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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER I. Of exercises of the will: to wit, forced immediate actsà

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

CHAPTER I. Of exercises of the will: to wit, forced immediate actsà

§§ 1, 2, 3. Of exercises of the will: to wit, forced immediate acts, or affections and aspirations.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7. Difference between acts of the will and affections.

§§ 8, 9. How the prayer of sensible affections is to be exercised.

§ 10. Of sublime pure affections of the spirit.

§§ 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Of the prayer of immediate acts of the will compared with meditation.

§§ 17, 18. Conditions of acts.

§ 19. Mere cessation of prayer to be avoided.

§ 20. An account not to be required touching the behaviour of souls in affective prayer.

§ 21. Acts proceeding from a good natural propension are most efficacious.

1. A soul that by a divine call, as being in a state of maturity for it, relinquisheth meditation to the end to betake herself to a more sublime exercise, which is that of immediate Acts or Affections of the will, then only begins to enter into the ways of contemplation; for the exercises of the will are the sublimest that any soul can practise, and all the difference that hereafter follows is only either in regard of the greater or lesser promptitude, or in regard of the degrees of purity wherewith a soul produces such acts.

2. So that the whole latitude of internal prayer of the will (which is contemplative prayer) may be comprehended under these two distinct exercises -- to wit, 1. The exercise of forced acts or affections of the will, produced either immediately according to the person's present disposition, without a distinct or express motive represented by the understanding, or else suitable to such a motive, yet without any formal discourse of the understanding: these are called forced acts, because after that a soul is become indisposed to prosecute the exercise of meditation, it will be long before that good affections do, as it were, naturally flow from her, so that she will need to use some force upon herself for the producing of the said acts of the will, which are imperfect contemplation.2. The exercises of aspirations, which, though they be in substance little differing from the former, yet by reason of the facility wherewith they are produced without force, foresight, or election, purely flowing from an internal impulse of the Divine Spirit, we therefore give them another name, and call them not acts, but aspirations, the constant exercise of which is proper and perfect contemplation.

3. Of these two exercises I shall consequently treat, beginning with the more imperfect, which is that of forced immediate acts or affections of the will.

4. In this exercise I make some difference between acts and affections of the will, the former of which are made in and by the superior will only, without any concurrence of sensitive nature. Such are acts of humiliation, resignation, &c., the producing of which does not cause any gust in inferior nature; whereas affections of love, joy, hope, desire, &c. (being exercised by imperfect souls), are much immersed in sense; and they begin at the first almost wholly in inferior nature, but yet by practice they become more and more pure, being raised to the top of sensitive nature, where it is joined or combined with the superior spiritual will.

5. Now whether of these two, that is, acts or affections, are to be practised respectively by souls, that must depend upon the observation and experience that each soul has of her own natural disposition and inclination. Generally, souls are more disposed to the exercise of immediate acts, which, likewise, are both more profitable and more secure, and, therefore, in the following discourse I shall most insist upon them.

6. And as for the exercise of sensible affections, it belongs only to such souls as in their natural temper are more tender and affectionate; whose love expresses itself with great liquefaction in sensible nature, so that they are easily moved to tears, and do feel warmth and quick motions about the heart, &c. (which effects or symptoms do not argue love to be greater; for it may be as cordial and more firm, generous, and active in others who seldom or never feel such effects).

7. Such tender souls as these, having withal a natural good propension to seek God in their interior, can easily exercise their affections to God in and by their corporal nature, without troubling themselves with seeking reasons and motives for it; yea, in a short time they come to have a kind of disgust in inventing or considering motives represented by the understanding.

8. As for the manner how such souls are to behave themselves in their recollections, the special instructions following concerning the exercising of immediate acts of the will will serve, so that there will be no need of repeating them twice.

9. The principal care that such souls ought to have is, to endeavour to raise this their love out of sensitive nature to the superior spiritual will, by whose operations alone the soul is truly perfected. Therefore, according to the advices formerly given touching sensible devotion, they are to mortify and restrain rather than to give scope to tears and other tendernesses of nature in prayer, &c.; and some other particulars which do concern affections, as distinct from acts of the will, shall hereafter be occasionally taken notice of.

10. Now besides these sensible acts of love there are others, which are purely in spirit, and which, among all the operations of the will, are the most sublime that can be exercised in this life; for they cannot be used by a soul (so as to be her constant usual exercise) till she be come to a perfect degree of mortification, which ordinarily is not before a passive union; after which they are exercised in a manner so spiritual and divine, that the unexperienced cannot conceive nor the experienced express. Those are certain painful yet delightful longings after God; certain languishing elevations of spirit towards an unknown, dark, Divine Object, the desire and absence of which causes a tedious disgust of all sensible contentments -- yea, even in spiritual things also. But of such operations as these it will be seasonable to speak when we come to treat of perfect contemplation.

11. As touching the most profitable exercises of immediate acts of the will, the practice thereof in gross is after this manner. The soul's aim is to recollect herself by that general notion that faith gives her of God; but being not able to do this presently, she doth in her mind, and by the help of the imagination, represent unto herself some Divine Object, as some one or more perfections of God, or some mystery of faith, as the Incarnation, Transfiguration, Passion, Agony, or Dereliction of our Lord, &c.; and thereupon, without such discoursing as is used in meditation, she doth immediately, without more ado, produce acts or affections one after another towards God, or upon herself with reference to God, adoring, giving thanks, humbling herself in His presence, resigning herself to His will, &c.

