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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. Internal exercises weaken the body, yet oft prolong life.à

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

CHAPTER VI. Internal exercises weaken the body, yet oft prolong life.à

§ 1. Internal exercises weaken the body, yet oft prolong life.

§§ 2, 3, 4. The body ought to suffer for the good of the spirit, and not the spirit for the body.

§ 5. Yet with discretion, that the body be not unnecessarily prejudiced.

§§ 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. In the first place discretion is to be used about mortification, both by superiors and others.

§§ 13, 14, 15, 16. Secondly, discretion is to be used in sensible devotion.

§ 17. Thirdly, in meditation.

§§ 18, 19, 20. Fourthly, in the exercise of immediate acts.

§§ 21, 22. Fifthly, even in aspirations.

§ 23. Of languishing love mentioned by Harphius.

1. Internal prayer, seriously prosecuted (as it deserves to be), being contrary to our natural inclinations, cannot choose but cause some trouble and uneasiness to nature, and abate the vigorousness of the body, quenching those spirits and draining those humours which are superfluous and afford matter of temptations; yet, on the other side, it makes amends, even to nature itself, in contributing much to the prolonging of life by means of moderation of diet, a composedness of passions, and contentedness of mind, &c., which it causeth. Proofs whereof we have in the ancient holy fathers of the desert, and more lately in St. Romuald, who lived till he was a hundred and twenty years old, and St. David, of Wales, till a hundred and forty, &c.

2. However, if it were otherwise, the soul is not to serve the body, but the body the soul; so that if one of them must, for the benefit of the other, be a loser, it is most just that the loss should lie on the body's side. And, surely, since there is scarce any study or exercise of mind which does not abridge life or debilitate the functions of it, without making any amends to the soul for the future life -- and yet for all that men are neither discouraged, nor do think it fit for such considerations to forbear such studies -- much less certainly ought spiritual and divine exercises to be laid aside upon such pretences.

3. Notwithstanding, just it is that some due regard be had to the body, that it be not too much prejudiced by the exercises of the spirit, performed with overmuch violence and impetuosity, and this not so much for the body's sake as the spirit's, which, since in this life it cannot work without the body, by too violent workings it may so weaken the body as that it will not be enabled for continuance; and so those little short gains which are got by a few impetuous exercises will be dearly bought by an incapacity of continuing them, contracted in both soul and body. We must neither stretch our understandings to high seekings, lest we be plunged thereby in internal darkness, from which would proceed intolerable perplexities; neither must we force the affections even to good objects too much, nor suffer them to flow with too violent a stream; nor, lastly, must we exhaust bodily strength by unnecessary external austerities.

4. As for the painfulness, troubles, and uneasiness to nature, that without too much debility doth accompany spiritual exercises, those may well enough be digested, considering the unspeakable benefits and service that they produce unto the soul. And yet for our comfort this uneasiness will, by custom and constancy, continually diminish; for, as Harphius observes, a soul after long practice of elevations of spirit will come to such a facility in them, that they will become as it were natural to her. And herein we may observe the wonderful wisdom and goodness of the Divine Providence over souls, how He tempers the exercises of the spirit to the exigence of the body; for while the body, being vigorous, is able to endure more, He gives her ruder and more laborious exercises; but when, by long-continued workings, it is become so feeble that any violent intention of the spirit or rude external mortifications (of which there is no need) would overwhelm it, then the exercises are most easy, peaceable, silent, and serene, yet infinitely more full of virtue than formerly.

5. Now the peculiar virtue by which all harmful inconveniences either to the body or spirit may be avoided, is that supernatural discretion by which a soul is enabled to hold a mean, and avoid the vicious extremes in the practising of all spiritual duties. It is justly called a supernatural virtue, because God only can bestow it (for all the wit and philosophy in the world are but mere folly and blindness in these matters); and this He does principally by the means of prayer, with the use of requisite abstraction and attandance to His divine inspirations, whereby we shall receive a celestial habitual light to direct us in all things suitably to our own particular dispositions and abilities, for no one man can in all matters be a rule unto another.

6. Now, as touching a particular application of this supernatural discretion to the exercises of an internal life, much hath already been set down dispersedly in these treatises. I will, therefore, only point at some few considerations which, in the practice of the several duties of a contemplative life, do regard this mistress of all virtues, discretion, which surely deserves above all other to be purposely and by itself treated of, inasmuch as without it all other virtues are imprudent, that is, not virtues at all.

