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

CHAPTER V. A change from meditation to prayer of the will is necessary in an internal life.à

§ 1. A change from meditation to prayer of the will is necessary in an internal life.

§ 2. It is otherwise in active livers.

§ 3. A soul of a contemplative profession, when to leave operating with the understanding.

§ 4. Exercises of the will more perfect than those of the understanding.

§ 5. Whether meditation on the Passion may be left.

§§ 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Reasons to prove the affirmative.

§§ 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Advices showing when a change of prayer is seasonable.

§§ 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26. More particular signs showing the proper time of a change.

§ 27. The wonderful variety of changes in an internal life.

1. It is impossible for a soul that leads an abstracted life, and diligently pursues internal prayer, to fix continually in meditation, or to rest in any degree of affective prayer; because the nature of such intellectual and spiritual operations is to become more and more pure, abstracted, and universal, and to carry the will and affections of the soul still higher and further into God; the activity of the imagination and understanding continually abating, and the activity of the will continually increasing and getting ground upon the understanding, till at last all its operations become so quieted and silenced that they cease, or at least become imperceptible.

2. A soul, therefore, being thus invited and disposed to approach continually nearer and nearer unto God, if she be, either by her own or others' ignorance, so fettered with customs or rules that she is deprived of due liberty of spirit to correspond to such an invitation and to quit inferior exercises, she will find no profit at all by her prayer, but, on the contrary, extreme pain, which will endanger to force her to relinquish her recollections.

3. It is otherwise with those whose profession is to live active distracted lives, though they do seriously aspire to the perfection answerable to that state. For such may continue all their lives in meditation, and follow the methods of it; because what they lose by their distractions they may recover by their following meditation, the good images used therein expelling the vain images contracted in their external employment. True it is that to such persons meditation will grow more and more pure, and more in spirit, yet never so as to exclude a direct use of the imagination.

4. When a contemplative soul, therefore, hath for some reasonable time practised meditation, and comes to perceive that a further exercise thereof is become dry and ungrateful to her spirit, causing great disgust and little or no profit, she ought then to forbear meditation, and to betake herself to the exercise of immediate acts, which she will then doubtless perform with great gust and facility, to her notable profit in spirit.

5. It is a great mistake in some writers who think the exercise of the will to be mean and base in comparison of inventive meditation and curious speculation of divine mysteries, inasmuch as none but elevated spirits can perform this, whereas the most ignorant and simple persons can exercise acts or affections of the will. On the contrary, it is most certain that no acts of the understanding (as speculation, consideration, deduction of conclusions, &c.), in matters pertaining to God, are of themselves of any virtue to give true perfection to a soul, further than as they do excite the will to love Him, and by love to be united to Him. And this union by exercise may be obtained in perfection by souls that are not at all capable of discourse, and that have no more knowledge of God than what is afforded from a belief of the fundamental verities of Christian faith; so that it is evident that the end of all meditation, &c., is the producing acts of the will. Therefore let no man neglect or scorn the exercise proper for him, out of a conceit that it is too mean; but let him first try the profit of it, and not till then make a judgment.

6. Others there are that do, indeed, persuade souls in due time to quit the exercises of the understanding for those of the will, but yet always with one exception and reservation, to wit, of the meditation on the Passion of our Lord; this, say they, is never to be set aside, but will be a subject fit for the contemplation of the most perfect. What an ingratitude it would be to God, say they, and what a neglect of our soul's good, purposely to forbear a frequent meditation of this mystery, the ground of all our happiness, the root of all merit, the supremest testimony of divine love towards us, the most inviting and winning object of love from us to God, the terror of all our spiritual enemies, &c.! This is the position of many spiritual authors, and particularly of F. Benet Canfield.

7. Notwithstanding, I cannot join with these authors in this position, nor agree that a due liberty of spirit should be abridged for any pretext whatsoever. The ground of which liberty is this, that a soul is to make the experience and proof of her own spiritual profit to be the rule and measure of all her spiritual exercises, and upon no colours or conceits of perfection in any subject or exercise, to oblige herself thereto further than she finds it helpful and gustful to her spirit.

