In order to shed some light on the complementarity between Ignatian and Carmelite Spirituality that is being discussed at present  I would like to say a few words to avoid confusion. The Black Death or the Plague (1348-1350) was so horrific, so widespread and so destructive that people began to ask how God could allow such a thing to happen. Where was he when the collective prayers of Christendom rose up to plead with him to stop it? Where was he in those apocalyptical  times, and why was his Church on earth so impotent to prevent almost half the population of Europe dying  terrible gruesome deaths? Instead of looking to God and his Church then, many started to look elsewhere for spiritual guidance, for principles on which to base their lives. When the Renaissance (circa 1350-1620) conveniently unearthed the ancient philosophical religions like Stoicism that the early Church had condemned,  many began to turn to them. The influence of these doctrines can  still be  seen in the Exercises of St Ignatius that were composed at the height of the Renaissance

The Credo of  Humanism

The Credo of the humanism that was born at the Renaissance was, “I believe in man, what man can do, what man can achieve with his unaided human endeavour”. The Credo of Christianity that was born on the first Pentecost is, “I believe in God, in what he can do, in what he can achieve  with his divine endeavour, working in those who open themselves to receive him”.  The new religious congregations founded after the rise of humanism then, like the Jesuits, were deeply influenced by what man can achieve, working by his own endeavour.  Those founded before the rise of humanism are more influenced by what God can achieve working through those who firstly turn to him, and continually turn to him in mystical prayer. For it is here that  they are purified to receive  his love and all the infused virtues contained within that love . It is this that enables God to do through those who receive him what is impossible without him. Now, in order to avoid any misunderstanding both these trends are orthodox, as long as the grace of God that comes to us through the sacraments is sufficiently emphasised. However, if the mystical prayer that prepares and purifies a person to receive this grace is not sufficiently taught and practised,  then the reception of God’s grace will  of necessity be impaired.

 No Mystical Theology – no true Discernment.

The discernment process that you find in the Exercises of St Ignatius  are a good example of these two different approaches, if you read them as they were originally written in the Exercises. For the older orders it is  in mystical contemplation that the Holy Spirit gives the wisdom and the other infused virtues that enable a person  to see the truth about oneself,  about God, and what he wants of you and of his Church. Their whole emphasis is theocentric not anthropocentric.  As the Jesuits have no mystical tradition, they have devised the process of what is called ‘discernment’  to do for them what the Holy Spirit does in mystical contemplation, because mystical contemplation plays no part in their spirituality. The only effective way that a person can discern God’s will for themselves, or for others  is in the light of the Holy Spirit, not in the light of man-made rules or instructions. Even if they were divinely inspired they will be misunderstood and misapplied by those who have not been sufficiently purified in the mystical purification  to receive ‘the infused gift of Wisdom.’ Let us see how what is being called ‘discernment’ today was achieved in the early Church

How the Catholic Church makes Decisions

When in about AD 48, fifteen or more years after the Crucifixion, several serious questions that were dividing the early Christians had to be resolved. A gathering of the faithful was called together to settle the matters. St Peter presided but other apostles were there too, including St Paul. This conclave that came to be called the Council of Jerusalem was seen as the prototype and forerunner of the later ecumenical councils. Please notice that those involved had come, not to take part in some sort of  discernment process devised by human beings, but in serious debate and discussion that was successful because deep and prolonged prayer had sufficiently purified their minds and hearts, making then porous to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit who guided and inspired them.   This had  already taken place over many years in the lives of the apostles in ‘retreat’ at Jerusalem  and in St Paul’s ‘noviciate’ for ten years in the Arabian desert and in Tarsus, where they had been radically purified in such a way that they were open  and docile to the  inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, their experience had led them to insist on at least two years of prayerful preparation for  all those who were preparing for baptism, after which this preparation would become part of their daily lives, as described by the fathers of the Church.

The fruitfulness and effectiveness of all later Councils, Conclaves and Synods  depended on prolonged and serious arguments and debates of the participants who for many years had their minds, their reasons and their hearts purified in profound contemplative prayer. It was the quality of the  collective prayerfulness of the participants that preceded these  conclaves that determined the quality of the presence and the power, the influence and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Their conclusions therefore would always be attributed to the Holy Spirit working through those who, through their prayerfulness  were at all times open  to receive his wisdom. That is why when announcing the results of their deliberations at the Council of Jerusalem, St Peter uttered those famous words. “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and ourselves” (Acts 15:28).

In Catholic Councils, Conclaves and Synods it is primarily the Holy Spirt who is at work, but his work depends on the collective quality of the prayerfulness of those who are sufficiently open to receive him. This is how God’s will is sought in the Catholic Church. The  same means of seeking  his will was copied by the monks and nuns  in their monasteries and the  mendicants in their priories and friaries through their chapters. It was only when later congregations like the Jesuits rejected contemplative prayer and the purification that would make the working of their minds and heart both sensitive and open  to the Holy Spirit, that they had to devise man-made methods and techniques to discover, or in their words ‘discern the truth’ to which only the Holy Spirit can lead people. True God-given Wisdom  is only fully open to those who have become  poor in spirit and humble and pure  of heart,  in the purification that only comes through encountering He who is mighty, in profound contemplative prayer.

