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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII. Touching a special sort of internal prayer prescribed by Antonio de Rojasà

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

CHAPTER VII. Touching a special sort of internal prayer prescribed by Antonio de Rojasà

[N.B. The instructions contained in this chapter are to be received with the utmost caution; and let the note which is inserted in § 2 be attended to. -- J. N. S.]

§§ 1, 2. Touching a special sort of internal prayer prescribed by Antonio de Rojas, a Spanish priest, with approbations given to it.

§§ 3, 4. The order for preparation to the said prayer of internal silence.

§§ 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. How the said prayer itself is to be exercised.

§§ 11, 12. The great advantages and benefits of the prayer of internal silence.

§ 13. This prayer may become proper for most souls.

§ 14. A soul is not to be obliged to use the same preparations prescribed.

§ 15. It is commended by the author both to beginners and proficients; yet with some cautions.

§ 16. This prayer is inferior to St. Teresa's prayer of quietness.

§ 17. Of the phrase by which the soul is said herein to be aux écouttes.

§ 18. This prayer is far from the mere cessation or idleness of the illuminati.

§§ 19, 20. A transition to the following discourse of contemplation, with a serious exhortation of St. Teresa to aspire courageously thereto.

1. Before we proceed to the supreme degree of prayer, which is pure contemplation, it may be convenient, as it is also pertinent enough, to insert here as an appendix to these instructions, concerning the prayer of forced acts of the will, a certain exercise of internal prayer pertaining to this same degree, though in regard of the soul's behaviour much differing. It is a prayer of internal silence, quietness, and repose, in which there is no meditation at all, any acts of the will expressly and directly framed, being rather a kind of virtual and habitual attention to God than a formal and direct tendence to Him; yet is this a far inferior degree of prayer than is that prayer of quietness, which St. Teresa speaks of and experienced; which was, indeed, supernatural contemplation.

2. The first that published a treatise purposely of this kind of prayer was Antonio de Rojas, a devout Spanish priest and doctor, in a book called the Life of the Spirit approved, with large eulogies, by no less than nine eminent doctors, bishops, or inquisitors, so that there can be no reasonable grounds to doubt of the lawfulness, convenience, and security of it; it hath, moreover, been translated and published in French, and recommended by several other doctors.

3. Now the order that the author advises a devout soul to observe in the exercise of this prayer of internal silence, both in regard of preparation thereto and actual exercise of it, is as followeth:

4. In the first place for preparation: 1. The soul is to examine and purify her conscience with a prudent, diligent search.2. She is to endeavour seriously and cordially to make an act of contrition for her sins, from a consideration of God's goodness, love, and mercy, &c.3. She is to frame an act of pure and entire resignation of herself into God's hands, with reference to the present exercise of a silent recollection, determining to perform it purely for God's glory, renouncing all inferior private interests and contentments, &c.4. She may (if need be) meditate a little upon one of the mysteries concerning the Incarnation and Passion, &c., of our Lord; also mixing certain ejaculatory prayers.5. She is to make a firm act of faith and acknowledgment of God's presence in the centre of the soul before whom she intends to place herself with most profound reverence, humility, and love.

5. In consequence to these preparations (in which she is to continue till she find herself disposed to quit all such express and direct acts or affections, and having an implicit assurance by a bare and obscure faith that God, who is incomprehensible universal goodness, is indeed present to and in her), all that remains for her then to do is, with all humility and love, to continue in His presence in the quality of a petitioner, but such an one as makes no special direct requests, but contents herself to appear before Him with all her wants and necessities, best, and indeed only, known to Him, who therefore needs not her information; so that she with a silent attention regards God only, rejecting all manner of images of all objects whatsoever, and with the will she frames no particular request nor any express acts towards God, but remains in an entire silence both of tongue and thoughts (the virtue of the precedent direct acts remaining in her), with a sweet tacit consent of love in the will permitting God to take an entire possession of the soul as of a temple wholly belonging and consecrated to Him, in which He is already present.

