instead of that anxiety that he had formerly, because his ambitious desire of being eminent was not satisfied, now he was content to live under the cross -- now he did so humble himself under all that he was in confusion to appear before any. Notwithstanding, though he honoured all men, yet he found that they were not at all needful to him, as formerly they seemed to be, but that it was both better and easier for him to converse with God only.

10. Thenceforward he perceived that God had given him an internal light for the ordering both of himself and others under him, even in the smallest matters; and whereas solicitudes in government, &c., did formerly disquiet and oppress his spirit, now he found that businesses were far better discharged by casting his care on God, and putting them out of his thoughts till the time came that he was to execute his duty; so that in the midst of a throng of cares he lived without care. Now he was not, as formerly, troubled for that he had not time sufficient for prayer, because he found that God gives more in one hour to mortified resigned souls than to others in many days, and he found more profit to his spirit by a faithful discharge of employments imposed by God than in vacancy and reading spiritual books of his own election.

11. A sight of his defects now does him good, by humbling him and making him distrustful of himself and confident in God, knowing that no defects not knowingly and deliberately persisted in do hinder God's counsels and designs for our perfection; and as for the defects of those under his government, he found it a great folly for him to disquiet himself about them, and that his former desire of making them sad and melancholy was an effect of his own impatience.

12. His prayer now was to place himself in God's presence, both inwardly and outwardly presented to him, and to rejoice with Him permanently and habitually. Now he understood the difference between imperfect and perfect souls on the point of enjoying the divine presence, expressed by St. Thomas (22 q.24, a.9 ad 3, et opusc.63); and he perceived that those were blind that seek God with anxiety of mind, and call upon Him as if He were absent; whereas, being already His temples, in which His divine, majesty rests, they ought to enjoy Him actually and internally present in them. Sometimes in his prayer he pondered awhile on some text of Scripture, according to the inspirations and lights then given him; sometimes he remained in cessation and silence before God, which manner of prayer he accounted a great treasure; for then his heart, his desires, his secret intentions, his knowledge, and all his powers spake, and God understood their mute language, and with one aspect could expel his defects, kindle his desires, and give him wings to mount spiritually unto Him. Now he took comfort in nothing but in suffering contentedly the will of God to be performed in all things, which was as welcome to him in aridities as consolations, being unwilling to know more than God freely discovered unto him, or to make a more speedy progress, or by any other ways than such as God Himself prescribed unto him. If his heart, out of its natural infirmity, did at any time groan under his present burden, his answer thereto would be: |Is not that good which God wills to be, and will it not always incessantly remain so?| or, |Will God cease to perform His own will because thou dost not judge it to be for thy good?| In conclusion, his present established comfort was to see himself in God's presence to be a sufferer, and to be treated according to His divine pleasure.

13. If, sometimes leaving this quiet prayer to which God had brought him, he offered to apply himself to his former exercises of meditation, he found that God gave him an internal reprehension and restraint. For his greater assurance, therefore, he searched mystic authors, St. Dionysius Areopagita (de Myst. Theol. c.1), St. Augustine (Epistol.119), St. Gregory (Mor. lib.30, 26, &c.), St. Bernard (in Cant. Serm.55, &c.), out of which he satisfied himself, that as rest is the end of motion, and a quiet habitation the end of a laborious building, so this peaceful prayer and quiet enjoying of God in spirit was the end of the imperfect busy prayer of meditation, and therefore that all internal discoursing with the understanding was to cease whensoever God enabled souls to actuate purely by the will; and that to do otherwise would be as if one should be always preparing somewhat to eat, and yet afterwards refuse to taste that which is prepared. By this divine prayer of the will, the Holy Spirit of wisdom, with all the excellencies of it described in the Book of Wisdom (cap. viii.), is obtained, and with it perfect liberty.

14. In consequence hereto he proceeds by reasons to demonstrate the supereminent excellency of this reposeful prayer of the will, as: 1. That though in it there is no reasoning of the mind, yet the soul, silently presenting herself before God with a firm faith that her desires are manifest to Him, doth more than equivalently tell God her desires, and withal exercises all virtues, humbling herself before Him, loving Him only, and believing that leaving her own ways and constantly holding to God's, all good will proceed from thence to her; 2. that in this prayer a soul hath far more sublime and worthy notion of God; 3. that this still and quiet prayer may be far more prolixly and perseverantly practised than the tiring prayer of meditation, (yea, it may come to be continual and without interruption); 4. that all the good effects of meditation, as humility, obedience, &c., are far more efficaciously and perfectly produced by this prayer than by that which is joined with inward seasonings; 5. true indeed it is that the exercises instituted by St. Ignatius were more proper generally for souls than this, yet that this ought to be esteemed proper for those whom God had called and prepared to it, and that this was St. Ignatius's own practice, who, though in his less perfect state he purified the imperfect exercises instituted by him, yet afterwards he was exalted to this sublime prayer, by which he came to suffer divine things. That, therefore, as none ought to intrude into the exercise of this pure prayer till God has called and fitted them for it, so being called, none ought to be forbidden it (as Osanna in his alphabet teacheth); and that whosoever forbiddeth such shall give a strict account to God for so great a fault, insomuch, as a certain spiritual writer saith, that God will shorten the lives of those superiors who shall presume to discourage and affright any souls from these internal ways, except they desist from such an attempt.'

