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Political Mysticism: Augustine Baker, the Spiritual Formation of Missionaries and the Catholic Reformation in England

  • JAMES E. KELLY (a1)


Augustine Baker, the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk, is primarily remembered as an advocate of mystical spiritual contemplation. This reputation was shaped by a contemporary supporter, whose synopsis of Baker's works is the source most commonly consulted by historians. However, by reading Baker's complete ‘Treatise of the English mission’ and recontextualising this manuscript, it is evident that he was addressing problems of his day. His treatise is a polemical response to debates about the implementation of the Catholic Reformation in England, advocating a vision of clerical formation and personal spiritual reformation for all those active in the English Catholic mission.


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Some of the spelling in the treatise has been modernised for ease of reading, namely ‘u’ to ‘v’, ‘i’ to ‘j’ and ‘v’ to ‘u’.

My thanks to John McCafferty and Michael Questier for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, as well as to this Journal's anonymous peer reviewers for their valuable advice. This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/M003620/1).



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1 See, for example, Knowles, David, The English mystical tradition, London 1961, 151–87, and Temple, Liam, Mysticism in early modern England, Woodbridge 2019, ch. i.

2 For this paragraph's biographical material, see, amongst other sources, MIM 900, and David Daniel Rees, ‘Baker, David [name in religion Augustine] (1575–1641)’, ODNB.

3 Reyner, Clement, Apostalatus Benedictinorum in Anglia, siue, Disceptatio Historica, de antiquitate ordinis congregationisque monarchorum nigrorum S. Benedicti in regno Angliæ, Douai 1626.

4 Augustine Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, part i, Downside Abbey, ms 26583 (Baker ms 27), printed as Baker, Augustine, A treatise of the English mission: the first part, ed. Clark, John, Salzburg 2011; part ii, Ampleforth Abbey, ms 119, partly printed in Baker, Augustine, A treatise of the English mission: the second part, ed. Clark, John, Salzburg 2012, which excludes sections previously printed in ‘Father Augustine Baker's treatise of the English mission: the historical portion’, ed. Hugh Connolly, in Memorials of Father Augustine Baker and other documents relating to the English Benedictines, ed. Justin McCann and Hugh Connolly (CRS xxxiii, 1933), 157–84.

5 Downside Abbey, ms 26582 (Baker ms 26), printed in Baker, Augustine, An introduction or preparative to a treatise of the English Benedictine mission, ed. Clark, John, Salzburg 2011.

6 For example, see Dutton, Elizabeth and Hyning, Victoria Van, ‘Augustine Baker and the mystical canon’, in Scott, Geoffrey (ed.), Dom Augustine Baker, 1575–1641, Leominster 2012, 85110; Temple, Liam, ‘“Have we any mother Juliana's among us?”: the multiple identities of Julian of Norwich in restoration England’, British Catholic History xxxiii (2017), 383400; and Goodrich, Jaime, ‘“Attend to me”: Julian of Norwich and literary circulation among the Cambrai Benedictines’, in Kelly, James E. and Royal, Susan (eds), Early modern English Catholicism: identity, memory and counter-reformation, Leiden 2017, 105–21.

7 Lunn, David, The English Benedictines, 1540–1688: from reformation to revolution, London 1980, 162–3; Barnaby Hughes, ‘Augustine Baker and the history of the English Benedictine Congregation’, in Scott, Dom Augustine Baker, 19–29.

8 Sancta Sophia: or, Directions for the prayer of contemplation &c. extracted out of more then [sic] XL treatises written by the late Ven. Father F. Augustin Baker, ed. Serenus Cressy, Douai 1657, 3.

9 Ibid. 231–8.

10 David Lunn, ‘Augustine Baker (1575–1641) and the English mystical tradition’, this Journal xxvi (1975), 267–77. Lunn's argument is recapitulated in Temple, Liam, ‘The mysticism of Augustine Baker, osb: a reconsideration’, Reformation and Renaissance Review xix (2017), 213–30.