6. In this state the soul behaves herself much after the manner of an humble, faithful, and loving subject, that out of duty and with most entire affection and respect approaches to the presence of his sovereign. At his first access he uses such profound reverences and protestations of duty and fidelity as are befitting; but that being done, he remains silent and immovable in his presence, yet with the same respect and reverence that he first entered; and knowing that his prince only ought to dispose of his fortune and state, and that he is both most wise to judge what favours may become the one to give and the other to receive, and withal that he has a love and magnificence to advance him beyond his deserts, he makes no particular requests at all. Now the reverence that he shows him is not by making any express reflections, or inward saying, The king is here, to whom I owe all duty, love, and obedience;' for, knowing him to be present, there is no need of renewing either speeches or thoughts that he is so; and really exhibiting all manner of respect to him, it would be to no purpose to make either internal or external professions of it. He is in readiness to hear and execute any commands; and until he be informed by the king how he ought to perform his will and service, he is not forward to voluntary undertakings; so does the soul (according to the instructions of Rojas) behave herself in God's presence, not renewing, but only persevering in the virtue of those direct acts of faith, love, duty, &c., which she framed in the beginning. If, being in this vacancy and internal silence, God's Spirit shall suggest unto her any pure affections, she is attentive and ready to entertain and quietly exercise them, and presently returns to her silence.

7. If during this silence the soul find any aridity, obscurity, or insensibleness in inferior nature, &c., those things do not interrupt her persevering in her silence and virtual exercise of faith, oblation, and resignation, joined with a quiet attention to His will and inspirations; yet if, indeed, she should forget herself, and that either wandering thoughts or sensual affections should press upon her and divert her attention from God (which can scarce be whilst she is vigilant to expel all images whatsoever that may cause her to break her internal silence), she can easily recover the said silent attention, by renewing (if need be) a short express act of faith of the divine presence, &c.

8. In this attention to God, she is far from expecting any extraordinary illuminations, favours, or visits, of which she accounts herself utterly unworthy.

9. Lastly, she has no suspicion or fear lest such a respectful silence should be mere idleness or cessation, for she knows it to be the effect of love and respect; and since an intellectual soul is all activity, so that it cannot continue a moment without some desires, the soul then rejecting all desires towards created objects, she cannot choose but tend inwardly in her affections to God, for which end only she put herself in such a posture of prayer; her tendence then being much like that of the mounting of an eagle after a precedent vigorous springing motion and extension of her wings, which ceasing, in virtue thereof the flight is continued for a good space with a great swiftness, but withal with great stillness, quietness, and ease, without any waving of the wings at all or the least force used in any member, being in as much ease and stillness as if she were reposing in her nest.

10. This seems to me to be in sum the fashion of that internal prayer of silence recommended by Rojas, which, without any variation, he would have exercised daily, morning and evening, allowing to each recollection about an hour.

11. Now the advantages that he (not without grounds of reason) attributes to it are: 1. That it causes far more profound recollections than any other kind of set internal prayer; because a soul having, either by a short discourse or exercise of faith, oblation, &c., found Him who is the centre of her repose, she then leaves all the rooms and apartments of sense (both external and internal) void and empty, and passes forward to those of the spirit, which are pure, clear, and secure.2. It doth extremely abate the activity both of the imagination and passions, neither of which doth it suffer to stir at all.3. God is most perfectly contemplated in it, being apprehended simply and truly by faith in the superior spirit. For as long as there are discourses in the understanding, images permitted to rest in the fancy, and sensible motions of tenderness in the heart, there God is not perfectly and entirely the object of such operations. In spiritu, non in commotione Dominus, saith the prophet Elias. God is not in the rushing wind (He is not in the stirrings of passions or of the imagination), but (in sibilo auræ tenuis) he is in the silent whisper of a soft air. And, saith David (Factus est in pace locus ejus), His place of abode is in the clear and peaceful regions of the spirit 4. Moreover, by this exercise we come to the most perfect operation of self-annihilation, by which both ourselves and all creatures are so transcended and forgotten as if they were not at all, neither can the devil find where to fasten a temptation. We present to God the temple of our souls empty, to the end He alone may possess it, which He will not fail to do, and withal most richly adorn it, making it fit for such a guest.

