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

CHAPTER III. How a soul is to exercise Meditation.à

§ 1. How a soul is to exercise Meditation.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. What inconvenient practices and methods therein are to be avoided.

§§ 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. What orders are positively to be observed.

§ 15. The grounds of these advices.

§§ 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. Further special instructions to the same purpose.

§ 23. A particular way of Meditation in Blosius.

1. Intending now to set down more particular instructions and advices how and in what manner a soul (by her choice or profession aspiring to contemplation) ought, in order thereto, to practise the lowest and most imperfect degree of internal prayer, which is Meditation, I will first show such a beginner what he is not to do -- that is, what practices and orders he is to avoid; 2. and next, how he is to behave himself in the exercise thereof.

2. As to the former, therefore, I should be so far from commending, that I would scarce permit souls living a contemplative life (as all enclosed religious women do, &c.) to be strictly obliged to a prescribed method in meditation, or to those many and nice rules which are ordained by some modern authors, as: 1. that a soul should put herself in the divine presence; 2. that she should make acts of contrition; 3. that she should select points of meditation; 4. that she should consider them in such an order, with such framing of representations of the persons, times, places, postures, &c.; 5. that thence she should draw motives of good affections; 6. that thereupon she should draw petitions; 7. that afterwards she should make purposes; 8. that thereto she should adjoin thanksgiving; 9. moreover, that she should have a list of imperfections or faults committed the day, &c., before, and make expunctions of faults amended; 10. that, in conclusion, she should make an examination how her meditation hath been performed, to the end she may give an account thereof to her spiritual director, &c.

3. It is far from my intention to speak against the use of such methods and orders among those where they were first invented and are still practised, for they may well enough agree with their institute, which is far more active than contemplative. But among solitary contemplative spirits such orders are indeed a disorder, and a nice observance of such ceremonious methods would be more distractive and painful than the simple exercise itself; and particularly the expectation that an account is to be given of one's thoughts during meditation would afford more business to a soul than the mystery on which she meditates, so that she would be more solicitous to give satisfaction to her director than to perform her duty to God; and therefore St. Teresa with just reason complains against those directors which fetter and encumber their disciples' minds with orders and rules, which require more attention than the matter of the prayer itself.

4. How to meditate profitably (though not curiously) is quickly and without much difficulty learnt by such as are fit for it; but to observe all the said prescripts is both difficult, encumbering, and unprofitable, being, indeed, little better than a misspending of the time (I mean for souls tending to contemplation).

5. Moreover, in meditation I would not tie the will that it should not go beside or beyond the understanding; on the contrary, my advice and request is that the will, so it be carried towards God, should be suffered to go as far as it can, and that scope should be given to any good affection, not caring whether such affections be pertinent to the present subject to be considered on at that time, upon condition that the soul find that she bestows herself more efficaciously on God by such affections, than by those which would properly flow from the present motives considered.

6. Neither would I that when a soul has chosen one point or mystery to meditate on, she should strictly oblige herself to proceed on with it, but that if, without a voluntary roving and seeking, any other should offer itself to the mind more grateful and more gustful to the soul, she should entertain the latter, holding herself to it as long as the virtue of it well lasteth; and it ceasing, then let her return to the first proposed subject. And the like liberty I recommend in the following exercises of immediate acts, whensoever any act or good affection is suggested to the mind besides those which the soul finds in her paper proposed for the present recollection.

7. Notwithstanding, in case that the new matter (or affections) occurring be such as that it doth feed some over-abounding humour or passion in the soul, as fear (even of God Himself), tenderness, shedding of tears, scrupulosity, or dejectedness of spirit, &c., I would by no means permit a soul to entertain her mind with such matter, because she will thereby only plunge herself more deeply into nature and immortification, and not at all purify her inordinate affections. Such souls, even in the beginning, ought not to choose such matters for their prayers, and much less ought they to be permitted to quit other good matter for that. This advice extends likewise to the exercise of immediate acts of the will, forasmuch as concerns the matter of them.

8. Now such freedom of spirit and permission to change the present matter or affections is to be supposed to be allowed only when the said change proceeds not out of sloth, inconstancy, a vain pleasing of the fancy or affection, but out of a judicious election, or from an interior invitation, the which most probably is from the Spirit of God; hereto, therefore, may be applied that saying of St. Bernard, Modus diligendi Deum, est diligere sine modo; that is, the measure and manner of loving of God is to love Him immeasurably and freely without a prescribed manner.

9. In the next place, having showed what incumbrances a soul is to avoid in her exercise of meditation, I will proceed to declare positively and directly how I would advise her to behave herself therein.

10. Let a soul that begins mental prayer with the exercise of meditation make choice of some good books of that subject, as Fulvius Androtius, Granada, or the abridgment of De Ponte's Meditations (which I would especially recommend).

11. Let her begin with the matter of the purgative way, as concerning sin, death, the final judgment, hell, or the like, and let her abide in the exercises of that way till she finds in herself an aversion from sin, and that much of the fear and remorse that were formerly in her are deposed, so that she is come to have some good measure of confidence in God. When she finds these effects in her, let her (without regarding whether she has run over all the exercises and matters in her book belonging to the purgative way) pass to the exercises of meditation which respects the illuminative way (as they call it), that is to such whose matter or argument is some mystery of faith touching our Lord's Life, Passion, &c., and which are apt to beget and increase humility, patience, and other virtues in her.

