The Work of the Society of Jesus
Analysis of the Ignatian Military Ideal THE Fourth Centenary of the Society of Jesus is something more than another interesting anniversary in the long and varied history of the Church. The Order founded by St. Ignatius has played so important a part in this long period during which the Church has been at grips with a civilization steadily turning away from the truths and values of Christianity that the present celebration conveniently marks an epoch in the age-long struggle between truth and error, right and wrong. That this centenary should occur at a time when civilization is rent by the most fateful war of all time only serves to emphasise the true nature of the issue at stake in this battle wherein one of the crack regiments on the side of Christ is this very Company of Jesus.
SPECIFIC DIFFERENCE OF THE JESUIT ST. IGNATIUS, the soldier saint, founded an order of fighters, and the more one studies the achievements of the Society. the more one realises the degree in which St. Ignatius's military outlook has permeated his followers. The Jesuits have all the qualities (and some of the defects) of the military mind. The keynotes of the Order arc obedience and discipline. while the spiritual formation of its members is dominated by the two famous Ignatian meditations, the " Two Standards " and the " Kingship of Christ." The quality of obedience and discipline in the Society has often been misunderstood. It is caricatured as a blind or wooden obedience, as an inhuman, Bolshevik-like discipline, through which the individual is trained to act against his conscience, to disregard the end and attend only to the will of the superior. But the Jesuit ideal does not correspond to a totalitarianism which, even if it were directed to good ends, would be totally foreign to the Christian mind : it corresponds quite simply to any effective military organisation. An army has a job to do through the co-ordinated efforts of its members, its particular job and its general purpose being decided by the rulers of the country for which it is fighting. In the same way, the Jesuits are organised so as to be able as a body to fight battles under orders of the Church and therefore for God. No saint was more emphatic than Ignatius in underlining the duty of loyalty to, and thinking with, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. The obedience and discipline of the Society cannot be understood without that constant reference to the spiritual and Godgiven authority which Ignatius, as a good Catholic, took for granted. Moreover, since obedience to God or God's Vicar on earth is an intelligent and spiritual act, we find in fact that the Society and the individual Jesuit obey, not blindly or woodenly, but with intelligence and commonsense. None the less, the " specific difference" of the Jesuits remains; and it is the fact that whenever the Church really does give an order or where the superior does really intend that something shall be done, the Society and the individual Jesuit will unhesitatingly obey, and obey to the fullest limits of their power. This is done, not as an act of intellectual suicide, but in the fullest realisation that when it comes to the point the fullest good of the self is achieved through fulfilling the will of God which is made clear and guaranteed by the Church whose orders reach the private soldier of Christ through the hierarchy of fully-accredited officers.
THE EXERCISES EVERY Jesuit, as we know, is spiritually trained on the Exercises of St. Ignatius. These consist of a series of meditations and prayers divided into " four weeks "—the four actual weeks which are devoted to the Exercises when they are carried out in full. The Exercises also are permeated with the military outlook. Their end is effective action. Just as a soldier is—or should be—trained in the why and wherefore of his life, career and status so that he may not have scruples or doubts in the moment of action, so the Jesuit begins by satisfying himself that his faith rests upon the foundations of reason and common sense. The next stage of preparation consists in the study of the basic realities of human existence in the light of natural reason and Divine Revelation. Thus when the mind is thoroughly attuned to reality and thoroughly aware of the deceptive nature of appearances, St. Ignatius proposes the great meditations on the " Two Standards " and the " Kingship of Christ." The " Two Standards " is a graphic picture of .ife as a battle between the standard of Christ and the standard of Lucifer, and the Jesuit is asked soberly to choose or " make an election " as to the sort of life he wishes to live, whether in the service of Christ the King—and if so. how—or in the service of sin and the devil. The decision having been taken, the remainder of the Exercises—by far the longer portion —arc devoted to the contemplation of Christ, the Captain. the Leader, the King, through His Life, Passion and Resurrection. The Exercises therefore consist in satisfying oneself of the real conditions under which human action must take place, in making once and for all a wise decision as to the kind of action that is sensible and worth taking, and then in prolonged study of what that decision entails in the light of the example given us by the chosen Leader to whom full loyalty and personal devotion are pledged. This simple and obvious plan of action, the conception of a straight-forward soldier mind applying itself to the problems of the kingdom of God rather than of the kingdoms of this world, was so effective, not only in the formation of the Jesuit but in the formation of the ordinary Catholic of the world face to face with modern life, that it has become the well-nigh universal scheme of retreats.
