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Posted by on Jul 30, 2007

The Spiritual Theology of St. Ignatius Loyola

The Spiritual Theology of St. Ignatius Loyola

“Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul… Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” – The Spiritual Exercises


Ignatius Loyola, by Francisco Zurbaran


July 31 is the feast day of one of the most influential people in the history of Christianity, Inigo de Loyola. Born in 1491, he was baptized Inigo and, almost 40 years later, added Ignacio. According to Hugo Rahner, S.J. in Ignatius the Theologian, the choice of the name Ignatius was based on Inigo’s understanding of the Bishop and martyr of Antioch as a model of selfless love and an advocate for the apostolic teaching authority. A substantial library has developed over five centuries about his conversion, spiritual teaching, and prudent practicality. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, a religious order of men also known as the Jesuits. As one of the Catholic Church’s largest and most influential orders, the Society has spread Ignatian influence throughout Christianity in its world wide network of schools and missions.

Although he was born on the eve of the Renaissance and the modern era, Ignatius was a product of the late Middle Ages. Surprisingly, his approach to the following of Christ was to propel Catholic Christianity into an amazing revival and laid the foundations for many Protestants and Catholics to confront the secular challenges of the Post Modern era.

Examination of Consciousness

Perhaps the best way to begin to understand the life and legacy of Ignatius Loyola is his distinctive method of prayer – his way of relating to God – the Examen.

It is not an examination of conscience in the sense of finding fault with oneself. Rather it is a method of heightening one’s consciousness about the ways we encounter God and freeing ourselves to move more deeply and consciously into that encounter.

The key themes of Ignatian spirituality are contained in The Examen: (1) finding God in all things, (2) “indifference”- in terms of a Zen-like detachment and trusting openness, (3) discernment – am I truly being led by the Spirit and, if so, where? (4) being “actively available” to serve God in others, to be a “contemplative in action.”

The Examen consists of five points, moments, or movements of the soul, mind, and heart:

1. Recall that you are in the Presence of God.

Much is said about Ignatius’ military background as a young minor Spanish noble and the orderly mentality he is supposed to have brought to the founding and development of the Society of Jesus. As an experienced man who came to conversion after a serious battle injury, however, Ignatius, in his path as a pilgrim to the Holy Land and to life, became more and more imbued with the overwhelming presence of God.

2. Look at your day with Gratitude.

The God of Ignatius is a loving God of gifts. God is not an aloof military officer or stern judge. In the imagination of Ignatius, God is somewhat analogous to a liege lord in the medieval sense, but without the human limitations. All that is good and wondrous about us and around us is only a veiled manifestation of the overflowing of that Ultimate Goodness. The response to this goodness is a profound gratitude.

3. Ask for help from the Holy Spirit

In keeping with ancient Christian tradition and belief, all true knowledge of God, and even faith, is the work of the Holy Spirit. What nature hints at, the Spirit reveals. Ignatius’ trust in God is shown in terms of his openness to the Spirit which drives out all fear.

4. Review your Day

The Examen was recommended as a midday activity, although it can be done a second time at the end of the day. The review is not an mental or written checklist. The aim is to be open to what the Spirit reveals about the occurrences of our daily lives and their deeper meaning. If you are in the process of reforming your life, the awareness may focus on basic do’s and don’ts of avoiding sin and acting out of love alone. For those further along the path, the challenge is more subtle. What have I seen? What have I heard? What have I touched? What did I miss? What did I encounter?

5. Reconcile and Resolve

This an act of renewed consciousness. If I messed up, now is the time to understand why and to make amends. Maybe an apology is in order. Maybe reducing stress or increasing awareness is in order. This is not a time to beat up on yourself. Ignatius commands gentleness and compassion. On the other hand, if I responded in a good or better way, it is important to feel how it came about so that I can continue to be open to the Spirit the next time as well.

Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer

We seldom realize that the mode of relating to God, as given to his followers by Christ, is his own prayer. This identification with the actual physical and mystical person of Jesus is central to the spirituality of St. Ignatius. Jesus came to do the will of the Father and that is our calling as well.

So how much time are we supposed to take with this beautiful method of prayer?

A. One hour. B. 30 minutes. C. 15 minutes. D. As Long As it Takes.

The answer: C. 15 minutes. You are supposed to be out and about doing God’s work which the Spirit is pointing out to you. Time’s a wasting! Then again, St. Ignatius would allow you some leeway, as long you worked it out with your spiritual director and weren’t dodging your responsibilities.

A Guided Meditation

Phyllis Zagano leads the everyday person on a beautifully guided walk through The Examen for everyday people at “American Catholic.”

For More Information

For a good overview of the life of St. Ignatius Loyola, with an excellent bibliography, see, “The World of Ignatius of Loyola”. The Ignatian Spirituality Center in the Seattle, Washington area presents a very contemporary and brief description on its home page. A summary of Ignatian Spirituality from the 1930’s by Fr. Pinard De La Boullaye, S.J. is concise and reasonably accessible.

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