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

CHAPTER III. Of the second sort of unions: to wit, passive.à

§§ 1, 2. Of the second sort of unions: to wit, passive.

§§ 3, 4, 5. Of several sorts of passive unions: and first, of such as are sensible, exteriorly or interiorly.

§§ 6, 7, 8. Of rapts and ecstasies, &c.

§§ 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. Rules of discerning true ecstasies and apparitions from false.

§§ 22, 23, 24, 25. How a soul is to behave herself with humility and disaffection in regard of these extraordinary favours.

§§ 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35. In what cases the judgment of a prudent director is necessary.

§§ 36, 37, 38. In what cases some souls may follow their own light.

§§ 39, 40. In what sense ecstasies are supernatural.

1. Hitherto, of the exercise of perfect Active Union or Contemplation: I call it perfect, because though in every degree of prayer there is a proportionable degree of union of the soul with God, yet perfect union is only in this of Aspirations, but so as that it may increase in degrees, and grow more and more immediate without all limits; but how much soever it increases, it will never exceed that obscure light which faith affords, which is the most perfect light that we can have in this life (for to see God as He is, is reserved for the future life). Now though even the most imperfect have this light of faith, yet in their inferior contemplations they do, for the most part, make use of and follow their natural light, regarding such images and representations of God as they frame in their imagination or by discourse; but in perfect contemplation this light of faith is the only light.

2. But besides these active unions, there are other unions and contemplations which are passive and extraordinary, by which God reveals Himself unto the soul by a supernatural species impressed in her, in which He is the only agent, and she the patient; not as if when a soul does contemplate God she were not in some sort active, but because by no dispositions or preparations that the soul can use can she assuredly procure them; but when God is pleased graciously to communicate them, the soul is taken out of her own disposal, and does and must see and think only what God will have her, and this no longer than His good pleasure is such.

3. Now such supernatural graces are either: 1. sensible; or, 2. purely intellectual. The former are the most imperfect and least efficacious to cause a gracious good disposition in the soul that receives them.

4. Of sensible unions, the most imperfect and least to be relied upon are: 1. Those which by God are communicated to the outward senses, as apparitions visible to the eyes; words framed in the air by the operation of Angels; alterations made in the other senses, as in the smell, by a grateful odour presented thereto; in the palate, by a pleasant taste caused therein, &c.; of which kind of favours, divers examples occur in spiritual authors, to which may be added the gift of tears, warmth about the heart, &c., and (which seems to be the highest kind of sensible favours) a splendour seen in the eyes and countenances of God's Saints, betokening an inward purity; likewise elevation of the body, ability to walk on the water, or to pass through doors whilst they are shut, and other suchlike, resembling the qualities of glorified bodies. Now though the devil can counterfeit these, yet they are seldom given by God, but He withal gives an assurance that they are from Him.

5. A second sort of sensible graces, more sublime than the former, are such as are by God communicated to the internal senses, especially the imagination, infusing supernatural images into it, by which God sometimes makes known His will either immediately or by the disposition of Angels, so as the persons will perceive words imaginatively spoken, or think they see an Angel or Saint, as if such words had indeed been spoken, and those objects represented really to the outward senses; for such is the nature of the imagination that it can, after its manner, exercise all the functions of the outward senses.

6. Of such supernatural inactions of God upon the soul by means of the internal senses, the most notable effects are raptures or ecstasies, likewise internal visions and apparitions, which go together sometimes, and sometimes are separated.

7. Now a rapture or ecstasy is an elevation of the soul caused by God, by which the person is bereaved of the use of the outward senses, by reason that the soul in her internal operations cleaves wholly to supernatural things, and the imagination is environed with lights, visions, &c. And all this is done to the end that the person may internally know and see what is God's pleasure to reveal unto him, for the good either of himself or any other.

8. My purpose is not to treat nicely of these matters (for which the reader is referred to Joannes a Jesu-Maria, a discalced Carmelite, who treats of them with great exactness); I will content myself with insisting: 1. On the ways of discerning true visions, raptures, &c., from false; 2. and affording instructions how a soul ought to behave herself about them.

