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

CHAPTER II. Touching certain forms of immediate acts, &c.à

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Touching certain forms of immediate acts, &c., adjoined to the end of the book; and how they are to be used.

§§ 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23. Great variety of acts there are -- some directed to the pure Divinity, some to our Lord's Humanity, some to Saints, some to the soul herself, &c. -- and what use is to be made of them.

§§ 24, 25, 26. To what souls one form of exercise without variety may be proper.

§ 27. Of exercising upon the Pater Noster. The excellency thereof.

§§ 28, 29. Souls are not to bind themselves to certain forms.

§§ 30, 31, 32. What use is to be made of the usual reading in preparation to recollection.

§§ 33, 34, 35, 36. How souls that cannot make use of images are to behave themselves.

§§ 37, 38, 39, 40. What order is to be observed in the change of acts.

§ 41. Souls must not bind themselves to these or any set form of exercises; but they must choose for themselves.

1. At the end of this book I have adjoined a collection of several patterns of exercises by acts of the will and holy affections, for the use and practice of those whom, either in the world or in religion, God shall call to an internal life of contemplation. I did not conceive any necessity to annex any exercises of meditation, partly because it was not my design to treat of that degree of prayer, but only passingly and in order to affective prayer, to which it is but a remote preparation; and, besides, there are patterns of such exercises, abundantly obvious to every one, which may suffice any internal liver, being practised according to the instructions here formerly given. And as for the supreme degree of affective contemplative prayer -- to wit, perfect aspirations -- I have contented myself with selecting a few, which are added in the conclusion, rather to show to imperfect souls the form and manner of them than for the use of perfect souls ripe for the exercise of them; for such are conducted, immediately and entirely, by a divine light, and have no need of human prescriptions; neither, indeed, can they profitably make use of any other affections than only such as God's Holy Spirit shall suggest to them.

2. As touching, therefore, the foresaid exercises of forced immediate acts of the will and affections, I have compiled a sufficient variety of them proper for all states and dispositions of souls, as acts of remorse, fear, contrition, &c. (which belong to the purgative way), and likewise acts of adoration, glorification, humiliation, resignation, and love (which belong to the illuminative and unitive ways). I have, moreover, made some distinct exercises of affections, more proper for some souls than are those which I call acts of the will; besides, I have set down most copiously patterns of simple acts of resignation, as being generally the most useful and proper for most souls. And lastly, several exercises there are mixed and interlaced partly with acts and partly with affections, and those not of one, but several kinds, because many souls there are that cannot content themselves with being tied to any one kind of determinate exercise. And, therefore, my desire was to comply with all tempers, to the end that every one might find an exercise proper and profitable for him, or at least might be put in the way how to frame for himself such an one.

3. A soul that, after a sufficient time diligently spent in the practice of meditation, is maturely called and conducted by God to the exercise of immediate acts may, and indeed ought, at the first to take for the subject of her recollections those acts which belong to the unitive way -- to wit, acts of divine love, resignation, &c.; but the case is otherwise with a soul that is found utterly unfit for meditation, and consequently must necessarily begin a spiritual course with the prayer of immediate acts; for, for such a soul (ordinarily speaking), it will be expedient that at the beginning she take for the matter of her acts such as are proper for the purgative way, as acts of contrition, fear of judgment, hell, &c.; and this advice is conformable to the directions of Blosius in the tenth and eleventh chapters of his Institutions.

4. Now for the use of the said exercises of immediate acts and affections, I would advise a soul that is well disposed and resolved to practise them that, at the first, she would rather use them mentally, because it is less distractive and more recollective, unless by experience she find that the using them vocally doth most relish with her spirit, and (as in some dispositions it may) cause a more intimate and perfect recollection.

5. Whereas every exercise consists of about ten clauses of acts or affections, let her not tie herself precisely to that number in any recollection; but if one exercise will not serve, let her borrow from the next following; and again, if one be too much for one time, let her use as many of those acts in order as they lie as will suffice for the time, and no more, and in the next recollection let her begin where she last ended.

6. A devout soul will find that, by diligent practice, in progress of time the number of acts or affections to be exercised in each recollection will come to diminish, so that whereas at the beginning (perhaps) ten acts would scarce suffice for one recollection, afterwards five or three, yea, it may be, one will ofttimes be sufficient.

