Baker, David (DNB00)

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BAKER, DAVID, in religion Augustine (1576–1641), Benedictine monk, ecclesiastical historian, and ascetical writer, was born at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, on 9 Dec. 1575. His father, William Baker, was steward to Lord Abergavenny, and his mother was the daughter of Lewis ap John, alias Wallis, vicar of Abergavenny, and sister of Dr. David Lewis, a judge of the admiralty. At the age of eleven he was sent to the school of Christ's Hospital, London, and in the beginning of 1590 he entered the university of Oxford as a commoner of Broadgates Hall, now Pembroke College. Led away by sin, he gave up all practices of religion; 'yet there remained in him,' observes his biqgrapher, 'a natural modesty, whereby he was restrained from a scandalous impudence in sin.' At the end of two years, before he had had time to graduate, his father summoned him home, with a view of settling him in some profession. Whilst at Abergavenny he began the study of the law under the guidance of his elder brother Richard, a barrister, and after the lapse of four years he was sent to London, where he became a member first of Lincoln's Inn, and afterwards, in November 1596, of the Inner Temple—not of the Middle Temple, as Wood erroneously states (Cooke. Students admitted to the Inner Temple, 146).

His father made him recorder of Abergavenny. An escape whilst riding through a dangerous ford on one of his business journeys was ascribed by him to providential interference, and led to his taking a serious interest in religion and ultimately becoming a catholic.

Having been formally reconciled to the catholic church by the Rev. Richard Floyd the elder, he came to London, where he formed an acquaintance with some Italian Benedictine monks of the congregation of Monte Cassino. At their instance he proceeded in 1605 to the Benedictine monastery of St. Justina in Padua, and commenced his novitiate on 27 May, when he assumed the name of Augustine. Ill-health made it necessary for him to return home, but after the death of his father, whom he converted to catholicism, he went back to his convent.

At this period there still survived in England one representative of the old Benedictine congregation in the person of Dom Robert (Sigebert) Buckley, who had endured an imprisonment of forty-four years for refusing the oath of supremacy. On 21 Nov. 1607 two priests, named Sadler and Maihew, were brought to his prison at the Gatehouse in London. He assisted in 'clothing' them with his own hands, and on their profession they were admitted, as monks of Westminster, to all the rights and privileges of that abbey, and of the old English Benedictine congregation. Father Cressy is evidently wrong, however, in his statement, which has been generally accepted, that Baker was the chief instrument in effecting this restoration, whereby, in the language of Dodd (Church History, iii. 116), 'the link of succession was pieced up, and the Benedictines put in the way of claiming the rights formerly belonging to that order in England.' The truth is that Baker had been professed by the Italian fathers in England as a member of the Monte Cassino congregation. Subsequently he was aggregated by Father Sigebert Buckley, and became a member of the English congregation, being the first who was admitted after Fathers Sadler and Maihew. Three separate congregations existed for a time, namely, the Spanish, the Italian, and the renewed English congregation. A union amongst them was felt to be most desirable, and after many difficulties and obstacles was secured by the brief 'Ex incumbenti' of Pope Paul V in 1619. After the foundation of the first houses, when each member was ordered to select one as his convent, Baker chose St. Laurence's at Dieulewart in Lorraine, though it does not appear that he ever resided within its walls.

After his return to England Baker had been for a time companion to a young nobleman—probably Lord Burghersh, the Earl of Westmorland's son—who had lately been converted, and who expressed a great desire to dedicate himself to a retired spiritual life. Baker afterwards resided in the house of Sir Nicholas Fortescue, where he led a life of almost total seclusion. Next he went to Rheims, and was ordained priest. In 1620 he was engaged as chaplain in the house of Mr. Philip Fursden of Fursden in the parish of Cadbury, Devonshire. Subsequently he removed to London.

In July 1624 he took up his residence with English Benedictine nuns at Cambrai as their spiritual director. During his nine years' residence there he drew up many of his ascetical treatises. In a letter, hitherto unpublished, addressed to Sir Robert Cotton from Cambrai, 3 June 1629, Father Baker gives the following interesting account of the convent to which he was attached: 'Ever since my being with you I have lived in a cittie in thes forein partes, called Cambraie, assisting a convent of certein religious English women of the order of St. Benet newlie erected. They are in number as yet but 29. They are inclosed and never seen by us nor by anni other unlesse it be rarelie uppon an extraordinarie occasion, but uppon no occasion maie they go furth, nor maie anie man or woman gette in unto them. Yet I have my diet from them and uppon occasions conferre with them, but see not one another; an live in a house adioning to them. Their lives being contemplative the comon bookes of the worlde are not for their purpose, and litle or nothing is in thes daies printed in English that is proper for them. There were manie good English bookes in olde time whereof thoughe they have some, yet they want manie, and thereuppon I am in their behallf become an humble suitor unto you, to bestowe on them such bookes as you please, either manuscript or printed, being in English, conteining contemplation, Saints lives, or other devotions. Hampooles workes are proper for them. I wish I had Hilltons scala perfectionis in latein; it would helpe the understanding of the English (and some of them understande latein). The favour you shall do them herein, will be had in memorie both towarde you and your posteritie, whereof it maie please god to sende some hether to be of the number, as there is allreadie one of the name, if not of your kindred. This bearer will convey hether such bookes as it shall please you to single out and deliver to him' (MS. Cotton. Jul. C. iii. f. 12).

