Was Ignatius of Loyola a Reformer?

Ignatius of Loyola was born on December 24, 1491. He  grew up to become a Spanish knight and was wounded by a cannon ball wound to the leg. While in the hospital, he asked for reading material, and all that was available was Christian text about the lives of the Saints and Jesus Christ. He became a follower of Christ, later to become a renowned theologian and ascetic. He is known for being the founder of the Jesuits, a movement of Catholic spiritual renewal during the counter-reformation. He was strongly opposed to the Protestant reformation, which makes our relationship with him even more interesting – at least those of us who are part of the Protestant tradition.

Should us Protestants disregard this Catholic thinker? One of my (Protestant) spiritual mentors studied Ignatius for his dissertation topic because he believes that much of what Ignatius taught is to be applied to the Christian spiritual life. Ignatius realized that the Catholic Church needed to be transformed, just as Luther realized did. However, Ignatius always remained within the church, and was astonished that Luther  and others would work from without.

Ignatius will always be remembered for contributing the two following ascetic traditions, The Examen of Consciousness and the Spiritual Exercises.

The Examen of Consciousness of 5 Steps:

  1. Recall, that no matter what, you are the beloved in the presence of the Creator God.
  2. Rest and reflect on what God has given you this day and what have you given others
  3. Ask for the Holy Spirit to pour his love into your heart and for his guidance
  4. Examine how you are living this day. Recall the day, context of your actions, hour by hour, etc. What cause you to act the way you did?
  5. Pray for reconciliation and compassion. Grieve over your sins and praise God for his grace towards you.

The Spiritual Exercises:

He wrote a manual for 30-day retreats. The spiritual exercises could be related to physical exercise such as running, biking, weight lifting…however, the are for the spiritual life (meditation, contemplation, prayer, etc). Following is a small excerpt on the first spiritual exercise and foundation from The Spiritual Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I believe that the Examen and Spiritual Exercises are a wonderful tool for maturing in one’s relationship with the Holy Trinity, but I would love to hear feedback? Do you think that Protestants should use the writings and thoughts of a Catholic Theologian who was greatly opposed to the Protestant Reformation?

Was Ignatius a Reformer?

[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on December 24, 2011, in The Reformation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This Ignatius was a bit too regimented for me, but then that was the nature of the then Catholic spiritual approach, we always need discipline.. but hopefully pressed by the unction of the Spirit. We should note too, that the Jesuit’s later became the strong arm of the pope & papacy. However, in so-called modern times several Catholic Jesuit’s, have become great theologians…Von Balthasar, De Lubac, and now we still have Joseph Fitzmyer! Just to name a few. Btw, we should note too that Von B, got a ‘dispensation’ in his time to leave the S.J., he had enough of that “discipline”.

  2. Some points I have been wondering about recently in regards to the Reformation:
    1. When Christian mission moved out of the Latin based world (Southern Europe) and into the German language based world (Northern Europe) was the service harder to understand? From my layman’s knowledge of Latin, I know there were a number of transformations over the centuries—yet still I wonder if someone in a culture where the language derived from Latin could understand at least some of the phrases, or ask someone else the meaning. Maybe French and Spanish speakers could get some of he drift. But German languages are very removed from that, so perhaps a stronger inducement to change?
    2. I wonder how much ‘spiritual art’ the reformation stirred up, as the later evangelical revivals did? Art is important to conveying spiritual things.
    3. Both the Roman Catholic society and the eastern Byzantine society acted, on a number of occasions, to protect Europe from invading foreign cultures. They may have had their shortcomings, but at least Europeans were not brought under control by the Huns, the Muslims or the Khanate. However, when Byzantium finally fell to the Ottoman Turks apparently this helped trigger the Renaissance as scholars from Byzantium fled to other cities.
    4. The Roman Church did provide a lot of benefits to society, such as the hospitals that clerics set up. The abbeys sometimes could become refuges for people who were being threatened. And the Irish monks were undoubtedly empowered by the Spirit as they confronted the Vikings.
    5. How much of the Reformation in Central Europe was brought about by rediscovering truths and how much by the personalities of the great leaders?

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