What Ignatius can teach the Anglican Communion

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The outmoded Philippine Episcopal calendar, which was not updated to reflect the 1997 American Prayer Book’s calendar change to add his feast, forgets to mention him, instead keeping the feast of Joseph of Arimathea, which—I must note—has been removed from the calendar in some other Anglican churches. (Talk about local observances.) I think it drives the Episcopal Church in this country irrelevant when it ignores Ignatius of Loyola, but it is known to me that one liturgist in the ECP distrusts the Jesuits very much, and the historic animosities can be rekindled, along with bouts of “No to popery” from among the more protestant members of that Church. (In case you don’t know about these, please look up Edmund Campion and recusancy.)

However, it should be noted that this morning the founder (or Fundador, as the Spanish song begins) of the Company was commemorated at the Thursday mass at Holy Trinity, Makati. The presider remarked that indeed the parish community can learn from the two great achievements of Ignatius: spiritual growth through “coming aside and resting awhile” and education. The latter is of course a very great achievement, for Ignatius and his followers made the idea of the ars liberi in the Renaissance acceptable in a Catholic context. Millions of people have since benefitted from (or have fallen victim to, depending on your leanings) what this great Catholic Reformation leader achieved.

Since yesterday, though, I have had time to reflect upon what Anglicans can learn from Ignatius. I will of course leave out the part about the Bishop of Rome being someone worth listening to, because among some Anglicans acknowledging this is the equivalent of a lobotomy. But the example of Ignatius of Loyola is worth emulating even if one may not agree with everything he says. Or everything his followers do.

1. Ignatius was an evangelical with a small “e.” He and his companions wanted to follow Christ and to make Christ known to other people, not only by the preaching of the Word in words, but in deeds. He believed that by meditating on the life of Christ (and nowadays, we can easily take our bibles alongside the Exercises), in a way that we can commit ourselves to Christ totally and completely, we can make a choice for a life which, while difficult, is truly rewarding. The spirituality of Ignatius on this matter is reflected in John Wesley’s own view on the subject, and one blogger came up with a very interesting comparison of the two. I think she says it a little better than me. Think about it. Compare the Suscipe and the Covenant Service.

It is instructive to note that the founder of the People Called Methodists never left the Church of England and it was the resistance of the institutional Church (a theme that resonates in both Ignatius’s life and the life of the Society which he founded) that led to the unfortunate divisions that followed Wesley’s life.

2. Ignatius believed in the priority of praise. Praise in the history of Christianity can sometimes degenerate into the vapidity of a fair number of contemporary Christian musical works or be elevated to the sublimity of Gregorian chant or, well, Wesley’s hymns. (I must note that I am a member of a Facebook group called “Praise Bands Annoy God.”) But it nevertheless remains that it is a very important feature of the Christian life. A life lived in praise, reverence, and service of God, the purpose, Ignatius argues at the beginning of the Exercises, for which we are all created, is indeed a life worth living for a true follower of Christ.

I can see echoes of this Ignatian idea in contemporary Anglican theology. David F. Ford and Daniel Hardy’s Living in Praise: Worshipping and Knowing God is a remarkable example of how we can enflesh the Ignatian principle and foundation (at least the very first sentence of it) in our lives both in an out of the liturgy. Which brings me to a divergent point:

It was the Jesuits more than anyone else who made liturgy as theater possible. What Fr. Tyler Strand mentioned in his Star interview was anticipated by the quintessentially Jesuit architecture of the Church of the Gesu in Rome. Here, the choir screens of the past gave way to a stage where the mystery was in a sense revealed (yet concealed) to the gathered Church.

3. Ignatius believed that the Church mattered. I think the problem with some Anglicans, not all, is that they are prone to thinking either the universal Church is unimportant, or other Anglicans are not really worth listening to, or that seeking a consensus does not require “thinking with the Church,” meaning that the mind of the Church must be observed insofar as it is the pillar and foundation of truth. Some Anglicans, under the unfortunate and corrosive influence of certain “Christian” tendencies, have the same cavalier disregard for the Church as those who influence them, even if Anglicanism itself has always held that there really is a Church on earth, that is universal and at the same time revealing its catholicity in a given place.

Ignatius sometimes exaggerates in describing how much we must understand and, if possible, heed what the Spirit is saying through the Church. But his point is this: a Christian cannot ignore the reality of the Church, which like Christ is both human and divine. In so doing, Anglicans in particular are called upon to listen to the Church, both those they may agree with and those with whom they express great hostility. And the ordained ministers in particular should bear in mind that, more than anyone else, they are put under the disciplines of thinking with the Church. Hence, and I cannot emphasize this enough, Rowan Williams cannot just disregard what people have to say, for instance, about homosexuality as being wrong in itself without damaging the Church itself.

I know the Jesuits would see this differently, but I think Ignatius meant that thinking with the Church is above all else a willingness to acknowledge that Christ works through the Church and his call to follow him is mediated through it, and that if one wants to really follow Christ, it is not some cavalier individualistic effort, but rather one done in communion. This is something Ignatius realized as his pilgrimage continued. To continue the Wesleyan parallel, John Wesley believed that the whole point of Methodism was to renew one’s communion with Christ in the Church, and the Methodists have, as I noted in my Pentecost Essay’s epigraph, always held a high view of the Church as a consequence.

4. Ignatius was not afraid to leave his so-called “comfort zone” behind and to risk all for the greater glory of God. I would not want to rehearse the details of Ignatius’s own spiritual and academic journey, but suffice it to say that Ignatius had to risk a lot to achieve what, in the end, deserves his being called a saint. It is this same boldness of vision and risk which I think the Episcopal Church in the Philippines in particular is called upon to do. For instance, they must abandon the ethnocentricity which was an unfortunate accident of history that in no wise should be repeated, in a situation where pluralism in the expressions of Christianity is fast becoming a reality in the Philippine setting.

The situation in the ECP is no different, I believe, than what is the case among the parts of the Orthodox Church, many of which are organized on ethnic lines, and I think that this has kept me from seriously considering Orthodoxy, notwithstanding its attractions. (One only has to listen to Ancient Faith Radio’s music feed.) I think the Episcopalians here, if they are really serious about mission, should take a risk and accept that they are a Church that is not only for all Filipinos, as Mark Harris challenged the Episcopal Church in his March speech at the National Cathedral, but a Church that is part of the Church universal, where the barriers of nationality and ethnicity fall in favor of an equality that allows highlanders, lowlanders, Chinese, and expatriates of all nations to truly follow Christ and to serve his Church.

5. The followers of Ignatius were right about something. Yes, the Jesuits may have done some harm to the intertwined institutions of Church and State in Elizabethan England which could be construed as treasonous, and suppression has been seen as deserved punishment, but the followers of Ignatius were right about something: one could not stop Roman Catholicism and the work of the Jesuits from persisting no matter how much Anglicans and other Christians persecuted them. So it is a challenge to Christians, not just Anglicans, everywhere to consider that all their actions have consequences for the Church as a whole, and when they do something that spits in the face of what millions of people sincerely believe, whatever it may be, Campion’s brag may be proven true. The faith will be restored.

Yet, I would dare say, it will be the Orthodox Church that will make the challenge too. “The faith has been planted, and it will be restored.” On this note, I hope that Campion’s brag will be fulfilled, not in one part of the Church dominating one another in triumph, but rather in a Church that is as united as Christ wills it to be, loyal to the faith handed down from the apostles, and to the Scriptures which are the record of that faith and are interpreted by the Church.

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