May 1, 2012

Baker on Ochino

As I've mentioned a couple of times, one of my delights these days has been finally getting around to reading Dom Augustine Baker. Most recently, I was amused and surprised to find in his Sancta Sophia a take on early Capuchin history. Baker adduces our own Bernard Ochino as a negative example in his discussion of the necessity of prayer in the ministry of being a religious superior. Ochino, of course, is famous for apostatizing to Calvinism during his term as vicar general of the nascent Capuchin reform. After wandering through various Protestantisms and pastorates and starting a family that would eventually die of a plague in Poland, Ochino himself died in obscurity somewhere in Moravia.

"A fearful example of the mischief following the neglect of internal prayer in a superior, we find in Bernardine Ochinus, a superior in a most strict order, who was a famous zealous preacher, and, as might be judged by outward appearance, of more than ordinary sanctity; yet withal, to comply with those outward employments, a great neglecter of internal conventual recollections. And when he was sometimes charitably admonished of such his tepidity, his ordinary answer was: Do you not know that he who is always in a good action is always in prayer? Which saying of his had been true, if such good actions had been performed in virtue of prayer, and by grace obtained thereby, for then they had been virtually prayers; whereas actions, though in themselves never so good, if they want that purity of intention which is only to be had by pure prayer, are in God's esteem of little or no value,--the principal motives of them being no other than such as corrupt nature is likely to suggest. Ochinus, therefore, continuing in the same neglect, was by one of his brethren prophetically warned that he must expect some terrible issue thereof, in these words: Cave ne te ordo evomat, that is, Take heed that our order be not hereafter constrained to vomit thee out of it. The which unhappily fell out; for notwithstanding all his other specious qualities and endowments, he, first forsaking God, was afterwards forsaken by Him, and became a wretched Antitrinitarian apostate. And it is very probable that the greatest part of the apostates of these times (such I mean as have formerly lived in religious orders) do owe their apostasy and perdition to no other cause so much as to such neglect and apostasy first from prayer; the which holy exercise if they had continued, they would never have been weary of their habit first and afterward of their faith."

As an old Jesuit retreat master once said to us, "I used to tell myself that my life was prayer. And it might have been true, had I been praying." As the oft-repeated and variously attributed saying goes, when a priest or religious gets himself into trouble, the first question you ask is, "When did you stop praying your breviary?"

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