8. As for the mystery of the Passion, it does, doubtless, deserve all the titles given unto it; but yet souls are not to be discouraged if they find in themselves a disability to meditate on it, whether this disability proceed from some natural temper of the internal senses or from abundance of affections in the heart, that cannot expect, because they do not need curiously to search motives from the understanding and discourse; neither is it to be supposed that such persons, exercising immediate acts of the will toward God without discoursing on the Passion, are therefore bereaved of the true (yea, only true) exercise of our Lord's Passion. On the contrary, in such exercises of the will is contained the virtue of all precedent meditations. Neither are the persons driven to the pains and expense of time in finding out reasons and motives to raise their affections to our Lord, but immediately and without more ado suffer the affections to flow; and they do far more truly, efficaciously, and profitably exercise and, as it were, exemplify the Passion itself; and this in two manners, viz.1. In their internal prayer, wherein they produce the same affections and acts of love, humility, and patience of which our Lord gave there a pattern in His Passion.2. In their external doings, really on occasions practising the same virtues (which are proper to the Passion) with far more perfection in virtue of such prayer than they could by meditation, and so do show themselves to be more true disciples of His.

9. This divine object, therefore, is far from being lost or forgotten by such proceeding in prayer, yea, it is in a far more noble manner both commemorated and imitated; and surely to tie the soul generally in all recollections to a particular curious reflection on the circumstances belonging to our Lord's Passion, would be as if one would oblige a person that can read perfectly, and with one glance of his eye join a whole sentence together, to make an express and distinct reflection on each letter, syllable, and word. Such a framing and multiplying of images would only serve to obscure the mind and cool the affections. Well may such devout souls, out of time of prayer, in reading or discoursing, admit such images, and receive benefit by them in future recollections; but when they actually pray, then to be forced to stop and restrain the will from melting into divine love or from sacrificing herself to God by perfect resignation, &c., till she have passed through her former imperfect method of imaginative meditation, is all one as to forbid souls to unite themselves in spirit to the Divinity.

10. Notwithstanding, when souls come to be perfect they will be in such a state as that the express consideration of this or any other good sensible object will be no impediment at all to their higher exercises, yea, it will very efficaciously advance the soul in them, and this is after that perfect contemplation is attained to; for then the imagination is so rectified and so perfectly subjected to the superior soul, that it will not only not obscure or distract, but, on the contrary, will with great readiness help to make contemplation more pure and clear. Then a view of the Humanity of our Lord will drive the soul more deeply into the Divinity, as we see that the glorified Saints, without the least distraction to their vision of God, yea, surely with an addition to the perfection of it, do in their thanksgiving reflect on the Humanity and Passion of our Saviour, saying, Dignus est Agnus qui occisus est, &c.

11. Till souls, therefore, do attain to such contemplation, let them (being in the exercise of immediate acts, &c.) content themselves to exercise the mystery of the Passion virtually, though not expressly, remembering the saying of a spiritual author, that in God nothing is neglected. All faith and all love is exercised in the contemplation and union of the spirit by love to the Divinity; all particular devotions are both sufficiently and perfectly performed when we perform our principal duty most perfectly. In doing this we do honour the Saints after a manner most acceptable to them; we do most perfectly discharge our vocal prayers (which are not of obligation), and we most efficaciously express our charity both to our friends, living and dead, so that there will be no need for such ends to interrupt or distract our recollections by obliging ourselves voluntarily to multiply the repeating of offices, &c.; and lastly, so far is this from being any disparagement to our gratitude unto our Lord for His sufferings, that we thereby acknowledge that all the good thoughts that we entertain, and all the good actions that we do, are produced in virtue of His Passion, adhered to by faith and love, although no express internal discourse on it be exercised.

12. Now what hath here been delivered, concerning the disobliging of souls that practise internal prayer from tying themselves to imaginative exercises about sensible objects, is not only suitable to reason, but is moreover confirmed by the authority of learned and experienced mystic writers, and particularly the devout reader may see what Barbanson in his Secrets Sentiers (Part I. cap. vi. Admonit.2) hath written on this point.

