Why Ignatians Value Intellectual Equipping

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 “An ignorant officer is a murderer. All brave men confide in the knowledge he is supposed to possess; and when the death-trial comes their generous blood flows in vain. Merciful God! How can an ignorant man charge himself with so much bloodshed? I have studied war long, earnestly and deeply, but yet I tremble at my own derelictions.”  ‒ General William Napier (1782- 1853)
The Well-Trained Intellect

What is required of army officers is even more necessary in those acting as officers in the Church Militant.  As the word of God stated regarding the priesthood of Israel: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6)

Expertise and Knowledge in the area of leadership because men will only follow another they trust is capable, one whom they are convinced knows best. In the priest this entails that he knows his goal which is the goal of the Church: the “ABC” of Catholicism – to lead men to Heaven by showing them The Way: Jesus Christ in and through his Church. This entails, according to circumstances of time and place, intellectual leadership.

Leadership demands a base of knowledge and in the priest this normally comes about by assuring a solid philosophical and theological knowledge buttressed by select training in oratory and other knowledge demanded by his priestly roles. However energetic and efficient an administrator a priest may be he must firstly be a professional of the spirit and the spirit involves the world of the intellect at the service of the faith – therefore read and study he must.

The priest as a leader can show the way because he  knows  the way. “Perhaps I am an amateur in speaking”, said St. Paul, “but certainly not in knowledge; we have made this clear to you at all times and in all conditions”  ( 2 Cor 11:6). Earlier he had written:“We destroy false arguments, we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5)

Ignatians think only secondly about the seminary or university standards – and firstly  about the standards of the saints, the needs of God’s people and the crisis of civilization.

Time set aside for reading and study each day is not time robbed from pastoral work: it is time given to preparedness, to sharpening the sword of the spirit. Some of the most “hyper-active” priest-saints such as St. Vincent de Paul and St. Pius X – and St. John Vianney – took care to have candles flickering on their book-covered desks  with only the moon and the owls for company.

Love of Truth in the light of Christ, the Truth, and in the face of the “Dictatorship of Relativism”dominates the intellectual formation of the Ignatian. Ignatians adhere to the classical definition of logical truth, “the correspondence of mind with reality” and the two criteria to determine truth: the objective criterion on the basis of evidence and the subjective on the basis of certainty, both of which have been integrated in the realist-intellectual philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas in contrast to the subjectivist interpretation of certainty in much of contemporary philosophy deriving from Descartes which has led to philosophy becoming anti-intellectual, a mere tool of ideologies  and an inventory of states of consciousness rather than an ever deeper and richer penetration of reality.

The Ignatians therefore aspires to be a man with a passionate intellect: passionate for Truth, for Christ, for the salvation of souls.

Ignatians are men who form themselves intellectually to the hilt but they are not “intellectuals”. Although with time, Deo volente, they will offer top-class philosophers, theologians and men of culture to the Church, and will run universities that are truly Catholic, they will ever be priests with a burning sense of mission whose purpose in studying, writing, lecturing is to propose the Truth of Jesus Christ present in its fullness in the Catholic Faith. Men who will find as much joy in teaching the catechism to a child as in lecturing to an assembly of university graduates.

Spiritual Fatherhood requires from the Ignatian that he have a mind that is alive and proactive.  

Souls will expect to find in him a true surgeon of souls which implies knowledge of the Faith and of dogmatic, moral, ascetical and mystical theology.  They will be reassured when they discover him to be a man who is logical, clear- thinking and with steady judgment – qualities that spring partly from natural abilities and partly from self-conquest.  Above all they will admire wisdom, the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who pray.  And in the priest they should find the ideal combination  of a tough mind and a tender heart  and not vice versa.

 “A Mind Consecrated to God.” ( Origen, speaking of the priest, In Lev.hom. 15)

 “In Christian thought lies the future of the world” ( Chateaubriand)  and the priest, called to lead, teach and sanctify God’s people has the sublime mission of proposing it intelligently and winsomely. This he will achieve  through a strong intellect integrally formed in the perennial philosophy and theology of the Church  and in a rich general culture.

All of this intellectual effort because:

“Jesus Christ needs our minds for His work, as on  earth He needed His own human mind. He has gone, but we continue Him; we have that measureless honor. We are His members, therefore we have a share in His spirit and are therefore His cooperators. He acts outwardly through us, and inwardly through the inspirations of His Spirit, as in His lifetime He acted outwardly by His voice, inwardly by His grace.” (Antonin Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life)

