Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Loyola's non-liturgical legacy
Today is the memoria of Ignatius of Loyola the innovative founder of the Society of Jesus. It is worth considering just how new the Jesuits were, and what a radical break they introduced with all previous religious orders and spiritualities.
There were always hermits living apart, then gradually hermits living together often around one particularly renowned spiritual master. The Church, a community, gradually learnt to favour monks, those who live and prayed in community over those often wild and extreme individuals who lived the wild and often self indulgent though penitential solitary life as hermits.
Monastic life was essentially liturgical, the prayer of monks was the recitation of the psalter, the essential training of a young monk was to teach him to memorise the psalter, and when and how to say it, indeed that is the major concern of the Rule of St Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism.
Alongside monks were Canons, living an often slightly mitigated monastic life to serve a particularly significant Church. Again their life, though often less concerned with silence and penance, was essentially focussed on the liturgy of the hours. Friars followed, their life was essentially one of teaching and preaching but still with the liturgy, the singing of the Divine Office as the backbone of their life. There were always of course secular clergy whose prime function was to offer at least daily Lauds and Vespers for their congregations, and Mass as well on Sundays and feastdays but primarily they sang the Liturgy of the Hours for or on behalf of their people.
The most radical change that Jesuits introduced was that they were not committed to the common or public recitation of the Divine Office, even in Jesuit houses the Office was said privately, though devotions of one kind or another might be done publicly, the Church's liturgy became an entirely private affair, except possibly with the exception of Sunday Vespers but even this became a source of "devotions" a basis for Rosary, sermon, litanies and Benediction.
Before the Jesuits churches consisted of nave, chancel and sanctuary but because there was not public chanting of the Office, there was no need of a chancel with its choir stalls in their churches and they quickly disappeared from new parish churches and chapels too after the Counter-Reformation. Under Ignatius' inspiration 'liturgy' for the faithful became just the Mass. The Office was said by clergy under obligation, for early Jesuits it was a burden whereas other forms of prayer were a joy.
Another Jesuit innovation was mental prayer - unknown in ancient monastic Rules - but even among the friars, especially the Carmelites it tended towards the via negativa, whilst the Jesuits, following the example of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises gave full scope to the imagination, 'picturing a scene' moved very quickly from the minds of Jesuits to the walls, ceilings and altar pieces of their churches.
Most importantly the Jesuit disdain for liturgy and preference for devotion brought about a serious change in western theology. In the West and in the East from the very beginning the source, the root, the matrix of theology was the sacred liturgy. The Jesuits became the first to abandon Liturgy as the basis of their theology, which accounts for the wilder excesses of counter-reformation theology and devotionalism, as well as the eccentric theology, based on secular learning, philosophies and sociology that prepared for and followed the Vatican Council.
St Ignatius and his Company of Jesus did extraordinary things for evangelisation following their foundation but their disdain for Liturgy has introduced a fault line into Western Christianity that has deeply wounded our intellectual life and it looks as if it is to continue. Pope Benedict saw the liturgy and a return to the liturgical mystogogical theology of the Fathers as healing, both for the West in particular, but also for the division between East and West, as did VII in Sacrosanctum Concillium and its general call to return to Patristic study. I am not sure whether Papa Bergoglio and most contemporary Jesuits and those who have taken up Jesuit inspired theology understand this, they think as Jesuits, not as people imbued and formed by the riches of the Liturgy. A great many Trads seem to be concerned that Francis is showing himself as antagonistic towards Benedict, I do not know if that is so but what I am convinced of is that Benedict was antagonistic towards Francis and the whole Jesuit non-liturgical school of theology, as is anyone who cares for the Liturgy.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake