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


Written by the late V. R. F. Leander À S. Martino, and placed in the Book of Collections

I have read over carefully the book A, B, C, and the Alphabet and Abstract, as also the three parts of Doubts and Calls, besides divers other Treatises of the same Author, in all which are to be seen my Approbation and allowance in the beginning of them. They do all contain very sound and wholesome doctrine for the direction of devout souls, and fit and agreeable to our calling and Rule, and especially for the use of our Dames; the spirit of our Holy Rule consisting principally in a spiritual union of our soul with God in affective Prayer, and exercise of the will immediately upon God, rather than intellectual and discursive Prayer, busying the understanding, as appeareth plainly by our Rule, and the daily use of our Choir Office, which for the most part consisteth of Aspirations and Affections, and hath very few discourses.

Yet because the Author referreth the Dames his scholars to his larger explication by word of mouth in many places, and to his practice in which he settled them, both which cannot be known but by those who knew the Author; and this mystic way, though most plain, most secure, and most compendious to perfection, containeth many hard and delicate points, which will seem most strange to such as have been only accustomed to intellectual Meditation, and little to affective Prayer, by reason of the great abstraction which it requires from all things that are not God; lest the ensuing confessors and directors should mistake the meaning of the Author, and thereupon alter the course of prayer begun and settled in the house (as we hope, to the glory of God and spiritual profit of souls in perfection proper to our calling), I have thought it convenient to note these few points following.

First of all, that the reader of these books and collections have always before his eyes, that they are written precisely and only for such souls as by God's holy Grace do effectually and constantly dedicate themselves to as pure an abstraction from creatures as may with discretion be practised in the Community; and consequently for such as abstain from all manner of levity, loss of time, notable and known defects, vain talk, needless familiarity, and in a word do take as much care as they can to avoid all venial sins and occasions of them, and all things which they shall perceive, or be warned of, to be impediments to the divine union of their souls with God.

Secondly, let him consider that it is supposed as a ground in all those collections and observations, that the Office of Choir, and actions of obedience, and conventual acts, and all other things prescribed by Rule and statute, are most exactly to be kept and observed: yea, preferred before all other private exercises whatever. So that all these instructions are to be understood always with reservation of the conventual discipline and public observance prescribed by obedience.

Particularly let the reader observe a note which is given in one of these books, and found but in few spiritual writers, yet necessary for those religious that are addicted to the Choir, viz. that although the Author commendeth so highly mental Prayer, yet that Prayer which is perfectly mental and vocal too is far more excellent than that which is mental only; as will be the exercise of the Saints in heaven after the Day of Judgment, when in body and soul they shall praise and contemplate Almighty God. Whereupon it followeth, that although in this life our frail and weak body hindereth our soul, so that our Prayer cannot be so perfectly mental and vocal as it shall be in heaven, yet must our mental Prayer be so practised, that by the Grace of God and loyal perseverance in union with Him, our vocal Prayer in Choir may be converted into mental, that is, that our vocal saying and singing may be so lively animated, as it were, and informed with affect of the soul, as if it were altogether spiritual Prayer. And so shall we fulfil the words of our Rule: Nihil præponatur operi Dei, -- Let nothing be preferred before the Office of the Choir. Whereas in divers places the Author saith that all bodily exercises, even frequenting the Sacraments, without mental Prayer and abstraction and mortification, do not advance the soul one jot in spirit, although it be plain enough to them that know these three instruments of spiritual perfection, yet lest any should mistake his meaning, as if these former exercises did not profit a soul at all, without these instruments practised by few, out of the former advices the reader must understand that by Advancement in spirit' is meant here, not the bare avoiding of grosser sins and some perfection too in active life, which is gotten by these bodily exercises, but a clear and experimental knowledge of the will of God, and a spiritualising of the soul by adhering to God, and transcending all creatures whatsoever; for this do the mystic doctors call Advancement in spirit'; and this cannot be attained unto but by the above three named instruments continually practised and employed by God's Grace. Which notwithstanding, the Author denieth not, but that a soul without the foresaid exercises may so profit in spirit (as active souls do that live in worldly manner), that they carefully avoid sin and keep God's commandments, and be truly united to God in following His will, by the use of bodily exercises and frequency of Sacraments, although they use not much mental Prayer, abstraction, and mortification. For if they use none at all (as no good Christian but useth them in some degree), undoubtedly they will not profit at all in spirit, neither actively nor contemplatively, nor avoid sin, nor be in any sort united to God.

About the doctrine of Confession: whereas the Author disputeth much against the using of Confession of venial sins, as necessary to spiritual profit, it is to be understood that he doth not in any wise condemn the discreet use of frequent Confession, but only the needless enumeration of venial sins and daily defects which some souls do make in their confessions with great anxiety of mind, and which some confessors do oblige their penitents unto, with great prejudice of that cheerful liberty of spirit which a soul should have to converse with God in Prayer, and is commonly a cause of scruples, one of the greatest banes of spiritual perfection. So that for souls that are by nature prone to fear and scrupulosity, the director must of necessity moderate them both in the frequency of Confession, and the matter to be confessed. Yea, he may advise them to confess fewer times than other freer souls do. Otherwise for souls that are cheerful and valiant and courageous in the way of the Spirit, the Author obligeth them in his practice to keep the ordinary time of Confession; much more those that are not so careful in avoiding occasions of ordinary defects; I say, he obligeth them in such sort as the Constitutions oblige, which is not under any sin, as if they should sin as often as they omit the ordinary time of Confession; but as a laudable counsel and profitable observance, which under a penalty and regular correction is to be kept, and not omitted but by advice from the spiritual father, or leave of the Superior.