“This leads me to a further reflection about the architecture of this church.  Like all Gothic cathedrals, it is a highly complex structure, whose exact and harmonious proportions symbolize the unity of God’s creation.  Medieval artists often portrayed Christ, the creative Word of God, as a heavenly “geometer”, compass in hand, who orders the cosmos with infinite wisdom and purpose.  Does this not bring to mind our need to see all things with the eyes of faith, and thus to grasp them in their truest perspective, in the unity of God’s eternal plan?  This requires, as we know, constant conversion, and a commitment to acquiring “a fresh, spiritual way of thinking” (cf. Eph 4:23).  It also calls for the cultivation of those virtues which enable each of us to grow in holiness and to bear spiritual fruit within our particular state of life.  Is not this ongoing “intellectual” conversion as necessary as “moral” conversion for our own growth in faith, our discernment of the signs of the times, and our personal contribution to the Church’s life and mission?”  (Benedict XVI, April 19, 2008)

 Now during your seminary years is the privileged time for equipping the intellect to be teacher of the Faith, spiritual director, orator, evangelizer, moulder of a new Culture of Life. As keen as you may be to “get into the thick of action”  without delay, the counsel of Braveheart’s uncle to the impetuous youth is valid also for the seminarian: ““First you’ll learn to use the head and then you’ll learn to use the sword.”

 Why the Ignatian Urges his Intellect to its Limits: It is the Convinced who become the Courageous     

The strength of a man hinges on his virtues which in turn are grounded ultimately on his ideals. Since ideals are shaped by the intellect it is crucial to put all of one’s God-given intellect to identify, examine, study them.

As stated elsewhere, the Ignatian starts with why because in man, although it is the will that governs action, it is the intellect enlightened by the divinely revealed truths that should direct the will.

The faith of the Ignatian, understood not as a sentiment but a rocklike act of the intellect by which he assents to the truth of the Catholic Faith, is at the foundation of his vocation.

In this the Ignatian stands in the long and unbroken line of the Church’s Tradition whereby, since “justification begins with faith” all Christian decisions and action should originate with faith.

The Ignatian called to a lifelong mission role of wise and valiant leadership in the combat for all that is supremely good and beautiful which entails opposition to the perennial Axis of Evil present in the contemporary Dictatorship of Relativism, must be a rock of strength on whom souls can depend.

He must be a stalwart man of faith which means that for him the core doctrines (dogmas) of Catholicism are the truths that make up his worldvision; the fountain of his vibrant hope; and the root of his tireless action.

From the beginning of his equipping as an Ignatian, the future priest is alert to the fact that the strength of a man’s virtues depends on his ideals.

Hence, he unleashes the full power of his grace-enlightened intellect to study, understand and become personally convinced about the truths of the Catholic Faith as revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, transmitted by Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium in accordance with Tradition.

The Society of Ignatians will never cease to encourage its members to ask why, to question and to never cease questioning until they become personally convinced of the truth of Catholic doctrines.

For it is truth that must shape a man’s intellect and then stand at the rudder of his will; it is convictions that must inspire his formation of a christified lifestyle, steeling his character and trigger his action for a lifetime of passionate priesthood.

Thus the Ignatian will have an unquenchable hope in the face of evil like the red martyrs such as Ignatius of Antioch; he will be empowered like the white martyrs such as Ignatius of Loyola; he will have the enthusiasm capable of missionaries like Francis Xavier; he will waste no time in becoming an athlete for Christ like Aloysius Gonzaga.  Thus the Ignatian will allow the Holy Spirit to make him into a man of God:

“Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6: 10-18)

But all, all begins with the intellect’s firm convinction about the truth of the Catholic Faith! It all begins with the act of faith!  

Forming an Intellect that is Provocatively Proactive  not Reactive

Ignore people who only complain and never have solutions – and let us reform ourselves if we are among them! Doomsters out! As the Finnish composer Sibelius remarked after hearing the critics tear his music to shreds: “Noone ever built a statue to a critic!” Ignatians will strive to avoid those rapid agers of the soul, feverish criticism and cynicism,which leave man as wrinkled as an old prune – and are often the soul’s mask for doing nothing to solve problems.  The Church wants “solutionologists” not “problemologists”.

Intellectual Equipping that Mobilizes the Imagination for the Apostolate

“If you travel the earth, you will find it is largely divided into two classes of people – people who say “It has always been done this way” and people who say “But why can’t it be done another and a more effective way?”

If men spend their lives concocting ever more elaborate special effects for the movie industry, far more so should you as a seminarian  develop an imagination capable of new ways of winning souls for Christ.   We have the example of the saints and dedicated priests of  history.

For instance, Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595), a legend in his own lifetime for new ways of reaching souls ‒  music, pilgrimage walks and theatre  were all converted into fishing nets. The great Pope Pius XI in the 1930s brought in the founder of radio,  Guglielmo Marconi, to build what may have been the most modern  radio station in the world within Vatican City.  The Servant of God Fr. McGivney, in a daring thrust of the imagination, founded the Knights of Columbus.

While zealously guarding the sacred Tradition, Ignatians should be proactive in finding new ways and methods of communicating the sacred Faith. In this they will follow the saints who have often rewritten the script assigned to their roles by the fashions and outdated modes of apostolic action,  redesigning  the ways of working with youth, working in parishes, training seminarians, doing missionary work but of course they always did so by respecting the centuries old authentic  traditions of the Church.