Saturday, 31 July 2010

St Ignatius Loyola: Theology as a way of living

Fr James Hanvey SJ has written on St Ignatius Loyola for Thinking Faith, to mark St Ignatius' feast which falls today. The article's title is St Ignatius Loyola: Theology as a way of living.
"What Ignatius gives us is not a scholastic or academic theology; it is not a theory, but a theology that is lived and experienced.... What Ignatius opens up for us is the unity between the act of creation and redemption and the gift or grace of participation."
This is the theological vision that Fr Hanvey finds in the Spiritual Exercises and in St Ignatius' life.

The article is in my view a worthwhile read, though I do think you need to have to hand the text of the Spiritual Exercises and Sacred Scripture in order to look up the references in Fr Hanvey's footnotes. Rather than reading the article on-line, I found it easier to download the .pdf version and read it in print. In particular, I think that the second paragraph of the article contains a well articulated warning against using the Spiritual Exercises as a basis for a psychoanalytical and person-centred practice in spirituality. According to Fr Hanvey,
Ignatius "always offers an uncompromising 'theology'.
Two brief, linked comments.

I think the Spiritual Exercises are clearly about a theology that is lived and experienced, something embedded in their nature as being a structure for a retreat rather than for a course in academic study, and intrinsic to the very structure of their meditations which consistently seeks to engage the individual in the encounter with the mystery of Christ. But that does not mean that the theology expressed in the Exercises lacks what one might term doctrinal content. Such content is assumed.  In the section of his article headed "Some key themes", Fr Hanvey chooses to consider

... the extraordinary relational way of thinking and seeing that marks the Ignatian vision; the refusal to distort these into some logical form or process ..
Clearly, the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises are profoundly relational in that they do not try to "teach doctrine" to the person following the Exercises but instead seek to engage the person into a growing relationship with God. There is is a deeply relational intent in the Exercises in this sense. But the assumption of doctrinal content means that one should not take the presentation of the relational intent as in some way representing an overcoming of an idea of doctrinal content, as a suggesting that we can live our faith relationally instead of doctrinally.

Both of these points can be exemplified by reading the Contemplation to attain the love of God (Spiritual Exercises nn.230-237), to which Fr Hanvey refers in his penultimate paragraph. I quote below just one paragraph of this contemplation, with added italics to highlight the doctrinal (and scholastic?) element and added bold to identify the move to the relational aspect:
235. SECOND POINT: This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in man bestowing understanding. So He dwells in me and gives me being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of me, since I am created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.

Then I will reflect upon myself again in the manner stated in the first point, or in some other way that may seem better.
[The first point, being referred back to here, asks the retreatant to "ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me ...Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, ...what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it". Clearly relational.]

No comments: