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David Augustine Baker

Benedictine mystic and an ascetic writer (1575-1641)

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Baker, DAVID AUGUSTINE, a well-known Benedictine mystic and an ascetic writer, b. at Abergavenny, England, December 9, 1575; d. of the plague in London, August 9, 1641. His father was William Baker, steward to Lord Abergavenny, his mother, a daughter of Lewis ap John (alias Wallis), Vicar of Abergavenny. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital and at Broadgate’s Hall, now Pembroke College Oxford, afterwards becoming a member of Clifford’s Inn, and later of the Middle Temple. At Oxford he lost his faith in the existence of God, but after some years, being in extreme peril of death, he escaped by what appeared to him a miracle. Following up the light thus given him, he was led to the threshold of the Catholic Church, and was received into its fold. In 1605 he joined the Benedictine Order at Padua, but ill-health obliged him to postpone his religious profession, and he returned home to find his father on the point of death. Having reconciled him to the Church and assisted him in his last moments, Father Baker hastened to settle his own worldly affairs and to return to the cloister. He was professed by the Italian Fathers in England as a member of the Cassinese Congregation, but subsequently aggregated to the English Congregation. At the desire of his superiors he now devoted his time and the ample means which he had inherited, to investigating and refuting the recently started error that the ancient Benedictine congregation in England was dependent on that of Cluny, founded in 910. He was immensely helped in his studies and researches for this purpose by the Cottonian Library which contained so many of the spoils of the old Benedictine monasteries in England, and which its generous founder placed entirely at his disposal. In collaboration with Father Jones and Father Clement Reyner he embodied the fruit of these researches in the volume entitled “Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia”. At Sir Robert Cotton’s Father Baker came in contact with the antiquary, William Camden, and with other learned men of his day. In 1624 he was sent to the newly established convent of Benedictine nuns at Cambrai, not as chaplain, but to aid in forming the spiritual character of the religious. Here he remained for about nine years, during which time he wrote many of his ascetical treatises, an abstract of which is contained in the valuable work “Sancta Sophia” compiled by Father Serenus Cressy. In 1633 he removed to Douai, where he wrote his long treatise on the English mission, but he was nearly worn out with his austerities before the order came for him to proceed to the battle-field. During his short sojourn in London, Father Baker was forced frequently to change his abode in order to avoid the pursuivants who were on his track. It was not, however, as a martyr that he was to end his days, but as a victim of the plague to which he succumbed in the sixty-sixth year of his age. Of upwards of thirty treatises chiefly on spiritual matters written by Father Baker, many are to be found in manuscript at Downside, Ampleforth, Stanbrook, and other Benedictine monasteries in England. An adequate biography of this master of the ascetic life is still a desideratum.


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