12. To these benefits may be added this (which is a great one, and fruitful in many blessings), to wit, that in this exercise all divine virtues are in a very sublime manner exercised; viz.1. Faith, by which the soul, quitting all discourse and doubting, believes and even perceives the divine presence, by which she conquers the world, exalting herself so much above all created things that they are out of her sight.2. Hope, because the soul, placing herself before God in the posture of a beggar, confidently expects that He will impart to her both the knowledge of His will and ability to fulfil it.3 Love, because the soul resolutely affects nothing but correspondence to the divine love.4. Resignation, since the soul forgets all private interests, has nothing at all to ask, neither repose nor business, but only whatsoever God would have her to enjoy, do, or suffer.5. Patience, because herein the soul must expect to suffer many aridities, desolations, obscurities, incumbrances of thoughts, temptations, and other internal afflictions; whence it is that Thaulerus gives unto an exercise, much resembling this, the name of the afflicting exercise.6. Purity, for the soul is hereby separated from all adhesion to creatures, being united to God only.7. Mortification, of which here is the very quintessence, for when the soul acts in spirit only, then the flesh becomes insipid and without taste, saith St. Gregory. The flesh with all its desires is here slain, as it were, and buried out of the way; the eyes see nothing pleasing to sense, the ears hear nothing, the tongue is silent, a curtain is drawn before all images and representations in the memory, the will is separated from all created things, neither willing nor nilling any of them, but permitting God to will for her.8. Obedience, for the understanding contracts and abases the wings of all discourses and disputes against anything that God commands.9. Humility, in the most perfect degree, because the soul therein and thereby is even reduced to nothing.10. In a word, here is adoration, sacrifice, devotion, and all graces united together, where creatures are excluded, and God with all His perfections is alone exposed to all the faculties of the soul to be contemplated by the mind, embraced by the will, and to be the sole object of all her operations: here is abstraction in perfection, and (as Thaulerus saith) all virtues are learnt in learning abstraction.

13. This is an exercise fit for all sorts almost, and all dispositions of souls. Learning is but a small furtherance, neither need it be any hindrance to it; it excludes no other kind of prayer, exercise, or devotion, for any kind of prayer may be used as a preparation to find God in the spirit; and that being once done, the soul is to chase away all objects that are not God, that she may be united to Him alone, knowing Him most perfectly by ignorance; approaching to Him by resting and forbearing all motion, and conversing with Him most comfortably and profitably by silence. By this holy idleness in pure recollective prayer the soul attains to a clear and most comfortable experience of that which is obscurely apprehended by faith, and cannot be known by discourse. This is that (mors angelorum) death of angels (that St. Bernard desired), by virtue of which they regard not, neither live in themselves (as the apostate angels did), but in God only, and God in them. There is no other act of the understanding exercised in this, but that only which is the most perfect, to wit, simple intelligence, which is incapable of error, and the will seeks nothing, desires nothing, but enjoys all.

14. Now as touching the forementioned preparations, souls ought not to think themselves obliged to make use always of these, but to use their own liberty. That was an excellent preparation which the good, simple, devout old woman is said to use, who, when she set herself to her devotions in the church, said only: O my God, let that come to Thee which I wish, and let that befall me which Thou desirest;' and having said this, presently, with a belief of God's presence, she abandoned herself into God's hands, remaining in this silent busy idleness and negative knowledge, more full of fervour and light than all the speculations of the schools or studious meditations of cloisters.

15. Now whereas the author commends this exercise, both the perfect and imperfect, confidently affirming that any one may securely begin with it, even at the first entrance into a spiritual course, as many have done with great and speedy profit, I conceive that in such a case there will be need of more than ordinary courage in beginners to prosecute it; for their understandings and inward senses not yet being stored with good images to chase away vain distractions, nor their wills sufficiently inflamed with holy desires, it is not possible but they must often be assaulted terribly with most tedious aridities, passions, &c. They will be oft suspicious that they spend most of their recollections in a mere fruitless idleness, and so will be apt to fall into doubts and to betake themselves to unquiet consultations with others. But if they can avoid this and resolutely go on, notwithstanding these discouragements, no doubt they will reap inestimable benefits by it. But considering these great temptations and dangers, I should judge that the most secure way is not to adventure upon this exercise at the beginning, till one be arrived to the practice of immediate acts; and also, in the prosecution of it, it will be necessary to use great abstraction of life, and to practise likewise out of time of prayer the same internal silence, calming both the busy working of the imagination and stilling the motions of (even) good desires, both in study, working, saying the Office, &c.

