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

CHAPTER V. Of the great desolation usually following an intellectual passive union.à

§§ 1, 2, 3. Of the great desolation usually following an intellectual passive union.

§§ 4, 5, 6, 7. A description of the nature and woful bitterness of this desolation.

§ 8. How a devout soul does, or ought to behave herself therein.

§ 9. The great benefits and fruits proceeding from this desertion well undergone.

1. A soul having once experienced such extraordinary divine favours will be apt to say with the Psalmist (Non movebor in æternum), I shall never be moved, Thou, Lord, of Thy goodness hast made my hill so strong.' But if she think so she will find herself strangely deceived; for as the whole course of a spiritual life consists of perpetual changes, of elevations and depressions, and an extraordinary consolation is usually attended by succeeding anguish and desertion, so above all other times this so supereminent and so comfortable a divine visitation is commonly followed by a most terrible unexpected desolation, a desolation so insupportable to souls unprovided or unaware of it, that many not enabled or not well instructed how to behave themselves in it have lost all heart to prosecute internal ways, and so bereaving themselves of the benefit of all their former exercises and, divine passive inactions, have returned to a common extroverted life.

2. This truly is a misery so great and so deplorable, that to prevent the like in others, I conceive requisite to give warning of it, and by a brief description of the nature and manner of such a desolation, together with the good ends for which God permits, yea, in a sort conducts souls into it, to encourage them to bear themselves in it with patience, resignation, and tranquillity of mind. I shall be brief in this point, remitting the readers for a farther explanation of it to Barbanson, as likewise to that excellent treatise called Interior Abnegation.

3. From the foresaid sublime familiarities, therefore, and communications between God and His chosen souls, He conducts them usually (especially after the first passive union) to another far different state of pure sufferance; but this is not a happy suffering (as formerly) from God, but a woful suffering from the soul herself; for God, for some time retiring Himself from her, permits her to feel her natural infirmity, and this He does by degrees, lest, if the extremity and bitterness of this state did at once seize upon her, she should be utterly oppressed by the temptation. Therefore, when by many inferior trials of her patience and resignation He sees her strong and courageously resolved to follow Him whithersoever He shall lead her, then He puts her to this last and of all other greatest trial.

4. For first He not only withdraws all comfortable observable infusions of light and grace, but also deprives her of a power to exercise any perceptible operations of her superior spirit and of all comfortable reflections upon His love, plunging her into the depth of her inferior powers. Here, consequently, her former calmness of passions is quite lost, neither can she introvert her self; sinful motions and suggestions do violently assault her, and she finds as great difficulty (if not greater) to surmount them as at the beginning of a spiritual course. The feeling of all this is intolerable to her, and thereupon she begins to suspect that by some great unknown sin she has procured all this, or, however, that her resistance is now so feeble and inefficacious that she deserves that God should quite cast her off. She finds the corrupt inclinations of her nature so strong in her that she thinks she is nothing but nature: the rebelliousness whereof and its rage against God is inexpressible: she is now as full of images of vanities as ever she had been formerly, and it seems to her that she has far less power to expel them than when she lived in the world. If she would elevate her spirit she sees nothing but clouds and darkness; she seeks God and cannot find the least marks or footsteps of His presence; something there is that hinders her from executing the sinful suggestions within her, but what that is she knows not; for to her thinking she has no spirit at all, and, indeed, she is now in a region of all other most distant from spirit and spiritual operations -- I mean such as are perceptible. Her prayers and recollections are most grievous unto her, because infinitely difficult, by reason that sense and nature (which most abhors them) is now almost only active and operative in her, and the recollections which she endeavours to make are not only insipid, but, as it seems to her, utterly inefficacious, so that she oft suspects that it were better, perhaps, if she were quite extroverted; yet for all that she dares not altogether quit her endeavours to practise recollections, but yet she knows not why.

5. Now if all these disorders continued only for some short time, she might without extreme difficulty practise patience as she did in her former aridities and desolations; but alas! this most afflicting martyrdom oftentimes continues many months, yea, in some persons several years (not always in extremity, but with some intercisions), so that the soul comes in a manner to lose all patience. She often complains in her prayers to God for deserting her that would fain not desert Him, yet when she makes such prayers, to her seeming her spirit will not join; if she had nothing to do but merely to suffer, it were not so much but she knows it is her duty to work and to raise herself up by prayer, and this she cannot do. She stands in need now of as gross operations to cause an introversion as ever, and yet those gross operations have not so good an effect as in her former imperfect state.