Note also that he doth worthily advertise a defect of many who come to Confession, making the principal intention of it only the absolution from sin. I say this is a defect, because the principal part of the intention must be the increase of Grace and love of God, by which, formally infused or poured into ourselves, God Almighty doth blot out sins and wipe them away. Now although absolution from sin is never given without infusion of Grace, yet ought the intention of the penitent to be principally the obtaining of Grace; for if he principally intend the absolution from sin, it is a reflection of the soul upon its own profit by self-love, desiring to avoid the wrath of God and punishment due to sin, and to be freed from the deformity of guiltiness; which, though it be a good desire, yet is but a property of beginners in love, and nothing comparable to the intention of Grace, which is the perfect love of God, and is an elevation of the soul to transcend itself and all creatures, to live only in God.

About the doctrine of set Examinations of Conscience, the Author doth not condemn it, especially for souls who are not greatly advanced in perfection; but for souls which daily profit and grow in Grace he prefers the exercise of Love; and not without cause; for his meaning is, that in our recollection it is an easier and speedier way to amend ourselves by wrapping all our defects in a generality, and so endeavour to consume them, as it were casting them into the fire of love, than by particularising them and discussing them in singular; because in so doing they distract the mind, that may be better employed. Yet this doctrine hinders not, but if any notable defect have been committed, it should be by a particular reflection amended; yet rather by an amorous conversion of the soul to God by Humility, than by turning itself to look upon the defect in particular. And doubtless a soul that, according to the Author's doctrine, doth so carefully avoid all defects that it presently, upon sight of any default, exacteth an amendment of itself, such a soul needeth no set examen, but supplieth the use thereof by a more noble exercise, which is, as I termed it, an humble consuming of all her defects in one bundle in the heavenly fire of charity or love of God.

Nevertheless a set examen is profitable for such as are not yet come to such a height of unitive love, and is counselled by our Father Blosius in divers places, and by St. Bernard in his book to the Carthusians in these words: Nemo te plus diligit, nemo te fidelius judicabit, &c. -- that is, None loves thee more, none will judge thee more faithfully, than thine own self.' In the morning, then, exact an account of the night past, and appoint thyself a caution for the day ensuing. At evening take account of the day past, and order the course of the night following. Thus strictly examining thyself, thou wilt find no leisure to play wanton. And long before St. Bernard, the holy Abbot St. Dorotheus commends the same exercise (Serm xi.) as usual amongst all monks: Quo pacto per singulos dies nosipsos purgare, &c. -- that each night every one ought to inquire diligently with himself how he has spent the day, and each morning how he spent the night, and let him do penance and renew himself before God, if, as is possible, he may have sinned. And long before him St. Ephrem, who lived only 250 years after Christ our Lord's Passion, hath the commendation of a set examination, exhorting that each day, morning and evening, we should diligently examine whether we have earned our wages.

Neither doth our Author discommend this set examen, but the defective use of it, which is: first, to make it in order to Confession, which doubtless in a soul well advanced breedeth needless images, since such a soul will call to mind what sufficeth for her ordinary confession without this examen. Second, too much particularising of our defects: which is likewise distractive, it being sufficient to examine the performance of our duty and obligatory actions, or if any notable defect have carelessly crept upon us; all other defects being more profitably wrapt up in a generality, and so cast into our Saviour's Passion, than particularly stirred up, which would but in a manner raise up a new dust in the soul. Third, the anxious looking upon the defects in themselves and in their peculiar matter or object; whereas it is better and safer to turn the eye of our soul from the matter in particular unto God Almighty, humbling ourselves before Him, and with loving reverence craving pardon of Him. A fourth defect is to imagine that it is a sin in careful souls to omit this examen, whereas indeed it is none at all; though in souls that are careless of their actions, it is ordinarily a defective negligence worthy to be reprehended. In a word, a set examen may be used profitably by all souls with those cautions above mentioned, and is to be counselled to all beginners in the way of Perfection, and to all that be not so wary in their actions. But if the director perceive a soul to be so wary, that she is perpetually careful of progress in spirit, and never deferreth correction and amendment of her defects, but out of hand redresseth what she discovereth to be amiss, to such a soul may the director permit, instead of a set examen, to use her ordinary elevation of heart to God, and by virtual contrition or actual (as God moveth her) included in the exercise of love, deface all the defects of her life.

Let none likewise be scandalised at that which is said, that there be higher exercises than Meditation on the Passion; and that it is not always the profitablest way to busy our soul in that object. For since our Religious hear ordinarily two Masses, or at least one daily, in that they do actually celebrate the memory of our Saviour's Passion; and at divers other times they have leisure to think lovingly thereupon, that they need not in all their recollections take that only object; especially since their manner of Prayer is more by act of will, than by consideration of the understanding; and (as is very well declared in one place) all their recollections and actions that have any other special object are virtually intended in honour of our Saviour's Passion.

What is said about passive Contemplation, that it is rather received into the soul than produced or wrought by our own action or endeavour, is most true; supposing always that this reception of it in our soul is a vital operation (which, whether it be called an action of the soul or a mere passion, is a school question and nothing to our purpose). Certain it is that by all our own power we could not produce it, and therefore it is called the Inaction of God in our soul by many mystics, to which we only concur by vitally receiving it, and by a willing consent to let God work His Will in us.

What is said about the immediate operation of God in the very essence and substance of our soul, and not in the powers thereof, nor by meditation of the powers, although it be against the general doctrine of the Philosophers and Schoolmen, yet it is a probable opinion, and grounded upon experience of devout men, that were also great scholars, and therefore may securely be followed. As also that which is there said, that God can move the will to love without the operation of the understanding, though many deny it, yet it is most probable and befitting the almighty power of God, and is held by Gerson and St. Bonaventure, who were no small School Divines.

Lastly, the vehement urging that great heed be taken in the choice of a confessor and director in these mystic ways of God is necessary, and not intended to the dispraise of any, nor to the disabling of such as perhaps have not all the qualities required. But it seems especially for two ends: the one for an advertisement to the directors and confessors that they presume not to judge or proceed rashly in the directing of our Religious, but according to these cautions and instructions; especially if they themselves have not been accustomed to this affective Prayer of the will. And we do conjure them in behalf of our Saviour Christ to cherish this way, and to set it forward as the peculiar exercise belonging to our spirit and calling; yet so as intellectual prayer be not altogether neglected in the occasions which in these books are sufficiently assigned. The other end is to cut off a dangerous curiosity which women used to have of desiring to confer upon their interior with every learned or devout man they hear of; which is a very great defect, and by those vehement persuasions of our Author very deservedly and warily prevented. And although St. Teresa did give way to this universal communication of interior to divers learned men, and commended it to her daughters, yet we are credibly informed that in her latter days with tears she hath said, that by it occasion was given to discontented minds to vent forth their disgusts, with harm to themselves and the Community. Therefore, out of this point let the Religious resolve to communicate their interior to their lawful superiors, and to directors by them appointed, who will have care that the spirit of Prayer be not extinguished or hindered in them by any unskilful or heedless guides. Thus much we thought convenient to note under our hands in commendation of these holy instructions, and for a caution and warning to future confessors and spiritual directors.

F. Leander de S. Martino, Prior of St. Gregory in Douay, and Ordinary of the Cloister of the Dames of our Lady of Comfort in Cambray, of the Holy Order of St. Benedict.

ln the last place I will adjoin a scheme clearly and at once representing the sum of the Ven. Author's Doctrine, of Divine Calls, composed by the same V. R. F. Leander de S. Martino.

Whatsoever action or omission occurs unto us in all our life, what occasion soever of doing, forbearing, suffering, or receiving from God or any creature, is of such condition, that either

1. It hath some exterior rule commanding it, or forbidding it, which is to be esteemed undoubtedly as the Call of God; and in all such occurrences

1. The exterior rule is to be faithfully kept and practised, in the performing or omitting the action occurring.

2. The interior Call is likewise as carefully to be kept and practised, in the manner of omitting or performing; that it may be done or omitted, with the true spirit and life of Grace, by the exercise of the will.

Or 2. It hath no exterior rule allotted to the occurrence at that time, and is otherwise against no exterior rule of lawful authority: as certainly an infinity of such things happen and occur in time of silence and rest, in our cells; being alone in our labour, recreation, refection, c&c.: and in such cases

1. If it be extraordinary in matter, as long fasting, much watching, &c.; or in manner, as if it be ecstatical or in some strange manner of illumination or inspiration unaccustomed or unwonted to the soul, it is not to be practised till it be examined and allowed by the ordinary exterior rule; yet in no sort to be neglected, but remembered and noted for use and direction, when occasion occurreth in ourselves or others.

2. If it be ordinary in matter and manner, neither implying any inconvenience nor notable singularity, then is the inward Call in a spiritual and true-minded soul a sufficient and secure guide, and ought to be carefully observed and obeyed, lest otherwise the soul ungratefully take God's graces in vain, and so be worthily deprived of them.

F. Leander de S. Martino, President.

18 March 1634.

After the above written paper there follows this, in Father Baker's own hand

The doctrine of Divine Calls here above expressed by our Reverend Father, Father Leander de S. Martino, being at the present our worthy President, I do profess to be the self-same in substance (and by my intention) which more largely, but less sufficiently, I have expressed and delivered in divers books and treatises that are of my penning concerning that subject.

B. Augustine Baker, the 20th of March 1634, Stilo Romano

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