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De-centering the Jesuits (Backdate)

... and the rest of us.

From Pope Francis's homily on this feast of Saint Ignatius, preached at the Jesuit mother church in Rome, il Gesù:

The emblem of us Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym of “Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind” (IHS). Every one of you can tell me: we know that very well! But this crest continually reminds us of a reality that we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us and for the whole Company, the Company that Saint Ignatius wanted to name “of Jesus” to indicate the point of reference. Moreover, even at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises he places our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Saviour (Spiritual Exercises, 6) in front of us. And this leads all of us Jesuits, and the whole Company, to be “decentered,” to have “Christ more and more” before us, the “Deus semper maior”, the “intimior intimo meo”, that leads us continually outside ourselves, that brings us to a certain kenosis, a “going beyond our own loves, desires, and interests” (Sp. Ex., 189). Isn’t it obvious, the question for us? For all of us? “Is Christ the center of my life? Do I really put Christ at the center of my life?” Because there is always the temptation to want to put ourselves in the center. And when a Jesuit puts himself and not Christ in the center, he goes astray.


By sheer coincidence (Providence?) I happened to consult Henri de Lubac's great work, Catholicism, only to discover that the original "Introduction" is dated: July 31, 1937, Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. The great theologian, influential upon both Benedict XVI and Francis, wrote: "If Christ is the sacrament of God, the Church is for us the sacrament of Christ She represents him in the full and ancient meaning of the term: she really makes him present."

And this twenty-five years before Vatican II!

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan, is #1 on the NYT bestseller list and #1 at Amazon.

(I haven't read it, but from the reviews and articles I get the impression that it's nothing new.  E.g., that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  Etc., etc.  Stuff that was routinely taught in Scripture Studies 50+ years ago.)


To the youth: I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out ... if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a bit of confusion afterwards. That’s my advice. […] As for the young, they must emerge, they must assert themselves, the young must go out to fight for values, to fight for these values


To the Jesuits: Yes, paths of searching, creative paths, yes, this is important: to go to the peripheries, so many peripheries. This takes creativity, but always in community, in the Church, with this membership that give us the courage to go forward. To serve Christ is to love this concrete Church, and to serve her with generosity and with the spirit of obedience.


Are those two quotes completely consistent?

Some instructive and wise remarks from Pope Francis' homily:

Christ is our life! The centrality of Christ corresponds also to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated: I cannot follow Christ except in and with the Church. And even in this case we Jesuits and the whole Company, are not at the centre, we are, so to speak, “displaced”, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ our Lord, who is our Holy Mother Hierarchical Church (cf. Sp. Ex. 353). To be men routed and grounded in the Church: that is what Jesus desires of us.

Pope Francis has interestingly placed two examples ("icons") of life's eventide (il tramonto) before his fellow Jesuits on Saint Ignatius's Day -- Saint Francis Xavier and Pedro Arrupe The tomb of Francis Xavier is directly opposite that of Ignatius, while Father Arrupe's tomb is at the back of the Gesu', on the righthand side. Is it possible that during this papacy the canonization process of Father Arrupe will be brought to the fore?

(The statement from the Vatican did not say whether the Pope had time to visit the rooms of Saint Ignatius. I hope he did. For many years the spirited tour guide for this moving experience was a Jesuit Brother from Argentina. Perhaps he is still there.)

John Page

Thanks for mentioning that Pope Francis visited Father Arrupe's tomb.  This strikes me as very significant, even poignant, given how poorly Father Arrupe was treated by John Paul II.  I certainly hope Pope Francis advances Father Arrupe's cause for canonization.


Henri de Lubac is pretty conservative - I don't think Ignatius would necessarily conflate Jesus and the church.


You wrote, "I don't think Ignatius would necessarily conflate Jesus and the church."

Near the end of the Spritual Exercises, Ignatius offers a list of rules. One section of those rules is "To have the true sentiment which we ought to have in the Church militant." The first thing Ignatius writes there is: "Let the following Rules be observed. First Rule. The first: All judgment laid aside, we ought to have our mind ready and prompt to obey, in all, the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church Hierarchical."

Rule 13 reads this way: "Thirteenth Rule. To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed."


I'm not sure what you mean by "conflate," but Ignatius is pretty clear here about obeying the Church -- and the hierarchical church at that -- because Christ and the Church share "the same spirit which governs and direcs us for the salvation of our souls."

You also wrote, "Henri de Lubac is pretty conservative." I'm not sure what that means, but certainly Father Garrigou-Lagrance, who coined the term "nouvelle théologie" (derisively, of course), didn't think so. And those who stripped de Lubac of his teaching faculties didn't think so either.

