Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Prayer of Quiet

From volume 12 of the work.

The Prayer of Quiet is regarded by all writers on mystical theology as one of the degrees of contemplation. It has to be distinguished therefore from meditation and from affective prayer. It holds an intermediary place between the latter and the prayer of union. As the name implies the prayer of quiet is that in which the soul experiences an extraordinary peace and rest, accompanied by delight or pleasure in contemplating God as present. In this prayer God gives to the soul an intellectual knowledge of His presence, and makes it feel that it is really in communication with Him, although He does this in a somewhat obscure manner. The manifestation increases in distinctness, as the union with God becomes of a higher order. This mystic gift cannot be acquired, because it is supernatural. It is God Himself who makes His presence felt in the inmost soul. The certain sight of God therein obtained is not the same as the light of faith, though it is founded upon faith. The gift of wisdom is especially employed in this degree, as it is in every degree of contemplation. According to Scaramelli the office of this gift, at least to a certain extent, is to render God present to the soul and so much the more present as the gift is more abundant. Some authors say that this is not to be understood of the ordinary gift of wisdom which is necessarily connected with sanctifying grace and is possessed by every just man, but of wisdom as one of the charismata or extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost, specially granted to privileged souls.

  • At first the prayer of quiet is given from time to time only and then merely for a few minutes.
  • It takes place when the soul has already arrived at the prayer of recollection and silence, or what some authors call the prayer of simplicity.
  • A degree of prayer is not a definite state excluding reversions to former states.
  • A time often comes when the prayer of quiet is not only very frequent but habitual. In this case it occurs not only at the time set for prayer, but every time that the thought of God presents itself.
  • Even then it is subject to interruptions and alterations of intensity, sometimes strong and sometimes weak.

The prayer of quiet does not entirely impede the exercise of the faculties of the soul. The will alone remains captive. The intellect and memory appear to have greater activity for the things of God in this state, but not so much for worldly affairs. They may even escape the bounds of restraint and wander on strange and useless thoughts, and yet the will, attracted by the charm of the Divine presence, continues its delights, not wholly in a passive way, but capable of eliciting fervent affections and aspirations. As to the bodily senses St. Francis de Sales tells us that persons during the prayer of quiet can hear and remember things said near them; and, quoting St. Teresa, he observes that it is a type of superstition to be so jealous of our repose as to refrain from coughing, and almost from breathing for fear of losing it. God who is the author of this peace will not deprive us of it for unavoidable bodily motions, or even for involuntary wanderings of the imagination. The spiritual fruits are:

  • interior peace which remains after the time of prayer,
  • profound humility,
  • aptitude and a disposition for spiritual duties,
  • a heavenly light in the intellect, and
  • stability of the will in goodness.

It is by such fruits true mystics may be discerned and distinguished from false mystics. ST. TERESA, The Way of Perfection; IDEM, The Interior Castle; ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, The Dark Night of the Soul; IDEM, Ascent of Mount Carmel; ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, Treatise on the Love of God; POULAIN, The Graces of Interior Prayer (London, 1910).

A. Devine.