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.


Mark said...

"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."

Surely this was in many respects a Jesuit-led project, spearheaded by such friends and colleagues of the future Pope Benedict as Henri de Lubac SJ, Jean Daniélou SJ and Hans Urs von Balthasar (laicised SJ). De Lubac and Daniélou, together with Claude Mondésert SJ, established the Sources Chrétiennes series which has been one of the foundation stones of the Patristic revival. Ratzinger, de Lubac and Balthasar co-founded the journal Communio, which has always given voice to what we now think of as Pope Benedict's characteristic approach to a whole range of issues. Is the de Lubac/Daniélou approach to theology still prominent within the modern Society of Jesus, or did it go out of fashion among Jesuits in the years after V2?

Fr Ray Blake said...

These were exceptions to the great run of Jesuits, they certainly stand out as contrary to Rahner and his school which seemed to dominate Jesuit theology for the latter half of the 20th century, as well as Lonergan, Haight and Sobrini and that whole bunch of Jesuit liberationist.

I am not quite sure if those you mention would be seen by Jesuits as Jesuit theologians.

(Balthasar left the Jesuits but remained a priest, surely?)

JDK said...


What do you that mental prayer is not monastic? Monks meditate, and meditation is mentioned in the rule of St. Benedict. Isn't that the same thing as mental prayer?

Savonarola said...

"Disdain for liturgy" is surely a bit strong? The Spiritual Exercises presuppose a regular liturgical programme: the third daily time of prayer in the retreat is before or after Mass, the fourth at the time of Vespers (Note 72). Likewise Ignatius' third rule for thinking with the Church entails praising 'the hours set at the time fixed for each Divine Office and for all prayer and all canonical hours.' The way of life followed by Jesuits may make it difficult for them to pray the offices together, but that is a far cry from saying they ignore the importance of liturgy.

You say that "another Jesuit innovation was mental prayer - unknown in ancient monastic Rules." But the whole purpose of Benedict's Rule (drawn partly from earlier rules) and monastic life generally is to provide a framework in which the monk can devote himself to continual listening to God, i.e. mental prayer. The liturgy is not so much an end in itself, but a means to that intention, as is everything else in the communal life of the monastery.

We, everyone in the Church, surely need both liturgy and individual prayer, especially silent contemplative prayer. They feed each other, one without the other is impoverished, and every Jesuit I have ever known would I think say that.

Are you really just setting up yet another anti-Vatican II Aunt Sally to knock over?

Fr Ray Blake said...


He speaks about meditating on ones's sins but not meditative or mental prayer.
Spiritual reading is mentioned.
St Benedict certainly lays a foundation in which contemplation takes place but that springs from the liturgy, reading and silence.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Ignatius systematised mental prayer, pursued it for its own sake, in his system it replaced what Benedict used the psalmody for.

I do not think "disdain" is too strong, the Office became an individualistic thing, not something for the whole Church, not something for the laity, not something for preaching on or teaching, or even meditating on, and not something to form believers.

This was radically new!

Ttony said...

You've mentioned VI and VII before, but it is worth saying that the fruits of Trent aren't necessarily the unmixed blessing we were brought up to believe they were as well.

Ttony said...

You've mentioned VI and VII before, but it is worth saying that the fruits of Trent aren't necessarily the unmixed blessing we were brought up to believe they were as well.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I have often suggested the Spirit of VI wrought more damage than the Sp of VII.
I have wondered about the Sp of Trent, I suppose, yes, it is anti-liturgicalism, and a separation of theology and the life of the Church from liturgy, putting liturgy outside of the Church, making it into a devotion.

GOR said...

I think you are making a leap here, Father. The Jesuits were not founded as a contemplative or monastic Order, but as an active one - engaged in any evangelical work the Holy Father set them to and not necessarily geared to community living.

It wasn’t the only one.

My own Order was also founded as an active Order not long after the Jesuits. No communal recitation of the Office - as members were out serving the community. Each priest prayed the Office on his own. There were ‘morning prayers’ and an hour of meditation, before daily Mass, and communal night prayers (if you lived in community – not everyone did…), but not Vespers or Compline in common.

