This is continued from the previous post.
For those who are newer readers for this blogsite, I typically post ONE NEW POST PER WEEK and the day of posting is on Sunday. Every now and then I do a shorter post in-between Sundays. Tomorrow I have a short one.
The spiritual climate was changing rapidly in Ignatius time and there were many movements with their writings. Ignatius was not developing his ow approach in a vacuum. Instead, there are some significant spiritual movements (and their writings) which influenced him.
I mentioned in the previous post that Ignatius made a stop at the Abbey of Montserrat. While there he was given a copy of a book by the previous (and late) Abbott Garcia de Cisneros of Montserrat. The Abbott had developed his own set of exercises and put them down in a book titled: The Book of Exercises for the Spiritual Life. This book was a catalyst that helped Ignatius think about his own Spiritual Exercises.
Of great influence was another book which Ignatius read over and over throughout his lifetime and which he first read while at Manresa. That is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. (Read more about Thomas a Kempis here.)
a Kempis was influenced by a movement of deep spirituality known as the Devotio Moderna and the Brethren of the Common Life. (Read a very brief paragraph on this movement.) This was a group who valued simplicity, piety, community and service. This movement also had influence on several of the Protestant Reformers. Thomas a Kempis was actually a Brother of the Common Life.
The Imitation of Christ is one of the great classics of Western spirituality. This book supported, clarified and extended the spiritual processing which was taking place in Ignatius. In a Kempis and Ignatius we see kindred souls in their passion for Christ, in desire for Christlikeness and a sustained devotion to Christ.
The Imitation of Christ is much longer than the Exercises. The Imitation of Christ is a rich devotional book of meditations and reflections on Christ and the life of following Jesus. It has an entirely different tenor and purpose than the Exercises. The Imitation of Christ profoundly describes the life of imitating Christ, but, like so many other devotional books, it does not really show a way to do this. It is descriptive but not prescriptive. It is instructive when it comes to ideas but not empowering when it comes to the means for the one who wants to imitate Christ. (a Kempis pictured to the right.)
Ignatius and the Exercises are supremely process oriented and a series of progressive steps that are the way into such an imitation. The Exercises are the practical, tangible, means for the great imitation and the deep devotion to become real in one's life.
As I already mentioned, Ignatius was ever the practical genius, a man of action, someone who believed in implementation and execution. His Exercises have this essence.
In addition, The Book of Exercises by Abbot Garcia and The Imitation of Christ by a Kempis were both written for those participating in monastic life. Monastics were those secluded from the world, who have retreated from the world, especially for a life of prayerful devotion to God. In these monastic orders, there were pathways in place (for example, the hours of prayer) for their members to pursue a devotion to Christ. Ignatius was writing for those who would never be monastic.
Ignatius was developing a model that would prepare Jesuits and others for a world engaging, life long service to "help souls." Before these souls could be helped, the helper had to be deeply connected with Christ, profoundly aware of the movements of God around and within and already substantially well on the way to Christlikeness and sacrificial love.
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius are both indebted to others and yet a creative advancement for a new world that is rapidly emerging out of the medieval times.
NOTE: I highly recommend reading the Imitation of Christ if you are interested in the Exercises of Ignatius. It is a very rich book of devotional wisdom that will easily transfer to your experience of the Exercises. I use the Image Books / Doubleday version. It was a "new translation" done in 1955!!! But it is very readable. I did a little checking to see about newer translations before posting this, but didn't have time to really find anything I would suggest.
Ascetic spirituality (and theology) is part of the context for Ignatius. The early years of Ignatius, when the Exercises were being written, were marked by extreme ascetical practices. Ignatius damaged his body permanently from the rigors of excessive asceticism. Later, with this hard won wisdom, he greatly limited these kinds of practices for his Company of Friends, the Jesuits.
What is interesting about the Exercises is that the spirit of rigorous devotion and absolute commitment to Christ is inherent in them, whereas the practices of asceticism are not. One does not find long hours of prayer, practices of bodily mortification (corporeal punishment as part of that), and excessive fasting as part of the Ignatian program. (The fasting image is found here.)