7. First, therefore, in regard of the duty of mortification (I speak now only of necessary mortifications, of which kind all are to be esteemed that come from God, either immediately or by means of others, especially superiors). A soul is to esteem those mortifications which a superior, beyond the rule, shall voluntarily impose upon the subject, to be to the subject himself necessary, however voluntary to the superior.

8. Now superiors ought rarely to impose such kind of mortifications on their subjects, because so many circumstances are required to make them well imposed, that a great measure of illumination from God is requisite for those that practise the imposing of them. For, 1. The superior must evidently see that the subject in probability will make good use of them.2. And that though they may do the subject good some one way, yet they will not harm him more another.3. He must take heed that others be not scandalised thereby.

9. The like circumstances are to be observed by a particular person that would voluntarily assume mortification, for want of which point of discretion Harphius saith: That such kind of strange, odd, and uncouth mortifications as are imposed and practised in some communities ought not to be voluntarily assumed, as if with a design therefore to be despised by another.

10. The author of the Abridgment of Perfection justly imputes indiscretion to those who will never give rest to nature, but will always have some cross or other (exterior or interior) by which to mortify nature; for (saith he) the highest perfection is not to desire to be always suffering, but to be content to suffer all that by God's providence shall befall us, which contentment is taken away by that continual anxiety which those most suffer that will needs be always upon the rack.

11. In like manner Harphius taxes those that think themselves ready for afflictions, and complain that they want occasions to exercise their resignation; for says he to such an one: Thou deceivest thyself by pride; God does see that as yet thou art not indeed ready and strong enough for extraordinary trials; for if He did, He would not fail to furnish thee with occasions. He will send an angel from heaven on purpose to exercise a soul, rather than she would want mortifications for her good. Therefore, let souls never be solicitous, nor set themselves to devise or procure mortifications, as if they thought God had forgotten them. Notable examples of this providence of God may be seen in the life of Thaulerus, where, likewise, we read how God reprehended the layman that converted Thaulerus, in his sleep, for certain assumed voluntary corporal austerities. To this purpose, there is a memorable passage in the life of Suso concerning a spiritual daughter of his, who of herself was disposed to have undertaken some great corporal mortifications, but was dissuaded by Suso, although himself, by a special call from God, did use very violent and sharp ones; in which discourse there are many excellent documents, very well deserving to be perused by the devout reader.

12. Let a soul, therefore, seriously practise that mortification of mortifications, which is pure internal prayer, and with it join a diligent good use of those mortifications attending her state of life, or sent her otherwise from God, not omitting those most efficacious internal mortifications by acts of humiliation and annihilation of herself; and so doing, she will have little reason to complain of want of exercise of this virtue. For corporal austerities do not by the excess of them, but by the fitness and proportion to the soul's present disposition, perfectionate an internal liver; so that some infirm but sincerely affected persons do advance themselves more by ordinary and trifling mortifications than others that consume their strength and spirits with intolerable fastings, chains, disciplines, &c.; for, as Cassian says (in the preface to his Institutions), Si rationabilis possibilium mensura servetur, eadem observantiæ perfectio est etiam in impari facultate; that is, If a reasonable discreet measure of austerities, that ordinarily are not above our power, be observed; there will be the same perfection of observance where the external abilities are unequal.

13. In the next place, there is great use of discretion in sensible devotion, by which, saith Harphius, some souls are so far carried away, so besotted with self-love and self-will in the use of it, that no advice from the most experienced will avail to moderate them, till it be too late to amend, and till they find themselves unable to support any serious application to exercises of the spirit. Nevertheless, saith he, having thus by their indiscretion brought on themselves this inconvenience, they may for all that merit much, if with humility, patience, and resignation they will accept of such their infirmity.

14. We ought, therefore, much rather to mortify such sensible fervour than use force to increase it, applying hereto that saying of the wise man (Proverbs xxv.16), Hast thou found honey, eat of it what may be sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled and vomit it up.'