9. Now, for a preparation to the following rules of discerning, I will lay these grounds: 1. That the devil cannot immediately operate either on the understanding or will, but only by imprinting new, or disposing the images already in the fancy, or by moving the sensitive appetite.2. By consequence, if the lights imprinted in the understanding by means of raptures, visions, &c., do direct to real good (as to the love of God, humility, &c.), and that the will entertains these good affections, a soul may prudently and rationally ascribe the cause to God.

10. The rules of discerning, delivered by both ancient and modern holy authors, are these which follow: the first, When the will is moved without the ordinary precedent action of the understanding or imagination, and also in the same instant a certain new light is communicated to the mind, a soul may be confident that it comes from the Divine Spirit.

11. The second rule: Good observation is to be made whether the persons be Christianly disposed, not much swayed by curiosity or pride, not addicted to melancholy, &c.; whether by such favours they be not invited to say or do something contrary to Catholic truth, peace, obedience, honesty, purity, humility, &c., and, accordingly, souls are to judge from what principles they flow.

12. The third rule: Divine spiritual unions, visions, &c., are ordinarily of short continuance.

13. The fourth rule: Apparitions of good spirits, although in the beginning they cause a trembling and amazement, yet in the end the soul receives courage and comfort, finds herself illuminated, inflamed with devotion, and in great peace; whereas, when the devil grows familiar with any, though he appear in never so fearful and horrible shapes, the persons are not affrighted, and he leaves them as he found them.

14. The fifth rule: It is ordinarily the mark of a good spirit: 1. When he effectually shows that his power accompanies his will, as when upon his saying, Fear not,' the person presently becomes quiet.2. When his words are clear, intelligible, and so delightful, that the soul doth diligently observe and remember the pronunciation of every word and syllable.3. When the person thinks himself obliged to attend to what is said.4. When the soul conceives much more by those holy and divine words than in themselves they signify.5. When there remains in the soul an assurance that what is said shall certainly be effected, &c. All these are signs of a good spirit, saith St. Teresa.

15. The sixth rule: The receiving of any extraordinary outward favours or gifts, as roses, rings, jewels, &c., is much to be suspected, unless such things happen to souls of a long-continued sanctity, and that they be rather miraculously revealed after their death than divulged during their life. The like judgment is to be made of outward characters imprinted on bodies, as the name of Jesus, marks of our Lord's wounds, &c.

16. The seventh rule: When souls, after the practice of long and severe austerities, come to enjoy much peace and contentment, both external and internal, especially if such favours be overmuch in sense, and not greatly relishing of the spirit, or if they be never so little indecent &c., it is much to be feared that the devil has a great influence upon such a change; and, therefore, such persons ought to persevere in fear and penance, not trusting upon their good works past, but humbly beseeching God to preserve them from the enemy's illusions.

17. The eighth rule: Ecstasies that do not produce considerable profit either to the persons themselves or others deserve to be suspected; and when any marks of their approaching are perceived, the persons ought to divert their minds some other way.

18. The ninth rule: The appearance of objects, how beautiful and celestial soever, ought not suddenly to be welcomed, nor affection to be placed upon them, for the devil hath been permitted to take on him the shape even of our Blessed Lord Himself; and if in such visitations the persons feel any impure motions, or fall into indecent postures, &c., whatsoever reluctance they make against them, they ought to judge that they proceed from an ill principle; yet if a soul, being surprised with any seemingly glorious false apparition, should either afford veneration or unfitting affection thereto, she ought not to be much dejected for what is past, since the error committed was only material.

19. The tenth rule: It is very suspicious to see a soul that is very young in a spiritual course, or that is not of extraordinary purity, to fall into raptures, &c.; for great mortification with prayer is requisite to make a soul ripe for the divine inaction.

20. The eleventh rule: It is no proof at all of the want of grace and charity in persons to be troubled with diabolical apparitions, &c., if thereby there be wrought in them no other ill effects besides molestations and affliction; yea, in that case it may reasonably be judged that they are strongly assisted with God's Holy Spirit, since they overcome so great temptations of the evil spirit.

