Friday, August 9, 2013

David Augustine Baker, OSB

Benedictine priest and monk (David) Augustine Baker died of the plague on August 9, 1641. He was a missionary priest in England, a spiritual director of English Benedictine nuns in exile, and a mystic, writing books on Catholic spirituality.
As this site notes Father Baker, "was one of the earliest members of the newly restored English Benedictine Congregation. He has three claims on our attention.
  • "He supervised the link between Sigebert Buckley of Westminster and the old English Congregation and the new English monks from Italy.
  • "He collected a huge amount of historical material to support the claim (against newer orders) that the conversion of England was from the beginning essentially Benedictine.
  • "He explored deep into the spiritual world of prayer, teaching many, especially among our nuns, the fruitful realities of the life of prayer. In this his influence is incalculable, and is still with us today. Apart from the language in which it is set out, which is, not unreasonably, a little dated, it is a spirituality which sits well on the more recent columns of the church's inner structure. It grew in the Counter- Reformation world, but has older roots and survives when some of the more enthusiastic accretions of the seventeenth century have largely evaporated."
This blogger comments on Father Baker's spirituality and life of prayer:

Like the Fathers of the Church, Dom Augustine regarded continuous prayer as the whole purpose of monastic life; but he did not reserve contemplation to monks and nuns alone. For St Symeon the New Theologian it is as connected with holy communion as baptism is connected with conversion. Dom Augustine wrote of the solitude that is a necessary condition for contemplation:

Now this so necessary solitude can be found more perfectly and permanently in a well-ordered religious state … yet it is not confined to that state but that, in the world also, and in a secular course of life, God has oft raised and guided many souls in these perfect ways, affording them even there as much solitude and as much internal freedom of spirit as he saw was necessary to bring them to a high degree of perfection.

Just as he believed that people can be called by God to contemplation in all walks of life, so he believed that a monk can pursue his goal in any conditions imposed on him by obedience. Being sent on the Mission was not unmonastic if the monk has sufficient spiritual maturity not to be diverted from his contemplative goal. Indeed his argument with Dom Rudisind was that life in a monastery can also be a distraction from contemplation in someone who is too concerned about the externals of monastic life. I believe that, if the teaching of Dom Augustine Baker is complemented by the teaching of P. Jean-Paul de Caussade SJ with his “Abandonment to Divine Providence” and his “Sacrament of the Present Moment”, and if this is set within the context of a sound understanding of the Liturgy and, hence, of the Church, then the English Benedictine Congregation will be seen to have a common goal, a coherent doctrine how to achieve it, and a flexibility to adapt the monastic observances to whatever circumstances may arise.

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