13. Thus having shown the indispensable necessity for a soul aspiring to contemplation, with all due liberty of spirit to follow the divine guidance from each inferior degree of prayer to another more sublime, then become more proper and profitable, I will now endeavour to give more particular advices concerning passing from the exercise of meditation to that of immediate acts of the will, and will show by what signs and marks a devout soul may reasonably judge and conclude that such a change and transition is proper for her. Yet so that my intention and desire is that souls should principally depend on their internal light, which God's Holy Spirit will afford them in and by prayer.

14. Let every devout soul diligently pursue her present exercise in prayer, advisedly undertaken or recommended to her by a prudent director, till there come a proper time for a change. Let her (saith the excellent author of Scala Perfectionis) content herself with this gift of God till He be pleased to bestow on her a better, which He will not fail to do when He shall see it to be for her good; and so doing she cannot but increase in charity, although she see no evident proof of her advancement in spiritual operations. Whensoever it shall be God's pleasure to make a change in her prayer, He will by degrees so press her thereto, that in the end she shall both clearly perceive and correspond to His invitation; and till that time come it is to no purpose for her to examine or frame any judgment of her progress. Her best is to do her duty, and leave the success to God.

15. A change, whensoever it is made as it ought to be, consists in this, that the activity of the fancy and discourse is abated, and the whole internal exercise of prayer by little is reduced to blind operations of the will, which operations (or affections) likewise grow by practice more and more natural, quiet, pure, silent, subtile, imperceptible, and profound, the Divine Spirit drawing the soul, in her exercises, ever more and more unto Itself.

16. Ordinarily, when a time of change from a more imperfect to a more sublime exercise of prayer cometh, it will not on the sudden or at once be perceived, or but very obscurely and doubtfully; only a soul will perceive a bettering in her exercises, her operations by little and little becoming more spiritual; and, indeed, in some persons there is almost daily a bettering and purifying of their prayer, which themselves do or may well enough observe, though, perhaps, they are not able to express the manner of it to another by reason of its subtilty.

17. Far less inconveniences would follow by detaining a soul somewhat too long in an humble inferior exercise (as of meditation) when she is fit and ripe for a more sublime one, than if (through inconsideration, levity, or an ambitious humour to imitate examples or instructions in books not pertinent to her) she should at the first, or before her time, be put into one above her present capacity; for in the former case an easy and present remedy may be found by exalting the soul afterward to a more perfect exercise suitable to her present disposition, till which be done she will at least exercise her humility and submission of judgment, by which she will receive much profit. But it is very difficult to find a remedy in the other case; because, first the natural unwillingness and shame that is in souls to acknowledge their too hasty ambition and to descend lower will secretly hinder them; and, besides, they will be ready to justify themselves by misapplying certain documents in spiritual authors, which forbid souls to quit their present exercises for one inferior, through any discouragement from aridities or unsatisfaction found in them. Notwithstanding, except they will be content with the mortification of returning to meditation (in case they be not yet ripe for immediate acts of the will), they will be in danger of incurring an habitual dryness, melancholy, and stupidity; and, moreover, they will run into an endless labyrinth, perplexing and entangling themselves therein, to the great disquiet of their own minds and the troubling of others with questions and doubts.

18. Yet it cannot be denied but that God doth often invite souls to some change in prayer, according to that which before they had read in some books; and then they are to follow the instructions of such a book as a light sent them from God. In which case it is indeed the secret motion and invitation afforded them by God to apply such instructions that is their sure guide, without which they must apply nothing that they find in books.

19. More particularly by these following signs a devout soul may, for the most part, perceive and judge when it is fit for her to change her exercises of prayer (as, for example, to quit meditation, and to betake herself to a prayer of the will, &c.).

