To be truly Catholic, a truly new and truly original order has to care naught about originality and all about making men fall in love with eternal truths.
This is what the Society of Ignatians ardently aspires to: to be an offspring of the eternally Catholic, a dream rooted in eternity, one more instance of the undying ideal present in the hearts of Catholics throughout two thousand years: to bring men and women to love the eternal truths which are to be found within the doctrines of the Catholic Faith, as revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, transmitted through the ages by Tradition and validly interpreted by the Magisterium, for the sake of the “unum necessarium” [the one thing necessary]: the honor of God and the salvation of souls. And all done following the pathways traced out by St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Ignatius of Antioch.
Therefore Ignatian hallmarks are not utterly original. How could they be? Since everything at the heart of the Ignatian ideal flows from the Catholic matrix, all that we are, do, and strive for is summed up in the Credo of the Catholic Church, Christ’s Mystical Body. We are followers of Him who said “I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5) : all our “novelty” is in Him; all of our charism is solely in the ardent thirst to know “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2 ).
Indeed, in the history of the Church, after St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Pachomius, St. Basil, and St. Benedict who founded the heremitical and monastic way of life for souls resolved to give their all to God, all religious communities founded since then have been “chips off the old block”.
Founders such as Romuald, Odo of Cluny, Bernard of Clairvaux, Norbert, Dominic, Francis, Ignatius, Vincent de Paul, Don Bosco, James Alberione and others have sought either to purify an order by returning it to its original form – an authentic “reform” ‒ or else, assisted by the action of the Holy Spirit in the depths of their soul, they have recognized a concrete need of the Church that could be answered by a new institute.
These founders have grafted their institutes onto the age-old oak tree of the Church, adopting and modifying the ancient rules, constitutions, statutes, customs, ascetical and mystical traditions venerated by their spiritual forefathers. They have mistrusted novelty and venerated the Church’s traditions, with the same attitude, servatis servandis, of Saint Paul: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Together with Pope Saint Pius X they would readily affirm: “The true friends of the people are neither the revolutionaries nor the innovators, but traditionalists.”
Likewise with the Society of Ignatians. Seeking to answer the Church’s needs in the most effective way possible according to the intuitions received, the Society delves into the spirit of St. Ignatius Loyola, and his inspiration, St. Ignatius of Antioch. But it also carefully grafts itself on to the great tradition that formed him, and that he consulted as he wrote the statutes and customs of his order. Hence the importance for Ignatians of the great traditions of ascetical and mystical life that go back to St. Benedict and his spiritual forefathers. Hence also the role of the spirit of chivalry without which Ignatius of Loyola cannot be understood.
By having hallmarks of which they cannot claim to be the authors Ignatians will ever be grateful to previous generations in other religious families. Thus they will seek to immune themselves against the infection of institutional pride, complacency, and rejoice in the treasures of Catholic Tradition.
Thus, the history of religious orders in the Church resembles the life of an immense oak tree from whose branches new shoots continually bourgeon. Frequently new orders are not radically new but rather are offshoots from existing orders or at least look to the founders of existing orders for their inspiration. Thus, in spite of the fact that they are juridically distinct from each other, communities are bonded by the same essential charism. From the visionary clarity of St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and St. Ignatius Loyola the Church has been enriched with the great commonwealth of Benedictine, Augustinian, Carmelite, Franciscan, Dominican and Ignatian religious orders.
The Society of Ignatians intends to be part of the Ignatian family of orders. We aspire to be part of the genealogical tree of Ignatius of Loyola, and through him, to his inspiration, St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose ardent love for Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Catholic Church, confirms the Basque soldier’s ideal. Just as from the visionary clarity of St. Benedict, St. Francis, and St. Dominic many religious communities in the Church have been started, so likewise Ignatians look to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s vision of a band of brothers who, giving all to follow Christ “ad majorem Dei gloriam” seek to spread the Truth of the Catholic Faith to the very ends of the earth by forming themselves integrally and ruggedly as missionaries of enterprise.
Thus, to these two saints we look for the pattern of Ignatian holiness on which we will strive to travel towards Christlikeness. Concretely, we will equip ourselves by taking as our reference point the ideal of St. Ignatius Loyola in its practical expression in the constitutions, methods of work, and customs of community lifestyle enacted by him and his immediate successors.
New intensity, new emphases, new method
Yet, although the Society of Ignatians intends to be a faithful and authentic offshoot of St. Ignatius Loyola’s ideal, it is nevertheless also a distinctively original one. For although it intends to live out the essentials of St. Ignatius’s vision it will do so with a new intensity, new emphases, and new methods in response to an urgent need of the Church that is, however, perennial.
The novel dimensions of the Society are in response to the Church’s urgent need of men who will defend the very inner bastions of the Truth of the Catholic Faith and the Natural Law in the face of the massive assaults by the “Dictatorship of Relativism” (Benedict XVI). This urgency calls on us to live out St. Ignatius Loyola’s charism of providing the Church with a corps of men who have thoroughly equipped themselves for an intelligent, dynamic and energetic defense of the Faith. It also calls us to intensify our awareness of his inspiration, the heroic St. Ignatius of Antioch who stood firm in the face of the Roman Empire’s call to surrender to syncretism.
The Society of Ignatians will differ from St. Ignatius Loyola’s blueprints for his Society especially in three areas, not however in principles but most certainly in policies:
- Tradition: the Society of Ignatians cherishes, defends, and proactively spreads love for Catholic Tradition, the very rock on which Catholicism is grounded, the foundation on which sacred scripture, magisterium, papacy, and sensus fidei is built. Without loyalty to Tradition Catholicism liquefies into an amorphous stagnant pond. With loyalty to Tradition Catholicism is a powerful, mighty, life-giving river irrigating the deserts of this world.
- Liturgy: the Society of Ignatians will emphasize the tremendously important role of the sacred liturgy both for the sanctification of Ignatians and for evangelization and it adopts the traditional liturgy of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as its preferred form.
- Creative Minorities: the Society of Ignatians will concentrate particularly on the formation of dynamic, missionary-minded groups of Catholic laity for convert-outreach and the creation of a Catholic culture in society.
Thus the Society will fulfill the Church’s common sense requirement for approving any new foundation: an answer to a need that is felt at a particular moment of history, a need of “the day” that shouts for a remedy even though the need may be ongoing.