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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Consolation without cause

Fr. James Martin SJ has posted another article in his series on Ignatian spirituality, bringing up the idea of consolation without prior cause - unmediated religious experience - so I thought I'd post some of his article and then add a bit also from Fr. Philip Endean.

First, though, some definitions from Fr. John Veltri's glossary of Igmatian terms ...

Consolation With Cause ....... This Consolation is received because of some outside cause and can be explained by it. This outside influence can be any interior event such as one's own personal insight and understanding, or exterior event such as a beautiful piece of music to which one is listening, or a gift received from someone, or a compliment, or a job well done, etc. In other words, there is some outside influence that can explain the Consolation. Much of our work with directees involves this kind of Consolation and, therefore, requires discernment.

Consolation Without Cause ...... This Consolation is sometimes referred to as taking place without proportionate cause because no accompanying interior or exterior event can explain completely how the Consolation has come about. The Consolation is beyond its cause. For some Christians, their "calling" was experienced this way ... [John] English writes that this Consolation Without Cause suggests "an experience of the presence of God that takes over our whole person. I describe this experience as the confluence of two things: a passive experience of the unconditional love of God and an active experience of unconditional response to this love. Such a Consolation is self-authenticating and cannot be doubted."

Here's part of Fr. Martin's article .......


Want to Experience God? You Already Have: Exaltation and Clarity
- Fr. James Martin SJ

[...] Atheists and non-believers probably won't believe this (or me), but I believe our desire for God comes from God and is one key way that God calls to us. (Even if you say that these desires are merely biological or psychological phenomena, I would say that God can use even these means as ways of attracting us.) ...... Similar to common and uncommon longings are times that might be best described not as ineffable desires or strong connections, but as times when one is "lifted up" or feels a sense of exaltation or happiness. Different from longing to know what it's all about, here you are feeling that you are very close to, about to meet, the object of your desire.

Here you may feel the warm satisfaction of being near God. You are in the middle of a prayer, or are in the middle of a worship service, or are listening to a piece of music, and suddenly you feel overwhelmed by feelings of beauty or clarity. We are lifted up and desire more.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was an English Jesuit priest and a poet renowned in the literary world for his creative use of language. In the religious world he is also renowned for his desire to find God in all things. In his poem "Pied Beauty," Hopkins evinces a love of God, nature, and wordplay. It is a prayer of exaltation:

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

... (snip) ....

Feelings of clarity may be similar to feelings of exaltation. Indeed, many of the feelings we're describing in this series may overlap. In many of the cases described in this series, we might experience what Ignatius calls in the Spiritual Exercises "consolation without prior cause," a sense of God's communicating with you directly and giving you encouragement. "When the consolation is without a preceding cause there is no deception in it," he writes, "since it is coming only from God our Lord." .........


And here's a bit of Jesuit Philip Endean's book Karl Rahner and Ignatian spirituality, in which he seems to say that Rahner did (sometimes) take Ignatius at his word on consolation without cause, but that he disagrees with Rahner's take on the subject ...

Rahner describes 'consolation without preceding cause' as the pure, objectless brightness of one's whole existence being taken up -- a taking up that is consoled and surpasses anything that can be pointed to -- into the love of God; 'consolation with cause', by contrast, is the experience of 'being consoled in connection with a definite object of a categorical kind'. (p.i32)

... (snip) .....

Harvey Egan, in a doctorate written under Rahner's own supervision and building on what he takes to be Rahner's position, describes 'consolation without preceding cause' in terms such s these:

This central, core, touchstone experience cannot deceive and cannot in itself be measured; it is itself the measure and the standard of all other experiences, hence, the one movement among various movements of 'spirits' which carries within itself its own indubitable evidence ... and can serve as the Ignatian first principle in supernatural logic, because ... (it) ... is the becoming-thematic of supernaturally elevated transcendence, pure openness to God, and nothing else. It is essentially a consolation 'without conceptual object in the actual, concretely personal, radical love of God'.

