Sunday, 17 August 2014

Holy Wisdom by Augustine Baker

It’s virtually like the dissolution of the monasteries; the gradual emptying of convents, seminaries, houses of retreat and novitiates as the numbers of clergy dwindle and the remnants move in strategic withdrawal their tattered banners to modest dwellings. They often sell up their libraries. Charlie Byrne must buy them by the yard. For 2 Euro I bought copies of Holy Wisdom by Augustine Baker and Abandonment to Divine Providence by De Caussade both cloth in excellent condition. ‘Abandonment’ I have previously read but not ‘Wisdom’. Together with my reading of A Serious Call I ought to be firmly invigilated.

In practical terms their knowledge of the workings of the mind in both natural and supernatural dimensions was excellent foreseeing by centuries the findings of modern depth psychology. Here Baker writes on 'Scruples’ aka O.C.D.:

3. The special kind of fear, the mortification of which we are now to treat of, is such an one as is incident more particularly to tender devout souls (especially women) that pursue the exercises of a contemplative life, the which is usually called scrupulosity, which is a mixed kind of passion, the most contrary to that peace of mind necessary in a spiritual course of any other, as being envenomed with whatsoever causes anxiety and inward torments almost in all other passions. It regards sin and hell the most abhorred and most terrible objects of all others; and it is composed of all the bitternesses that are found in fear, despair, ineffectual desires, uncertainty of judgment, jealousy, &c. ; and penetrating to the very mind and spirit, obscuring and troubling the understanding (our only director), and torturing the will, by plucking it violently contrary ways almost at the same time, it causes the most pestilent disorders that a well-meaning soul is capable of, insomuch as if it be obstinately cherished, it sometimes ends in direct frenzy, or, which is worse, a desperate forsaking of all duties of virtue and piety. And
where it is in a less degree, yet it causes images so distracting, so deeply penetrating, and so closely sticking to the mind, and by consequence is so destructive to prayer with recollectedness, that it deserves all care and prudence to be used for the preventing or expelling it
4. For which purpose I will here, according to the best light that God has given me, afford such tender souls as are upon this rack of scrupulosity the best advises I can ; and such as if they will have the courage to practice accordingly, I do not doubt, but through God's help, they will be preserved from the dangerous consequences of such a passion. I shall insist with more than an ordinary copiousness upon this subject, because this so dangerous a passion is but too ordinary among souls of the best dispositions.

He has a short aside for the likes of myself:

6. I do protest, therefore, against all extroverted livers, or any of different tempers and exercises that shall presume to apply or assume unto themselves any indulgences, &c., here not belonging to them ; for tney will but mislead themselves, and reap harm by so doing. It seldom falls out that such persons have a fear of a sin committed, or of the mortal heinousness of it, but that it is very likely that it is such an one, and has been committed; and therefore, for no difficulty of nature, nor for the avoiding of trouble of mind, ought they to expect any dispensations from due examinations of their conscience, express
confessions, &c. Whereas a thousand to one the forementioned tender souls do take those for mortal sins which are mere temptations, yea, perhaps pure mistakes ; and therefore to oblige them to such strict examinations or confessions would only nourish their most distracting anguishes of mind and furnish them with new matters of scrupulosity.

What excellent writing in style and in substance. Holy Wisdom is available in all ereader formats on Internet Archive in a fair scan.
holy wisdom

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