Ignatius had as his goal, for a retreatant making the Exercises to make an absolute commitment of surrender to Christ and sacrificial service to the world. But the way to do this differed from existing ways. The Spiritual Exercises, along with the Jesuits who practiced and taught them, were a new way God raised up.
I think one of the great needs in the Evangelical movement of the 21st century is to revisit the idea of what a healthy asceticism would look like. In our culture and movement, we err on the side of extravagance and excess. Sacrifice is not something that comes easily for many of us since we are acquiring, possessing and holding on to so much. We need a spirituality of relinquishment and this may be one aid to move in that direction.
Mystical spirituality! Ignatius was one of the great mystics of the Christian church. I didn't know that until the last few years. If you would ask me to name mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avilla are names that would come to mind, but not Ignatius. What a mistake on my part!
Reading several biographies of Ignatius and the early Jesuits, I have come to understand how significant the mystical experience was for Ignatius. He had an unusual number of profound visions of the Holy Trinity that provided a significant Trinitarian overtone to his Exercises, even though they are Christo-centric.
Ignatius had the kind of supernatural experiences of God that would rival the great charismatic figures of our day. Ignatius lived as one for whom the barrier between heaven and earth was very thin and porous. Not only did Ignatius had mystical visions, but he also had a variety of mystical experiences which today we would describe as the "supernatural gifts of the Spirit" operating in his life. (Chapter 16 in Meissner, Ignatius of Loyola is my main source for this.)
But again, of great interest is that the Spiritual Exercises do not proscribe or promote a way of seeking after intense mystical visions or supernatural experiences. In one sense this is surprising, but in another it is not. On the one hand, you would expect that someone who lived in that world of extraordinary experiences would set forth a way for others to experience it also.
However, Ignatius was ever the practical and passionate lover of God and others. Ignatius wanted everyone to experience God and to serve God and others. He knew that in some cases, extraordinary, mystical experiences could be a detriment toward that. And he also knew that most people would not live or move in that world. Instead, Ignatius taught a "garden variety" way of mysticism. Ignatius taught the way of Finding God in all things, Experiencing God in all things and practicing the presence of God at all times.
I sometimes (jokingly) refer to this as "Mysticism Lite" for us ordinary followers of Jesus. Ignatius wants the heart, the affections to be warmed with the love of Jesus. His is not the way of dry intellect or dusty rationalism or lifeless moralism. The way of Ignatius is passionate love for the God one can experience every day and who then transforms us totally. The Exercises are for the transformation of one's mission, values, passion, motivation and heart.
So the Exercises are meant to help the "doer" see, envision, enter into, feel and experience the story and spiritual reality of Christ. The Exercises are not a rational study of texts. They are not detailed theological discussions. Nor are they even a how-to formula. They are stepping stones into the experience of Christ. Mysticism Lite for Ordinary Followers of Jesus.
The early drafts of the Exercises were being written during the time of profound personal encounter with Christ and mystical visions was part of that.
And as I mentioned in the previous point on asceticism, I also believe evangelicals need a recovery of the mystical component of the Christian life. If we have erred, it is to be rationalistic, moralistic and pragmatists. It is not that rationality or morality or pragmatism is wrong, but these things separated from relational connected with Jesus are wrong.
The way of Ignatian spirituality is the way of intense relational connectedness with the Triune God through Jesus Christ.
The early drafts of the Exercises were written or at least sketched out 1521-1525'ish. Ignatius began to use it immediately as he gave direction to others. It was added to, revised and refined for the next 15 years, with a final redaction being done in Rome about 1540.
The Exercises was put into print in 1548. It has been published 4,500 times, which is about once a month for 400 years! It has sold over 4.5 million copies, "despite the fact that the book is about as dull as a teacher's manual of lessons plans. And that is exactly what it is." (Modras, pp 23.)
And pictured is my preferred edition, as much due to the layout which provides a lot of margin and white space for notes.
There are other influences on Ignatius. In a later post, I will mention the cultural influences of his day, the main one being Renaissance humanism that was emerging as the new worldview. Ignatius and his Exercises were hugely shaped by this. But I have to work through those things some more before I can simplify it in a way that is still accurate.
These two weeks have been a historical detour.
Next week we return to the spirituality of the Exercises and we'll take a look at the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International