16. Though the exercise be the same in substance at all times, yet by long practice it grows more and more pure and abstracted, the silence and introversion grow more profound, and the operations more imperceptible, and it will in time securely bring a soul to that which St. Teresa calls the prayer of quietness, which is indeed perfect contemplation, to which this is but an imperfect degree, and of which this is but a slight imitation.

17. Some spiritual writers do express the state and behaviour of a soul in such a kind of prayer as this, by this phrase, that the soul is then aux escouttes; that is, she is watching and attending what God will speak to her or work in her. This phrase is to some very suspicious and offensive, as if it implied that the practisers of such prayer did pretend to extraordinary visitations and favours, from which notwithstanding they are wholly averse; and they mean no more by the phrase, but only to signify that the most perfect disposition that a soul can put herself in to receive divine lights, and to be enabled to tend purely and spiritually to God, is by silencing all noise of creatures and their images, by quieting all motions of passions, by admitting no other operation of the understanding but simple intelligence of objects apprehended by faith, and lastly, by a real embracing with the will no other object but God Himself, without reflecting or professing that the will adheres to Him. It is surely a far more perfect expression of resignation to the divine will in any difficulty and affliction really and quietly to embrace it with perfect silence than to busy one's self with profession that one does embrace it, as also actually and indeed to love, than to say one loves, &c.

18. Now though no distinct reflecting or otherwise express acts either of the understanding or will are admitted into this exercise, yet the soul is far from that mere cessation or nonactuation professed by the frantic illuminates; for here the soul is in a case like to a tender mother with unspeakable satisfaction regarding her most amiable child: she all the while says nothing, neither thinks any express distinct thought of which she can give any account, yet both her mind and will also are busy, yea, the mind in one simple regard has the virtue of many long discourses, and the will in one quiet continued application has the quintessence of a thousand distinct affections. In like manner, a soul does actually regard God, and being in His presence she does really with adoration, humility, resignation, and love behave herself towards Him; and what need is there that she should tell Him that she does acknowledge His presence, or that she does adore, love, and resign herself to Him? She rather chooses the Psalmist's way of praising and serving God, who (instead of the Latin interpretation, Te decet hymnus Deus in Sion, Psalm lxiv.), in the Hebrew expression followed by the Septuagint, saith, Domine tibi silentium laus est, -- Silence is praise to Thee, O Lord;' and, indeed, the most effectual becoming praise of all other it is, proceeding out of a deep sense of His incomprehensible perfections and majesty, whom the Seraphim contemplate by covering their faces, and glorify most perfectly in that profound and awful half-hour's silence mentioned in the Apocalypse.

19. Thus we conclude our instructions concerning the two inferior degrees of internal affective prayer. The remainder of this book will be employed about the blessed fruit of all our labours, to wit, perfect contemplation, the advices about which are not meant for the informing of those that are arrived thereto (for they have a divine light shining brightly in their hearts, beyond all human instructions), but for the encouragement of those that tend towards so divine a state, that will abundantly recompense all the labours, pains, bitternesses, and contradictions that occur in the way. Yea, though the well-minded soul should never in this life attain thereto, yet faithfully tending toward it to her last hour, she will not want even here a sufficient recompense of divine light and graces with an inestimable comfort of mind at her death, and afterwards she will not fail of the peculiar crown due to those that here do aspire to contemplation.

20. Let no excuses, therefore, be admitted, no incumbrances hinder souls (those especially whose profession and state is contemplation) to pursue the ways of prayer proper thereto, with all courage and perseverance; for, as St. Teresa saith, it is of great importance to have a resolute determination and fixed purpose of mind never to desist from diligent endeavour, until at length we come to drink of this water of life, I mean supernatural prayer. Labour, therefore, for it, come what will come from your labour, succeed what may succeed, though it cost never so great a price and never so much travail; let who will murmur at it, whether we attain to it or die in the way, although the heart faint and break asunder with the excessive pains undergone for it; yea, though all the world be in an uproar against it, and would fright us with telling of the dangers that are in the way.

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