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

CHAPTER II. Of Meditation: the first and lowest degree of internal prayer.à

§§ 1, 2. Of Meditation: the first and lowest degree of internal prayer.

§§ 3, 4. Who are apt or unapt for Meditation.

§§ 5, 6. Generally most souls are to begin with it. And why?

§§ 7, 8, 9, 10. What those are to do that are unapt for Meditation.

§ 11. The misery of souls that are tied to a prayer improper for them.

1. The first and most imperfect degree of internal prayer is (as hath been said) Meditation, or discoursive prayer, of which we shall treat here -- not with that exact niceness as may be found in many books current in all hands, yet sufficiently in order to our present design, which is to consider it only as a preparation to the perfect prayer of contemplation; and therefore the instructions concerning it shall be such as may be proper for those whom God hath called to that perfect state, and withal moved to comply with the said call. And to such many instructions will not be proper.

2. Meditation is such an internal prayer in which a devout soul doth, in the first place, take in hand the consideration of some particular mystery of faith, to the end that, by a serious and exact search into the several points and circumstances in it with the understanding or imagination, she may extract motives of good affections to God, and consequently produce suitable affections in virtue of the said motives as long as such virtue will last.

3. This is a prayer to the exercise whereof all sorts of persons are neither disposed nor enabled, neither is it a token either of excellency of wit and judgment or of true devotion to be apt for the practice of it; on the contrary, the more that a soul doth abound with devotion and good affections to God, the less is she enabled or disposed thereto, yea, incapable of continuing long in the exercise of it. And again, some superficial wits, full of fancy, but wanting solidity of judgment, and which are not naturally much disposed to devotion, yet if they be put to the exercise of this discoursive prayer they will perform it better and thrive more in it than others, though of sharp wits, solid judgments, and great abilities, both in learning and invention, and that withal have very good wills to seek our Lord.

4. Women are, generally speaking, less apt for meditation than men, and, by consequence, more fit for the more perfect exercises of the will, by reason that they are more disabled in judgment and invention, and more abounding in will and affections, so that in them the will draws the stream from the understanding; therefore great care is to be taken that they be not compelled without necessity to tarry long in discoursive exercises, lest thereby they may be much prejudiced in the head and spirit, with little or no profit any way, but much harm in being detained from the more proper and beneficial exercise of the will in holy affections.

5. Now there being so great and inexpressible variety in the internal dispositions of persons, it is not possible to give certain and general rules to fit all, except this, that in the beginning of a spiritual contemplative course, all souls that are not naturally incapable of raising affections by internal discourse ought to apply themselves thereto, and to tarry therein till they find themselves ripe for a future exercise, to which they will attain sooner or later, either according to their diligence and constancy in practising meditation, or the measure and grace of devotion which God shall give them, or their natural aptness or inaptness for exercises of the understanding.

6. This advice is of great concernment, and therefore souls are not easily and lightly to be permitted to apply themselves to exercises of the will till a convenient time spent in those of the understanding; for though, perhaps, whilst the fervor novitius lasts in the beginning of one's conversion, a soul, being then full of affection, may for a while have little need of motives to open the passage to the said affections, which of themselves will be apt enough to flow, yet that fervour ceasing, they will be at a miserable loss, full of nothing but aridities, obscurities, and desolations, having no refuge at all, except their understanding be stored with good motives of holy affections caused by former consideration and meditation.

7. Yet this is not so to be understood as if souls were to be obliged to those nice, distracting, painful methods of meditation which are described in many books, or to frame curious pageants and scenes of the mysteries to be meditated on, &c.; for though such an employment of the imagination in prayer may be proper and profitable for those that by their professions live active distracted lives, to the end by such workings of the fancy to wipe out, as it were, the vain images contracted abroad by superinducing or painting over them new and holy images, yet for those who are more solitary and abstracted such a way of meditating would be very painful, and the profit so little, as it would not countervail the pain. To such, therefore, it will suffice with moderate attention to think on the substance of the mystery proposed, or on such circumstances of it as either are expressed in the text or do even naturally attend it, and from thence to draw as strong, fervorous, and frequent affections as may be.

8. As for those that are naturally utterly disabled and incapable of meditating (as many women are), it is very requisite in the beginning that they should at least supply the benefit that comes from meditation by preparing themselves to their recollections with much serious and attentive reading of some pious book, which may in some good proportion recompense meditation.

9. But in case a soul incapable of meditation and unable likewise to read shall undertake a spiritual contemplative course (as none are excluded), such an one must resolve to take a very great courage to pursue her exercises of the will and affections (which is but a dry exercise, and wanting sensible devotion is very ungrateful to the palate of the soul); she must be prepared not to be daunted with aridities and distractions, which distractions she has no other way to resist or expel, but only by pure obstinacy of the will not to attend to them or care for them; and, lastly, she must use more abstraction of life and solitude to prevent the multiplying of distracting images.

10. Those who, in the exercise of meditation, are more seriously affected to the discoursing part of it than to the good desires and purposes which should flow from such discourse, are in danger of many perils, as of pride, curiosity, extravagant opinions, yea, pernicious errors. The cause of which dangers is the predominancy that their imagination hath over their other faculties, which inclines them to please themselves with subtle, aerial, and curious discourses, and with framing of places and times, and other circumstances, in the consideration of a mystery, all which inconveniences are avoided in the exercises of the superior will, which being a blind faculty is best able to heave up herself unto God in darkness and vacancy of images, and being likewise a spiritual faculty is exempted from the devil's influences, who has great dominion over our corporeal powers to suggest representations, &c. For these reasons it is good to make the discoursing part of meditation as short as may be, so as that if the mere reflection on a mystery will suffice to produce a good affection, the person is to restrain the imagination.

11. To conclude, the great and inexplicable variety that is to be found in the dispositions of souls being considered, and likewise the great inconvenience that necessarily follows a misapplication of spirits to exercises improper for them, the sad condition of those good souls cannot sufficiently be bewailed who by their profession being, as it were, imprisoned in a solitary religious life, and being naturally inapt for discourse, are kept all their lives in meditation, repeating over and over again the same toilsome methods without any progress in spirit, to their great anguish and disquietness. And this misery is much greater in religious women, who, having no diversions of studies or employments, cannot possibly find exercise for their imagination; and therefore, seeing great defects and unsatisfactions in themselves, and not knowing the only cure of them (which is by ascending to the internal exercises of the will), their imperfections increase, and their anguishes proportionably, without any known means to amend them.

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