7. Let her generally observe the order and sequel of the said acts contained in the exercises proper for her, beginning and prosecuting them as they lie; for otherwise she will spend the precious time allotted for prayer in looking here and there for somewhat that may be pleasing to her fancy or humour, and yet in the end, perhaps, not content herself, or at the least the satisfaction that she may come to find will scarce countervail the distraction incurred and time lost. And again, it is an ill custom of some to take at random the acts or affections on which they would exercise themselves, opening the book and at adventure making use of what their eyes first light on.

8. Yet let her not tie herself so rigorously and superstitiously to any of the said acts, but that if without searching there should be offered to her any other kind of act or affection (be it resignation, love, or aspirations, &c.) which may be gustful to her, let her entertain it, and therein abide as long as the relish of it lasteth, and that ceasing let her return to prosecute the acts of the present exercise.

9. Yet one special case there is, in which a soul ought by no means to oblige herself to any order prescribed in the said exercises, and that is, when she finds that fear or scrupulosity do overmuch abound in her, causing unquietness, dejection, and want of confidence in God. In which case let her by all means omit such exercises or acts as are apt to raise or feed such passions in her, and instead of them let her apply herself to exercises of hope, love, and joy in God, which ought to be cherished in her.

10. Yea, souls that are of such a disposition ought, even in the beginning, after their first conversion, not to dwell long upon the exercises that concern remorse for sin or other matters of fear, as death, judgment, and hell, but rather to fix upon affections contrary to their present disposition; and in case of new faults committed, let their contrition or detestation of sin be rather exercised in a generality, or virtually in acts of conversion to God, than particularly, directly, and expressly; and let them not be scrupulous herein, out of an opinion that at such times God expects painful remorses from them, or earnest expressions of detestation of their sins; for such detestation is sufficiently involved in an act of direct love to God, which contains much perfection besides. Such acts, therefore, being more beneficial to her, are consequently more acceptable to God.

11. A soul having pitched upon any act or affection contained in the said exercises, let her tarry as long upon each of them, without passing to another, as her gust unto such an affection lasteth, and as she finds profit to her spirit by it.

12. Whensoever in any clause there is contained matter of several desires or affections, let her in her mind and exercising separate them, and rest upon each of them severally, for by this means the said exercises will last longer and yield more profit.

13. After that all the exercises appointed for her have been passed over, let her repeat and pursue them again and again, unless she do find herself drawn by God to some other exercise more perfect, as is that of aspirations. And, indeed, whensoever in her exercise during her recollection she does find herself moved to perfect aspirations, elevations of the will, &c., or else to produce some other acts, as of resignation, &c., upon occasion of some present cross to be sustained, let her not fail to correspond to such an invitation.

14. Those that can find no profit or relish by any of these prescribed exercises, or the like, may conclude that they are not as yet ripe for them, and that, therefore, they are to continue in discoursive prayer till it loses its relish, and that they begin to find gust in affections.

15. The acts and affections in the following exercises are for the most part directed to God Himself, or the pure Divinity, as if they were internal conversations with God, which are perfect introversions, and of all active assumed exercises, are the most profitable.

16. But withal such actuations are ofttimes very painful, by reason that such introversions are exercised without the help of grosser images (which have some kind of recreating diversion in them), and when such images do offer themselves, the soul tending to the naked Divinity tarries not in them, but transcends or rejects them. And if her mind, finding no gust in an object so perfectly spiritual, becomes willing to ease itself by fastening upon some other good but inferior object, she is by some writers taught to withdraw her attention from anything but God; which violence and self-contradiction cannot be without much pain, insomuch that souls become thereby sometimes so tired with such introversions, and find so great difficulty in seeking the Divine presence so above the course of nature, that they lose all comfort and profit in their exercises, yea, and come to such a pass that they find an impossibility to introvert themselves, by reason that, to their seeming, they find not God so present as at other times.

17. Therefore in such cases it not only may be permitted, but ought to be enjoined, unto a soul to give ease unto herself, by quitting for a time such painful introversions and addresses to the pure Divinity, and, instead thereof, exercise herself in producing other acts less painful because less introverting, as acts or affections to the Humanity of our Lord, to Angels, Saints, &c.; yea, she may sometimes address her internal speech to her own soul, or to some person or creatures absent, yet all with reference to God, for otherwise it would not be an act of religion, nor profitable to the soul.