21. The twelfth and last rule: It cannot proceed from a good spirit, when souls visited with revelations, &c., shall obstinately believe them to be of God, after they have been condemned by experienced superiors and directors, unless the persons be able to yield most convincing proofs thereof, and, moreover, shall seriously profess that God, together with the secrets revealed, hath imprinted in their souls this assurance and belief also. Certain it is that obedience is a most secure remedy against all possible inconveniences, and can do no harm in any cases. This is that that St. Teresa seriously enjoins, and most constantly practised herself; and this in very strange circumstances, when the confessarius condemning her was both unlearned and impertinent, &c. But withal, spiritual directors ought not to be rash in their proceedings, nor to judge till after a long experience and knowledge of the inward dispositions of the persons, and a due weighing of the nature of the revelations discovered to them. It is likewise requisite that those that take upon them to judge of these things be themselves devout, exercised in prayer, and in good state towards God, to the end that they may from Him receive light to direct others.

22. In the next place, as touching the manner how a soul, after receiving of such supernatural favours, is to behave herself. The principal care that she ought to have is, that she do not bear a deliberate and fixed love to such things (which is due to God only), and, consequently, that she do not, either expressly or implicitly, pray to God to have such visions, revelations, &c.; or in case that God, without her prayers, hath sent them, that she do not usually, without necessity, talk of such matters, or love to hear others talk of them; for these are signs of an undue affection to them.

23. St. John of the Cross saith, that when God doth, after an extraordinary manner, make known unto humble souls His will that they should take in hand some great employment, by means whereof they may likely gain a great esteem of excellency, and, probably, will be in danger to conceive some extraordinary worth to be in themselves, for which they are so highly favoured by God (which conceit the devil will not fail to cherish and increase), He doth oftentimes rather increase than diminish the fear and repugnance that they had formerly to such things, causing in them a desire and readiness much rather to the undergoing of some vile or base offices. Thus He dealt with Moses, when He had sent him to Pharaoh, and thus with Jeremy, &c. But it happens quite contrary when the bidding is from the devil, counterfeiting privily a divine mission, for he, with his commissions, causeth a forwardness in souls to take upon them employments of excellency or otherwise grateful to nature, as also a great aversion from those that either suspect or would dissuade them from such undertakings.

24. A soul, therefore, is by serious consideration to raise and increase in herself an apprehension and aversion from such matters, saying with St. Peter, Exi a me, &c. -- Go from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man; and by exercising so profitable a mortification she will secure herself from all perils, and render herself very acceptable to God. Serious instructions to a disappropriation and mortifying our love to such things are to be found in Scala Perfectionis, Angela. de Foligno; and particularly in the book called Interior Abnegation there is this passage: To God it belongeth to give rare and excellent gifts, and to the soul it belongeth to refuse them. It is suitable to the divine goodness to approach unto a soul, and the soul's duty is, in humility, to draw back, as St. Peter did. It belongs to God to elevate the soul, and her duty is to humble and abase herself; for as our nature in everything and upon every occasion desireth a proper excellency and sublimity, yea, even in things holy and appertaining to God, so our spirit illuminated by Grace (which is superior to our nature) ought incessantly in all things and occasions to seek to be deprived of all excellency (except in essential virtues), and to embrace all poverty and lowness even in sacred things, that so she be not less careful and resolute to overcome herself than nature is to seek herself. Thus there must be a continual contestation between God and the humble soul, &c.; and especially those souls that are most inclined and forward to embrace these high and grateful things must necessarily make such resistance, not yielding till pure necessity forces them, and till God take from them all power to withdraw themselves, and to refuse the excellences of that grace, whereunto He at the same time so continually and powerfully urgeth and draweth them.' Instructions to the same purpose we find in Avila's Epistles.