6. Moreover, the temptations which she now suffers are both so violent and her resistance so feeble, they are withal so unexpected, so secret, and subtle, that notwithstanding any information that she formerly had, by reading or other ways, touching such a condition of suffering to be expected, yet when it comes she will scarce be persuaded that this can be possibly a way to perfection or conducing to her good; all her former light and instructions will scarce at all diminish her resentment of her deplorable condition; she loses nothing of her former light (for souls arrived to this state are not to seek or to learn how and in what manner they are to exercise themselves interiorly: they study no more for that than one would do how he may see with his eyes or hear with his ears, having the perfect use of his senses), but when she is to practise according to this light, she has no satisfaction at all. If she have any difficulties or obscurities, it is how she is to comport herself in external matters, and even this obscurity is but very small; but, however, she thinks that all the light she has serves to little purpose, finding that notwithstanding it she works as if she had no light at all. In a word, she now sees her own natural misery so perfectly (yea, and can see nothing but it) that she cannot see how God can comfort her if He would.

7. All this shows that notwithstanding all her precedent exercises, yea, that during the foregoing divine inactions, yet many dregs of corrupt nature did remain in her; they were only hid, but not extinguished. This, therefore, was the only forcible expedient left to destroy in a manner all the sinful inclinations of nature in her; indeed, to natural reason this seems a strange and most improper remedy -- to destroy nature by suspending the influences and operations of grace, and by suffering nature to break forth violently without any control and restraint, all sensible light in the understanding and fervour in the will being in a manner extinguished; yet out of this darkness God produces light and strength from this infirmity.

8. For the truth is that in this case of desolation the soul doth by her free-will, or rather in the centre of the spirit beyond all her faculties, remain in a constant union and adhesion to God, although no such union do appear unto her; yea, though it seems to her that she is not only estranged but even averted from God, and by virtue of that most secret but firm adhesion she makes election of God as her only good, which may to any but herself sufficiently appear by her carriage during that state; for she breaks not out into any murmurings, she seeks not to comfort herself by admitting any inordinate external solaces, nor doth anything deliberately by which to rid herself from such an afflicting estate sooner or otherwise than God would have her to do. She practises tranquillity of mind in the midst of a tempest of passions in sensitive nature; she exercises resignation without the least contentment to herself therein; she learns patience in the midst of impatience, and resignation in the midst of irresignation; in a word, she yields herself as a prey unto Almighty God, to be cast into this most sharp purgatory of love, which is an immediate disposition to an established state of perfection.

9. More particularly the fruits and benefits flowing from this most sad estate (supported with patience and tranquillity of spirit) are wonderful.1. For first, hereby the devout soul obtains a new light to penetrate into the mystery of our Lord's desertion in the garden and on the cross, and from this light a most inflamed love to Him; now she ceases to wonder why He should deprecate a cup so mortally bitter as this, and that it should work such strange effects on Him, or that He should cry out, Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani, and by this desertion of His (which lasted till the very last moment of His life) she hopes to have an end put to hers.2. Now she learns by experience to make a division between the supreme portion of the spirit and inferior nature, yea, between the summity of the spirit and the faculties of the same; for that portion of her by which she cleaves to God seems to be another third person distinct from herself that suffers, complains, and desires, for she chooses God, and at the same time fears that her will chooses and consents to sin; she is mightily supported by God, and yet she thinks Him utterly estranged and separated from her. Thus at last she perceives that she can operate without any perceptible use of her faculties.3. Hereby she learns a perfect disappropriation and transcendence even of the highest gifts and graces of God, and a contentation to be deprived of the greatest blessings that God has to bestow on her (except only Himself).4. The sight of the inexpressible weakness and perverseness of nature, left to itself, without any sensible influences of grace upon the inferior faculties, produces in her a most profound humility and hatred of herself.5. Lastly, by this most sharp purgatory of love she enters into a state of most perfect confidence in God, of tranquillity of mind, and security of God's unchangeable love to her, not to be disturbed by any possible future affliction. For what has a soul left to fear that can with a peaceable mind support, yea, and make her benefit of the absence of God Himself?

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