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Monday, 4 July 2011

'Garden of the Soul' by Bishop R. Challoner - a Spiritual Gem

My wife has in her possession a copy of the prayer book ‘Garden of the Soul’ -
 ‘a manual of Spiritual Exercises and Instructions for Christians who, living in the world, aspire to devotion‘ - written by Bishop Richard Challoner,  first published in 1740, and reprinted without alteration in 1741.
This prayer book,  published in 1945 by Burns Oates and Washbourne, reproduces the text of the 1741 impression almost in its entirety. In June 1953, a copy of this, in lieu of the standard King James Bible, was given to all Catholic children attending non-Catholic schools in the Nottingham diocese,  to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. At the time my wife was one of a number of Catholic children attending Scunthorpe Grammar School.
This little prayer book is an absolute spiritual gem, containing all that a Catholic needs to know concerning the essence and practice of the Faith; which of course was the reason why Bishop Challoner wrote it.
Bishop Challoner was very devoted to St Francis de Sales, and reproduced in the ‘Garden of the Soul’,  ten meditations  from the latter’s famous ‘Introduction to a Devout Life’.
I take this opportunity to reproduce the meditations on ‘Hell’ and ‘Heaven’ which illustrate the simplicity and power of St Francis’ writing, and the  pastoral concern of Bishop Challoner in choosing to include such guidance for his scattered and persecuted flock.

The Seventh Meditation - On Hell

1.Place yourself in the presence of God.
2.Humble yourself and implore His assistance.
3. Represent to yourself a dark city, all burning,  all stinking with pitch and brimstone, and full of inhabitants who cannot get out..

1. The damned are in the depth of hell, as within this woeful city, where they suffer unspeakable torments, in all their senses and members;  because as they have employed all their senses and members in sinning, so shall they suffer in them all the punishments due to sin.  The eyes for lascivious looks shall be afflicted with the horrid vision of hell and devils. The ears for delighting in vicious discourses shall hear nothing but wailings, lamentations, desperate howlings;  and so of the rest.
2. Besides all these torments there is another greater, which is the loss and privation of God’s glory, from the sight of which they are excluded for ever. Now if Absolom found it more grievous to him to be denied the seeing the face of his father David, than to be banished; O God, what a grief it will be, to be for ever excluded from beholding thy most sweet and gracious countenance!
3. Consider above all the eternity of these pains, which above all things makes hell intolerable.  Alas! if a flea in your ear, or if the heat of a little fever make one short night so long and tedious, how terrible will the night of eternity be, accompanied with so many torments?  From this eternity proceeds eternal desperation, infinite rage, and blasphemy.

Affections and resolutions.
1. Terrify yourself with the words of the prophet Isaiah.  ‘O my soul,  art thou able to live for ever in everlasting flames, and amidst this devouring fire? Wilt thou forfeit the sight of thy God for ever?’
2.  Confess that you have deserved hell,  yea oftentimes.  From henceforth I will take a new course; for why should I go down into this bottomless pit?  I will therefore use this or that endeavour to avoid sin, which only can bring me to this eternal death.
Give thanks. Offer. Pray - Pater,  Ave,  Credo.

The Eighth Meditation - On Heaven

1. Place yourself in the presence of God.
2. Beseech Him to inspire you with His grace.

1. Consider a fair and clear night, and think how pleasant it is to behold the sky
all spangled with that multitude and variety of stars: join this now with the beauty of as clear a day, so as the brightness of the sun may no ways hinder the lustre of the stars nor moon;  and then say boldly,  that all this put together is nothing in comparison with the excellent beauty of the heavenly paradise.   Oh!  how this lovely place is to be desired!  Oh! how precious is this city!
2. Consider the glory, beauty, and multitude of the inhabitants in this blessed country; those millions of millions of angels, cherubim, and seraphims!  Those troops of apostles, prophets, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and holy matrons. The number is innumerable.  O how blessed is this company!  The meanest of them is more beautiful to behold than all this world:  what a sight then will it be to see them all!  But, O my God, how happy are they!  They sing continually harmonious songs of eternal love;  they always enjoy a constant mirth; they interchange one with another unspeakable contentments, and live in the comfort of a happy and indissoluble society.
3. In fine, consider how blessed they are to enjoy God,  who rewards them forever with his lovely aspect,  and by the same infuses into their hearts a treasure of delights:  how great a happiness it is to be united everlastingly to the sovereign good.  They are there like happy birds flying and singing perpetually in the air of his divinity,  which encompasses them on all sides with incredible pleasure.  There everyone does his best, and without envy sings the Creator’s praise.  Blessed be thou forever, O sweet and sovereign creator and redeemer, who art so bountiful to us,  and dost communicate to us so liberally the everlasting treasures of thy glory:  blessed be you for ever, says He, my beloved creatures, who have so faithfully served me, and who now shall praise me everlastingly, with so great love and courage.

Affections and Resolutions
1. Admire and praise this heavenly country.  O how beautiful art thou, my dear Jerusalem! and how happy are thy inhabitants.!
2. Reproach your heart with the little courage it has had hitherto, in wandering so far from the way of this glorious habitation.  O why have I strayed so far from my sovereign good?  Ah!  wretch that I am, for these foolish and trivial pleasures have I a thousand times forsaken eternal and infinite delights!  Was I not mad, to despise such precious blessings for so vain and contemptible affections?
3. Aspire now with fervour to this delightful habitation.   O my gracious God, since it has pleased Thee at length to direct my wandering steps into the right way, never hereafter will I turn back.  Let us go, my dear soul, let us go to this eternal repose: let us walk towards this blessed land that is promised us: what have we to do in this Egypt? I will therefore, disburthen myself of all such things as may divert or retard me in so happy a journey: I will perform such and such things as may conduct me to it.
Give thanks. Offer. Pray- Pater, Ave, Credo.

I have found it surprisingly difficult to obtain an acceptable copy of ‘Garden of the Soul’, although presumably many editions were published. I have tried the major booksellers on the internet but so far, apart from contemporary re-print editions, without success. Although it is essentially  a ‘prayer-book’, it has unique historical and socio-religious implications due to its role in ensuring  the very  survival of the Catholic faith in England in the 18th century. For this reason particularly, I will continue to search for a suitable, preferably older copy, to remind myself of the great debt that we owe to Bishop Challoner and other courageous and caring Catholic pastors in an aggressively Protestant 18th century Britain.

Of your charity please pray for the repose of the soul of Mrs Edna Farrell, of Dawlish, Devon, who died recently aged 92 years. Fortified by the Rites of Holy Church. May she rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

You should try our brothers in Christ at Their bookshop seems to have a copy as of this comment.

umblepie said...

Anonymous, thank you, I will.

Anonymous said...

I have a beautiful one for sale on eBay at the moment. It is dated 1913 to the front cover and was a girft for 'a happy day'. It is leather bound and gilt edged and pocket sized.