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

CHAPTER VI. Of the end of all the precedent exercises, and of all the changes in aà

§§ 1, 2, 3. Of the end of all the precedent exercises, and of all the changes in a spiritual life: to wit, a stable state of perfection and prayer.

§§ 4, 5. Wherein that state consists. The testimony of Suso.

§§ 6, 7. The wonderful purity and sublimity of the soul's operations in this state: out of Barbanson.

§§ 8, 9, 10. Of the union of nothing with nothing, &c.

§ 11. The sublimity of angelical love in perfect souls.

§ 12. A conclusion of the whole book.

1. It remains only for a conclusion of the whole book, that something be said of the end of all these exercises of Mortification and Prayer, in which there is so great variety of degrees and changes.

2. And surely that end must needs be supereminently excellent, for the attaining whereof such incredible labour (both interior and exterior) must be undertaken, and whereto such wonderful divine graces and visits are only instrumental dispositions. Suso, writing from his own experience concerning the foresaid passive union by which a soul hath a distinct view of God, her original, says: That though the said contemplation continued but as it were a moment, it so replenished his heart with joy, that he wondered it did not cleave asunder. On the other side, upon the subsequent most contrary visitation by a spiritual desertion, the heart becomes so replenished with bitterness and anguish, as if all Gilead had not balm enough to assuage it.

3. And for what end all this? Surely not that a man should rest finally in the joy conceived by such a fruition, nor merely to torture the soul by such a bitter desolation. Our supreme happiness is not receiving but loving; all these favours, therefore, and all these sufferings do end in this: namely, the accomplishment of this love in our souls, so that all our perfection consists in a state of love and an entire conformity with the divine will.

4. There are, therefore, in a spiritual life no strange novelties or wonders pretended to. Divine love is all; it begins with love and resignation, and there it ends likewise. All the difference is in the degrees and lustre of it; love, even in its most imperfect state, is most divinely beautiful, which beauty is wonderfully increased by exercise; but when by such fiery trials and purifications, as also by so near approaches as are made to the fountain of beauty and light in passive unions, this love is exalted to its perfection; how new, how admirable, and incomprehensible to us imperfect souls is the manner of the exercising of it! We must content ourselves to hear those speak of it that have had some experience in it, and if what they say be incomprehensible to us, we ought not to wonder at it.

5. That which the forementioned Suso (in his ninth Rock) writes of the nature of this love in gross is not so abstruse. O, how small (says he) is the number of those perfect souls! And yet as few as they are, God sets them as pillars to support His Church, so that if it were not for them, it would be in danger to be dissipated. The prayer of one such soul is of more efficacy than of all Christians besides; they approach very near to God, their original, and yet such is the vile esteem that they have of themselves, they themselves are not assured of this; yet by fits a certain clarity or glimpse of their prime principle is communicated to them, by which they easily infer that there is some other thing within them from whence those splendours do issue; but they are so purely, simply, and nakedly resigned to God in Catholic belief, that whensoever they receive any joyful consolation from Him, they are more apprehensive than when they find themselves deprived of it, for their only desire is simply to imitate the example of our Lord Jesus in simple faith. They adhere so purely and simply to the Catholic faith, that they neither desire nor endeavour to know anything else; there is in them so profound a humility that they esteem themselves unworthy of any of those secret and comforting graces of God, and therefore dare not ask them; they desire no other thing but this, that God may be perfectly glorified. They are so absolutely resigned to the divine will, that whatsoever befalls them and all other creatures is most acceptable to them. Therefore, if God give them anything, they are contented with it; if he deprive them of it, they are as well pleased. Thus they challenge nothing, they appropriate nothing; yet if it were left to them, they would choose rather to avoid pleasing than bitter things, for the cross is their sovereign delight; they fear neither life nor death, purgatory nor hell, nor all the devils in it, for all servile fear is utterly extinguished in them, and the only fear remaining is this, that they do not as yet imitate the example of our Lord as they ought and desire. They are so humble that they despise themselves and all the works that ever they performed; yea, they abase themselves below all creatures, not daring to compare themselves with any; they love all men alike in God, and every one that loves God they love him likewise; they are totally dead to the world and it to them, and all the intellectual exercises and operations which formerly they pursued with propriety are altogether dead in them. They do neither by intention nor love seek themselves nor any proper honour nor profit in time or eternity; they have utterly lost themselves and all creatures both for time and eternity, and they live in a certain learned ignorance, not desiring to know anything; they resent no temptations nor afflictions; it is their joy to follow our Lord, bearing His cross; to the last gasp they desire to walk in no other way but this, and although they be unknown unto the world, yet the world is well known unto them; these are truly men, indeed, true adorers of God, that adore Him in spirit and truth; thus Suso.

6. But as for the internal actuations in the souls of the perfect, they are so inexplicably subtle and pure, that experience itself doth not sufficiently enable them to give an intelligible account of them. What soul can imagine how divinely spiritual and angelical must needs have been the internal exercises of divine love in St. Romualdus, after almost a hundred years spent in solitude, during all which time they continually grew more and more pure and divine?