12. This exercise is more easy to learn and comprehend than meditation, because so many rules are not necessary to it, neither is there in it such study or exercising the abilities of the understanding or imagination. It is, indeed, a very plain, downright, and simple exercise, consisting merely in the efficacy of the will; but notwithstanding such plain simplicity, it is a far more noble exercise than that of meditation, as being the fruit and result of it; for whatsoever the understanding operates with reference to God can produce no good effect upon the soul further than it hath relation to and influence on the will, by disposing it to submit and resign itself to God, or to tend towards Him by acts of love, adoration, &c.

13. Now this exercise, although likewise it be not so busy and laborious as meditation, yet it may and will oftentimes seem to some souls, even after they have made a reasonable progress in it, to be more harsh and difficult; but the good-will and resolution of the soul persisting in it will, by God's grace, overcome all difficulties.

14. An advice, therefore, it is again and again to be repeated, and never to be forgotten -- to wit, that the devout well-minded soul that shall be called by God to walk in these internal ways of prayer be courageous and diligent in the pursuance of them, after the best manner she can, amidst all desolations, obscurities, and distractions, practising these exercises as much as may be in the superior will, not caring whether sensitive nature concur therein or no.

15. In forced immediate acts of the will, especially at the beginning, there is some degree of meditation, which is the thinking on the object, and thereupon internally producing the act or affection itself, and quietly continuing and resting in it till all the virtue of it be spent. There is, likewise, always some use of images; and in the beginning these images are more gross, but afterwards, by practice, they grow more pure, and all manner of discourse ceaseth; yea, the soul will begin to reject all distinct images, and apprehend God without any particular representation, only by that obscure notion which faith informs us of His totality and incomprehensibility; and this only is truth, whereas all distinct images are but imperfect shadows of truth.

16. Now how great is the security of a soul thus operating purely by the will? How free is she from those errors and dangers into which she may be led by the curious searching subtilty of the understanding? Here God Himself is only her light, and not any imagination of her own; though images should intrude themselves perforce into the fancy, or be incited by the devil, yet the soul will not with the will apply herself to such images, but either diverts her mind from them or transcends and renounces them; and without images stirring up sensuality and the rational will, the devil cannot produce the least harm or danger to the soul, nor hinder her union with God.

17. The more plain and simple that acts of the will are (for the manner of expression), the more proper and efficacious are they to cause a good and profitable recollection; and therefore such elegant and sprightly expressions as are to be found in many places of St. Augustine's Confessions, Soliloquies, &c., or in St. Bernard, St. Teresa's Exclamations, &c., though they be more full of life, and more apt to inflame affection, being read out of times of recollection, yet they are not so proper to be used in the recollection, because the pleasingness and exquisiteness of the expression gives too much exercise and contentment to the fancy, and by that means distracts and enfeebles the actuation of the will. This, I say, holds most generally true; yet if souls do find their profit more by the use of them, let them, in God's name, make choice of such.

18. The less impetuous that the operations of the will are in this exercise of Immediate Acts, and the more still, quiet, peaceable, and profound that they are (so there be no wilful negligence), the more effectual and profitable are they, and the more efficacious to still passions, as also to compose and settle the imagination.

19. There may come much harm to a soul by cessation from internal working, and from all tendence to God in her recollections, if so be the motive of such cessation be a desire and expectation to hear God speaking after any unusual manner within her, and telling her some new thing or other; for by giving way to such a foolish presumption she will deserve, and put herself in a disposition to receive, diabolical suggestions, or, at least, vainly to conceive and interpret her own imaginations to be internal speakings of God; and this may prove very perilous if a soul give credit to such fancies (as probably such souls will); but they ought to consider that if God's pleasure be such as to communicate His will internally after an extraordinary manner, He will speak and work whether the soul will or no, and whether she will or no she must hear and suffer. And, therefore, let her abstain from such indiscreet invitations or expecting such divine conversations; let her continue quietly her exercises, and not cease till God force her to cease them.

20. The custom practised by some spiritual directors of requiring from all their disciples an account of their internal prayer, formerly judged to be inconvenient, as causing distractions and too frequent reflections with solicitude upon their present actuations, to the end they may remember them, and so be able to relate them, -- the said custom, I say, is moreover (besides this inconvenience and uselessness) of extreme difficulty in this exercise, which, being simple and plain, acted only or chiefly by the will, cannot well be explicated, inasmuch as the acts leave scarce any sensible impression in the memory; and lastly, they are exercised directly to God without any reflections. Now it is by the means of reflections that a soul takes notice of and remembers her actuations.

21. Where there is a good propension in the interior to introversion, an act produced by the will to God is not only much more prompt, facile, and profound, but also far more efficacious than any other without such a propension can be, though the party be never so learned, and employ never so much the faculty of reasoning. Yet do I not deny but that even souls of the greatest propensions may sometimes find themselves obliged to make use of some meditation. But (unless their director mislead and wrong them) they will not tarry long therein, but will presently break forth copiously into good affections.

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