20. First, she will not find that pleasure, satisfaction, and profit in her present exercise which formerly she did, but, on the contrary, a sensible disgust and a kind of impotency to practise internal discourse any longer; or, if she will force herself to observe her method of meditating, it will produce no effect upon her affections, which, if they were left to themselves, would flow far more freely; and this disgust is not for once or twice, nor, as formerly, upon occasion of some corporal distemper, passion, aridity, or any unusual accident, but it is a lasting, disgust arising from a desire to please God and to grow in perfection, joined with an uncertainty or fear that the way wherein she now is is not proper to effect that desire.

21. Secondly, she will thereupon find in herself a certain motion or inward invitation to enter into some other new exercise, as yet not clearly known to her; or, if there be no new exercise proposed to her, there is, however, a motion to a cessation from the present exercise, at least forasmuch as concerns the manner of it; as it happens when, from aspirations, a soul is invited to a resting and repose in God, with a cessation of all active aspirations or affections, which is an immediate disposition to a supernatural contemplation.

22. Thirdly, a devout soul, considering the benefit that she hath hitherto reaped by her present exercise and her accustomance to it (which is not easily left); considering, likewise, that for want of trial she doth not as yet know the worth and benefit of the new proposed exercise (which, at first appearing a little strange and uncouth to her, she will not easily see or believe that it will prove as profitable as her present exercise has already been); for these and the like reasons she will be apprehensive and unwilling to adventure upon the new one.

23. Fourthly, during these uncertainties and irresolutions, her distaste in her present exercise rather increasing than diminishing, and God still interiorly, though not grossly and sensibly, inclining her to the new proposed way, she at length, as it were forced thereto, adventures upon it, yet with some fear at the first whether this change will prove for her good or no.

24. Fifthly, as soon as she is well entered into this new exercise, presently she will find it gustful and delightful unto her, and withal much more profitable than was the other formerly practised; whereupon she will thenceforward with courage and joy persevere in it.

25. By such steps and degrees doth a soul that is purely under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit pass from one degree of prayer to another formerly unknown to her, till at last she come to contemplation; and she will clearly perceive that it was not herself but God only that did, as it were, lead her by the hand, and draw her forward into the new exercise, teaching her likewise how to behave herself in the beginning; whereas in the pursuance of it she afterwards proceeds, as it were, by her own habitual skill, though really God is in everything her secret Master and Helper. And He deals with an humble soul as a writing-master with his scholar, who at first moves and directs his hand to form and join letters, but afterwards directs him only with his eye and tongue; or as a father that carries his child over a ditch or stile, but lets him go alone in the even plain way.

26. And as for a soul that, by reading or teaching, is informed in the nature and degrees of internal prayer, her proceeding and transition is much after the same manner, excepting only that the next degree to which she is to ascend does not seem so strange to her; but the signs by which a necessity of change doth appear are, as formerly, a constant disgust in her present exercise (meditation, &c.), and a kind of disability to continue it with any profit to her spirit; by which means it comes to pass that in her recollections the meditating or discoursing part diminishes daily, and the affective part increases, the will by little and little getting ground of the understanding, till at last the prayer becomes entirely of the will; and thus she passes almost unawares into the next degree, her prayer becoming by little and little more and more purified. Into which degree, when she is in such a manner and order entered, then indeed she is not for any aridities or obscurities to quit it and to return to meditation, but to use a discreet violence upon the will to make it to produce good affections and acts, although nature take little comfort or satisfaction in the exercise; for by so doing she will much benefit herself, both by mortifying nature and fixing divine love more profoundly in the spiritual region of the soul.

27. To conclude this point: a spiritual life is subject to many and wonderful changes, interior as well as exterior, and all are according to the mere will and good pleasure of God, who is tied to no methods or rules; therefore, following Him in all simplicity and resignation, let us wonder at nothing; let us neither oblige ourselves too rigorously to any exercise, nor refuse any to which He shall invite us, seem it never so strange, or to natural reason even senseless. For in His guidance there can be no danger of error, but, on the contrary, there is all security; and this may and ought to be a great comfort and encouragement to a well-minded resolute soul.

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