But that should not be taken as a lack of concern for the Liturgy. The Mass has always been the central focus of Liturgy for all Orders – active or contemplative. The Divine Office - celebrated communally - less so.

Savonarola said...

It sounds rather odd to say that Ignatius pursued mental prayer for its own sake. Its purpose in the Spiritual Exercises is to help the retreatant deepen his following of Christ. It is not a parallel to the use of psalms in the Benedictine office. The psalms are sung and meditated on to foster the prayer of the monk which he will continue in individual lectio. Ignatian imaginative contemplation is a variant of that praying with Scripture.

I guess many things can become ends in themselves - and that includes liturgy. This may be why a contemporary Benedictine wrote, 'Religion is meaningless if it is confined to external and ritual acts of worship. Liturgy and ritual only have meaning when they are inspired by conversion of heart.' All the great spiritual guides are primarily, I think, concerned with that. If they do not say much about the importance of liturgy it is only because, like Ignatius, they take it for granted that it will be at the heart of the Church's life, the indispensable context in which conversion can take place, whose content indeed feeds into the process of conversion.

I do think you are imagining a quite false disjunction, Fr. Blake. Benedict, Francis, Ignatius are not setting up competing systems. They merely offer variations on Gospel spirituality.

Terry Nelson said...

As you probably know Father, the Benedictine 'spiritual reading' or Lectio Divina includes meditation of course: Lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio.

Are not all schools of prayer more or less based upon these foundational elements, even the Exercises. I may understand that all too simply however.

Supertradmum said...

Father, you are very brave. I had many friends when I was at NDU for six years who were Jesuits, and to a priest, they never wore blacks, said their own versions of the NO, and some even skipped saying daily Mass. Brilliant some were, and we had many excellent discussion, but really, liturgy was not a concern, not on their theological radar.

The separation between excellent mental prayer as taught in the Spiritual Exercises, their deep concern for the poor, and their liturgical apathy baffled me. All them, of course, were steeped in Liberation Theology.

Sadly, their influence in the Catholic Church in America can be seen in the departure of orthodoxy at Georgetown, Loyola, Marquette and Creighton, where all my many cousins who went there lost their faith, as did another member of my family at Marquette. Of course, none believe in Humanae Vitae.

Why? Bad liturgies--lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, and I know this from first hand.

I love St. Ignatius and cut my teeth in prayer on his meditations and retreats. But, sadly the Sons of Ignatius are somewhere else in discernment than I am.

John Hails said...

I have been fortunate to be guided through the 30 day retreat and must say i do not recognise your depiction of Ignatian spirituality. Mass is central to everyday of the exercises.
Lectio divina is a long established way of monastic meditative prayer and can easily fit into the Exercises. Imaginative prayer is a suggestion by Inigo, it is not demanded.
I'm sorry Fr. but i think you are setting up a false dichotomy.
Jesuit theology has many many variances, from Roger Haight to Sebastiaan Tromp from Jon Sobrino to John Hardon.


hughosb said...

I suspect that some above are possibly debating at cross-purposes (interesting though it is!).

Perhaps disdain is too strong, but certainly the Jesuit approach was to make liturgy more functional. It was adapted to their overriding desire to be available for mission. Mission first, liturgy followed and fed mission. It is a short step from there to making the liturgy didactic, a forum for teaching above and beyond the homily. And from there it is a short step from the primary liturgical end shifting from worship of God to the edification of man (and today, too often, to the entertainment of man). Ignatius would be appalled by liturgical abuse, not because his liturgical sense would be offended, but because of the disobedience to the Supreme Pontiff.

There is no mental prayer (as we use the term) in the Rule of St Benedict. There is liturgical prayer and there is the reading of scripture and the Fathers. Otherwise St Benedict obviously conceives of prayer as vocal prayer.

The Jesuits systematized prayer, introducing a strict and largely unyielding method. It is very rational, and even the sentient aspects are subject to reason. It led to prayer becoming fixed to a session, a certain time, rather than something that permeated the day, spontaneous calls to God. Prayer sessions could thus become too easily our work, our achievement, something we do for ourselves as much as for God.