18. The truth is that, for the attaining to contemplation, it is not necessary (speaking of precise and absolute necessity) that the acts whereof the exercises consist, should immediately be directed to the pure Divinity (though it cannot be denied but that such are the most perfect and most efficacious, because the most introverting; and therefore a soul must give over all other addresses, either to the Humanity of our Lord, it to any Angel or Saint, &c., whensoever she is interiorly moved or enabled to actuate immediately towards God Himself, who is likewise the end and ultimate object of all other speakings and actuations).

19. To the end, therefore, to comply with the several dispositions of souls, I have in many places in the following exercises intermixed several other acts, for the most part addressed to our Lord's most sacred Humanity, likewise to our Blessed Lady, &c., and sometimes soliloquies to the soul herself.

20. And such acts and affections as these are frequent in the Psalms and other Scriptures; so David speaks to his own soul: Nonne Deo subjecta eris, anima mea? -- O my soul, wilt thou not be subject and resigned to God? And again: Quare tristis es, anima mea, &c. -- O my soul, why art thou sad, and why dost thou so disquiet thyself in me? Hope still in God, for,' &c. Again, sometimes he speaks to persons absent: Venite et narrabo quanta fecit Deus animæ meæ, -- Come hither, and I will tell you how great things God hath done for my soul.' Sometimes in Scripture the soul imagines that she hears God speaking to her, as, Veni, electa mea, et ponam in te thronum meum, -- O my chosen beloved soul, come, and I will place my throne in thee.' St. Augustine's Soliloquies and Thomas à Kempis are full of such kind of acts, and by any such change the soul will receive some refreshment, and be enabled to produce some good affections to God.

21. Now as I said that the form of the act is not of absolute necessity, so neither is the nature or matter of it, as whether it be of contrition, humiliation, adoration, resignation, &c., performed to God, or of congratulation to the Saints, veneration of them, or imploring their intercession, so that such acts be ultimately terminated in God; for it is perseverance in any exercises of religious acts which is the principal, if not only, means to attain to contemplation.

22. The truth is, whatsoever kind of acts or devotions a soul useth, if they be constantly practised they will all end in God; so that even the most ignorant among those that God calls to contemplative prayer, though they know no other practice of devotion but the Rosary, and cannot begin their recollections any other way than by turning their thoughts towards the Blessed Virgin; whose protection and intercession they crave, yet being by that means become profoundly introverted they quickly leave all direct and express addresses to her, and are led, unawares, perhaps, to themselves, to the unknown obscure object of the Divinity, in which they plunge and lose themselves; for perfect introversion cannot consist with a continuation of direct and express internal acts made to any creature.

23. The general rule and advice, therefore, in this matter is, that accordingly as souls upon experience and observation do find themselves disposed to any kinds of acts or affections, whether of one kind only or several kinds mixed together, so they must order their exercises and recollections, preferring the savour and profit that their souls find in them, before any rules, methods, or authority of examples.

24. Some few souls there are to whom one only exercise, without any change or variety, may suffice for their whole life, till they arrive to perfect contemplation. So that their advancement will consist only in the degrees of purity and recollection with which they perform the said exercise. Now these are such souls as: 1. Are fitted naturally for acts of the will and not for meditation; because in discoursive prayer change of matter will be necessary, inasmuch as the same motive unvaried will not have the efficacy to produce sensible affections. And again, souls will be apt to be cloyed and to have an aversion from an affection or desire, after they have fed upon it for some reasonable time.2. Such as withal have a very strong and urgent call from God to seek Him in His internal ways, joined with natural aptness to an internal life, which aptness consists in a stability of the imagination and a quietness of passions.

25. For such souls as these it will be best that they should be confined to one exercise, such an one as that is which Blosius in his Institutions hath framed, and professeth that by a diligent prosecution thereof (together with mortification) a soul may attain to perfection and mystic union. A pattern of such an exercise, conformable to the direction of Blosius (who seems to have practised it himself), I will set down among the following forms of exercises.

26. And, indeed, one singular benefit that such souls will reap by being constant to one exercise is this, that they will never have to seek for it nor stand in need of books, because after a little practice they will have it in their hearts and memories; only good care must be had to fit the exercise to the soul, giving a scope and latitude sufficient to it, that it may comprehend in it acts suitable to several states of the soul; that is, both acts of contrition and likewise of the exercise of the principal virtues (among all which the most efficacious, profitable, and lasting are the acts of resignation). In the exercise of which it will be good for the soul to abide till she be fitted and called by God to pure aspirations, for then all manner of prescribed exercises must cease, because then a soul does not pray by her own election, but by an internal impulse of the Divine Spirit.

