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What Men Today Can Learn from St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Quest (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) June 6, 2018: In response to a mid-life crisis (to use Jungian terminology), the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 CE)) created a memorable character named Dante in his Divine Comedy. In his fictive mid-life, the character Dante undertakes a journey of the underworld as medieval Christians imagined it. Throughout his journey through the Inferno and Purgatory, Dante is accompanied by the character Virgil -- the poet Dante's way of honoring the pagan Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE).

The character Virgil is portrayed as an Old-Wise-Man figure (to use Jungian terminology) accompanying the character Dante on his journey through the Inferno and Purgatory. However, when Dante starts his journey to Paradise, Virgil disappears, and the character Beatrice takes over as Dante's new guide. In Jungian terminology, she represents an Anima figure. In Jungian interpretation, the poet Dante conjures up the Old-Wise-Man figure and the Anima figure from his own psyche. No doubt the young Italian poet Dante in real life admired the older Roman poet Virgil as a highly esteemed role model as a poet -- along with certain other highly esteemed pagan poets (Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan).

The poet Dante also pays homage to certain other notable pagans -- perhaps most famously to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle 387-322 BCE).

The prolific Italian Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) produced numerous massive commentaries on certain works by Aristotle -- in addition to baptizing his thought, figuratively speaking, in his famous massive and incomplete work the Summa theologiae. The lay American Catholic theologian Bernard McGinn (born in 1937) of the University of Chicago Divinity School has published a wonderful short book in the Lives of Great Religious Books series titled Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae : A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

Now, in my own life, the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) represents the Old-Wise-Man figure in my adult life. As a young adult, I took English courses from Ong at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri (USA) -- starting in the fall semester of 1964. Consequently, he was a highly esteemed role model in my life when my proverbial mid-life crisis later emerged. Nevertheless, he was not the only role model that I highly esteemed as a young adult, and in my mid-life journey, he was not the only Old-Wise-Man figure in my life -- but he was by far the most important such figure in my life.

Now, Ong established his scholarly credentials as a Renaissance specialist in his massively researched doctoral dissertation about the French logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572). Ong's dissertation, slightly revised, was published in two volumes by Harvard University Press, 1958.

Subsequently, in the spring semester of 1964, Ong delivered the Terry Lectures at Yale University -- published as the book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967).

In effect, McGinn further delineates Ong's theme about presence in his ongoing multi-volume study of The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1991- ). In 1968-1969, Ong served as the Willett Visiting Professor of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. After Ong died in August 2003, the University of Chicago Press reissued his 1958 book about Ramus and Ramism in a paperback edition with a new foreword by Adrian Johns of the University of Chicago.

Now, in in the new part two of volume six of his ongoing multi-volume study, titled Mysticism in the Golden Age of Spain: 1500-1650 (New York: Herder & Herder Book/ Crossroad, 2017), McGinn focuses, in part (pages 62-113), on the Basque Spaniard St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the mystic founder of the Jesuit order, the compiler of the famous book of instructions titled the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, translated by George E. Ganss, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992), and the author of The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, translated by George E. Ganss, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1970).

In McGinn's short book Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae : A Biography (2014), mentioned above, McGinn notes that Loyola was not himself as professional theologian (page 154). Nevertheless, he says, "Ignatius's preference for the theology of Thomas Aquinas was evident (see his Constitutions of the Jesuit Order 4.14.1), but it was not until 1593 that the Jesuit General chapter adopted Thomas as their official theologian" (page 154).

In his new book about Golden Age Spain, McGinn says, "Many terms have been used to characterize Ignatius' mysticism . . . as a mysticism of discernment, the mysticism of finding God in all things, or the mysticism of joy in the world" (page 63). Pope Francis appears to be advocating a kind of mysticism of joy in the world. In addition, McGinn says that Ignatius "was a 'reformer' of sorts, but he was less concerned with reforming the church institutions than with reforming believers through personal conversion, service to the poor, and education of the young" (page 62).

It strikes me that Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, is also interested in "reforming believers." Recently he issued an apostolic exhortation titled Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad; Mt. 5:12). I have highlighted the pope's text in my OEN commentary "Pope Francis Reminds Catholics of the Call to Holiness":

Now, twice in their Jesuit training, Jesuits make a 30-day retreat in silence (except for daily conferences with the retreat director) following the Spiritual Exercises. Because of the detailed instructions that St. Ignatius Loyola provides, the so-called spiritual exercises involve guided imagistic meditation, usually on specific biblical passages. Frequently, the culminating instruction calls for the person making the retreat to engage in a colloquy with Christ (or Mary, depending on the biblical passage). Of course, we have no way of knowing how well Ong and other Jesuits carried on their colloquies with the imagined Christ (or Mary). McGinn mentions one example of the instruction calling for a colloquy (page 75).

The culminating spiritual exercise is titled Contemplation to Attain Love (Ganss' translation, pages 94-95; standardized numbered subsections 230-237). In this culminating exercise, we find the famous prayer known as the Suscipe (Latin for "Take"). It starts as follows: "Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my understanding, and all my will -- all that I have and now possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours" (standardized numbered subsection 234).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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