St Ignatius would lament this development, but he laid its foundations.


hughosb said...

PS Von Balthasar was secularized, not laicized. He was named a cardinal shortly before he died, though he did not live to receive the red hat physically.

Savonarola said...

It is rather surprising to read Hugh OSB saying that there is no mental prayer in the Rule of St. Benedict. Chapter 48 says that when the monk is not otherwise engaged ' he must be occupied at definite times in manual labour and lectio divina.' This is from the translation by Patrick Barry of Ampleforth which has a very good note on lectio, to which he says 'openness of mind and heart' are integral. What is lectio if not mental prayer?

The final chapter of the Rule makes clear that it is only a beginning. "The highest standards of monastic life' lie beyond the Rule itself and lead to that continuous dedication to prayer which the ancient writers saw as the purpose of monastic life. Benedict must surely have been aware of this and known that liturgical and vocal prayer are a means to and preparation for that continuous prayer which will be, as we say, largely 'mental.'

Fr Ray Blake said...

When most people speak of 'mental prayer' they, we, regard it as something specific, done in specific period of time, often following a specific method, such as that laid down very specifically by Loyola.

Savonarola said...

Well, I did quote the Rule of St. Benedict specifying 'definite times' (specific, if you will) in which the monk is to practise lectio divina, which is a specific form of prayer following a specific method.

The continuous prayer it may lead to ('pray without ceasing,' as St. Paul said) is interior - 'mental' in that sense. I am not disagreeing with the general idea of what mental prayer is!

Gael said...


This deserved to be said and written. Thank you. Considering the knee-jerk reactions above, i can only say this: they demonstrate precisely how with the Counter-Reformation, the spirit of subjective devotion has come to replace the spirit of ecclesial liturgy - that the laity -beyond Vespers - has become alienated from their own liturgy. People should reflect that the Mass is the summit of a daily cycle of services comprising the Little Hours, Lauds, Mattins, etc. Especially, the latter one, with its rich readings from the Fathers. Nothing can enrich one's spiritual more than praying with the texts of the Office and the Mass - as one is thereby uniting oneself entirely with the Church in offering her Prayer.

Its also very weird that the Jesuits justified their abandonment of the communal Office on the grounds of action, activity and so forth. Surely such a justification would have sounded strange to the hears of the great Irish and English monastic missionaries to continental Europe in the high middle-ages, who were no less active, and who had to reclaim Europe from the pagan barbarians.

Ian Coleman said...

There is much good comment and material here already. I'd just add that it's worth making the distinction between the Society of Jesus as it was before and after its papal suppression in the late 18th century. To my mind, after its restoration, something of the original brilliance had been lost - maybe out of fear of further censure - and the prevailing spirituality was one of control and rationalism. Strangely, this seemed to be one of the few things that was totally unaffected by the post-Vatican II reforms. So-called 'Ignatian' prayer remains a very circumscribed and tightly controlled method, even by Jesuits today.

Edward P. Walton said...

I have always heard, Mental Prayer was an innovation of the Jesuits.
Meditation in the Benedictine tradition was done after verses of the Psalms.

Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. said...

Father Blake you are spot on in your analysis.

By "mental prayer" you mean silent prayer to oneself as opposed to oral prayer, especially oral communal prayer. This really s the break between orality and literacy as analyzed by philosopher Fr. Walter J. Ong, S.J.

Ignatius's attempts to gain Paul III's approval for the Society ran into opposition from those who objected to a lack of choir according to Fr. Philip Caraman's biography. One of his opponents, Carafa, became Paul IV.

I do not perceive the trend toward mental prayer or the active life as purely a Jesuit innovation. The roots of Ignatius's spirituality goes back at least to Thomas à Kempis. The early years of Francis of Assisi certainly sound like the active life Ignatius was imitating.

On the other hand, the pervasive influence the Jesuits had on the church after Trent especially through education no doubt spread their brand of prayer and spirituality.

Catholic Mission said...

October 7, 2013

Pope Francis is interpreting magisterial documents with an objective error : he is using a dead man walking and visible theory