In 1633 Baker removed to Douay, and became a conventual at St. Gregory's. From thence he was sent on the English mission, where his time was divided between Bedfordshire and London. He appears to have been chaplain to Mrs. Watson, mother of one of the first nine novices of the convent of Cambrai. Eventually he settled in Holborn, where he carried on his meditation, solitude, mental prayer, and exercises of an internal life to the last. He died in Gray's Inn Lane on 9 Aug. 1641, after four days' illness, of an infectious disorder closely resembling the plague.

Dr. Oliver truly observes that 'Father Baker shone pre-eminently as a master of the spiritual life; he was the hidden man of the heart absorbed in heavenly contemplation.' Nine folio volumes of ascetical treatises by him were formerly kept in the convent at Cambrai, but unfortunately many of these manuscripts perished at the seizure of that religious nouse. Wood, Dodd, and Sweeney give the titles of thirty writings by Baker on spiritual subjects that are still extant. From Baker's manuscripts Father Serenus Cressy compiled the work entitled 'Sancta Sophia. Or Directions for the Prayer of Contemplation, &c. Extracted out of more than XL. Treatises written by the late Ven. Father F. Augustin Baker, A Monke of the English Congregation of the Holy Order of St. Benedict: And Methodically digested by the R. F. Serenus Cressy, of the same Order and Congregation, and printed at the Charges of his Convent of S. Gregories in Doway,'2 vols., Douay, 1657, 8vo, with a fine engraved portrait of Baker, in his monk's habit, prefixed. A new edition, by the Very Rev. Dom Norbert Sweeney, D.D., was published at London in 1876. In 1657 there was also published another work by Baker, entitled 'The Holy Practises of a Devine Lover or the Sainctly Ideota Deuotions. The Contents of the booke are contained in the ensuinge page, Paris, 1657, 12mo. The contents are: (i) The Summarie of Perfection; (ii) The Directions: for these Holy Exercises and Ideota Deuotions; (iii) A Catalogue of such Bookes as are fitt for Contemplatiue Spirits; (iv) The Holy Exercises and ldeots Deuotions; (v) The Toppe of the Heauenlie ladder, or the Highest steppe of Prayer and Perfection, by the Example of a Pilgrime goinge to Jerusalem.' Some religious tracts by Baker are preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 11510). Baker is sometimes considered to give countenance to the errors of the Quietists, but orthodox Roman catholic writers hold that he is perfectly free from all taint of false doctrine. Moreover, his doctrine was approved in a general assembly of the English Benedictine monks in 1633. Objections were taken by Father Francis Hull to his conduct as spiritual director of the nunnery at Cambrai; and Father Baker wrote a vindication of his conduct, now preserved among the Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian (C 460). In the same collection (A 36) is a packet of letters, chiefly dated 3 March 1655, from nuns at Cambrai, complaining of proceedings on the part of Claude White, president of the English Benedictine concregation, to compel them to give up certain books of Father Baker's charged with containing poisonous and diabolical doctrine.


Although a large portion of his life was occupied in mental prayer and meditation, Baker was a diligent student of ecclesiastical history and antiquities. Some persons having contended that the ancient Benedictine congregation in England was dependent on that of Cluni in the diocese of Mâcon, founded about the year 910, Father Baker, at the wish of his superiors, devoted much time to refute this error. For this purpose he inspected very carefully the monuments and evidences in public and private collections in London and elsewhere. He had the benefit of the opinions of Sir Robert Cotton, John Selden, Sir Henry Spelman, and William Camden, and the result of his researches is embodied in the learned folio volume, entitled 'Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia, sive Disceptatio Historica de Antiquitate Ordinis,' published by order of the general congregation holden in 1625, and printed at Douay in 1626. His friend. Father John Jones, D.D., reduced the mass of materials into respectable Latinity, and they left Father Clement Reyner, their assistant, an excellent scholar, to edit the work, so that it passes for being finished 'operâ et industria R. P. Clementis Reyneri.'

Baker's six folio volumes of collections for Ecclesiastical History were long supposed to have been irrecoverably lost. However, four of them are now existing in the archives of Jesus College, Oxford. Many of the documents are published in Reyner. These volumes were written some thirty years before Dodsworth and Dugdale published their collections. Two treatises by Baker on the Laws of England were lost in the Revolution of 1688, when the catholic chapels were pillaged.

[Life and Spirit of Father Baker, by James Norbert Sweeney, D.D., London, 1861; Wood's Athenæ Oxon, ed. Bliss, iii. 7; The Rambler, March 1851. p. 214; Oliver's Catholic History of Cornwall, &c., 236, 502; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 115; Cotton MS. Jul C. iii. f. 12; Addit. MS. 11510; Weldon's Chronological Notes; Evans's Portraits, 12348, 12349; Bromley's Cat. of Engr. Portraits; Dublin Review, n. s. xxvii. 337; Macray's Cat. of Rawlinson MSS.; Coxe's Cat. Codd. MSS. Collegii Jesu, Oxon. 25-30]

T. C.