15. This is the sum of the account which the most venerable F. Baltazar Alvarez, after a retirement of fifteen days, with a most humble confession of his own defects and misery, and a magnifying of God's liberal goodness extended towards him, gave unto his General.

16. Now, besides this account, he wrote likewise a short discourse, in which he did more fully treat of the nature of this prayer of rest and silence, and gave a particular answer to several objections which certain of his brethren had made and dispersed against the said prayer. The sum of which objections, with his answers to them, I will here adjoin.

17. The first objection was, that one who exerciseth this prayer, which admitteth neither of discoursive meditation nor any such like use of the understanding, seems to spend his time unprofitably in doing nothing, which might far better be bestowed in external exercises of virtues.

18. The answer hereto is, that though the understanding be in a sort suspended from exercising its activity, yet the soul is far from being idle; on the contrary, she performs that which St. Bernard calls the business of all businesses; for therein the stream of holy affections doth freely flow by loving, admiring, adoring, congratulating, resigning, and offering the soul to God contemplated with the eye of faith, &c., and all this sometimes in a few words, sometimes in silence. In a word, the soul behaves herself according to the variety of affections that the unction of the Holy Spirit, who is the principal master herein, doth teach and move her to, according to that of St. Dionysius Areopagita to Timotheus, Converte te ad radium, &c., -- Turn thyself to the beam of divine light.' From hence that admirable union doth proceed which the same Saint calls The union of the unknown with the unknown,' which is the supreme height of mystical theology, and which, without experience of it, cannot be conceived by any.

19. The second objection is, that to leave meditation, out of an expectation of divine inspirations or revelations, seems to be a tempting of God and a favouring of the error of the heretics called Illuminates.

20. The answer is, that this prayer, exercised merely by holy affections without mental discoursings, cannot be practised but by such as have a long time been exercised in the inferior degree of discoursive prayer, except it be when God presents souls extraordinarily by a special invitation and enablement; and those, likewise, that from meditation do ascend to this quiet prayer, do it by the guidance of a supernatural light, and being in it, they exercise themselves therein not by desiring or expecting revelations, but by acknowledging the divine presence in the soul and producing the foresaid holy affections to Him. Neither is here any affinity with the doings of the Illuminates, who, without any call from God, without any preparation, did arrogantly presume to pray as they did, remaining in a distracted idleness and misspending the time in expectation of extraordinary visits, without any good effect at all toward the reformation of their inordinate affections; whereas, if an immortified soul should presume to betake herself to this prayer, she will be forced to quit it; for none can appear with a secure peacefulness before God's presence that doth deliberately resist His Spirit, which is the spirit of purity, sanctity, humiliation, and conformity to the Divine Will.

21. In the third place, it is objected that there is no way to discern when one undertakes this prayer by a divine inspiration, and when this is done out of presumption and a desire to enjoy spiritual gifts, which nourish self-love.

22. It is answered that this will evidently enough be known by the effects, as a tree by its fruits. Now the effects of this prayer, when it is practised upon a divine call, are a softness and flexibility of the heart to the Divine Will; a resigned acceptation of all things from His hand; a confidence of obtaining all good from Him upon whom the soul hath entirely bestowed herself; an imitation of the pattern of all perfection, our Lord Jesus; a renouncing of self-will, &c. Now surely that prayer which teaches these things is doubtless from God.

23. But, fourthly, it is replied that those which practise this kind of prayer are self-opinioned, adhering to their own ways, and, out of a presumptuous conceit of being spiritual, despise others, and refuse to submit themselves to the judgment of superiors.

