AUGUSTINE BAKER'S life was, for the most part, such as he wished it to be, a life of retirement and seclusion. Not for him the martyr's crown or a prominent part in the apostolate of England. And though, over a period of many years, he was a prolific writer, he does not rank high as a writer of English. His style, though lucid and with a charm of its own, is of no outstanding merit. It is too diffuse, too rambling, too formless.

Even in his special field, contemplative prayer and mystical theology, Baker is not among the supreme masters. When he wrote, he had experienced of the mystical prayer which he terms passive contemplation only a single ecstasy. When towards the end of his life he entered permanently into this state of prayer he had long ceased to write. Of the summits of prayer he says little. His concern is with the "ordinary way" of contemplative prayer.

Nevertheless, no Catholic teacher of the spiritual life has a more valuable message for us than Baker. Others have been far greater, and to all appearance holier than he. But not one among them is a better guide to the life of prayer. By all but a tiny minority, the highest states of mystical prayer can be studied only for their witness to God's glory, to his achievement and manifestation in souls, as matter for adoration and a testimony to the truths of faith, not as having any practical bearing on our spiritual life. Moreover, to read the works of the great mystics, a Ruysbroeck or St. John of the Cross, for practical instruction, is not without its dangers. Guides to the supreme mystical union, they demand the utter renunciation indispensable to its attainment and describe the spiritual purgatory through which those alone can and must pass who are invited to enter the earthly paradise, which, like Dante's, is situated above purgatory.

As Baker shows, these sufferings are not given to souls of lower call who have not received the strength to endure them.


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Poets and Mystics


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