Ron Modras has created a lively and challenging book out of the lives and works of six Jesuits, starting with Ignatius of Loyola. Each of the separate life stories and exciting careers of these six men, six amigos to use a Spanish idiom, are engaged in creating, fostering, and contributing to Ignatian humanism, which becomes almost synonymous for a particular form of spirituality.
The book begins with a close study of the life of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and the best known achievement of his life, founding a religious community of men formed by the Spiritual Exercises, a document Modras cites abundantly to make his humanist argument. It then analyses “The Renaissance Origins of Ignatian Humanism”, careful to distinguish a theistic humanism from the secular or atheistic field. These two opening chapters provide the themes for subsequent historical contexts, biographies, spirituality, and the life works of five remarkable Jesuits, Matteo Ricci (1552-1510) who brought Renaissance humanism to China and Chinese classics to the west, Friedrich Spee (1591-1635) whose humanist and Ignatian spirituality inspired him to argue in speech and writing against the hysterical European witch hunts and trials of his day, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) who survived the trench warfare of WW I to affirm lines of congruence between scientific evolution and Christian faith despite church censorship while he worked in Europe and China, Karl Rahner ( 1904-1984) whose thousands of essays on Christian theology, faith, and practice helped the Catholic Bishops of the world at Vatican Council II (1962-65) to affirm that God speaks to human hearts and in the lives of people previously thought to be heretics, infidels, and enemies, and Dom Pedro Arrupe (1907-1991) who brought hope out of the experience of ashes from the atom bomb in Hiroshima (8/6/45) and who with deep trust in God’s providence and the humanist spirituality of the Society of Jesus, inspired his companions to integrate faith with justice in order to make Jesuits and those men and women who work with them, “men and women for others.”
This book is not hagiography. It is studded with rich biographical gems and insights regarding the six companions selected for study. It offers a new way to understand Ignatian spirituality by relating many of its key features to Renaissance humanism. Chapter two on the humanism of Ignatius’s world and the concluding chapter eight “A Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century” are correlated by the thesis that many features of Ignatian humanism are also features of an authentic Christian spirituality for the new millennium.
Modras lists six characteristics of Renaissance Humanism: 1) classicism, its return to Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic originals; 2) educating the whole person to a well-rounded cultivation of virtues (excellences/strengths) and the proper balance of love and passion with knowledge and learning; 3) an active life of civic virtue, the responsibility for oneself and others in the city and the world throughout life; 4) individualism within community, in which the values of personal rights and common interests moved people out of the middle ages into modernity; 5) human dignity and freedom, of which Pico della Mirandola could say freedom was the ability to chose and fashion ourselves either to become more like the image of God in which we were founded, or more like the beasts we are meant to govern; 6) the unity and universality of truth, in which faith and biblical sources struggle to be reconciled with non-Christian sources of truth. Inigo and his early companions were educated in and by humanists at Alcala and later at Paris. In the spiritual exercises God speaks directly to the retreatant and the response is to converse, colloquy, with those in the spiritual contemplation.
One of many puzzles Modras clarifies with humanist research, is the strange saying of Ignatius in his rules for thinking with the church, “What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it” ( Sp. Ex.). In an age rife with the dissent of reformers, this is usually taken to refer to the blind obedience of the Jesuits. The white and black terms entered Erasmus’s debates with Martin Luther. Erasmus refers to its use by Cicero who said in disputes, “How can it be said distinctly that anything is white, when it may happen that what is black appears white.” This language appears in ancient philosophical discussions on the nature of fire, which blackens what it burns, but also whitens into ashes. For Erasmus the ambiguity of sense perceptions required the distinction between appearance and reality. Modras thinks it applied to the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For Ignatius it “was a matter of discerning truth, not fabricating it.”
The hope and optimism for the Society of Jesus despite its share of past and present persecution, suffering, and martyrdom, is contrasted several times with the pessimism of St. Augustine concerning the salvation of humankind. One would hope that readers can situate the social anxiety surrounding Augustine’s prolific years during the decline of the Roman Empire when he offered remarkable light to an increasingly dark world. Five times Modras refers to the saying of Terrence (b. 195 B.C.) the Carthaginian playwright: humani nil a me alienum puto— “I consider nothing human foreign to me”. Modras says for Ignatius nothing secular is merely secular. John O’Malley, S. J. in Four Cultures of the West (2004) makes the point that this saying of Terrence was paraphrased in the opening sentence of the Vattican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965: “The joys and hopes and the sorrows and anxieties, especially of those who are poor and afflicted, are also the joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ, and there is nothing truly human that does not also affect them.” Humanist culture runs deep in Catholic thought. O’Malley’s works are a helpful source for Modras.
I enjoyed reading this book. Modras who has taught at St. Louis U. for 25 years, made the Spiritual Exercises. I heard him explain his research on Friedrich Spee at a CTS convention. Without Modras’ fluency with German, Spee would still be known only to German readers. Here and there we hear Rahner speaking out of Modras’ translation from the German original. The explanation of Ricci and his predecessors in Japan and China, the summaries of Rahner’s contributions to the Church, the tragedies faced by Teihard and Arrupe are accurate, rich in history, deep in spiritual insights. The scholarship behind these wonderful expositions and analyses is never obtrusive. The explanation of the exclusionary bias of fundamentalism, the new shift of missionary attention to serve the needs of others that arose from the last three general congregations (CG) in the last quarter of the 20th century are clearly delineated to explain how the humanist ideal for Jesuit spirituality is working in the 21st century. Even the character and spirituality of Ignatius becomes credible as humanist, using the best of modern studies of the Basque leader, Inigo.
Roles of women in the lives of these men are included. The 34th GC (1995) asked the Jesuits to “listen carefully and courageously to the experience of women” doing so “in a spirit of partnership and equality .” Older Catholic and Ignatian asceticism required strict detachment from the world. “From a twenty-first century humanist perspective, however, and contrary to ascetic practices of old, one need not seek out pain or suffering, certainly not for its own sake. If one speaks out and actively works for justice in society or for reform in the church, pain, criticism, rejection, verbal abuse, or worse-invariably comes as part of the package.”
In our post 9/11 world Modras closes with a hope for theology. He imagines conversa-tions with members of academia, media, and pop cultures, in our post-modern, post-Christian west where there is no God and so, no God-talk. Through attentiveness to Absolute Mystery, out of the deep experiences of our own lives and with the horizons of experience of others, we will find humanistic principles at work in people who are seeking justice, reaching out for love, living lives of grace, inside and outside the church. There again we may rediscover wonder, kindred spirits, and the comforting sounds of God’s presence and direction for the world.