My intention is to do a variety of posts on this blogsite. Some of them are about spiritual formation ideas that are Ignatian in origin. Others are more theological, pondering the biblical and theological themes that are woven throughout Ignatius and the Jesuits. And from time to time, some of them will be historical.
For the next two weeks, I want to explain the "main sources" that influenced Ignatius and which shaped the Spiritual Exercises. This will also include a little biography of Ignatius during the time of his early spiritual formation.
Many… many years ago when I was doing my first seminary degree with a focus on New Testament studies, I had the privilege of studying under some truly great scholars and exits of the New Testament. Gordon Fee, Ramsey Michaels, and David Scholer were three of my professors who often emphasized the importance of understanding the "context" in which a text was written, as necessary for understanding the "text."
I have found this to be true for understanding the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. The first time I was introduced to the Exercises in a 19th Annotated Retreat, it was an "a-contextual" experience. In other words, I was introduced to the text of the exercises but with almost NO explanation of their background, the milieu out of which they arose, the situations that gave birth to them, or the organizational context in which they were used.
So this post, and the next, are exploring "some of" the contextual background that gave rise to the text of the Spiritual Exercises. In this post, I'll describe three influences and add three more next week.
Ignatius, until 1521 and the age of 30, was well on his way in a career as both a military man and a political statesman in the world of Spanish nobility. On May 17, 1521, Ignatius was wounded in battle when a cannonball shattered his leg. The injury forced Ignatius to surrender (his troops were far outnumbered 14-1 by the French army). He received inadequate medical treatment and was carried to the ancestral home of the Loyola, where he would have a slow recovery.
While in recovery, a spiritual transformation began. In large part, this transformation was launched by the reading of two books. Ignatius wanted to read stories of knights and chivalry and romance, but no books were available in the castle of Loyola. The only two books available were on the life of Christ and a collection of stories on the lives of saints.
The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony (a Carthusian monk) had been translated into Spanish and Ignatius had a four volume edition. Ludolph told the stories of Christ, which were embellished with details by the author. (Picture to the right,)
The second book was, The Golden Legend (in Latin - Flos Sanctorum), written in 1260 by Jacopo de Voragine. (pictured below)
This was a well known and popular "lives of the saints." The title page of this book had a picture of Christ crucified. There was an introduction by the translator of this book and in the introduction are these words:
Whoever reads this book should grasp the crucifix with his right hand and hold it aloft as a royal standard . . . as an emblem which armed the chivalrous hearts of the saints for a courageous conquest of the world, the flesh, and the devil . . ." (Quoted in Modras, pp. 29)
Before his injury, Ignatius had dreamed of personal glory on the battlefield and in the courts of power. His dreams were of military and political conquests. But the reading (and re-reading) of these books began to shape his dreams. Voragine described the saints as "knights of God." Ignatius began to feel his allegiance being transferred to Christ the King… and he began to imagine himself doing great deeds, making great sacrifices, in the service of Christ and the gospel.
The twin themes of Christ the Lord/King and devoted, saint-like service for Christ weave their way into Ignatius own vision for life and these themes are dominant in the Spiritual Exercises.
But Ignatius began to notice something happening to him as he read these books . . .
As he reads and imagines service to Christ he notices there is an interior movements taking place in his heart and soul. He also notices a different kind of inner experience when he would day dream about his old desires for glory and romance and conquest. He notices that the dreams and thoughts about Christ and service for Christ had one kind of inner reality, and the dreams of glory as a knight, love and ruler had a different kind of internal product.
Ignatius has nine months of convalescence where he began what would be a life long practice of paying attention to the inner experiences, reflecting on his inner life (we also like to call it, what is going on "below the waterline") and discerning the meaning of these inner experiences. He learns to discern the connections between what is going on in the world around him and what is going on in the world within him.
This discernment, both of the external world and the inner world of response becomes a hallmark feature of Ignatian spirituality and models and "tools" for learning how to do this are incorporated throughout the Spiritual Exericses. In fact, one way to understand the Spiritual Exercises is that it is itself a tool to discern the Work of God around one and the Work of God within one… and then to make the best choice of response to cooperate with the Work of God.
After his convalescence, Ignatius makes his way to Manresa, planning on staying there for a short time, before making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Before he arrives at Manressa, he stops at the Abbey of Montserrat. This is a Benedictine monastery. Ignatius goes there for additional preparation for his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to make a general confession of his sin. He spends two weeks of prayer and reflection, in preparation for his confession. He is provided a book (I'll explain this in the next section) to aid him in preparing for his confession.
He makes his confession, gives away the remnants of his previous life (fine clothing to a beggar) and leavens Monterssat as a "knight of Christ… a new knight of a spiritual order" embarking in the service of his Lord Christ. (Meissner, pp. 65)
He engages in strict, ascetic spiritual practices. He prays for seven hours every day and participates in other hours of prayer, he inflicts austere disciplines upon his body. He does extended fasts, he sleeps little, he exists with minimal comforts, he ignores his physical appearance which use to be a source of vanity. In other words, Ignatius is seeking to mortify the flesh, to crucify the self, to put to death the old ways of Inigo (his true name). He is relentless about confession of sin to the point of fastidious, tediousness.
And the entire time, he is paying attention to his inner world of experiences. During this time he experiences much "desolation." (This is a key Ignatian term, along with consolation, that I'll explain sometime in 2010.)
Ignatius, above all, wants to follow Christ completely. He learns to discern the attachments and hindrances that prevent this, as well as the pathways that make it possible. Ignatius is engaged in what I call a "John the Baptist, preparing the way" work so Christ may be supreme in his life and that Ignatius may respond fully to whatever Christ asks.
It has been said that Ignatian spirituality is profoundly autobiographical. Add to that, the fact that Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality of self-awareness and God-attentiveness, and you begin to understand the great importance of personal experience that Ignatius had and which he wants to facilitate in others. The Spiritual Exercises are designed to facilitate the experience of God and then the right response to God.
Since it becomes difficult to read posts that are too long (and this one is plenty long), I'll pick up with some key books that influenced Ignatius next week… and one of those books being - The Imitation of Christ.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International