11 I plan to discuss this element in a future article.

12 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt ii, pp. 352–4.

13 Ibid. 529.

14 Ibid. 333–4.

15 For the Approbation Affair see Allison, Antony F., ‘A question of jurisdiction: Richard Smith, bishop of Chalcedon, and the Catholic laity, 1625–31’, RH xvi (1982), 111–45, and Newsletters from the Caroline court, 1631–1638: Catholicism and the politics of the personal rule, ed. Michael C. Questier (Camden Society 5th ser. xxvi, 2005).

16 WDA, A28, nos 41–5, pp. 159–74; Lunn, Maurus, ‘Benedictine opposition to Bishop Richard Smith (1625–1629)’, RH xi (1971), 120, esp. p. 15.

17 For the Archpriest Controversy see Lake, Peter and Questier, Michael, All hail to the archpriest: confessional conflict, toleration, and the politics of publicity in post-Reformation England, Oxford 2019.

18 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt i, pp. 267–74.

19 Ibid. 199–204.

20 For lay involvement in the Approbation Affair see Kelly, James E., ‘Counties without borders? Religious politics, kinship networks and the formation of Catholic communities’, Historical Research xci (2018), 2238, and Kinship and religious politics among Catholic families in England, 1570–1640’, History xciv (2009), 328–43.

21 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt ii, pp. 590.

22 Ibid. pt i, p. 79. Baker reiterates this point at pt i, pp. 345–6: ‘And yet we still never give over sending, or seeking to goe, as if there were need where indeed none is, but perill of such mischeefe & great inconveniences to the souls of all those involved.’

23 Ibid. pt ii, p. 551; see also pt i, pp. 219–20. It also needlessly risks the monk's own life and those who harbour him, when there are already sufficient numbers of clergy in England: pt ii, p. 570.

24 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 572–5.

25 Ibid. pt i, pp. 337–44. See also pt ii, p. 273 for such ambition as contrary to a monk's religious profession.

26 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 350–1.

27 Ibid. 529.

28 Ibid. pt i, pp. 328–34.

29 Ibid. 152–3.

30 Lunn, Maurus, ‘Two other new Benedictine saints’, Ampleforth Journal lxxv (1970), 390–4 at pp. 392–4; WDA, B 47/29; A22/229.

31 WDA, A22, no. 115, p. 535.

32 Lunn, The English Benedictines, 152. Codner was known to be an opponent of Smith during the Approbation Affair and had clashed with his lay patrons; as such, it is not surprising that he became the focus of such gossip by the opposing clerical faction. See Michael C. Questier, Catholicism and community in early modern England: politics, aristocratic patronage and religion, c.1550–1640, Cambridge 2006, 449, 452, 454, 462, 478.

33 Aveling, J. C. H., The handle and the axe: the Catholic recusants in England from reformation to emancipation, London 1976, 80. Aveling does not provide the source. Roe was a known opponent of Smith: Questier, Catholicism and community, 450.

34 WDA, A22, no. 111, pp. 523–4; MIM 246.

35 WDA, A22, no. 69, pp. 385–8.

36 Weldon chronicles, Douai Abbey, ii. 716. For Crowther see MIM 671.

37 Weldon chronicles, i. 161–70; ii. 715–19.

38 Letter printed in Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 262. For Hanson see MIM 473.

39 Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 262. For Edner see MIM 673; for Ashe see MIM 660.

40 Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 262. For Peto see MIM 696; for Norton see MIM 553. Peto had previously been accused of having a layman arrested for debt over the alleged non-payment of a promised life annuity: WDA, A22, no. 115, p. 535.

41 ‘discord and differences’ and ‘scandal’: Silos papers, xix. 198, printed in Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 266–73. For Smith see MIM 033. The situation was so out of control that the same report claimed that Leander Jones, the then EBC president, had gone to England in an attempt to defuse it; Baker was certainly aware, before writing the treatise, that Jones had gone to England, though he does not reveal whether he knew the cause: Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt ii, p. 517; MIM 688; Sitwell, Gerard, ‘Leander Jones's mission to England, 1634–5’, RH v (1960), 132–82.

42 For example, the English secular clergy were aware of problems with those monks refusing to join the EBC: WDA, A27, no. 60, pp. 173–6, printed in Newsletters from the Caroline court, 183–7.

43 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt i, p. 109. This may be a jab at the Jesuits, whose missionary strategy was, according to some, the complete opposite to this.

44 Ibid. 347–57, quotation at p. 355.

45 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 318–19.

46 Ibid. pt i, pp. 308–20.

47 Ibid. 104–5. See the same sentiments at p. 77, and pt ii, pp. 465–72, esp. pp. 471–2.

48 Ibid. pt i, pp. 70–3. Baker argues that the pope only gave permission for the mission if there was a perceived necessity; if the need is not there then the strict command of a monk's profession is the same as the pope's intention ‘that we should persever in the monastery, as is our proper vocation to do’: ibid. 129–30. See also p. 165, and part ii, p. 115.

49 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 125–6.

50 Ibid. 232.

51 Ibid. 445. Indeed, he judges Preston ‘somewhat eminent for such kind his learninge’. Elsewhere, he praises Beech, who missioned in England for four years, commenting that ‘I never knew any man in mission whom for my part I should have judged fitter for the mission, then he was, all qualities considered, nor do I know any man that succeeded better for the good of others, for the time he was there’: ibid. 516–17. Baker is curiously quiet about Preston's controversial opinions regarding the oath of allegiance, which were certainly not shared by Beech: for this see Maurus Lunn, ‘The anglo-gallicanism of Dom Thomas Preston, 1567–1647’, in Derek Baker (ed.), Schism, heresy and religious protest (Studies in Church History ix, 1972), 239–46, and Tutino, Stefania, ‘homas Preston and English Catholic loyalism: elements of an international affair’, Sixteenth Century Journal xli (2010), 91109.

52 Aveling, The handle and the axe, 80.

53 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt i, pp. 275–7.

54 Ibid. pt ii, p. 10.

55 For example, Stefania Tutino, though rightly presenting Baker's spirituality as different to the Ignatian approach, portrays Baker's vision in opposition to that of the Jesuits: Law and conscience: Catholicism in early modern England, 1570–1625, Aldershot 2007, 74–5.

56 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt ii, pp. 288–95. Interestingly, John Bossy similarly assessed the Jesuits as well suited to the English mission, judging that the order's organisation could be adapted without too much difficulty to conditions in England: ‘The character of Elizabethan Catholicism’, Past & Present 21 (Apr. 1962), 39–59 at p. 52.

57 Baker, ‘Treatise of the English mission’, pt ii, pp. 283–8. From a specifically Benedictine point of view, Baker pointedly conjectures that, if this is the case for a college, imagine the contrast to a monastery.

58 Bibliothèque Mazarine, ms 1755, fos 54–143, printed in Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 123–4.

59 Memorials of Father Augustine Baker, 129–32, 146. Although McCann believed it lost, Baker's life of Francis Gascoigne is Downside Abbey, ms 54401 (Baker ms 49). For an overview see Philip Jebb, ‘A hitherto unnoticed autograph manuscript of the Venerable Augustine Baker’, Downside Review civ (1986), 25–50. Gascoigne died on 10 February 1638 and the manuscript was written between that date and Baker's departure the following August.

60 Several convents also sought Baker's services at this time, including the Benedictine nuns at Cambrai and the Carmelite community at Antwerp: The Life of Father Augustine Baker, OSB (1575–1641), by Peter Salvin and Serenus Cressy, ed. McCann, Justin, London 1933, pp. xi, 25–7, 128–30.