... (snip) ...

Rahner seems, then, to be suggesting that there is one identifiable kind of experience that can be guaranteed as an experience of God. Such a claim seems problematic for at least two kinds of reason. Firstly, the claim that the experience somehow transcends language -- 'God himself. God himself I experienced, not human words about him' -- raises questions about how we can distinguish and reidentify different instances of the same experience ..... An associated question is that of the sense in which spirituality, or experience, can serve as a warrant for theological claims. (pp. 139-141)

I know many consider the idea of consolation without cause as slippery and perhaps so unusual as to be unworthy of consideration, but I really like the idea of it - it means that God can and does interact directly with people. I suppose I can't get rid entirely of the idea that experience that's mediated though created things is less "real".


Blogger pendean said...

It may make you paranoid that Google tells me when my name gets posted, but I thought I might comment on the point here.

I think Ignatius regarded CSCP as a consolation not caused by the thoughts and ideas preceding it. And as far as that goes, I don't disagree with it.

Where you are going to have problems is in saying that a movement from God happens in us, human beings, without human factors being involved. That's completely impossible. If I am transported by the beauty of creation, then the consolation is also, and therefore 'mediated by', certain physiological reactions about which we can tell causal stories. In other words: fine for Ignatius to identify a movement not caused by the ideas and words leading up to it, but not fine for some of his interpreters to say that this is God working directly without any mediation at all.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hello Pendean --

Well, I think that this is one of those unprovable/undisprovable things. I'd have to say I agree with Ignatius because I've had the experience, but of course I can't prove it to you. And I hardly think that what you've said disproves it, either, and certainly not to me. The impossibility that you declare is not of the "logical impossibility" sort, like "God making a stone so big that he couldn't lift it."

But that's OK, right?

Crystal, I love the heading, "Want to Experience God? You Already Have: Exultation and Clarity."

11:23 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Fr. Endean,

Hi - I'm honored :) I almost kind of know you - I used to subscribe to The Way when you were the editor.

I think I understand what you're saying, that we can't make sense of an experience that doesn't use any human referents?

You gave in your book the example of Rahner saying he experienced God himself, not words about God. And you wondered how he could have or express even to himself such a wordless experience.

I hesitate to say this as it may be very dopey, but I think I do understand what he meant - the experience could be one of feelings, not words. He may later find words that come close to reflecting the experience, but first he felt It. Would you say that we can't feel, and recognize the nature of the feeling, without having language? I assume animals do that somewhat?

12:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

I too had an experience that seemed to fit the CSCP description. It was feelings and seemed undoubtable at the time. But I started doubting it right after :)

12:53 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Fr. Endean's response brought to mind two quotes I encountered coupled together during my SD training;

"Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks. It's in language that's not always easy to decipher, but it's there powerfully, memorably, unforgettably."

- Frederich Buechner

"It is important not to misunderstand...Buechner does not mean that everything that happens to us is the direct will of God. Rather, in, with, and under the events of our lives, we are addressed by God."

- Marcus Borg

I think the idea that consolation without cause must, of necessity continue to be mediated through means which we as humans require for communication and understanding is very comforting and opens the doorway to a much deeper and on-going experience of God's actions and desires for us.

4:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Those quotes and what you had to say about them kind of expresses what my spiritual director seemed to say on the issue (if I understood him and you correctly :). n that view, the cosmos seems to be set up in such a way that we really do find God in all things, creation and life's events are the interface between us and God, and instead of hoping for a rare and priviledged direct encounter with God, instead we find that, like Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my view there is nothing like consolation without cause. That for me is a mere figmentation of the mind that borders dangerously close to fantasy if not madness. Every consolation has a cause though it may it may slip our mind and the Divine is in it because consolation is by nature good

3:38 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

My understanding of what Ignatius meant by consolation without cause is that it's a direct experience from/of God. Most people who believe in God do believe that is possible and a large percentage believe they have had such an experience.

2:08 PM  

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