JESUIT STRATEGY IF we consider the manifold works of the Society throughout these four critical centuries we see how simply they all flow from this military conception of a commonsense fighting action on behalf of the Church and the spiritual and moral values which she preserves. St. Ignatius, with the humility and practical mind of the soldier. began with very limited ambitions. His early companions were gathered together for the purpose of undertaking the most obvious of crusades, namely, evangelizing the Holy Land. It was only very gradually that his campaign for Christ spread across the face of a Europe rent into many pieces by the Reformation and carried his soldiers to the uttermost ends of the earth in breath-taking missionary enterprises, not less remarkable for their physical achievement than for their spiritual heroism. His strategy was one of continued offensive, seeking out the enemy wherever he was to be found, and therefore inevitably the Society grew and so did the scope of its enterprise. Success was chiefly dependent on two factors, training and cooperation. Every Jesuit was a man trained, not only in the straightforward active spiritual conception of the Exercises, but also in every field of learning. He could meet the world on its own ground and bring it back to Christ along any road that offered. To Catholics themselves, often lax and badly instructed, he brought security and knowledge together with that kindliness and understanding that come from true breadth of mind and experience of fragile human nature. Firm as a rock below the surface, the Jesuit was gentle and sympathetic and tolerant in his approach. And, fully understanding the value of his own training, he realised the tremendous importance of imparting Christian training to others, with the result that in a short time the Society dominated the educational field of Catholic countries, and blazed the trail of Catholic education elsewhere.
And the message of the Society was always the same: the greater glory of God and the salvation of the soul by the simplest and most direct means, oneness of behaviour and thought with the one true Church whose visible head was the Pope of Rome.
"JESUITRY " CURIOUSLY enough it was this directness and simplicity of the trained soldier's approach to a concrete task that gave rise to the criticisms which the Society so easily evoked, as it also gave rise to the bitter persecutions at the hands of the enemies of God from which it has always suffered. The Society was too simple by half and therefore too clever by half. It was always at it, whether in dealing with individuals or nations, trying this way and that of leading men back to those simple essential truths of the Exercises. Such persistent interference, such pervasiveness, such readiness to pass over unessentials when the essential was at stake earned it a reputation for prevarication, hypocrisy, dissembling, twisting, for men always suspect the worst of those who are indifferent to their accepted values and they are apt to imagine some concealed sinister motive behind what they cannot understand. And the fact that the Society was so polite and courteous about it all and, withal, so business-like and efficient made matters much worse.
It is obviously impossible to estimate how much the Church owes to this efficient military technique of the Society, for the modern Church has adopted it herself to a surprising degree. Throughout these four centuries we can note how the Church has persistently aimed at rescuing the individual soul from the pagan world, at training the Catholic to a more rigid and secure orthodoxy in matters of doctrine, at uniting him by the closest links to the See of Peter, at presenting to him a scheme of faith and action based on plain commonsense philosophy and aimed at the personal service of Christ. And the wonderful thing is that this Ignatian plan has secured the steady growth in numbers of Catholics as well as a notable increase in fervour, discipline and knowledge throughout a period wherein society in general has steadily fallen away from Christianity.
LIMITATIONS OF THE IDEAL E said above that the Jesuit ideal had the defects of its merits, and indeed it must be so with all human plans and characteristics, especially any so firmly marked and effective as those contributed by St. Ignatius. The military mind is also a utilitarian mind, and the Jesuit ideal aimed at quick results. Everything was reduced to its simplest formula for securing the conversion of the individual. And these centuries of the Church's history bear the imprint of this method. Individuals were being saved, but society was being lost. The Church's doctrine was being secured and strengthened, but false philosophies were also growing apace. The Christian standard was being raised among the growing number of devout, but thousands were falling away, often enticed by the plausibility and idealism of new ideologies. In a word, while the Church grew in her own sphere, the gap between her and the world also grew, with the result that Christians themselves tended to live two opposite lives, their devout religious and moral life and their semi pagan public or business lives. The simple military, utilitarian formula left a good deal unsolved.
But the Society is not the Church. and everyone must acknowledge the amazing results of the Ignatian ideal. One might almost say that it is not the Society's fault if its example has been too widely followed.
Today we clearly face a situation widely different from that which faced St. Ignatius four hundred years ago, when the break between the Church and society seemed artificial and accidental. Modern society is suffering the terrible consequences of the loss of all fixed standards and is on the eve either of anarchy leading to sheer force despotism or of a gradual return to God. And it may be that the main problem of the Church of the future will be the reconversion of society itself rather than the rescuing from it of individuals. In this enterprise the Society of Jesus will play a part no less notable than the work it has achieved in the past, but other and different methods of approach will also be needed.