27. Some spiritual writers for this purpose recommend our Lord's Prayer for a constant exercise in daily recollections, advising such souls to exercise separately every petition as a several act, dwelling on each as long as they can find relish in it, and so doing they shall be sure not to omit anything that a soul can or ought to pray for; and this advice is suitable to the teaching of an ancient holy hermit, whose words, recorded by Cassian (9 Conf. c.25), are these: Hæc oratio licet omnem videatur perfectionis plenitudinem continere, utpote, &c.; that is, This prayer of our Lord, although it may seem to contain in it the fulness of all perfection, as being either begun or established by our Lord's own authority, yet it doth promote those that are familiarly exercised in it to that far more sublime state which we mentioned before; conducting them to that inflamed prayer, that far more supereminent actuation of soul known or experienced by very few, yea (to speak more properly), altogether inexpressible, which, transcending all human sense or knowledge is not distinguished by any sound of speech or motion of the tongue, nor any pronunciation of words, but it is a degree of sublime prayer which the spirit, illustrated by an infusion of heavenly light, doth not design or express by human language; but having all the senses and faculties united and conglobated, it doth plentifully gush it forth out of the heart, as water out of a copious fountain, and ineffably poureth it out unto our Lord, in that one short moment of time sending forth so many and so great desires as the soul herself, making a reflection on her own operations, is not able to declare nor even to conceive.'

28. But it is not ordinary to find souls so composed in their imaginations and resolute in their wills as to content themselves with one only exercise; and for this reason I have made a collection of several kinds, with sufficient variety and mixture. These I have gathered out of several books, using mine own liberty and judgment in altering them so as to make them more proper for those that prosecute internal affective prayer, and for that purpose ofttimes leaving out many discourses and considerations intermingled with them in the books out of which they have been extracted.

29. Now I do not pretend nor desire that souls practising affective prayer should oblige themselves to these particular exercises, or to the order observed in them. They may, if they conceive it for their purpose, frame other exercises for their own use, either by selecting here and there out of these or out of any other books such acts or affections as they shall find agreeing to their spirit; but having framed such a collection, I would seriously advise them to practise according to the advices here set down, especially in this chapter.

30. The reading of some pious discourse before recollections, usually practised in communities, is a good and profitable practice, but especially proper for souls that are not advanced beyond meditation, who may do well to attend to the mystery read, that after they may make it the matter of their prayer; yet better it were they should have the matter of their meditation prepared beforehand, because it is to be feared that by once reading over the points of a mystery they will not be sufficiently imprinted in the memory so as to be made use of.

31. But as for souls that are in the practice of immediate acts of the will, I should not require of them the like attention, but rather that they would employ that time in chasing away distracting images, in placing themselves in the Divine presence, in begging God's assistance, and directing their following recollection to His glory; and if in their private recollections they shall premise some competent reading, I conceive that St. Augustine's Confessions, Soliloquies, the Imitation of Christ, and such other books affectuously written, will be most commodious for them; or, above all, certain passages of the holy Gospels containing some words spoken by our Lord Himself will likely be a most profitable and effectual preparation; but no certain rules can be prescribed for these things. Every one, therefore, is to choose that book and subject that he finds most proper for him.

32. When the preparation by reading is past, let the person applying himself to his recollection look upon the matter of the act or affection that he intends to employ his prayer upon; and after this, withdrawing his eyes from the book, let him think a while upon it, framing a suitable image or conception of it; and when that is done, let him forthwith produce an act or affection to God answerable to the matter, resting thereon as long as the virtue thereof lasteth, and so proceed to the following acts in like manner.

33. Some souls there are that, through a secret natural quality in their internal senses, cannot so work with the imagination as to produce an image that may become a matter of prayer to them; such persons, consequently, are not fit for the exercise of immediate acts of the will (and much less for meditation); they are, therefore, to apply themselves to the exercise of pious desires or amorous affections. But generally souls are so disposed as to be rather enabled for acts of the will than affections, yet so that sometimes also they will find affections more flowing than acts, and, therefore, accordingly they are to give way to them.