61 Bossy, John, The English Catholic community, 1570–1850, London, 1975, 255–6.

62 Ampleforth Abbey, ms 48, 2, 23. The document is printed in Francis Gascoigne: an apologie for myselfe about Fr. Baker's doctrine; Abbess Christina Brent: discourse concerning Father Baker's doctrine; Augustine Baker: admittance; Bonilla; Ricerius, ed. John Clark, Salzburg 2011, 1–94. See also McCann, Justin, ‘“Bakerism” at Douay seminary’, Clergy Review ii (1931), 213–26.

63 Anstruther, Godfrey, The seminary priests, ii, Great Wakering 1975, 126; MIM 247, 460; Douay College diaries: third diary, 1598–1637, ed. E. H. Burton and T. L. Williams (CRS x, 1911), 286. For the Gascoigne influence at Lamspringe see Truran, Margaret, ‘Spirituality: Fr Baker's legacy’, in Cramer, Anselm (ed.), Lamspringe: an English abbey in Germany, Ampleforth 2004, 8396.

64 Who Were the Nuns? database, <>, CB074, CB077; Downside Abbey, ms 26598 (Baker ms 42), printed in Augustine Baker, Five treatises; the life and death of Dame Margaret Gascoigne; treatise of confession, ed. John Clark, Salzburg 2006, 49–73. For Catherine Gascoigne's defence see Bibliothèque Mazarine 1202, 382–95, printed in ‘Colections’ by an English nun in exile: Bibliothèque Mazarine 1202, ed. Julia Bolton Holloway, Salzburg 2006, 382–95.

65 McCann, Life of Father Augustine Baker, p. xxxvii.

66 William J. Sheils, ‘The Gospel, liturgy and controversy in the 1590s: Thomas Stapleton's Promptuaria’, in Kelly and Royal, Early modern English Catholicism, 189–205.

67 For this saga see Gregory, Brad S., ‘The “True and zealous service of God”: Robert Parsons, Edmund Bunny, and The first booke of Christian exercise’, this Journal xlv (1994), 238–68; Houliston, Victor, ‘Why Robert Persons would not be pacified: Edmund Bunny's theft of The book of resolution’, in McCoog, Thomas (ed.), The reckoned expense: Edmund Campion and the early Jesuits, Rome 2007, 209–32; and Corthell, Ronald, ‘Politics and devotion: the case of Robert Persons v. Edm. Bunny, author of A book of Christian exercise’, Journal of Jesuit Studies i (2014), 558–71.

68 Lehner, Ulrich L. and O'Brien, William, ‘Mysticism and reform in Catholic theology between 1600 and 1800’, in Lehner, Ulrich L., Muller, Richard A. and Roeber, A. G. (eds), The Oxford handbook of early modern theology, 1600–1800, Oxford 2016, 63–75, esp. pp. 6970.

69 Geoffrey Scott, ‘Baker's critics’, in Scott, Dom Augustine Baker, 179–92, esp. pp. 187–8, and Fighting old battles: the English Benedictine mission, 1689–1715’, Downside Review xcviii (1980), 9–24 at pp. 21–2.

70 Idem, Gothic rage undone: English monks in the age of enlightenment, Bath 1992. On wider Benedictine involvement with the European Enlightenment see Lehner, Ulrich L., Enlightened monks: the German Benedictines, 1740–1803, Oxford 2011, and McInally, Thomas, A saltire in the German lands: Scottish Benedictine monasteries in Germany, 1575–1862, Aberdeen 2016, 128202.

71 For example, the influence of Baker's treatise is evident in the writings of Belmont's first prior, Norbert Sweeney, particularly his The life and spirit of Father Augustine Baker: monk and priest of the English Benedictine Congregation, London 1861, pp. x–xi, 73–8. See Scott, Geoffrey, ‘Something of the struggle for Belmont's soul, 1859–1909’, in Berry, Andrew (ed.), Belmont Abbey: celebrating 150 years, Leominster 2012, 72109. See also Hood, Alban, From repatriation to revival: continuity and change in the English Benedictine Congregation, 1795–1850, Farnborough 2014, 6972.