15. All the merit that is in sensible devotion consists in the concurrence of the superior will to those acts, without which it will not help to raise the soul out of her natural state. Yea, the more she is visited and even bathed in such sensible consolations (except she use mortification about them, and be wary not to rest in them, but turn them to the producing of more efficacious acts in the superior will), the more strong will she grow in self-love, and more defiled with a kind of spiritual lust. Unless souls, therefore, do grow more humble thereby, it is a sign of danger to be perverted by it, and quite to lose the end for which God gave it.

16. Yet souls during their imperfect state are not violently to strain themselves to work purely in spirit, but moderately to use sensible devotion when God sends it as a means to advance them in spirit. Neither ought they, on the other side, to be so carried away with a liking and gluttonous affection to it (which indeed affords delicacies more agreeable to nature than any sensible satisfactions) as for it to omit other duties belonging to their state, and which God would have them to do.

17. Thirdly, as touching the exercise of meditation, how far discretion is to be used in it hath been sufficiently declared when we treated of it. Indeed, souls during that exercise are to he directed rather by the discretion of others than their own, and this both in judging whether they be fit for it, how long they are to continue in it (the rule whereof must not be custom but experience of profit), and what proportion of time they are to allow unto the understanding and will to operate in it; for that exercise doth not afford supernatural light enough to enable a soul to be her own guide.

18. Fourthly, forasmuch as concerns the exercise of immediate acts of the will, a soul that out of ripeness got by sufficient practice of meditation is arrived thereto, will have light and discretion sufficient to judge what acts are most proper for her, what time is to be spent in each recollection, when and what pauses shall be necessary, and when she is to change it for a higher.

19. A principal point of discretion in this exercise is not to be carried away with the examples of some saints in former times, who could remain almost continually in some mental actuation to God, without giving way to an extravagant thought, by which means they were almost continually in internal combatings. An indiscreet imitation of such examples, as likewise a too violent producing of acts upon one another, would so oppress ordinary spirits, that it would put them into an incapacity of ever being able to pray for the future.

20. They who do not use set recollections may and ought frequently to force themselves to interior acts towards God; yea, as oft as they please, not much regarding the season of the day, as whether it be after refection or before sleep. And when they have done all, their progress will be but small for want of more prolonged and continued exercises.

21. Lastly, discretion and mortification likewise are to be used also even in those exercises to which we are invited and enabled by God Himself; such are the exercises of aspirations and elevations of the spirit. The usual times, therefore, of set recollections are to be expected; for they do so weaken and consume corporal nature, that if souls should give way unto them as oft as they think themselves enabled (which is indeed almost continually, so perfectly are they disposed to God) they would utterly disable themselves to do any service to God for the future.

22. To this purpose Harphius relates an account that one brother Roger, a devout Franciscan, gave of himself, saying that a hundred times in a Matins he was in spirit drawn upward to a more high knowledge of divine secrets; all which tracts he forcibly resisted, being assured that if he had given his soul free scope to fix the eye of the understanding upon those objects so represented to him, he should have been so plunged in the abyss of the divine incomprehensibility, and so wholly driven out of himself, that he should never have been able to have retired himself alive from such a contemplation. But there is little peril of indiscretion in souls so highly elevated and so wholly in God's hands, who may do with souls and bodies what He pleaseth.

23. The same Harphius describes the state of some other souls (not so sublimely elevated) who yet are so languishing in their love to God, and in such an impatient ardour and thirst after Him, that it makes the body to faint and quite wither away, and therefore he calls them Martyrs of Love. Now, by this languishing love, I conceive, is understood a love much in sensuality (though the object thereof be God), and it is exercised about the heart much after the same manner that a violent but chaste love is oft exercised between absent persons of different sexes, so that I take it to be the highest degree of sensible devotion. Now, though Harphius says that such Martyrs of Love, dying corporally through the extremity of passion, do immediately pass into heaven, having been already purified in the purgatory and fire of love; notwithstanding, although no doubt such souls die in a most secure estate, yet it may be they will not escape some degree of purgatory for their indiscreet yielding to the impulses of nature in the exercising of this love, which, though truly divine, is yet far less perfect than that pure love which in perfect contemplation is exercised in the intellectual soul, without any sensible change or redundance of the body; for the tree of love is in no sort to be plucked up by the roots, as long as there is any hope that it may be in a disposition or capacity to bring forth more fruit.

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