25. This was the practice of the holy Virgin St. Colette, who, when God offered to reveal unto her divers secrets, answered: Lord God, it sufficeth me only to know Thee, and the sins in which I have offended Thee, and to obtain Thy pardon for them.' But most notable in this regard is the example of Suso, when God commanded him to publish to all estates in the world (the Pope, bishops, abbots, &c.) their vices and enormities represented to him in the vision of the nine rocks; he, out of that habitual fear and humility that was in him, did so resist the executing such a charge, that till he was adjured and commanded in the name of the Holy Trinity, and so forced to it even against his will, he had never yielded; and then also he submitted himself with much bewailing his misery, expressing his fear of the danger of pride, and, therefore, humbly begging that his name might be concealed from the world; and, lastly, protesting his desire and love to be directed to nothing, but only to God Himself. His resistance, indeed, was so obstinate, that God told him that if He had not known that it proceeded from true (but indiscreet) humility, He would presently have cast him into hell for it.

26. Those, therefore, that are favoured with extraordinary graces, if they did duly consider their state and danger, would find little ground to exalt themselves, or to despise others that are in a more low, but withal far more secure way.

27. Now for the preventing and avoiding the great danger of ill-using such favours and divine graces, to the feeding of self-love and pride, spiritual authors do seriously enjoin such persons so visited by God not to trust their own judgments or to determine whether they come from God or not, and much less to put in practice anything of consequence upon such revelation, but to refer themselves to the judgment and advice of others.

28. And herein great care is to be had to choose pious and discreet directors, because too many there are that will too readily and suddenly resolve such matters to come from none but God, and will thereupon desire such persons to intercede for them, and to beg some particular favours of the like nature, &c. Now upon such indiscreet behaviour in those that should be directors, such persons will begin to think that God loves to treat with them, and will interpret the things declared unto them according to their own gust and humours; and if things shall fall out otherwise than they imagined, they will fall into melancholic suspicions, and great danger of the devil's snares.

29. The best course that a confessarius in this case can take is, if there be any rational grounds of probability that such visions, &c., do not come from God, to exhort and enjoin the persons to avoid and despise then; yea, and if after long and serious examination it should seem almost evident to him that God is the Author of them, yet ought he so to behave himself both in words and actions, as to deter the soul from adhering to them with affection, rather inclining her to a suspicion and fear or, however, to an indifferency about then, with an aspect of love to God Himself only, who is above all His gifts, and ought to be the only object of our love; and thus, if the confessarius behave himself, he may be sure that he will prevent all harm to ensue, and he shall perform a service very acceptable to God.

30. Certainly the danger is far less to be too difficult in believing and esteeming such things than to be never so little too credulous and inclined to admire them, for it were better that good ones should be often suspected than that an ill one should be once believed. And, therefore, we do find that our Blessed Lord, appearing to St. Teresa, did neither take it ill from her nor from her director, when by his order she did spit at Him and defy Him so appearing to her; but He only informed her how she should give convincing proofs that it was no illusion.

31. St. John of the Cross gives very good advices touching this point, exhorting souls, as the surest way, that in case they cannot meet with a prudent and experienced confessarius, they should not speak one word concerning such graces, but to pass them over and to make no account of them; and, however, by no means of their own heads to proceed to the executing of anything signified after such an unusual manner.

32. And though it should happen that the soul, being so disposed as to make no great estimation of such things (which will be a great security from danger by them), shall therefore think it to no purpose to consult with a prudent director about such trifles; or if, on the other side, such revelations seem unto her so absolutely clear and unquestionable that there is no need at all to ask any one's judgment about them; yet, saith the same author, it will be necessary that she discover them to her spiritual master.

33. And the reasons are: 1. Because ordinarily such is God's order and disposition, to the end that by such an humble submission of herself a new light and grace may be communicated to her.2. To the end that upon such an occasion she may be put in mind to restrain her affections from such things, and be established in true nakedness and poverty of spirit; for which end the confessarius ought not to insist upon the excellency of such favours, but (passing over them slightly) to encourage the soul rather to value, and tend to a perfect active union, by charity and pure prayer.3. That by such an occasion offered, the soul may conquer that natural unwillingness which is in some to discover what things pass within them; and with such souls the confessarius is to deal mildly, not affrighting or scandalising them, nor disheartening them from dealing freely, that by this means such visions, ecstasies, &c., may produce in them that effect which probably God intended, namely, by them to call souls to a nearer and more perfect active union by love; whereof one perfect act framed by the will is of more worth and more grateful to God, than all the visions and revelations of all things that pass in heaven and earth can be, and certain it is that many souls which are never visited with any such favours are yet far more advanced in spirit and more near to God than are some others who frequently enjoy such extraordinary favours.