But of course Ignatius would agree with Benedict XVI that the Spirit is not directly governing the church. See "History, Papal."

With regard the intimacy of the relation between Christ and Church may I recommend the late Jean-Marie Tillard's wonderful book: Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ.


Were you responding to my comment? I don't know what Ignatius said about the Spirit directly governing the Church. I just wanted to point out to Crystal that at two places in the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius draws a very close connection between Christ and the Church. As I noted, I'm not sure whether that constitutes "conflation."

I also disagreed -- to the extent I understood it -- with Crystal's characterization of Henri de Lubac as a "conservative." He wasn't considered a conservative in the 1950s.

Scott - gosh darn gee whiz!  Every time I believe I have it figured out I don't!  Is "conservative" as a reality most constructively and practically defined by the times and people's opinions?  Or is "conservative" merely another of those concepts destined to remain in the shade?

As for Reza Alan's new book about Christ, I recommend it.  As I believe Mr Alan says himself he is a Muslin who through a bit of inspiration and a great deal of study became utterly enamored with and very respectful of Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ.  I also recommend another of his works "No god but God".  I am certainly not the one to query on the issue of the validity of the details his books include but there are quite a bit of them in his works.

This is off topic except for the fact that the comments are formed by an inclusion regarding Reza Aslan's book, Zealot, which was propelled to further popularity  by an unfortunate Fox News interview.  Perhaps Michael Peppard will post separately on the book, since I noticed that he tweeted about it.  I have only found one review on the internet by a NT scholar, Greg Carey at Lancaster Theological.  Here is the link to it

Aslan holds Ph.D. in the sociology of religion, but he is not a professor of religion, rather he teaches creative writing.  His book appears to be "revoutionary" to people who are unfamiliar with NT scholarship on the question of the historical Jesus.  As Gerelyn noted there is very little new in the book, and, as the review I have linked to explains, much of what Aslan is proposing is old news among NT scholars, who have moved beyond the arguments that form his views on Jesus.  He boasts in the Fox interview of having many footnotes, but he does not seem to have used his sources critically. I have had a real hard time tracking down serious dredentials for him, and he seems to be more of an entrepreneur than a scholar.

Alan and all  - fwiw, over at the First Thoughts blog (associated with First Things), Matthew Franck apparently incited a bit of an uproar with a post entitled, "Reza Aslan Misrepresents His Scholarly Credentials".  He then posted a follow-up that included a response from Aslan's dissertation advisor defending Aslan's positioning himself as he does, as well as Alan Jacobs' view that 

Reza Aslan’s book is an educated amateur’s summary and synthesis of a particularly skeptical but quite long-established line of New Testament scholarship, presented to us as simple fact.

Why "particularly skeptical"?   

With Ignatius as with other saints, even Francis of Assissi, we have to be careful not to conclude that because they wrote or said it it is true. The great Ignatius  was an important part of the Counter-Reformation and one can understand his stressing the hierarchy over the reformers.  While the hierarchy has a place in the church, with consideration given to its directives, one is bound to examine them as  far as accordance with the gospel is concerned. Many mistakes have been made by the   hierarchy and we are not excused in following unlawful directives. Augustine made serious errors with reference to violence against Christians while Athanasius also acknowledge emperors power in the church to further his own ambitions. The adulation following these two giants of Church history is more driven by those seeking unmitigated power in the church rather than an allegiance to the true message of Jesus.  

" ... holy Mother the Church Hierarchical ..."

That is about as blatant an oxymoron as one can read.

Ask the mothers you know what part of the hierarchy is theirs.


Yes, Ignatius' rules for thinking with the church are nototious but given that he was thrown into jail a couple of times by the inquisition and was so often suspect, it's not surprising that he added such a thing to his work.  I think Ignatius believed obedience to human authority was a conditional means to an end - obedience to God and the truth.  Some  reading ... "Ignatius, the Popes, and Realistic Reverence", Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits , 25 (May 1993) ... "Ignatius and Church Authority" by Philip Endean ... 

There's a reason why Henri de Lubac is beloved by John Milbank .... ... and Archbishop Chaput ... ... and other conservatives - he's conservative.

I think Crystal's point about the rationale for Ignatius' (in)famous quote on thinking with the Church is largely correct. There was concern at the time that the Exercises lent themselves to a certain illuminati impulses and subjectivity. But besides that, there is value in submitting our views or ideas to an external source in order to authenticate them. Afterall, all of us our subject to our own blindness and egoism. Consequently, while that particular saying might be hyperbolic (and maybe this kind of hyperbole was just an aspect of St. Ignatius' personality!) there is still truth to it although, like everything else, that truth needs to be interpreted and contextualized.