The Demise of Mystical Theology.

After the Renaissance the theocentric and the anthropocentric spiritualities began to travel side by side, one emphasising human endeavour the other divine endeavour. These two  trends or pathways continued to journey on side by side in the seventeenth century until at the end of that century a counterfeit form of protestant-inspired  mysticism called  Quietism was condemned by the Church.  It unleashed a powerful anti-mystical lobby that threw out the baby with the bath water,  permanently undermining the classical Catholic teaching on mystical theology. Henceforth the two different pathways would disappear as the spirituality that maximised the action of man’s endeavour became  the major highway along which the vast majority who wanted to deepen their spirituality travelled. This anthropocentric or man-centred emphasis that originated at the Renaissance (1350-1620)  was reinforced at the Enlightenment (circa 1700) when mystical theology receive a further knockout blow from the rationalism that became the arbiter of everything.  If there is no mystical theology, no teaching on how to prepare oneself to receive  God’s grace in sufficient measure  then we are condemned to making do on a diet that is hardly sufficient to keep us from spiritual starvation, never mind receive into us the fullness of God’s grace in Christ’s mystical body.  The spirituality that emerged and continues to prevail down to  the present day was called ‘Devout Humanism’ by the renowned spiritual theologian Louis Cognet.

All the great saints who helped bring about renewal into the Church in the past were great mystics, every one of them. They became such because they radically gave themselves up to the prayer in which they were prepared through purification to receive the Holy Spirit as did our first forebears in the early Church. What was once done to transform a pagan Roman Empire into a Catholic Empire before can be done again to-day. However,  this can only be done through learning the profound mystical prayer that was taught by the two great mystical doctors of the Church   St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, not  by turning to man-made techniques  and methods to do what only God can do through those brave enough to give themselves to him.

Mercurian and St Teresa of Avila

When the Jesuit General, Mercurian heard that one of his priests was supporting St Teresa of Avila in her mystical prayer, he was told to stop and lead her back to the Exercises of their founder. What was done then has been done by many Jesuits ever since. The Ignatian Exercises were ratified by a Papal Bull but not as the ultimate pathway to union with God, but as a beginner’s guide, and only a beginner’s guide because it completely excludes the mystical theology  that is needed to guide a person onwards when spiritual adolescence comes to an end.  If the Ignatian Exercises are seen as the introduction to the mystic way as detailed by the great Carmelite saints, then that would be fine, but they are not, and those who teach Ignatian spirituality positively exclude it, or at least they never show any knowledge of it, nor therefore ever teach it. Instead they keep trying to do what Mercurian did over four hundred years ago.  It is no good protesting that the Exercises both describe and encourage ‘contemplation,’ because in the Exercises the word ‘contemplation’ is used  to describe what mainline mystical  writers have called meditation or Lectio Divina for centuries. In other words the prayer of beginners who have not yet been led into the Mystic Way.

Despite their renown for intellectual brilliance that dazzles their devotees,  Jesuits are by training no more than spiritual adolescents. They are therefore unable to lead and guide others into the contemplative prayer that is totally alien to their tradition. When approached for help by those clearly called by the Holy Spirit to contemplative prayer, bona fide spiritual travellers are regularly dismissed out of hand. They are dismissed as being misinformed, deceived, or suffering from some mental aberration or sinfulness that has to be addressed before they can be considered worthy enough to be introduced to the Exercises.  In this way they manage to  ‘gaslight’ those who are on the right path making them feel  spiritually inferior because they have chosen to follow the spiritual way that leads to humility, not one that leads to the arrogance of self-made spiritual masters.   So for more than four hundred years they have been preventing the Holy Spirit from raising up the great saints and mystics through whom he can bring about the renewal that is several hundred years overdue. Rather then by actively trying to generate the  sort of contemplative prayer through which the infused gifts of understanding, prudence, and wisdom are given, they have spent their time trying to do the impossible. They have been trying to harness  their own unpurified  mental and emotional powers to misunderstand and misapply whatever  the current secular ‘wisdom of the world’ happens to be for  the benefit of the Church, and often therefore  with disastrous consequences, as we can see today.

Please do not try to do the impossible. Ignatian Spirituality is all but totally different from the Carmelite Mystical Spirituality that is needed more today than at any time before.   For the classical Carmelite tradition, mystical prayer is their very life blood,  but for the classical  Jesuit tradition mystical theology  simply does not exist, or if it does, it plays no serious part in their  mainline spirituality.

To say that you can fuse Carmelite Mystical Spirituality, that reflects the Catholic mystical tradition from the beginning  with the Ignatian moral spirituality that reflects the stoical  philosophical tradition that began to seep into Catholic Spirituality at the Renaissance,  is simply impossible. In short and in the words of Christ himself. “First seek God and his Kingdom of Love and everything else will be given to you”. And this means above all else, the God-given wisdom without which we will be no more than blind leaders of the blind.

First published on Catholic Stand and Big Pulpit

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