Posted by: hansgustafson | April 1, 2013

Pope Francis’ Ignatian Tradition and Interfaith Relations

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped)On Friday, I am giving a paper in San Diego at the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference.  The title of my paper is Sacramental Caution and Finding God in All Things: Sacramentality and Spirituality in Luther and Loyola.  

More interestingly, in Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, the heart of its sensual spirituality climaxes for the retreatant in the final contemplation of finding God in all things.

Consider how God dwells in creatures; in the elements, giving them existence; in the plants, giving them life; in the animals, giving them sensation; in human beings, giving them intelligence … consider God labors and works for [you] in all the creatures on the face of the earth; … he is working in the heavens, elements, plants, fruits, cattle, and all the rest – giving them their existence, conserving them, concurring with their vegetative and sensitive activities, and so forth. … Consider how all good things and gifts descend from above.[1]

This passage, and many similar to it throughout the Exercises, provides the foundation for the Ignatian principle of ‘finding God in all things.’ Ignatius’ worldview is thoroughly Thomistic in the sense that all things, people included, strive to realize their telos of serving and moving towards God. Thus God is to be found in all things in so far as they reveal, and assist with the movement towards, this telos.

Though Ignatius may not have had a contemporary panentheistic cosmology in mind, his spirituality affirmed a pansacramental cosmology that allows for the manifestation of God in all things.  However, to be sure, Ignatian spirituality does not reduce God to merely the sum total of the World. Rather, it stresses God’s otherness and beyond-ness of the world. [2]

It is precisely through this affirmation that God is beyond the world that paradoxically allows for God to be found in the world (through all things). The Jesuit Karl Rahner explains, “God is more than [our images and concepts of God, whether natural or supernatural]. And as the one who is more than the world, God has broken into human existence and has burst apart this world and what theology calls, ‘nature.’”[3]

God is simultaneously in nature and beyond nature.[4] This why Ignatian spirituality calls for an initial “flight from the world” in order to come back to the world and to find God in all things in a sensual manner, as portrayed in the Exercises. So sacramentality and sacramental language assist in bridging this spirituality of Ignatius with an Ignatian theological understanding of God as both in and beyond the world. As Rahner puts it, God remains the ‘mystery’ that is ‘infinitely knowable;’ that is, God is knowable only to a certain extent, thus one might find God sacramentally in all things (the sacramental principle), yet God simultaneously remains infinitely beyond all things.

If Roman Catholics take seriously the Ignatian tradition practiced by Pope Francis, and its principle and God is to be found in all things, then what might this mean for interfaith relations and interreligious learning?

photo courtesy of Casa Rosada at WikiMedia


     [1] ibid., Week 4, “Contemplation to Attain Love,” 235-237 (Gnass 177).

     [2] Philip Sheldrake notes that, “in Ignatius’ sense of the ‘liberality’ of God, God dwells in all things and all creatures exist in God. … All that exists, exists only in God. … He is not reflecting about the ontology of created things but about how humans may perceive and relate to them.”  [Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998)141]

     [3] Rahner, “The Mysticism of Loving All Things in the World according to Ignatius,” 148.

     [4] Thus in Ignatius we find a clear rejection of pantheism and a tendency towards pansacramentality.  It would be anachronistic to suggest that Ignatius was a explicit panentheist since he did not use this term nor did he delve into its metaphysics.  At best, one might make the argument that he has an implicit panentheist in similar way that Aquinas was, but I do not find that tenable nor necessary at this point.

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