Blog Archives

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.]


Forced Choices: Eastern Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism.

Last week’s Forced Choice was our first blowout, without Greek trouncing Hebrew 63% to 37%. Since that is significantly higher than what we saw in our OT vs. NT poll, I have to think that people really do just like the Greek language better for some reason.

Today, we’re going to look in a different direction: Christian traditions. And, I’m going to eliminate all of the Protestant traditions, since I think that’s where the majority of you are probably coming from already. So, which do you prefer: Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism? And, as usual, feel free to leave a comment if you’d like. But, you don’t need to.

Check Your Brain at the Door: Faith and Intellectual Freedom

Am I free? Not legally (I’m not in jail) or metaphysically (who knows if I have “free will”?) but intellectually. Do I have intellectual freedom? After all, I teach at a school with belief commitments. To get my job, I had to sign our Faculty Teaching Position. And, if I ever changed my mind on a core aspect of that document, my job would probably be in jeopardy. In that kind of situation, can I have any kind of real intellectual freedom? Or, am I really just kidding myself by thinking that I’m an academic.

If you live in a confessional world, do you need to leave your brain at the door?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether Roman Catholics have less intellectual freedom than other Christians because of the strongly confessional nature of the Catholic tradition. Michael Patton began the firestorm, and quite a few have chimed in since then. I don’t want to rehearse the whole debate, so check out Brian LePort’s summary for his comments and links to other good posts.

Most of the discussion so far has focused on whether Patton is right about Roman Catholicism. (Hint: The answer is ‘no’.) But, somewhat lost in all of this is his argument that true scholarship and confessional commitment are antithetical to one another. His comments on Catholicism are based on his Cartesian commitment to skepticism as methodologically necessary for real academic work. If you’re not willing to doubt every idea/belief, open to the possibility that you might be wrong, then you’re not really an academic.

If he’s right, then, any school with confessional commitments only has limited intellectual freedom (at best). And, based on that argument, the faculty at Western Seminary don’t really have academic freedom. We throw it away when we sign the Faculty Teaching Position. Our job status is connected to at least some of their beliefs. Change those beliefs, and we’re in trouble. So, we’re not really academics. We’re just defending the status quo.

Granted, faculty can always leave and try to find a job at another school. So, we haven’t killed intellectual freedom entirely. We’ve just cut off both its legs. It can still move around, but only by painfully dragging its bloody torso somewhere else.

As someone who teaches at such a school, I think there are some critical things wrong with this (common) argument. Brian LePort explains his reservations (and appreciations) in Five Thoughts on Objectivity, Open-Mindedness, and Scholarship. You should definitely check it out. But, let me add three additional concerns about this argument that I think we need to keep in mind.

1. It over-emphasizes the individual. This is the Enlightenment at its finest. Presuppositions and traditions are the enemy of intellectual progress. They must be challenged and questioned at every turn so that I, as the ultimate human authority in my life, can be confident that I am coming to know things as they actually are and not just how they have been presented to me. You never get the sense that intellectual activity is a communal activity in this approach. Instead, you’re left with the picture of the academic locked away in his/her office or lab, seeking Truth through the power of unimpaired reason. Given Patton’s clear commitments to doing theology in community, that seems like an odd stance.

2. It devalues institutions. This one is connected to the last, but the argument seems to betray a subtle anti-institutionalism. This view of academics makes the professor an independent contractor with no real connection or loyalty to particular institutions. The individual sticks around as long as he/she is satisfied with the institution’s position. And, if you change your mind and can no longer affirm those commitments? No worries, there’s always another one around the block. It’s church shopping at the academic level. (I may comment on this more later. This kind of subtle anti-institutionalism is rampant in evangelicalism.)