34. It may happen sometimes to devout souls that they may find themselves disabled to either of them. In such case I would advise them to use a discreet violence on themselves to exercise some good acts most relishing to them (for where force is to be used, there acts to be exercised by the superior will are rather to be chosen than affections); but if after trial they find that they are not able to continue in so constrained an exercise, and so are at a stand, and likely to spend the time appointed in an unprofitable idleness, let them try if a more imperfect exercise will fit them, either speaking to God in the third person, as if He were absent or would not hear them, or addressing themselves to Angels, Saints, or to their own souls, &c.; and if they cannot perform even this mentally -- that is, neither with attention nor gust -- let them do it at least vocally, withal exercising as much patience, stillness, and quietness as may be; and doing thus, let them assure themselves that thereby they will afford unto their spirits a good, wholesome, and profitable, though tasteless, repast.

35. But if, after all this, it should happen (which would be very strange) that they should find all these ways insupportable to them, so that they can do nothing at all, both the understanding and will failing them, then, since no active working, external or internal, will help them, they may conceive it to be the case of an extraordinary desolation and desertion; so that their only recourse must be to pure suffering with patience and resignation, exercising these the best they can in such circumstances; which, if they will do, then will this afflicting desolation really prove more profitable than a state and prayer of light and comfort, which profit is scarce perceptible, because the Spirit of God works more intimately in the depth of the spirit, but, therefore, is more efficacious to the soul's advancement.

36. In this case I should scarce allow the suffering soul to divert and ease her mind by reading (and much less by any corporal exercise) during the time appointed for her recollection; or if so, as soon as ever she finds by a little glancing on a book an affection to be raised, let her pursue the said affection, and quit reading presently; for reading at such times, being allowed merely for necessity, ought to be used no further than necessity shall require.

37. No certain rules or determinations can be assigned for the time that souls are to be detained in the exercise of certain kinds of acts, as of contrition and others of the purgative way, before they pass into those of resignation or love (which are of the unitive way). Only in general it may be said, that the longer and deeper that souls have been plunged in vicious habits, the longer (probably) will it be before they be ripe for such a passage, yet that time may be contracted by fervour in prayer and mortification. To some, a few months will suffice to remain in acts of contrition, &c.; to some, not many days; yea, some souls (as tender innocent virgins, &c.) are so well affected to God, and so unacquainted with vicious customs, that they may at the first be put into acts of resignation or love.

38. But herein every one is to regard the state of his soul and conscience, observing whether he find therein quietness and competent satisfaction, in which case he may reasonably judge that he may relinquish the acts of the purgative way.

39. But as for giving over the acts of resignation and love, &c., from thence to pass to the exercise of aspirations, God knows a much longer space of time is required, even in souls the most innocent. For this sublime exercise, arising out of a settled habitual charity fixed in the soul through long and constant practice of forced acts of the will (contrary to the teaching of Barbanson, who saith that souls may from meditation immediately pass to aspirations), it does not depend on man's choice when he will exercise aspirations, of which God alone is the mover and director; and whatsoever industry in prayer a soul shall use, it is very unusual that she should be enabled to arrive to this exercise in youth, before the boiling heat and activity of nature be well qualified.

40. Notwithstanding, in whatsoever exercise a soul shall be, if such aspirations do offer themselves she is to give way unto them; and as long as they continue she is to cease all other forced and elected acts.

41. To conclude these instructions, it is to be considered that the following patterns of exercises of acts, &c., are to be made use of only for a necessity, such as commonly beginners have, yea, and most souls even after they have for a good while pursued this internal prayer; but as for those whose interior, without seeking abroad, doth minister sufficient matter unto them of resignation, love, &c., either suggested by occasion of occurring difficulties, or coming of itself into their minds, such souls being enabled to pray without any forms prescribed, as long as they are so sufficiently furnished from within, are not to make use of exercises in books, and this may be the case even of some imperfect souls which may be prevented and much helped by God for the matter of their prayer; but, however, it is good that they should have a book in readiness to help them in case they come to stand in need, lest for want of matter so suggested they should be idle and at a stand. For such must not rely upon their first sensible fervour; but when that ceases (as they are to expect that it will) they must not scorn to descend, not only to make use of books, but also to apply themselves to inferior exercises and helps suitable to their imperfect state.

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