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Monday, October 26, 2009

Ecumenism and the Spiritual Exercises

I came across a 1995 article today by Ronald Modras, a professor of theology at St. Louis University ..... The Spiritual Humanism of the Jesuits. Here's just the beginning of it .....


This past August the U.S. Episcopal Church's house of bishops added to their liturgical calendar--of all people!--St. Ignatius Loyola. Though the action was reportedly taken without much debate, there were questions about appropriateness. Jesuits, after all, had been banned from Anglican England under penalty of death. And, along with the Council of Trent, what group more than the Society of Jesus had come to symbolize the Counter-Reformation, with its anti-Protestant, anti-Anglican defensiveness?

Bishop Frank Griswold of Chicago championed the inclusion of Ignatius in the Episcopal prayerbook. He described himself as but one of many Anglicans nourished by Ignatian spirituality. The prayer authorized for the feast encapsulizes what he meant. It reads in part: "Almighty God . . . we thank thee for calling Ignatius of Loyola to the service of thy Divine Majesty and to find thee in all things. . . . "

Apparently Jesuit spirituality is not just for Roman Catholics any more. Maybe it never was. Back in 1954 Yale Professor Louis Martz pointed out in his book The Poetry of Meditation that Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises had a marked influence both on the spirituality and popular culture of Elizabethan England. Ensuing 17thcentury English verse bore a similar Ignatian imprint. One finds it in the meditative poetry not only of Jesuit Robert Southwell but of such Anglicans as John Donne, George Herbert and Richard Crashaw.

It seems that Jesuit treatises on meditation enjoyed the same widespread popularity in late 16th-century England that they had on the continent. In England, however, the treatises had to be anonymous or falsely attributed. The Society of Jesus was outlawed, and its members were constrained to work underground. Given those undercover operations, it is not surprising that the Oxford English Dictionary gives as a secondary meaning to the word Jesuit "a dissembling person; a prevaricator."

The Jesuits have come a long way from the connotations of "Jesuitical," and not just because there are Anglo-Catholics who make Ignatian retreats. For some time now Jesuit spirituality has not been just for Catholics or even just for Christians. In my 15 years teaching theology alongside Jesuits at Saint Louis University, I have found my Jewish and Muslim students affected by it as well, not by becoming Catholic but by becoming more religious, more devoutly Jewish or Muslim .......



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