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

CHAPTER IV. Of the second and more perfect sort of passive unionsà

§§ 1, 2, 3, 4. Of the second and more perfect sort of passive unions, to wit, such as are purely intellectual.

§§ 5, 6, 7. How in these unions God is contemplated in caligine, &c.

§§ 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. The excellency and wonderful benefits flowing from these intellectual unions (though very short). As first in regard of the understanding.

§ 14. Secondly in regard of the will.

§§ 15, 16. Thirdly in regard of the internal senses.

§ 17. Inexperienced persons cannot and ought not to be judges in these things.

1. The other before-mentioned Passive Union, which I called intellectual, is far more noble and sublime, in which God or some divine mystery is immediately presented or discovered to the understanding, without any representations, figures, or discoursings in the imagination. In the former sensible unions the contemplations pass from the outward senses to the inward, and thence to the understanding; but this begins in the understanding, and only by reflection returns to the imagination, there making use of some species for an apprehension (after a human manner) of the object intellectually discovered to the soul.

2. The former sensible unions, especially such as pass in the internal sense, with alienation from the exercise of the outward, do seldom befall very perfect souls, and less to men than to women; because such an alienation from sense proceeds partly from the infirmity of the soul and its incapacity to attend to divine inaction (perhaps not from a necessary exigence of the inaction itself), and partly from a customary exercise of prayer by strong and tender affections in sensitive nature, which do more push forward the soul to attend earnestly to divine objects, from whence is caused a suspension of the outward senses.

3. There are some degrees of this intellectual passive union to which a soul, by leading a pure spiritual life, may dispose herself, making herself worthy and capable of the said inactions, she behaving herself as an humble patient, and not an agent in the business.

4. By virtue of these inactions, many souls have received internal lights and resolutions to many difficulties concerning themselves or others; likewise many suggestions, strong and clear, concerning extraordinary matters to be said or done, and all this without any external or imaginative vision, by certain secret whispers of the Divine Spirit, silently but assuredly enlightening the mind concerning certain truths or purposes to be believed or performed; frequent examples whereof we have in the lives of B. Angela of Foligno, St. Teresa, &c.

5. Of these intellectual passive unions, the supreme and most noble that may be had in this life is, that whereby God is contemplated without any perceptible images, by a certain intellectual supernatural light darted into the soul, in which regard it draws much towards an angelical contemplation; for herein though God be not seen as He is, yet He is clearly seen that He is, and that He is incomprehensible.

6. Mystic authors call this rather a divine passive union than contemplation; a union far more strait and immediate than any of the former; a union exercised more by the will than the understanding, although the effect thereof be to refund great light into the understanding, notwithstanding which light, yet the understanding's contemplation is said to be in caligine, in which darkness God is more perfectly seen, because there is nothing seen that is not God; yea, according to the doctrine of mystics, this union passes above both the understanding and will, namely, in that supreme portion of the spirit which is visible to God alone, and in which He alone can inhabit; a portion so pure, noble, and divine, that it neither hath nor can have any name proper to it, though mystics endeavour to express it by divers, calling it the summit of the mind, the fund and centre of the spirit, the essence of the soul, its virginal portion, &c.

7. Such passive unions are rather a reward and free grace bestowed by God on souls that have been extraordinarily faithful and diligent in mortification and internal exercises than an end to be intended by any; for even the most pure and perfect souls cannot, with all their industries, procure them at pleasure.

8. This most pure contemplation does so exceed all voluntary operations of the soul's faculties, that it usually causes an alienation and suspension of all the senses, as well external as internal; yet the continuance of it is but very short, as St. Bernard (who, no doubt, could speak from his own experience) observes, for it seldom lasteth above a quarter of an hour.

9. But the benefits, fruits, and graces which so short a visitation causeth in the soul are both wonderfully excellent and very lasting, and these both in regard: 1. of the understanding; 2. of the will; and 3. the sensitive faculties likewise.

10. First, in regard of the understanding, there is thereby a divine light communicated, not revealing or discovering any new verities, but affording a most firm clear assurance and experimental perception of those verities of Catholic religion which are the objects of our faith, which assurance the soul perceives to be divinely communicated to her.

11. O happy evidence of our Catholic belief! No thanks to them that believe after such sight, which is more evident than anything we see with our corporal eyes. Surely the first knowledge and assurance that the primitive Christians had of the mysteries of our religion came by such contemplations communicated to the Apostles, &c. (as St. Paul witnesses of himself for one), who saw and even felt the truth of what they preached and delivered by tradition to others.

12. Such contemplations as this made St. Teresa so confident in the points of her belief, that it seemed to her that she was able to dispute with and confound all the heretics in the world; but yet therein she might perhaps be deceived, if that God did not further enable her than by such contemplations only; for though they served to establish most firmly her own belief, yet would they not suffice to enable her to dispute with and convince others, because neither could she intelligibly enough express what she had seen, and if she could, yet would not all believe her, nor were they rationally obliged to do so. And, therefore, doubtless she would never have undertaken, of her own accord, without a special motion and invitation from God, to have entered into any such disputes; indeed, if God had urged her thereto, then, doubtless, He would have given her an especial assistance and force.

13. A soul that is newly awakened, as it were, from such a contemplation or union, coming to read the Holy Scriptures or any spiritual book, will pierce far more deeply into the verities contained in them, and will see clearer lights and feel far more perfect tastes of the divine truths therein than ever before; so that all the knowledge that she formerly had will seem unto her mere darkness and a knowledge of the outward letter only, whereas now she penetrates into the internal spirit of the writings.

14. In the next place, the change that is made by this supernatural union with regard to the will and affections is equally admirable, insomuch as many years spent in mortification and other internal exercises will not so purify the soul as a few minutes passed in such a divine inaction. Here it is, indeed, that a soul perfectly feels her own nothing and God's totality, and thereby is strangely advanced in humility and the divine love; for being so immediately united to God, so illustrated with His heavenly light, and inflamed with His love, all creatures (and herself above all) are become as nothing, yea, perfectly odious to her. Besides, there are many secret defects in a soul, so subtle and intime, that they can neither be cured nor so much as discovered but by a passive union, insomuch as hereby the soul is advanced to perfection in a manner and degree not to be imagined, far more efficaciously than by all the former actions of herself put together, so that the following aspirations and elevations of the spirit become far more pure and efficacious than before. And, indeed, were it not for such good fruits and effects upon the will, such passive unions would be little profitable unto the soul; for our merit consists in our own free acts produced in virtue of divine grace assisting us, and not in the operations simply wherein God is only agent, and we patients.

15. In the third place, these supernatural unions are of that virtue that they do wholly subdue the imagination and other internal senses to the superior soul, so that they cannot, as they list, wander to and fro, but are reduced to such a happy servitude to the spirit, that without any stress or violence they are brought to attend it in all its employments and occasions; or, if the imagination do sometimes wander, yet it never fastens itself with delight on any external perishing objects, by reason that self-love is in a sort extinguished in the soul, so that it may easily be reduced; or, howsoever, by its wanderings it doth not hinder or interrupt the operations of the spirit.

16. Moreover, it is observed by mystics that souls which formerly during the precedent less perfect exercises were of quite different, even contrary dispositions and natural complexions, after such supernatural unions do come to a very near resemblance to one another (as we see that several ways or paths which from far distant places lead to a city, the nearer they approach to the city the nearer also do they come to one another, and at last fall into and make one common highway). And the reason hereof is, because nature and its particular affections and inclinations are now so worn and even burnt out by the fire of divine love and grace, that it is the Spirit of God that is the only principle of all their actions; which, therefore, must needs be uniform and like to one another.

17. It will be no wonder if these things here spoken of a supernatural passive union shall seem incredible, or, perhaps, to be but dreams of extravagant or melancholic spirits, not only to those that are strangers from the Catholic faith, but those Catholics also that are inexperienced in internal ways; yet if they would consider that all this hath been delivered by the testimony of most devout, humble, and spiritually prudent persons, some of them very learned also, who profess to write nothing but what themselves have had experience of, and this by an internal command of God's Spirit, and for the edification of others, they will perhaps judge more warily of these things. And withal, considering that out of the Catholic Church no such divine graces and communications were ever heard of, they will, however, reap this benefit by them, if not to dispose themselves the best they can for the enjoying them, at least they will abhor all novelties in doctrines, and continue unshaken and obedient children to the Church.

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