12. Being entered into the illuminative way, let her in like manner abide in the exercises thereof till she find herself apt for resignation, love, and other affections of the unitive way, to the exercise of which let her thereupon apply herself.

13. It may happen that a soul that is duly and in right order come into the illuminative and unitive way (as those ways are distinguished by the masters of meditation), and after some time spent in the exercises proper to those ways may afterward find herself called back to the purgative, as after the committing of some fault extraordinary, or during some unusual temptation, in which cases she is to yield thereto and abide in those inferior exercises as long as she finds them proper and profitable for her (which is not like to be very long).

14. In like manner, whilst she is in the purgative way, if acts of resignation, love, &c., and much more if aspirations shall offer themselves to her (as sometimes they may), let her by all means correspond unto them as long as they are relishing to her, neglecting and forbearing in the mean time to consider motives or to produce inferior acts of contrition, fear, &c., belonging to the purgative way.

15. The ground of the reasonableness and necessity of these advices is this: because the matter and manner of prayer are to be prescribed and ordered according to the temper and disposition of souls, and not the methods of books; and therefore souls are to be applied to such a manner of prayer as God calls them to, and is likely to subdue inordinate affections in them; therefore scrupulous and fearful souls, even in the beginning; are to be forbidden the exercises of terror, &c., which belong to the purgative way, and they are to be applied to such exercises as are apt to produce love, confidence in God, &c.

16. For some short space before a soul begins her exercise of meditation let her look upon the book, and therein peruse the points that she intends to meditate on; or rather, indeed, those points are to be thought upon and provided beforehand, that is, over-night for the morning meditation, and after dinner for the evening. So doing, she will be less to seek about them, and better employ the time appointed for her exercise.

17. Let her not trust her memory for the points that she is to meditate on, but have the book ready that she may look on it as she shall have need, and let her take one point after another as they lie in the book, or as she shall have determined before, when she prepared for the succeeding recollection.

18. In her meditating on each point let her behave herself after this manner: 1. With her memory and understanding let her think on the matter of that point; 2. out of which let her draw a reason or motive, by which the will may be inclined some way or other toward God; 3. and thereupon let her produce an act of the will (as of humiliation, adoration, resignation, contrition, &c.), abiding in such application of the soul to God as long as the will hath life and activity for it, or as long as she shall be able to do it; 4. the which failing and growing to be disgustful, let her proceed to the next point, therein behaving herself likewise after the same manner, so proceeding in order to the others following till she have spent a competent time in her recollection.

19. Now I conceive a competent time for one recollection spent in meditation to be an hour, or very little less. Whereas for the exercise of immediate acts of the will a lesser space will suffice; and the reason of the difference is: 1. because in this latter exercise more acts of the will (wherein all good doth consist) are produced than in meditation; 2. and, besides, the exercise of acts is more dry and wearisome (except in some few that abound in sensible affections) than is meditation to souls fit for it.

20. During meditation let the soul (neglecting the too common practice, in which meditation is made rather a study and speculation than an exercise of the spirit) spend no more time in inventing motives and in internal discoursings than shall be necessary to move the will to good affections; but as for such affections, let her abide in them as long as she can (for therein consists all the profit); and if upon one consideration or motive she can produce many acts of the will, let her not fail to do so, and to continue in each act as long as she finds that she is enabled. It is no matter though in the mean time the understanding should lie quiet, as it were asleep, and without exercise.

21. Indeed, in souls which have an effectual call to an internal life, their meditations will have little study or speculation in them; for after a short and quick reflection on the matter, mystery, or motive, they will forthwith produce acts of the will; and their consideration of the matter is not so much by way of reasoning or inferring, as a simple calling to mind or thinking on a subject, out of which the will may produce some act or other answerable to the point reflected on by the understanding. And this sort of meditating is proper for many ignorant persons, especially women, which have not the gift of internal discoursing.

22. A soul that practises meditation will find that at the first, she will, during one time of recollection, stand in need of many points to be thought upon, and of many motives to produce affections. But in continuance the will will become affected, as fewer points will suffice to employ it in producing good affections and purposes, which will take up almost the whole time appointed for the recollection; and a soul being come to this state, will be ready and ripe for a more sublime exercise of immediate acts of the will.

23. Another way of meditating like unto this, and proper for persons of good wills, is that which is recommended by Blosius, and seems to have been his own practice, which is, without much discoursing to represent to the mind any mystery to which the soul has an affection (as our Lord's agony, or Ecce Homo, or His dereliction on the Cross, &c.), and to regard Him in such a state with as much tenderness of affection as may be, exercising short acts of love, compassion, gratitude, &c. Moreover, he advises a person to endeavour (yet without much straining or force used) to preserve this object present to the mind all the day after, and to perform the daily employments as in our Lord's presence. By this means a soul will come well prepared with a tenderness of heart to her recollections, and so will have little need to spend time in employing the understanding.

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