7. In the active unions which souls, during a less perfect state have with God, God is in them as an object distinct from them, and so contemplated by them; but in the state of perfection He is not only the object and end, but the only perceivable principle also of all their operations; yea, saith Barbanson (cap.12), He is the fund, the entire state, the stable foundation of the soul, by virtue of which the being, life, and respiration of the spirit is become as much exalted as the operations and contemplations thereof, for this union is not now only a gift and operation of God, that is of a short continuance, nor only simple actual infusions, by which the soul may at some times be actually informed, and no more; but the very foundation, state, and disposition of the soul is changed, reversed, and reformed by divine grace, which being a participation of the Divine Being, and, consequently, making us partakers of the divine nature, confers on us a stable and permanent state in regard of our interior, to live according to the divine and supernatural life, conformable whereto are the consequents and effects of it, to wit, light, knowledge, experience, and inclination to divine things. Yea (saith the same author in another place), although the divine, actual, and special touches be not always really present, so as by means of their prevention to produce actual operations, the soul, notwithstanding, can maintain itself, yea, and perceive itself to persist in a state of life according to the Spirit of God, a life of peace, serenity, and repose, in which the spirit is continually attentive to what God will vouchsafe to speak in her.

8. By reason of this habitation and absolute dominion of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the perfect (who have wholly neglected, forgotten, and lost themselves, to the end that God alone may live in them, whom they contemplate in the absolute obscurity of faith), hence it is that some mystic writers do call this perfect union the UNION OF NOTHING WITH NOTHING, that is, the union of the soul, which is nowhere corporally, that hath no images nor affections to creatures in her; yea, that hath lost the free disposal of her own faculties, acting by a portion of the spirit above all the faculties, and according to the actual touches of the Divine Spirit, and apprehending God with an exclusion of all conceptions and apprehensions; thus it is that the soul, being nowhere corporally or sensibly, is everywhere spiritually and immediately united to God, this infinite nothing.

9. The soul now is so elevated in spirit that she seems to be all spirit, and, as it were, separated from the body. Here she comes to a feeling, indeed, of her not-being, and by consequence, of the not-being of creatures. This is, indeed, a real truth; not as if the soul or other creatures either did cease according to their natural being, or as if a natural being were, indeed, no real being (as Father Benet Canfield doth seem to determine), but because all sinful adhesion by affection to creatures being annihilated, then they remain (as to the soul) only in that true being which they have in God, by dependence on Him and relation to Him, so that He is all in all; whereas, whilst we sinfully adhere unto them by staying in them with love, we carry ourselves towards them as if we thought them to have a being or subsistence of and in themselves, and not of God only; and that they might be loved for themselves without reference to God, which is the fundamental error and root of all sin.

10. All sensible operations formerly exercised, yea, all express and deliberate intellectual operations bring the soul some-whither and to some determinate thing; but in this perfect state the soul's desire is to be nowhere, and she seeks nothing that either sense or understanding can fix upon. Such souls can taste and comprehend what St. Denis meant in his Instructions to Timothy (Tu autem relinque sensus, &c.): But thou, O Timothy, relinquish the senses and sensible exercises, yea, abandon all intellectual operations, and with a courageous force of mind repress all these things, and according to thy utmost possibility raise thyself in ignorance, and renouncing of all knowledge to an union with God above all substance (or being) and knowledge.

11. But these are secrets of divine love, which, except by experience they be tasted, can in no sort be comprehended. Blessed are those souls that thus lose themselves that they may find themselves! This loss is so infinitely gainful, that it is cheaply bought with all the anguishes of mortification, all the travails of meditation, and all the aridities, obscurities, and desolations attending the prayer of the will: this loss is the design of all these exercises and labours, this is the fruit of all divine inactions. We mortify our passions, to the end we may lose them; we exercise discursive prayer by sensible images, to the end we may lose all use of images and discourse; and we actuate immediately by operations of the will, to the end we may arrive to a state of stability in prayer above all direct exercises of any of the soul's faculties: a state wherein the soul, being oft brought to the utmost of her workings, is forced to cease all working, to the end that God may operate in her, so that till a soul be reduced to a perfect denudation of spirit and a deprivation of all things, God doth not enjoy a secure and perfect possession of it.

12. And thus by God's assistance we have passed through the several degrees of prayer, according to which, especially, the stations and degrees of an internal life are to be measured; we have endeavoured (it is to be hoped not altogether unprofitably) with all simplicity and perspicuity to declare the order and changes of them. If God, by the means of our prayers, give us the grace and courage to proceed de virtute in virtutem, according to these steps and these directions we shall, without doubt, sooner or later arrive unto the top of the mountain, where God is seen: a mountain, to us that stand below, environed with clouds and darkness, but to them who have their dwelling there, it is peace and serenity and light. It is an intellectual heaven, where there is no sun nor moon, but God and the Lamb are the light of it.

The blessed spirit of Prayer rest upon us all. Amen. Amen.

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