3. It neglects the importance of presuppositions. Many people make this mistake. Most recognize that we all have our presuppositions. They’re a necessary evil that we have constantly guard against. And, there is some truth to that. But, people often fail to recognize that presuppositional frameworks have value as well. No scientist is going to waste their time investigating whether the world is flat. They’ll assume that question is settled. It’s part of their presuppositional framework. And this allows them to use their time investigating other issues. The same is true in theology. For me, the deity of Christ is a “settled” issue. Not settled in the sense that everyone agrees, and not even settled in that I think I understand everything about what that means (who does?), but settled in that I think that it’s true and not really open to question. Does that make me less free? I don’t think so. If anything, I think it frees me up to pursue other issues. Recognizing that some doors should stay closed, grants me the freedom to go through others. Being “open” to everything leads to bondage, not freedom. So, it’s not just a matter of acknowledging our presuppositions, but embracing them as necessary for real intellectual freedom.

Do I have intellectual freedom? Absolutely. I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from knowing who I am as a part of an ecclesial community with a clear sense of its history, identity, and purpose. And, I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from a community that raises hard questions and explores new ideas together, supporting each other as we strive toward faithful Christian living in a broken world. And, I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from seeing some things as “settled” so that I’m free to spend my time on other issues.

Granted, I don’t have the kind of intellectual freedom that’s willing to throw off all of that in favor of an individualistic pursuit of rational autonomy. But that’s okay. I’m not interested in that kind of freedom anyway.

Synergism is not semi-Pelagianism

During the interaction with N.T. Wright at the last ETS plenary session, Tom Schreiner casually tossed out the all-too-common assertion that synergism is semi-Pelagian. Implicit behind the claim  seems to be the  idea that anything other than pure monergism is borderline heresy – it’s not quite rampant heresy (Pelagianism), but it’s really close (semi-Pelagianism).

There are both historical and theological reasons for rejecting this claim. Historically, we should at least recognize that semi-Pelagianism was a movement that arose after the time of Pelagius, primarily associated with certain monastic groups in the 5th and early-6th centuries, and condemned as heretical at the Second Council of Orange  (529). So, historically speaking, if you call someone a semi-Pelagian, you actually are calling him/her a heretic – not just a near-heretic.

Theologically, it is not true that synergists are necessarily semi-Pelagian. Here it is important that we define our terms. I understand the terms as follows

Pelagian: any system in which the human person is capable of achieving salvation entirely on his/her own with no divine assistance other than common grace (i.e. the grace necessary for any being to exist).

Semi-Pelagian: any system in which the process of salvation is initiated by the human person apart from any grace other than common grace, but in which the process of salvation is synergistically completed by the cooperative interaction of both divine and human.

Synergism: any system that affirms some kind of cooperative interaction between the divine and the human in the process of salvation

Based on these definitions, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. Pelagians are not synergists since salvation is achievable by the human person alone.
  2. Semi-Pelagians are synergists since the salvation process requires the cooperative interaction of both divine and human.
  3. Synergists are not Pelagians and are not necessarily semi-Pelagian since it is entirely possible for one to affirm the cooperative interaction of both divine and human while still affirming that the process of salvation begins entirely with God’s salvific (not common) grace.

So, using these (admittedly cursory) definitions, we can say that a number of very prominent soteriologies are synergistic but not semi-Pelagian (e.g., Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Wesleyan, etc.). When theologians make blanket statements to the effect that all synergists are semi-Pelagian, they (hopefully unwittingly) question the orthodoxy of vast swaths of Christianity, including nearly all of the Church Fathers.

So, please take this as a plea to all monergists – please stop making the claim that synergism simply is semi-Pelagian. That claim is neither historically nor theologically correct.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/18)

Why would a gifted woman become a nun?

The National Review online has an interesting interview with Mary Anne Marks, a recent Harvard valedictorian who delivered her commencement address in Latin and is now on her way to becoming a nun. The interviewer, obviously perplexed that such a gifted young woman would make this particular life choice, probes her for some background and explanation.

My favorite part of the interview comes right at the very beginning:

Interviewer: You are a Harvard graduate. Aren’t you surrendering all the possibilities that entails by entering a convent.

Mary Anne Marks: Yes, if one doesn’t see becoming a well-educated, intellectually alive nun as one of the possibilities.

It’s a fascinating interview worth reading.