Friday, October 25, 2013

In Appreciation of Ignatius and the Jesuits

As many of you know, I teach one course a semester at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. I have been doing that, and have greatly enjoying doing that, since August 2006, so I am now in my fifteenth semester there. How time flies!
Founded in 1910 as Rockhurst College, it became a university in 1999 and is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The oldest and most prestigious member of that organization is Georgetown University, founded in 1789.
The Society of Jesus (S.J.), whose members are usually called Jesuits, is a Catholic Order founded by Ignatius Loyola and officially approved six years later by Pope Paul III in 1540. It is currently the largest male Order in the Roman Catholic Church with about 17,500 members worldwide.
Ignatius, whose real name was Iñigo López de Loyola, was born in the Basque region of Spain on October 27, 1491. (Loyola was the name of the village where he was born, not a “family name,” although it is often used that way now.)

As a young man, Ignatius was a knight and was wounded in battle in 1521—a month after Luther had declared “Here I stand” at the Imperial Diet of Worms in Germany.

While recovering, Ignatius turned his attention to spiritual matters. This resulted in his writing “Spiritual Exercises” in 1522-24. After recuperating, he ended up at Paris University where he and six university friends formed the Society of Jesus on August 15, 1534.
Statue of Ignatius at Rockhurst U.
Before starting to teach at Rockhurst, I knew little about Ignatius or the Jesuits. (I was a big admirer, though, of Father Gabriel, the impressive young Jesuit missionary in the superlative 1986 movie “The Mission.”)
And I did know about Francis Xavier, one of the original seven Jesuits and the first Jesuit missionary. In 1549 he became the first Christian missionary to set foot in Japan.
As I have learned more about them, my appreciation for both Ignatius and the Jesuits has grown. Earlier this year I read Margaret Silf’s popularly done, and somewhat quixotic, book “Just Call Me López: Getting to the Heart of Ignatius of Loyola” (2012). (This might be a book some of you would enjoy reading if you want to learn more about Ignatius.)
Perhaps the primary popularizer of the Jesuits in the U.S. at this time is James Martin (S.J., b. 1960). In addition to his highly readable “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” (2010) in which he explains how Ignatius helps people with practical spirituality, from time to time he also appears on “The Colbert Report.”
Some of the notable Jesuits you may have heard of include Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, and John Dear (about whom I want to post an article soon). Of course the most famous Jesuit of all is now Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
Ignatius’ main life principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”). I use this on the introductory page of the PowerPoint slides I use for each class period at RU.
Even though I am not a Jesuit and have several distinctly different doctrinal beliefs, I admire the sincerity and spiritual commitment of Ignatius and am not reluctant to use his words as a suitable expression for my work at a Jesuit university.
And I am happy to post this in appreciation of Ignatius and the Jesuits.


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for the informative blog. I've sent it off to my formerly-on-the-path-to-becoming-a-Jesuit brother-in-law. :)

    1. Anton, thanks for posting comments on my blogsite again.

      It is a long and difficult path to travel in order to become a Jesuit. I can see why many drop out along the way.

      Jesuits have to take three vows—of poverty, chastity, and obedience—plus a vow of obedience to the pope. It takes seven or eight years to become a Jesuit brother and ten years or so to become a Jesuit priest.

  2. Interesting! I hope I can do some more reading in this area. I just checked. There are several bios of Chardin with fits my interest in paleontology too!

  3. The Jesuits are a mixed bag. They have done good. But they are also behind much evil in Church history, and are a key reason why I probably would never become Roman Catholic. A key atrocity involved my family. As the Hugrenots came to power in France, their Edict of Nantes effectively made France the first secular state in Europe with religious tolerance (a for runner to freedom of religion). This was anathema to the Catholic church of Rome, so the Jesuits, led by Cardinal Richelieu initiated a civil war to drive the Huguenots not only out of power, but also out of the state - this is how my family, the LaFont's eventually came to settle in the English colonies of America. Just one other example would be the involvement of the Jesuits, led by Blessed (sic) Bishop Stepinac of Serbia in the massacre of Orthodox, Jews, and Roma who would not convert religiously, and join the Third Reich. Only two examples, but worthy of note.

