A New Spirit of Obedience to Confront the Dictatorship of Relativism
The Society of Ignatians has another reason for wanting to live an obedience that is transparently devoted to Truth, the truths of the Tradition and of Natural Law.
The age we live in is no longer a Christian age. We now live in a world where, although there are still many nominal Christians, the air we breath is anti-Christian, and the cities we live in and the air-waves we navigate no longer even know what Catholicism is. We have just lived in a century that has seen dictatorships, right-wing and left-wing, Fascists and Communists, manipulate conscience by using double-talk. We have even seen unscrupulous individuals seek to set up organizations within the Church, hiding behind the epithet of “Catholic” and using terms like “Will of God” yet full of an ethos and cultic techniques for manipulating the most sacred and inviolable domain of the private conscience,which no man may ever dare to enter without meriting the name of criminal. Moreover, recent Church history has unfortunately witnessed not only in religious orders but also in dioceses the use of obedience as a cover for the most wicked acts man’s mind can conceive under cover of “obedience” exacted by men who don’t deserve the name of human let alone Christian.
Therefore, in this increasingly subtly totalitarian society that is anti-Christian and that puts pressure through state-controlled education, the mass media, laws, and lobbying groups to bring citizens to conform to its standards, Catholics will only triumph if they are individuals of steel conviction founded on the clear use of the principles of the Faith, the Natural Law. Catholicism is by its very nature anti-totalitarian : in this ethos Ignatians will firmly equip themselves prior to their ordination in order to form anti-totalitarian-minded lay Catholics.
Ignatians, as leaders of the lay faithful, must be priests who will confront that culture and play their role in ending it. They must therefore, in the face of the Dictatorship’s main instrument of tyranny, lies and deceit, be men who will have a strength to endure founded on transparent clarity of thought, deep convictions and purity of conduct who will thus be able to unmask half-truths and blunted reason.
Thus, while Ignatians will obey with that sense of wholehearted self-giving characteristic of front line members of the Ecclesia Militans they will do so however as men of strong character who are utterly committed to living in the Truth. The strength of the Society of Ignatians will be founded on strong-minded Ignatians! On the character, conviction and dedication of her sons the Society of Ignatians will build her future. The moral imperative of loyalty to the Truth rather than any uncritical ethic of obedience will be the source of her unity.
The Chief Virtue: Obedience to Truth
The Society of Ignatians firmly holds what the Catholic Faith teaches: that obedience is not an overarching theological virtue like faith, hope, and charity, but one of the many moral virtues in the exercise of which it is possible to sin by too much as too little. Some of the saints have been brutally clear about this fact. That sweet and gentle woman, St. Catherine of Siena, in letters during 1376 and 1377 to the Avignon Pope, Gregory XI, stated: “Alas, Most Holy Father! At times obedience to you leads to eternal damnation” and “Cursed be you, for time and power were entrusted to you, and you did not use them!”.
To protect Ignatians from any manipulation of St. Ignatius Loyola’s expressions by which they are expected to obey “blindly” or “motivated” (but on irrational grounds) the Society of Ignatians will insist that the Ignatian’s obedience is frank but critical. It may never be robotic, irrational, blind, or otherwise unthinking. It must never fall, paradoxically, in an order emphasizing intellectual formation and the upholding of the Catholic Faith as the one true religion, into an anti-intellectualism and a relativization of truth.
Instead, the Society of Ignatians will train its men to always view obedience within the context of the Catholic’s act of faith which is to be understood as totally bonded to man’s use of reason and freedom. Since St. Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of obedience is within the context of Faith and its relationship to reason it provides the necessary check and balance necessary and will therefore be normative within the Society. St. Thomas’s key principle is transparently clear: “Charity is a greater virtue than obedience” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 104, art. 3). and “Sometimes the things commanded by a superior are againt God. Therefore superiors are not to be obeyed in all things” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 104, art. 5). Thus, the Society of Ignatians will underline conditional obedience and obedience to the Law of God, not per se to the spokesmen of that Law.
The Society of Ignatians will be a brotherhood of men dedicated to Christ in absolute freedom of spirit, wherein conscience is sacred and inviolable. The conscience will be opened only to the priest chosen by the individual as his confessor. The Society of Ignatians will select as superiors men who have noteworthy fatherly qualities; men who will encourage the members of their community to freely express their needs, desires and aspirations. It will remind its superiors of their moral obligation to do everything possible to ensure the happiness of their subjects. A simple frank conversation in which the individual can express any needs and aspirations, hopes and difficulties will always be possible to each member of the Society, in a spirit of Christian brotherhood. This will take the place of St. Ignatius’s “Account of Conscience”.
Ignatians Promise to Criticize Peers and Superiors
Moreover ‒ and this may be utterly new in the history of Catholic religious orders ‒ with the determination to do everything possible to ensure that the Society of Ignatians remains ever morally vigorous and authentic, Ignatians will, in a public ceremony, promise to criticize openly not only their peers but also their superiors in instances of immorality or what could lead to immorality.
Does this interpretation by the Society of Ignatians of St. Ignatius’s theory of obedience nullify our aspiration to be truly and authentically Ignatian? We think not. Our obedience, enshrined within Truth and Freedom and railed by protective norms, will still be what St. Ignatius qualifies as the obedience of “Ecclesiae militantis”, that of a true soldier chivalrously ready to go to the ends of the earth for the sake of spreading and defending the Catholic Faith. But we hold that there is no better way to obey the Church and uphold the papacy than to be men determined to obey Truth for there is no truth that can ever hurt the Church.
“If the scandal comes from the truth, one must endure the scandal rather than conceal the truth” — Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604), In Hezechiam Sermo VII
The Society of Ignatians is convinced that the virtue most needed in our day is not obedience but the double virtue of faith-fortitude: faith understood not as an act of trust but as the intellectual conviction of the truth of Catholic dogmas; fortitude as the resolve to be loyal to Truth unto the jaws of death.