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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VI. Caroline Divines

§ 1. Augustin Baker; Sancta Sophia

IN the earlier years of Charles I, when, according to the view of intelligent contemporaries, there was the rare and happy union of imperium and libertas and few perceived the approach of the troubles which should lead to civil war, the English interest in preaching was, perhaps, at its greatest. The stormiest controversies of the reformation seemed, for a time, to have spent themselves. The church of England was in settled possession, with a king who was her devoted son. The wide interests of the Elizabethan age, which inspired theologians as well as men of affairs, had tuned the pulpits to themes of universal concern. As men thought and wrote, so men preached, of matters beyond the ken of the cloister; and the massive dignity of their fathers’ prose was reflected from the lips and the pens of those who were set to give God’s message to men. Nothing is more remarkable in an age of fading literary excellence than the way in which the thoughts and methods of the great poets and prose writers of the preceding generation were taken up and handled by the clergy of the national church. The earlier age of the Caroline divines was especially an age of great preachers.

For the most part, this development was confined to the church of England. Roman Catholics, obscure when they were not persecuted, did not seriously affect the national literature. Their training as theologians was exclusive and foreign. They did not write English very easily; and what they wrote had not a large audience. Roman Catholic writers, where they had influence at all, influenced English authors directly, as the Spanish school influenced Crashaw and Vaughan. In every sense, their English writings were exotic. But, apart though this influence stands, it has not a little interest and charm, as may be seen in Sancta Sophia, or Holy Wisdom … extracted out of more than forty Treatises written by the Venerable Father Augustin Baker by Father Cressy, first published in 1657. Augustin Baker was a Welshman, who was taught at Christ’s hospital and at Broadgates hall in Oxford and who, after a few years in practice as a country lawyer, became a Roman Catholic and, at the age of thirty-one, a Benedictine. In England and while he was at Cambridge, he wrote a number of ascetic treatises which, after his death, the more famous Father Cressy (an Englishman, and, at one time, chaplain to Falkland) collected and “extracted” into a devotional treatise of much beauty, to which he gave the name Sancta Sophia, a study of contemplation and prayer. The style is involved, and yet it is not cumbrous. There is a certain exactness, as it were of legalism, which affects the language with an obvious restraint. But, on the other hand, there are felicities of thought, and, more rarely, of expression, which give the book a definite place in the literature of devotion. Yet it is only necessary to compare it with the Meditations of Traherne to see how much the wider outlook of the English churchman has affected the literary expression given to thoughts that were common to meditative souls. The matter of Sancta Sophia is an instruction in the method of meditation, or the prayer of contemplation, owing a good deal to foreign mystics, whether orthodox like Saint Teresa or quietist, and, by a systematic rule, proceeding at last

  • unto the top of the mountain, where God is seen: a mountain, to us that stand below, environed with clouds and darkness, but to them who have their dwelling there it is peace and serenity and light. It is an intellectual heaven, where there is no sun nor moon, but God and the Lamb are the light of it.