34. Whatsoever it be that is suggested in such a revelation, whether it concern knowledge or practice, though in itself it be of never so small moment, yet without advice a soul ought neither to assent to it nor execute it; for whatsoever the thing itself be, yet considering the cause and means by which it comes (which is supposed to be supernatural), it becomes of great importance. Yea, the mere conversation and familiarity with an intellectual spirit is a matter of great consequence, and as being with a good spirit, it is likely to be occasion of much good; so being with a bad spirit (as it may well be supposed to be till the contrary be evident), it will probably cause very much harm.

35. A soul being to consult with others about such matters, ought to take heed that she fall not into impertinences, but, as Alvarez de Paz adviseth, let her humbly, briefly, and clearly manifest so much of these extraordinary matters to her director as may be sufficient to enable him to judge, and if he do not value them, let her simply hold on her course and securely proceed in her ordinary exercises of devotion.

36. If some eminently perfect souls have followed their own light in judging of these things and practising accordingly, with out consulting others, this ought not to prejudice the foregoing advises, which are, indeed, for souls less experienced and perfect, and such as, in St. Paul's phrase, have not their senses exercised in the discerning of good and evil (in matters of this nature).

37. In such cases, likewise, all souls are not so absolutely obliged to resign their judgments and wills to others, as utterly to neglect their own proper call received from God; for to a well-minded soul that walks and deals simply and plainly with God, and labours diligently to keep her affections free from all created things, aspiring to an indifference whether she have or wants them -- yea, out of humility and a pious fear rather desires to want such extraordinary visitations -- such a soul, doubtless, will be so guided and illuminated by God's Holy Spirit as she will perfectly know what to do and forbear, and whether, when, and of whom to ask counsel. Let, therefore, such a soul carefully observe her internal direction, and this is the advice of St. John of the Cross.

38. From these precedent advices it may appear how differently a soul ought to behave herself in this case of extraordinary calls or inspirations from that to which (as hath been said in the first treatise) we are obliged in those inspirations which, though indeed supernatural, yet are ordinary. For in ordinary ones we are not at all to trouble others with consultations, or to seek advice, but presently to put in execution what shall be inspired or internally suggested unto us, whereas in these extraordinary cases we must do the quite contrary.

39. Thus far concerning those Passive Unions and contemplations which God sometimes communicates to souls after a sensible manner, especially in ecstasies (and revelations), in which there is an alienation and suspension of the use of the outward senses, which I have styled supernatural graces of God; not as if the like might not be produced by a natural way, for history informs us of some that, by a wonderful intention of mind upon philosophical verities, have drawn the operations of the spirit so much inward that the exercise of the outward senses have been suspended, and an ecstasy ensued; and, therefore, no doubt the like may even naturally happen in the contemplating of divine verities; in which case, the imagination being full of divine and spiritual images only, no wonder if during such a suspension there be represented internal discoursings with God and angels, &c., which to the persons may seem to have been real. However, even in these circumstances, an ecstasy so following according to the exigence and disposition of natural causes may properly be termed supernatural, since the preceding contemplation, which caused it, did proceed from a more than ordinary supernatural grace, and the imaginations occurring during such an ecstasy are no doubt ordered by an especial and supernatural providence of God.

40. But, besides these, there are (no doubt) many ecstasies and revelations purely supernatural, in which God either immediately or by the disposition of angels doth communicate such divine lights, graces, &c., as could not possibly flow from any assemblance of natural causes. Such were many of those communicated to St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, &c. Now which way soever of these two such graces do proceed, the foresaid advices ought to have place.

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