24. The answer is, that such defects and miscarriages as these are not to be imputed to the prayer itself (which teaches quite the contrary), but to the imperfections and frailty of those that do not practise it as they ought; and therefore this is not a ground sufficient to condemn the prayer itself, no more than meditation ought to be condemned because the like or greater faults are committed by some that practise it, who are more obnoxious to a vain esteem of themselves upon occasion of some curious inventions found out by their internal reasonings therein. Yea, the sacraments we see are abused, but yet not, therefore, forbidden; as for superiors, none of them, except it be sometimes for a trial, ought to prohibit their subjects from praying according as God, by His inspiration, directs them; and if they shall absolutely prohibit this, they must expect that God will require an account of them; however, in such a case it would be a fault in subjects to disobey them, but yet, till such a prohibition do issue forth, the subjects surely may lawfully, yea ought to, follow the internal directions of God. Neither is it presumption in them, if by the advantage of experience they shall think themselves capable of judging of such matters better than those that have no experience at all in them; nor is it pride to acknowledge the gifts given us of God, as the apostle saith.

25. Fifthly, it is objected that some are so wholly given up to this fashion of prayer, that they are always in a kind of ecstasy, being so delighted with the gusts which they find in it, that they quite forget their obligations of charity, obedience, and exercise of virtues, from which they retire, to the end that they may immerse themselves in a prayer that affords them no truths which may profitably be communicated to their neighbours. Now all this is directly contrary to the institute of St. Ignatius; moreover, by this kind of prayer, many of the practisers of it become subject to divers corporal infirmities, which render them incapable to comply with the obligations of their state of life.

26. The answer is, that it is no wonder if some defects be found in these persons, since none are entirely free; but, however, the said defects are not to be imputed to the prayer, but to undue use of it; for contemplation itself doth even urge souls to the exercise of charity whensoever necessity and duty requires it (not otherwise). Hence is that saying of St. Augustine (lib.19, de Civit. D. c.19), Otium sanctuna querit charitas veritatis, &c., -- Love of verity seeketh a holy vacancy.' Necessity of charity undertaketh due employments, the which charge, if it be not imposed, one ought to remain in the fruition and contemplation of verity, and agreeable hereto is the doctrine of St. Gregory (in cap. vii. Job) and St. Bernard (Ser.57 in Cant.). Moreover, a soul by meditation may perhaps find out finer conceits; but the will is more enriched with virtues by this prayer. Now it is virtue alone that renders a soul acceptable to God, and as for corporal infirmities, they proceed only from an indiscreet use of this prayer; for otherwise it being a prayer of stillness and repose, is far less dangerous to the head and health than the laborious imaginative exercise of meditation, and hence it is that those holy persons that practised it were enabled much longer to continue in it.

27. A sixth objection was that this manner of prayer doth draw souls so wholly to itself, that all devotion to Saints and all praying for common or particular necessities become too much neglected and forgotten.

28. It is answered that since such vocal prayers and voluntary exercises are only means to bring souls to perfect prayer of quietness, according to St. Thomas's doctrine (22 q.83, a.13) they ought to cease when the soul finds herself full of fervent affections; neither is this any proof of disesteem of such means, but a right understanding and use of them. It is said of St. Ignatius that by long practice of vocal prayer, &c., he was brought to such inward familiarity with God, that he could not proceed in the saying of his office by reason of the copious communication of ardent affections and graces that God bestowed on him, insomuch as his companions were forced to obtain for him a dispensation from that obligation, because the performance of his office took up almost the whole day, so abundant were the divine visitations in it towards him. Neither are we to think that a soul by following the divine conduct in pure prayer doth thereby omit due petitions for either common or particular necessities; on the contrary, since those necessities are known to God, who sees the hearts of His servants that ardently desire a supply to them, but yet do not busy themselves much in making express prayers for them, because they would rather employ their affections in such prayer as they know is more acceptable to God, -- by such a not express asking, they do privily and most efficaciously ask and obtain the said petitions; and as for devotions to Saints, they account it to be their chiefest honour that God should be most honoured.

29. The seventh and last objection was the same that the author had before answered in his account to his General, viz. that this fashion of prayer calls souls from the spiritual exercises instituted by St. Ignatius, the answer to which need not be repeated. But whereas it was added that diversity of prayer might cause factions in the society, it was answered that the perfect may lawfully practise ways not common to the imperfect, without any fear of divisions or any intention of contradicting or despising of others.

30. This is the sum both of the account given by the V. R. Father Baltazar Alvarez to his General touching his prayer, as likewise of his answers to the objections made unto it, and the success of the tempest raised against him was, as to his own person, very prosperous and happy; for after a most strict examination his innocence and truth were asserted by his writings, and his most humble patience manifested in his whole behaviour. Moreover, the General conceived so great an esteem of him that he preferred him to two offices successively, of the greatest dignity and trust that the society then had in Spain. Notwithstanding, the same General (as the author of the Life, p.493, saith), not approving that such a manner of prayer should so commonly be spread, did therefore restrain and moderate such a generality; and in his letters to the Provincial (p.508) required superiors that they should direct and assist their religious so that they might highly esteem, and in their practice follow, the manner of prayer most conformable to their institute, prescribed in their exercises.

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