    I remain in deep appreciation of the original St. Ignatius (of Antioch) whose writings have given me a foundation in my journey into the traditional catholic Church. May the Church eventually find a unity of the Spirit with repentance and forgiveness, and the dissolution of arrogance and bitterness, and a reigniting of her original mission - which might possibly be initiated by an eighth ecumenical council. The attendance of the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the coronation of Jesuit Pope Francis, was a good start.


    1. The Jesuits, like every other major Christian group, have certainly been involved in wrongdoing as well as in meritorious activity. Cardinal Richelieu, however, was hardly a typical Jesuit. And while he did fight against the Huguenots during his time as "prime minister" of France, the mass exodus of the Huguenots from France was long after his death in 1642.

      King Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, and in the following two decades, some 500,000 Protestants (Huguenots), or maybe even many more than that, left France for safer places to live and worship.

  4. A Thinking Friend who was a young missionary in Japan when June and I arrived there in 1966 wrote,

    "If my fallible, 82 year old mind serves me correctly, I believe that one main purpose of the Jesuits was to quash the Reformation."

    1. Yes, Pope Paul III approved the Jesuits partly for the purpose of having their assistance in countering the Protestants. So that was definitely a part of their original activity, although far from all of it.

      But Jesuits now, and for a long time, have been quite different from the anti-Protestant group they once were.

      The Southern Baptist Convention was started largely in order to continue the system of slavery in the South. But Southern Baptists now are not the same as most were at the time the Convention was formed in 1845.

      In the same way, most Jesuits now are far different in their attitude toward Protestants than they were in 1540.

      I was asked to teach at Rockhurst U. by Dr. Bill Stancil, who was the chairman of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the time. But I met Dr. Stancil in 1991 when he was a professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After he left MBTS, he moved into another Christian denomination, but he did not become a Catholic. Yet he was hired by a Jesuit school and later became the head of the Department of Theology.

  5. The same former colleague in Japan also wrote,

    "I wonder how much academic freedom you are given at Rockhurst. The history of the Catholic Church is not a history of freedom."

    1. I have had absolutely no restrictions placed on what I teach, so there is complete academic freedom. I try to be sensitive to where I am and respectful of the tradition of the university. But I have never felt compelled, internally or externally, to compromise what I believe.

  6. An esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky wrote,

    "Jesuits inject progressive thinking and acting in the Roman Catholic Church. I rejoice that one has finally become pope."

  7. And then a Thinking Friend in Tennessee wrote,

    "Thanks for your posting.

    "Interesting in light of the Jesuit Order being banned in earlier centuries by the Pope.

    "I remember hearing something about "equivocation and the Jesuits" when I was growing up. Did they use that to deal with doctrine or am I confusing it with some other Roman Catholic Order?"

    1. Yes, the Jesuits were suppressed (banned) from 1773 to 1814, largely for political (economic) reasons rather than for theological reasons.

      And here is one explanation about the Jesuits and equivocation:

      "An equivocal utterance is one that has two or more meanings, while a univocal utterance is one that has only one meaning. Now it is said that a lie is ordinarily wrong in two ways: it is a sin against truth and a sin against charity. But if you are asked a question by someone who ought not to have the information (say a Nazi officer looking for concealed Jews), then it is no offense against charity to leave him with the wrong impression, and if what you say to him is technically not a falsehood (say by being equivocal), then it is not an offense against truth either, and so is not wrong at all. Jesuit moral theologians developed this notion at length, and this fact contributed greatly to their reputation as slippery customers." (,

  8. Here are comments from local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, posted with his permission:

    "A very nice blog about the Jesuits! I attend a Jesuit retreat in Minnesota every August and I have a great respect for them. They emphasize education and most of them, perhaps all of them, are well-educated. They can hold their own against all comers such as Protestants and atheists (i.e., I wouldn't want to debate one of them).

    "At the retreat, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius are emphasized and the retreatants are strongly encouraged to do them, although I suspect that many do not (including myself). Nonetheless, the retreat has an effect and I usually feel much calmer with a stronger love for the people around me, particularly my wife. (By the way, the retreat is open to anyone and I would be very happy to assist anyone who wishes to attend.)"