Does “ignatian theology” make sense?

Does it make sense to highlight features that would be characteristic of an “ignatian” way of doing theology? The question arose today, as we compared – in the context of interreligious, intercultural and comparative theological praxes – Francis X. Clooney, K. Rahner, Chr. van Nispen tot Sevenaer, Hugo Carmeliet, Egied van Broeckhoven, and Aloysius Pieris. I was struck, in these cases, by some similarities. This is not enough, of course, to really speak about a specific “ignatian” or “jesuit” style in theology, but these similarities are interesting pointers.

(1) A close interaction between spirituality and theology. The reason may well be that, in an ignatian perspective, faith concerns relationships: with oneself, with the others, with the world, with God. Theology, then, will focus on Christianity as the religion of relationships more than of books and clearcut theories. The Christian tradition is about introducing people into the web of relationships that constitutes the church.

(2) The experience of the Spiritual Exercises articulates these relationships in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. That means that ignatian approaches will always be concrete (as they contemplate and meditate the concrete events of a concrete life) as well as focussed on the relationship with God. “To find God in all things” is a clear ignatian motto – ignatian theologians will, therefore, really pay attention to God’s presence and perspectives in given human situations. The focus on the concrete, in which human beings take on their responsibilities, ánd on the divine are deeply intertwined: they represent a “hypostatic union” not only in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, but also in our own lives. Not surprisingly, “ignatian theologian” will be focussed on Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, attentive to concrete lives of people and to God’s presence amidst these lives. Particular attention goes to entering into human realities of suffering, fighting them as God does by become incarnate as the least human being, a human being who dies on the cross. Ignatian theologians are theologians of the incarnation, entering into the world with the love of God who enters into the world. This also means that ignatian theologians will attempt to be transdisciplinary theologians: taking into account all the sciences and valueing the experiences in the fields of reality, so as to create new forms of knowledge and new approaches to understand reality as God’s gift.

(3) Roland Barthes has pointed out that the transmission of these experiences of encounter and relationships, happens in a narrative process capable of transmitting relational experiences by involving people in them. In a way, Ignatius Loyola introduces people in his relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ – a relationship which has opened up Ignatius to the relationship with God -, so that they themselves, through the relationship with Ignatius (and the people who sustain the tradition that originates with him) enter into a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and, through him, with God (as Father, Son and Spirit). In their turn, these Christians will proceed to offer their own experiences as an opportunity for others to enter into similar experiences. For such processes to be genuine, praxes of discernment, personal and in common, are necessary, that aim “apostolically” (through relationships as those of the apostles with Jesus) at creating a space (of friendship) in which the experiences of God amidst concrete life circumstances are recognized, stimulated and discovered. Not surprisingly, ignatian theologians will be sensitive to theological heuristics and narrative approaches; they will also attempt to allow praxes of common discernment to become part of their theological endeavours.

(4) The Lord, who enters in relationships of friendship with people, fosters friendship between people and between people and other creatures. The expression “friends in the Lord“, although little used by Ignatius Loyola, expresses this well. The early friends in the Lord, however, decided to remain connected, to share in a common project and to build up structures that would allow them to do so … in this way they became companions in the Society of Jesus, building a “body” of people very diversely engaged, but sharing a common passion for embodying God’s presence and saving action in the world. The friendship mirrors the innertrinitarian love, that unfolds itself into an active and committed “economic Trinity” at the service of fulfilling human and creational reality by bringing about interconnectedness in view of the Kingdom … an effort that is called “church”. Again, not surprisingly, ignatian theologians will like to speak about the Trinity, will pay close attention to the church in its universal scope (the special vow of obedience to the pope with regard to the missions expresses this in the Society of Jesus), and will display a sense of vision that profoundly shapes their mission responsibility.

(5) Scholars of ignatian spirituality and the ignatian “modo de proceder” (way of doing things) have paid considerable attention to Ignatius Loyola’s Autobiography, as well as to the Spiritual Exercises and the Spiritual Diary which shows one of the crucial discernment processes of Ignatius with regard to the structures of the Society of Jesus. There is also a growing interest in the Constitutions, in the way Ignatius and his first collaborators structured and gave form to the emerging body of the Society of Jesus: governance issues, therefore, are crucial to practical ignatian theologians: they have a sense of the structural. There is another step to take in ignatian studies: Ignatius Loyola’s main activity as a general was the service of the whole body connecting it through letters, allowing out of this web of relationships for a body to emerge, a body that can act at a universal scale.

These are but some characteristics that may point to an “ignatian way” of doing theology. I would appreciate further discussion on the issue, as I am convinced that in the face of today’s worldwide challenges, this ignatian approach offers possibilities.


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