Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ignatiun Spirituality and the Error of Intellectualization

Image result for pope francis ignatiusReflecting with Father Józef Augustyn SJ on the subject of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, one quickly realizes what it is that the modern world cannot understand about Pope Francis's approach to Western European civilization. Western rationalism, so firmly encrusted in Catholic dogma that it remains the basis of anti-Catholic dogma, is aimed at the intellect, but not at the spirit.

Father Józef Augustyn SJ writes in his Introduction to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises that care must be taken to avoid an intellectualized approach to the exercises. He makes the interesting point that those who lead practitioners ought not engage them in intellectual debate, that an intellectual response to the spiritual content of the practitioner's soul may lead the practitioner astray. Father Augustyn notes that the intellectualized response to spiritual crisis may be rationally correct, it may be in accordance with right reason and religious dogma - but its' effect will be blunted by the fact that it addresses the intellect rather than the spirit. The intellect of a Christian engaged in Ingnatian exercises is most likely well ordered (certainly it should not be in disorder if the practitioner is to undertake the exercises). The Ignatiun exercises are tailored for the spirit, not the intellect.

This point struck me quite strongly, given how misunderstood Pope Francis is by so many Catholics (not to mention protestants or even the lay). Mind you, every Pope is misunderstood at some very deep level. Pope Benedict XVI was misunderstood because he was a very learned theologian whose standards often exceeded those of his listeners. Pope St. John Paul II was misunderstood because the Polish Catholic tradition is not and was never afflicted by the various flaws of Western Catholicism, and thus the reforms of the Second Vatican Council served to magnify the virtues of Polish Catholicism rather than the vices of Western Catholicism. One could go on and on.

In the case of Pope Francis, the specific nature of the misunderstanding with regard to his service is twofold: on the one hand, some Catholics are appalled or shocked given the nature of the Pope's apparently conciliatory statements towards the divorced, the homosexual, the atheist and other representatives of mainstream Western culture. These Catholics take Papal empathy to imply Papal consent. On the other hand, the Pope is likewise accused by a wider spectrum of people for succumbing to irrational sentimentalism, for departing from reason in faith, and thus for converting the faith into some sensation rather than something that - while not rational - is likewise not irrational.

In all such cases, it seems to me that what is at work is a great ignorance of Ignatiun spirituality on the part of Western Man. For if indeed the focus of Ignatiun spirituality is to cure the spirit, then by definition its' practitioner (and the first Jesuit Pope must clearly be understood to be its' great practitioner) will not aim to intellectualize human affairs. The great problem that Pope Francis faces in the West - the death of the spirit - is not a problem that can be addressed by reference to reasoned theology, to intellectual appreciation of certain human problems - it can only be remedied by empathy for the spirit in the Ignatiun sense.

Father Augustyn, in his book, spends quite some time explicitly detailing the difference between the modern therapeutic approach rooted often in psychoanalysis and the Ignatiun approach rooted in an attempt to shut out everything in order to hear the Will of God. Part of the reason for elaborating upon these differences is because Father Augustyn recognizes the surface similarities between Ignatiun spiritual exercises and therapy. Yet the two are patently not the same.

It is possible that the Western Christian, repulsed by therapy, spies its' form in some of what Pope Francis appears to be applying, but ignorant of Ignatiun spirituality, does not recognize that the Pope is not being therapeutic - he is being Ignatiun. Father Agustyn's book likewise explains the necessary conditions that candidates for the Ignatiun exercises must fulfill in order to partake of them. Few of us, if we read the book (not to mention the exercises) can say that we are ready to embark upon them. It is therefore doubtful that the Pope's Ignatiun spirituality - an approach which may indeed be second nature for him - is applicable to the world at large. It may help, however, if the world at large took note, particularly if Catholics recognized that, the next time their intellects don't agree with the Pope's words and deeds, they might consider that intellect was not the target - the spirit was the target.

Image: Pope Francis speaks with Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch

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