That said, there is not doubt that the later Jesuits were highly ultramontanes and a particular kind of slavish obedience has been part of the tradition since early on.

Still, Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises are the crowning achievement of his life and are a unique form of spirituality within the Church. They are highly structured (which for me is a downside) but his teaching around discernment of spirits is very useful.

Here's a bit from Fr. Endean's article, which speaks to what John Padberg SJ wrote about Ignatius and the popes he knew and interacted with ...

"Ignatius's ecclesiological statements far
from adequately reflect his practice with regard to the papacy as
Superior General of the Society.: Raymund Schwager, the Swiss
Jesuit theologian .... [wrote] a stimulating work on
Ignatius's ecclesiology--a study that now shows its'age but has yet
to be superseded. In the fourth chapter, Schwager contrasts what
ignatius said with what Ignatius, did: his authoritarian Statements
about obedience with his well-documented and thorough resistance to various initiatives, some of which came from the Holy See, to
appoint Jesuits as bishops. Schwager concludes that Ignatius's lived
ecclesiology centred on service to the Church rather than obedience
to it."


Thank you for those references. I'm not a scholar of Ignatius of Loyola, but I've read a couple of books about early Jesuit history (Bangert, O'Malley). I look forward to reading those pieces and having them challenge my assumptions based on what I've read of and about Ignatius.

Off the bat, I'm not particularly convinced by an argument that says, essentially, "Sure, he wrote those things, but he didn't really mean them. He only wrote them because the Inquisition was after him."  When you write, "I think Ignatius believed obedience to human authority was a conditional means to an end - obedience to God and the truth," I'm sure that's right. In fact, it must be right, although I would also think that _everyone_ says that about his or her reasons for obeying any given authority.

As for de Lubac, Milbank, and Chaput, I'm still not sure what you mean by "conservative." John Milbank is an Anglican anarchist-socialist. (And if you read Milbank's book on de Lubac, he's interested in the Jesuit because of his views on nature and grace. I honestly don't know how that maps onto a "conservative" vs. "liberal" framework.) Chaput is a Roman Catholic American bishop. Gustavo Guitierrez studied under de Lubac. Elizabeth Johnson has drawn on de Lubac's work in her own writing. De Lubac famously defended Teilhard de Chardin. Serious question: does the fact that de Lubac is connected to all these authors make them all conservative? What does "conservative" mean in this case? As I noted above, I honestly don't know.

Again, thanks for your response and for the references.


Yes, I must admit I don't know much about de Lubac.  That he seems to be considered along with von Balthasar, that he is so liked by Benedict, that you're more likely to read about him at First Things and Ignatius Press than at Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter  ... I made assumptions  :)  Maybe it's his Thomism?  I have to read more about him.

Read Splendour of the Church.

Amen! -- Of which the French title is the more modest Méditation sur l'église.

A number of Henri de Lubac's books are still in print, including Splendor of the Church (Ignatius Press). Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1983 waiving (at de Lubac's request) the requirement that he be consecrated a bishop.  I think de Lubac can be a source of rapprochment between those who think of themselves as "progressive / liberal" Catholics and those who call themselves "orthodox / conservative".  


In my ignorant way, I had always associated IHS with In Hoc Signo, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine, and all that (though also with Philip Morris cigarettes, which for some reason also used IHS as a motto. Failing that, I think I'd been told that it was a shortened form of IESUS CHRISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER, as in Icthus. I'm glad to be set straight, and particularly to know that Constantine's history had nothing to do with it.

About obedience: I have sometimes rather wondered why, if Jesuits were supposed to obey the pope in all things, even to seeing black as white, there seems to be a rather long history of Jesuit disobedience, though presumably they never saw it that way. (I'm thinking among other things of the papacy's unfortunate relations with the Jesuit mission in China from the early seventeenth to the mid eighteenth centuries. Long before Daniel Berrigan, in short.

De Lubac knew both the scholastic theologians and the early Fathers.  Maybe this is why both conservatives and liberals claim him.  (Thomas and othe late medievals have a lot in common with contemporary liberals, including their appreciation of rationality and for the appreciation of the rights of ordinary people.)  ISTM he represents the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition, the "both-and" tradition of accepting of whatever is true regardless of its source.

(My quarrel with him is his too-ready acceptance of "paradoxes".  He, good Frenchman that he was, seemed to love them.)  

Nicholas Clifford


I like the Pall Mall (not Phillip Morris)  part the best. The IHS has nothing to do with ICTHYS (exept for the "I" which is the first letter of Jesus in Greek). Rather, these letters are the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek, IHSOYS, which is why the are on the Seal of the General of the Society of Jesus. IHS is a common Greek abbreviation for the name.