72 Alban Hood, ‘Baker in the nineteenth-century English Benedictine Congregation’, in Scott, Dom Augustine Baker, 193–202, esp. pp, 199–202, quotation at p. 202. For similar attitudes at Downside Abbey and throughout the EBC see Bellenger, Aidan, ‘English Benedictines and the search for a monastic identity, 1880–1920’, in Loades, Judith (ed.), Monastic studies, I: The continuity of tradition, Bangor 1990, 299321, and ‘The Downside stirs: personalities, principles, documentation’, in his Monastic identities: essays in the history of St Gregory's, Downside, Bath 2014, 26–56.

73 For this affair see Lunn, Maurus, ‘William Rudesind Barlow osb, 1585–1656: part ii’, Downside Review lxxxvi (1968), 234–49. This counters some of the efforts of Baker's early biographers to pin all the blame on Barlow by alleging that jealousy was the sole cause of the spat.

74 Sara S. Poor and Nigel Smith, ‘Introduction’, in Sara S. Poor and Nigel Smith (eds), Mysticism and reform, 1400–1750, Notre Dame, In 2015, 1–28 at pp. 4–5.

75 Radler, Charlotte, ‘Actio et contemplatio/Action and contemplation’, in Hollywood, Amy and Beckman, Patricia Z. (eds), The Cambridge companion to Christian mysticism, Cambridge 2012, 211–22.

76 Poor and Smith, ‘Introduction’, 7–8.

77 For example, Sarah Apetrei views Baker's writings as, posthumously, part of debates surrounding mystical theology after the Restoration and during the Long Reformation, into which Serenus Cressy had inserted him: ‘“Between the rational and the mystical”: the inner life and the early English Enlightenment’, in Poor and Smith, Mysticism and reform, 198–219 at pp. 199–200.

78 Poor and Smith, ‘Introduction’, 5.

79 Howells, Edward, ‘Spanish mysticism and religious renewal: Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross’, in Lamm, Julia A. (ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell companion to Christian mysticism, Oxford 2013, 422–36, esp pp. 422, 435.

80 Edward Howells, ‘Early modern Reformations’, in Hollywood and Beckman, Cambridge companion, 114–34 at pp. 122–4.

81 Knowles, English mystical tradition, 152, 193.

82 McCoog, Thomas, ‘And touching our Society’: fashioning Jesuit identity in Elizabethan England, Toronto 2013, 197259.

83 Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Francia 1/I, fo. 115v, printed in The correspondence and unpublished papers of Robert Persons, SJ, I: 1574–1588, ed. Victor Houliston, Ginerva Crosignani and Thomas M. McCoog sj, Toronto 2017, 259–62 at pp. 260, 262; see also pp. 271, 296.

84 Houliston, Victor, ‘Robert Persons's precarious correspondence’, Journal of Jesuit Studies i (2014), 542–57.

85 Bossy, ‘The character of Elizabethan Catholicism’, 44, 45.

86 Ibid. 46–7, 51–2.

87 Ibid. 56–7. Admittedly, Bossy later regretted the terminology, recognising the ‘spiritual and pastoral inventions’ of the early seventeenth century, of which Baker was a major part, even if Bossy still judged his activities ‘unduly passive’: ‘Afterword’, in Kelly and Royal, Early modern English Catholicism, 246–54 at p. 251.

Some of the spelling in the treatise has been modernised for ease of reading, namely ‘u’ to ‘v’, ‘i’ to ‘j’ and ‘v’ to ‘u’.

My thanks to John McCafferty and Michael Questier for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, as well as to this Journal's anonymous peer reviewers for their valuable advice. This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/M003620/1).


Political Mysticism: Augustine Baker, the Spiritual Formation of Missionaries and the Catholic Reformation in England

  • JAMES E. KELLY (a1)


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