On the history of Jesuit disobedience I think you are way off. It is not only they who never saw it that way either.  You do them a great disservice. Why not stress the long history of their obedience?  Also the Jesuits' fourth vow pertains to "mission, if you read the Constituteions of the Society of Jesus carefully.  TJesuits were not free to turn down a mission from the Pope to go anywhere he would send them.  Finally, you need to read up on the complicated matter of the Chinese Rites controversy.  The controversy was not created by the Jesuits but by the Dominicans, Fransicsance and Augustinians who had opposed them. This opposition, at first accepted by Rome, was later reversed, only to be reissued by Clement XI and Benedict XIV until it was abrogated by Pius XII.


As Alan Mitchell explained, IHS are the first letters of the name of Jesus in Greek.

As a youngster I asked my mother what the letters on the back of the priest's chasuble meant and she said (bless her!): "I have suffered." Later in high school I was told by a priest they stood for: "Iesus Hominum Salvator" -- the association made by Pope Francis. So there's obviously an oral tradition of popular religiosity in play.

One facet of De Lubac (at least in The Splendour of the Church) that is engaging and humbling is his trenchant criticisms of certain attitudes within the church, but which he manages to apply to himself.

For Example: 

We are all human, De Lubac writes, beings… – actually he wrote “we are all men,”.. “and there is none of us but is aware of his own wretchedness and incapacity; for after all we keep on having our noses rubbed in our own limitations.  We have all, at some time or other, caught ourselves red-handed…trying to serve a holy cause by dubious means. . . . So that there are scanty grounds for making exceptional cases of ourselves; and none at all for the withdrawal implied in a grimly-judging eye. If we behave in that way, we fall into an illusion like that of the misanthrope, who takes a dislike to humankind, for all the world as if he himself were not a part of it….” 

            It is when we cease to hold ourselves apart with “a grimly judging eye,” he continues…, that “the staring contrast between the human wretchedness of those who make up the Church, and the greatness of her divine mission, will no longer be a scandal to us; for we shall first have become painfully aware of [that wretchedness] in ourselves.  Rather, it will become a stimulus.  We shall understand how a certain sort of criticism which is always directed outwards may be nothing more than a search for an alibi designed to enable us to dodge the examination of our consciences. And a humble acceptance of Catholic solidarity will perhaps be more profitable to us in the matter of shaking us out of some of our illusions.”


Are these the paradoxes that Ann Olivier refers to.

Ms. S. --

What I had in mind was de Luba's treatment of paradoxes in his book  "Paradoxes of Faith".  I got the book because I find paradoxes intriguing, and sometimes considerations of paradoxes  succeed in explaining their oppositions away, at least to some extent. 

On the other hand, some paradoxes are about  extremely important matters (see "the problem of evil"), and some of the greatest thinkers have grappled courageously with them for eons.  But there are also some lame attempts to explain these paradoxes away by means that just don't work,  whether by saying that the paradox isn't really important or it really isn't paradoxical after all or, worse of all, saying that the paradoxes aren't really illogical, that they're not real problems after all.  de Lubac says of paradoxes, for instance, "They do not sin against logic, whose laws remain inviolable:  but they escape its domain".  What a cop-out!  He makes an unjustified claim and calls the problem solved!  Such attempts are like trying like trying to get rid of glue on your fingers by rubbing your fingers against more glue -- irrationality against irrationality. 

I don't deny that well expressed paradoxes can sometimes summarize important dilemmas, and de Lubac is particularly good at those.  Here's one that summarizes an issue we discussed here recently:  "Shall I refuse my brother a glass of water telling him I am fully occupied in recovering the meaning of God?"  This particular expression doesn't dodge the issue.  And its question mark grants the possibility that  there IS more to be said.

By the word "paradox" de Lubac covers many sorts of oppositions not all of which are contradictions, and that's quite forgivable.  But would that he had faced the big problems of real contradictions about really important issues.  (I find the consideration of "mystery" in  Frank Sheed's "Theology and Sanity" a much more positive approach to the subject.)

Yes, one of the issues with paradox-as-method (shall we call it that?) is:  what is the value of logic?  Does it unfailingly reveal truth?  Does it unfailingly reveal error?  There's the rub.  


simplistic, the way Endean puts it.  as if service and obedience are (should be?) always antithetical.  Ignatius was no slavish idolater of the church.  obedience (primarily to Christ but secondarily to Jesuit superiors and to the papacy!), yes, in the service of the Church, but it is always critical obedience.  the funny thing about some jesuits (like Endean) is that they can vow obedience to their general and superiors and find nothing wrong with that, but balk at obedience to the pope when in fact a good number of them do so in their fourth vow (in terms of missions of course, but they want to quibble...).  

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